When the (real) sun disappeared behind a cloud, I figured I should keep exploring. I considered a chicken Caesar salad at the nearby restaurant Palm Beach but decided to go a bit further afield. In the jungle, I found butterflies in mesh tents slurping from orange and pineapple slices and thatched huts with educational placards hiding electric equipment. Nature sounds piped through speakers, but the hundreds of varieties of tropical fauna weren’t plastic. I hope those aren’t real, I thought, wincing as I wound around the pathways to get a better look at a bunch of flamingos.
I’m a Maui native and it is not that expensive! You just need to do it the smart way, avoid tourist traps and ABC stores, stop at Costco to stock up on supplies before you reach your hotel. Many of the best things Hawaii has to offer are free: beaches, sunsets, hikes, snorkeling, walking the streets of small beach towns. Condos are also way cheaper than hotels and they are usually beachfront.
One of the most diverse islands in the South Pacific, Tanna’s main attraction is Mount Yasur – known as ‘the world’s most accessible active volcano’. Every afternoon, motorcades of 4X4 jeeps make the long and challenging journey across the island’s unsealed roads and ash covered plains to visit the mighty volcano. Making it to the volcano’s rim just in time for sunset, Yasur’s awe striking display of spewing lava and loud explosions fails to disappoint. Beyond the volcano, Tanna’s rainforests are home to ancient tribes that retain their traditional kustom way of life, and mysterious cargo cults still waiting for John Frum to return. Its volcanic reefs are perforated with natural blue holes, and its friendly teach you that you don’t need much in life to be happy!
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By mid-morning, all the seafront beach chairs were overlaid with people or place-saving towels, so I checked out the upstairs sundeck. For such a large complex, the sandy beach was actually quite narrow, just a spit of sand ringing the wading pool in front of the sea. It reminded me of million-dollar Malibu beachfront homes where erosion has taken almost all of the sand, leaving behind just the idea of a beach. Still, I wasn’t immune to the satisfaction of being in a bikini in the indoor-outdoor world while regular, old February raged on outside, and there was a particular joy in swiping sand from my ankles as I readjusted.
Sister to neighboring Vieques, this tiny island 17 miles off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico is about as chill a place as you'll ever find. There are no big resorts, fancy restaurants, or pricey boutiques. What the place does have is empty beaches and fantastic snorkeling. The beaches of Carlos Rosario, Tamarindo Grande, Tamarindo, and Melones are all a part of the Luis Peña Channel Natural Reserve and a feeding ground for sea turtles and stingrays.
It is a single location dive. A dive the late afternoon during the light and then we come up as planned just before the sunset. We watch the sunset, a Keys favorite, and then prepare for the second dive. Once dark, we dive the second dive to witness an amazing transformation of the reef. New species coming out of the coral, new activity all around, and even surface bioluminescence that you will be delighted to see. It’s a new world down there and you will be one of the few lucky ones to see it all happen in front of you.