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White sun-washed sand stretches for miles, against a backdrop of brilliant aquamarine ocean. You might think this is the Caribbean, but the Gulf Coast shore of Florida has some incredibly beautiful beaches that can give Caribbean ones a run for their money.
One of the most fun and relaxing Gulf Coast Florida getaways is Marco Island. This six-by-four mile island is the largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, stretching south from Naples through the Everglades and to the Florida Keys. Situated along the white sand beach is the island’s premier resort, the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort. This large, full service resort has everything from amazing pools, the beach, top-notch dining, a full wedding and event location, private golf course and spa. The Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort is the place to come for romantic getaways, family vacations, friend get-togethers or a special event. It’s one of those places that has something for everyone, and enough variety that you may never feel the need to leave!
There is space for everyone in the resort’s 726 guest rooms including 63 suites. Most have private terraces with amazing ocean and/or pool views, and the décor is inspired by South Pacific style. Plush, sink-into-them beds, spacious bathrooms and state-of-the-art technology make relaxing in the rooms a pleasure.
Suites treat guests to an exceptional experience, offering awe-inspiring Gulf Coast views in a luxurious tropical oasis. Junior Suites range from 800-2080 square feet, and Presidential Suites are 1800-3000 square feet of sanctuaries in the sky, bathed in natural light. The Presidential Suites were fully renovated in 2013.
The pools are pretty amazing here. There are two, and both are outdoor, large and heated. In particular, the Tiki Fantasy pool is a wonderland for kids, with a grotto, splash zones and a water slide. A poolside bar with basic food offerings such as burgers and sandwiches at both pools makes hanging out for hours enjoyable, and there seem to be plenty of lounge chairs even at peak times. Towels are provided at the poolside cabanas.
Speaking of kids, the Tiki Tribe is the Marco Island Marriott’s supervised children’s program, available for ages five to 12. The fee is $70 per day.
For golf aficionados, look no further than the Rookery at Marco, an award-winning private golf course just a 15-minute drive from the Marriott (which offers a complimentary shuttle). Designed to embrace the native surroundings of Naples, the prestigious course offers a driving range and putting green, clubhouse and restaurant, lessons and rentals, and a Kids Golf-4-Free program. The course is set to undergo a $4 million dollar renovation soon.
On the beach just in front of the resort, a host of activities are available (most at an extra fee) including volleyball, tennis, sailing, kayaking, jet-skiing and boating.
The Spa at Marco Island Marriott offers a relaxing environment with a Balinese style, with a full menu of treatments available. There are also plunge pools, therapy baths, a steam room and fitness classes here. The spa is adults-only, so if you tire of too much commotion at the outdoor pools you can always buy a $35 day pass and enjoy the spa facilities.
Other facilities include:
As you would expect with a resort of this size, there are a lot of options that range from poolside casual to upscale gourmet. The informal Tropiks offers a sumptuous, expansive breakfast buffet ($26). 400 Pazzis is casual, serving pizza and paninis for lunch and dinner. Tiki Bar & Grill is light fare set poolside, open at lunch and dinner.
Also open for lunch and dinner, Quinn’s on the Beach specializes in Caribbean dishes and inventive tropical cocktails; a tradition is to watch the sunset here and toast it with a Green Flash drink. A highlight of my dinner at Quinn’s was the fire dancing that occurred just outside on the beach, and easily viewable from most tables in the restaurant.
Korals just off the lobby provides a place to grab some sushi and a drink in a very nice, lounge-like atmosphere. For me, the sushi was a bit hit-and-miss; but some other dishes – such as the lobster rigatoni – were amazing. Kurrents is the most upscale restaurant at the Marriott, with prime steak entrees and seafood dishes such as a Chilean Sea Bass.
At the golf club, you will find the Rookery Grill and Hammock Bay Grill serving casual breakfast and lunch.
One of the perhaps most surprising facts about Marco Island is that it contains one of the largest prehistoric archaeological site in the Eastern United States, just south of the main island on Key Marco. Long before tourists arrived, the Calusa Indians established a highly developed society which left more than a thousand wooden artifacts discovered to date The area also features highways over large shell mounds over 40 feet high from the period of the Calusa Indians.
The area is also a prime spot for frolicking dolphins and fascinating sea turtles. In fact, during the turtle nesting season the Marriott Resort imposes a light blackout ban at 9 pm; if your guest room lights are left on without your blackout drapes drawn, staff will go in and close them. The minimal lighting is to protect the nesting turtles and their eggs. Other local wildlife includes many species of birds, and Everglades National Park is very nearby, which makes a wonderful day excursion. Fishing and other water sports are top draws here, and if your tastes run more to shopping or sophisticated city life, spend a day or evening in nearby Naples.
Good to Know
At this time, there are no adult-only floors. During my stay, I was next door to a family with several loud children who woke up very early, and I could hear them clearly. Definitely a slight dent in my aura of relaxation. This was over Fourth of July weekend, a prime family time and outside summer, there are generally far fewer children at the resort. However, I would highly recommend that the Marriott implement a simple policy of guest room floors for families and separate ones for adults only.
Internet in the guest rooms is not provided as a courtesy, which I believe should be standard in all hotels. Expect to pay $9.95 a day for it, or $16.95 daily if you want enhanced high-speed wi-fi access. All public areas of the hotel do provide complimentary wireless connection.
The onsite parking fee is a reasonable $12 per day, or $22 for valet parking.
Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort
400 South Collier Boulevard
Marco Island, FL 34145
Phone: (239) 394-2511
Rates: $189-525; Suites $759 and up
"Burning man, how was it?" Asks everyone. Words cannot properly describe the week I’ve just had at the Burning Man festival, but I’ll give it a shot. I am an avid festiver go-er, though never have I experienced an event remotely like Burning Man. You may have heard the event described as a concert, a giant workshop, a festival, a conference, an art exhibition, a temporary commune, an experiment, or a bunch of naked people camping in the desert. I agree 'Yes and no' to all such round ups. Let me explain..
Burning Man is the world’s largest temporary city. It is close to a hundred thousand people together in the desert for one week, held in Nevada's Black Rock desert of the USA. As an annual event, Burning Man brings together people's celebrations of art, music, workshops, dance, yoga, and creative gatherings on a mass scale. All leading up to a traditional Saturday ceremony where a symbollic man sculpture is set alight 'burning the man.' Art is a big part of the experience with a dedicated theme each year, such as Time, The Floating World, The American Drean and this year 2014 was Caravansary.
So what does one actually do at Burning Man? This is the kind of festival everyone experiences differently, so I'll give you the break down of mine. On reflection, my time does sound like some very warped children’s story. Most people travel to Burning Man with a group, which I did, and each day we would start by sharing tales of the previous days amazingadventures.
“..First thing inn the morning, I hopped on the back of a mechanical dragon taking me to a wedding in the most beautiful temple I have ever seen, right in the heart of this desert festival. Then, I climbed inside a car decked out as a potion bottle for a ride to a yoga workshop, which halfway through - I left. This was so I could dance along the road with an alien marching band, leading me to a butterfly woman who gave me the best hug of my entire life and told a happy tear jerking life story. The butterfly woman gave me some refreshing fruit and drinks, then introduced a man in a rubber suit who discussed the concept of reality, love, and perception, along with the meaning of life.
At this point, to my bewilderment, out thousands of people at Burning Man, my own burning man family walk in the door. No need to quesiton how they found me. A simple smile, nod, hug and understanding were given. ‘Well of course you found me, its Burning Man's Black Rock City’.
Night descends, we link arms and walk onto the beach. Breathtaking fire and lights are a beautiful sight for us, then in the blink of an eye my family disappear into the night again. Heart racing and completely overwhelmed, I don't panic, rather quickly make new friends and jump inside a naughty teapot installation with them. My new friends and I catch a lift to a surprise show from Skrillex and Major Lazor. It was fantastic. We dance and sing for hours until a flaming octopus came along and showed us the path to a volcano with a slide inside. Soon exhausted, we found reprieve in a library where all books are written by patrons. So in quiet contemplation each of my new friends sit and write ..until the sun rises behind an art sculpture showing two giant wooden lovers caught in embrace.
I took the hand of a leopard princess and walked home across the desert. Bones weary and with the lights and sounds of The Playa fading behind us, we collapse into blankets and pillows and drift off to sleep. Soft sounds of The Doors and Star Wars theme music are a distant lullaby. For a second, I look up and smile, knowing that life is great and that tomorrow it all begins again. But first sleep.
This was only one day at the event, I can barely scrape the surface of feelings, emotions and profound happenings which Burning Man present to you. People are together in the desert not just surviving as they say, but thriving. It is the most profound expression of human potential that I have ever personally witnessed. It is a place in the world truly showing just how wonderful life can be, for all people - if simply given a space of freedom, of love, acceptance and support. I'd recommend the experience to anyone.
Ticket info, getting there, Q&A
Buenos Aires is a vibrant and lively city, full of passionate people, classical architecutre, gastronimical delights, stylish shopping, group dogwalkers, and plenty of history. If you haven’t yet booked accommodation, head to the Palermo Soho or Palermo Hollywood district. With similar character to New York's Soho, or London's Cambden, all you need to experience this stylish city is within close walking distance.
Palermo Soho & Palermo Hollywood are exceptionally reliable for gastronomie dining and night drinks, and of course shopping. Wandering the streets you might walk an entire block without seeing a single restaurant, only to discover the perfect eatery for your evening, hidden out of the way. This is the Palermo area charm. Great walking streets are Thames, Costa Rica, El Salvador or anything leading to or stemming off Plaza Serrano. A good idea is to get a taxi to drop you there - then just wander around, as it will be the best introduction to the area. Locals hang in Palermo Soho & Palermo Hollywood, as opposed to tourists, meaning a charming BA atmosphere exists. Definitely visit by day as well - for cute shops are scattered throughout the area and mostly only open in daylight.
Palermo Soho is hands down one of the best places to shop in Buenos Aires. Plenty of local designers in boutique stores are situated along almost every street, definitely wear your comfy walking shoes! On the weekends all around Plaza Serrano is a design fair for up-and-coming designers who can’t afford to display wares in real shops - and so you find amazing hand-made designs for a great price.
Nearby on Sunday go to Feria de San Telmo, a touristy antiques market that fills the Plaza Dorrego with stalls of costume jewellery, vintage movie posters and all sorts. Browse mini-stalls and watch street performers as you shop. This is pretty close to La Boca, the touristy place with the colourful houses and tango dancers, so worth having a look at both places in one hit.
The artisan markets in San Telmo are absolutely wonderful but only on weekends. Stick around to watch the tango dancers.
An interesting day activity which involves absorbing and understanding the city's politival background, is a trip to the Evita Museum. The amazing wardrobe of Eva peron has been preserved at the Evita Museum, aka Museo Evita, along with detailed documentation of her rise to fame, and Argentina’s love/hate affair with Evita.
Recoleta is a wonderful suburb, very safe and very wealthy. Make sure to visit the famous Recoleta cemetery. Here you'll visit Evita Peron’s tomb and have a guide tell you the history of her life with her presidential husband Juan Peron. There are also fun markets in the park on the weekends in Recoleta.
A great evening is spent Salsa dancing into the early hours of the morning at La Catedral, a charming oversized salsa-only dance floor converted from an 1880’s cathedral hall with live band and art pieces covering wall to ceiling. Best kept secret, no website just an address. La Catedral, Sarmiento 4006, Almagro, Buenos Aires.
Jardin Escondido in Buenos Aire's trendy Palermo Soho district is a divine seven bedroom villa where a young Sofia Coppola and father Francis Ford Coppola’s spent time with family and which is now open as a hotel style villa, kept almost exactly as they had.
Home hotel Located in Palermo Hollywood, Home hotel is a modern and peaceful escape from the city's hustle a bustle, with agreat outdoor pool garden bar downstairs open on weekends.
Everything happens at night in the boho-cool cosmopolitan city that is Buenos Aires. You'll find most people sleep in the day, then go for dinner at 11pm and party into the night with tango and drinking til wee-hours. Take note, if you turn up to a restaurant at 8.30-9pm it will probably still be empty. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your state of mind!
Try these eateries..
Bar 6 – Armenia 1676, Palermo Soho
Café-cum-bar-cum-restaurant that fearlessly mixes styles. Very cool for lunch or dinner.
Mott – El Salvador 4685, Palermo Soho
Breaks the cosy mould of Palermo’s eating establishments and introduces an industrial aesthetic to the area. Great for lunch or dinner – doesn’t start dinner menu until after 8:30pm, but you can grab a gormet burger or salad before that.
Las Cabras - Locals line the streets waiting for the mouth watering Argentinean BBQ’s served al fresco. Think thick juicy steak, melting BBQ camembert, Parilla of Chorizo with a fine glass of Malbec.
Freddo icecream - Or any gelati venue really. Try the Dulce de Leche flavour, or banana split. There's no going back!
The metro is a great way to get around quickly by day, and taxis are super cheap by night.
The chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador is famous for its inspiration of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection. Here on the Galapagos Islands, animals have evolved and adapted to survive in ways found nowhere else on earth.
I recently had the incredible opportunity to go on a 7-day Galapagos wildlife cruise with Ecoventura, one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable tourism companies in the Ecuadorian archipelago. We set off from San Cristobal, on a path that crossed the equator six times and visited 7 islands during the week. Hiking, snorkeling and kayaking were all part of the activities to view the islands and their unique ecosystems and wildlife.
One of the most unusual aspects of Galapagos wildlife is how unafraid they are, how completely unperturbed they are by people. Because they are protected and mostly have no natural predators, they really fear little and see no threat from humans in modern times. They do not flee — there is no searching and waiting to spot wildlife. It is right there in front of you, and you can walk right up to them. Our Ecoventura guides, both named Pepe, were clear about the rules not to touch or interact with the animals. But you literally can walk right up to them — iguanas, birds in their nests with babies, sea lions who will swim right up to the boat and want to play.
This can also be their downfall, if not properly protected. "The Islands retain a staggering 95% of their endemic species, a feat unparalleled on any other archipelago in the world," says Santiago Dunn, owner of Ecoventura. "Keeping Galapagos biologically pristine has been and continues to be, a constant and hard-waged battle. Tourism to this remote volcanic archipelago is both part of the solution and also part of the problem."
One thing I really liked about the Ecoventura line, besides the wonderful guides and staff, was their dedication to making the least footprint possible on this ecosystem. The boat we were on, The Eric, had solar panels and wind turbines to supplement the power. Ecoventura was was the first company to earn and maintain the ecological certification, SmartVoyager, and the first Galapagos cruise ship company to offset carbon emissions and to install alternative energy sources.
This is so important in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin’s enchanted isles are one of our planets most precious and unique ecosystems, home to an extraordinary profusion of exotic flora and fauna. In 1959, a hundred years after the publication of The Origin of Species, Ecuador declared 97% of the Islands landmass a national park and in 2001, the marine reserve was established.
In 2007, three decades after being designated the first World Heritage Site, UNESCO declared Galapagos as a World Heritage Site at risk, citing introduction of alien species, illegal fishing, unsustainable tourism, illegal migration and population growth. Galapagos was later removed from the list in 2010, but many conservationists feel this was done prematurely as the Islands still remain very much at risk.
Arrivals to the Galapagos have tripled in the past 15 years due to the growth in land-based tourism operations. During this time the type of tourism available to visitors has changed with land based accommodation and activities now representing 50% of the market, according to the Galapagos Conservation Trust. Pressure to build resort style hotels and bring larger cruise ships to Galapagos is a constant reality.
"The growing number of settlers migrating from the mainland of Ecuador to the islands, largely in response to the recent boom in tourism, has also put pressure on a fragile environment that imperils the entire ecosystem," Dunn adds.
Visiting the islands by water, as a tourist, has by far a lower impact than land tourism. The number of highly regulated, self-contained non-diving live-aboard tour boats has not changed since 1998 after the introduction of the Special Law for Galapagos.
Ecoventura is committed to providing an authentic experience in small compatible groups, lessening the impact on the wildlife, offering value, and a safe, memorable, mind-expanding voyage. The company began offering tours in the Galapagos in 1991 and started “greening” the operation and equipment in 1999, and later worked toward reducing carbon emissions and ensuring the local community benefits by tourism through educational opportunities and supporting marine conservation.
So, what should a potential visitor to the Galapagos know, in terms of how to select a reputable tour operator and how to visit the Galapagos in a way that won’t harm it?
“They need to do their research through guide books, Trip Advisor, etc. or through a trade organization such as IGTOA (international Galapagos Tour Operators Association),” Dunn suggests. “Unless people have limited time and budget or prefer ports to nature, we suggest they book a tour boat versus a hotel or island hopping trip for various reasons.”
Liveaboards are self-contained and have less impact on the local limited resources. Convenience, all the planning and logistics are done, the itinerary is set, all meals are provided, and there is continuity, and you only have to pack and unpack once.
Navigating at night means fewer daylight hours are lost while spent in transit and passengers have more time on the islands. Tour boats, also called liveaboards, visit the islands and wildlife in the early morning and late afternoon, when wildlife is more active and the sun less intense.
IGTOA also provides a few other tips for visitors to the Galapagos:
Do not take any food or drink other than water to the uninhabited islands. Do not touch or feed the animals. A distance of six feet between you and an animal is required. Also, do not allow them to touch you.
Ask your tour operator if they have a responsible tourism policy. Only travel with operators that can demonstrate that they are doing as much as they can to support conservation efforts and ensure that local people benefit as a result of tourism.
Consider your environmental impact when traveling. Fully cooperate with environmental inspection and quarantine services personnel during your visit. Introduced plants, animals, and certain foods not native to the islands are a serious threat to the delicate ecosystems here.
Do not buy souvenirs or objects made of native plants or animals from the islands, especially black coral, volcanic rocks, native woods, sea lion teeth, or tortoise shells
Travel with a local tour operator. Ensuring that tourism is of maximum benefit to local people is key to the sustainable development of the islands.
Following these guidelines and committing to be a responsible tourist will help to ensure that Galapagos tourism is sustainable in the future.
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