Tag Archives: Islands

Fiji Yasawa

Fiji or Tahiti?

 

So you want to escape to a tropical island in the South Pacific. But which one? Tahiti seems amazing, but you’ve also heard good things about Fiji. To help you start packing, here’s the low down on what to expect, and some of the differences between these two idyllic destinations.

The Islands

For starters, neither of the destinations known as Tahiti or Fiji are a single island. There is an island named Tahiti, but it is just one of a number in the group of islands also known as Tahiti, and sometimes called French Polynesia. In addition to the “big island,” the two that attract the vast majority of tourism are Bora Bora and Moorea. All of these are mountainous, volcanic islands ringed by lagoons. The country of Fiji includes more than 300 islands, ranging in size from 4,000-square-mile Viti Levu to small and in some cases uninhabited islands—like the one Tom Hanks landed on in the movie Castaway.

Tikehau

The barrier reefs that ring many of the Islands of Tahiti also include small outer islands known as motus. Visitors can arrange to make day trips to islands like Tikehua by boat. Photo: Grégoire Le Bacon/Tahiti Tourisme

Getting There

If you are starting from North America, both Fiji and Tahiti are a fairly long hop across the Pacific. A direct flight from Los Angeles takes 8.5 hours to Tahiti, and a bit more than 10 hours to Fiji. Both destinations are served by a single international airport, which are located on the largest islands. From there resorts are a shuttle bus, ferry ride or an inter-island flight away. In many cases, the transition from airport to resort will be shorter in Tahiti, as you’ll either be taking a ferry or short flight to Moorea, where hotels are ten minutes to a half-hour from the runway, or a flight to Bora Bora, with similar transfer times once you land. Travel in Fiji is a lot more variable. Resorts on the west and north coasts of Viti Levu can be less than a half-hour away, while properties to the south will require a two-hour-plus van ride. There are a number of resorts scattered across the smaller islands, and getting there could involve a single flight and a boat ride, or a series of transfers that take the better part of an afternoon.

Stingray Lagoons

A number of the Islands of Tahiti are ringed in barrier reefs that create calm water lagoons ideal for snorkeling. Stingray encounters are a favorite activity at many resorts. Photo: Tahiti Tourisme

The Resorts

Tahiti is famous for it’s over-water bungalows. This style of resort originated in these islands, and the shallow lagoons of Bora Bora and Moorea are home to dozens of resorts with over-water accommodations. These offer wow factors such as glass floor panels, plunge pools and over-water hammocks on private terraces, and steps that lead directly from rooms into the water. There are no such resorts in Fiji, where the usual resort scenario is a group of cottages known as bures, which are set in garden-like settings on the shore. Another difference is the usual size of the resorts. Tahiti has a number of 200-plus room properties that deliver a full range of amenities that include multiple dining options and some of the most opulent spas on the planet. A stay in Fiji more likely means a small resort with a few dozen rooms or less, with a central dining hall and a boutique spa.

Overwater Bungalows

The Islands of Tahiti are famous for over-water bungalows. Islands such as Bora Bora and Moorea are home to a number of resorts that offer this type of iconic accommodation. Photo: Alice Izal/Tahiti Tourisme

On the Water

With warm Pacific waters washing the shores of both island groups, it’s no surprise that water sports are a central focus in both Tahiti and Fiji. That said, the experiences can be different. The aforementioned over-water bungalows of Tahiti immerse guests in an aquatic panorama, and the lagoons that surround these resorts offer calm conditions and clear water for snorkeling right form the beach. The corals aren’t as colorful as in Fiji, but there’s plenty of tropical fish, plus the thrill of seeing rays and even sharks swimming by. Fiji also offers snorkeling, but more often on near- shore reefs that could be either a swim or a boat ride away. Scuba diving is what puts Fiji on many travelers’ list. The destination is known as the soft coral capital of the world, and reefs explode in vibrant growths of red, yellow, purple and indigo sea fans. Above the surface, both destinations will please paddlers, sailors, fishermen and even surfers at certain times of year. In Tahiti, these activities are more likely to take place within the lagoon, while Fiji offers sheltered bays that open to blue water channels.

Fiji Coral Reef

Fiji is world famous for its colorful soft coral formations. Some of the most spectacular are growths found off the island of Taveuni at Rainbow Reef. Photo: Paradise Taveuni Hotel

On the Land

You can hike across wooded valleys and climb to elevated overlooks on the islands of Tahiti, but there are more chances for land-based adventures in Fiji, which offers more waterfalls, taller mountains, bigger rainforests and even a white water river. From a cultural aspect, there are also significant differences. Tahiti is more cosmopolitan, and permeated with elements of French culture. English is fairly widely spoken at the resorts, but a visit to the capital of Papeete is bit like a trip to a tropical version of Paris. Get outside the few major towns on Fiji’s big island, and you’ll discover an authentic slice of traditional island life. For many, a highlight of their vacation is an invite to a traditional lovo feasts, or a kava ceremony.

Kava Fiji

The kava ceremony is a mainstay of tradition Fijian culture. Visitors are invited to share a beverage made from the root of the yaqona plant, which creates a sensation of mild relaxation. Photo: Chris McLennan/Tourism Fiji

Tahiti Sailing

Sail-Away Adventures in Paradise

 

Imagine leaving it all behind and setting sail for a tropical island paradise. There, you’d anchor in a remote cove and spend your days swimming over coral reefs, walking deserted beaches and feasting on fresh seafood. This doesn’t have to be a daydream. Not when you book a charter boat vacation.

At some of the world’s most scenic islands, it’s possible to rent a well- equipped sailboat and set your own course for adventure. And don’t worry if you and your crew aren’t seasoned mariners, because these same charter companies can supply a captain to show you the ropes, or become your personal guide for the duration of the voyage. Here are four premier destinations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans where dreams of sailing away can become reality.

Tahiti

These are islands that inspired the artwork of Gauguin, and seduced the crew of the Bounty. Today, the Islands of Tahiti welcome sailing crews, who come to anchor in turquoise lagoons, walk unspoiled beaches and swim over bright coral reefs. Sailing adventures typically begin on the island of Raiatea, which is part of the Leeward group of islands that lies some 100 miles to the west of the big island of Tahiti. This cluster of tall, green islands includes Bora Bora, with it’s world famous lagoon, the quieter sister islands of Tahaa and Raiatea, and the garden island of Huahine. Each offers something different, from traditional villages and coconut groves to world- class resorts and spas. Because these islands are all within an easy day’s sailing of each other, a charter boat crew can island hop, anchoring in a different bay or lagoon each night. Warm, steady trades blow year round, creating easy sailing conditions that will have even new skippers soon feeling like old salts.

Tahiti Sailing

The Tahitian island of Raiatea is the nautical center of French Polynesia. The main town of Uturoa is home to a number of sailboat and yacht charter companies. Photo: Grégoire Le Bacon/Tahiti Tourisme

Seychelles

A thousand miles east of Africa, the remote islands of the Seychelles were known to ancient mariners from Phoenicia, Polynesia, China and the Arab world. Today, only the savviest of sailors know of this magical cruising destination, but the word is getting out. The Seychelles group is hundreds of small, low-lying islands scattered across thousands of miles of ocean. But the star attractions are the larger Inner Islands, which are geological wonders of twisted granite, mountainous and lush with tropical forests that support species of birds found nowhere else on Earth. From the capital island of Mahé, crews can make an easy day sail to a cluster of small islands to the east, where they will find bays fringed by ivory-white sands and clusters of monolithic granite boulders that are an iconic symbol of the Seychelles. Ashore, the islands offer a rich commingling of French, British, Indian, Middle Eastern, and African cultures.

Seychelles Bay

Sailboats ride at anchor in the south bay of the Port Launay Marine Park in the central Seychells. These islands offer dozens of calm coves for overnight stays. Photo: Seychelles Tourism Board

Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga is best known for whales. Each year, humpbacks migrate from the Antarctic waters to mate, breed and birth in the warm waters that surround these remote islands, creating a unique opportunity for humans to swim with these 50-foot mammals. That alone would be reason enough to visit these remote and unspoiled islands, but there’s more. In the center of the Tonga archipelago, the Vava’u group of islands provide the ideal sailing conditions that make these waters one of the most appealing cruising grounds in the South Pacific. The green-clad islands sit in close proximity to each other, are ringed in protective coral reefs, and are graced with steady trade winds. Skippers can glide over calm waters, navigating from island to island by sight, with more than 40 calm anchorages to choose from. These same reefs offer exceptional snorkeling and diving in some of the world’s clearest waters, and there are miles of deserted beaches to explore.

Tonga Sailing

A sailboat glides past a small island in Tonga’s Vava’u group. Calm waters, close harbors and steady winds make this region ideal for sailing vacations. Photo: Tourism Tonga

Thailand

Not many people know of the Phi Phi Islands by name, but most will instantly recognize them by sight. These limestone towers, which rise precipitously from the waters of the Andaman Sea, have served as backdrops for feature films, and have graced thousands of magazine covers and travel brochures. These and the other hundred-plus islands that surround Thailand’s vacation mecca of Phuket are far from unknown, but sailors who charter their own vessels have the advantage over those who come by tour boat. Within the sheltered waters of Phang Nga Bay, there are numerous bays and anchorages on uninhabited islands that aren’t on the main sight seeing routes. The prime sailing season runs from November through April, as cooler, drier northern winds create ideal conditions for relaxing island-hopping passages. Crews can choose to spend nights in quiet coves, or stop in more populous harbors to enjoy shore leave that comes with the warm hospitality that the Thai people are known for.

Thailand Phi Phi Islands

Sailors can explore the dramatic landscapes of Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands, where towering limestone cliffs surround calm bays ringed in white sand beaches. Photo: Flickr

Maldives Lily Beach

Wellness and Watersports in the Maldives

 

For some, a vacation is about relaxing and refreshing. For others, it’s about creating memorable experiences. And don’t forget the meals and the accommodations, because fine dining and a memorable setting can be equally important. The best resorts bring all these elements together, and in the islands of the Maldives, there are three properties that deliver an ideal mix of comforts, diversions and private relaxation.

Lily Beach Resort & Spa

The all-inclusive resort experience is taken to the next level at Lily Beach, where all guests enjoy Platinum Plan amenities and premier accommodations. A quick seaplane from the Malé airport brings guests to pristine Huvahendhoo Island, which is set within a turquoise lagoon fringed by the best snorkeling and diving reefs in the Maldives. Waterfront accommodation choices include beach and lagoon view villas, with some two-bedroom units available for families. Upscale touches include private gardens with day beds and soak tubs, outdoor shower rooms, and top-line entertainment electronics and fully stocked mini bars. The premier over- water villas add elements such as glass floor viewing panels and private decks with plunge pools. To keep all guests happy, there is a family pool and activity center, and a separate infinity edge “quiet zone” pool with a hot tub. Dining options are similarly accommodating of all tastes, and range from a kid’s buffet to fine dining option with premium wines and spirits.

Lily Beach Resort Suite Maldives

The deck of a sunset water suite at the Lily Beach Resort includes all the amenities; from a private plunge pool to a sun deck, outdoor dining area and entry into the lagoon. Photo: Lily Beach

The tantalizing waters of the lagoon provide the setting for spa treatments at the Tamara Spa. Here, a collection of six over-water pavilions perch on stilts above the turquoise shallows. Each pavilion can accommodate couples or individuals, and is lavishly equipped with sauna and steam chambers, outdoor showers and Jacuzzi baths suspended on the edge of a private water view balcony. Guests looking for a rush rather than a relaxation can engage in a wide range of included water sports, from windsurfing and wakeboarding to the high-flying thrills of a jet blade ride, where water jets propel riders high above the waves. More serene water sports include sailing, paddleboats, standup paddleboards and snorkel excursions. Divers have access to more than 50 world-class sites that include wrecks, fish laden underwater walls and seasonal sightings of manta rays and whale sharks. After a full day on the water, guests can enjoy a variety of nightly entertainment programs from live music and DJ sessions to Maldivian cultural shows, group games and family-friendly variety shows.

Lily Beach Resort Spa Maldives

The Tamara Spa at the Lily Beach Resort sits on pilings above the lagoon, providing guests with water views from treatment rooms, and an inviting open-air soak tub. Photo: Lily Beach

COMO Cocoa Island

Understated luxury is the theme at this boutique five-star resort. COMO Cocoa Island includes just 33 over-water villas; each built to resemble a traditional regional boathouse, and finished with soothing, all white interiors and teak floors. Villa floor plans include intimate one-bedroom units; spacious suites and airy split-level loft suites, all are fitted with private water-access sun decks, walk-in showers and roll-top bathtubs. Touches such vintage-style ceiling fans and exposed beam ceilings add an out island ambiance, but guests also enjoy modern comforts such as air conditioning, a private bar, in-room Wi-Fi and a full suite of electronics. Plank boardwalks connect villas to the private island, which is ringed in white sand beaches, and clothed in garden-like greenery. Nestled among the palm trees are the resort’s restaurant, infinity-edge pool and the Shambhala Retreat, which incorporates elements of a spa, yoga retreat, and fitness center, and includes a steam room and hydrotherapy pool.

COMO Cocoa Island

At the COMO Cocoa Island resort, over-water bungalows stretch outward from the island’s oasis of green. These dwellings are built in the style of a traditional Maldives boathouse. Photo: COMO Hotels

At the Shambhala Retreat, programs go beyond the usual range of massages and treatments, and focus on holistic wellness with programs that combine movement, relaxation, nutrition and Asian-based therapies. This philosophy extends to special raw food menu choices at the waterfront Ufaa dining pavilion, though guests may choose to expand their palate with the chef’s South Indian-influenced cuisines and Mediterranean favorites, or savor fresh regional seafood dishes such as tandoor-roasted lobster. For the more adventurous, the ocean awaits. Cocoa Island is located within South Malé Atoll, which is home to some of the best coral reefs in the Maldives. Snorkelers can explore right from their over-water villas, or go by boat to nearby reefs. Divers can explore sites such as the famous Kandooma Caves, and an underwater cleaning station where small fish pick parasites from the skin of waiting sharks. To further enhance these adventures, the resort’s resident marine biologist often leads the dive. The water sports center also maintains a fleet of kayaks, paddleboards and windsurfers, and to cap off a special day, guests can arrange for a private lantern light dinner in a beachside tent.

COMO Cocoa Villa

There are just two COMO Villas At the COMO Cocoa Island, one offering sunrise views, the other showcasing sunsets. Both have two bedroom wings connected by living and dining areas. Photo: COMO Hotels

Constance Halaveli

This private island resort caters to couples and families with equal measure. If it’s just the two of you, the overwater villas are a great choice, as these open-plan rooms offer private decks with plunge pools that encourage relaxation and reconnection. Ashore, there are 28 beach villas, some with second-story master bedrooms and separate children’s bunkrooms, others with second bedrooms having separate outdoor access suitable for older children and teens. A range of dining options allows guests to choose anything from a convenient family sit down at the Jahaz buffet to an intimate dinner on the sand at Meeru, or an over-water dining experience at Jing, which has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its innovative fusion cuisines.

Constance Halaveli Maldives

The over-water bungalows at the Maldives Constance Halaveli use subtle screening to provide full guest privacy on waterfront decks and plunge pools, without marring the view. Photo: Constance Hotels

Situated on stilts over the lagoon, Le Spa de Constance is a centerpiece of the resort. Facilities include four couple treatment rooms, with one dedicated to Ayurvedic treatments, six single treatment rooms including one for Thai massages, a beauty salon and a relaxation area. The spa also provides anti-aging treatments by Valmont and Ila organic products. Also on site are a fitness studio offering stretching, yoga and personal training. The sheltered lagoon surrounding the resort is ideal for a range of on-site water sports that includes wakeboarding, water skiing, windsurfing, kayaks and catamaran sailing. The PADI dive center can provide snorkeling and scuba instruction, and offers a unique shark awareness course. A short boat ride away from the resort is many of the premier dive sites of North Malé Atoll. Special adventures include dolphin watching cruises and snorkeling encounters with whale sharks. One amenity that makes Constance Halaveli especially attractive for families is the Kid’s Club, which operates from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., free of charge, offering supervised free play and structured activities including treasure hunts, face painting and hermit crab racing.

U Spa Constance Maldives

At the U Spa by Constance, day beds in the lounge and relaxation area face opening glass doors that usher in panoramic views of the turquoise waters of the lagoon. Photo: Constance Hotels

Jamaica Half Moon Spa

Superior Soaks: Amazing Resort Bathtubs in Tropical Garden Settings

 

Whether it’s a cleansing dip after a day of adventures in rainforest and reef, or a relaxing immersion in preparation for a private candlelight dinner on the beach, a bathtub can become more than just a way to get clean. Here’s a sampling of amazing bathing experiences from around the world. So sink in and relax. A marble tub is the perfect place to refresh with a flower and herb scented bath after a massage at the award-winning Fern Tree Spa at Jamaica’s Half Moon resort.

Tahiti Huahine

Trending Vacation Destinations for 2018

 

A vacation is supposed to be an escape from the day to day. So why join the crowds and flock to the same well-known destinations, where you’ll rub elbows with everyone else seeking a getaway. More savvy travelers seek that next great place, and they want to get there before the general public arrives. The rewards for this forward looking approach to travel are uncrowded beaches, pristine forests, a resort environment that is accommodating but not over developed, and a local vibe that treats visitors as welcome guests. And yes, these places really do exist, and we’ve rounded up seven of our favorite picks for 2018.

Huahine, Islands of Tahiti

Anyone who longs for the South Pacific of Gauguin and Michener will be pleased to know it is alive and well on one of Tahiti’s less visited islands. Thirty miles east of the posh over-water bungalows of Bora Bora, the islands of Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti are a step back in time. These green islands are ringed in white sand beaches, and set within a turquoise lagoon. Lush forests cover volcanic slopes, and there are just eight small villages scattered across the islands. It is a land where things grow easily, and the rich soil yields bountiful harvests of vanilla, melons and bananas. Visitors come to trek the hills, ride bikes or horses on rural paths, snorkel the reefs and to sail, surf and swim in the clear waters. The tourism infrastructure is limited to a collection of small hotels and guesthouses scattered across the islands, with the crown jewel being the Royal Huahine hotel, which offers just 18 bungalows in a garden setting, tucked into a secluded bay accessible only by boat.

Tahiti Huahine Hotel

On the shores of Huahine, architecture details of Hotel Maitai Lapita take a cue from the region’s canoe culture, where bungalows are decorated with stylized canoe prows. Photo: Pierre Lesage/Flickr

Anguilla

Anguilla is an island for those who value both the finer things and the simpler things. Anyone who finds contentment in the simple act of sitting on a beach will be pleased to discover that this small Caribbean island is home to some of the world’s most beautiful powder white strands. Equally stunning are the aquamarine and turquoise hues of the waters, and this fact is not lost on the hoteliers who have built their upscale boutique properties on waterfront locations that deliver awe-inspiring vistas of sea and sky. The most recent example is the 25-room Manoah Boutique Hotel, which has been called the Caribbean’s most gorgeous new property. And then there’s the food. Foodies consider Anguilla to be the culinary capital of the Caribbean. At venues across the island, talented chefs with international reputations deliver an award-winning dining scene that showcases a range of elegance and creative cuisine, fusing fresh local flavors from land and sea with elegant international flavors.

Anguilla Shoreline

Gleaming mega-yachts, upscale boutique resorts and white sand beaches set the tone on Anguilla, where upscale indulgences mix easily with simple pleasures. Photo: Anguilla Tourism

Oahu

Oahu’s Waikiki Beach was where your parents went on honeymoon back in the day. But this most vintage of Hawaiian destinations is now infused with a new energy that pays homage to its roots, while also branding Oahu as the hip new place to be. Over the past few years, a number of vintage resorts in the Waikiki area have updated and reinvented themselves. Some have tapped into a retro-chic vibe while others have gone full modern. The latest such reimagining is taking place at the 315-room Queen Kapiolani Hotel, where a $30 million renovation is underway. The island’s culinary scene is also kicking it up a notch, with a growing number of kitchens opened by internationally known chefs, and a renaissance in regional cuisines. Look for trendsetter Peter Merriman to introduce farm-to-high rise cuisine at his latest Oahu restaurant, which will highlight ingredients grown and harvested from the Kualoa Private Nature Reserve.

Oahu Food And Wine Festival

Visitors and Oahu locals mingled during the annual Hawaii Food & Wine Festival. The city’s Waikiki district has benefitted from a new wave of food and entertainment venues. Photo: Hawaii Food & Wine Festival

Azores

If you have no idea where the Azores is, you aren’t alone. Though technically a part of Portugal, these islands lie 1,000 miles to the west, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It was only recently that regular and cost effective flights became widely available, which has in turn sparked a new wave of interest from travelers looking for the next great destination. Just don’t expect white sand beaches, though there are a few palm trees. The big attraction in the Azores is the rugged volcanic landscapes, where green clad slopes rise into the clouds, and clear Gulf Stream waters temper the mid-Atlantic climate. The islands offer a wide range of activities, from whale watching and swimming with dolphins to mountain climbing and trekking, bathing in hot spring waters, golf, and more. Culture is also a big attraction, as the islands are steeped in Portuguese traditions and architecture. The island of Sao Miguel has responded to the tourism boom with new properties such as the five-star Hotel Azor, while other islands in the chain still favor smaller properties and rustic guesthouses.

Azores Landscape & Village

In the Azores, red tile roofs and white walled cottages are reminders of the islands’ strong Portuguese heritage. Soaring sea cliffs tell of their volcanic origins. Photo: VisitAzores

Gili Islands, Indonesia

The bad news: the world has discovered the magic of the Gili Islands. The good news: the magic is still there. This trio of pint-sized islands sits just off the western tip of Lombok, Indonesia, where they are just a short flight and a boat ride away from Bali. Once known only to the intrepid backpacker crowd, the Gilis epitomize the iconic dream of a tropical island paradise, where coconut palms arch over sugar sand beaches washed by turquoise seas. And though mainstream tourism has now arrived, it has not spoiled the destination’s languid out island charm, and it has not come to all islands in equal measure. This allows visitors to have a sampler’s choice of vacation experiences. The most cosmopolitan of the three, Gili Trawangan, offers a lively beach club scene on its eastern shore, while the quieter west coast is devoted to small, upscale resorts. Cars are banned from all three islands, so be prepared to walk, bike or hire a ride on a passing horse cart. At the other end of the spectrum, quiet Gili Meno sees only a handful of visitors, and is home to just a handful of small, secluded resorts. It’s a place for those who want to escape the world. In between is Gili Air, an island that many feel offers the “just right” mix of development and seclusion, where backpackers are still welcome among a growing number of in-the-know jet setters looking for a quiet getaway.

Indonesia Gili Islands

The Gili Islands rise from the Indian Ocean like a trio of emeralds set in a field of sapphire. Located an hour from Bali, these islands are just gaining the attention of savvy travelers. Photo: Flickr

St. Kitts

The island of St. Kitts is attracting a new class of travelers who value both luxury and nature in equal measure. They are rewarded by a landscape that remains blissfully free of high rise hotels and beachfront sprawl, and in instead graced with a limited number of premier resorts designed to complement the island’s character. Long after other Caribbean destinations turned to tourism, St. Kitts remained a society of farmers and fishermen. It wasn’t until the early 21st century that cane harvests gave way to resort development. Today, this late bloom has yielded a crop of unique and upscale properties that blend into the island’s natural surroundings, without overwhelming it bucolic culture. One prime example is the Kittitian Hill project, which is based on the value of environmental and cultural preservation, and includes unique resort properties such as the cottages of Belle Mont Farms. 2017 saw the opening of the upscale Park Hyatt, which is set in the marina village of Christophe Harbour, and on the horizon is the $120 million Seaview Gardens Hotel Project, which will include a 350-room hotel. In contrast to these projects, the majority of St. Kitts remains green and untouched, and more than a quarter of the island has been designated as a nature preserve.

St Kitts Park Hyatt

At the St. Kitts Park Hyatt, architectural details of the hillside rampart pool pay homage to the island’s iconic Brimstone Hill fortress. Photo: Michael Stavaridis/Hyatt

Panama

The Canal. That’s all that most people know about the Central American nation of Panama. Savvy travelers share a different reality. They sail to small, deserted islands off the Pacific Coast; they hike in mountain forests that are the equal of anything Costa Rica has to offer; they surf Caribbean waves, then lounge in hammocks on the over-water decks of eclectic eco lodges overlooking a lagoon. It’s not your usual resort scene, and that’s okay with locals. In fact, Panama’s new PR campaign counsels that it is a destination that is “Not for Tourists.” For those who consider themselves travelers rather than tourists, this is a good thing. But it’s not all thatch-roof beach bungalows and jungle lodges. Those looking for a touch of luxury— possibly before or after an up country adventure—will find it in the boutique hotels of Panama City’s historic district, the upscale high rises along the city’s waterfront, and the beach resorts of Playa Blanca. Regardless of style, those in the know agree that Panama provides a just- right combination of sophistication and adventure that can be enjoyed all the more because it is a destination that has not yet appeared on the mainstream travel radar.

Panama Bocas Del Toro

Panama provides adventurous travelers with a wealth of eco adventures that rival the much better known programs of neighboring Costa Rica. Photo: Lori Newman/Flickr

 

Miami Art Basel

Where You Should Go in 2018

 

If you’re tired of hearing “you should have been there,” then maybe it’s time to start showing up. To help you plan those memory-making moments, we’ve put together a short list of epic and must-do events for 2018 that are taking place at locations all across the tropics.

January

Forget standing in the cold to watch the ball drop. Instead, head to the island of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgins for the legendary Old Year’s Night Party of Foxy’s Bar. For a slice of authentic Mexican culture, plan a visit to the Colonial era city of Merida for the month long Merida Fest, which encompasses a long list of art exhibits, concerts, theater performances and street celebrations. If good food is your thing, reserve the week of January 10-14 for the Cayman Cookout, when celebrity chefs descend onto the island to showcase a savory array of culinary masterpieces.

Cayman Cookout

A group of celebrity chefs participating in the Cayman Cookout take a break from the kitchen to pose barefoot on the sands of Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach. Photo: Rebecca Davidson/Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

February

There are carnival celebrations all over the Caribbean, but the big event takes place on the island of Trinidad, where Calypso singers, costumes and steel drum bands hit the streets, and travelers can get in on lavish nightly parties. Spend President’s Day weekend ogling the world’s largest collection of yachts and pleasure boats at the Miami Boat Show. On February 11, head to Oahu’s Chinatown, where fireworks and processions welcome in the Chinese New Year. Get a jump on the baseball season at the Caribbean Series Championship, which will bring teams from across the Caribbean to Mexico for a round robin playoff.

Trinidad Carnival

Colorful costumes and elaborate masks are hallmarks of Trinidad’s annual Carnival, which showcases some of the world’s best Calypsonians and steel drum orchestras. Photo: iStock

March

Reserve your place on the boat for a rare chance to swim with humpback whales as they migrate through the waters of the Silver Banks in the Dominican Republic. Join the locals at Anguilla’s Festival del Mar, where you can finish off a day of boat races and fishing tournaments with a dinner of grilled lobster, then dance the night away to live music. Montserrat is the only place outside of Ireland where St. Patrick’s Day is an official national holiday, and the island’s weeklong festival highlights Montserrat’s blended African and Irish heritage.

Montserrat St Patricks Day

The traditions of Africa and Ireland merge on the island of Montserrat, which is the only country outside Ireland where St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday. Photo: Abi Kamalei/Montserrat Tourism Board

April

Come to the Big Island of Hawaii the first week of April to enjoy the sensuous rhythms of the hula dance during the Merrie Monarch Festival, which is the site of the Hawaiian Hula Olympics. Thousands gather in the Colombian town of Vallenato to watch folk music legends compete for the title of Accordion King during the Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata. Nelson’s Dockyard is the center of both racing action and shore side parties during Antigua’s annual Sailing Week, which kicks off on the 28th, and attracts gleaming racing yachts from around the world. For a different take on the maritime life, join locals at the National Family Island Regatta, which draws hometown crews from around the Bahamas.

Bahamas Island Regatta

Island sloops fill the waters of Elizabeth Harbour during the annual Family Island Regatta, which draws sailing teams from across the Bahamas. Photo: Bahamas Ministry of Tourism

May

Start the month off at Hawaii’s largest May Day and Lei Day celebration, when Oahu’s Queen Kapiolani Park becomes the site of lei making contests, hula performances, concerts and a gathering of craft and food vendors. On nearby Waikiki Beach, there are more contests and free outrigger canoe rides. The month also holds a number of notable musical happenings. More than 50 bands converge on the Palm Beach waterfront for four days of live music at SunFest. A broad sampling of authentic Caribbean musical traditions is showcased during Grenada’s Pure Music Festival. For smoother sounds, head to St. Lucia for the Jazz Festival, which showcases a mix of local, regional and international talents.

Grenada Pure Music Festival

Local talents share the stage with international performers during the Pure Music Festival, which raises funds for a foundation that promotes young musical talent in Grenada. Photo: Grenada Tourism Authority

June

Go native during the Heiva i Tahiti festival, which celebrates the traditions of Polynesia, with performances and parties on a number of the islands in Tahiti. Earn bragging rights by traveling to the Mexican island of Isla Mujeres to swim with huge but harmless whale sharks. For faster action, make your way to Ensenada, Mexico for the annual running of the Baja 500 Off-road Race. Looking for something a bit more sophisticated? You’ll find it among the chic and beautiful people who descend on Jamaica for Caribbean Fashion Week.

Bora Bora Heiva Festival

A traditional choir performs on the island of Bora Bora during the annual Heiva i Tahiti festival, which takes place on islands across much of French Polynesia. Photo: Mikito411/Flickr

July

Grove to roots rhythms during Jamaica’s Reggae Sumfest, which draws reggae and dancehall fans from around the world. Different musical traditions are on display during the Festival del Merengue de Santo Domingo, in the capital of the Dominican Republic, which showcases this homegrown musical genre with dance performances and concerts. Take in a savory combination of good food and live art performances at the Haleiwa Arts Festival, which brings more than 140 visual artists to the island of Oahu. Grab a mask and snorkel and head for the Florida Keys for the Sportsman’s Lobster Season, where everyone has a chance to bag some tasty crustaceans.

Florida Keys Lobstering

Spiny lobster are the prize catch during Florida’s annual Sportsman Season, which takes place on the last weekend in July, and draws thousands to the waters of the Florida Keys. Photo: Reel Bliss/Flickr

August

Barbados’s Crop Over festivities stretch through most of the summer, but the can’t miss event is August’s Grand Kadooment, which is a day-long street procession and carnival featuring elaborate costumes, music and libations. On the other side of the globe, adventurous travelers head to the island of Tonga for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to swim with humpback whales in clear blue waters. The old ways are honored during Belize’s Costa Maya Festival, when persons of Mayan heritage from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico gather on Ambergris Caye for a weekend of traditional dances, pageants, food, and songs. The Dormition of Virgin Mary is one of Greece’s most anticipated public holidays, and a time of festivities and feasts. Many consider the best place to celebrate the day is on the island of Ikaria, at the colorful village of Christos Raches.

Tonga Whales

From July to October, humpback whales migrate to the coastal waters of Tonga’s Vavau Island group, providing a unique opportunity for swimming encounters. Photo: Kirkland/Tourism Tonga

September

The islands of Hawaii celebrate their cultural roots during Aloha Week, which includes parades, traditional dance performances, island music and block parties. As the Caribbean heads into the fall, hatchling sea turtles emerge from nests and take to the sea. One of the prime places to witness this phenomenon is with a stay at Jamaica’s Goldeneye Resort, where more than 10,000 tiny turtles scramble across the sands of Golden Beach. In Male, the capital of the Maldives, the Hindu festival of Kuda Eid culminates in processions and a day of group feasting, dances and athletic competitions. September 15, not May 5, is Mexico’s true Independence Day. On this national holiday, thousands converge on the small town of Dolores Hidalgo, for a reenactment of “El Grito de Dolores,” the day in 1810 when bells rang to signal the start of the revolution.

Jamaica Sea Turtle

Fresh from the nest, a newly hatched sea turtle inches across the golden sands of a Jamaican beach. Visitors to the island can witness this phenomenon during the month of September. Photo: iStock

October

The Hawaii Food & Wine Festival is the Pacific Rim’s premier epicurean event. This seven-day festival features a roster of more than 80 international master chefs, culinary personalities, and wine and spirit producers. More eclectic flavors are showcased during the Blue Food Festival on the island of Tobago, which focuses on recipes based on a local staple, the dasheen root. Spectators converge on the island of Kona to watch the world’s elite endurance athletes compete in the Iron Man World Championships.

Hawaii Food And Wine Festival

Fireworks light the sky over the Ko Olina Lagoon during the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, which brings more than 100 master chefs to the islands of Hawaii. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority

November

In recent years, Mexico’s traditional Day of the Dead ceremonies has evolved into a massive costume party that takes place in Mexico City. Less boisterous but equally colorful is Trinidad’s Diwali Festival of Lights. Catch the on file action and take part in the post game parties during the World Rugby Classic, hosted in Bermuda. When costumed swashbucklers swarm ashore on Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach, it marks the start of Pirates Week festivities. More sophisticated indulgences await during the Barbados Food, Wine and Rum Festival.

Cayman Islands Pirates

Swashbuckling action on the decks of the Cayman Valhalla sailing ship is just part of the fun during the Pirates Week Festival of the Cayman Islands. Photo: Juan José Marroquín/Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

December

The world’s best wave riders gather on Oahu’s north shore to compete in the Billabong Pipe Maters surf competition. In Miami, unique creations and avant-garde visions are the focus of Art Basel. Adventurous travelers make their way to the highlands of Guatemala, where the indigenous K’iche’ Maya people gather in the village of Chichicastenango to honor Santo Tomás with days of colorful rituals and dances. On the Bahamian island of New Providence, dance and drum troops march through the streets of Nassau during the all night Junkanoo.

Oahu Billabong Pipeline

World Champion surfer Kelly Slater catches a wave during the Billabong Pipe Masters, which brings the world’s best wave riders to the island of Oahu each December. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority

Belize Biancaneaux Lodge Outdoor Shower

Outdoor Showers: 15 Top Resorts with Amazing Private Open-air Cascades

 

There’s nothing like standing under the cool, cleansing flow of an outdoor shower set amid natural surroundings. While lathering up in bubbles, you might hear the songs of birds, monkeys chattering in the trees or the sea rolling ashore. Bringing you closer to nature and pictured here is a close up of a private courtyard outdoor shower at the Blancaneuax Lodge in Belize.

Fiji Outrigger Hosts

Indo-Pacific Resorts With Cyber Sale Savings

 

Fiji, Mauritius, the Maldives. For many, these are the dream destinations worthy of the trip of a lifetime. And for a very limited time, planning a vacation to select resorts on these idyllic islands will yield significant savings, thanks to a special online sales promotion run in conjunction with the Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping event. Here is a sample of the indulgences that await—and the savings that are available.

Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, Fiji

This five-star seaside retreat features a setting reminiscent of a traditional Fijian village. From the moment guests check in to their traditional bure villas, they enjoy the pampering attentions of signature Talai butlers and Meimei nannies, and can take in sweeping views from the hilltop Bebe Spa Fiji. The resort offers a wide range of activities for the entire family, from young children to mature teens, with amenities that include a unique tropical pool, award-winning spa and a Kids Eat Free special. During the online Cyber Sale, travelers can book at special rates starting from $127 USD, and receive two complimentary spa treatments with a six-night stay. Visit www.outrigger.com/specials and use the code CYBER.

Fiji Beach Resort

At the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, the Sundowner dining room serves generous helpings of ocean views to accompany casuals lunches and elegant dinners. Photo: Ross Eason/Outrigger Resorts

Castaway Island, Fiji

This premier resort is located on a pristine private island in the heart of Fiji’s Mamanuca group. The island is covered in rich tropical rainforest and surrounded by white sand beaches, vibrant coral reefs and azure South Pacific waters. The picture-perfect setting is enhanced by the genuine warmth and hospitality of a staff that welcome guests back year after year to experience the magic that is Castaway. Sixty-six spacious air-conditioned bungalows featuring traditional Fijian style thatched roofs are nestled amongst lush tropical gardens at the water’s edge, with stunning ocean views. Special Cyber Sale rates begin at $425 USD, and include a private beach dinner and snorkeling tour for stays of five nights or more. Go to www.outrigger.com/specials/fci and use code CYBER to book.

Castaway Island Outrigger Fiji

The thatched-roof beach bungalows at Fiji’s Castaway Island resort are spread across a 174-acre private island, ensuring each guest enjoys privacy and unobstructed ocean views. Photo: Outrigger Resorts

Banyan Tree Phuket, Thailand

On the western shores of Phuket Island, the luxurious pool villas of the Banyan Tree resort are set around small beachside lagoons and groves of palm and casurina trees. Within each villa, the luxuriously appointed, Thai-inspired décor exudes refinement and elegance, rooms open onto private outdoor pools set next to spacious wooden decks, and include his-and-hers private dressing rooms and an inviting open-air oval bathtub. Travelers can now experience this premier resort with savings of 50 percent off the best available rate, by booking between November 23 and November 28, 2017. The deal is valid for stays from December 24, 2017 until January 9, 2018, though blackout dates may apply. To book, email Phuket@banyantree.com and mention “Black Friday”. http://www.banyantree.com/en/ap-thailand-phuket-resort

Banyan Tree Phuket

A deluxe pool villa at the Banyan Tree Phuket resort pays architectural homage to the traditions of Thailand, while also enveloping guests in an atmosphere of total relaxation. Photo: Banyan Tree

Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort, Thailand

Thanks to its premier beachfront setting on Bangtao Bay, this upscale property is one of the most coveted addresses in the distinctive Laguna Phuket resort community. Here, guests will be captivated by the resort’s tranquil lagoon, stylish dining inspired by Thai and international cuisine, and exclusive Voyager 47 Club Lounge. Accommodations range from spacious garden and water- view rooms to expansive suites, two-bedroom and family villas. The setting is perfect for a romantic wedding at sunset, an ocean adventure on the Andaman Sea, or a family holiday. Special Cyber Sale rates begin at just $105 per night, and include daily breakfasts and a food and beverage credit. This offer is valid for stays of three nights or more, booked between November 20, 2017 through December 6, 2017 for travel between November 20, 2017 through May 31, 2019. Visit www.outrigger.com/specials and use the code CYBER.

Phuket Thailand Outrigger

Conversation alcoves and day beds sit on the central deck of the Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort. The deck faces the beach across an expanse of manicured lawn. Photo: Outrigger Resorts

Outrigger Koh Samui Beach Resort, Thailand

Located on the shores of Koh Samui’s scenic Hanuman Bay, Koh Samui is a mid-sized resort comprised of 27 garden pool suites, 18 garden pool villas, four ocean view pool suites and three ocean front pool suites. Each of these spacious, air-conditioned accommodations includes fire pit, a cool plunge pool and warm sundeck to relax in perfect privacy. For relaxation and wellness there is an on-site spa and fitness center, a social pool with swim- up bar and two restaurants serving an intriguing mix of regional and international cuisines. Cyber Sale rates provide savings of up to 35 percent, with nightly rates starting at $150 USD, including daily breakfast and round-trip airport transfers. Visit www.outrigger.com/KohSamui/Resort for details.

Outrigger Koh Samui

At the Outrigger Koh Samui Beach Resort, the indoor and outdoor spaces of a pool villa blend into a seamless and inviting environment that also provides total privacy. Photo: Outrigger Resorts

Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort, Mauritius

Set in the seaside village of Bel Ombre on Mauritius’s desirable southern coast, the low-rise buildings of this premier resort blend into the surrounding tropical gardens. Each of the property’s 181 guest accommodations enjoys direct water views, and walk-up access to a stunning beach. With choices including deluxe and family rooms, suites and villas, there is something for all tastes and groups sizes. For those seeking an active vacation, the Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort offers an array of sports activities on land and water, and the 18-hole championship golf course, Golf Du Chateau Bel Ombre, is only minutes away. Whether travelers are looking for an exceptional culinary experience or a more casual meal in tropical surrounds, the resort offers a range of dining options to suit all tastes, from Mauritian, Asian, International and fine dining, to beach and poolside options. By booking between November 20, 2017 and December 6, 2017, travelers can lock in a rate of $399 USD and enjoy exclusive access to the Plantation Club. Book online at www.outrigger.com/specials using code CYBER.

Mauritius Outrigger

Palm trees line the main pool at the Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort. The manicured grounds of the resort overlook one of the islands most pristine and desirable beaches. Photo: Outrigger Resorts

Konotta Island, Maldives

This idyllic property is set on a small green island surrounded by the crystal waters of Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. Tucked into the lush landscaping, and set over the waters of the lagoon are a collection of 21 beach pool villas, 8 two-bedroom beach pool villas, 21 ocean pool villas, 2 lagoon pool villas and the grand Konotta villa. Each villa is designed for complete privacy and intimate luxury, along with uncompromising Outrigger hospitality. Guests can experience innovative Maldivian cuisine, relax at the rejuvenating Navasana Spa, and discover stunning sea life on the surrounding coral reefs. With special Cyber Sale rates, travelers can book a premier over-water bungalow for a rate of $649 USD per night, which also includes a fruit & wine amenity, yoga, water activities, and spa facilities. Book at outrigger.com using the CYBER code.

Konotta Outrigger Maldives

The two-story over-water presidential villa at the Konotta Island resort includes three bedrooms and a salon-style living room that opens to a private deck and pool. Photo: Outrigger Resorts

Fiji Taveuni Island Paradise

Taveuni’s Most Charming Beachfront Resorts

 

The Fijian island of Taveuni is the epitome of a tropical paradise. Known as the garden island, it is a land of lush forests and flowers, where waterfalls cascade from a mountain lake, and the shores are surrounded by some of the most colorful coral reefs in the world. Much of the island remains pristine and protected within national parks, and the lush forests and mountains contain palms, ferns, orchids and other plants found nowhere elsewhere on earth. There are no large resorts on Taveuni, and guests are instead housed in intimate beachfront properties that take pride in delivering the highest levels of warm and personal service. Here are three of the best places to stay on the island.

Paradise Taveuni Resort

When new owners acquired a popular backpackers hostel in 2006, they began a sweeping upgrade that transformed this waterfront property into an upscale boutique resort. A year later, Paradise Taveuni opened for business with its existing rooms upgraded, and two new luxurious Fijian- style bures added to the resort’s five-acre oceanfront grounds. Paradise Taveuni is located on the southwest corner of Taveuni, where it is close to the world-famous dive sites of Rainbow Reef. Don’t expect sandy beaches; because this area of the coast features volcanic shores that quickly transition to deeper water. This is good news for divers and snorkelers, who can step right from the resort’s pier into some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world. The resort also offers fishing, paddle sports and other watersports, while land activities include hiking, horseback rides, guided tours, cultural excursions, spa services and more.

Paradise Taveuni Resort

Thatch-roofed Fijian-style bures at Paradise Taveuni are set in a palm grove perched on the edge of a volcanic shoreline. Just offshore are the soft coral gardens of Rainbow Reef. Photo: Paradise Taveunui

Each of the resort’s traditional thatch-roofed bures combines traditional Fijian architecture with contemporary design and standards. Five oceanfront bures have uninterrupted water views from the spacious decks, and also provide Jacuzzi tubs set in private gardens. Five more bures sit in lush South Pacific landscaping with partial ocean views. All are hand-built from local coconut and rain tree woods, with glass doors that open to a spacious deck completed with a Fiji daybed. The grounds also include five air-conditioned rooms, which can be configured for couples with a king-size bed, or connected into a two-bedroom suite with bunk beds to accommodate families or groups. Accommodation plans include three meals a day.

Paradise Taveuni Resort Fiji

The deluxe oceanfront bures at Paradise Taveuni Resort feature king-size beds, outdoor shower and Jacuzzi in private gardens. Photo: Paradise Taveuni

Taveuni Island Resort and Spa

The premier features of this five-star property can be summed up in two words: views and service. Taveuni Resort and Spa is located on the island’s west coast, set against a backdrop of lush mountain slopes, while sitting on pristine sand looking out into the crystal clear blue waters of the Somosomo Straits. Each of the resort’s private villas is positioned to take full advantage of these world-class views, which includes magnificent sunsets. Fijian hospitality is some of the warmest in the world, and for the ultimate in attentive service; each guest of Taveuni Island Resort is assigned a personal staff member, and can enjoy 24/7 service through the front desk.

Taveuni Island Resort Oceanfront Dining

A table at Taveuni Island Resort and Spa sets the standards for waterfront dining, with the waters of an infinity-edge pool mirroring the colors of a sunset over the Somosomo Straits. Photo: Taveuni Island Resort

There are just 12 luxury villas spaced across the ten-acre grounds of the resort. Save for one garden villa, all have partial or full ocean views, and feature floor-to-ceiling windows on all sides. The bure-style villas are open plan, with lounge areas that open to a spacious outdoor living area that includes rainforest-style showers. Each villa has a small kitchenette for in- room snacks and drinks, while all meals are included in the accommodation plan. The resort’s chefs create a true farm-to-table dining experience, making extensive use of local seafood and meats, and incorporating organic ingredients picked from an on-site garden. Guests can enjoy relaxing treatments at the on-site spa, or enjoy a massage on their villa deck. Other signature activities include a day trip and picnic to a remote out island, and a guided excursion to Lavena and Bouma Heritage Parks.

Taveuni Island Resort

The Grand Matalau Villa at the Taveuni Island Resort and Spa can accommodate up to six guests in bedrooms that open to ocean views. Perks include in-room massages and daily fresh flowers. Photo: Taveuni Island Resort

Tides Reach Resort

With just four beachfront villas, the Tides Beach Resort is able to offer a truly personalized, all-inclusive vacation experience. All villas are set on a private beach that faces the waters of the Somosomo straits. Included in all stays are meals, daily snorkel excursions, water sports and traditional Fijian cultural events. Guests have access to paddleboards and kayaks, and can arrange for diving and fishing trips, horseback rides and guided island tours to sites such as Lake Tangimouci, Bouma waterfalls, or the Lavena coastal walk. The spa provides both traditional Fijian and international treatments, using all-natural Pure Fiji products. For the ultimate vacation or wedding experience, the entire resort can be hired for groups of up to 12 adults.

Tides Reach Resort Fiji

Tides Reach Resort sits on a private section of beach on the northwestern coast of Taveuni. With just four beachfront villas, each guests is ensured the highest levels of personal service. Photo: Tides Reach

Tides Beach Resort’s standard beachfront villas are a generous 800 square feet, with king-size beds, oversized bathrooms and wrap-around decks. The deluxe beachfront villa is 1,200 square feet, and includes a separate sitting area, which can accommodate a family of four with additional twin beds. The designer-chosen furnishings showcase a mixture of European, South African & Indonesian styles, with touches such as stand-alone soak tubs, Belgium lines and designer bath amenities that create an atmosphere of pampered luxury. The staff is always available for special requests such as in-room dining, though most guests prefer to take their meals in the open- air dining pavilion that also enjoys uninterrupted ocean views. Meals are created from the resort’s own organic farm and garden, with dishes showcasing freshly picked herbs, organic vegetables and tropical fruits as well as free-range meats. In true Fijian style the food is artfully presented as a feast for all the senses.

Tides Reach Resort Oceanfront Pool Bure

The Luxury Beachfront Villa at Tides Reach Resort includes a personal plunge pool and a second bedroom, making it an ideal choice for families or two couples traveling together. Photo: Tides Reach

Maldives One And Only

Dream Sleeps: Resorts with Water View Bedrooms

 

Imagine falling asleep to sea breezes and the sound of the surf. Or waking to a sunrise over the water. A select number of resorts around the world have elevated the bedroom into a showroom, rewarding guests with spectacular one-of-a-kind views that make water and sky star attractions to create a slumber like no other. Here at the One & Only Reethi Rah Maldives resort sunset’s afterglow sets the mood for relaxation on a cabana bed perched on the deck of an over water villa.