Aug 28, 2012 16:20 - johnegan | 1,623 views
In the American South, blackwater is common, and it’s far from dirty. The rivers that wind through South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida are often dubbed “blackwater” because of the tannins that enter the water through the decomposing leaves of cypress and tupelo trees. Rivers like the Suwannee in Florida (the inspiration for another famous song, “Old Folks At Home”) and the Edisto in South Carolina feature white sandy bottoms, reflecting light through the dark-hued water. The effect is often compared to swimming through cool iced tea, a fitting simile for the sweet tea-loving south.
Although these slow-rolling rivers do indeed run through swampland, they are magical places that are ripe for exploration. In South Carolina, the Edisto River boasts bragging rights as the world’s longest free-flowing blackwater river. Originating near Columbia, South Carolina, and Aiken, South Carolina, the north and south forks of the Edisto (respectively), come together near Bamberg, about 80 miles north of Charleston. After flowing together over a winding 100 miles, the river again splits into the North and South Edisto, wrapping around Edisto Island and its cottage community, Edisto Beach.
Most people who visit Charleston spend their time in the historic downtown, enjoying carriage tours, visits to Civil War forts and dining within the city’s burgeoning culinary scene. Locals, however, are quick to escape to the Edisto River when the heat of summer sets in, spending lazy days floating the blackwater in tubes, kayaks and canoes. If you have one day to explore, rent a canoe or kayak at Carolina Heritage Outfitters, near Colleton State Park in the small town of Canadys. The amiable owners will give you a lift a few miles up the river, letting you wander back slowly over the course of the day.
Better yet, give yourself time for an overnight on the river. With wide turns every half-mile, the Edisto is full of giant sandbars that are perfect for solo or group camping. Some stretch for over 100 yards, leaving plenty of space for tossing a Frisbee or throwing a football, before diving back into the river to cool down. Anything below the high water line is public property, and it’s free and legal to camp on the Edisto’s sandbars.
Along the sandy banks, keep your eyes peeled for megalodon teeth. For millennia, the swampy tributaries along the Edisto’s course have harbored these ancient sharks’ teeth away from humans. When water levels drop during summer or drought, it’s possible to sift through the sand and find teeth all along the river.
Rope swing lovers will also find a paradise on the Edisto. Seemingly at every bend, someone has designed their perfect descent and swimming hole. Just remember to test the swing’s durability from the water before launching yourself off of a tree into the river.
About thirty miles downstream from Colleton State Park, Givhans Ferry State Park offers access to the river that’s even more accessible to Charleston — it’s just 45 minutes up the road. This section of the river features impressive limestone cliffs reaching up to 50 feet high — an impressive site in the relatively flat Lowcountry.
Along the river, boat landings and canoe throw-ins are located at least every five miles. If you have access to a boat and two vehicles, it’s easy to plan your own trip without hiring a guide service. Depending on water level and flow rate, give yourself an average of about an hour per mile on a tube and two miles per hour in a canoe or kayak.
In addition to the Edisto, the Ashepoo and Santee Rivers also offer blackwater experiences in close proximity to Charleston. Although neither has a guide service, they both have their own personality and peculiarities that are worth exploring for any nature lover wanting to experience the real Lowcountry.
Of course, it’s possible to get on the water without leaving the city. Charleston’s neighborhoods are defined by the tidal creeks that run through them, and a multitude of kayak outfitters abound to get you on the water. Offerings run from two-hour dolphin sighting cruises to multi-day expeditions along the coast. Although the history is impressive enough, it’s worth witnessing this watery landscape in the manner that the first settlers did centuries ago.
Aug 24, 2012 16:48 - holly | 1,813 views
Lying 350 miles off the west coast of Africa, the Cape Verde Islands are a popular tourist destination due to the warm climate, plentiful attractions, ease of access, and the wonderful mix of Portuguese history and African influence. However, one of the main reasons these tiny islands see almost 500,000 visitors each year is because of the unsurpassed conditions for water sports.
The volcanic islands are situated on the Trade Winds belt, and between October and June steady and consistent winds of gale force 4 and 5 can be expected, making the island’s coasts ideal for surfing, windsurfing, parasailing and much more. The winds have such an effect on the area that the Europe cruise ships that visit the country dock in port rather than provide tenders across the choppy waters. Of course, these winds bring the hot African heat, but also the desert dust.
One of the best locations for windsurfing is in Santa Maria, on the south coast of the island of Sal. The waters here are free from large rocks and the beaches are like something from a postcard. The curved bay makes it ideal for both beginners and pros alike, with strong offshore winds at the bay’s edges, and weaker winds in the center. Sal itself is home to Cape Verde’s International airport which sees flights arriving from all over Europe, so access couldn’t be any easier.
Another of the islands which is spectacularly easy to travel to is São Vicente. If you’re visiting Cape Verde as part of a Europe cruise, you’ll dock in the island’s largest city, Mindelo. São Vicente is one of the country’s liveliest islands and from Mindelo it’s just a 7 mile trip to San Pedro, which is one of the most renowned areas for watersports. Speedsurfing is particularly popular here, although for something a bit more relaxing it’s also a great spot for snorkelling and diving.
Cape Verde’s largest island, Santiago, is home to the country’s capital city: Praia. While the main evening activity is dancing and drinking in one the city’s many nightclubs, the midday skies are filled with parasailers. Most of the beachfront hotels offer parasailing as an activity for guests.
There are a number of activity companies and watersports schools across the islands, so you’ll have plenty to choose from. In most cases, your travel agent should be able to book you some lessons in advance, arrange equipment rental, or if you’re arriving by ship, the major Europe cruise operators will include lessons as part of their Cape Verde excursions program.
So if you’re after waves a bit more hardcore than what you find in other destinations, make sure to book a trip to Cape Verde. If you need any more persuading, just take a look at the Professional Windsurfers Association. Cape Verde hosted a world cup event for the PWA for 4 years in a row between 2007 and 2010.
Aug 23, 2012 12:01 - holly | 1,549 views
Measuring 82 kilometers long and 1300 meters deep, Tara River Canyon is not only the longest in Montenegro, but also the deepest gorge in all of Europe. Located in the Durmitor National Park, it’s a popular place for hiking, camping and picnicking, but most travelers visit here for one reason and one reason alone; the chance to experience white water rafting in one of the world’s deepest canyons, second only to the USA’s Grand Canyon.
Hopping in an 8 person inflatable dinghy is certainly a far cry from the 2000+ occupancy Europe cruise liners that frequently dock in Montenegro, but being on the water deep beneath the Durmitor Mountain really is one of the best ways to experience the canyon up close and personal.
The complete end to end rafting adventure along the Tara River spans almost 100 kilometers, but the 18 kilometer section between Brstanovica and Sćepan Polje is by far the most exciting. Of the 50 rapids along the river, more than 20 are located in this section alone, and they’re all ranked as class 3 or above, meaning big waves and even bigger adrenaline!
On your alternative Europe cruise you’ll take in plenty of sights, as well as taking the trip of a lifetime. Waterfalls and cascades, traditional Eastern European villages, old windmills and abandoned monasteries are just a small selection of attractions along the Tara River. Take the chance to sample some of the natural waters; they’re perfectly safe to drink!
The 18 kilometer route should see you back on dry land after about 3 hours, so there’s plenty of time to swap to the hiking boots and head up to one of the 48 peaks of Durmitor Mountain, situated to the south of the canyon. These peaks command great views over the rapids and gorge as well as the impressive Europe cruise ships heading in and out of nearby Kotor and Dubrovnik, Croatia, just 90 kilometers up the coastline.
Montenegro itself is well worth a visit. The country boasts 72 kilometers of white sandy beach along the Adriatic coast and one of the only rainforests left on the continent; Biogradska Gora. It may be the smallest of Montenegro’s national parks, but it’s certainly one of the most popular with the virgin beech forest, huge areas of unspoilt foliage and no less than six glacial lakes.
If you decide to take a trip through the wild waters of Tara River Canyon, there are plenty of tour companies that can help arrange your vacation. Make sure you take the opportunity to see more of Eastern Europe as well. Many Europe cruise operators who dock in Montenegro and Croatia offer day trips to the gorge as part of their excursion programs. But beware: you WILL get wet!
Aug 20, 2012 12:30 - holly | 2,099 views
Cruise ships nowadays have so many different onboard activities to suit every sort of traveler – fantastic bars and restaurants for the foodies, arcades for
avid gamers, world-class entertainment for budding thespians, and well equipped gyms with a range of diverse and fun classes for the travelers who don’t want to give up their daily exercise regimes.
Yoga is one such class that has become popular in the western world in recent years, and ocean liners pride themselves on having professional instructors to guide participants through a relaxing class.
This can be a fairly expensive way to try out yoga, and some may want a more authentic experience. If this sounds like you, keep reading! For those who cannot afford a Caribbean cruise but want to relax and immerse themselves in places of exotic beauty, a yoga retreat is the perfect option.
Yoga is more of a lifestyle than a physical activity, and those who practice it claim that it changes the way you see yourself as part of the world. Of course, the benefits of yoga have been known for centuries in India and other Buddhist and Hindu countries, but only in the last decades has the western world opened its doors to this ancient discipline with thousands of courses, festivals and publications on how to eat, drink and breathe yoga.
If you really want to understand this philosophy you need to go back to the heart of its origin: India.
Rishikesh: The Holy Town
There are different kinds of vacations that include yoga and they are strictly linked to the kind of experience you want to have. If you’re looking for a full yoga experience, to relax and take time out from the world, then Rishikesh is the right place for you.
The whole town of Rishikesh, situated on the banks of the Ganges River at the Himalayan foothills, is considered to be sacred. There are plenty of ashrams (spiritual hermitages) to choose from and some of them even offer travel excursions.
The Parmarth Niketan is one of the best known ashrams and boasts 1,000 rooms, beautiful gardens, and an extensive program of beginner yoga, Vedic heritage and spirituality, and teacher training courses. This ashram also runs a series of humanitarian projects and is deeply involved in the development of the local community. Besides this, it hosts the very well known International Yoga Festival every March.
Another option in Rishikesh is The Yoga Ashram Rishikesh, which offers a 2 week long yoga retreat package as well as medical services and spiritual tours amongst others.
The nearest airport to Rishikesh is in Dehradun which is 35 kilometers (22 miles) away, but many prefer to get there by road from Haridwar.
Goa: Reminiscences of Portuguese Glory
Located in the south of India, this ex Portuguese colony is known for its warm inhabitants and a culinary tradition that mixes the best of Indian and Portuguese cuisine. Goa is more easy going than other India locations and less meditative, however there are some very good options here if you want to practice yoga.
The Purple Valley Yoga is a sort of ‘glamour’ yoga center with teachers who are world known stars. The prices of yoga courses plus accommodation are pretty high in comparison with other traditional ashrams, but the atmosphere in the center seems idyllic.
Another option is a family run heritage hotel which is perfect for someone who wants to learn about Goa traditions and culture. The hotel is a Portuguese mansion immersed in beautiful vegetation, and is very close to the beaches. It offers many yoga options and is the perfect place to spend some time with your family.
Goa’s airport is at Dabolim which is 29km from the capital Panaji on the coast near Vasco da Gama. Many yoga centers and hotels organize pick ups from the airport, otherwise you can find many other travel options elsewhere.
Ready for your yoga experience? India is only a stretch away!
Aug 19, 2012 08:27 - holly | 1,190 views
Alaska has long been a top choice for extreme sports enthusiasts thanks to its extensive large open spaces, its isolation and its cold weather which brings some of the thickest coverings of snow in the country. The ‘Last Frontier’ state is also popular with nature lovers, being home to the wonderful Fjords and glaciers that make Alaska cruise lines so notorious.
Unlike in other parts of the country, the cold weather in Alaska is embraced and the winter months are actually some of the busiest. From dog sledding to snowmobiling to skiing, there are endless winter sports opportunities in Alaska. One of the best places to undertake winter sports is in the Chugach Mountain range, particularly in the Prince William Sound region. These mountains experience more snowfall than anywhere else in the state. Unfortunately, many of the best slopes in this area are accessible only by air or sea. However, Alaska cruise operators have taken advantage of this and are now offering what they call a ‘ski to sea’ Alaska cruises. These cruises transport skiers through the majestic Fjords to secluded parts of Alaska for the ultimate isolated skiing experience, and then back on board for an overnight rest before hitting the slopes once more.
The overnight accommodation is quite unlike the usual Alaska cruise ships that are seen maneuvering between glaciers. Much smaller luxury yachts are the preferred choice for ski to sea Alaska cruise trips with some accommodating fewer than 10 guests plus cruise staff. The experience is far more personal and intimate than it would be on a 1000 ft, 3000 occupancy state of the art Alaska cruise liner.
The Chugach Mountains have practically every different skiing terrain available, meaning that the slopes are suitable for both absolute beginners and experienced professionals. Best of all, it’s not commercialized so there’s no gift shops and no ski lifts. It’s just you, the crisp white snow and crystal clear sea for miles around.
As well as the opportunity to enjoy some amazing backcountry skiing, a ski to sea Alaska cruise also opens the door to nature, giving views of some of the area’s most fascinating wildlife. If you’ve ever wanted to see wild bears, whales, otters and over 500 species of bird, the quiet and cut off mountains away from the hustle and bustle of the city and away from foot and road traffic is one of the best places to do so.
These ski to sea Alaska cruise itineraries are available through a number of providers and from a variety of ports throughout Alaska, Washington and British Columbia, so they’re quite accessible. Most depart throughout the winter season, with March and April providing some of the best conditions for this form of vacation. You can also find a local yacht charter to take you to these areas in Alaska as well. It’s a great choice for those who want the luxury and ease of a cruise coupled with the thrill and adrenaline of winter sports.