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How to not get killed (or arrested) while watching wildlife

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  • Bison, AP Photo

Some overly eager visitors to South Lake Tahoe prompted local wildlife authorities to issue a warning recently: Stop taking selfies with the bears that feed on salmon at a popular viewing area.

Sadly, such ill-advised snaps are just one example of the cluelessness of many visitors to wilderness areas, documented by hundreds of videos that provide hours of head-shaking viewing.

Wildlife experts don’t know whether the proliferation of cellphones and social media sites is to blame or if the footage is just evidence of bad behavior that’s been happening all along, but they agree that many visitors to national parks and other wildlife areas remain shockingly unaware of the dangers they may encounter in the great outdoors.

“In my experience, people tend to believe that the wilderness is not really very wild, that it’s been sanitized and made safe for them — and that’s just not true,” says Lee Whittlesey, historian at Yellowstone National Park and author of Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park.

“In fact, the word ‘wilderness’ comes from wild animal. But people are not used to seeing big mammals, so they get excited and run after them and chase them and try to get photos. Even with all of our warning signs and literature, we have incidents every year.”

So, with the arrival of fall — a popular time to visit wilderness areas but also the rut season for large mammals like bull elk and deer — here’s a refresher on wildlife safety tips. It’s common sense for most people, but it could be a life-saving read for others.

  • 1. Keep a safe distance.

    Bison, AP Photo

    In 2012, Yellowstone National Park posted a video of a bison charging a crowd at the Old Faithful geyser, showing how fast the animal can run and highlighting the importance of keeping a safe distance.

    Just how far “safe” is varies — it’s 100 yards for bears and wolves and 25 yards for all other large mammals, including bison, elk and deer, according to Yellowstone’s regulations — but a general rule of thumb is that if your presence changes the behavior of the animal, you’re way too close.

  • 2. Don’t touch the wildlife.

    iStock

    National parks and other natural habitats are not petting zoos — it’s illegal to touch wildlife. But that doesn’t stop countless clueless visitors from trying to lay a hand on the animals. Bottom line: You should never be close enough to wildlife to touch it.

  • 3. Don’t feed the animals.

    iStock

    Feeding animals isn’t just a problem on land; it’s also a major issue for marine creatures. In 2012, Beggar, a bottlenose dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico and one of the most studied and famous dolphins in the world, was found dead in Sarasota, possibly because hundreds of people fed it over the years, according to wildlife officials.

    What’s more, even “harmless” animals like deer and squirrels can carry disease, and feeding them can put you at risk of illness, said Ashley Mayer, a park ranger at Yosemite National Park in California.

    In addition, in some western states, small animals like prairie dogs have been known to carry the plague, which was diagnosed in three people in Colorado this summer. The bacteria that causes plague occurs naturally in the western United States, primarily in California, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • 4. Don’t assume you’re safe in a car.

    AP Photo

    An incident in South Africa’s Kruger National Park illustrates the misconception that vehicles provide safe haven from wild animals. In the viral video, an agitated elephant overturns a car carrying a British couple on a self-drive safari. One of the passengers suffered serious injuries and the animal was put down, igniting worldwide outrage because the couple appeared to be at fault.

    But elephants aren’t the only animals that can damage cars and injure their passengers. Every fall, Whittlesey says, rutting bull elk charge vehicles that get too close to them in Yosemite. “I’ve seen them tear up a car,” he told Foxnews.com. “They’re on edge, and they don’t like anyone getting too near them.”

  • 5. Leave your drone at home.

    AP Photo

    In the summer, the National Park Service issued a ban on drones in national parks after an uptick in incidents of them harassing wildlife and bothering park visitors. In Zion National Park in Utah, a group of drone handlers was busted in April for harassing a herd of bighorn sheep with their drone, separating a few young animals from adults.

    Violation of the ban is punishable by up to five months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine, but not everyone has abided by it. There have been several recent convictions for operating drones in Yellowstone, a spokeswoman said, including a visitor from the Netherlands who flew his drone into Grand Prismatic, the third-largest hot spring in the world and one of the park’s most iconic landmarks.

  • 6. Store Food Properly

    California Department of Fish & Wildlife

    At Yosemite, which has more than 4 million visitors annually, there have been 154 incidents between humans and bears so far this year, resulting in over $7,000 in property damage. Most of them were because visitors improperly stored their food, Mayer said.

    Those figures are a fraction of the $631,143 in damage that occurred as a result of 1,479 incidents in 1998, an indication that the park’s education efforts are working. However, Mayer confirmed that there is a 35 percent increase in incidents so far in 2014 over the same time period as last year, which could be related to California’s three-year drought because it may be affecting some food sources like berries.

    Visitors to parks with bear populations must be highly vigilant about properly storing food in bear-proof containers at campsites, not their cars, as well as at trailheads in the backcountry. In addition, Mayer said, anything with an odor — toothpaste, deodorant, mouthwash — is a potential food source for bears and must be stored accordingly.

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World’s most amazing waterfalls

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  • iStock

Waterfalls are one of nature’s most beautiful creations, and come in all shapes in sizes. Here are some of the most incredible waterfalls on Earth. 

  • 1. Alamere Falls (California)

    iStock

    Alamere Falls, which is located in Pt. Reyes National Seashore near Bolinas, Calif., is actually a rare “tidefall,” meaning if flows right into the Pacific Ocean. This multi-tiered waterfall is active year round, but is especially impressive during the winter months, which are also the months of the rainy season.

  • 2. Angel Falls (Venezuela)

    iStock

    At 3,212 feet, Angel Falls, which is in Venezuela’s Canaima National Park, is the highest waterfall in the world. The water from the Río Gauja travels down Auyan Tepui, a sandstone plateau-mountain, and vaporizes into a column of fine mist by the time it reaches the bottom. The best way to see Angel Falls is by plane during the wet season (May to December).

  • 3. Gullfoss (Iceland)

    iStock

    Gullfoss, which means “Golden Falls,” is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions. Located in the Hvita river, Gullfoss  boasts a 105-foot double-cascade, and is considered Europe’s most powerful waterfall. It is best to visit during the summer, and many tours are available.

  • 4. Hanakapi’ai Falls (Hawaii)

    iStock

    Located on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Hanakapi’ai Falls can be found deep in Hanakapi’ai Valley. Seeing the falls will take some effort. You first need to hike two miles on the Kalalau Trail before trekking another two miles inland. The hike is strenuous, and is eight miles round trip, but your efforts will be rewarded with a view of one of Hawaii’s most beautiful falls.

  • 5. Havasu Falls (the Grand Canyon)

    iStock

    The blue-green waters of Havasu Creek flow over photogenic Havasu Falls into a swimming hole where the water is always around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Havasu Falls is a great place to take a dip in the sun or enjoy a picnic. The best times to visit are May/June and September/October, although the weather is best from March to November.  The falls is located on the Havasupai Reservation, which is in the Grand Canyon.

  • 6. Iguazu Falls (Argentina and Brazil)

    iStock

    Semicircular in shape, Iguazu Falls is surrounded by subtropical rainforest and is made up of 275 independent falls over 1.67 miles. The highest section of the falls reaches 269 feet. You can access the falls from Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil or Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. Although the falls is shared by Brazil and Argentina, you can also visit from Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, which is across the river from Foz do Iguaçu. There is no “bad” season to see Iguazu Falls, but the area is less crowded in September and October.

  • 7. Niagara Falls (New York and Ontario, Canada)

    iStock

    Arguably the most famous falls, Niagara Falls is comprised of three waterfalls: the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. This popular tourist destination offers double the fun, as both the Canadian and American sides are home to additional attractions. You can see the falls any time during the year, but you will have the best weather if you visit between mid-May and mid-September.

  • 8. Rhine Falls (Switzerland)

    iStock

    At about 500 feet wide and 75 feet high, Rhine Falls ranks as Europe’s largest waterfall. Located near Schaffhausen, Switzerland, you can access the falls via public transportation, car, on foot or by bike. During the summer months, one of the best ways to see the falls is from the deck of a Rhine River tour boat.

  • 9. Victoria Falls (Zambia and Zimbabwe)

    AFP

    Located on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. At 1 mile wide and 360 feet high, Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall on earth based on width and height. It is also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “smoke that thunders.” There are a number of way to see Victoria Falls, including bungee jumping, white water rafting and helicopter rides. Check out the ones on the Zambia and Zimbabwesides.

  • 10. Yosemite Falls (Yosemite National Park)

    NPS

    Yosemite Falls is actually made up of three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Fall, the middle cascades, and Lower Yosemite Fall. When measured from the top of the upper fall to the bottom of the lower fall, Yosemite Falls is 2,425 feet, making it one of the tallest in North America. Yosemite Falls is also famous for its moonbows. You can see Yosemite Falls from locations around Yosemite Valley, or participate in a strenuous hike to the top. It is best to visit Yosemite Falls in the spring or early summer, as the waters flow strongest from November to July and reach their peak in May or June.

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Mountain views to see before you die

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  • iStock

Outdoor enthusiast Steve Casimiro has spent the past 30 years writing and photographing remote corners of the world, documenting these experiences on his travel website, Adventure Journal. He shares his must-see mountain views.

  • 1. Mirador Condor, Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

    iStock

    Patagonia is notorious for having some of the wildest weather on earth, so views of the iconic Torres del Paine massif (it’s the inspiration for the logo for outdoor gear brand Patagonia) are a gift. Any of the perspectives from the frosty blue waters of Lake Pehoé will take your breath away, but a 40-minute hike to the Condor Lookout reveals an angle you’ll never forget.

  • 2. Tre Cime di Lavaredo area, Dolomite Mountains, Italy

    iStock

    The limestone of northern Italy’s Dolomite Mountains is craggy and rough-hewn, as if the DNA of its past life as ocean reefs must show through the curtain of the ages, and wherever you look you see another peak suitable for national park status. Tre Cime di Lavaredo, also known in German as Drei Zinnen, justify their acclaim, but these three sentinels are to some eyes gaudy and monumental. Turn south, toward the resort town of Cortina, and there, with little fanfare, is a ridgeline less heralded but with more classic mountain beauty.

  • 3. Denali, Alaska

    iStock

    One view of Denali is enough to satiate for a lifetime, but getting two glimpses of North America’s highest point at once defies words. Accessible by car, Reflection Pond at Wonder Lake is some 85 miles into Denali Park, and when the light is right and the wind at abeyance, it’s one of the world’s most magnificent mirrors.

  • 4. Mount Shasta from Heart Lake, California

    iStock

    Mount Shasta can been seen almost anywhere you go in northernmost California, a distant speck on the horizon or a looming hulk of glacier-clad white guarding endless green farmlands. But perhaps the sweetest angle is from the west, when you drive to Castle Lake, then hike another mile to a delightful pocket pool called Heart Lake.

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Branson’s Beauty: Inside and Out at Talking Rocks Cavern

Talking-Rocks-Cavern

In the late 1800’s, a group of hunters stumbled upon a large hole in the ground while chasing rabbits. Unsure of what to do about their find, they left it alone. It wasn’t until years later that Truman Powell, a local cave expert, became curious and explored what the hunters found. To his great delight, it appeared to be the opening to a cave. With the help of a few friends, Powell was lowered by rope through the cave opening (like Tom Cruise entered the vault in Mission Impossible, I’m sure) with nothing but the glow of a single candle. He knew he had found something incredible and wanted to share his new discovery with anyone willing to come see it, so eventually he upgraded his candles to lanterns, and constructed wooden ladders to provide guided tours of the cave.

The view from just inside the entrance of Talking Rocks Cavern.
The view from just inside the entrance of Talking Rocks Cavern.

This particular cavern was special to Powell because the rocks “spoke” to him in a way that no other cave had… hence the reason for the name “Talking Rocks Cavern.” Although this was not the original name of the cave, the current name was given by the Herschend family, the current owners, in honor of Powell’s love for caving and his legacy.

Today, you and your family can explore Talking Rocks Cavern just like Truman Powell… except for the candle light and the creaky wooden ladders of course. The natural beauty of the cave (including “cave bacon”) mixed with modern sound and lighting technology will leave you amazed at the creation before you. After a brief history lesson of the cave given by the tour guide, guests enter the original cave opening, down a set of stairs to the cave floor. The guide stops every few minutes to explain significant features of the cavern and how it was discovered and developed. And while there are no bats living in the cave, there is a family of cave salamanders that call Talking Rocks their home, and if you’re lucky you just might see them! Each tour runs approximately one hour from beginning to end.

Talking Rocks Cavern also has two great hiking trails on-site with a scenic observation deck and a mini golf course, making it a great way to spend the day. At Talking Rocks Cavern, you and your family can see the natural beauty of Branson, Missouri inside and out. The cavern is located fifteen minutes west of Branson just off Highway 13. For more information, visit our website http://explorebranson.com/attractions/listing/1142/talking-rocks-cavern.

 

General Cave tips:

  • Caves are wet. Although steps are not slippery, always wear shoes with good traction and support because any stairs or sidewalks may have water on them.
  • Do not touch! Caves are always growing and changing and the oils on our hands can stop the growth of any cave. Only touch formations inside of a cave where permitted by a guide.
  • Every cave is different… so take your camera! And take lots of pictures!
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Australia’s Pink Lake and other oddly colored bodies of water

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  • All Canada Photos / Alamy

From salt lakes in Africa to volcano pools in Indonesia, these stunning bodies of water feature every color of the rainbow.

  • 1. Peyto Lake – Alberta, Canada

    All Canada Photos / Alamy

    Picture-perfect Peyto Lake in Banff National Park gets its color from rock flour that fill its waters. These tiny bits of glacial sediment turn the lake an almost unreal-looking shade of turquoise.

  • 2. Hells of Beppu – Beppu, Ōita, Japan

    christian kober / Alamy

    The hot springs at Beppu, referred to colloquially as the Hells of Beppu, are located on Japan’s Kyushu Island. The eight springs range in color from turquoise to rust. Chinoike Jigoku (Bloody Hell Pond) is a must-see—it boils blood red, as its name would suggest.

  • 3. Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge – Fremont, California

    Aerial Archives / Alamy

    This U.S. National Wildlife Refuge on the southern end of the San Francisco Bay offers plenty of sights on foot, but to see its most impressive feature, you’ll have to go up in the air. The Cargill-managed salt evaporation ponds located within this 30,000-acre park can take on just about any color of the rainbow depending on their salinity levels and which microorganisms are thriving in them at the time of viewing.

  • 4. Emerald Lakes – North Island, New Zealand

    Hemis / Alamy

    Tongariro National Park on New Zealand’s North Island has earned two UNESCO World Heritage designations and is also the oldest national park in the country. Within the park lies the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 12-mile hiking route that takes you past the Emerald Lakes of Mt. Tongariro. The gorgeous green lakes get their color from the dissolved volcanic minerals in the water.

  • 5. Laguna Colorada – Potosí, Bolivia

    David Noton Photography / Alamy

    Bolivia’s Laguna Colorada, which translates to “Red Lagoon”, is a shallow salt lake that contains brackish water the color of rust. The lake is located within the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, which is also home to the equally colorful Laguna Verde (“Green Lake”).

  • 6. Grand Prismatic Spring – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

    Frans Lanting Studio / Alamy

    The largest hot spring in the United States also happens to be one of the most colorful bodies of water in the world. The Grand Prismatic Spring’s colorful water is a rainbow of coloration caused by pigmented bacteria and can range from red to blue.

  • 7. Lake Hillier – Middle Island, Australia

    Wildlight Photo Agency / Alamy

    The pinkness of Australia’s Lake Hillier remains a bit of a mystery, although theories about its cause are plenty (most scientists blame the bacteria living there). One thing is undeniable: This high-salinity lake is as bright pink as bubble gum. Located on Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago, Lake Hillier’s rosy color contrasts spectacularly with the stark white and the lush green of the surrounding beach and forest.

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The ‘me’ tourist: Social media, selfies and travel

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Missing the view to get that perfect selfie? You’re not alone. (iStock)

When you think about travel, the word “experience” comes to mind. But it’s hard to “experience” what’s all around you when you’re spending every moment with a smartphone in front of your face.

These days, walking through Times Square in New York is like navigating a maze in constant motion. Instead of staying on a fixed path to get where you’re going, you have to weave through countless thousands of people – mostly tourists – who are either snapping photos or walking aimlessly with their heads down, looking at their phones.

And it isn’t just in hot spots like Times Square. Go to any tourist destination and you’ll see the same thing. Have people forgotten why they travel? Or has travel become less about “what” and “why” – and more about “me”?

The ‘Me’ Traveler

Now screaming from your Facebook page: “Look at me I’m standing in front of the pyramids!” “Hey, look, I’m at the Eiffel Tower!” “Bet you wish you were me!” But the pictures are like a visual checkbox that says, “Another one off the bucket list!” They barely touch on the experience.

Selfies are a big part of this, and some have become the subject of hot debate and even scorn. Take the case of National Basketball Association player Danny Green, who posted a selfie at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial with #Holocaust and LOL in the same tweet.

But Green was hardly the first, and unfortunately he won’t be the last, to post something offensive. This is what happens when a solemn site is open for tourists. Addicted to social media and self-promotion, they are seconds away from sharing their “experience” with the world, even before they stop to understand it. So let’s do our best to limit how often this happens by helping travelers understand, in a positive way, how travel changes lives for the better.

Make it About the Experience, Not You

Some of the most amazing experiences in life come when you travel to new places. They can change how you view the world, if you’re prepared to take them all in. They get captured in your psyche, not in your iPhone.

Think about why you travel and what a trip might mean to you. Understand and be sensitive to your surroundings, especially the culture of the people whose country you’ll be visiting. You’ll feel more connected to the place and its history if you take some time to learn about it and understand it before you go.

Leave it in Your Pocket

Whether it’s an amazing rainbow over Diamond Head in Hawaii or a museum that reminds you of the horrors that haunt our history, you’ll be free to take in everything around you if you leave your iPhone in your pocket. It’s like breaking an addiction, but it’s worth it. Notice the expressions of others. Be part of an experience that is unique to you and those around you at that given moment. It will happen only once. Think about what you’re seeing and how it makes you feel. You won’t need a selfie to remember it.

Travel Forward

Instead of sharing a tweet with an LOL or a hashtag that shows you standing somewhere for a moment, try sharing the feeling. Write it down, but in a notebook. Go beyond a 140-character tweet and a photograph and capture the moment in words and feelings.

Travel can be used as a metaphor to move your life forward. But if you still feel the need for that selfie, use #TravelForward and share the feelings, not just the pixels.

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World’s 9 most haunted tourist destinations

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  • Beechworth Ghost Tours

The Halloween season is here and you don’t have to seek out a modern-day manufactured fright house for a scare.

Mystery shrouds many famous tourist destinations that have been around for centuries, and where the ghosts of the people who once walked their streets and halls still linger.

Whether it’s a castle in Ireland, an island in Mexico or a collection of underground tunnels in Paris, check out these creepiest destinations.

  • 1. The Beechworth Lunatic Asylum, Beechworth, Australia

    Beechworth Ghost Tours

    Take a nighttime ghost tour at this former hospital, which leads visitors through the wards, cells and surgical rooms of the Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum. It’s believed that former patients who died violent deaths still roam the halls. If you want more of a fright, Beechwood Ghost Tours offers a hour paranormal investigation tour, which equips visitors with night vision cameras, infrared goggles, laser grids, EMF detectors, laser thermometers, parabolic microphones, spirit boxes, motion sensors and a range of other equipment.

  • 2. The Bhangarh Fort, Bhangarh, India

    Archaeological Survey of India, Jaipur Circle

    According to legend, the Bhangarh Fort in Rajasthan, India and the residents of the palace were cursed by a black magic sorcerer who said they would die an unnatural death, with their sprits haunting the fort forever. Because of the curse, few homes were built by the fort, and some local villagers built their houses without rooftops for fear that the moment a roof is built, the house would collapse.

  • 3. Hell Fire Club on Montpelier Hill, Dublin, Ireland

    iStock

    The Hell Fire Club in Dublin, Ireland is called “the most terrifying experience in Dublin.” The lodge, which sits on Montpelier Hill, is believed to be at the site of an ancient burial site.  When the lodge was constructed around 1725, workers took the stones from the grave sites to use for the building.  Shortly after its completion, a storm blew the roof off, which locals say was the work of the devil. It’s believed occult practices took place there, and that it’s haunted to this day. Guests on a walking tour to see the site are warned that they may experience head and chest tightness –but let’s hope that’s just due to the strenuous hike up the hill.

  • 4. Chateau de Chateaubriant, Chateaubriant, France

    iStock

    This medieval castle attracts tourist from around the world, but not everyone is brave enough to enter its Chambre Doree. As legend has it, Françoise de Foix (1495-1537), wife of Jean de Laval, was locked in her room and assassinated by her jealous husband on October 16, 1537.  Every year since then, a pool of blood has appeared in the room in front of the chimney.

  • 5. The Island of the Dolls, Mexico City, Mexico

    Reuters

    Just south of Mexico City is the Isla de las Munecas, or the Island of the Dolls. The island,  hidden among the Xochimilco Canals, is dedicated to a girl who, according to legend,  drowned many years ago under mysterious circumstances. Hundreds of dolls –or parts of dolls — hang from trees or lie in the grass, and are believed to be possessed by her spirit. The severed limbs and decapitated heads of the dolls are creepy enough as is, but visitors have said that they’ve seen heads and arms move, and even seen some eyes opened.

  • 6. Hunedoara Castle, Transylvania, Romania

    Castel ul Corvinilor

    The Hunedoara Castle, also called the Corvin or Hunyad Castle after the Hunyad dynasty, has some fairly freaky stories attached to it. It’s sometimes mentioned as a source of inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Castle Dracula, although the Bran Castle more often earns that distinction. But it’s believed that two children were found murdered in their beds inside the castle sometime during the 16th century, and in a separate incident, a woman who was having an affair with a soldier was murdered there by her husband, only to have her body found 200 years later inside one of the walls. Many attempted exorcisms have taken place here to rid it of these negative spirits, but they still remain.

  • 7. Stull Cemetery, Stull, Kansas

    iStock

    Cemeteries tend to give off a spookiness as a general rule, but not many cemeteries are known for being one of the seven gateways to hell. Nestled inside this sleepy town, there are hidden steps that are said to lead to the netherworld. The steps are extremely hard to find, and are only ever visible during Halloween and the Spring equinox. If someone is lucky (or unlucky) enough to find them, they are urged not to descend the stairs, since it’s impossible to come back up from them.

  • 8. Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    Philadelphia State Hospital

    The Byberry Mental Asylum at the Philadelphia State Hospital was opened in 1912 in a good faith effort to accommodate the mentally ill in the City of Brotherly Love.  Over the years, neglect, sub-human standards for patients and alack of funds led to the hospital’s closure in 1990. For many years, the buildings stood empty and attracted vandals and people who performed satanic rituals.  Finally, most of the complex was demolished in 2006, but a single remaining building at the Byberry campus stands today.

  • 9. The Mines of Paris, Paris, France

    iStock

    The Mines of Paris is a stone quarry made up of a web of tunnels underneath the city. What makes the mines so creepy, is that in the late 18th century, some of the tunnels were converted into catacombs to hold the bones of those buried in overflowing mass graveyards around Paris.  An abandoned railway tunnel and a portion of the catacombs are open to the public — where visitors say they see ghosts walking the dark tunnels.

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Places you won’t believe exist

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  • J Marshall – Tribaleye Images / Alamy

From hotels made of ice to naturally pink waters, these stunning locations around the world are the stuff of fantasy. But if you’re up for a memorable adventure, look no further than one of these fantastical destinations. Make sure to bring your best camera to capture these stunning sights at their best. Who knows? You may walk away with the ultimate vacation selfie.

  • 1. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

    J Marshall – Tribaleye Images / Alamy

    Salar de Uyuni, the larger of the two Bolivian salt flats, contains an astounding 10 billion tons of salt and covers over 4,000 square miles. That makes it the largest salt flat in the world, more than 20 times bigger than America’s largest, in Death Valley. —Ken Jennings

  • 2. Lake Retba (Lac Rose), Senegal

    Conde Nast Traveler

    Just under an hour from Dakar, the capital city of Senegal, sits this naturally pink lake. Lake Retba, or Lac Rose, gets its distinctive color from a bacteria that produces a red pigment in order to absorb the sunlight. —Laura Ratliff

  • 3. Antelope Canyon, Arizona

    Mint Images – Frans Lanting

    Antelope Canyon is a stunning slot canyon in the American Southwest. Its Navajo name, “the place where water runs through rocks,” is an allusion to the canyon’s creation through erosion. The narrow, undulating spaces between rock formations allow for vivid patterns when sunlight filters through the striated stone.—Hadley Keller

  • 4. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China

    TAO Images Limited / Alamy

    Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was the first authorized national forest park in China. Do the towering pillar-like mountains of this national forest look familiar? This park was used as a prototype for the landscape in James Cameron’s Avatar. The Chinese government was so taken with this cameo that they renamed the “Southern Sky Column” of Zhangjiajie “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” in 2010. —Hadley Keller

  • 5. Walking On Water, Canada

    Conde Nast Traveler

    In the far northern reaches of Canada—the wild, frozen territory of Nunavut—you can walk on water. A mile out to sea on Canada’s Baffin Bay, you risk some slippery footing, but you can clamber up a half-pipe inside this massive berg. Walk along a curving ice-valley for a hundred feet or so, come out on the other side, and slide back down onto the sea ice. —Anthony Doerr

  • 6. Red Sea Star Bar, Israel

    Courtesy Red Sea Star Bar

    Anchored 16 feet below The Red Sea, this underwater lounge might make you rethink the phrase “dive bar.” Eccentric decor—jellyfish-shaped chairs and sea cucumber–inspired pillars—certainly evoke the briny surroundings, but nothing is quite as evocative as what’s beyond the bar. Gaze out one of the 62 windows to see gray moray eels, turtles, and other marine life. —Sarah Bruning

  • 7. Icebar, Sweden

    Ben Nilsson

    The IceHotel and bar in the village of Jukkasjärvi is reconstructed annually, with input by artists from around the world; it features snow floors, carved-ice furniture, and barware. Don your warmest gear (and close-toed shoes) if you plan to sip a cocktail in this frigid lounge, reputed to be the original subzero drinking destination. —Sarah Bruning

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13 family-friendly dive sites for your kids

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  • Cayman Islands

If you’ve got young explorers at home who dream of swimming alongside Nemo or meeting a sea turtle up close, your next vacation may be the right time to introduce them to snorkeling and scuba diving. At coastal locations around the world, resorts and dive shops tailor programs for families and kids so they can begin chartering their course as the next Jacques Cousteau.

The Basics

Kids as young as 8 can learn scuba, though they must be at least 10 to become certified, according to theProfessional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), which provides certification for scuba divers.

Through PADI’s “Bubblemaker” classes, hosted at many dive centers around the world, kids 8 and older can learn how to use scuba equipment and breathe underwater in shallow environments, usually a pool. When they turn 10, they can be certified as Junior Open Water Divers; a PADI certified adult must accompany them, and they will be limited to a depth of 40 feet. At age 12, the depth restriction is removed.

If you or your children feel they’re not ready yet, snorkeling is a good alternative; they can join the fun and literally get their feet wet for scuba diving.

  • 1. Grand Cayman Island

    Cayman Islands

    Kids will love Stingray City by Grand Cayman Island, where they can pet and swim with stingrays in shallow waters, as well as snorkel. Folklore has it that kissing a stingray gets you seven years of good luck. Other shallow dives in the area ideal for Junior Open Water Divers include the underwater USS Kittiwake, a sunken Navy submarine rescue ship that is best known for its recovery of the Challenger space shuttle debris. Out of the water, families can search for blue iguanas, try stand-up paddleboarding, embark on an authentic pirate ship cruise and more.

  • 2. Bonaire Island

    Buddy Dive Resort Bonaire

    This Caribbean island, known for shore diving (from the beach, rather than from a boat) is a popular spot for divers year-round and has outstanding programs for kids. Divi Flamingo Beach Resort, the largest resort on the island, is a great headquarters for your family vacation. Younger kids snorkel right off the shore and can rent a dive light for nighttime snorkeling in the shallow waters in front of the resort. Children 10 and older can participate in the resort’s half-day junior dive experience or get scuba certified in the junior open water certification course. Oh, and did we mention kids stay free from April through mid-December?

    Another hotspot in Bonaire is the Buddy Dive Resort, which has a Buddy Rangers program for kids 5-10. The class combines snorkeling and scuba diving by teaching kids how to snorkel using scuba equipment. Kids 8-10 can join the PADI Seal Team to master a variety of “aqua missions,” like diving a pretend wreck or practicing a search and rescue operation using real scuba gear. Both resorts offer the PADI Bubblemakers program, as well.

    Bonaire is ideal for novice divers, as there are no strong currents, no big seas and short boat rides to dive sites. There are also many family-friendly activities like kayaking the mangroves, exploring small caves and children’s kiteboarding.

  • 3. Fiji

    Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort

    At the Vomo Island Resort on a 255-acre private island in Fiji, kids 10 and older can practice scuba in an enclosed area up to 40 feet deep as part of the PADI Discover Scuba Diving course. When kids aren’t underwater or hanging out at their beachfront villa, the resort offers plenty of activities to capture their attention, including kayaking, fish feeding, hiking, volleyball, tennis and golf. They can also head to the specially designed Kids Village with its media room, play areas and craft tables.

    At the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort in Fiji, started by the son of legendary diver Jacques Cousteau, teens can participate in dives with adults while also enjoying teen-specific activities, including snorkeling a site called “shark alley,” coral planting, volleyball, lessons in Fijian and spearfishing with local teens in the nearby village. For the younger set, the resort offers PADI’s Bubblemaker program and SASSY, a dive that combines snorkeling and scuba.

  • 4. Monaco

    Ecole Bleue Monaco

    At L’Ecole Bleue (The Blue School) in the principality of Monaco on the French Riviera, you can train with an expert diver. Started by Pierre Frolla, a free diver who holds three world records, the school offers lessons at Monaco’s Larvotto marine park and teaches kids to be good stewards of the sea. The school has training in marine biology, underwater excursions, scuba diving, snorkeling and free diving for beginner to advanced divers. Children’s courses are held between April and October and range from two to five days.

  • 5. Hawaii

    Kauai Down Under

    Hawaii, with its mild weather and abundant activities for all ages, is always a popular destination for families. Take one of the daily complimentary scuba lessons in the Saltwater Lagoon at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa in Koloa and then head out on an ocean dive to a brilliant Hawaiian reef with an instructor from Seasport Divers.

    The Sheraton Kauai Resort has its own on-site dive team, which can help guests become dive certified poolside. Once certified, the Kauai Down Under crew ferries divers to dive sites, including the Sheraton Caverns, located just off the shore from the hotel.

  • 6. North Carolina

    UNCW MarineQuest

    The coast of North Carolina is a surprisingly excellent spot for scuba diving, with lots to see in the Atlantic Ocean. At Kure Beach, kids 12 and older dive in waters that are home to 5000 historic shipwrecks, plentiful porcelain plates and prehistoric fossils like megalodon teeth, which dot the ocean’s natural ledges. Plus, if your pre-teen or teen wants to get certified, he or she can do so in as few as three days.

  • 7. Mustique

    The Cotton House

    On the beautiful Caribbean island of Mustique, kids can try the Bubblemaker program out of a pool and actually in the ocean. The Cotton House Resort on the island lets kids practice scuba diving in their “house reef,” located right in front of the resort. There they explore a real ocean environment complete with fish, coral and more. Popular dive sites in Mustique include Coral Glen, Dry Rock, All-awash and Sharks Cave.

  • 8. Australia

    Tourism and Events Queensland

    Scuba diving doesn’t get much better than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Kids 12 and older can join an introductory dive with Calypso Reef Charters, where they’ll learn basic skills and then practice them on a 30-40 minute small group dive in the reef. Families with younger kids (8 and older) can sign up for the SunReef Bubblemaker program. Be sure to keep your eyes open for Nemos (clown fish), anemones, turtles and more as you explore the world’s largest barrier reef as a family.

  • 9. Belize

    Las Terrazas

    If the land down under is too far away for a school break, try Central America. Belize is home to the second largest coral reef system in the world. Las Terrazas Resort, which offers oversized townhomes ideal for families that want the amenities of home, has an on-site dive shop with daily diving and scuba instruction. Kids not only can participate in the Bubblemaker program; they can become Junior Open Water Certified while on vacation. The shop also customizes dives for families to sites that include Ambergris Caye, The Blue Hole, Stann Creek District, The Elbow and Turneff Atoll.

  • 10. Florida

    Stephen Frink/ Florida Keys News Bureau

    Florida’s Paradise Coast is regularly named a top destination for families, and it offers plentiful diving to boot. Explore wrecks and reefs, along with marine life like nurse sharks and sea turtles. Many area dive programs like Scuba Marco in Marco Island offer the Bubblemaker and other junior dive programs.

    The Florida Keys boasts North America’s only living coral barrier reef, and a great dive site is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Younger kids can snorkel (see if they can find the Christ of the Deep statue) or take a ride aboard a glass-bottom boat. Junior Open Water certified divers and their adult family members can join one of two daily dive tours from different locations in the park; most sites are no deeper than 50 feet.

    Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Key West, has a non-certified divers resort course ideal for families who are not certified scuba divers. The course gives participants certification for just one day, starting with a pool lesson in the morning followed by two dives with an instructor in the afternoon to reefs in the tranquil Gulf of Mexico waters.

  • 11. Mexico

    Cabo Adventures

    Another destination that makes for a quick weekend or fall or winter break getaway is Los Cabos, Mexico. The Amazing Snorkeling program at Hilton Los Cabos* is open to ages 5 and older and lets kids “power-snorkel” with water scooters (a personal motorized handheld craft that propels you through the water) in the clear protected waters of a cove in the Sea of Cortes. Kids 12 and older can join introductory dives at the resort, including its 30-minute beginner scuba family activity. Los Cabos offers ideal diving conditions year-round and access to underwater reefs, as well as rock formations in the Gulf of California and the Mexican Pacific. Hilton Los Cabos offers plenty of out-of-the-water activities for kids, as well as Spanish lessons, cooking classes and even a teen Jacuzzi party!

  • 12. Bermuda

    Island Tour Center, courtesy of the Bermuda Tourism Authority

    On the Caribbean Island of Bermuda, you can have an unusual underwater adventure that’s open to kids 5 and older: an undersea walk wearing a “water helmet,” which looks similar to a vintage diving suit. Stroll through the area’s turquoise waters among its colorful fish and golden coral just as if you were on land. No scuba certification required.

  • 13. Mozambique

    Azura Retreats

    At Azura Benguerra, a luxury resort in Mozambique the adventure begins as guests travel to the resort by helicopter. Kids 8 and up can hone their scuba skills in the PADI 5 Star Dive Centre, with a training pool and a full selection of PADI courses. Once everyone is accustomed to safe scuba practices, kids head off with their instructor to dive no deeper than 40 feet in the warm Indian Ocean, where they can explore six reefs that are home to clown fish, green and leatherback turtles, humpback whales, reef sharks, moray eels, whale sharks and manta rays.

     

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Mystery American buys tropical island in the Philippines

fuga
fuga.jpg

The American buyer has bought a 25 year lease on a paradise island called Fuga in the northern Philippines. (WWW.LAMUDI.COM.PH)

Ever wanted to buy your own private island?

One anonymous American billionaire has done just that and plunked down $2 billion dollars for a stunning 25 thousand-acre paradise in the northern Philippines. But despite its hefty price tag, the buyer has only been given a 25-year lease on the island.

For those who are doing the math, that $78 million a year.

Called Fuga, the island boasts crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, and sprawling green hills.

“With its vibrant and buoyant real estate market, buying property is becoming more fun in the Philippines,” Jacqueline van den Ende, of property website Lamudi Philippines, said.

It’s unclear if Fuga will be developed as an exclusive resort for the public, a private tropical hide-away or something else.

Buying a private island has become the latest must-have among the rich and famous. Several celebrities, including Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson, Leonardo DiCaprio or Richard Branson have taken the plunge as well as many business executives.  And you’d be surprised to know that some private islands are not as expensive as you think.

Websites such as Private Islands Online are offering a wide range of islands – developed or undeveloped, inhabited or uninhabited – for prices as low as about $30,000.

But Fuga isn’t just about beautiful beaches.  It has a poor indigenous population that lacks basic necessities like running water, good health care and education.

We think a luxury compound in Turks and Caicos sounds better.

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