Roura, French Guiana

You’ve always had a secret yearning to explore a rainforest. The twisted trees and the animals not found anywhere else have always fascinated you. The slow-moving rivers and the tribes untouched by modernity constantly intrigue you. While the idea of truly escaping from everything sounds like absolute bliss. But you need a test trip before you disappear into the Amazon.

French Guiana, a French department north of the largest rainforest in the world, is a good place to start. Since nearly half of its land is protected and most of the population lives along the coast, its primary rainforest has remained pristine and untouched. Plus it’s easily accessible from Cayenne, the colorful capital filled with colonial architecture.

Head south to Roura, your rainforest home base. Camp Caïman, powered by solar electricity, sits on a tributary of the Oyak River. Hammocks are strung underneath huts with forest or river views. Rooms and meals are simple, as expected. You won’t be spending much time here anyway, though. The deep forest is calling your name.

Follow the botanical trail in the Trésor Nature Reserve. You might see dyeing dart frogs or a lancehead snake eating a lizard along the 1.75-mile path. Ride a boat around reeds and water hyacinths in the Marais de Kaw, France’s third-largest nature reserve. Six species of caimans—a smaller relative of the American alligator—peek their eyes above the water. Cocoa herons wade tentatively through the marshes. While scarlet ibises look like prehistoric creatures in the sky. Pass an old cemetery and the ruins of a sugarcane plantation as you hike up Favard Mountain to see engraved rocks. Then hang out with monkeys and cool off in the Fourgassier waterfalls. It doesn’t seem like your test trip will be the only time you disappear into the rainforest.

Sansha, Paracel islands

Photo: China Daily Mail

Photo: China Daily Mail

Something is brewing in the South China Sea. The Chinese call it tourism. The Vietnamese, the Taiwanese, and the Japanese see a military buildup. While the rest of the world thinks it boils down to oil and gas reserves. No matter the reason, there’s a new city being built on Woody Island. And the remote Paracel Islands will never be the same.

The Paracel Islands, an archipelago of more than 130 small islands, are spread out over nearly 6,000 square miles south of China and east of Vietnam. The low-lying islands are surrounded by sandy cays, shallow reefs, and bright turquoise water. Despite being claimed by at least five countries, sea turtles, seabirds, and a few fishermen were the only things that lived on the islands for hundreds of years.

Woody Island, the largest of the Paracel Islands, sits in the center of the Amphitrite Group of islands. The 530-acre island is filled with palm trees and a landing strip. The few tourists who arrived would visit two museums—the Xisha Maritime and Naval Museums—two Chinese monuments, and Japanese towers from World War II before heading toward the water.

But the Chinese are making changes to Woody Island. Massive changes. Sansha, that new city, is quickly expanding. Cruise ships from China have started to dock in the artificial harbor. Resorts are already in the works. While the palm trees, the seabirds, and the sea turtles are quickly disappearing. If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting the undisturbed Paracel Islands, do it now. There must be plans for the rest of the islands, as well.

Cap-Haïtien, Haiti

Photo: Rémi Kaupp (Self-photographed) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Rémi Kaupp (Self-photographed) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Haiti needs, well, a lot of things. Political stability and infrastructure to start. Safe drinking water, doctors, and police would help, too. Then, after all the basics are handled, the Caribbean nation could use some hope. Lots of hope. It may just have to look outside of Port-au-Prince, the corrupt capital, to find it.

Cap-Haïtien, on the northern coast, claims a lot of Haitian firsts. Christopher Columbus established the first settlement in the New World, La Navidad, nearby in 1492. Milot, just 19 kilometers to the south, became the first capital of the French colony—then known as Saint-Domingue—in 1711, before it was moved south to Port-au-Prince. (It was briefly the capital again after the Haitian Revolution.) While the movement to oust the country’s corrupt president began here in 2004. It’s now the place that could bring tourists back to Haiti.

Photo: Habitation Jouissant

Photo: Habitation Jouissant

Today, the Paris of the Antilles is known for its historic monuments and French Colonial architecture, sophistication and relative wealth. Narrow streets, gingerbread-style houses, and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame fill the interior. Old sugar plantations, vast plains, and green mountains stand to the south. The Citadelle Laferrière—the largest fortress in the Americas—and the ruins of the Sans-Souci Palace are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. White-sand beaches, including Labadee, where huge cruise ships dock, line the coast. Then the Caribbean Sea stretches for a seemingly endless number of miles.

When you arrive at Habitation Jouissant, a boutique hotel—yes, a boutique hotel in Haiti—you’re handed a hot towel and a cold fruity drink. The hillside hotel sits on the western shore of the Bay of Cap-Haïtien. Its rooms have names like Rose Rouge, Iris, and Tulipe. White-cushioned couches surround the pool. Its turquoise water matches the color of the sea beyond the white railing. A cool breeze blows toward the poolside Lime Bar, which serves Mai Tais, Prestige beer, and island tunes. Plus Le Basilik serves freshly caught lobster and fish as the sun sets.

As you wander through the city’s streets, watch artists at work, explore the ruins, and relax on the beaches over the next few days, you’ll see what Haiti could become over the next few years. Is it perfect? No. But it certainly proves there’s hope for the western side of Hispaniola.

Anjajavy, Madagascar

Photo: Anjajavy

Photo: Anjajavy

It’s been too long since your last romantic getaway. The two of you need to escape to a little bungalow, walk along a deserted beach, and dream under the stars like you used to do before life got crazy. But instead of returning to a favorite spot in the Caribbean or the South Pacific, you’re thinking about heading in the opposite direction: Africa.

Mauritius or the Seychelles sound heavenly, but for a true escape, head to Madagascar. The Grand Île isn’t known for luxury resorts, pampering spas, or European-style restaurants. Baobab trees and lemurs come to mind instead. Add a remote hotel, which roads haven’t even reached yet, for the perfect place to reconnect.

From Antananarivo, the capital, it’s an hour-and-forty-minute flight to the northwest coast. Fly over red soil, dry deciduous forests, and mangrove swamps to reach the landing strip near Anjajavy Forest. The peninsula, in between Narinda Bay and Majajamba Bay, is full of those baobab trees, Madagascar vanilla, tangled vines, and animals that are both rare and endangered. Caves and coral formations line the labrynth of mangroves. Plus the bright blue Indian Ocean is never far from sight.

Photo: Anjajavy

Photo: Anjajavy

Anjajavy L’Hotel was built 15 years ago on a beach that slowly starts to reveal itself as the tide goes out. Salt water fills the nearby pool. Papyrus, tree ferns, and aquatic plants ring the property. Hummingbirds and green kingfishers fly between the trees. Dancing lemurs come out to play during tea time. While two-story villas stand along the edge of the sand.

Your villa, made of local rosewood, has a living room, a bedroom, and a corner bathroom on the first floor. A staircase leads to an open space, which you absolutely should not use as an office, upstairs. A cool breeze, coming from the Mozambique Channel, disrupts the humidity. You can see the water—and, at night, the star-filled sky—from the hammock on the deck.

Spend the week kayaking through the mangroves, snorkeling over colorful coral, and following pathways between the creeks. Ride a catamaran to Moramba, a mythical bay with coral islands and four pairs of critically endangered Madagascan fish eagles. Eat breakfast outside by the lily pads and sample Madagascar prawns and tuna sashimi for dinner. Keep an eye out for tiavato bats hanging from the stalactite formations in the caves, as well as Madagascar tree boas and panther chameleons. Visit Anjajavy Village to see kids playing around the market on Sunday morning. Take way too many photos of the playful lemurs. Then, as you stare at the sky and dream about your future plans late at night, fall in love all over again.

Lookout Mountain Parkway, Alabama

Photo: Lookout Mountain Parkway Association

Photo: Lookout Mountain Parkway Association

Summer is a time for driving. It’s time to pick up some snacks, pack the car, and scan the radio. You’re in search of beautiful vistas, interesting detours, and surprises around the bend. You might get lost, or misplaced, as you’d rather call it. But that’s part of the fun. And this time, you’re in search of fun in Alabama.

Lookout Mountain Parkway is considered one of the most scenic drives in the country. The 93-mile road meanders through Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. Mountain-laurels, pink lady’s slippers, and wild azaleas bloom along the side of the two-lane road. It passes around canyons, by waterfalls, near a ski resort—yes, in Alabama!—and through state parks. Quirky towns are everywhere in between.

Your journey begins in Gadsden in the northeast corner of Alabama. It’s home to Noccalula Falls, the world’s longest yard sale, and the beginning of the parkway. Follow a trail around the gorge. It winds around caves, carvings from the Civil War, a covered bridge, and a botanical garden. The falls then drop 90 feet over the cliffs.

Photo: Lookout Mountain Parkway Association

Photo: Lookout Mountain Parkway Association

Thirty miles down the road, it’s time for your first detour. Little River Canyon National Preserve is the deepest canyon east of the Mississippi River. Its sandstone cliffs rise 600 feet above the canyon floor and the Little River. Some of the cleanest, purest water in the South falls from DeSoto Falls, Little River Falls, and Grace’s High Falls (after it rains). Kayakers, rock climbers, and rappellers play inside the canyon. While a 23-mile road follows the canyon’s rim.

Next, head toward DeSoto State Park to find the Talmadge Butler Boardwalk Trail. Walk by more colorful azaleas, tiny downy woodpeckers, and towering trees as you follow the wooden boardwalk. The deck at the end overlooks a pool created by the Azalea Cascades. It’s cool, peaceful, and the perfect place for a picnic. After lunch, slowly make your way to Mentone. The quaint town has cute shops, little restaurants, mineral springs, and the southernmost ski resort in the country. The slopes may be bare right now, but the view from atop the Lookout Mountain range is still breathtaking. It was worth the drive.

French Polynesian Hideouts

With its black-sand beaches, lush rainforests, and volcanic peaks, beautiful Tahiti is one of the most dreamed about destinations in the world. But there’s more to French Polynesia than just the Island of Love. Here are five islands—just a short ferry ride of flight away—that might be even more stunning than Tahiti. If that’s even possible.

Photo: © Xaviermarchant | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Photo: © Xaviermarchant | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Moorea: Ride a ferry to Vaiare Bay, jump on Le Truck, listen to reggae music, hold your breath around Opunohu Bay’s hairpin turns, and check out the stunning views from Belvedere Lookout on Moorea.

Photo: DANIEL JULIE from Paris, France [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: DANIEL JULIE from Paris, France [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Huahine: See vanilla plantations and banana groves, sacred temples and maraes, isolated coves and shady lagoons, and more crabs than people on the Garden Island.

Photo: ww.ericpinel.com for Opoa Beach Hotel

Photo: ww.ericpinel.com for Opoa Beach Hotel

Ra’iātea: Relax at a boutique hotel, stare at a lagoon from your bungalow, listen to crashing waves from a swaying hammock, and eat addictive viennoiseries and vanilla yogurt for breakfast on the Sacred Island.

Photo: Eric PINEL Photography for Vahine Island Resort

Photo: Eric PINEL Photography for Vahine Island Resort

Taha’a: Escape to an unspoiled island, sleep in a beach faré, swim over coral gardens, and kayak to an empty motu on Taha’a.

Photo: rachel_thecat [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: rachel_thecat [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Bora Bora: Sleep in an overwater bungalow, stare at colorful fish through a glass coffee table, snorkel with curious rays, sip Ti’ Punch at a beach bar, and feel like a honeymooner on an island that’s been on your wish list for years.

Chic Canadian Escapes

When you think about design hotels, freshly caught seafood, glaciers, and wineries, you dream of going to New Zealand, France, Iceland, or Italy. Canada never crosses your mind. You should reconsider our neighbor to the north, though. At these six chic escapes, you’ll find everything you’ve been dreaming about for only a fraction of the travel time.

Photo: Fogo Island Inn

Photo: Fogo Island Inn

Fogo Island: Watch the sun rise from a free-standing tub, search for humpback whales as you eat breakfast, hike to a lighthouse, eat a picnic lunch, and relax in a rooftop hot tub off the northeast coast of Newfoundland.

Photo: Nova Scotia Signature Resorts

Photo: Nova Scotia Signature Resorts

Ingonish: See fishing boats glide through the water, bike through wildflower-filled meadows, eat seafood chowder and lobster, drink a whiskey from North America’s first single malt whiskey distillery, and listen to Celtic music along the coast of Nova Scotia.

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Photo: La Pinsonnière, Relais & Châteaux

La Malbaie: Feel like you’re in France as you watch for moose, sample blue cheese, walk through lilac-scented villages, eat duck foie gras, and practice your rusty language skills in Québec.

Photo: Drake Devonshire

Photo: Drake Devonshire

Wellington: Follow the Millennium Trail, find secluded beaches, browse antique shops and art galleries, sample adult beverages at craft breweries and small wineries, and feel like a kid again at a quirky boutique hotel along the northern shore of Lake Ontario.

Photo: Oban Inn Spa Restaurant

Photo: Oban Inn Spa Restaurant

Niagara-on-the-Lake: Find a charming spot near Niagara Falls, walk through English gardens, watch sailboats glide along the river, and taste local wine in Ontario.

Photo: Moraine Lake Lodge

Photo: Moraine Lake Lodge

Moraine Lake: Hike down switchbacks and through green meadows, kayak on a glacier-fed lake, sit by a stone fireplace or in a deep soaking tub, and stare at the amazing view from your balcony at a secluded lakeside retreat in Alberta.