The World’s Best Islands

Choosing the world’s best islands is like choosing the best songs of the 20th century.   There are so many hits, and there are so many incredible islands, blessed with fine white powder sand, turquoise water, pin-up palm trees.   Many are unoccupied or scarcely visited, while others, jammed with tourists, hold an unforgettable charm in our memories.  I selected these islands because they’re exquisite, unique, popular, and would do in any Greatest Island Hits compilation.    Post-Covid, it will be interesting to see how these destinations recover, and what other islands will make it onto the list.

Bali, Indonesia

It’s a small island with a big reputation for beauty, atmosphere, beaches, and cultural ceremonies.   Incredibly popular until the tragic terrorist attacks in 2002, Bali has thankfully recovered (2008 saw record numbers of visitors) because its people are optimistic, and you just can’t keep a good island down.   Blessed with terrific weather and a history that goes back 4000 years, the temples and rituals of the islands predominantly Hindu population are intoxicatingly exotic.   Beaches throughout the island, like the long stretch of Sanur located just minutes from the capital of Denpasar, offer a true glimpse of paradise.

Santorini, Greece

Greece presents many images, but none stay so firmly in my mind as the view over the nearby sunken volcanic island from my small, chalky-white hotel.  The most famed and most beautiful of the Greek Islands,  a big sky radiates off blue-domed churches and narrow streets, the smell of olive oil, wine, lavender and mint in the air. With a cheap bottle of good wine, I’d sit on my little deck and watch a perfect sunset every evening, a bouzouki playing in the distance, the wind warm and nourishing.  Crammed into the steep volcanic hills, there are thousands of such decks and tiny, excellent hotels in Santorini, and somehow privacy and romance is perfectly maintained.  Never mind its history, cuisine or beaches.  You come to Santorini for the views, and your heart stays for a lifetime. 

Kauai

Kauai, Hawaii

Those who love Hawaii will argue for their personal favourites, the less discovered isles, those that might be more dynamic.   Either way you cannot exclude Hawaii on this list, and according the various polls, Kauai beats out Maui, but only just.   Whenever I meet someone from Hawaii, there’s this twang of jealousy.   I grew up watching Magnum PI, and figured everyone must drive a red Ferarri, have hairy chests, and jet around in helicopters.    Not so the case, but the oldest of Hawaii’s islands does have an unparalleled reputation for lifestyle and beauty.  Striking canyons and mountains in the interior, surrounded with soft sandy beaches, the island might not have the bustle of Maui, but even Higgins would approve. 

New Caledonia

The South Pacific is littered with paradise islands.   Palm trees and squeaky white beaches, turquoise water, feasts of seafood – the only real difference between one or the other is where you’ve actually been, and the experience you’ve had.  I spent a week in New Caledonia, which is governed out of Paris as a department of France, and is therefore uniquely French.   Something about coupling freshly baked baguettes and Bordeaux wine (cheap, given the transport costs) with reggae-inspired views and tropical island beauty made me wonder:   If you can live in paradise (where everything works), earn a strong currency pegged to the euro (for freedom to travel), and live a lifestyle pegged to Robinson Crusoe (because we all need 18 hours of sleep a day), isn’t that epitome of island life?

Galapagos

How could I not include the Galapagos Islands, 1000km west of Ecuador, in a list such as this?   The entire chain, straddling the equator, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, heaving with animal and marine life you’ll find nowhere else on the planet.  It’s famously said that animals in the Galapagos have not evolved a natural fear of man, and the approachability of its natural species – from giant tortoises to hammerhead sharks – suggests a world where nature and man are finally in harmony.   Only one of the 14 islands allows is open to human habitation, and the preservation and protection of Darwin’s playground has ensured that anyone who visits, especially children, will leave inspired and profoundly connected to the natural world. 

Easter Island

As islands go, few hold the mystery and fascination of Rapa Nui, an island in the southeast Pacific, once home to a rich and prosperous civilization of the same name.   The monuments of their decline are the massive stone statues (moai) that peer eerily across the barren landscape, a landscape that was once lush and fertile.   As Jared Diamond argues in his excellent book Collapse, if we paid heed to the lessons of Easter Island, we can see how a society disintegrates due to greed, war, superstition, and most importantly, misuse of abundant natural resources.  For those lucky enough to visit the island, a territory of Chile, standing amongst the spooky, eternal moai is not only brazenly exotic, it forces us to think about the very traits that shape our humanity.  

Bermuda

Tropical islands attract the mega-rich, and the mega rich have long been attracted to Bermuda.   St John, St Lucia, Nevis, Anguilla, and other islands in the Caribbean island don’t slack in the wealth department either, but Bermuda’s history, offshore financial havens, and influx of tourism gives it one of the highest gross national incomes in the world. With no taxes, the cost of living here is amongst the highest in the world too.  But they did give us Bermuda shorts!    Home to numerous celebrities, the island offers the pre-requisite stunning pink-sand beaches, fine diving, fine dining, hotels , fishing and golf, with the old school colonial charm in the Town of St George. Is Bermuda better than other islands in the Caribbean?  Probably not, but it certainly aspires to be. 

Vancouver Island / Cape Breton, Canada

With all these tropical islands, it’s telling that our own Vancouver Island and Cape Breton Island repeatedly make it into high-end travel magazines.  Conde Nast Traveler readers have ranked Vancouver Island as the top North American island since 2000, and it’s not because all their readers live in Victoria.   The size, remoteness, pristine tranquility and infrastructure of Canada’s best known islands set them apart, so while there’s always room for white sandy stretches, you’ll be hard pressed to find something as incredible as storm watching on Tofino’s Long Beach. Not to be outdone, Cape Breton topped Travel + Leisure’s Best Island to Visit in the USA/Canada in 2008, drawn to its natural character, wealth of outdoors activities, and unmistakable local colour.

Zanzibar

I stood outside the modest stone apartment where Freddie Mercury was born, and Stone Town, like the island itself, had rocked me indeed.   Located off the coast of Tanzania, this large island has a turbulent history, including the world’s shortest war, and being the centre of the spice and slave trade.  Ruled by Sultans from their magnificent House of Wonders, the lush tropical islands offer the modern visitor gorgeous beaches, spices, fruits, and more than a pepper shaker of African chaos.  Stone Town’s narrow streets feel like a movie set, the grime of a sordid yet rich history adding to the adventure. Before hotels and resorts took hold, I was able to camp in the northern powder beach of Nungwi, spending hours in the bath warm Indian Ocean, soaking up its unique spice-infused atmosphere. 

El Nido

Not so much an island as a chain of 45 limestone jewels, El Nido sits at the north of the province of Palawan, the largest island in the island nation known as the Philippines.  This is the region that inspired the movie and book “The Beach” even though both were set in Thailand.   With some of the world’s best diving, crystal water ,and environmentally friendly hotels, El Nido is an affordable paradise.  Best of all, you can sea kayak or get dropped off by traditional boat at your own island for a day.   Your own island?  Surely that’s one that will quickly race to the top of your own list of the World’s Best Islands. 

A big Esrock shout out to  to:  Bora Bora, Langkawi (Malaysia), Borneo, Hvar (Croatia), the Seychelles, Roatan (Honduras), Sicily (Italy), Mauritius, the Great Barrier Reef Islands (Australia), Phi Phi (Thailand), and the Maldives!

Swim in the Devil’s Pool

Before the advent of blogs or digital photos, my travel journals contained:

  • Random thoughts and observations
  • Flight stubs and train tickets
  • Napkins with names and address of people I’d never see again
  • Stickers, brochures and hand-outs
  • Printed photographs
  • A smattering of ketchup (hopefully) or blood (likely)

I once travelled with a guy who kept the same journal for almost a decade. He’d tape additional books together and write in tiny script. This impressive travel diary was his Bible, an invaluable historical record of his complete life adventures.   It was stolen, along with his backpack, off the roof of a bus somewhere between Transylvania and Budapest.     What the hell does this have to do with Victoria Falls?   Well, I once had a journal, and it contained the most incredible photograph of me jumping off the very lip of the world’s largest waterfall. Twice the height and width of Niagara Falls, more water falls into the chasm dividing Zambia and Zimbabwe than anywhere else.   It’s not the world’s highest waterfall (that’s Angel Falls in Venezuela), nor even the widest (that’s Khone Falls, Laos).   Yet the sheer volume of the mighty Zambezi has attracted Bucket Listers for centuries, drawn to a place the locals call “the smoke that thunders”. Traditionally, most tourists to Vic Falls stay in colonial hotels on the Zimbabwean side, but with the country’s political and economic collapse, many now prefer the Zambian side. Hotels and tour operators in both countries are known to gouge their guests for the privilege of seeing this natural wonder, including a day-visa which allows you to cross borders for the views, at a price of around 40,000 Zambian kwachas, or ten gazillion Zimbabwe dollars.   Actually, Zimbabwe’s currency was abandoned altogether, rendering all its notes worthless. Inflation reached 89,700,000,000,000,000,000,000% in 2008.   And I didn’t even make that number up.   In both countries, where the US greenback goes very far, you’ll pay up to $80 just to see Victoria Falls. No more bitching about prices to cruise under Horseshoe Falls in Niagara.

I visited the Zambian side in December, the tail end of dry season. With the Zambezi flowing at low volume, you can walk to Livingstone Island, and then make your way to the Devil’s Pool.   Here, a rock barrier creates a pool right at the very edge of the falls. Much to the horror of tourists on the Zimbabwe side, you can even go rock jumping. Across the chasm, tourists can’t see the pool, and must therefore watch what appear to be tourists committing suicide.   This close to the edge, you don’t have to worry about crocodiles or strong currents, although the occasional tourist has gotten a bit overzealous, missed the pool, and found themselves visiting Zimbabwe without a visa, or a heartbeat. If swimming to the edge of the world’s largest waterfall isn’t enough of a thrill, you can also bungee jump 111-metres off Victoria Falls Bridge, once the highest commercial bungee in the world.   Or spend $500 a night at the Royal Livingstone, a hotel bill that is sure to give you a heart attack. Zimbabwe is a country with abundant natural resources, and a country that once promised much hope for sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, a corrupt, crackpot dictator bled it dry. A common joke in South Africa: Where is the capital of Zimbabwe?   Geneva.

I’d love to illustrate this chapter with that epic, once-in-a-lifetime photo of me rock jumping into the Devil’s Pool. We set it up so it looks like I’m actually leaping off Victoria Falls itself. Much like Zimbabwe’s economy, that travel journal mysteriously vanished, along with the photos, the writing, contacts and splotches of ketchup.   It pains me to even think about it. Fortunately, you’ll never forget Victoria Falls, even if you do lose your journal. Nor should you forget any of the Bucket List adventures in this book, although you might want to keep an online blog and back up your photos all the same.

Click here for more information about visiting Victoria Falls.

The Best Cities to Explore by Bicycle

There’s no better way to explore a city than by bicycle. You get to see more, smell more, hear more and feel more than any other mode of transport, discovering hidden gems all along the way. But all cities are not created equal when it comes to bike discovery. Hills, traffic, pollution and other challenges are best suited for feet, cars, buses and trams. With a warm sun in the sky, here’s our pick of the best cities to hit the pedals.

1. Amsterdam

In a city with 780,000 residents and over 600,000 bicycles, you know the riding is good, especially in the 17th century city centre, where the narrow lanes and canals don’t really suit cars anyway. Amsterdam has over 400km of bike trails, making it easy and safe to get around, with ample bike racks to secure your bike. This is important to note since there are more bikes stolen per year than bikes in the city – maybe they should just make them all communal! There are plenty of bike rental companies about for visitors, located at hubs by Dam Square, Liedseplein and the Central Station. For about 8 euro a day, you can explore the city, or pedal into the countryside to explore old windmills and farms. Best of all, the city is located just two metres above sea level, so it’s flat all the way.

2. Portland

With over 100km of bike paths, 48km of low-traffic bike boulevards and 283kms of bike lanes, it’s no wonder Portland touts itself as the bike capital of the United States. It holds the country’s highest bike commuter rate, about 10%, and is renowned for its citywide bike programs. Visit the Saturday Market or popular Farmer’s Market for a pitstop of artisan cheese, or pedal up to the Powell Butte Nature Park for a panoramic view of the city. Portland is also known as the City of Bridges, many of which have safe bike lanes. As for the weather, cyclists can rest easy with covered bike parking, like the ones found outside the Hawthorne Boulevard Shopping District.

3. Copenhagen

One summer in Copenhagen, I learned how to ride a bike while drinking beer. Not behaviour to be encouraged, but in a city with 350km of bike paths, and 20km of safely designated bike lanes, I could at least count on avoiding cars. About 40% of the city cycle every day, along bike lanes with their own signal systems, and privileges like going down one-way streets. Copenhagen launched the world’s first communal bike-share program, which has since spread to various cities around the globe, so much so that copenhagenization is a term used in urban planning. Bicycles are the fastest and easiest way to explore the relatively flat city, taking in sights like the Tivoli, the Danish Royal Palaces, and the colourful Nyhavn canal.

4. Berlin

Berlin has a vibrant bike culture. 7 out of 10 residents own a bike , accessing over 800km of bike paths including designated lanes, off-road routes and shared pedestrian/bike sidewalks. What’s more, there are also Fahrradstrassen, roads restricted to bikes and vehicles that travel under 30 km/hr. The public bike program is handy for tourists and locals, who can use their cellphones to unlock the public bikes. Bike rentals are available around the city. Make sure to get a map to explore the various neighbourhoods around the city, or follow the popular Berlin Wall Trail along the old Cold War relic. Like most of the best bike cities, Berlin has no steep hills.

5. Bogota

Every Sunday, visitors to the Colombian capital of Bogota will find major thoroughfares devoid of cars. Welcome Ciclovia, a local tradition that allows cyclists, rollerbladers and pedestrians to roam about the city in safety. The weekly event has proved so popular it has since spread to other cities in South America. Cyclists come together across socio-economic divides in an eco- transportation utopia, a far cry from the city’s unfortunate reputation for crime. While popular tourist spots like Plaza de Bolivar, Palacio de Nariño, and La Catedral are located in hilly Candelaria, Ciclovia is still a great opportunity to experience the heart of the city.

6. Vancouver

Vancouver continues to expand its bicycle lane program, with several new arteries opening up under its current mayor (who famously bikes to City Hall). The city boasts 300km of on and off-road bike routes. If you’re visiting, head down to Denman Street where you can pick up a rental at Cycle BC or Spokes Rentals. From there, you’re just seconds away from the city’s star bicycle attraction, the 22km long Seawall. Flat, paved, and with stunning views of the city and local mountains, you can follow the Seawall around Stanley Park, or continue towards Granville Island, where a handy bike ferry can shepherd you across the inlet.

7. Vienna

Ah, Vienna! Austria’s capital city is large and spread out, but the UNESCO World Heritage historical centre is easy to explore by bike, with most attractions accessible within a half hour. There are ample bicycle lanes and paths, although a map will certainly help you navigate some of the city’s notoriously odd bike paths. Hardcore cyclists often arrive via a bicycle route that follows the Danube from Germany, through Austria and onto Hungary. Fortunately, the rest of us can hire City Bikes (there are over 100 stations in the city) and explore the Sightseeing Bicycle Path Ringstrasse around the old city, where we can enjoy views of the Opera, Burgtheatre and Parliament.

8. Soweto

The largest township in South Africa offers some remarkable guided bicycle tours. While neighbouring Johannesburg has a reputation for violent crime, visitors to Soweto (population 1.7 million) are surprised to find a friendly and safe atmosphere. Soweto Bicycle Tours range from two hours to full days, and take you to historical sites all over the township. Visit the former, humble brick home of Nelson Mandela, the site of the Soweto uprisings, a workers hostel, and even an authentic shebeen, where you can grab a traditional beer and talk to the locals.

9. Helsinki

Exploring a city by bike often reveals far more of a city than by foot or car, but there’s another advantage as well. It’s cheap, which comes in handy when touring a notoriously expensive city like Helsinki. The city has 1100 km of bike routes that are popular with residents as well as visitors. If you get tired, it’s reassuring that transporting your bike on the local trains and metro carry no additional fees. There are 27 Home District routes designed to help you explore key historical, cultural and archaeological areas of interest. Unfortunately, Helsinki recently suspended its City Bike program, but head to Greenbike on Bulevardi, or Ecobike next to the Finnair Stadium, for reasonably priced rentals.

10. Montreal

My first night in Montreal ended up in a karaoke bar. It was a warm night, so at 1am in the morning, a local friend decided to make good on her promise to show me Old Montreal. We borrowed bikes and hit the 15km-long paved bike lane on the Lachine Canal. We continued onto the empty streets of Old Montreal, discovering its secrets around each corner. The cobblestone on Saint-Paul, the neon-blue floodlights of the Notre Dame Basilica, the blue Quebec flag flying over Parisian-style art galleries, cafes and bars. The streets were all but deserted, but the air was tingling with culture. Montreal felt like Salome dropping her veils, just for me. Fortunately you no longer need a local friend to provide the bikes. Montreal has Bixi, a successful public bike program, where you can rent one of 5000 bikes at over 400 stations around the city with the swipe of a credit card.

10. Chiang Mai

I had a blast exploring Chiang Mai with the help of a city bike program called Mobike. Easy to use with an app connecting to the bike via bluetooth (and tracking your rides to record your calorie-burn and carbon-saving), Mobikes are inexpensive, convenient, and a great way to explore the Old City’s amazing temples. There are two types of bikes, and you definitely want to pick out the orange ones with the larger basket. It’s a very smooth ride and comfortable in the saddle. Although they have an automatic night light, the silver ones are much lighter and unstable to ride. With its flat roads and many alleys, Chiang Mai is definitely a city made for biking around.

The Truth about Toddler Travel in Maui

I’ve cage dived with crocodiles, hung off the side of holy mountains in China, and vacationed in Chernobyl, but here’s the truth: the thought of travelling for the first time with my 4 year old daughter Raquel and 9-month old son Galileo terrified me. Curly-haired Raquel seems to have fallen Obelix-like into a cauldron of Red Bull, she’s a T4 bull in a china shop of tranquillity. Gali is newly teething, crawling, and hasn’t seen a hazard he hasn’t wanted to wrap his gums or baby carrot fingers around. Still, it’s time to break them in, because with a Dad like me, travel is in their future. So I thought I’d start somewhere easy and beautiful, spreading a couple weeks over a range of accommodation options. Expectations are the death of travel, and yet toddlers are particularly gifted when it comes to ensuring that no high hope is trampled under the weight of their hyper-emotional little piggies.

The Flight
No matter how great your toddler vacation is, the reality is it will be bookended by a plane ride three stories up from hell. I fly a lot. It’s my chance to work, read, watch a movie, daydream at altitude. A six-hour direct flight from Vancouver to Maui should be nothing. If the kids sleep. To stack the odds in my favour, I reached out to Fly-Tot, who sell an inflatable legroom pillow. We’d be flying in late at night, and out on a red eye. How bad could it be? Bad. Real bad. Gali is chewing on the tray tables and seatbelts (and you know how often they get cleaned). Raquel is in full thermonuclear meltdown, vibrating with kicks and punches. Rather than sleeping, they’re using the Fly-Tot as a trampoline. Playing Frozen on the iPad worked, but it only worked once, and then Raquel let it go. Like condemned prisoners at a public hanging, my wife and I gaze into the eyes of fellow toddler parents, dealing with the trauma of their own journey. Each minute of each hour has the weight of a cannonball. So frazzled by the experience, I commit a cardinal travel sin and forget our two bottles of duty free liquor – blessed late night Scotch/Baileys escape – on the plane. Air Canada’s cleaning staff relieve us of the bottles no more than five minutes after we deplane and I remember the forgotten bag. “Sorry sir, our cleaners didn’t find anything.” Aloha to them.

Car Rental
Welcome to Maui! Grab our bags and shuttle to the car rental, and spend 45 minutes in a late night line-up. Now the kids want to sleep. I push two chairs together and Raquel passes out. I feel like Parent of the Year. Get the van, install the car seats, strap in the kids, load in the luggage. It’s a 45-minute late night drive in the rain to Wailea. Could anything be worth this?

The Fairmont Kea Lani
Yes, waking up on the 7th floor in a Deluxe Ocean View suite at the Fairmont Kea Lani is definitely worth it. The sun sparkles off the Pacific. Koi swim in ponds amidst manicured gardens and clear azure pools. Coconut trees rustling in warm tropical air as sweet as nectar. Stripped of the jeans and hoodies we won’t see for the next two weeks, the family hums with travel buzz. We chomping at the bit of a beach vacation. Out feet touch the reddish sand of Polo Beach, and then it starts:
“I don’t want to go to the sea Daddy!” Oh look, Gali has a fistful of sand in his mouth. “It’s too hot Daddy!” “It’s too cold Daddy!” “I’m hungry!” “I’m not hungry!” “Where’s my blue spade?” “I want a red spade!” “I want what that other girl has!” “Pick me up!” “Put me down!” “This rock is scary!” “I want to go to the pool!” Toddlers are complex algorithms that dance to a convoluted rhythm only they can hear. The first chance we have to relax is much later that night when both kids are asleep. No late night walks on the beach for us, but we do sip cocktails on our patio, beneath a planetarium of stars, a scene scored by the soporific sound of crashing waves. The flight is a distant memory. Aloha Maui. Finally, aloha.

Buffet breakfasts have ruined us. Raquel quickly gets used to her one mouthful of a dozen different dishes, and miso soup is now a breakfast staple. We tag team feeding both kids as Gali singlehandedly supports the birdlife of Hawaii who gather beneath the snow of egg that falls from his high chair. Staff give us crayons for the kids each morning, and Gali’s favourite breakfast dish becomes the colour Red. Hours turn to days as we rotate between the pool, suite and beach. Raquel is too young for Kea Lani’s Keiki Kids Club, but she can drop into the stocked daycare-like facilities in the afternoon, when Gali is napping and the sun is too strong. There were so many toys I almost cried when we walked into the room for the first time. We explore the grounds, make a run to the nearest supermarket, buy the only two things we didn’t pack while realizing we won’t need most of the things we did.

 


The family dines at the sensational Ko restaurant downstairs, a romantic meal of dreams invaded by our overtired, overhungry kids who care little for the chef’s inspired creations. Before the appies arrive, out come the apps. My wife is afraid to let me go to the bathroom because she thinks I might run away.
Every time I meet a Dad or Mom in the knee high, pee-warm toddler pool, where Raquel spends most of her time (beaches be damned) we sport our 1000-yard stares, shrug our shoulders, and let the giggles and laughs of our kids melt our hearts. There is an Adults Only section at the Kea Lani, and I wonder how many hearts are melting with the ice in the umbrella-topped pina coladas. The Fairmont was our high-end option, a refuge of stunning views that fluff your eyes like pillows at turn down service. It’s the other end of cheap. One morning, as Gali stands up in his hotel crib beaming a two-tooth smile, he says “Dadda” for the first time. I pick him up, step out onto the balcony, and together we smile at the dreamy world before us. Cost of that moment: Priceless.

Road Trip
The bucket list drive in Maui is the road to Hana, a hairpin-winding track alongside soaring ocean cliffs. We made three turns and turned around, avoiding the projectile backseat vomit we knew would follow. This pretty much ruled out a drive to the Haleakala volcano crater too, which I’ll have to get to once the kids are a little older. We did drive to Makena Beach where Raquel flew a kite for the first time. I brought it from home and she didn’t want to do anything except fly that kite. She flew it for exactly 34 seconds, and never wanted to see it again. We drove up to Twin Falls and got some great photos amidst the giant bamboo and dual cascades. The Banyen Tree in Lahaina is unlike any tree I’ve ever seen, sporting 16 trunks and a block-wide canopy. We ate lunch in the Flatbread Company in Paia, after which I lost my wife and daughter in the shops. Raquel was having an allergic to reaction to her all-natural sunblock or the heat or the seawater, or something the Internet told us could probably be treated with a little Benedryl. New parents would spend a day in a local hospital, only to be told to use a little Benedryl. Fortunately we’re over the paranoia and worry that accompanies the firstborn. Instead we visit Baby Beach where the full-face snorkel mask I bought for Raquel is thoroughly enjoyed by all other kids on the beach. They tell me it works like a charm.

The Boat Snorkel
The full-face mask is the snorkel’s first improvement in decades, and allows the user to breathe and speak without anything in their mouths. There’s a bunch of them on Amazon. I bought this one, ready to introduce my daughter to the wonders of marine life. Raquel and I board Maui Dive Shop’s Ali’i Nui catamaran in Ma’alaea Harbour for a 3-hour snorkel expedition. Some strong winds derail the planned sailing to Turtle Point, so we sail to up the coast to a protected reef. Raquel went bananas on the trampoline-like canopy at the fore of the ship, jumping around like a lunatic. She ate a piece of celery from the rib n’wings buffet. We suited up and hopped into the water with a kickboard and life vest. I help her with the mask, she takes one look down, and that was the end of my plans for the mask. Not interested.. I don’t care if Humu the tropical fish is dancing the cha-cha down there, I am not putting on that mask again. Raquel has a way of saying all this with her eyes.
To her credit, I get her into the water a couple times, but she refuses to look down, and only lasts a few minutes. So we spent a couple hours on a catamaran, playing with a feisty Brazilian granny and her grandkids. I’ve snorkelled the world over, Maui can wait. Advice for parents: If you plan on actually seeing or doing anything while with your toddler, you’re in for a disappointment. If you plan on just hanging out with your happy bouncing kid, it’s smooth sailing all the way.

Ka’anapali Beach Hotel
Further up the coast, about a half hour’s drive from Wailea is the second oldest hotel, and certainly the oldest-looking hotel, on the popular Ka’anapali beach strip, the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel. It bills itself as Maui’s most Hawaiian hotel, which means it is independently owned, has pioneered various cultural programs, and is far removed from the spit-polished gloss of the Fairmont. While the rooms look and feel like a throwback to the 1970’s, the location is steps away from the beach, its whale-shaped pool a hit with the kids, and the well-kept gardens are full of native plumerias bursting with flowers. Sure the shower drain was blocked and the screen door unhinged, the bathroom tiny and the pillows a little lumpy, but the KBH is far more realistic for our budget, and as Raquel bounced between the two beds, she yelled “Daddy, this is even better than the last hotel!” The needs of a toddler are tremendously simple: if you can jump between two beds, life is grand. Staff at the KBH were lovely and their KBH Aloha Passport kids program kept Raquel busy with Hula and ukulele lessons.

 

The on-site Legends of Ka’anapali Luau was fabulous, and it didn’t take long for Raquel to get up on stage and participate. Our meal in the Tiki Terrace was memorable, we self catered in the handy covered pavilion, and our Ocean Front room was literally steps from the shallow break of Kaanapali’s sandy beach. Raquel quickly found a few friends, including a 5 –year old boy named Floran from The Hague, who she simply called “My boy!” They played for hours in the pool while his Dad and I got sunburned. Gali awoke at 5:30am one morning so I took him for a walk along the path, past the glitzy Whalers mall and the Marriott and Hyatt mega resorts. There was a surprising amount of people on the trail. Many of them were pushing strollers. We aloha’d each other, sharing the camaraderie of exhaustion and elation to be beachside at sunrise.

Mom’s Treat
I wanted to treat my wife with something different. Spas are the typical go-to, but massages tend to blend into each other, a short-term fix. Catching your first wave on a surfboard however is something you never forget. I looked after both kids while Ana took a surf lesson with Goofy Foot Surf School in Lahaina. She used to be a dancer so I figured her first lesson would be way more successful than my first lesson, which consisted of non-stop wipeouts in the cold waters of Tofino, BC. With Gali teething and especially clingy, I think Ana would have enjoyed two hours alone in a closet. I dealt with the kids while she paddled out to a small break where all the surf schools gather. And there we watched her not only get up the first time, but stay up over and over again, graduating to a few bigger waves. She was as thrilled as I’d hoped she would be, immediately regretting that she’d waited so long to surf, considering she grew up on a beach in Rio. Nobody should ever say no to a massage, but if you want to treat your wife in Maui, give her a challenge to overcome in the healing waters of the ocean. And a break from the kids, of course.

Napili Kai Beach Resort
By our third hop, we’d realized, as most travellers do, just how much we packed that we simply didn’t need. We could blame the kids, but the reality is we can only blame ourselves. Having gone through the worst Vancouver winter in 33 years, we’d quickly forgotten what warm weather feels like, that all we’d need is bathing suits and flip-flops (and diapers, wipes, toys and teddies) . We packed up and headed north up the coast to the Napili Kai Beach Resort, framing a perfect crescent-shaped beach with toddler friendly waves. Steps away from the ocean is the resort’s large pool, a hot tub, and a 27-hole putting green course Raquel couldn’t get enough of. If you enjoy infinity pools like I do, you’ll appreciate that Room 232 in Napili Kai’s Puna Two building has an infinity patio. The view from the bedroom and kitchen is all ocean, so much so that it feels you’re on a cruise ship.

Meanwhile, the fully equipped modern kitchen quickly taught us this: if you’re travelling with toddlers, a kitchen is gold. Oatmeal porridge at 3pm? A cheese sandwich at midnight? No problem! Raquel helped me with the groceries for several nights of simple meals – spaghetti, oven fish, rotisserie chicken, and we saved a bundle. We even had a blender and ice-maker to craft our own pina coladas. After 12 days of sunshine, a tropical storm hit with sheets of raining falling for 36 hours. Confined to a room, we were relieved it was this one, where we could watch Netflix movies on TV (thanks to a handy HDMI cable connected to my laptop), stare at the ocean, and let Gali nap in his own space. Of course there was still time to play on the beach, explore the grounds, bury Raquel in sand, make sand castles, and splash in the pool. All three resorts were great, but the self catering flexibility of Napili Kai, and the proximity of its facilities, worked best for our kids.

The Return
Relaxed, finally in the flow and on a schedule that works for the kids, it’s time to dynamite it all to hell. Air Canada’s return flight from Maui is a red-eye (they don’t call it their Air Canada Rouge service for nothing). We arrived at the airport two hours early and barely made check-in. Line-ups, heat, frustration, delays, wrong seat assignments – every hour that dripped by eroded the pleasant memories of Maui. Finally on the plane, the kids are caged monkeys, eventually collapsing in exhaustion on the unspoken condition that we don’t. Ana bends herself into a pretzel on the floor with one kid using her as a pillow and the other as a footrest. Raquel has a full thermonuclear meltdown on arrival, and by the time we get home, she climbs on the couch, puts a blanket over her head, and we don’t hear from her for six hours. She’s never done this before, and it’s quite impressive.
A few days later, the colours of Maui are fading (along with Raquel’s mysterious rash) , but our experiences on the island remain bright, the photographs sealing in the memories with a varnish that will only improve and become more valuable with time. I pick up Raquel from daycare, and ask her: “Did you tell everyone about Maui?”
“No,” she replies. “I forgot to.”
Toddlers.
She might be over it, but I believe our two weeks on the Valley Isle hardcoded our children with a love for the ocean, island life, the aloha spirit of Hawaii, and an appreciation for warm, sincere hospitality. It definitely hard-coded a love for travel, for the next sentence out of Raquel’s mouth is: “Where are we going next?”

A special mahalo to Tourism Hawaii, Tourism Maui, Theresa Betty, the Fairmont Kea Lani, Kaanapali Beach Hotel and Napali Kai Resort. Click here for more info about visiting Maui

Under the Radar Islands in Thailand

The postcard islands of Thailand offer the paradise of our imaginations. Yet alongside the coconut trees and squeaky white beaches, expect to find hordes of tourists. Thanks to direct flights from Bangkok, the crowds – and the businesses that compete for them – can be somewhat overwhelming. If you’re looking for alternatives to hotspots like Koh Phi Phi and Phuket, put these less-known islands on your radar.

Credit: Khunkay Wikimedia CC

Koh Ngai

With no roads, motorbikes or cars, Koh Ngai is a small island on Thailand’s west coast, surrounded by coral and known for its long sandy beaches and turquoise sea water. It’s an ideal spot for relaxing on less-crowded beaches, sea kayaking, snorkelling along the coral, or enjoying a coconut cocktail in the rustic thatched beachfront restaurants. Inland from the beach are some great jungle hikes in pristine forest. There are a few good resorts on the east coast of the island, overlooking jagged limestone outcrops that make for spectacular sunrises. The must-see island excursion is popping on a boat to the nearby Emerald Cave, known as one of the seven wonders of Thailand.

Credit: Dronepicr Wikimedia CC

Koh Lanta

This long, narrow island, located in the Krabi Province off the Andaman Coast, is known as a quieter, more relaxing destination for sun and sand seekers. Its white sandy beaches and outstanding snorkelling and diving, coupled with affordable guesthouses and hotels make it one of the Thailand’s kept secrets, although in recent years it has been getting more popular. Koh Lanta is made up of an archipelago of some 50 uninhabited islands (a boon for marine life), culminating in the Mu Ko Lanta Marine Park located in the southern end of the island. The local population is known to be more conservative than on other islands, and together with their conservation-minded outlook, and the calm, tranquil seas, Koh Lanta radiates a peaceful ambience and family-friendly vibe.

Credit: Guyon Moree Flickr CC

Koh Tao

Koh Tao’s past is as colourful as its turquoise waters and emerald jungles. Long a fishing post, it was also pirate hideaway, and later, a prison for political prisoners. Today, it’s a prison most visitors will be sad to leave. Koh Tao literally means Turtle Island, and it’s the abundance of marine life that makes this southern Gulf Coast island one of the best diving spots in Southeast Asia. Keeping the environment pristine is taken seriously, which is why you’ll find no plastic bags on the island. Rent a scooter to explore some of the fantastic beaches and viewpoints around the island, or explore various trails and sea kayak routes. An important breeding area for marine turtles, Koh Tao’s diving reputation makes it the ideal spot to get your PADI certification, or simply snorkel out from its many white sandy beaches.

Watersport with a Bajan Legend

Yes, please! It says much about Barbadians, or Bajans, if you prefer, that their be-all, end-all answer to a question, a statement, a polite request or a loud proclamation is “Yes, please!” The sovereign country has a history stretching back to the 1550s, and a proud culture that has developed through the constant movement of people, tossed together like the soup a surfer might find within the big waves of Bathsheba— a history of slavery, religion, colonialism, uprisings, cricket and roundabouts. Today, a dreamy blue ocean continues to crash against some of the world’s most exclusive resorts and luxurious homes built for the rich and famous. All well and good, but our bucket list is looking for character, which brings us to Bajan national hero, world-champion freestyle windsurfer and island legend Brian Talma.

Having the shaggy-haired, bright-eyed and deeply tanned Brian Talma teach us watersports is like having Tiger Woods give us putting tips. Wide smiles are cracked across the island at the mention of Talma’s name. And when Talma himself smiles, which is just about all the time, his teeth twinkle like piano keys in a New Orleans jazz bar. Over the course of his 25-year career on the worldwide pro circuit, Talma has become the go-to guy for anyone delving into beach culture. At home in Barbados, he operates de Action, a brightly painted little surf shop offering rentals, lessons and a sweet place to catch the action on Silver Sands Beach.
“Action!” It’s Talma’s mantra, bookending his sentences. “Action! We should always choose a life of action!” I’m motivated to learn about new trends in watersport from this living legend, swept up in his wave of enthusiasm. When I tell him that I hope to freestyle windsurf (never tried), kitesurf (never tried) and stand-up paddleboard (never tried) on the same day, he plays a toothy tune with those ivories, followed by a deep belly laugh. Action is definitely in the winds.

Full disclosure: I have been on a windsurfer before. At the age of five, I would lie between my dad’s legs on his long board at the local dam. My dad embraced windsurfing when it first arrived on the scene, and every weekend, I’d spread out at the back of his board, a true windsurfer’s child. Shortly afterwards, my dad moved onto his next fad, cycling. The windsurfer gathered dust in the garage.
Cut to Brian, a man who has windsurfed some of the world’s biggest waves, showing me how to pull up a sail. Roger Federer might as well explain how to hold a tennis racket. I barely stand up and immediately the wind hits the sail, blowing me toward the next island of St. Lucia. Brian swims after me, laughing loudly, ready to gather me up when I inevitably wipe out. Whatever. Windsurfing is old news. On the beach are Canadians learning how to kitesurf, an exploding sport fast gaining converts around the world. Silver Sands Beach, they tell me, is one of the best kitesurfing destinations in the world. Talma, of course, mastered the sport years ago.

When kitesurfing, you’re connected via a harness to a large stunt kite, capable of rocketing you across the waves and launching you 9 metres into the air. All you need is a board, a power kite, waves, wind and a certain amount of lunacy. I know three friends mad about kitesurfing. They’ve all broken bones and twisted knees, yet continue to love it.
Controlling and harnessing the wind, directing the kite, relaunching from a crash and cresting over waves is not something you learn to do in a couple of hours. Kitesurfing enthusiasts in Barbados typically spend two weeks—renting houses or staying in hotels around Silver Sands Beach—learning just the basics.

Brian explains the appeal of the sport: “Action! You can do anything you want, man, there’s no limit when it comes to kitesurfing. Ready for your crash course? Action!”
He starts me off on a small stunt kite, showing me how to swing it in a figure eight to get power, keeping it steady directly above me, sort of like neutral gear in a car. I barely get the hang of it as the midday sun, my sweat and my cheap sunblock stings my corneas. Brian brings out the big kite with the hesitancy of a Ferrari owner slipping the keys to a learner driver. I watch as he demonstrates his control, the big kite powerful enough to blow him to Bridgetown. It costs $1,500 for the kite alone, so he’s rightfully worried I will end up slamming into a building in the nation’s capital. Brian hooks me into the harness, and within seconds I crash the kite hard into the beach, feeling the bone-cringing slam of material on sand. Fortunately, these kites can take a pounding. We launch it again, and I crash it again. It’s disheartening to be so uncool next to the coolest cat on the island.

When I finally get the kite under control, I try a figure eight and immediately get dragged across the white sand, like an ant holding onto dental floss in a hurricane. Twisted on the ground, I turn to Brian.
“I’m sure your local emergency room is busy enough. Let’s move onto stand-up paddleboarding.”
Heck, everybody’s stand-up paddleboarding! Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Aniston, Pierce Brosnan, Matt Damon, Kate Hudson, Owen Wilson, Sting. Perhaps it’s a prerequisite to look like a movie star. The sport involves standing on a long, customized surfboard, oar in hand, riding offshore currents and surfing onshore waves.

Brian demonstrates. Relaxed, his back is straight and shoulders are square. He looks as comfortable standing on water as he does on land. I hoist myself up, bent over like a hunchback, slipping and sliding, wobbling and wiping—much to the amusement of all on the beach. I hope they laugh at those damn celebrities too.
Nobody in their right mind should attempt to learn three watersports in one day, let alone sports that require hours of practice just to reach beginner level. But it did provide a great excuse to hang out with a legendary character like Brian Talma. If you’re looking to tick a few watersports off your bucket list, Silver Sands Beach, Barbados and Brian’s de Action shack will put the wind in your sails.

14 of the World’s Best Beaches

I did an interview recently and was asked if I’m a beach guy.  Born and raised in a sprawling landlocked city, the beach had a different significance to me than my wife, who grew up a block away from Copacabana Beach in Rio.  Lounging on sand wasn’t part of my culture, but symbolized vacation, a break from the norm, and lots and lots of sand.  I’m too restless to lie back and do nothing for too long.  What makes a magical beach is as much about what surrounds it as it is the beach itself.   A tropical rainforest in Costa Rica, cafes in Barcelona, people watching in Rio, robed monks in Cambodia…here’s 13 memorable beaches from the Global Bucket List. 

 

costarica

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

 Costa Rica has some pretty sensational beaches along both its Pacific and Caribbean coasts, with long stretches of sandy beach, warm seas, and, ahem, hot bodies . Manuel Antonio was a standout for me because it’s located in a national park, is free of any development whatsoever, and gives the feeling that you’ve just stumbled onto something wild and untouched. Take the monkey warnings seriously, though, the cheeky buggers appear out of nowhere and love snatching whatever they can get their hands on!

ipanema

Ipanema Beach, Rio, Brazil

When it comes to Rio, arguably the best beach city around, you’ll want to walk along the Copacabana, but spend your time soaking up the sun and waves at Ipanema.   This perfect sandy beach frames the city, and on a hot mid-week day, you’ll find yourself wondering if anyone in Rio actually works for a living.   Besides the water and beautiful surrounding mountains, Ipanema has plenty of yummy, fit, tanned and ripped Brazilians to look at. There’s no better place to observe the best looking nation on earth in their natural habitat.

 

bondi-beach

Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

 Sydney is blessed with spectacular beaches – Coogee, Manly, and the most popular of them all, Bondi.   What strikes you is just how pretty this beach is – a perfect semi-circular bay with bluer water than one would expect rushing into a major urban centre.. With some of the highest UV levels around, there’s not an umbrella in sight. Thousands of people bake beneath the sun just about every day. Surfers gather like vultures amongst the waves, Japanese tourists walk about fully clothed, while the babes and hunks of Bondi balance it out with swimwear made of dental floss. As for the lifeguards, they’ve got their own hit reality show, Bondi Rescue, to add even more buzz to this busy beach.

 

Alona Beach, Bohol, The Philippines 

A nation made up of thousands of islands, the Philippines has no shortage of spectacular beaches. Boracay, El Nido, Caramoan, Samal Island…any could belong on a list like this.  Here’s a little one that is fast becoming one of the most popular beaches in the country.    Alona Beach is found about twenty kilometres from the regional capital of Tagbilaran, blessed with milky white sand the azure warm sea of dreams.  One and a half kilometres in length, it is serviced by dive shops, bars, resorts and restaurants, and the snorkelling is sublime.  Cradled by rocky cliffs on either end, there’s a a bustling nightlife and steady stream of international travellers to keep you company.

 

 

barcelona

Barceloneta Beach, Spain

Sticking to the Mediterranean, Barcelona is blessed with 4.2km of golden beaches, close to the city centre.   Barceloneta, the first beach along the boardwalk, has long been called one of the best urban beaches in the world.    Besides its wide open space, it has a vibrant atmosphere and gets packed with locals and tourists.    While it is Barcelona’s most popular beach, thanks largely to its location, it does get some criticism for the quality of sand, which some say is mixed with cement.  But the weird artwork, atmosphere, local characters and buzz make up for it.  Close to the port, it’s also the best place for fresh seafood in the city.

dhermi

Dhermi, Albania

The Adriatic that rests off Italy and Croatia has some standout beaches, although purists might deduct points for pebbles. Yet the colour, clarity and sparkle of the water more than make up for the slight discomfort of stones. I’ve picked the little known Dhermi in the very off the beaten track Albania because a: I can illustrate what it looks like b: it’s badass to say you’ve been to Albania and c: how many other pristine beaches in Europe can you pitch a tent and just do your thing? Plus it has old abandoned bomb shelters, and some pretty amazing beach bars.

waikiki-jenschapter3

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu

The surf is usually up at Waikiki Beach, once the playden of Hawaiian royalty, now a hotel and surfing mecca. Waikiki has attracted all the major hotel chains and serves as a centre of tourism in Hawaii, but lets not forget it’s also a terrific beach, with a great view of the striking Diamond Head –  all that’s left of a massive volcano and one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.   Waikiki actually refers to several beaches chained together, usually crowded with tourists pouring out the adjacent hotels.  A good chunk of the beach is reserved strictly for surfers.  The neighbourhood is abuzz with open-air bars, restaurants, volleyball and beach sport, and most days it’s just a perfect spot to watch yet another gorgeous sunset.

goa

Goa, India

The entire state of Goa offers wonderful and colourful beaches to explore. Some are rocky, some have red earth, some with white sand. However it’s not uncommon to see a local relieving themselves in the open, and I wouldn’t exactly jump into the Arabian Sea without checking to see if there’s a settlement around the corner. That being said, when you stay in villages like Arambol or the infamous Anjuna, the beach becomes part of your daily life.   You eat on the beach, you party on the beach, you explore the beach.   Extra points for the occasional holy cow wandering about. Deduct three for any stray dogs, and the odd burned out hippie.

 

ilespins

Iles des Pins, New Caledonia 

Off the coast of a cigar shaped island named New Caledonia in the South Pacific, the Island of Pines still has, in my experience, the whitest, finest and most powdery sand I’ve seen anywhere, and the calmest, clearest water.   The closest I’ve seen is Nungwe Beach in the north of Zanzibar (sorry, I’m lacking digital photos from that trip).   Both times I picked up sand to take home with me in a bottle, and both times I decided that it looked too much like that other illegal white powder to risk packing in my luggage.

tofino

Long Beach, Tofino, Canada

On the other hand, not every beach needs to have perfect white sand, or even warm blue water. Long Beach, on the west coast of rugged Vancouver Island, borders the Pacific Rim National Park and the wild waters of the Clayoquot Sound.   While surfers play mostly in the summer, the beach exudes magic year-round, including the storm season, when thunder batters the coast and the raw energy of nature crackles in the surrounding forest.   Excellent accommodation sits right on the beach, which stretches for 12 miles and makes for excellent long, slow walks to ponder if life, is in fact, a beach after all.

clifton-warrenski

Clifton, Cape Town

Cape Town is blessed with extraordinary natural beauty, and it’s best beaches are in the upmarket suburb of Clifton.   Driving up from Sea Point, cars line the side of the road early, and parking is seldom easy. It’s a walk down the stairs until you hit the fine white sand.   There are four beaches in Clifton, separated by rocks, and attracting different crowds.    All four beaches are protected by rocks and spared the strong winds that blow through the city.   First Beach gets the biggest waves and is popular with surfers.  Third Beach is a popular gay hangout.   Second beach continues to attract teenagers and students on the prowl for love.   Capetonians and tourists soak up the sun, and since the water is a frisky 12-16C, a dip in the sea is truly refreshing.

malibu

Malibu, California

Barbie comes from Malibu for a reason.   The coastline of Southern California seems to stretch on as endlessly as Barbie’s disproportionate legs, speckled with the jewelled mansions of the fabulously famous and wealthy.   Sunsets are spectacular, the waves offer great surfing, and the mystique of California Dreaming, – all tan and blonde and healthy – is addictive. I prefer the vibe down the beach in Venice, where whacky characters gather and hard men work out, but in the beauty stakes, Malibu definitely adds something special to our paradise punch.

tel-aviv

Metzitzim Beach, Israel

Not many people know that Tel Aviv is a true beach city.   Fine sand, decent waves, clean water, all in a city that never sleeps. The promenade even resembles the Copacabana, with its mosaic patterns.  There are several beaches along the strip, but Metzitzim, also known as the Sheraton Beach, consistently wins the accolades as the city’s best beach.   It’s definitely the most trendy, a place for fit young Israelis to bare their olive skin (as opposed to Nordau Beach further down, which is where religious Jews go for the separate male and female areas).     Metzitzim, which means “peeking” in Hebrew, is close to the Old Port which has recently been upgraded into a hip area of restaurants, bars and clubs

sihanoukville

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

I arrived in Sihanoukville, a beach town that competes with anything that you’ll find in Thailand, and along stroll two monks in their bright orange robes.   I just managed to snap this photo before they walked past me.   Beach cabins were rustic but improving as more tourists discover the joys of this former war-torn country. Bars play reggae, small ladies offer cheap beach massages, and the beer is always cold.   Surrounding poverty means you do have to be careful with your belongings, but Sihanoukville’s reputation for squeaky beaches and a laid back vibe will hopefully bring more tourists, and prosperity for the locals.

 

Bucket List Gondolas, Trams and Funiculars

Chamonix, France
Chamonix, France

Chamonix, France

Let’s start with Europe’s highest gondola, the Aiguille du Midi.   Beginning its journey across the Alps in the tourist hotspot of Charmonix, the téléphérique gives visitors sweeping access to the French, Italian and Swiss Alps, with unparalleled views of the highest mountain in the Alps, Mont Blanc.   Once atop Aiguille du Midi, hop into the red télécabine for the three-mile, 40 minute journey over a dazzling glacier to the Italian border. Drawing heavy crowds in all seasons, beat the queues by leaving early, and by making return reservations once you arrive at the top.

Table Mountain, Cape Town
Table Mountain, Cape Town

Table Mountain, Cape Town

Named for the cloud that often sits atop it like a tablecloth, Table Mountain is Cape Town’s most distinguishing landmark. The Table Mountain Cableway has transported over 20 million tourists on the four to five-minute journey to the top, with circular cabin floors rotating to give everyone a good view. Lions and leopards are no longer roaming the mountainside, but this World Heritage Site is home to a variety of small animals and endemic plants.   Closed during strong winds, the temperature can be up to 6C colder at the top, so bring a sweater.  Once there, you can take one of three short walks offering fantastic views of this famously picturesque city and surrounding mountains.

Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro
Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro

 

Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro

I’ve been in love with gondolas ever since I saw the James Bond film Moonraker, featuring a thrilling chase scene of the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain.  Ascending almost 400m, first up Morro da Urca and then Sugarloaf, the gondola offers 360-degree views of the beaches, ocean, mountains and landmarks that make Rio one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Of course, Moonraker also made me wonder how the villain Jaws managed to literally chew through the steel wire transporting the 65 passenger cars.   Fortunately, the system has been fully updated, ensuring no bad guy will be using this cable car for dental floss (see below).

Banff Gondola
Banff Gondola

Banff Gondola / Jasper Tramway

The two towns that serve Canada’s oldest national parks boast a world-class gondola and tramway. There are technical differences between gondolas and aerial tramways. Tramways work like elevators, with a counter-balance car, where as gondolas can leave more frequently, like ski lifts.   The Banff Gondola Mountaintop experience is an eight-minute ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain, in a four-passenger cabin climbing to an elevation of 2,281 metres. At the top you’ll find a restaurant, a Cosmic Ray Station Historic Site, and a 1km self-guided interpretative Skywalk.   The Jasper Skytram is the longest and highest guided tramway in Canada, giving visitors spectacular views of six mountain ranges, glaciers, alpine lakes, and the town of Jasper itself.

Quebec City Funicular
Quebec City Funicular

 

Old Quebec Funicular, Quebec City / Valparaiso, Chile

Neither are very long, nor very thrilling, but these old funiculars are definitely fun, not to mention convenient.   Opened in 1879, Quebec’s 64m long funicular is an easy way to transition from Upper Town to Lower Town, where you can explore the Petit Champlain district, port and museums.   Open until midnight in the summer, it is the only funicular of its kind in North America. Valparaiso is a city of hills, serviced by 10 funiculars, although at one time there were 26 working elevators.   Protected by the World Monument Fund as an endangered historical treasure, the funiculars are not only practical to navigate Valparaiso’s steep hills, but they also give great views of the city and harbour.

Singapore Flyer
Singapore Flyer

Singapore Flyer / London Eye

OK, these are Ferris Wheels, but since both involve you getting into a glass-domed car, ascending high into the sky, and taking pictures of a city’s view, the sentiment is the same. Opened in 1999 at a cost of £70 million, the London Eye has quickly become the biggest tourist attraction in the UK. It takes a half hour to make a full rotation, with 25 mile long views in every direction. When it opened in 2008 – the Singapore Flyer – stole the Eye’s thunder and, at 42 stories high, is currently the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. Located at the Marina Centre, the Flyer’s 28 air-conditioned capsules take a half hour to rotate, with terrific views of the city. Both the Eye and the Flyer can be rented out for corporate events, dinner parties and weddings.

Whistler's Peak 2 Peak
Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak

Peak 2 Peak, Whistler

When the peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb decided to connect via gondola, it needed one serious engineering achievement.   The resulting Peak 2 Peak Gondola holds the world gondola records for the highest point above ground (436m), and longest free span between towers (3.03km), and the two largest lift terminals in the world. Each winter, the 11-minute journey gently ushers over 4000 people an hour between the mountains of North America’s largest ski resort. Only two of the 28 cabins have a glass bottom, so consult the wall chart at the terminal to see when it is approaching. Cars arrive and depart ever 49 seconds.

The Peak, Hong Kong
The Peak, Hong Kong

The Peak, Hong Kong

Opened over 120 years ago, The Peak is one of the world’s oldest and most popular funiculars, rising 396 metres above sea level on a gradient so steep it appears buildings are leaning on their side. Besides the expected gift shops and restaurants, it’s well worth visiting the Peak Tower for the panoramic views of Hong Kong.   There’s also the Sky Terrace 428, with the highest viewing platform in the city, and you can walk along one of several walking trails. The funicular itself ascends up Victoria Peak on a 1.4km railline, and takes just under five minutes to reach the top.

Grouse Mountain
Grouse Mountain, Vancouver

Grouse Mountain Skyride, Vancouver

North America’s largest aerial tramway system offers visitors to Grouse Mountain stunning views of Vancouver, surrounding forests, mountains and the Gulf Islands in the distance. The 45-passenger car runs 365 days a year, depositing tourists and locals at the top to enjoy a range of activities, including a gourmet restaurant, wildlife, and a busy ski resort in winter.   During summer, you’ll find a grizzly bear enclosure, bird of prey shows, logging demonstrations, and ziplining and paragliding for the more adventurous.   On the way down, you might notice some particularly sweaty passengers. A popular local pastime is to hike up the punishing Grouse Grind, and take the Skyride down to the parking lot.

The Sea to Sky Gondola

The Sea to Sky Gondola

Western Canada is making a bold claim to the Bucket List gondolas podium. Squamish, located between Vancouver and Whistler, has the outstanding Sea-to-Sky Gondola with astounding views of Howe Sound, Sky Pilot Mountain, and one of the world’s bucket list climbing walls, the mighty granite Stawamus Chief. The 849m-long gondola takes you right to the top of an adjacent mountain, where you’ll find a 65m-high suspension bridge, scenic walking loops, as well as new hiking and biking trails. Celebrate the commendable execution of BC’s latest attraction with a craft beer on the sunny patio of the Summit Lodge.

Ba Na-Suoi M, Vietnam
Ba Na-Suoi M, Vietnam

Ba Na-Suoi Mo, Vietnam

Fifty kilometres west of Da Nang City is the world’s longest single wire cable car system, spanning over 5 kilometres in length. The Ba Na Hills gondola trip takes 15 minutes to reach the top, with passengers enjoying views of the surrounding mountains, the Han River, and lush jungle. A 27 metre high Buddha also rests at the top, along with gardens and an impressive pagoda. The gondola prides itself on being built to European standards of comfort and safety.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re afraid of getting into a gondola or tramway,  I’m almost entirely positively certain that this will never happen.

jaws

A Bucket List of the World’s Best Night Markets

night-market2

 

There’s simply no choice between a mall and a night market.   Instead of food courts, you have local cuisine cooked before your eyes. Instead of multinational clothing chains, you have handmade knits and knock-off fakes.   Instead of sterile hallways, you have cluttered narrow pathways full of smiles, smells, and secrets.   After shopping around, here’s our pick of the best:

  1. Luang Prabang, Laos

Night markets in Asia are usually loud and chaotic, yet my memory of this sleepy city’s night market, located along Sisavangvong Road, is one of calm. There is very little pushing and prodding to buy this or that, in stark contrast to markets found in neighbouring Thailand or Cambodia. Around 300 traders sell a wide range of goods – from pillows and covers to lanterns to cheap Beer Lao T-shirts, the perfect souvenir from Laos. Without the pressure, it’s almost impossible not to spend your kip, the local currency. It’s always advisable to haggle, and don’t expect the best quality.   Open daily, the market closes early at around 10pm.

  1. Queen Victoria Markets, Melbourne Australia

During the summer months, Melbourne has several vibrant night markets, gathering local artists, designers, traders, with food and entertainment from around the world. Every Wednesday November to March at the Queen Victoria Markets, on the corner of Peel and Victoria streets, you can find the popular Suzuki Night Market, with 35 ethnic food stalls, art, clothes, and jewelry traders. On Fridays in late January/February, you can shop away and enjoy the atmosphere at the Geelong Night Market in Johnstone Park.   Besides the stalls, there is also a health and harmony section, and licensed bars to enjoy a cool drink on a warm summer night.

  1. Huaxi Street Tourist Night Market, Taipei, Taiwan

There are six major night markets in hot and sticky Taipei, with the most famous, and most notorious, being Huaxi, also known as Snake Alley. Once a legal red light district, Snake Alley is known for the exotic dishes served by its restaurants and stalls.   These include snake meat, including their blood or even their venom, milked from their fangs. There’s also turtle meat, deer penis soup, and other delicacies that draw tourists. Surrounding the market are stalls selling all manner of goods, proudly Made in Taiwan.

  1. Summer Night Market, Richmond, BC

During summer, some 300 traders set up stalls each weekend in Richmond, one of the growing satellite cities next to Vancouver.   Reflecting the multiculturalism of Richmond’s large immigrant population, the night market features strong Asian, Indian and Latin American influences. Grab yourself a bubble tea and catch a live salsa performance on the 60ft stage, or just roam the alleys looking for bargains on clothing, electronics and souvenirs. The market attracts some two million visitors a year, and often features themed nights, like Taste of Asia, or Chinese Karaoke Night.

  1. Chiang Mai Night Market, Thailand

Crammed into three blocks on Chan Klan Road, the night market and bazaar of Chiang Mai is extremely popular with visitors.   All manner of goods are on sale from traders packed on the sidewalks, or in purpose-built malls. Friendly tailors beckon you into their shops, old ladies fry up noodles, and lanterns cast a soft glow in the night. Operating every night of the year, the market is considered to be amongst the cheapest in the country.   Don’t expect lasting quality from the goods on sale, although I still have various candleholders and even some shirts I bought many years after my visit. Traders will typically start their price at double what you should pay, so remember to bargain.

  1. Batu Ferringhi Night Market, Penang, Malaysia

The Malay word for night market is “pasar malam”, a popular example of which can be found in Penang at Batu Ferringhi (literally, “Foreigner’s Rock”). Vendors in small stalls sell the usual knick knacks – clothes, shoes, accessories, bags, watches, jewelry, and other goods of authentic or dubious origins. The night market draws tourists with the sweet smells of local cuisine, and is close to a beach and pool area as well.   It sets up each day in the late afternoon and operates from 6pm until the customers thin out.  International hotels are located along the beach strip, with some directly facing the market.

  1. Christmas Market, Nuremburg, Germany

Every Xmas, markets pop up all over the Germany, differing from region to region. Frankfurt has the largest Christmas Market in Germany, along with the tallest Christmas tree. But the most famous Christmas market is in the Bavarian city of Nuremburg. This market is a popular place to pick up toys, ornaments and candles, along with treats like biscuits and sausages roasted over wood fires. Located throughout the old town, the market has nearly 200 wooden stalls, many sporting red and white cloth.   They even compete for the most beautiful and tasteful stall award. More than two million people visit it each year.

  1. Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a legendary destination, and its most popular night market doesn’t disappoint. There’s a wild variety of goods and services on offer, including fortune tellers, palm readers and impromptu Opera street performances. Open from 2pm onwards, the market is located on Temple Street next to the Jordan MTR station in Kowloon. As with most night markets, street food features prominently. Try some of the sticky sweet desserts and browse for electronics, antiques, and lamps. But remember, you break you buy

  1. Marrakech Night Market, Morocco

Enter the Jemaa El Fna night market near the heart of Marrakech’s medina, and you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled onto a set of Indiana Jones. Expect a cacophony of snake charmers and monkey dancers, hagglers and hustlers, juice being freshly pressed over the sounds of salesmen beckoning their next client. Each night, over 100 open kitchens are set up, serving cheap but delicious Moroccan cuisines to patrons seated at long rows of wooden tables. Each kitchen typically serves one dish, and you might want to watch your food being cooked to avoid any tummy upsets later. The night market is open until 2am in summer, and around midnight in winter

  1. Donghuamen Night Market, Beijing, China

Here’s what I like about this particular night market: where else can you find rows of stalls featuring raw insects, scorpions, crickets, centipedes and lizards, ready to be deep fried in wok for your culinary enjoyment?   Sure, you can stick with dumplings, noodles or fresh fruit, but sometimes, you just find yourself craving a deep fried starfish.   All the prices are marked (in case you’re too hungry to haggle) and conveniently displayed in both Mandarin and English.   Don’t know about you, but I’m salivating at the thought of it!