From cruising near the top of the world on a Midnight Sun Safari to diving a whole-ship reef near the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, this year’s list of 10 best summer trips showcases some of the world’s wildest places, biggest festivals, and most awe-inspiring sights. Get inspired and go.—Maryellen Kennedy Duckett
Midnight Sun Safari
Lofoten, Nordland, Norway
Photograph by Banana Pancake, Alamy
Late May through mid-July, the midnight sun’s perpetual rays produce around-the-clock daylight in northern Norway’s Lofoten archipelago. Located in the Norwegian Sea north of the Arctic Circle, fairy-tale Lofoten, with its jagged peaks and quaint fishing hamlets, is the departure point for magical midnight sun safaris. One of the most spectacular options is a midnight voyage to open water, where the goldenrod sky appears to melt seamlessly into the shimmering sea. “Experiencing the landscape and wildlife in the extraordinary light and colors from the midnight sun is spectacular,” says Camilla Figenschou of Lofoten Adventure, a nature outfitter offering 2.5-hour midnight safaris departing at 10 p.m. The safari, which begins in the Henningsvær village harbor, passes seal and cormorant colonies and often provides breathtaking views of white-tailed sea eagles swooping down—wings (up to eight feet across) and talons extended—to snatch unsuspecting fish from the sea.
How to Get Around: Lofoten consists of seven main islands. The closest airport with daily service from Oslo is Harstad/Narvik Airport Evenes, located about 2.5 hours east. Rent a car at the airport to drive to Lofoten (the LOFAST road connects the mainland to the islands) or take the public bus. In Lofoten, travel options include ferries, passenger boats, public buses, and rental bikes, kayaks, and cars.
Where to Stay: Many of Lofoten’s traditional, barn-red, wood rorbu (fishermen’s cottages) have been restored as guest cabins. At Eliassen Rorbuer on the tiny island of Hamnøyin, there are 26 tidy, one- and two-bedroom cabins equipped with compact kitchens and living rooms, bunk beds, and, inexplicably, Wi-Fi. For unobstructed fjord and mountain views, book a unit perched on stilts at water’s edge. No linens are provided, so bring your own or pay the rental fee.
Where to Eat: Fiskekrogen’s location on Henningsvær harbor make this popular fish house a convenient choice for a pre-midnight safari meal. Try a traditional northern Norway dish, such as Lofoten Boknafisk: semi-dried cod chunks topped with diced stewed carrots and bacon and served with boiled potatoes and dollops of pea purée.
What to Buy: Artists have drawn inspiration from the Lofoten landscape since the 1880s, when large panoramic paintings displayed in Germany, Paris, and London introduced the world to the archipelago. Learn about Lofoten’s artistic evolution, and purchase island-inspired paintings, photographs, posters, and postcards in the gift shop of Galleri Lofoten Hus. Housed in a restored Henningsvær fish cannery, the gallery showcases a permanent collection of more than a hundred works by notable north Norwegian artists, including Karl Erik Harr and Gunnar Berg.
What to Read Before You Go: The Fellowship of Ghosts (Picador, 2006) chronicles novelist Paul Watkins’ solitary hiking-camping odyssey among Norway’s mountains and fjords.
Helpful Links: Visit Norway
Fun Fact: Lofoten Golf Links is the only golf course in the world where—for more than two months of the year—you can play in natural light all day and night. Thanks to the midnight sun and the seaside course’s location on the 68th parallel, midnattgolf season extends from late May to early August.
'North America’s Largest Urban Arts Festival'
Bumbershoot in Seattle, Washington
August 30-September 1, 2014
Photograph by Amber Zbitnoff
Now in its 44th year, Bumbershoot: Art in the Great Northleft, serves up a creative smorgasbord: live music, comedy, theater, dance, film, urban crafts, literary arts, and visual arts. “Bumbershoot is Seattle,” says Barbara Mitchell, spokesperson for One Reel, the not-for-profit producer of what’s billed as North America’s largest urban arts festival. “It’s a diverse, multigenerational crowd of people hanging out; exploring music, art, and comedy; letting their hair down; and reveling in the last weekend of summer.” Three world-class headliners (past years have featured Fun., Jane’s Addiction, and Tony Bennett) will perform outdoors at Memorial Stadium each day, and 74-time Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings will join in the popular Words & Ideas program. Big names are only the beginning of the Bumbershoot experience, though. Adds Mitchell: “Take a chance on lesser known local talent. It was only a few years ago that Macklemore and Death Cab for Cutie were playing on our small, regional-oriented stages.”
How to Get Around: From Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport, Central Link light rail is the most convenient and affordable ($2.75) way to get to downtown. All of the Bumbershoot indoor and outdoor venues are located in Seattle Center, which is within walking distance of downtown hotels and easily accessible via the Seattle Monorail and public transportation.
Where to Stay: From the glass of sparkling wine (or cider) at check-in to the in-room Keurig coffeemakers stocked with Starbucks, hip and high-end Hotel 1000 pampers guests—including pooches—with personal touches. The downtown boutique hotel’s 120 rooms and suites are stylishly furnished with 42-inch, high-definition TV screens streaming ambient nature images; luxurious Thai bed linens; and two-person pedestal bathtubs filled by a stream of water flowing from a ceiling-mounted water filler.
Where to Eat: Take the water taxi from downtown to the West Seattle dock, where the Marination Ma Kai food truck sets up shop six days a week (closed Mondays). The newest offering from Marination Mobile, the city’s big blue kitchen on wheels, Ma Kai has a full bar and waterfront patio on Alki Beach, where you can sit and watch the boats while you slurp a shaved ice (add the Husky Deli vanilla ice cream) or eat Hawaiian specialties such as seared-SPAM-and-rice wrapped in nori (edible seaweed) or kimchi fried-rice bowls topped with a sunny-side up egg.
What to Buy: Independent galleries like Venue and Local Color, a Pike Place Market café and working studio, showcase original gems from local and regional artists, such as Heather Davidson, who incorporates hand-drawn designs in her jewelry.
What to Watch Before You Go: The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge (Sasquatch Books, 2011) takes a detailed and entertaining look at the Seattle music scene circa 1976 to 1993.
Fun Fact: The star of the first Bumbershoot (called Festival ’71) in August 1971 was country and western singer, actor, and novelty song lyricist Sheb Wooley, best known for his 1958 hit “The Purple People Eater.” Wooley also wrote the theme song for the TV series Hee Haw and had a recurring role on the show as a drunken songwriter.
Staff Tip: Curly fries, funnel cake, and deep-fried mac-and-cheese might not be festival food for everyone. Bumbershoot.org lists vendors who offer vegan and gluten-free options, and there are three grocery stores within easy walking distance of Seattle Center (Metropolitan Market, QFC, and Safeway), so feel free to grab your own snacks before you enter the fairgrounds. Don't forget to bring your own reusable water bottle and fill up at stations throughout the festival. —Jeannette Kimmell, Editorial Business Manager, National Geographic Traveler Magazine
Canada’s Only Grizzly Bear Sanctuary
Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, Skeena-Queen Charlotte, British Columbia
Photograph by Westend61 GmbH, Alamy
Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, also known as K’tzim-a-deen Grizzly Sanctuary, is a wild, way-off-the-beaten-path land and marine park established specifically to safeguard grizzly bears and their habitat. Scientists estimate that about 50 grizzlies are protected by the no-hunting restrictions of the remote rain forest sanctuary.The only way to see the resident grizzlies is from a small boat or plane guided by a permitted outfitter, such as Sunchaser Eco-Tours and Bluewater Adventures. “As you enter the Khutzeymateen Inlet, the landscape changes dramatically,” says Erin Boyle, who traveled to the sanctuary as part of a Bluewater excursion. “In June, the mountains on both sides are carpeted in thick hemlock and bunches of alder, and the banks are lined with protein-rich sedge grass, an early-season staple for bears. We kept our binoculars trained on the shore, and it wasn’t long before a solitary, subadult grizzly was spotted at the water's edge grazing in the sun. It was peaceful and still, and [it] felt like we were a million miles away.”
How to Get Around: The sanctuary is located on British Columbia’s North Coast, about 28 miles northeast of Prince Rupert and about ten miles from the Alaska border. The closest communities with tourist services are Port Edward and Prince Rupert, where most guided tours originate.
Where to Stay: To maximize your grizzly sightings, book a three- to six-day tour (three-hour tours are also available), including meals and onboard lodging. The Bluewater Adventures expedition vessels can sleep 12 to 14, Sunchaser’s 40-foot sailboat accommodates six, and guests with Palmerville Adventures can stay either in a floating bunkhouse or in a tent on a dock. Multiday tours include optional activities such as kayaking, canoeing, and fishing.
Where to Eat: Although a recent dining room expansion diminished a bit of the authentic charm, Dolly’s Fish Market remains the place to go in Prince Rupert for fresh and hot fish-and-chips (lightly battered cod or halibut chunks served with homemade fries).
What to Buy: Handmade and hand-beaded moccasins; original paintings, prints, and cards; and functional and interpretive pottery pieces are among the handcrafted items available at the Ice House Gallery, a North Coast artists’ cooperative in Prince Rupert.
What to Read Before You Go: Award-winning photojournalist and conservationist Paul Nicklen's Bear: Spirit of the Wild (National Geographic, 2013) includes spectacular photos of British Columbia’s grizzly bears.
Fun Fact: The provincial park was created in partnership with the First Nations Gitsiis people, who have ancestral hunting and fishing ties to the lands and waters protected by the sanctuary. The Gitsiis are part of the Allied Tsimshian Tribes, and K’tzim-a-deen translates roughly to “valley at the head of the inlet” in the Coast Tsimshian language family.
Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia, August 16
Photograph by April Pyle, Moving Pictures Photography
No boating experience (or water) is required to participate in the Henley-on-Todd Regatta, a wacky winter celebration staged the third Saturday in August on the normally dry bed of the Todd River. Launched in 1962 and cancelled only once (in 1993 due to flooding), the regatta is the Northern Territory’s single longest running event. The signature element is raucous waterless “boat” racing: four-person, costumed crews in bottomless, homemade vessels. The competing crafts—typically decorated frames made from PVC piping, cardboard, and other lightweight building materials—have to resemble boats. Inside, crews stand single file, pick the vessel up, and run Flintstone-style to the finish line. Bring a crew and choose a premade boat to race, or build your own entry for the BYOB (Bring Your Own Boat) competition. The regatta kicks off with a walking boat parade and includes a series of offbeat offerings, including the Tour de Todd relay race, in which competitors roll across the sand in giant metal hamster wheels.
How to Get Around: Alice Springs is a remote outback town in Central Australia’s big and barren Red Centre, more than 900 miles from the closest cities (Darwin, 930 miles north, and Adelaide, 950 miles south) and about three hours by air from Sydney, Melbourne, or Perth. To cover a lot of distance safely and comfortably, rent a 4WD vehicle or camper van (including new pop-top Land Cruisers) from Apollo Motorhomes or Britz.
Where to Stay: RV, or caravan, camping at “holiday parks” is an affordable way to both stay in Alice Springs and explore the Red Centre. Add a few comforts of home (like electricity and a private bathroom) by reserving an Ensuite Powered Site at Big4 Macdonnell Range Holiday Park. If you’d rather save the camper van for driving, opt for one of the park’s budget cabins or deluxe villas (two-bedroom modular homes with modern kitchens and flat-screen TVs).
Where to Eat: The Aussie-centric menu at Red Ochre Grill Restaurant in Alice Springs changes seasonally, yet always incorporates fresh, native ingredients, such as Kurrajong flour, made from the roasted and ground hairy pods of native Kurrajong and Illawarra flame trees. Main courses include a culinary sampler of the Australian outback: kangaroo, saltwater barramundi, camel, and crocodile.
What to Buy: Mbantua Aboriginal Art Gallery in Alice Springs showcases aboriginal paintings from Central Australia. The gallery (the small museum is in the back) specializes in the vibrant, contemporary designs of the Utopia region, home of the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye, one of Australia’s most acclaimed artists. Mbantua’s original line of Utopia Giftware is for sale in the gallery and includes Utopian-design tablet cases, journals, and greeting cards
What to Read Before You Go: Originally published in 1950, Nevil Shute’s timeless World War II love story, A Town Like Alice (Vintage International, 2010), captures the essence of life in the remote and rugged Australian outback.
Fun Fact: Australia, the driest inhabited continent on Earth (Antarctica is drier), is ideally suited to host a waterless regatta. Among all the continents, Australia has the least amount of water in rivers. Heavy summer rain (November-March) north of Alice Springs can cause flash flooding in the Todd River. However, the typical summer flow, if any, is more of a trickle.
Alabama’s First Whole-Ship Diving Reef
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Photograph by David Benz
Southern Alabama is home to over 17,000 artificial reefs, including the sunken LuLu, the state’s first whole-ship artificial reef created specifically for recreational diving. Sunk on May 26, 2013, the 271-foot-long coastal freighter sits upright at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, about 17 nautical miles south of Perdido Pass in Orange Beach. As it transitions from ship to reef, it's attracting increasingly diverse marine life. “Nature has coated the LuLu with a layer of algae, the basic food source for many marine organisms,” says Vince Lucido, president of the Alabama Gulf Coast Reef and Restoration Foundation, which coordinated the sinking of the LuLu (previously known as the M.V. Yokamu). “The interior is covered with thousands of baby scallops; the hull is dotted with spiny sea urchins; and the whole ship is swarming with snapper, grouper, triggerfish, and clouds of baitfish looking for an opportunistic meal.”
How to Get Around: The neighboring cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are located at the southernmost tip of Alabama on the Gulf of Mexico, between Mobile (50 miles northwest) and Pensacola, Florida, (35 miles east). To dive the LuLu, book an offshore charter with full-service dive outfitter Down Under Dive Shop in Gulf Shores.
Where to Stay: The Original Romar House Bed and Breakfast Inn was built as a private beach house in 1924 and opened as Alabama’s first seaside bed and breakfast inn in 1991. The adults-only property has five individually appointed guest rooms, one suite, and a private cottage. All are furnished with antiques and each is named for a local celebration or iconic symbol, such as the Red Snapper Room and the Shrimp Festival Room. Rates include a full breakfast with made-from-scratch dishes like manager Greg Collard’s Poor Man's Eggs Benedict—a thick slice of fresh French bread topped with a pat of real butter and layers of thick-sliced ham, fresh spinach, and Swiss cheese, baked and served with two hot poached eggs on top.
Where to Eat: Bring your fresh catch straight from a charter boat or the Gulf State Park Pier to Shipp’s Harbour Grill in Orange Beach for the “You hook it, we cook it” option. For $12.95 (or $2.00 more for the gourmet version), chef Matt Shipp will blacken or fry your fish and add a salad and sides (try the smoked gouda mashed potatoes). Dine outside on the covered porch overlooking the boats.
What to Buy: Paintings, photographs, jewelry, pottery, and glass pieces created by local and regional artists are available for purchase in the gallery of the Coastal Arts Center in Orange Beach. While at the center, visit the Hot Shop—Alabama’s only public-access glass studio—to watch the resident glass artist at work or to take a glass-blowing lesson (advance reservations required).
What to Watch Before You Go: Forrest Gump was filmed primarily in South Carolina and California, but the characters, traditions, and devotion to Crimson Tide football is pure Alabama.
Helpful Tip: The minimum requirements to dive the LuLu are open water certification and an SMB (surface marker buoy). The ship’s wheelhouse (the tallest part of the structure and the shallowest depth to begin exploring the ship) starts at 60 feet below the surface of the water. The cargo hold area is about 30 feet deeper, and the sandy floor of the gulf is another 25 feet down—about 115 feet below the surface.
Fun Fact: The short-lived 2013 Weather Channel reality series Reef Wranglers starred David Walter, owner of Orange Beach-based Walter Marine Reefmaker Artificial Reefs and Marine Ecosystems. Walter came up with the idea of turning the LuLu into a diving reef, and handled the towing, cleaning, and sinking of the ship.
Ride the Rails
Jungfraujoch-Top of Europe, Switzerland
Photograph by Yu Yang, Corbis
Switzerland’s sky-high complex of restaurants, attractions, and buildings known as Jungfraujoch-Top of Europe includes Europe’s highest altitude railway station, sitting 2,300 feet below the 13,642-foot summit of the Jungfrau, the third highest peak in the Bernese Alps. Board the 102-year-old cogwheel Jungfrau Railway at Kleine Scheidegg for the 50-minute climb to the Jungfraujoch station. Most of the ride is inside a 4.3-mile-long tunnel carved through the Eiger and Mönch mountains. “Two intermediate stations inside the tunnel give passengers the chance to experience views typically reserved for expert mountain climbers,” says Rob Laan, owner of Jungfrau Tours, an official Swiss Federal Railway agent. “At the Eiger North Face (Station Eigerwand), you can look out of the most difficult north face in the Alps, and Station Eismeer, or ‘sea of ice,’ provides panoramic views over the glacier behind the Eiger.” Once at the top, visit the Ice Palace (a hand-hewn, glacial cavern built in the 1930s), then hike across the Aletsch Glacier. On clear days, take in sweeping Alpine views extending as far as Germany’s Black Forest.
How to Get Around: Kleine Scheidegg is located about 17 miles southeast of Interlaken. Buy Jungfrau Railway tickets online or at any Swiss Federal Railway station. For a longer trip, book a multiday panorama train excursion, including a Jungfrau Railway segment, with Jungfrau Tours.
Where to Stay: Interlaken’s belle époque-style Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa, built in 1865, has 224 guest rooms and suites elegantly appointed with soundproof parquet floors and marble bathrooms. Ask for a deluxe room with Jungfrau view. The onsite 59,201-square-foot spa is a palatial wellness world with pools, fitness classes, massage, and a private spa-within-a-spa (sauna, steam shower, pool, lounge) for two.
Where to Eat: Authentic Swiss dishes, such as cheese fondue and rösti (potato pancake), are staples at Hirschen Hotel Restaurant, a low-key, chalet-style inn and dining room in Interlaken-Matten. Dinner is a more elaborate production at Spycher Restaurant, located in the Congress Centre Kursaal Interlaken, where everyone’s encouraged to join the yodeling at the nightly folklore show.
What to Buy: Take the 17-minute train ride from the Interlaken Ost station to Brienz, home of the Jobin Traditional Arts and Crafts Center. Watch master woodcarvers in the center’s Swiss Woodcarving Museum, schedule a hands-on class to make your own music box, or purchase a hand-carved wooden frame or music box at the onsite shop.
What to Watch Before You Go: Several scenes in the 1975 Clint Eastwood action thriller The Eiger Sanction were filmed in and around the Hotel Bellevue des Alpes at Kleine Scheidegg.
Helpful Link: Switzerland Tourism
Fun Fact: From April through early September, "Snow Fun" activities like skiing, snowboarding, and tubing are available (no reservations required) on a family-friendly slope located near the Jungfraujoch railway station. If you’re up for bigger thrills, glide over the glacier on the Tyrolienne high-speed zip line.
Staff Tip: It's fun to walk around the glacier at the top of the Jungfrau, but be sure to bring a sweater or jacket—it's always cold at the top, even if it's a warm day at the bottom. And check the weather before you go—if it's cloudy you'll miss the spectacular view. —Marilyn Terrell, Chief Researcher, National Geographic Traveler Magazine
Wild Oregon Coast Drive
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, Oregon
Photograph by Dennis Frates, Alamy
The Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor offers some of the wildest views on Oregon’s rugged and rocky coastline. This 12-mile section of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (Highway 101) on the state’s southern coast is a linear state park. Multiple pull offs and scenic overlooks provide easy access to remote beaches and tide pools, as well as views of crashing waves, harbor seals, colossal rock arches, forested sea stacks, and sculpted sandstone formations. The park also includes 27 miles of the Oregon Coast Trail and the 345-foot-high Thomas Creek Bridge, the highest in the state. “Every time I travel through this corridor, I have a ‘wow’ moment because the views are truly breathtaking,” says Gold Beach city administrator Jodi Fritts. “I particularly love the Cape Ferrelo Viewpoint. The view from the cliff makes you feel like you're at the end of the world.”
How to Get Around: North to south on Highway 101, the scenic corridor begins about 15 miles south of Gold Beach near milepost 343 and ends just north of Brookings near milepost 355. The closest airports to Gold Beach are Southwest Oregon Regional Airport in North Bend (81 miles north), and the larger Rogue Valley International in Medford (151 miles east).
Where to Stay: Fall asleep to the sounds of the crashing surf in Gold Beach at Ireland’s Rustic Lodges, an eclectic collection of basic, knotty pine paneled cabins, motel and hotel rooms, modern condos and suites, and oceanfront beach houses. Most units (except those in the Sea Garden building) have fireplaces or wood stoves. The Ireland family first welcomed guests in the 1930s, and the rambling property—flowering gardens, wild sea grass, towering pines—remains relatively unchanged.
Where to Eat: At the Sea Star Spirit House, a cozy, weathered-wood coastal bar on Highway 101 in Gold Beach, grab a glass of Gold Beach Lager or Pistol River Pale (locally brewed by Arch Rock Brewing Company) before heading next door to Saltwater for a plate of Pistol River Pale Fish and Chips. The beer-battered halibut is fresh caught daily, and the homemade chips (you can opt for onion rings or fries) are hot and thick cut.
What to Buy: Myrtlewood (Umbellularia californica), a laurel family hardwood tree native to the southern Oregon and northern California coasts, is hand-turned, sanded, and finished into bowls, cutting boards, and tabletop lighthouses (pulsing beacon included) at Rogue River Myrtlewood in Gold Beach. Ask for a behind-the-scenes tour.
What to Read Before You Go: Often referred to as the quintessential Oregon novel, the 1964 classic Sometimes a Great Notion (Penguin Books, 1977) by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey is a family saga set in a coastal Oregon logging community.
Fun Fact: In Oregon, the coastline is considered a public right of way. The 1967 Oregon Beach Bill guarantees that the public enjoys “free and uninterrupted use” of beaches along the state’s 360-mile coast, and designates the ocean shore as a state recreation area.
High-Altitude Andean Horseback Riding
Hacienda Zuleta, Imbabura, Ecuador
Photograph by Chad Case, Alamy
At Hacienda Zuleta, a 4,000-acre working ranch and ecolodge in the Andean foothills, horseback riding trails at 9,000 to 11,000 feet lead to high-altitude forests, local indigenous villages, pre-Inca sites, and sweeping mountain vistas. The ranch’s distinctive Zuleteño horses (a crossbreed of Andalusian, English, and quarter horses) are acclimated to the altitude and adept at navigating the somewhat challenging terrain. “There are horses and trails to accommodate every level of rider,” says ranch guest June McCormack. “I hadn’t been on a horse in years, and I had an amazing experience. We had a picnic out in the field near the ruins; they brought the horses out to us, and any guest who wanted could just jump on [and] join the guided ride.”
How to Get Around: Hacienda Zuleta is located about two hours northeast of Quito, Ecuador’s capital city. Flights arrive at the new international airport (opened in 2013) just north of the capital. The ranch staff can arrange round-trip transportation from Quito or the airport, or provide detailed maps and recommendations to guests who want to self-drive.
Where to Stay: Hacienda Zuleta’s Spanish colonial-style ecolodge, built as a private estate in 1691, was home to two former Ecuadorian presidents, including Galo Plaza Lasso, who initiated local projects to help preserve indigenous Zuleta culture. His descendants, who own the ranch, keep Plaza's sustainable development legacy alive through the Galo Plaza Lasso Foundation. They also maintain the ecolodge’s authentic atmosphere by outfitting all 15 rooms with old photos, antique furniture, and linens hand-embroidered by local women. The comfy duvets (covered with rose petals when you arrive) and in-room fireplace (lit each evening by the attentive staff) are much appreciated on the Andean highland's chilly summer nights.
Where to Eat: Room rates include three meals a day plus afternoon snack. As a working ranch, Hacienda Zuleta produces the bulk of the bounty served on the rustic wood dining tables. Milk from the Holstein-Friesian cows is used to create a variety of Ecuadorian cheeses, as well as yogurt, cream, hand-churned butter, and fresh milk in the on-site creamery and cheese factory. Homemade bread is made from estate-grown wheat, and the organic garden produces 25 different vegetables, herbs, and fruits. Main courses often include steelhead and rainbow trout raised in the trout farm, and sheep raised on the ranch for both meat and wool.
What to Buy: Support indigenous Zuleteño artisans by purchasing locally made goods—such as hand-embroidered tablecloths, placemats, and towels adorned with vibrant floral patterns—at El Taller (the workshop). The shop is located at the ranch but self-managed by the embroidery artists, who regularly demonstrate their craft for guests.
What to Read Before You Go: Cañar: A Year in the Highlands of Ecuador (University of Texas Press, 2005) chronicles photojournalist Judy Blankenship’s experiences living and working among an indigenous community in the Ecuadorian highlands.
Cultural Tip: Spend a couple of restful days in Quito to get acclimated to the high altitude before heading to the ranch and engaging in vigorous activities, such as hiking and horseback riding. As extra precaution, you may want to ask your physician for a prescription for acetazolamide, an oral medication used to reduce the severity and duration of altitude sickness symptoms, such as dizziness, shortness of breath, and headache.
Fun Fact: The Hacienda Zuleta property includes Condor Huasi, an Andean condor rehabilitation and education center. Weighing up to 33 pounds and with a wingspan of up to 10.5 feet, Andean condors are among the largest birds in the world able to fly. Guests can tour the center to observe the captive Andean condors and learn about ongoing efforts—such as providing food for wild condors—to support the survival of this endangered species.
World’s Largest Free Blues Festival
31st Chicago Blues Festival,
June 13-15, 2014
Photograph by Timothy Hiatt, Getty Images
After another seemingly endless winter, Windy City residents welcome warm weather with a series of summer celebrations. The Chicago Blues Festival is one of the first up. It’s also one of the city’s largest annual outdoor music events, as well as the largest free blues fest in the world. More than 500,000 people are expected to gather in Grant Park for three days of free performances and panel discussions on five stages. This year’s lineup includes Aaron Neville, Bettye Lavette, Dr. John, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and celebrated blues drummer Sam Lay. “Blues music is deeply rooted in Chicago. The best musicians on the planet are here, and artists from all over clamor to perform in Chicago,” says Mary May, who helps coordinate the annual blues bash for the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. “If you aren’t a big fan of the blues when you arrive at the festival, you will be when you leave.”
How to Get Around: Grant Park is located in the Loop, Chicago’s central downtown business district. Walking, taxis, and public transportation are the easiest ways to get from downtown hotels to Grant Park and area attractions. Buy a three-day CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) pass ($20) for unlimited city bus and rail (known as the "L") travel.
Where to Stay: The sleek, urban-chic Hotel Chicago is conveniently located downtown in Marina City (where you can rent a Duffy Electric Boat from the Chicago Electric Boat Company next to the House of Blues). Book a king superior room for the floor-to-ceiling city views. If budget isn’t an issue—or you’re traveling with an entourage—unleash your inner Blues Brother in one of the hotel’s 1,720-square-foot Jake and Elwood Suites.
Where to Eat: Splurge on the legendary Sunday brunch buffet ($55; blood orange mimosa or signature Bloody Mary $8 extra) at old-school Shaw’s Crab House. The land and sea options range from malted Belgian waffles to Maryland-style crab cakes. For Chicago classic stuffed pizza (pepperoni, mushroom, green pepper, and onion), place your order at any of the city’s Giordano’s locations. They’ll give you a time to come back (typically about 40 minutes later) and will seat you and serve you when your pizza is done.
What to Buy: Pick up a signature blue tin of the Chicago Mix (gourmet caramel crisp and cheese popcorn blend) at Garrett Popcorn Shops (ten Chicago locations). Garrett has been popping in the city since 1949, and while they now have locations worldwide, the addictive, sweet-and-salty classic blend (other flavors are available) somehow tastes best bought—and munched—in Chicago.
What to Watch Before You Go: The Blues Brothers ticks all the boxes for Blues Festival prep: wild action scenes filmed on location throughout the city; musical performances by blues legends Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Cab Calloway; and John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s toe-tapping cover of “Sweet Home Chicago.”
Fun Fact: The distinctive Chicago blues sound (which was perfected by the legendary Muddy Waters) amps up traditional Mississippi Delta blues with an infusion of electric guitar, amplified bass, powerful harmonica, and drums.
Island and Beach Bird-Watching
Magdalen Islands, Quebec
Photograph by Egmont Strigl, Alamy
Approximately 200 species of nesting, migratory, and indigenous birds spend time on Les Îles de la Madeleine, or the Magdalen Islands, a windswept archipelago in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In summer, birders scan rocky cliffs, marshes, ponds, and dunes to spot species such as the blue-eyed northern gannet, the North Atlantic’s largest indigenous seabird, with a wingspan ranging up to six feet. Weather permitting, join a guided Zodiac tour to the migratory bird sanctuary Bird Rock, home to colonies of petrels, gannets, gulls, and razorbills. “Bird Rock, Brion Island, and the East Point National Wildlife Reserve are magical places,” says Tourisme Îles de la Madeleine agent Danièle Houde. “Look for species here that are in danger of extinction, such as the black-legged kittiwake nesting in some of the islands’ cliffs, and the roseate tern, typically seen around the East Point National Wildlife Reserve, where it might nest.”
How to Get Around: Driving is the most convenient option, since Route 199 connects all of the main islands except Entry Island (accessible by ferry). Bring your own car on the five-hour ferry ride from Souris, Prince Edward Island, or fly to Îles de la Madeleine Airport and rent a car. Book Bird Rock, Brion Island, and Entry Island birding tours with Excursion en Mer.
Where to Stay: La Salicorne Inn, located on Grande-Entrée Island (“the lobster capital of Quebec”), was developed as part of a local nonprofit’s mission to create jobs by promoting sustainable tourism focused on authentic cultural and nature-based experiences. All 26 rooms are equipped with furniture crafted by Madelinot cabinetmaker Félix Leblanc. Vacation Passport 2014 packages can include lodging, plus breakfast, dinner, transportation, and activities. The inn is located close to the East Point National Wildlife Reserve and La Plage de la Grande Echouerie (Old Harry Beach), 14 miles of pristine sand dune.
Where to Eat: Owner Sonia Painchaud uses locally sourced ingredients (such as lobster, mussels, and wild boar sausage) and plays a mean accordion at Café de la Grave, a boisterous bistro located seaside in La Grave on Havre-Aubert. Ask for the English menu, and try the local favorite clam chowder and galettes à la morue (fish cakes).
What to Buy: L’Étal (the Local Stall) in Cap-aux-Meules showcases items grown, produced, and harvested on the island, such as L’Anse aux Herbes seasonings and lobster-flavored oil, Miel en Mer honey, and Cap Sur Mer razor clams. While you shop, wear a pair of loaner headphones to listen to songs by local musicians like Claude Cormier and Jay Keating.
What to Read Before You Go: Les Îles de la Madeleine is the setting for murder mystery Entry Island (Quercus, January 2014), the latest novel by award-winning Scottish crime writer Peter May.
Fun Fact: Bird Rock used to be home to the great auk, a penguin-like flightless bird. The North Atlantic native became extinct in 1844 due to overhunting and the misguided conservation efforts of museums, which preserved and displayed the skins of great auks instead of protecting the actual birds.
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