August 2011 Archives

A Puffer Fish,Arothron hispidus is kissing my ...

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The newest of the US's 50 states, Hawaii is made up of eight islands and one of the most desired beaches in the world. It's not only the place to go for a relaxing family vacation, but also to experience a rich island culture. There are many places to go and things to do in Hawaii from snorkeling, participating in a luau, enjoying the beauty of its natural habitats and even frequenting museums. Before a trip to this beautiful, luxurious state it's a good idea to have a few key places in mind to visit. Here's a list of the top 5 things to do in Hawaii.


A Tropical Drive


One of the top places to see in Hawaii is the infamous Road to Hana, a 68-mile sightseeing drive in Maui. This road contains one of the world's most gorgeous landscapes full of waterfalls, bamboo forests, lava flows, pineapple fields and ocean views. There's so much to see it may be more convenient to take a van tour and leave the driving to someone else so you can focus on the beauty. The tour guides will not only know all the best spots to stop, photograph and picnic, but they will also be more accustomed to the 54 one-lane bridges and more than 600 curves and challenges on this marvelous road. Be sure to take a camera when venturing on the road named "the land that time forgot."


An Honored Remembrance


The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Oahu is an impressive184 feet long memorial built over the USS Arizona's hull, which serves as the final resting place for the ship's 1,177 crewmembers that lost their lives during the bombing on December 7, 1941. Their memory is kept alive with the Remembrance Exhibit, dedicated on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Absorb a part of US history as you pay homage to "ground zero" of World War II.


Marine Life Up-Close and Personal

Molokini needs to be on a traveler's top places to go for their first trip to Hawaii. This underwater sanctuary is only 2.5 miles off the coast of Maui and one of the best spots for snorkeling in the world with the clearest water in the state with some of the most beautiful fish. The uninhabited island, designated as a conservation district was formed as a partially sunken volcanic crater and now remains one of the best dive spots in the world.


An Impressive Landmark


To the east of Waikiki beach lies the 761foot tall Diamond Head, a volcanic crater extinct for over 150,000 years. In the 1800s British sailors mistook the glimmer of the crystals in the lava rock for diamonds, giving this natural wonder its name. The crater is 3,520 feet in diameter and was used as a harbor defense during the annexation of Hawaii in 1898.  You can hike the crater's rim in 1.5-2 hours.


A Breathtaking Walk

Before wrapping up your list of places to go in this tropical state, be sure to add the Kalalau Trail in Kaua'i, Hawaii. This beautiful trail covers 11 miles of land zigzagging out of steep-sided valleys. Enjoy the amazing view of the Pacific Ocean waves crashing against the cliffs. As you continue walking you'll see gorgeous waterfalls and forest-clad mountains. The trail ends at the head of Kalalau beach where many travelers like to pitch a tent and sleep to the sounds of the waves.


By Rachel Jimenez, Contributing Author

Casco Viejo, Panama CIty

Image by kmacelwee via Flickr

Bordered by Colombia to the southeast and Costa Rica to the northwest, with beautiful coast lines touching both the Caribbean Sea and the North Pacific Ocean, Panama is a Central American country with a lot of flavor and flare. It's strategically located on the isthmus that forms the land bridge connecting North and South America and controls the Panama Canal that links the North Atlantic Ocean with the North Pacific Ocean, which is one of the most important shipping routes in the world and a top tourist attraction. The ease of travel and wide array of experiences to be had has made Panama one of the most attractive emerging tourist destinations in the world. With just one week of travel, visitors can enjoy two different oceans, experience both the mountains and the rainforest, learn about native cultures and partake in the vibrant urban life that populates the larger cities, like the capital of Panama City. The capital is a modern, sophisticated metropolis that will remind visitors of the laidback lifestyle of Miami, with a booming tourist industry and plenty of shopping and dining options.

The country is known as the "Crossroads of the Americas" due to its privileged position between North and South America and is easily within a day's flight for anyone visiting from the states. Panama is also a prime vacation destination for those seeking out a bit of adventure on their trip. The indigenous meaning of the country's name, "abundance of fish", reflects Panama's reputation as a paradise for water sports enthusiasts and eco-tourists alike. Whether you're into scuba diving and sailing or water skiing and jet skiing, Panama has a little but for everyone. As the isthmus connecting two massive continents, Panama's flora and fauna is incredibly diverse.

In fact, Panama was recently named the country with the most bird species in the world at over 900. The country also has an incredibly rich cultural fabric, as many indigenous tribes are still thriving and living in the same ancient manner as their ancestors. However, Panama is also appealing to many outsiders for its strong economic infrastructure and modern day conveniences that are more highly developed than its Central American neighbors. Over 25,000 U.S. citizens live in the country now, a testament to just how mesmerizing the culture and flourishing surroundings can be to visitors from not only the U.S., but also around the world. Although it would take a whole book to outline Panama's best attractions, here are a few top spots to hit should you find yourself in one of Panama's cool cultural cities.

The Panama Canal

Commonly called "the eighth wonder of the world," the Panama Canal is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, tourist destinations in the country. It took 250,000 people from all corners of the globe more than 10 years to build, and it stands as a monument of mankind's ingenuity and power of conviction. Not only is it an architectural feat if there ever was one, it is a unique experience that cannot be reproduced anywhere else in the world. See 5,000,000-ton vessels rise and drop more than 50 feet as they make their way over Panama from one ocean to another, and learn about the history and future of this marvel of modern engineering. While in Panama City, a "must-do" is a visit to the new Miraflores Visitors Center at the Canal, which is a state-of-art visitor center with four exhibition halls: Canal History, Water the Source of Life, The Canal in Action and the Canal of the World. The exhibitions include historical objects of Canal operations, interactive modules, video presentations, and models of the Panama Canal. There is also a snack bar and a restaurant with stunning Canal-side views for when you've had enough of a history lesson for the day and simply wish to sit back and relax. Each exhibition hall has their own unique offerings, so be sure to make enough time so that you have a little bit to spend in each. One of the more popular halls is The Canal in Action, which depicts in an amusing manner how the Canal operates and allows visitors the experience of being inside a navigation simulator and one of the lock culverts. This exhibition also showcases Canal improvement, modernization, and maintenance projects, which should be of interest to the engineers of the world.

Casco Viejo

Also located in the thriving capital of Panama City, Casco Viejo is another top tourist destination for a true cultural experience. Absorb history by walking around the 337-year-old neighborhood as most of Panama City's historical buildings are located in the 38-block area. From the Golden Altar of Iglesia San Jose to the Canal Museum, every corner of the old city has something of significance. There is sure to never be quiet moments when visiting, as the true Panamanian sights, sounds and smells fill the air and envelope travelers who will feel as if they have taken a step back in time. Street peddlers cry out from all corners trying to attract you to their goods, which include things such as soft corn wrapped up in leaves, a Panamanian favorite. Other sights to enjoy include the presidential honor guard's cheerful early morning calisthenics and the Kuna Indians selling colorful molas on the Paseo de Bovedas as lovers stroll hand in hand catching glimpses of the distant Canal or early morning soccer games in the area's many public parks.

Bocas del Toro

If you're looking for adventure and a chance to get in touch with nature, there is no better place to visit than Panama's second biggest tourist destination behind the Panama Canal, Bocas del Toro. In fact, the city has such a draw for the adventure-minded that it has been used by 18 different countries to film their "Survivor" television series. Bocas is part of an exotic archipelago with islands of aqua blue waters on palm-lined white sand beaches set against nature-dense rainforests. It is the perfect place to relax on a white sand beach with scarcely a soul in sight, making it a perfect destination for couples seeking a luxurious romantic getaway and families who want to have quality fun and experience in nature at its prime. The most popular activities are boat tours to nearby islands for beaching, snorkeling, diving, dolphin observation, rainforest sights, bat caves and indigenous tribe villages. It is also a Mecca for surfers, filled with enough spots for all to enjoy no matter your skill level. Most hotels are located in Bocas town on Colon Island and the actual town of Bocas is fun and laid back with a surprising selection of good restaurants and nightlife spots. Many locals also speak English for those worried about communication barriers.

San Blas Islands

For those travelers looking for a trip "right out of the pages of National Geographic," there is no better place to visit than Panama's San Blas Islands. They offer two unbeatable attractions: Caribbean islands of stunning pristine beauty and an opportunity to visit the Kuna Indians, a living Indian culture with a fascinating culture and way of life. The islands have been ranked by many to be among the top tropical paradises in the world, with an archipelago made up of 365 islands, nearly all picturesque and palm tree covered, uninhabited and set in indescribably beautiful aqua waters. The San Blas islands are also the place to go if you truly want to "get away from it all" surrounded by nature. The islands territory is owned by the Kuna Indians and they have kept everything natural and authentic to ensure a memorable experience void of any indication of modern day architecture, like steel or glass. No trip to the San Blas would be complete without one of the infamous Kuna Indian Village Tours. You will be in awe of the homes that are mostly made of bamboo and thatched roofs where everyone sleeps in a hammock and you can buy the famous mola embroideries directly from the Indian woman artisans. Don't forget to take photos of Kuna women in their colorful regalia and learn about their unique way of life and their longtime successful battle to be an autonomous people. Other key spots include their tribal meeting house and herbal medicinal gardens.

Colon Province

Less than two hours by car from Panama City is the extraordinary province of Colon with major historical sites, beautiful beaches and the second largest free trade zone in the world outside of Hong Kong. Set along the turquoise waters of the Caribbean coast, the province has a wide variety of attractions and destinations, including Portobelo, a picturesque bay side town with the ruins of five Spanish forts and a restored Spanish Colonial treasure house. In Spanish colonial times the Portobelo Treasure House was the center for trans-shipment of all the Peruvian gold and treasure stolen from Latin America to Spain. Spanish galleons came and went constantly and many trade fairs were held there. Just before you come into town, there are the picturesque ruins of Fort Bateria Santiago with many cannons and a sentry tower. Another key attraction in Colon is Achiote Road, one of the world's best birding spots. It's about a 1.5-hour drive by highway from Panama City and is a perfect place to take in the country's 900 species of birds. Before you head out, make your way to the Black Christ Museum. It is a museum dedicated to Portobelo's patron saint and displays many robes and religious paraphernalia belonging to the statue of the Black Christ, which is honored in a big town festival every October 21st.

Balloon Fiesta of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Uni...

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While we hate to say goodbye to summer, there's something about the crisp fall air and changing of the leaves that starts the school year out right. Fall festivals are ripe with outdoor concerts, down home food and carnival -like atmospheres. Celebrate the coming of autumn at some of these elaborate harvest events and join us as we bid summer a due.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (October 1-9, 2011)

From its modest beginnings in 1972 with 13 balloons launching from a shopping mall parking lot, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has grown to multiple events launching year-round at the custom-designed, 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park. Now with 700 balloons, it is the largest ballooning event on earth, the most photographed event on earth, and the largest annual international event held in the United States. For nine days in October, the New Mexico skies are dotted with colors as hundreds of balloons take lift off. Enjoy whimsical floating shapes filled with equal parts of hot air and wonder.

West Side Nut Club Fall Festival- Evansville, IN (October 3-8, 2011)

One of the oldest, biggest and most popular festivals in the USA, the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival attracts over 100,000 people each year to sample food fare from over 120 non-profit booths offering everything from corn dogs to puppy chow, elephant ears to homemade cobblers. Carnival rides, arcade games, parades, live entertainment and people watching are just some of the draw.

Maryland Renaissance Festival (August 27- October 23, 2011)

For a little over two months, the Annapolis area is transformed into a 25 acre fair grounds based on a fictitious 16th century English village named Revel Grove.  With more than 130 craft shops and 42 food outlets, it is the second largest Renaissance Festival in the US. Come rent a wench or maiden costume and join the old-fashioned fun!

The Pumpkin Show- Circleville, Ohio (October 19-22, 2011)

Ohio's oldest and largest festival, around since 1905 Circleville is put on the map every October with the Pumpkin Show- a  pie eating, egg tossing, big wheel race,  hog calling good time. Pegged "the greatest free show on earth," other events include a parade of over 9,000 and the Miss Pumpkin Show and Little Miss Pumpkin beauty pageants. Feast on pumpkin flavored chili, ice cream, donuts, pizza and even burgers at this global celebration of the gourd.

National Apple Harvest Festival- Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (October 1-9, 2011)

Another celebration of fall flavors, the National Apple Harvest festival near historic Gettysburg celebrates the favorite fruit of the season.  Featured attractions include an antique car display, the apple cider press (still used today), an apple butter boil, pony rides, orchard bus tours, candy apples, Native American dancing, Andes Mountain Music, Tractor Square Dancing, Chainsaw Carving, and a display of live birds of prey by Rehabitat. The festival has literally something for everyone with hundreds of arts and crafts dealers, demonstrations, contests, food stands, and entertainment.


Picture taken at Georgia Aquarium, pictured is...

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While many choose to view sharks from the safety of their local aquariums, the shark tourism industry is an increasingly popular way of giving thrill seekers the time of their lives--seeing sharks up-close, personal, and with few (to no) safety barriers. In the spirit of Discovery Channel's critically acclaimed Shark Week, instead of watching sharks on TV, why not see them in the wild?  Get your heart pumping by checking out these activities that will allow you to see these remarkable creatures in their element.

Cage Diving

The best way to witness the power and grace of the infamous great white shark is from an underwater cage.  Cage diving allows you to come extremely close to a shark--perhaps too close for comfort--without having to actually swim among them.  Equipped with scuba or snorkel gear, the daring divers wait in a shark-proof cage as it is lowered into the water, bringing them to the eye (and mouth) level of these picturesque predators.  One of the best places to cage dive is off the coast of South Africa, where the sharks are particularly acrobatic and known to leap completely out of the water.  Many tour operators run from Gansbaai, two hours south of Cape Town.  If you cannot bring yourself to perform the cage dive, you will have plenty of opportunities to see sharks surface-feeding from the safety of the boat.  The best time of year to see the South African great whites is between May and October, South Africa's winter months. 

Scuba Diving

Coral reefs are among the most beautiful places to dive, home to a plethora of colorful plant and animal species, and, in many cases, plenty of sharks.  While sharks can be spotted in any number of these nurturing marine environments, some of the best places to see them are the Bahamas, the California coast, and the coast of Latin America.  Go with a guide and explore such spots as Mexico's Sea of Cortez or Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica, keeping your eyes out for reef sharks and hammerheads.  For an off the beaten path adventure, dive the Red Sea by Sudan's Sha'ab Rumi reef, where the odds are great of coming face to face with a shark. If you are set on sighting the elusive whale shark, there is no better place than Utila, Honduras.  These gentle giants are the largest fish species, and they harmlessly cruise the oceans in search of tiny plankton.  It is possible to get quite close to them, although touching them is not recommended.  While they are harmless, they prefer not to be bothered.

Shark Fishing

While shark meat is available in supermarkets and shark-fin soup remains popular in Chinese cuisine, international movements to protect sharks from overfishing have made significant gains in recent history and are a big part of sustaining shark tourism.  Catch-and-release shark tournaments are a great way to enjoy big-game fishing while minimizing harm to sharks.  Two well-established catch-and-release tournaments are Sharkathon in Corpus Christi, Texas, and the Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge in Punta Gorda, Florida.  Both tournaments require competitors to measure their catches before releasing them back into the ocean.  Sharkathon gets nearly 650 participants annually, and with $79,000 worth of cash and prizes, the stakes are high.  Awards are given for the top three longest sharks that are caught and released, and another prize is awarded for "most inches of shark"--the total length of all sharks caught and released by one participant.  The Ultimate Shark Challenge awards $100,000 in cash and prizes, and the 60 participating teams receive points based on shark species; mako sharks are most valuable at 1000 points, while nurse sharks earn a measly 25 points.  Sharks must be at least five feet in length to qualify, and the longer they are, the more bonus points they earn.  Participants in both tournaments are responsible for tagging the sharks and releasing them as soon as their measurements are taken.  Both tournaments aim to educate the public on the threats facing marine resources, especially the survival of the ocean's oldest and greatest predators. 


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