Adventure Travel Within Reach, Baja-Style

Thanks to Bryan Estep for the photo taken at Villa del Palmar

I LOVE outdoor adventure travel. But logistics can be a pain. If I am planning a trip with limited vacation time, and just getting to the activity from my hotel is going to take longer than the activity itself, I’ll bag the whole deal. On the other hand, some of my favorite trip activities — like hiking, kayaking, and scuba diving –generally involve advanced coordination and transport time. (Sigh). What’s a girl to do? Well, you can travel to Loreto, Mexico — this week’s #WhereToGoWednesday destination. You can fly directly there in under two hours from Los Angeles, and once you’ve arrived, Loreto provides some of the most accessible adventure travel options anywhere.

Last week my husband Bryan and I stole away to Loreto for the long Memorial Day weekend. Loreto is a picturesque colonial town tucked between the rugged Sierra Gigante Mountains and the placid, cobalt Sea of Cortez, about two-thirds of the way down Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Although the town itself is quite appealing — with a well-preserved, centuries-old Jesuit mission and leafy square — the Bay of Loreto National Marine Park is the real draw.

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002, the marine park covers over 500,000 acres and includes a number of uninhabited islands easily reachable from shore. It’s North America’s version of the Galapagos Islands, with some 695 plant species, 891 fish species, and 39% of the world’s total species of marine mammals. This makes it a Mecca for ocean activities like scuba diving, kayaking, and sport-fishing. The calm waters of the Sea of Cortez are the perfect place to paddle around to quiet, isolated beaches. But what amazed us was how easy it was to experience these off-shore delights.

Our resort, Villa del Palmar, is perfectly situated south of town and directly in front of the islands of Loreto. Sitting on our balcony the first morning, we were transfixed by expansive views that included layers of corduroy mountains, a calm, blue bay with a few anchored sloops, and multiple craggy desert (and deserted) islands just off shore. We couldn’t wait to get out there — and luckily, we didn’t have to. After a quick stop by the activities desk, we walked down to the beach where we were outfitting with snorkeling gear and a two-person kayak. Total time investment—about ten minutes. How easy was that?

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A Contrarian’s Summer Travel Options

Call me contrarian, but I often find myself planning trips when others don’t want to go.  Instead of visiting destinations during the crowded high season, I try to hit them when they actually need travelers.  Of course, given the realities of the typical work or school schedule, it can be hard to time an off-peak trip.  But for those who seek it out, lower prices and a less hectic experience is their reward.  So as the masses rush to the beach this summer, I’ll be whizzing by them in the opposite lane on my way to the mountains – they’re this week’s theme for #WhereToGoWednesday.

Maybe it’s the fact that it was 102 degrees in Phoenix today, but I couldn’t help but play around on the TripTuner sliders and daydream about escaping my puddle of sweat. Just the act of moving the slider all the way from Bikini to Parka made my office feel ten degrees cooler. Moving the next one from Beach to Mountain had me envisioning snow-capped peaks and lush wildflowers instead of the sizzling heat waves I could see through my window. Here were two of my top matches:

Thanks to katalicia1 for the photo

Vail, Colorado
Vail is known as a prime winter destination, with 5,300 hundred acres of skiing and boarding terrain and a sophisticated infrastructure of hotels, restaurants, and shopping to support all that schussing. It used to be that ski mountains put all of their eggs into the winter basket, but recently resorts have started catering to summer crowds as well to help that infrastructure make it through the rest of the year. Vail is no exception.

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Three Memorial Day Trip Ideas from a Panicked Mom

Ten days till Memorial Day weekend.  Work’s been crazy, so I haven’t had a chance to even think about trip ideas.  But I’m not going to let the start of summer slip away. Here’s what I did…

Being new at TripTuner, I figured that I need to become an expert on on the site quickly — what better way than to use it to plan my family’s own getaway? I hop onto the homepage and start adjusting the sliders.

Relaxing vs. Active? Adults vs Kid-friendly? Hmmm.  I’ll definitely need to balance this well.  My energetic nine-year old will need some outdoor options for running around, but since I’m wearing the trip-planning hat for this one, my husband and I better like it, too.  So the first slider moves to active, and I’ll keep the second one in the middle. Beaches and mountains are both fine with me, and I can either liven things up or go remote for this trip so I’ll keep those in the middle as well.  (Mom and Dad would push it all the way to remote, but with daughter in tow and a shorter vacation time frame, we’ll keep it in the middle). I know, I’m not going out on any limbs here, but I’m open for suggestions.  Here are the top 3 that TripTuner came up with:

thanks to monikomad for the photo

Flagstaff, Arizona
Wow. TripTuner nailed it. This funky mountain town just a few hours north of Phoenix is my family’s favorite in-state getaway. With 50 miles of urban trails and thousands of acres of National Forest, it’s a place we can all get our fingers in the dirt while biking, hiking, and playing in the pine and aspen woods. We’ll explore haunting 800-year-old pueblo ruins or star gaze at Lowell Observatory, where the now-demoted Pluto was discovered. The 7,000 foot elevation means temperatures that are 20 to 30 degrees cooler than Phoenix – something you won’t hear any complaints about from my crew. Memorial Day Weekend kicks off the summer in Flag with free Movies on the Square on Friday nights, free Summer Concerts, and the first Sunday Farmer’s Market of the season. Oh yeah, and the Grand Canyon is only an hour away.
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TripTuner’s New Contributing Editor

We interrupt our regularly scheduled #WheretoGoWednesday blog post to introduce the newest member of the TripTuner team. Becky Youman is joining us as both a Contributing Editor and our newly-minted Social Media Sensei. We’ll let her take the rest of the introduction from here…

Every time I plan a trip I feel the excitement and anticipation of new discovery, but at the same time I sometimes experience slight paralysis when considering the deluge of information and opinions about potential destinations. That is why I so appreciate the elegance of TripTuner. All I have to do is adjust the sliders and instantly I’ve got personalized recommendations. How cool is that?

Having played around with TripTuner for the last few months, I can say that its guidance is right on the mark. When, for example, Torres del Paine comes up as one of my top Mountain Adventure locales, I can vouch that it’s a majestic nature-lovers playground. Having co-written a guidebook on Chile and spent a couple of years traveling the country, I can go even further to say that Torres del Paine is one of my all time favorite outdoor adventure spots — I have seen flocks of wild parakeets soaring over massive glaciers, shared pisco with travelers from around the world, and felt the accomplishment of completing the physically-challenging circuito around the park. That gives me great confidence that Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, another of TripTuner’s suggested destinations for me, should be at the top of my list.

While I certainly love the outdoors, I am not all nature all the time. This girl also jones for some urban escapes. Having belted out horribly off-tune songs in a karaoke booth in Hong Kong and watched the sunrise after a night of tapas and Cava in Barcelona — two of my TripTuner recommended cities — I can’t wait to visit some of the others that come up when I adjust the sliders.
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Where to Go: Grand Canyon, Arizona

Grand Canyon photo by Becky Youman

Looks like people have been trip planning closer to home, with American’s own stunning and majestic Grand Canyon grabbing the spotlight as this week’s #WheretoGoWednesday most popular destination.

Visit the canyon and you’ll experience the wonder created not only by the national icon’s magnificent beauty, by also by the sheer scale of its vastness. Layer upon layer of pink, red, and orange cliffs and hoodoos extend for hundreds of miles — doing proper justice to the marvels of nature.

There are almost as many way to enjoy the canyon as there are stratum in Grand Canyon National Park’s 1.2 million acres. Active visitors can choose from hiking to the bottom of the canyon for a cabin stay at Phantom Ranch, bicycling along the abyss on the South Rim’s Hermit Road, strolling through piñon and ponderosa pine along the Rim Trail, or going for the ultimate bragging rights with a one-day, rim-to-rim trek. Those looking for a more relaxing stay can watch condors soar over the chasm from a rocking chair on the patio of the lodge at the North Rim, listen to the roar of the Colorado River’s Granite Rapid from the Pima Point Overlook, or get their own bird’s eye view of the park from the vantage point of a plane or helicopter.
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Off The Beaten Path: Trekking Mount Kelimutu

mount kelimutu volcanic lake, Indonesia

Surreal volcanic lake atop Mt. Kelimutu - photo by Rosino

It’s Indonesia back-to-back for #wheretogowednesday as this week we’re highlighting the remote, colorful volcanic lakes atop Mt. Kelimutu on the island of Flores.  To give you a little taste, here’s a travel tale from a memorable hiking experience there…

It’s 3:30am–time to catch a truck ride up the 8-mile kilometer path to Keli Mutu, a unique cluster of volcanic lakes just outside Moni village, on Indonesia’s island of Flores.  A few groggy trekkers join my wife Ingrid and I for the chilly ride up in an open sided wooden stake truck.  During 45 minutes of slow curve climbing and just-in-time downshifts, stars give way to nascent orange sunlight and purple clouds.

We crawl out of the crate-like truck and hike to a perch above 3 volcanic lakes, each nestled within a blasted-out crater, colored by the chemical composition du jour.  The closest was a pale aqua blue green, like a tub of molten Crest toothpaste.  Next to it, over a razor thin ridge, lies an oval shaped dark green-brown pool of what looks like 10-W-40 motor oil.  Behind our viewing peak, a rich charcoal-black lake sits inside a tree-lined crater bowl.

An entrepreneuring villager sells hot tea on our viewing peak, the perfect complement to a mountaintop sunrise.  By 6:00 am, we’re bathed in sunlight.  In the distance, misty ocean surf rolls in.  Closing my eyes, I listen to the breeze as it envelops me, etching the scenery forever in my mind.
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where to go: Saparua Island, Indonesia

We’re baaaack!  #WhereToGoWednesday went missing for a few weeks (been focusing on a few new wrinkles we’ll unveil in the coming weeks) but as lovers of remote islands we’re especially happy to bring you this week’s most popular destination – Saparua Island in Indonesia’s Maluku province.  A long haul from the US, it’s mainly for those who want to venture off the beaten path and blend in with local laid-back island life.  You’ll need to fly into Ambon then take a bouncy speedboat from there.   Think sarong’s and flip-flops, rustic beach-huts and fresh-caught fish dinners.  When you’re done snorkeling with sharks, grab a bemo van into town and visit the old Dutch colonial Fort Duurstede.  There’s not much to do here, and that’s the point.  Chat up a local, or disappear into your own private Gilligan’s Island escape.  Want to check out some similar places? Set your TripTuner sliders to remote, beach and thrifty right here.  Stay tuned!

Saparua Island, Indonesia

Photo courtesy of Berthy Mailoa. Terima kasih!

where to go: Puglia, Italy

OK, so normally #WheretoGoWednesday is a weekly-ish feature on the most popular destination on TripTuner for the past 7 days but I was won over by the good folks over at Southern Visions Travel, a Puglia, Italy based operator of amazing gourmet & cycling tours.  They stopped by TripTuner HQ this week and wowed us with their culinary prowess

Polignano a Mare

in between various events and an appearance with J.C. Hayward on Washington, DC’s News 9 at Noon.  I had the pleasure of experiencing one of their tours this past summer and highly recommend it for a unique and memorable, active yet relaxing sojourn.  Whether it’s browsing the whitewashed town of distinctive trulli buildings in Alberobello, a caffe fredo after a bike ride to Locorotondo or a fantastic seaside lunch of cavetelli frutta di mare near Polignano a Mare, you will never forget this still relatively untouched (at least by Americans) region down in the heel of Italy’s boot.  And of course, if you need some guidance on getting it done, we’re here to help.  Stay tuned!

Where To Go: Big Island of Hawai’i

Image by Randy Stewart

It’s time once again for #WhereToGoWednesday. The Big Island was the most desired destination this week, and it’s easy to see why.  It has something for everyone – from the local flavor of lush, green Hilo to the craggy lava beds of Volcanoes National Park; from the resorts and golden sands of Kona to the sometimes snowy summit of Mauna Kea and it’s observatories.  All good reasons, but this howlie would go just for the ahi tuna poke alone.

WhereToGo: Bazaruto Island

Though it’s not surprising to see tropical beach destinations rise in popularity during the winter, it’s notable that Bazaruto Island in Mozambique is this week’s most popular destination for #WhereToGoWednesday.  When we set out to create TripTuner, we wanted to help travelers find places in tune with their interests – both near and far, familiar and unknown.  To have such a remote destination top the charts this week tells us that we’re succeeding in shedding light on lesser-known locales.  Bazaruto (part of the eponymous archipelago) is a remote gem of sweeping golden-

bazaruto island lodge

Bazaruto Island Lodge photo by F H Mira

white sand dunes, surrounded by deep indigo waters of the Indian Ocean, just a boat ride away from the popular coastal town of Vilankulo.  South African travelers have known about this part of the world for awhile, but Bazaruto Island remains largely unspoiled, with just a handful of luxe places to stay like Indigo Bay Island Resort & Spa and the Bazaruto Lodge.  Inspired to see more options?  Check out these remote beach ideas.  Stay tuned.