Travel blog

The Elk Arches of Jackson Hole: Wonders of the Rocky Mountains and the Western Frontiers

When you pass through Jackson Hole, Wyoming it’s hard not to notice the elk. There are thousands of these deer-like animals, which migrate here out of the high meadows to winter at the National Elk Refuge. Roaming across the grassy plains of sagebrush, the largest herd on the planet finds sanctuary here in the shadow of the Grand Tetons. As a tribute to this native herd, as well as the town’s old west heritage and natural beauty, there are four enormous arches which anchor the town square -- arches constructed of actual elk antlers.

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Topics: rocky mountains

¡Que Viva el Mariachi!: The Movement, The Meaning of Mexico’s Music

You have to go back hundreds of years to discover the origins of mariachi music and, even then, it’s debatable what the name even means. Some believe it comes from the French word for ‘marriage’ while others claim it has to do with a festival honoring a revered virgin. The most popular theory is that mariachi has something to do with an indigenous word for a tree -- a tree whose wood is used to make the quintessential mariachi instrument, the classical guitar.

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Topics: Planning a Vacation

A Desert Kaleidoscope: The Colorful History of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

In 1972, an Albuquerque, NM radio station began making plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Amid a flurry of ideas, one soon began to take shape: hosting the world’s largest balloon race. Invitations went out to 21 balloons but, at the last minute, a fierce Midwestern storm whittled the participants down to 13. And so on April 8th, with 20,000 spectators watching, the pilots fired up the balloons and rose into the air above the parking lot of the Coronado Center Shopping Mall.

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Topics: Americas

Top Tips for Cuba: What Travelers Need To Know

Politics and Religion: Nowhere is the need to avoid controversial topics more important than on the small island 90 miles to the south of Florida. While many citizens will engage readily in a conversation about Fidel Castro, the eyes and ears of the Party still consider it unpatriotic to be critical toward the regime. That being said, be sensitive if your tour guide is reticent to discuss sensitive issues.

Visit a Paladars: Havana's paladars are a great way to explore the culinary history of Cuba. Until the 1990s, restaurants not owned by the government were illegal and so these small dining rooms began operating out of homes. As the definition of a “restaurant” expands, you can now find paladars in old mansions and penthouses as well as family residences. Make sure to sample the staples, like Cuban Creole, but also be open to the many other flavors peppering the culinary landscape.

Don’t Expect to Connect: It’s no secret Cuba has some of the planet’s worst Internet service. With severe state restrictions and awful connection speeds, just plan to leave your phone, your laptop, and your digital devices at home.

Money Matters: In Cuba, the dual currency system makes foreigners ripe for scams. Here’s what you need to know. National pesos are banknotes printed with head-and-shoulder images of Cuban leaders and used to pay local citizens. On the other hand, convertible pesos depict national monuments and are worth twenty-four times what national pesos are worth. They are used to pay for goods and services. Make sure that when you pay in convertibles you are given change in kind and not in national pesos.

Being American Still Has its Drawbacks: Even after President Obama’s recent visit, there are difficulties in visiting Cuba if you’re a U.S. citizen. For one thing, you can only travel to Cuba under specific circumstances, like a People-to-People trip like the ones offered by YMT Vacations. There’s also a 10 percent fee for changing US dollars into Cuban currency and your U.S. debit or credit card is not accepted on the island.

Carry Cash: In many places in Cuba, cash is the only form of payment for goods and services. Since cash machines are sparse, make sure to get money whenever you can, and make note of the operating hours for banks.

Beware Before Lighting Up -- Cigars sold by jineteros, or street hustlers, are rarely the real deal. Instead, purchase cigars from official stores known as Casa del Habano, or directly from the factory. You should also expect to pay for a premium product.

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Topics: Cuba

Casas Colgadas: The Hanging Houses of Cuenca, Spain

Like the modern metropolises of today, the ancient city of Cuenca, Spain was overcrowded and out of livable space when it began constructing the medieval equivalent of skyscrapers. These “rascacielos,” built more than likely during the 15th century, were sometimes as high as seven or eight stories. Now while that may not seem like much by today’s standards, consider that they were built into the limestone bedrock of a cliff where they hung precariously over a deep gorge.

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Topics: Spain

Split-Personality: The Two Sides of St. Maarten and St. Martin

On 37 square miles of land in the eastern Caribbean you’ll find two nations at home on a single island. The countries of St. Maarten and St. Martin sit side by side with no border patrol and easy access between them. While visitors can travel back and forth almost unnoticeably, there are some subtle cultural distinctions. The Dutch side of the island, St. Maarten, pulses with the energy of casinos, large resorts and a lively nightlife scene, while the French area of St. Martin is a bit more laid back. Here, visitors can enjoy restaurants and patisseries, upscale shopping and the sleepy nature of a small fishing village. The sun-drenched island is ringed by aquamarine waters that lap at some of the world’s most picturesque beaches -- ideal for the many thrilling watersports. If a visit to this tropical island is in your future, take a look at these top 7 tips for visiting St. Maarten and St. Martin:

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Topics: Caribbean, Italy, Mediterranean

Taking Care of Orchids: And Seeing Them Up Close in Hawaii

Hilo, Hawaii is the orchid capital of the world and you can see the island’s finest varieties at places like the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens. Located on the Big Island near Volcanoes National Park, the gardens offer a tranquil way to spend a leisurely afternoon or the perfect stop off on a rainy day. If you happen to be in the area during the summer months, make sure to catch a glimpse of the nursery’s $20,000 orchid -- a bloom brought over from Thailand in 1984 that portrays near-perfect symmetry.

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Topics: Hawaii

A Bridge to the Past: Finding Your Irish Heritage

Do you know where you come from? If you’re like more than 47 million other North Americans, you can trace your history back to the Emerald Isle. That’s why trips to Ireland continue to be a favorite of travelers. The idea of walking the same streets as a great-great grandmother or visiting the pub where your great-grandfather once worked links us across oceans and time; and a journey to Ireland often feels like a journey home.

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Topics: Ireland

To Market, To Market: Linz’ Weekend Market and Other Sites of the Hauptplatz

On a Saturday morning in Linz, Austria crowds of passengers stream out of the colorful red, white, and blue trams that skirt the Hauptplatz. A button accordion pumps out an old Oberkrainer folk piece and sun glistens off the white marble of the Trinity Column as the smell of fresh-baked bread tickles your nose. This is market day in the large city square, an imposing plaza, which dates back to the 13th century. Amidst all this history, couples sit lingering over their morning coffee at the cafes that ring the square and children kick a ball back and forth while waiting for mothers to fill their shopping baskets.

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Topics: Europe

The Making of The Bomb: Discover the Secret City of Los Alamos, New Mexico

When America first got wind that a group of German physicists had split a uranium atom, fear spread that the Nazis would soon have the capability of creating a bomb of unimaginable power. At the insistence of scientists Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi, President Roosevelt was persuaded to begin an atomic research program here in the states. The top-secret endeavor became known as the Manhattan Project.

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Topics: Planning a Vacation

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