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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!
Categories: Travel Destinations | Leave a comment

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.

Categories: Exotic Destinations | Leave a comment

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

Categories: Exotic Locations | Leave a comment

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.

     

Categories: Fun in the Sun | Leave a comment

Mystery American buys tropical island in the Philippines

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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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Terror and triumph on Whistler’s via ferrata

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    Rupert Davies, of Whistler Alpine Guides, maneuvers the via ferrata. (Blane Bachelor)

I’m standing on a rebar rung, clinging to another rung, hundreds of feet off the ground on a near-vertical stretch of Whistler Mountain – with nowhere to go but up.

But first I have to go sideways, across a sizable chasm with a horrifying expanse of open air below.

“So, has anyone else besides me ever cried up here?”

And I can’t move.

I’m having what feels like my first-ever panic attack – my breathing is labored, my hands and feet are cemented in place, and I honestly think these could be my last moments. I can hear my mom’s voice in my head: “I BEGGED her not to do it!”

Then I hear another voice, a real one, from a few feet below: “Trust your boots,” it says calmly, matter-of-factly.

The voice comes from Rupert, the friendly, redheaded guide who has done this so many times before – eased an adventure-goer like me back from full-blown fear into the business of finding her next foothold. So I do what he says: I trust my boots. I pull my foot off the rung and swing it through space to find the next one, my hands following.

My boots hold, and for now, my sanity does, too. And so it goes for the next couple of hours: rung by rung, step by step, section by steep section on Whistler’s via ferrata – Italian for “iron way” – a trail of iron rungs and cables fixed into the mountainside that create a vertical route to the top. It’s a great way for non-rock jocks like me to experience dizzying heights and spectacular views once available only to hardcore climbers.

The first via ferratas weren’t developed for adrenaline-seekers. The Italian army built them during World War I to move troops and supplies quickly through the Dolomite mountains. Climbers discovered them in the 1960s, and since then hundreds of via ferratas have popped up throughout Europe and in countries including Malaysia, New Zealand and Japan.

They’re less commonplace in the United States – a handful of sites includes Yosemite’s Half-Dome, though it’s not usually referred to as a via ferrata – thanks to government regulations against permanent climbing anchors. This high-altitude adventure, which has been operating in Whistler for about 10 years, is a big reason I’ve come to this ski-obsessed town in British Columbia in the summer.

Unfortunately, the steady, chilly rain is anything but summery as our group of four – another woman who appears to be in her late 30s and a pair of fit-looking guys in top-of-the-line mountain gear – arrives for the excursion. We’re good to go as long as there’s no lightning – it’s not exactly safe to cling to metal thousands of feet off the ground in such conditions – but the added challenge of wet, slippery rungs doesn’t exactly calm my twitchy nerves.

We fit our helmets and harnesses inside the equipment outpost of Whistler Alpine Guides, the tour operator that runs Whistler’s via ferrata. No one says much – except for the quiet conversation between Rupert and the guys, who have taken him aside to ask about the safety waiver (which I’ve already signed).

That the most alpine-adept in the group have questions is a tad worrisome, but I take it as a good sign that everything seems to be cleared up. Then Rupert comes back over and asks if anyone has ever used an ice ax.

Not me. And apparently I don’t have any common sense, either. Who am I kidding that, with my fear of heights, with a knee that’s had two surgeries and with limited climbing experience, I can actually do this?

But by then Rupert has handed us our ice axes, and off we go. With Whistler’s 7,160-foot peak looming ahead, we’re soon using the fearsome-looking tools on a long stretch of crunchy snow. Rupert shows us how to move across ­– by kick-stepping footholds and using our axes for support.

Soon comes the first challenge: scaling an aluminum ladder – the kind you can buy at Lowe’s – affixed to the rock, while roped together for safety. Nico and Stefan, who I’ve learned are from Belgium, glide up effortlessly, as they will for the next three hours. It takes me and Karine, who’s from Montreal, a bit longer.

For the rest of the way, we are attached to the reinforced steel cables and rungs by our safety lanyards, which we connect and reconnect via locking carabiners as we climb. But when you’re scaling a sheer rock face thousands of feet in the sky, it’s hard to remember that there are such devices in place to keep you from falling.

Instead, in the tricky spots – and there are several – I try to focus on breathing normally. But my breath still comes out in gorilla-like grunts, along with a constant stream of obscenities and sometimes tears. I’m in decent shape, but I’m getting my butt kicked – physically and emotionally.

Over and over, Rupert assures Karine and me that we’re doing great. Meanwhile, Nico and Stefan climb so quickly that we can no longer see them, and Rupert regularly calls out to check on them and tell them where to wait. They tell me during one break, without a trace of arrogance, that they’ve hiked to mountain lodges in Europe, burdened with wieldy packs of camping gear, along even more difficult routes.

But being overshadowed by these elite alpinists, who channel both Speedy Gonzalez and Superman, doesn’t deter my own glory and overwhelming sense of relief when we reach the summit. The final pitch looks like a doozy – a sheer stretch that seems well past vertical under the jagged ridgeline – but Rupert assures us that we’ve already done much harder parts. And once again, he’s right.

Nico and Stefan applaud as we take our final steps up to the plateau of the summit. We take a few minutes to catch our breath, high-five and admire the spectacular view of snow-capped mountains before we head to the chairlift that will take us down.

“So, has anyone else besides me ever cried up here?” I ask Rupert as we walk, my legs still shaky.

“I was crying,” Karine says right away. We all laugh, and I feel a little less of a wuss.

“People start the day nervous, with a lot of anxiety,” Rupert says. “And once you get them through the hard sections, their sense of reward is really noticeable. There’s this big sense of accomplishment and the buzz from the afterglow.”

Which is certainly true – the view from the top is even more amazing because I feel I’ve really earned it. I haven’t felt this proud of myself in a long time.

But I’m also craving a different kind of buzz: one that can be found in a bar, on terra firma.

If You Go:

The Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort in British Columbia operates a via ferratathrough tour operator Whistler Alpine Guides. Trips run June through mid-October, take about four hours and cost about $108, including equipment.

A word of caution:  While this is open to those with no prior climbing experience, it is strenuous, so you may want to consult with your physician before planning a trip.  Also altitude sickness can start as low as 5,000 feet, so take precautions.

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The most dangerous trips in the world

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  • Reinhard Dirscherl / Alamy

For your next vacation, take a walk on the wild side.

Sitting on the beach or going for a nice stroll are so yesterday. Why not try climbing one of the steepest cliff faces in the world or swimming with live jellyfish? Some of these outlandish vacation excursions might not be everyone’s speed but if you’re feeling adventurous, it’s nice to have a few options.

  • 1. Jellyfish Lak – Eil Malk, Palau

    Reinhard Dirscherl / Alamy

    Remember the jellyfish scene from Finding Nemo? That’s pretty much exactly what Palau’s Jellyfish Lake is like. Located on Eil Malk Island, this marine lake is home to millions of jellyfish that slowly migrate across the water each day, following the path of the sun. Tourists can obtain a pass to visit the island and snorkel among the golden jellies and moon jellies. Although these stingers are (mostly) harmless, you may feel a twinge around sensitive body parts. Be careful not to dive too deep into the pool—the lower level contains dangerous amounts of hydrogen sulfide, which can be deadly.

  • 2. Villarrica Volcano – Chile

    Gary Cook / Alamy

    The Villarrica volcano in southern Chile is a go-to destination for the craziest of daredevils. During the summer, thousands of tourists attempt to hike to the top of the volcano (one of the few in the world with an active lava lake) on guided tours. Come wintertime, even braver groups climb the glacial slopes while dodging crevasses and avalanches. If neither of those seasonal options appeals to you, there’s always the ultimate feat of courage: bungee jumping from the skid of a helicopter right above the volcano’s bubbling crater. Could anything be better for your next relaxing vacation?

  • 3. North Yungas Road – Bolivia

    Stock Connection Blue / Alamy

    The path from La Paz to Coroico, Bolivia, is a treacherous one. The North Yungas Road weaves precariously through the Amazon rainforest at a height of over 15,000 feet. When you consider that frightening elevation—not to mention the 12-foot-wide single lane, lack of guardrails, and limited visibility due to rain and fog—it’s easy to see why this 50-mile stretch of highway has earned the nickname “The Death Road.” While 200 to 300 drivers used to die here annually, North Yungas Road has now become more of a destination for adventurous mountain bikers than a vehicular thoroughfare.

  • 4. Teanupoo – Taiarapu-Ouest, Tahiti

    National Geographic Image Collection / Alamy

    Surfing is a perilous sport in and of itself, but the risk increases exponentially when Tahiti’s famous Teahupoo wave becomes a factor. The top-heavy swells of the wave can reach heights of up to 21 feet, making it a popular destination for professional (and daring) surfers. There have been five recorded deaths at Teahupoo since 2000, mainly due to the razor-sharp coral reef located a mere 20 inches below the water’s surface.

  • 5. Mt. Hua – Huayin, China

    LOOK/Getty

    The peaks of Mt. Hua—or Huashan, located about 75 miles east of Xi’an in northwest China—boast a variety of beautiful temples and some of the best sunrise views you can imagine. To get there, one must simply side-step across rickety 12-inch-wide planks while holding on to loose metal chains—thousands of feet above the ground. Sound fun? Just note that many spots of the “bridge” are broken or missing and hundreds of people have died while trying to reach the scenic summits over the years. So, uh, don’t look down?

  • 6. Corbet’s Couloir – Jackson Hole, Wyoming

    Jan Schuler / Alamy

    If there’s one U.S. location on every expert skiier’s bucket list, it would have to be Corbet’s Couloir, located at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming. Otherwise known as “America’s scariest ski slope,” Corbet’s is more than 10,000 feet high, has a double-diamond rating, and drops down at a 60-degree angle. The biggest feat for skiers, however, is the initial jump over the mountain’s cornice—depending on snow conditions, the free fall ranges anywhere between 10 and 30 feet.

     

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Take a walk in the clouds on new suspension bridge between mountain peaks

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A mock-up of Peak Walk.Glacier3000.comrwewerert6rerre

Need a little fresh air?

Try taking a walk nearly 10,000 feet above ground on this suspension bridge that will link two peaks in the Swiss Alps.

The new bridge will link two mountains: Glacier 3000 and Scex Rouge and soar 9,700 feet into the sky. According to Glacier 3000’s website, this 350 foot bridge will be the first of its kind.

Features of the bridge include a partial glass floor that allows walkers to gaze into the drop below and it will be strong enough to support up to 300 people at a time. The project is called ‘Peak Walk,’ and will provide stunning views  of the surrounding vistas including Mont Blanc and Eiger mountains.

Made from steel cables, the bridge has been designed to stay open year round and will be strong enough to withstand winds of up to 155mph, reports the Daily Mail.

Peak Walk is estimated to cost around $3.4 million and has already faced construction delays due to poor weather conditions in the Swiss Alps over the summer and workers having a difficult time acclimating to thin air at high altitudes.

Though the bridge is the first of its kind as it will the tallest suspension bridge connecting two peaks, the honor of the tallest suspension bridge goes to theTitlis Cliff Walk in Obwalden, Switzerland, which connects a mountain to a chair lift station, 9,977 feet above sea level.

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