Off the Beaten Path Travel Experiences

By Damien Martin, Contributor, Largay Travel

You’ve been up to Machu Picchu and have seen all of the big five on safari. You’ve marveled at the beauty of Lake Louise and split a week between London and Paris. You’ve lived out all your Hobbit-related fantasies in New Zealand and have been to every cat café in Japan. Yet, you still can’t shake this wanderlust. You need a new adventure, but where haven’t you been yet? Consider these off-the-beaten path destinations for each continent (except Antarctica; you should probably stick to the beaten path there).

 

North America: Fogo Island, Canada


One of the easternmost spots in North America, Fogo Island in the province Newfoundland and Labrador has fewer than 3,000 inhabitants and is a great destination in each of the seven seasons. Yes, seven. They are: summer (July-August), berry (September-October), late fall (November), winter (December-February), pack ice (March), spring (April-May) and trap berth (June). Each is unique and offers a glimpse of life in a place so remote and mysterious the Flat Earth Society considers it to be one of the four corners of the Earth. Where can you possibly stay in a place like this? Virtuoso-preferred Fogo Island Inn, of course. Its 29 suites feature floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the powerful North Atlantic Ocean, and activities range from jam-jarring to snowshoeing.

 

South America: Uruguay


Tucked between much larger neighbors Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is a haven of estancias keeping gaucho culture alive and boasts long-stretching beaches around Punta del Este, where the Atlantic and the Rio de la Plata meet. Uruguayans consume more meat per capita than the Argentines and produce plenty of wine to pair with it. Montevideo is the southernmost capital in the Americas — just edging out Buenos Aires — and juxtaposes colonial architecture with modern nightlife, offering you an opportunity to get familiar with the unique Uruguayan take on the tango. The three Virtuoso-preferred hotels — Carmelo Resort & Spa, Sofitel Montevideo Casino Carrasco & Spa, and Estancia Vik Jose Ignacio — are in different areas, forming the perfect trio to explore the country.

 

Europe: Poland

Budapest, Vienna, and Prague have long made for a popular itinerary thanks to their proximity and richness of history. With experienced Europhiles venturing farther east, Krakow and Warsaw make for a logical addition. About half of the world’s Jewish population has roots in Poland, so heritage tours abound. In and around Krakow, Schindler’s Factory Museum and Auschwitz serve as stark reminders of the horrors of the Holocaust, and the Wieliczka Salt Mine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stay at Virtuoso-preferred Hotel Bristol in Warsaw and witness the contrasts of a city that was founded around 1300 and nearly leveled during World War II before spending half a century under Soviet control.

 

Africa: Uganda

For those who have seen all there is to see on safari, Uganda offers something new: gorilla trekking. Journey into the ominously named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and spot these massive creatures in their natural habitat. The wonders of the animal kingdom continue in Kibale National Park, where chimpanzees roam from tree to tree, and Queen Elizabeth National Park, where it’s lions that are climbing the trees. Birders can spot more than 400 unique species. The Nile, the world’s longest river, has its source near Jinja, flowing north out of Lake Victoria.

 

Asia: Myanmar

Captivatingly beautiful, Myanmar is best experienced on a cruise along the Irrawaddy River. Itineraries begin and end in the capital, Yangon, where Virtuoso-preferred Belmond Governor’s Residence and The Strand Yangon are wonderful places to spend extra time before or after your cruise. Virtuoso-preferred cruise line Avalon Waterways embarks in Bagan, where you can watch the sunrise over thousands of temples and pagodas or take a hot-air balloon ride over them. You’ll continue upriver to experience local life in places such as Amarapura and Mandalay before debarking in Bhamo, where you’ll have a trishaw tour before flying back to Yangon.

 

Australia: Tasmania

Being isolated from the rest of the world gave rise to Australia’s unique wildlife, landscapes, and indigenous cultures. So imagine how different Tasmania, separated from the Australian mainland for thousands of years, is from what you’re used to. Tasmanian devils, glow worms and echidnas, oh my! Virtuoso-preferred Islington Hotel is a great base for exploring the capital, Hobart, home to the Museum of Old and New Art, described by owner David Walsh as a “subversive adult Disneyland.” Soak up the natural beauty at your own pace during a stay at Virtuoso-preferred Saffire Freycinet on the island’s east coast with an oyster breakfast knee-deep in an estuary or canoeing with a guide at the mouth of the Moulting Lagoon.

Hawaii: Which island is best for you?

By Damien Martin, Contributor, Largay Travel

It’s the only U.S. state in the tropics, the most remote island chain in the world, and it’s actually made up of more than 100 islands. You can go SCUBA diving well below sea level and go to the top of what is technically the world’s tallest mountain (though most of it is underwater). There are great beaches and great golf courses everywhere, and the weather is just about perfect year-round. No matter how you slice it, Hawaii is pretty awesome. But which island is best for you? Off the eight main islands, Kaho‘olawe is uninhabited, Ni‘ihau is off limits to non-native Hawaiians, and Moloka‘i has limited options for accommodations. That leaves five islands that vacationers commonly seek out, each with something unique in store.

 

Hawai‘i, “The Big Island”

By far the largest of the islands, Hawai‘i is made up of five volcanoes and could fit the rest of the islands inside it with room to spare. With Kilauea volcano erupting continuously since 1983 and occasional snow atop Mauna Kea, it is truly a land of fire and ice. Most of the resorts (including Virtuoso-preferred Four Season Hualalai, Fairmont Orchid, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Mauna Lani Bay) are along the Kohala Coast on the western, leeward side of the island, which gets only a few inches of rain year.

The eastern half of the island features rain forest, waterfalls, black sand beaches and Kilauea, where you can hike to flowing lava or through an old lava tube. On the bottom is South Point, the southernmost point in the U.S., and not far away is Papakolea, one of four green sand beaches in the world. In the north is a string of valleys bookended by the gorgeous Pololu and Waipi‘o valleys. On the west side, you can dive with manta rays and snorkel in the amazingly clear Kealakekua Bay. In the middle is the crowning jewel, Mauna Kea. With a summit 13,796 feet above sea level, it is above 40 percent of the earth’s atmosphere, making stargazing a must. Add another 20,000 feet of Mauna Kea below sea level, and it beats Everest by a few thousand feet.

Maui, “The Valley Isle”

There is a saying in Hawaiian, Maui no ka‘oi, “Maui is the best.” With the amount of activities packed into the island, it’s hard to argue. You can take the Road to Hana, one of the most scenic drives in the world, and go a little bit farther than Hana to the Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe‘o Gulch. You can watch the sunrise at 10,000 feet atop Haleakala and bike down (for maximum enjoyment, go early in your trip before your body adjusts to the time difference). Explore the paniolo (“cowboy”) town of Makawao or take a tour of Kula Lavender Farm.

For more action, Maui has some spectacular hikes in ‘Iao Valley, which separates the western and eastern parts of the island, and in the rainforest along the Hana Highway. Kihei and Lahaina are great spots for novice surfers, and Trilogy has great snorkeling tours. Discover Molokini, visiting Molokini Crater just offshore, and the full-day Discover Lanai are favorites. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s time for a luau. Old Lahaina Luau, great for families, and Feast at Lele are two of the best in the islands. The main resort area are Kapalua in the west (home to Virtuoso-preferred Montage Kapalua Bay and the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua) and Wailea in the south (where you’ll find Virtuoso-preferred Andaz Maui, the Fairmont Kea Lani, and Four Seasons Resort Maui).

Lana‘i, “The Pineapple Isle”

Part of Maui Nui (“Greater Maui”) before a sea level rise a couple hundred thousand years ago and after that a pineapple plantation, Lana‘i is now 97 percent privately owned by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. As evidenced by the Trilogy tour from Maui, the snorkeling around Lana ‘i is world-class. With a population of just a few thousand, Lana‘i is a place to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. The Virtuoso-preferred Four Seasons Resort Lana‘i and Lodge at Koele (once it reopens after renovation) are outstanding places to do just that. Activities include horseback riding, a 4×4 Jeep outings, clay shooting and cave diving.

O‘ahu, “The Gathering Place”

Home to about two-thirds of the state’s population and the city of Honolulu, O‘ahu is not the place to go if you’re looking to get away from it all. If you’re looking for high-end shopping and dining, look no farther than Waikiki. You can’t go without visiting Pearl Harbor, but be sure to get tickets well in advance to avoid having to line up at 6 a.m. for them. The snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is excellent, but get there early before the parking lot fills up, or take a tour with pickup at your Waikiki hotel (Halekulani, The Royal Hawaiian, and the MODERN Honolulu are Virtuoso-preferred). Learn to surf or just people-watch at Waikiki Beach. To see the pros on the big waves, head up to the North Shore, a 7-mile stretch that includes the world-famous Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach (the name says it all). 

That isn’t to say you can’t find some peace and quiet. Virtuoso-preferred Four Seasons Resort at Ko Olina and The Kahala offer respite off the beaten track. The Byodo-In Temple is a replica of a thousand-year-old Buddhist temple in Japan and a good place to calm the mind. Just outside the urban center, there are great hikes at Diamond Head and the Makapuu Lighthouse trails.

Kaua‘i, “The Garden Isle”

What O‘ahu may lack in tranquility, Kaua‘i more than makes up for. The rainiest of the main islands, Kaua‘i is quite rural and its main attractions are natural phenomena. The middle of the island is covered by Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” going to depths of about 3,000 feet. In the northwest, the Na Pali Coast juts out of the ocean, its cliffs resembling the ridged cone of a citrus juicer. These features make Kaua‘i the best island for a helicopter tour that allows you to take in the full scope of its beauty. While the rain can put a damper on some days, without it you wouldn’t be able to go tubing through the irrigation system of a former sugar plantation or kayak down the Wailua River.

Not far from Na Pali is the Virtuoso-preferred and stunning St. Regis Princeville. If you prefer to set up shop on the sunnier south shore, the Virtuoso-preferred Grand Hyatt Kauai has lush grounds and a great stretch of beach and proximity to Poipu Beach Park, considered one of America’s best beaches.

Top Dive Locations From Around The World

By Damien Martin, Contributor, Largay Travel

Considering oceans cover more than two-thirds of Earth’s surface, there’s no shortage of excellent places to go diving. So any list of the “best” spots is sure to be missing a few. They’re like children–it’s hard to pick a favorite. At the risk of leaving off your No. 1, here’s a sampling of top locations around the globe to explore the wonders of the deep in style.

 

Belize

It’s hard to argue this one doesn’t belong. The Great Blue Hole, almost 1,000 feet wide and more than 400 feet deep, was made famous by Jacques Cousteau. Formed in stages between 15,000 and 150,000 years ago, it’s a basically a big sinkhole about 40 miles off mainland Belize and a marvelous sight to behold. Divers are greeted by midnight parrotfish and Caribbean reef sharks, but the main attraction is the dark, stalactite-filled caverns stretching up from the floor like an underwater cathedral. Just off the mainland is the Belize Barrier Reef, which wowed Charles Darwin and is the second-largest reef system in the world. From the Coppola family’s Turtle Inn in Placencia to Las Terrazas on Ambergris Caye and Cayo Espanto private island, Virtuoso-preferred resorts make awesome command centers for charting your adventures.

 

Canary Islands

Thanks to their warmth and clarity, the waters off the Canaries (part of Spain but off the coast of Morocco and Western Sahara) make it easy to spot a wide variety of sea life. Three marine reserves in the islands provide sanctuary for turtles, rays, dolphins, barracudas, and even an ocean whale shark. There is underwater volcanic activity, and you can see the results of earlier eruptions in the arches, caves, and cliffs beneath the surface. For man-made attractions, shipwrecks line the ocean floor, waiting to be explored. If you find sunken treasure, celebrate with a lavish feast then treat yourself to a massage at Virtuoso-preferred Bahia del Duque on Tenerife.

 

Mozambique

There are more than 1,250 miles of coastline in Mozambique, providing ample opportunity for an aquatic safari to pair with one on land. Virtuoso-preferred Azura Quilalea in the north and Azura Benguerra in the south are on private islands and serve as gateways to dives such as the Gap and the Edge of Reason on one end and the Doodles, Pinnacles, and Manta Reef on the other. Just as on a land safari, you’re in for spotting big game: whale sharks and manta rays are year-round residents, while humpback whales make the journey from Antarctica in the winter.

 

Philippines

Made up of more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines are a diving mecca. Water temperatures range between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year, though the rainy season from November to June can put a damper on diving. Puerto Galera, Cebu, and Boracay in particular are world-class. Virtuoso-preferred Amanpulo on Pamalican Island is centrally located for hopping from one to the next. Of course, from Amanpulo, you need only go about 1,000 feet to find 2.7 square miles of pristine coral reef. If you’re so worn out that you can’t even make it back to land for a drink, the floating bar is available for rent on an hourly basis.

 

Great Barrier Reef

The world’s biggest reef system, the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland, Australia, can be seen from space. The diversity of marine life is staggering, with more than 1,500 varieties of fish. Rising ocean temperatures in the area threaten the health of the reef and several aquatic species unique to the area. There are six species of sea turtles. There are more than 30 types of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. There are saltwater crocodiles in the marshes near the reef. There are so many wonders to behold, and three Virtuoso-preferred resorts to behold them from. Lizard Island is less than an hour from dives such as Cod Hole, Dynamite Passage, and No Name. Qualia and Hayman Island in the Whitsundays offer easy access to Heart Reef. Qualia even has the option for an overnight live-aboard excursion with lit night diving. Now that sounds like something that belongs on a list of the world’s best dives.

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