Singapore is a small island city-state, which means that it quickly gets boring for uninformed travelers. Three days in Singapore, and you have literally done it all — or so you might think.

But the next time you find yourself passing through Lion City, drop your bags off at a nice hotel in the best part of Singapore and then knock a few of these offbeat activities off your travel bucket list:

Explore Pulau Ubin, the Last Kampung

Pekan Quarry on Pulau Ubin, one of the offbeat things to do in Singapore

Singapore is a sprawling metropolis — at least the main island is. However, up north, next to Malaysia, lies the smaller island of Pulau Ubin. Known as the Last Kampung of Singapore, this island is the only place you can still see the traditional village houses of the past. Only around 100 residents remain today, surrounded by lush flora and diverse fauna. There are plenty of hiking and biking trails to explore and quiet beaches to relax on. Definitely a nice retreat from the city life in Singapore!

Haw Par Villa, the Hellish Theme Park

Haw Par Villa is an intriguing and bizarre religious theme park that has become a strange tourist attraction. It is one of the many offbeat things to do in Singapore

Dating back to 1937, Haw Par Villa has earned itself a reputation as Singapore's most bizarre tourist attraction and religious theme park. Originally known as the Tiger Balm Gardens, it was built by two brothers, the same duo who created Tiger Balm rub. The park was designed to teach Chinese mythology, but over the years it has evolved into an over-the-top collection of over 1,000 multicolored statues and giant dioramas depicting various — and often gory — scenes from Chinese history, folklore, and legends. Haw Par Villa might not be off the beaten path anymore, but Singapore doesn’t get any stranger than this!

G-MAX Reverse Bungy, 5 Gs of 360-Degree Fun

The G-MAX reserve bungy is a wild ride and one of the cool, quirky things to do in Singapore

Located right on Clarke Quay, this is one activity that every visitor to Singapore has seen but few ever try. The G-MAX reverse bungy is like nothing else you have ever experienced. Strap yourself in, and get ready. After being slingshot up in the air, reaching speeds of up to 100 km/hr, riders bounce and fly around in what G-MAX politely refers to as a "swing" — ha! This experience is so uncommon that I recommend having someone else film your ride. Besides, at 45 SGD, it's the cost of two drinks in Clarke Quay — and definitely more worth it.

Selfie Coffee, Where the Name Says It All

Selfie Coffee prints a proto of you on the foam of your coffee. Just one of many the offbeat things to do in Singapore

To make a long story short, a Taiwanese company developed a machine that prints photos onto coffee foam. Of course, the next logical step is to use this for selfies instead of trippy designs. If you don't mind paying a hefty premium for your coffee and waiting a few extra minutes (yes, even longer than usual), you just might be a perfect fit for Selfie Coffee. And where else in Singapore would it be located than the hipster hotspot that is Haji Lane?

Visit Kranji, the Fabled Singapore Countryside

Leave the cement jungle behind and head out to Kanji, one of many the offbeat things to do in Singapore
The road to Kanji at sunset

Up in the northeastern corner of Singapore lies Kranji, the Singapore countryside that many tourists do not even realize exists. Yes, there is a part of the main island that isn't a cement jungle! Here the jungle is still thick, and small farms are scattered among it. The biggest and best-known is Bollywood Veggies and its Poison Ivy Bistro, which serves what is arguably the freshest food in all of Singapore. There are also several nearby parks and nature reserves worth exploring, including Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Kranji Reservoir Park, and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

Get out and explore the countryside of Kanji, one of the offbeat things to do in Singapore

Beyond just greenery and fresh foods, Kranji also has plenty more to offer. Horse racing takes place every Friday and Sunday at the Singapore Turf Club, conveniently located right next to the Kranji MRT Station. The Kranji War Memorial pays homage to all the fallen soldiers from all the nations who helped defend Singapore from the Japanese during World War II.

Singapore may be small, but the harder you look, the more you find. What other offbeat and quirky sights or activities would you recommend?

  More Offbeat Travel Guides     Singapore Blog Archives

  flickr // Kai Lehmann   Wild Singapore   Walter Lim   Schristia   Lin Hoe Goh   Kurt Siang

Published in Singapore

Namhae Island is located in the very south of South Korea. It's the perfect break from the polluted hustle and neon bustle that most Korean cities tend to have. Best known for its golden beaches and glorious weather it's surprisingly also a place not too many people know anything about it.

Namhae Bridge in South Korea is a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge

Namhae Island is strangely connected to the mainland of Korea by a Golden Gate Bridge imitation, constructed in 1973. From Seoul it takes about 6 hours, by car. The island itself is home to some of the most stunning scenery in Korea. The jagged cliffs cut and wind in unison with the highway and you will find it hard not to be impressed by the contrasting landscape and beaches beneath them.

The island has been left mainly untouched and employment on the island is primarily a result of its large agricultural and fishing community. During the wet seasons it is common to see rice paddies carving into the cliff side with cows plowing fields in favour of machinery. The dry season sees the rice replaced by garlic, with the majority of garlic in Korea coming from right here.

Transportation There & Back

Car Rental   The cheapest rental companies are located closest to the airports. For almost four days rental expect to pay $180-250 depending on how well you research. Use a few price comparison search engines as there are certainly deals to be had.

  Make sure you ask for an English GPS well in advance. Google Maps navigation doesn’t work well in Korea. The Korean map applications are also infuriatingly incompetent. If you can't read or type in Hangeul (the Korean alphabet) you will need a sat nav system. Without a GPS it can be expected that you’ll miss turn offs and probably find yourself stuck on incorrect, never-ending, toll roads for long periods of time. Some signs are in English but directions are not particularly accurate. However, it is do-able -- if you are up for a challenge.

Bus + Car Rental   Alternatively you could hop on a bus from Seoul to Namhae Island and rent a car by the Namhae bus terminal once you arrive. This would prove to be much cheaper in terms of gas/petrol and probably less hassle. The price of car rental is still going to be the same when you arrive.

Bus + Taxi   You cannot rely on public bus services on Namhae Island so should have a plan for either private car hire or taxi. A ride right across Namhae Island (300km) in a taxi would cost about $90, but you probably won't be going that far.

Here is the bus timetable courtesy of the Seoul Tourism Board.

Seoul ←→ Namhae Express Bus Schedule

Departure

Arrival

Departure Time

Ride

Fare

Seoul

Namhae

08:30, 09:50, 11:30, 13:30, 15:10, 16:40, 18:00, 19:00

4.5 hrs

22,200 won

Namhae

Seoul

07:30, 08:30, 10:00, 11:30, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00, 18:30

4.5 hrs

22,200 won

  Seoul Nambu Bus Terminal: Subway Line 3, Nambu Bus Terminal, Exit 5 / +82-2-521-8550 (Korean)
Namhae Bus Terminal: +82-055-864-7101 (Korean)

Where To Camp On Namhae Island

There are numerous unpopulated beaches that are all equipped with camping facilities. Get there early to claim a spot. If you don’t fancy camping then don’t worry as motels are plentiful, just stay on the main roads until you see one. Expect to pay $40 a night. Camping is free.

Sangju Beach   (상주은모래비치)

Sangju Beach on Namhae Island, South Korea

This is the main beach on Namhae Island. Expect clean facilities, plenty of restaurants, karaoke rooms, fireworks, large families and overcrowding. Don’t expect camping courtesy or etiquette. If you have a spot with a good view it’s only a matter of time before someone squeezes into it, to pitch a monster of a tent. A lot of drunken Korean fathers stumble about the tents with flashlights on their heads. Think 28 days later with head-torches when it's dark.

Songjeong Solbaram Beach   (송정 솔바람해변)

Songjeong Solbaram Beach in Namhae Island, South Korea

This is the sister beach to Sangju. Fewer people flock here but camping is still busy with many late comers opting to camp in a run down orchard/car-park near the back. Expect another nice golden beach that boasts less people than Sangju as well as a couple of supermart-style convenience stores. Don't expect much else. Head east on Highway 19 until you see signs for it.

Sachon Beach   (사촌해수육장)

Sachon Beach in Namhae Island, South Korea

This is not visited by many people. Head west on Highway 19 and follow signs towards the Hilton Hotel until the road 1024 forks. Pay close attention to the signs as it is very easy to miss. It's a couple of coves below the Hilton and is towards the South West of Namhae. Expect peace and tranquility but limited facilities and only a couple of snack shops. Excellent for private camping. Don’t expect people or any places to eat.

Other Beaches   Take a look on a map and explore. There are plenty of little coves and beaches all over Namhae Island that many people miss. Just be a bit adventurous. And make sure to assess how far the tide comes in before pitching your tent ;)

Activities On Namhae Island

Sea Kayaking

Kayaking the sea caves around Dumo, Namhae Island, South Korea

Sea kayaking around the sea caves in Namhae Island is an excellent way to spend the day. Fish can be seen darting about below the kayak and sea insects are plentiful. It is extremely tranquil. Gliding along the calm ocean allows you to really take in the beauty of the area.

  Kayaking for 3 hours will cost about $25. Paddle boarding is also available. If you get there after 1pm expect large tour groups and lengthy booking waits so get there early.

Kayaking the sea caves around Dumo, Namhae Island, South Korea
Jessica and myself sea kayaking

Sangju Beach   (FREE)

Sangju Beach on Namhae Island, South Korea

Even if you're not camping here, you can enjoy Sangju beach for the day. The end of the beach has some relatively powerless quad bike rentals so is partitioned off most of the time.

Where To Eat On Namhae Island

Around Sangju you can find only a handful of affordable restaurants. There are a few fresh clam and sashimi restaurants if you are feeling flush. Prices are heavily inflated due to tourism, but wandering the busy side streets you can find some decent grub, although you may have to wait a while.

  One benefit of having a car and not being in a tour group is the freedom you gain. So head towards Namhae town and find some shops, restaurants and convenience stores. Everything here is much more affordable and much less crowded.

Sachon Beach (FREE)

Sunset at Sachon Beach in Namhae Island, South Korea

Aim to wind down here and watch the remnants of the day disappear along with the sunset. Driving down towards the beach you pass through a few rice paddies, which, if holding water will reflect the beach and its surroundings superbly. The road is extremely thin and windy, so be extra careful not to destroy the serenity of the area by plowing your compact Hyundai straight into a field of rice. There are a couple of convenience stores here that stock very little other than snacks and beer. But what else do you need?

Geumsan Boriam Temple (FREE)

Decorations at Boriam Temple in Namhae Island, South Korea

Located near the summit of Geumsan Mat Buntain sits Boriam Temple. Watching the sunrise from here is relatively popular among the local hikers. Wake up early enough and leave enough time to drive here. Some tour buses also offer the chance to visit. There are a several trails which lead to the temple and can take a number of hours to hike. Alternatively, you can drive your car and park 900m from the temple, walking the rest in 10 minutes. The choice is yours.

Listening to the monotonous chanting of the monks whilst watching the sunrise is both hypnotic and calming. The only sound aside from the chanting is the occasional shutter sound from a nearby DSLR camera that is capturing the moment.

Sunrise at Boriam Temple in Namhae Island, South Korea

Stroll back down and share a smile with the disappointed folk who have all missed the sunrise as they race past desperately trying to witness something they’ve clearly missed.

Driving Around Namhae Island

Driving around the cliffs on Namhae Island you can see the glistening waters of the sea contrasting with the golden beaches and it makes for a truly remarkable drive. Oversized coaches do tend to block the roads in the afternoons so expect some traffic. If you get good weather then driving around the island might actually be your favourite part of the trip.

The German Village

The super-touristy German Village of Namhae Island, South Korea. Avoid.

During the 1960’s 10,000 Korean nurses headed to Germany to seek work in exchange for cheap credit with the government. The German Village is for those who returned. All the materials that went into building the houses came from Germany and over the past 10 years the area has become a settlement/hamlet for 35 families, 90% of which are Korean-German.

Unfortunately, in exchange for the family loyalty, the village has been turned into a tourist hot spot whereby tens of thousands of people flock here, creating congestion that goes on for miles. The tourists disrespectfully take photographs posing next to the residents homes, trample through their gardens and even wander into their living rooms. Engelfried (82) is a German local and told a newspaper that “It’s treated like a museum village.” It is promoted by Seoul Tourism board and they have placed a huge car park only a short walk from the village. Avoid.

The American Village

The American Village of Namhae Island, South Korea

The most recently constructed but not so popular cousin of the abov. The placard reads “designed to be the last settling place for Korean-Americans who have dreamt of returning to and retiring in their homeland.” Walking up and down is relatively surreal with cheesy western inanimate objects glued to the walls, such as, surfboards and American driving plates.

  Heading back towards your city whether it’s Seoul, Busan or elsewhere, you can expect heavy traffic when approaching if it’s a holiday weekend. Add at least an extra hour to your return journey.

Published in South Korea

Just as Shakespeare has confounded high school students for generations, it seems the playwright has been doing the same to historians for even longer. This week, new research found that as well as hoarding grain during food shortages, the Bard was also threatened with jail for tax evasion.

Hard to believe, but 400 years on Shakespeare still manages to keep a fair few secrets up his sleeve. This became apparent to my friend and I when we visited Shakespeare's hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon in England.

William Shakespeare

As you can imagine, the town has well and truly contracted "Shakespeare Fever" and attracts bus loads of cashed-up, Bard-loving tourists. After all, this is the town where Shakespeare was born, grew up, lived some of his adult life, and was buried.

But what surprised us most was how little is actually known about Shakespeare... and how there continues to be doubt about whether he actually wrote all of his plays or not. Granted he did live several hundred years ago, but given his prominent role in English literature we had assumed every facet of his life had already been discovered and documented.

Boats in the River Avon in Stratford-Upon-Avon named after female characters in William Shakespeare's plays
Boats in the River Avon named after female characters in Shakespeare's plays

We visited one of the town's main "pilgrim" sites called Shakespeare's Birthplace - a 16th century half-timbered house on Henley Street which is now a museum. This is believed to have been the Shakespeare family home where William was born, grew up and spent the first five years with his wife Anne Hathaway.

Reading the museum's information boards, we noticed the liberal use of the following types of phrases: "he almost certainly would have...", "it's believed he...", "like others at the time he may have...", "he quite possibly would have..." and so on.

The birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
"Believed to be" Shakespeare's birthplace

The birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
Did Shakespeare once walk through this door? "Quite possibly."

The vagueness is justified.

For a man who seemingly couldn't put his pen down, doubters note that this not a single piece of evidence Shakespeare actually wrote anything. There are no manuscripts, letters or other documents in his own hand. Even the spelling of Shakespeare's name is up for debate as the only surviving examples of his handwriting are six scrawled signatures where his surname is spelt several ways.

The birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
The house where Shakespeare "almost certainly" grew up

We had the distinct impression that we thought we knew more about the man before we had actually walked into the museum. However, thanks to the local Holy Trinity Church, there is more concrete evidence about Shakespeare's life.

The Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, where William Shakespeare was baptised and buried
Holy Trinity Church: Shakespeare was baptised and buried here

Here they have written records about his baptism on 26 April 1564 ("possibly" in the damaged medieval font on display) and burial on 25 April 1616. Interestingly it does not have any account of his wedding to Anne Hathaway; other churches claim they were the venue.

The Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, where William Shakespeare was baptised and buried
The church's damaged medieval font in which Shakespeare was"likely" to have been baptised in

The Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, where William Shakespeare was baptised and buried
Holy Trinity Church which Shakespeare "may have" visited regularly while growing up

Frustratingly, even the grave indicated as being William Shakespeare's doesn't actually bear his name (the graves either side of his belong to wife Anne and daughter Susanna). Instead it has the following inscription (which he "possibly" wrote himself) warning anyone against moving his bones.

"Good friend fur Jesus sake forebeare
To digg the dust encloased heare
Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And curst be he yt moves my bones"

William Shakespeare's grave inside the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
Shakespeare's grave inside the church

And it seems he was already developing a following not long after his death with a funerary monument built into the church wall.

William Shakespeare's funerary monument at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
Shakespeare's funerary monument on the church's wall

The church also has a glass case with a first edition of the King James Bible from 1611, just before Shakespeare's death. Apparently it is usually open at Psalm 46; 46 also being Shakespeare's age in 1611.

King James Bible inside the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
King James Bible inside the church

At the end of the day, perhaps it doesn't really matter that we don't know a great deal about Shakespeare himself. "His" plays have already shaped English literature and how he will be remembered.

What is known is that generations of school children, and others, will continue to struggle finding great detail when they are next forced to write an assignment on William Shakespeare.

Published in England

No visit to San Francisco would be complete without a tour of Alcatraz. I highly recommend taking the night tour. Be sure to book your tickets in advance via Alcatraz Cruises) as they sell out weeks in advance. They are the only official ticket provider and any tickets purchased elsewhere are merely AC tickets repackaged.

A Day in San Francisco:

3:30 PM - 9:00 PM
- Ferry to Azkaban, I mean Alcatraz.
- Night Tour of "The Rock."     (AMAZING!)
- Ferry back to the mainland

Aboard the ferry to Alcatraz Island
From the ferry ride to the island

Old photos of inmates at Alcatraz Island
Old photos of inmates at Alcatraz

Each corridor and space inside Alcatraz has a nickname: Broadway, Times Square, etc
Each corridor and space has a nickname: Broadway, Times Square, etc

Cool staircase at Alcatraz
Cool staircase at The Rock


The Alcatraz key system: When requested the key was sent down to the prison floor via the rope and hook
The key system: When requested the key was sent down to the prison floor via the rope and hook

The Gun Galley of Alcatraz is at the top (where the guards kept vigil, behind the metal bars)
The Gun Galley at the top (where the guards kept vigil, behind the metal bars)


Metal walkways and railings inside Alcatraz aka The Rock

Weathered door to the Alcatraz courtyard outside



Photos of friend Jesika, who came to visit for the weekend and let me test out my new 50mm 1.4 lens on her

Sunset as seen from Alcatraz Island

How about THAT sunset!

The reception desk to Alcatraz prison
The reception desk to the prison

Can't you just picture the Alcatraz inmates staring out at the world from these windows in lonely desperation...
Can't you just picture inmates staring out at the world from these windows in lonely desperation...

Sunset view through the frosted glass blocks of Alcatraz
Sunset view through the frosted glass blocks of Alcatraz

View of the Golden Gate Bridge through the frosted glass blocks of Alcatraz
View of the Golden Gate Bridge through the frosted glass blocks


The hydro
The hydro "therapy" chamber in the hospital wing...creepy!

The Hospital wing of Alcatraz prison, one of the areas open for the night tour
The Hospital wing of the prison, one of the areas open for the night tour -- very, very cool


The hospital ward of Alcatraz
Not any hospital I'd want to visit...

Old exam table in the hospital ward of Alcatraz
Exam table


There are all sorts of after hours lectures and extra features on the night tour of Alcatraz
There are all sorts of after hours lectures and extra features on the night tour -- very, very cool

The hospital ward of Alcatraz
Last shot of the hospital ward


The hospital ward of Alcatraz
This is my favorite shot from the day. Isn't it crazy creepy? Yah.

Alcatraz at night
The prison at night

Have you ever been to Alcatraz?

Published in United States

A little more than a year back, while on a Caribbean cruise, I (along with my wife and sister) decided to head over to Dunn's River Falls on my birthanniversay (birthday and anniversary). Leaving behind my daughter and my parents are the wonderfully named Mahogany Beach, we took a taxi to the Falls. It's a good idea to inform the taxi driver not to leave the parking. As it happened in our case, thinking that we would take longer than we did, he decided to go someplace else in the meantime, and after waiting for him for a good 45 minutes, we eventually took another taxi back to our ship.

Dunn's River Falls is one of the primary tourist attractions in all of Jamaica, yet it was not over crowded. A ticket of $20 USD got us in and into a group led by a couple of guides. There are lockers inside the property to leave your valuables, and it's advised that you use them because the falls can be a bit challenging at times. Also, available on location are water shoes which can be rented for a small fee. Once again, it is advisable that you rent the water shoes as the rocks, while climbing up, are very slippery.

As a tourist attraction, the whole arrangement is well organized. There are groups of 12-15 people that are taken by two guides. It's essential that you use the service of the guides (included in the entrance fee) on your first trip up because they point out the plunge pools deep enough for you to take a back flip in and importantly the corners that should be avoided.

Carrying a video camera, the guides also make a video of your whole "expedition" up the falls which can be yours for $40 USD. A bit expensive, we gave the video a miss, but the guides were not at all pushy about it. They were friendly and as expected flirted with the girls, at the expense of the guys, but then that's a given almost anywhere in the world.

Dunn's River Falls is one of those attractions that you would want to say "Been There, Done That". The areas where flow of the water is too much, the climb a bit steep, or the rocks are really slippery; there are handle bars on the sides to support you. Moreover, walking in a group, a human chain is usually formed again to provide support for everyone.

Although I saw people of all ages go up the falls, I would advice the really young and the really old to skip climbing the falls. There is a good chance most people will end up with tiny cuts and scratches by the time they reach the top, but that is not to say that this is a dangerous activity.

Our climb up the Dunn's River Falls was refreshing and something I definitely recommend for everyone visiting the region. Once you have had your guided climb, you can always go back down and climb up again if you desire. There is also a small beach at the bottom of the falls which is fun for the younger and older members of the family. The organizers are not at all pushy and you are free to take or not take the photographs and videos they make without any hassles.

I would however apologize for my photographs not being of the best quality (and thus not doing justice to the Falls), but in my defense these were taken by a waterproof single use disposable camera.

Published in Jamaica

Most of the residents of New Zealand live in Auckland and not without reason. Auckland is amazing! You never get bored. Not even when you're on a budget and staying in Auckland. So here the five things you should do for free in Auckland:

The Gallery of Modern Art / Auckland Museum

For culture you have to be in Auckland. Enough museums to visit and the Auckland Museum and The Gallery of Modern Art are even for free. The Auckland Musuem teaches you about the Maoris and the history of New Zealand, plus even has a section about the amazing flora and fauna and information about volcanoes with a real simulation room; how would it feel to experience a real earthquake. Pretty cool!

Auckland Museum

The Gallery of Modern Art is the opposite of the Auckland Museum and focuses more on experimental art. So if you like art with a sharp edge? Than you should certaintly go to the Gallery of Modern Art.

Visit one of the many volcanoes that Auckland has to offer

Yes, Auckland has enough volcanoes to satisfy everyone -- approximately 50! So search for a volcano near you and enjoy the view. Some top volcanoes in Auckland are Mount Eden and One Tree Hill (U2 even wrote a song about this one). You have a beautiful view over the city and even at night it's a nice sight to see with all the lights. And who doesn't like lights, right!

Dive in the nature

Also the big city Auckland has a lot to offer when it comes to nature. Nature here in New Zealand is never far away. Go to Mission Bay to enjoy the sun and the ocean off to Waikere Ranges where you can enjoy a nice walk or a nice "barbie" (barbecue) with your friends. Lot of hiking trails to keep you busy all year long

Discover the harbour

The harbor has a lot to offer and there's a lot to see. Enjoy the beautful blue waters or visit the information center of head for the Wynyard Quarter where you can see amazing, big, luxurious yachts.

Auckland Harbor

There is always something going on over there, or just enjoy the New Zealand cafe culture. Or just relax in the grass. Everything is possible in the harbor.

Visit one of the different markets that Auckland has to offer

The French Market, the Fish Market, Victoria Market... Auckland has a lot of markets and all are within easy reach. What better way to spend a saturday? Especially the French Market in Parnell is worth to pay a visit. Try all the different free french foods. What more do you want?

Have any additional suggestions?

Which is your favorite?

Published in New Zealand

A friend and I recently ventured into my local metropolitan center, aka San Francisco, and did some exploring. The weekend is best summarized by said friend's phone call to her husband: "Hey babe, I just saw the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, toured a WWII Submarine and now I'm going on a night tour of Alcatraz. Tomorrow I'm going to see a Tuscan Castle!"

Her husband's hilariously sarcastic response: "Great. Let me know when you fly a fighter jet!"

Anyway here are some photos from our day out on the town:

The Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, California

The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, California

The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, California

Coit Tower

The Coit Tower in San Francisco, California

Path to the Coit Tower in San Francisco, California

There is a really cool path up/down to/from Coit Tower, which wanders by an amazing neighborhood and some very cool, unexpected gardens in the middle of the city. If you're lucky, you'll see the famous parrots.

Along the path t the Coit Tower in San Francisco, California

The Coit Tower in San Francisco, California

Published in United States

Located in the Gulf of Nicoya, Tortuga Island is actually comprised of two islands with a combined total landmass of only about one square mile. But despite its small size, Isla La Tortuga is one of Costa Rica's most popular tourist destinations and a great day-trip. We went with Calypso Cruises in a group of nearly four dozen, but there was also another similarly-sized group with a different excursion company further down on the island.

Map of the location of Puntarenas and Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

The island is home to a total of 12 residents. They are native Costa Ricans who subsist entirely off renting out beach chairs, jet-skis, snorkels, and other beach- and water-related goods to the flocking tourists. As such you can expect to pay a nice price for everything. They even offer wifi: $15 for 15 minutes. Undoubtedly these islanders make more than the average Costa Rican citizen, but life there is not as perfect as it seems. As one island tico informed me, it is 9 guys and only 3 girls, so "we need more girls...tell more girls to come visit."

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica


The beautiful and nearly unihabited Isla La Tortuga!

The island itself is quite charming. It is comprised of a nice beach area with smooth sand but one end does have a rather a sizable amount of coral chunks and other small rocks mixed in with the sand. There are a couple small wooden structures on the island, one used as a kitchen, another as a bar, and yes of course a final one featuring a pair of restrooms. There is also lots of picnic tables and beach chairs set up in advance, although the beach chairs cost $7-8/hr through the local islanders, not your tour company -- but I'll get back to that shortly. The island is thickly wooded. Supposedly there is a trail you can take that leads through the brush out to a very picturesque area, or so I've been told.

We booked the trip through Calypso Cruises and it just so happens that their office/dock is located literally just a few dozen feet from Pearla del Pacifico, the only hostel/hotel in Puntarenas and hands-down the best hostel in all of Central America!

Calypso Cruises will have an air-conditioned van pick you up early in the morning from a few of the nearby towns -- San Jose, Jaco, Quepos / Manuel Antonio, Monteverde -- and transport you to Puntarenas, where you will be served a traditional Costa Rican breakfast. The CC boat is a two-story 71 ft long catamaran named Manta Raya that is equipped with two giant hammocks stretched between twin hulls and two fresh water pools. The lower deck houses the bar and lounge as well as dual restrooms / changing rooms.

Casting Off...

At precisely 9am the ship leaves port and begins the hour-long trek towards Tortuga Island. Along the way you will pass by local fishing boats out on the hunt, have fantastic views of the western coast of Costa Rica, and maybe even glimpse the occasional family of dolphins that will swim alongside the boat during the final stretch before Tortuga Island. They are fast and can be tricky to photograph though. Along the way you will also be served a light snack (most likely pineapple) and have the option of buying alcoholic beverages at the usual inflated tourist rates.

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Once disembarking the ship, you will have a couple hours to swim and/or sunbath while the staff prepares lunch. The bartender and booze from the ship is unloaded and set up underneath the trees, so after a brief ten minute or so pause, you can resume killing your liver with booze. For those of you who really like to drink, I recommend smuggling in a little liquor of your own. It is very easy to do and turns what easily could be a $200 on alcohol day down to just $40 or $50.

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica


The warthog and I become fast friends

The first group of snorkelers is also taken out shortly after arriving on the island. The remaining people mingle and drink on the beach, swimming and building sand castles (or at least attempting to). Calypso Cruises provides everyone with a very basic two-piece wooden beach chair, but there are also fancy reclining chairs covered in towels and protected from the sun by umbrellas -- those are the ones that cost $7-8/hr and are rented out by the dozen locals that live on the island.

The lunch is served at the picnic tables under the shade of the trees, in the fresh breeze of the ocean. It consists of wine, a ceviche appetizer, salad, vegetables, and bar-b-qued chicken, and will leave you completely satisfied. Be on the lookout for local wildlife that could come wandering by around feeding time, most notably the wild hogs. They are nice critters, surprisingly tame thanks to all the tourists -- you can even pet them! They feel a little strange, more bristly than I would have thought, kind of like a porcupine.

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

After lunch the excursions begin. Included free are snorkeling and the banana boat, but extras like jet-skis are available only upon paying a hefty fee to the islanders. The second snorkeling expedition (provided there is enough demand) sets out after lunch, while meanwhile the banana boat is pulled out and the rides begin.

Finally as the afternoon winds down the catamaran is brought back to the shore and slowly the masses re-assemble on the boat decks. Due to the large group of people combined with the large amounts of alcohol consumed and topped off perfectly by the fact there is only two bathrooms on-board, expect bathroom lines to be in the ten to twenty minute range.

Arriving back at the docks, the fun is over. Usually at this point you would take your air-con van back to your city of origin, be it Jaco or Quepos or whatever, but we recommend instead you just walk a couple dozen feet to the east and spend a couple days at the Pearla del Pacifico (view photos). The whole trip, not counting van rides, lasts about eight hours but is definitely worth it -- if you don't mind being surrounded by tourists all day.

This guy is a bad tourist. Don't be like him.

Case in point: This nameless individual here on the left kept to himself all eight hours. I don't even know why he shelled out $125 for a ticket in the first place! I kid you not, this guy's earplugs never once left his ears! He had them on at the beach, on the boat, even while the band was playing at lunch! Seriously, WTF!?!? People, this is why I started the HoliDaze, this is why I am trying to convince people to open up their eyes and experience the world! It is people like this that confuse and frustrate me, and I'm sorry if that describes you. Get out and live! See and appreciate the world, before its too late.

Here are some more photos from the drunken cruise back to the pier at Puntarenas. And for videos, check out the HoliDaze YouTube page.

  What would you say to the guy listening to his iPod all day instead of enjoying the moment? Share your feedback after the photos.

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

Published in Costa Rica

One of the reasons I love visiting Colorado is that I am always stumbling upon new things to do and sights to see. Known as the Garden Of The Gods, this tranquil park got it's namesake in 1859 from two surveyors from nearby Colorado City who happened to stumble upon the rock formations while exploring the area. As is too often the case, namesake goes to the first white guy to brag about something he discovered, instead of the locals who all too often have known of the existence of that place/species for 1,000+ years. Anyway, I digress...

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

The beauty of this place -- well, besides the obvious natural beauty -- is the this park is 100% free to the public. The park itself consists of a few main roads looping around the red rocks with numerous scenic overlooks and photo spots, as well as trails for hiking, biking, and even horseback riding. There are even Segway tours run by the nearby visitor center located just a few hundred yards down the road from the entrance to the park. (Those, however, are not free.)

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Once you have had your fix of the free views and explored all you can around the park, I recommend following it up with a brief visit by the Garden Of The Gods Visitor & Nature Center. Just like any other national park souvenir shop, this place has it all. From historical items, local gems, books, artwork, clothes, postcards, native species of flowers, and anything and everything else you would expect to find, this place has it.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Not only that, but they offer also provide a wealth of information about Colorado, the Garden Of The Gods history, and of course the nearby Pike's Peak. Additional knowledge can be gained by watching (and that means paying) for the visitor center's information movies, which run on a loop every 15 minutes in the miniature movie theater.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Been here before? Have a favorite FREE park? Share your comments!

Published in United States

Located on the island of Oahu, Diamond Head is a young but extinct volcano that makes for a fantastic and inexpensive day trip.

Entering into the crater through a large tunnel in one side of the volcano wall, immediately the place just opens up and the sky is revealed around you. One small corner of the interior is a former military base / current government broadcasting station and is therefore off-limits to the public, but all the rest is free reign.

  Random Trivia Fact   Several scenes from Lost were filmed both on Diamond Head and inside the military base. In fact the entire series was filmed on location all around Oahu. Although I never watched the show somehow still remember being told those factoids while I was there.

From the interior plains you can hike up the winding trail all the way up to a couple viewing stations located up top, giving you an impressive view of the coastline and ocean.

The path is quite deceptive looking. Although it starts off fairly straight and at a very gradual slope, before long the pavement turns to a stone path and the path then eventually turns to all dirt. Meanwhile the slope increases and the winding back-and-forth begins. Definitely bring some water with you.

Once you get closer to the top you have several staircases to climb and even pass through a dark tunnel before climbing a metal circular staircase (a la lighthouse style) which is -- you guess it -- also dark.

The entire hike takes only about an hour each way and is well worth the visit. From up top you can see Waikiki and a nice portion of the rest of the island. Makes for an awesome spot to take panoramic photos of the island.

However as Diamond Head is quite close to Waikiki beach and thus countless resorts, there is always a flood of tourists there. But it's not too bad... where in Hawaii is there not a flood of tourists?

  Have you hiked Diamond Head or any of the other Hawaiian volcanoes? Would you do it?

Published in United States
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