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:
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!
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!
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.
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?
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.
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?
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 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.
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
08:30, 09:50, 11:30, 13:30, 15:10, 16:40, 18:00, 19:00
07:30, 08:30, 10:00, 11:30, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00, 18:30
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)
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.
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.
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.
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 ;)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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"
And it seems he was already developing a following not long after his death with a funerary monument built into the church 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.
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.
Certain locations are known all over the world for their biggest pastime. Las Vegas and gambling. Hawaii and surfing. New York City and sitting in traffic. And of course Nashville and country music. As anyone who has ever visited will tell you, country music is the soul of Nashville. To visit Music City even briefly and not experience its musical side -- even if, like myself, you are not a fan of country music -- is akin to heresy. Between history, food and nightlife there is something musical here for everyone, so c'mon and join me on a whirlwind tour of the authentic Nashville.
This is where it all began. The Grand Ole Opry is the weekly country music radio show. It has run for 90 years and all of country's greatest have graced its stage at some point in their career. As such, a visit to the Grand Ole Opry House on the outskirts of Nashville is a must for all first-time visitors. It will give you a sense of the history and spirit of country music. The offer daytime and post-show tours, as well as a backstage VIP special for the serious country music fans. After all, in the words of Garth Brooks: "No offense at all to the people sitting in the seats, but the real show is backstage. That's the Opry."
This unique little café is as known for their food as for their music. For over 30 years the Bluebird Cafe has been a favorite among Nashville locals, however few visitors stumble upon this hidden gem. It is the perfect place to enjoy an evening meal and an intimate show from one of Nashville's countless talented musicians. Of course due to the small size of the place, it's best to call ahead or place a reservation via their web site.
Now that you are well-fed, throw on your cowboy hat and dancing boots and get ready to go honky-tonkin' on Broadway, another Nashville must for first-timers. The giant ten foot guitar marks the home of Legends Corner, the perfect place to start a night out. Over repeated trips to Music City I've found that this bar consistently has the best live music and the strongest drinks -- a winning combination!
Located just a few doors down from Legends Corner, The Stage on Broadway not only has great music but the cheapest beer on all of Broadway too! Maybe that is why this place is the more popular of the two with younger crowd. They have nightly shows from Nashville locals, both veterans and up-and-comers, and don't stop rockin' until 3am. However the coolest thing about the Stage has to be their giant mural of country music stars past and present.
I had dreamed of visiting Greece ever since high school when I first read the Iliad and the Odyssey. At the University of Arizona, my studies in art history compounded my fascination with ancient Greece. But for the time being, my experience with the country and its culture was confined to the descriptions and the washed out slideshow images offered by my professors. After graduation, I felt even more compelled to make it to these places which were, quite literally, the stuff of legends.
If you're an American, it may be difficult to fully appreciate the aging grandeur of places like Greece. After all, recorded history on the North American continent is barely a footnote in the annals of humankind, and nothing in comparison to the millennia-old cultures of the Mediterranean, Europe, Africa and Asia. During my two weeks in Greece, I managed to make it to most of the important ruins like the Acropolis in Athens and the temples of Delphi. But one of the most significant sites for me wasn't a ruin at all, but a picturesque cove and a nearby cave hidden high on a scrub-covered hillside.
This half-moon-shaped inlet on the west side of the Peloponnese is called Voidokilia. Hidden from both the elements and human eyes by rolling sand dunes and craggy cliffs, it's a perfect off-the-beaten-path retreat for enjoying the sun and sea without enduring crowds of tourists.
There are no ruins at Voidokilia, but it doesn't matter because the very landscape is what's important. In ancient times – those times described by Homer in the Illiad and the Odyssey – this was a harbor for Nestor, King of Pylos. (A few miles to the north are the ruins of Nestor's palace. You can visit there too – it's now a museum – and walk the nearby woods where the beehive-shaped tholos tombs of the ancient Mycenaeans are an unusual and somewhat eerie diversion.)
The sandy Voidokilia beach is where Odysseus's son, Telemachus, puts ashore accompanied by the goddess Athena while searching for his missing father. He finds the beach filled with revelers, as Nestor is hosting a feast in honor of Poseidon. Although the old king lavishly entertains young Telemachus, he cannot provide any new information about Odysseus's fate and suggests the youth continue his quest in Sparta. These passages from the Odyssey are important because they reinforce a major theme in the legend – fidelity to one's parents, partners and friends.
Above the cove is a cave. There aren't any signs leading to it and it's hard to see from the beach, but I was prepared. I hiked up a steep sandy berm on the south end of the cove, which was the most strenuous part of the journey and somewhat akin to sifting powdered sugar with my feet. I then made my way across the back of a scrub-covered ridge, pausing to photograph both the cove and the Ionian Sea to the west. On the summit above me were the ruins of a 13th century Frankish fortress commonly known as The Old Pylos Castle. The cliff-tops were also used in Classical times as a naturally defensible area which overlooked the bay. The cave doesn't have quite as illustrious a history as the beach and ruins nearby. According to legend, this is where Nestor sheltered his cattle during bad weather. It held a similar purpose for me, providing a cool resting spot after my hike through 100-degree weather.
The cave was unremarkable, a dry egg-shaped cavity which smelled faintly of wet earth. Certainly it will never be mentioned in the same breath with contemporaneous sites like Mycenae or Troy. The main room seemed large enough to hold a small herd of cattle, and I couldn't help but imagine the noise and smell this would've produced. As I exited, I found Homer's ancient world neatly framed by the mouth of the cave. The brilliant blue curve of Voidokilia... the flat scrubby plain of the Greek countryside... The low foothills where Nestor's crumbled palace still lay... It all stretched out in front of me. There were no throngs of tourists and the only sounds were the wind and the surf far below. Standing there, I felt more connected to Greece than I had anywhere else on my journey.
Probably you won't find Voidokilia in most Greek travel guides. It's not particularly close to any tourist destination and the road in is an unmarked and meandering route. But if you can find it, plan to spend some time. Sunbathe, snorkel, take a picnic... but also climb the hillside to the cave and reflect on the great legends this place inspired.
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 re-packaged.
3:30 PM - 9:00 PM
- Ferry to Azkaban, I mean Alcatraz
- Night Tour of "The Rock" (AMAZING!)
- Ferry back to the mainland
Photos of friend Jesika, who came to visit for the weekend and let me test out my new 50mm 1.4 lens on her
How about THAT sunset!
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.
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:
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!
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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?
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!"
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.