Best Places for Hot Air Balloon Rides

Source(s): penpaland.com

Hot air balloon ride! These words alone are enough to create an upsurge of excitement! We can only imagine the rush that we would get when we actually experience it. Find out about the best places around the world for hot air balloon rides, that will more than mesmerize you and offer you the experience of a lifetime.

Flying high in an endless sea of clouds, one amongst the birds, with a cool breeze brushing past you, the occasional gust of wind playing through your hair, raw and pleasant sun-rays gently settling upon your body, and your eyes wandering off as far as they can see, with nothing to obstruct your view... If this is not what being on top of the world means, then what does? This was only but a brief description of what you feel and experience when you are riding in a hot air balloon. It is almost as if you are weightless, drifting along with the wind in extreme silence, except the occasional fire bursts inside the balloon. The feeling is surreal, one of a kind, nothing short of what would feel like magic.

The whole point of taking a trip to the skies on a hot air balloon is to get a bird's-eye view of the scenic locales, lush landscapes, snow-capped mountains, and rivers snaking through the valleys. You will appreciate the sunrise/sunset (depending on the time of day when you take the trip) in a totally different light after you have witnessed one during your flight. The world is aplenty with beauty, and there are many places that are just apt for flying in a hot air balloon. Here are some of the most amazing places that guarantee breathtaking views from a hot air balloon. Take your pick and get packing already!

Describing and reading about it, is only feeling a fraction of what it actually feels like. It can only feel as beautiful as one's imagination is. Actually, being afloat on a hot air balloon is the only thing that wholly justifies its awesomeness and the magic that it creates.
Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown, also known as the 'Adventure Capital of The World', is a resort town in Otago, New Zealand. It is cozily settled on the banks of Queenstown Bay, an inlet on Lake Wakatipu. The snow-covered mountain tops, the serenity of Lake Wakatipu, the lush greenery bordering the lake, and the vast blue skies, all form part of a beautiful view, which leaves you speechless and breathless. It gets infinitely better when this view is enjoyed from atop a hot air balloon. No wonder it was an inspiration for Peter Jackson to direct his Lord of the Rings movie series with this dainty and picturesque town as the backdrop.
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Apart from hot air balloon rides, the added attractions that Queenstown has to offer are skiing, sky diving, bungee jumping, paragliding, and some other land and river adventures. For those interested in spending quiet, quality time, you can take part in events that involve art, culture, history, wine tasting, nature and sightseeing around town.
Cappadocia, Turkey
The Cappadocian region that comprises steep hills, rugged and profound valleys, conspicuous canyons and magnificent rock formations, is settled in Central Anatolia, Turkey. Hot air balloon rides are the best way to experience one of nature's self-created, most amazing cities of Cappadocia. It is a popular tourist attraction in Göreme. It is an experience within an experience to noiselessly glide over this imperial stretch of the city, and watch the enormity of the rocks, houses carved within rocks, ancient churches caved within huge monolithic rocks, set against a bold backdrop volcanic landscape. Be fascinated by tiny pigeonholes hewn within the monumental rocks, infinite fairy chimneys strewn across the region, vineyards that form a part of fertile valleys and orchards that add a pop of bright colors to the scene, lighting up your day.
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When viewed from above, it looks as if you are flying over the moon, literally! The landscape of the Cappadocian region appears very moon-like. Also, the underground cities formed here are a major attraction.
Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)
Bagan is an area in Central Myanmar, famous for being home to the largest number of Buddhist temples, ruins, pagodas and stupas. Nestled on the banks of the river Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy), engulfed by a dense cover of lush greenery, this region is a beautiful combination of raw nature, ancient culture, rich heritage, serene spirituality, and a touch of modern architecture. Such a combination lends it a distinct aura and mentally appeals any tourist.

Riding in a hot air balloon over the scenic beauty of Bagan, will only make you realize how the grandness of the heritage, the calmness surrounding you and the magic unfolding in front of your eyes, could make it the adventure of your lifetime.
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Few know that Marco Polo described Bagan as 'one of the finest sights in the world'. As the sun rises over the horizon, the tombs of temples and stupas and the Bagan pagodas form outstanding silhouettes against the reddish-pink hue of the morning sky. Spread over an area of 16 square miles, the entire landscape is dotted by at least 5000 architectural structures, historical ruins, religious temples, pagodas, and stupas. Look as far as you can, and not once will the view disappoint you.
Gstaad, Switzerland
Nestled cozily in the village of Saanenland, Gstaad steals the show with its unspoilt snow-capped Swiss Alps, lush green landscapes, modern art and culture, contrasting ancient historical heritage, exotic dining options, and conventional shopping centers. Gstaad is known for being a traffic-free center, shadowed by tranquility and peace so surreal that it feels like heaven on Earth. As if this wasn't enough, a hot air balloon ride over the ice-crowned, and heaven-reaching alpines, will leave you awestruck and make you put your life in a perspective or two. The dewy grass-filled highlands, tiny wooden houses dotting the steep mountain slopes, and the snow-covered white mountain tops glistening like jewels on a crown in the morning sun, all form a spectacle that is visually enthralling and just sweeps you off your feet.

Gstaad's prodigious micro-climate and exceptional flying conditions is the icing on the cake, which makes it an ideal location for hot air ballooning.
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Every year, in the last week of January, during the International Balloon Festival in Chateau d'Oex, the Gstaad sky is filled with tons of bright and bold-colored balloons, that loom overhead and create a visual spectacle in itself. Also, the village livens up during the winter when its annual winter sport festival is scheduled. So, ideally, winter would be the best time to visit Gstaad, so that, along with hot air ballooning, you get to experience other characteristic events too.
Istria, Croatia
Istria is the largest peninsular region in the Adriatic Sea. It is a part of three countries: Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. Istria is surrounded by deep blue seas, enigmatic green hills that roll out into eternity, architecture that explains ancient Russian culture and heritage beautifully. All this enveloped in the perfect continental, Mediterranean climate, makes Croatia the best place to unwind yourself and get back to life with a fresh perspective, if you are looking for one. The hot air balloon rides here are a treat for the eyes, your body, your mind, and your soul. You cannot help, but be in awe of Istria's spellbinding beauty and magnificence. Whether it's an early morning dawn flight, or a late evening dusk flight, hot air balloon rides over this wonderful piece of Earth will leave you breathless, and asking for more.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Welcome to the largest city in New Mexico, America. A city where hot air ballooning is taken so seriously, that a hot air balloon festival is celebrated with utter enthusiasm and pomp, every year! The 'Cosmic Carnival', an annual event that takes place in October at the Albuquerque Balloon Museum, is the largest hot air balloon event in the world. It is a sight that will blow your mind. Hundreds of balloons rise up in the air, gliding effortlessly, illuminating the sky with thousands of colors and the minds of the spectators with pure ecstasy and joy.
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The Sandia mountains that border the eastern side of Albuquerque are something that should be enjoyed from a hot air balloon. They appear reddish in color and are hence, believed to be named Sandia, which is Spanish for watermelon. Laid against the sky's gentle blue backdrop, the Sandia crest is an amazing natural creation, formed due to uplifting. As the balloon glides past the entire dimension of the mountain range, observe that the western face is extremely rocky, whereas it slopes gently on the east.
The Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The Serengeti was first discovered by Stewart Edward White. This national park is spread over a straggling 5700 square miles. Its name comes from the term siringet, which means 'the place where the land runs forever'. The hot air balloon ride in the Serengeti National Park, gives you a chance to look at forests, landscapes, sunrise and sunset, wildlife, and nature from a completely different and fresh perspective. The balloon rises with the rising sun, and floats where the wind takes it. Regarding wildlife spotting, it would be better to go on a hot balloon safari with an open mind, sans any preconceived notions. After all, it is better to be surprised than be disappointed. On a lucky day, which is most of the days, you can spot one or more kind of wildlife that includes hippos, lions, hyenas, tigers, cheetahs, elephants, zebras, antelopes, giraffes, various exotic birds, and also the varied plant life that includes the gorgeous acacia trees.
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A secret tip - The best time to go hot air ballooning in the Serengeti is when The Great Wildebeest Migration happens (October to August). Hundreds of thousands of zebras and wildebeests migrate from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara reserve in Kenya. An awe-inspiring spectacle, the great migration is a sight that is sure to send a shiver down your spine. It should definitely not be missed while hot air ballooning in the Serengeti.
Sedona, Arizona
Sedona, also known as the 'Red Rock Country', is a dainty little city set in the northern region of the US state of Arizona. Set against a massive, rocky backdrop of reddish brown mountains and monoliths, Sedona is famous for being a place where there is something for everyone. It entertains a tourist's spiritual, historical, contemporary, and even adventurous interests. There will be no time left for you to get bored here.

Hot air ballooning over the picturesque Sedona presents a view in front of you so beautiful, that it leaves you enchanted by the beauty of Mother Nature. The changing color of the rocks, with the change in the intensity of the sun's rays, is a spectacle that leaves you awestruck. Just sit back and relax in the cozy balloon basket, as you gently rise off the ground along with the rising sun, feeling as light as a feather, as tranquil as the silence of the night, and as excited as a little child, all at the same time. Enjoy the breathtaking view that presents a sharp contrast of green trees against the red rocks, with the river snaking through, to provide a mildness to the contrast.
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As you fly over the Arizonian landscape, make sure you get a good look of the Chapel of the Holy Cross, the Vortex Schmortex, and the Oak Creek Canyon, amongst other stand-outs. Hot air balloon rides offer a mesmerizing panoramic view of the entire expanse.
Lake Champlain, Vermont
Lake Champlain
Lake Champlain is a natural freshwater lake in North America within the boundaries of The United States of America. Hot air ballooning over the sparkling shores of Lake Champlain can be dubbed as the experience of a lifetime. The thrill experienced while the balloon drifts leisurely over the cool and glossy waters is unmatched with anything. Plush landscapes, embellished with the greenery of Green Mountains, border the shores of Lake Champlain for as far as your eyes can see. Keep all worries aside for sometime and dedicate this trip to yourself, cleanse your soul, love yourself, feel happy and allow the scenic beauty of Vermont to sink in as you look at vast fields, looming mountains, fully bloomed trees, and the clear waters. On a lucky day, when the skies are clear and cloudless, you will be able to see as far as Canada and Montreal.
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It's the little things that matter the most. Whilst flying over the countryside, and not very high, you can actually get whiffs of smokes from houses that pass by beneath you during the flight. You might get the aroma of cooking! Also, when flying at tree-top level over the forests, you will sometimes be able to spot beautiful wildlife like turkeys and deer.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
Wadi Rum
The timelessness, endlessness, vastness, magnificence, mystique and silence of Wadi Rum is sure to stun you to the core, leaving you breathless, a tinge of humbleness and insignificance hovering about you. Wadi Rum has been declared the most stunning, gorgeous, and engaging desertscape there ever was. Also known as 'The Valley of The Moon', Wadi Rum, located at the south of Jordan, is actually a continued series of valleys which are approximately 2 km wide, and are sprawled for about 130 km N-S. It covers almost 720 km of desert area, with enormous sandstone mountains and huge granite rocks jutting out from the sand shores.

Gliding through the crisp desert air in a hot air balloon over the eternal sands of Wadi Rum, you feel a certain calm reside over you. The shifting positions of the sun create an effect that feels as if the mountain rocks and the sand change colors throughout the day. This effect tends to arise myriad moods within you and make you ponder over the mystery that life is. You cannot come to Jordan and not go to Wadi Rum; it is a must-visit.
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The Burdah Rock Bridge, standing 35 m tall above the ground, is considered to be one of the highest natural arches in the world. Naturally-formed huge monolithic rock structures, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Bedouin camping, the sunrise and sunset in the desert, and many other wonderful, captivating sights are some things that will keep you engaged whilst you lose track of time, sense and other worldly cares.
Napa Valley, California
Napa Valley
Dubbed as one of the premier wine regions of the world, Napa Valley is an American Viticulture Area in California, United States. Its most famous attractions are the closely knit vineyards spread across acres of land. When viewed from a hot air balloon, the vineyards seem like one huge sprawling stretch of a lush-green grass blanket. Panoramic view that encompass the magnificent rolling hills and valleys, and gorgeous hues and colors of the sky merging during the setting or rising of the sun, are a feast for your eyes. You couldn't agree more that very few places on Earth take you into a trance and make you wonder, "Is this what Heaven is like?"
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There is something for everyone here. Based on your interests, you can go wine tasting, fine dining, spa hopping, hot air ballooning or just sit back, relax and soak in the striking beauty and calmness of the valley.
The Outback, Australia
The Outback is a desiccated, dry and arid desert region on the outskirts of the Australian subcontinent. It is also known as 'Never-Never', 'back of beyond', or 'back o'Burke'. Owing to the typical climatic conditions, which are unsuitable for the survival of life, this region is extremely thinly populated. It does, however, boast of a wide variety of wildlife such as dingoes, emus and red kangaroos. Hot air balloon rides in The Australian Outback, allow tourists to observe the wildlife at its best, and appreciate the greatness and immensity of the Outback. You can opt for either the dawn or the dusk flights. Night flights are mesmerizing, as the Outback night sky is the best place to stargaze, and get the best possible and uninterrupted views of endless seas of stars, constellations and even some planets. If you are lucky and your flight takes off at the scheduled time, you even get to experience the Australian Outback sunset - a delicate yet empowering and harmonious melange of soft, beautiful, and unexplained colors over the horizon.

A dawn flight is just as much enjoyable and delightful. It starts with the balloon taking flight just as the sun starts to rise. As the balloon rises higher and higher, you can see silhouettes forming against a backdrop of the brightest and boldest of sunrises, which fills up the morning sky with shades and hues of the colors of the sun.
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The Outback is the only place in the world that has the largest fossilized dinosaur stampede. Hundreds of thousands of dinosaur footprints have been immortalized in mud stone near Lark Quarry. These can be clearly observed from your hot air balloon. Also, you might just come across the original and traditional Australian Aborigines, who still continue to live by the ancient ways of life. Many cattle stations (some as big as Belgium itself!) are something that cannot be missed and are a great sight to watch from the balloon.
Riding on a hot air balloon makes it to almost everybody's bucket list. But, striking the activity that you have wanted to do all your life off the list by doing it at the right place, that is the trick. This isn't something that you do everyday, this will be a once in a lifetime opportunity. The adventure that you are ready to embark on, is going to make a memory that will stay with you for the rest of your life. It is important that you create the best memory possible. A memory which is capable of making you relive the experience, a memory at which you will look back in fondness, happiness, ecstasy, and pure joy.


Tips for finding best cruise ship for you

Source(s): penpaland.com

Traveling by ocean liners has been one of the oldest and most romantic means of transport, until airplanes took over. But sea cruises have managed to retain their charm over the years. Read this Buzzle post to know how you can find the best cruise deals for your next vacation.

A penny-pinching tip.
Inner cabins (the ones without windows) cost less. So, if you're on a budget, these are the rooms you should be booking. However, if you are prone to seasickness, inner cabins may not be a good choice.
Sea cruises, without a doubt, spell class, style, and luxury. They seem to have it all―spacious cabins with top-of-the-line amenities, multi-cuisine restaurants, spas, swimming pool(s), recreation areas, and amazing live entertainment. And move over seasickness; because most cruise liners today are the very definition of comfort.

So, when you've got a liner that lets you travel in style to the most exotic destinations in the world, from Scandinavia to Antarctica, you naturally assume them to be jaw-droppingly expensive. Well, some of these sure are, but there also are a variety of options to suit your budget. The following pointers will come in handy to find you that dream cruise vacation.
How to Find the Best Cruise Deals
Begin with Research
Ship on sea
The first rule is also the most obvious one on the list; to be able to find a bargain on your cruise vacation, you need to invest a good deal of time in research. Get the basics in place by deciding:
  • your destination
  • your choice of ship (big or small)
  • type of cruise (adventure/family/singles/exotic)
Once you have these answers in hand, you can get to the task of zeroing in on the cruise that ticks all your boxes. Read up on cruise companies and their reviews on the Internet. This will help you shortlist a few options. You can even order brochures of the trips that interest you.
Proceed to Booking
Travel agency office
If this is your first cruise trip, it is suggested that you book it through a travel agent. A cruise, unlike a regular holiday, is like your mode of transport/accommodation/sightseeing all rolled into one. Which is why a travel agent's expertise will come in handy to book a trip that suits your needs. An agent can help you pick the right cruise, a good cabin, food and beverage options, age-appropriate entertainment for the family/group, include a few steal-deals, and perhaps throw in a discount as well.

A few cruise companies even appoint certain agents to accept bookings from customers. In such cases, the agent will not charge you anything for the service rendered, as he is already being paid a commission by the company. So, in case an agent is trying to coerce you into choosing a particular cruise, give it a deeper thought before you come to a decision.

Usually, the good agents are sure to have a Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) affiliation. A CLIA-certified agent is considered to be worthy and experienced to offer the best services, having completed a training program. Plus, you may also look for referrals, and pick an agent that has been recommended by someone you trust.
Finding the Best Deals
Travel agency office
Finding the best cruise deals requires some amount of experience as well as expertise. To a first timer, it is akin to rocket science; and there are more chances of the person being taken for a ride, rather than a cruise. But here's a thumb rule―your best chances of snagging a steal are at least 8 to 10 months before the sailing date. The best cabins are on sale during the early days, so you're ensured a wide choice. This is especially true of popular destinations like the Mediterranean or Caribbean. If you're thinking of going off-track, say Antarctica for instance, then you have to book at least a year in advance. Such cruises are not as frequent as the others, but are phenomenally popular (and not to mention, expensive).
Getting in Last-minute
Last-minute deals are a bit of a gamble when it comes to cruises. This is because, unlike regular vacations, your options are severely limited. So, while it's true that you may find some last-minute value deals, they may not necessarily be to your liking. If this is your first trip to the seas, it is recommended that you play it safe and book in advance. Once you gain experience, you'll automatically be trained to snag a steal at the last moment.
Be Weather Wise
Storm over the ocean
Ensure that you complete your homework regarding weather-related aspects before you book your trip. Be in the know about the kind of weather to be expected at your destination, plus the general conditions of the sea throughout the duration of your trip. Doing so is important because lull-season cruise trips may fit perfectly in your budget, but the dowdy weather conditions throughout the cruise may dampen the overall experience. This may seem a bit trivial to some, but keep in mind that if you don't like the weather, you simply can't leave a cruise midway, for obvious reasons.
Consider the Whole Hog
Accountant making calculations
A cruise isn't just about the ship. You need to add the cost of traveling to the port of departure, perhaps a night's stay here, and the return flight from your destination. Adding up all these things will give you an accurate picture of your actual expenses. Just ensure that your pre- and post-cruise expenditure does not eat into what you thought was a bargain cruise price.
There are endless number of things to consider when you're booking a cruise trip. But listing them all out would translate to a lot of confusion. So, don't be too pressurized, and book your trip in a relaxed state of mind. You're sure to get the best deal this way.


11 Best Magical Train Journeys in the World

Sources: penpaland.com
"It's not getting from A to B. It's not the beginning or the destination that counts. It's the ride in between...This train is alive with things that should be seen and heard. It's a living, breathing something ― you just have to want to learn its rhythm."
― David Baldacci
It's tragic how we've turned traveling into simply getting from place A to B. Today, more often than not, there seems to be a greater emphasis on the destination―what to see and what to eat once you get there. The journey itself is seen more like a hassle, a mere footnote in the grander scheme of things that your destination holds.
Stop and smell the roses if you will, the next time you're out on a holiday. The best way to do so is to pick a place so picturesque, that the only way to do justice to its beauty is to explore it by rail. We've got a few ideas to get you started.
Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre refers to a bunch of 5 idyllic fishing villages―Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Monterosso, and Vernazza―that lie between Pisa and Genoa. A gorgeous stretch of the Italian Riviera, this region is a national park and a vehicle-free zone. Thus, the best way to get around is to take the train which chugs along the tall cliffs, offering a magnificent view of the azure Ligurian waters extending as far as the eye can see. The Cinque Terre National Park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's easy to see why. Though the region has fallen prey to tourism of late, its really refreshing to see the considerable lack of corporate consumerism in these villages. The restaurants here are more or less homegrown, and the people display the best of Italian hospitality and charm. The gorgeous views round up to make this an oft-visited destination for anyone who comes here even once.
Canadian Rockies
The Rocky Mountains in west Canada have some breathtaking landscapes on offer. The Rocky Mountaineer railroad snakes through glacier lakes, dense forests, and abundant wildlife. The train takes you on a two-day journey from the resort town of Banff in Alberta through the beautiful Canadian Rockies, culminating in the city of Vancouver. You have the option of picking the Gold Leaf Service which includes cooked-to-order meals and unlimited cocktails while onboard, making this an ultra-luxurious and idyllic getaway.
TranzAlpine train
The KiwiRail Scenic Journeys-run TranzAlpine passenger train promises to take you on the most beautiful train ride ever. Considering New Zealand's abundant natural wealth, it's wise not to dispute their claim, when you'd rather just jump aboard. This is a relatively short trip―under 5 hours―beginning in Christchurch, going through Arthur's Pass over to Greymouth on the South Island's west coast through the amazing misty mountain scenery of the Southern Alps.
Pikes Peak Colorado
The Pikes Peak Cog Railway takes you to the summit of the mountain, and offers stellar views of the mountainous Colorado Springs. The just-over-three-hours trip takes you through a dense green cover of Englemann spruce, Colorado blue spruce, and Ponderosa pine trees, crossing the Minnehaha Falls along the way. In fact, some estimates tell us that some bristlecone pines in this region are over 2000 years old. You get to spend some time at the summit, following which you return to Manitou Springs. This railway is considered to be the highest in North America, developed almost exclusively to foster tourism in the region.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railways
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway ranks among the finest legacies of the colonial era. Popularly known as the Toy Train, this railroad takes you from New Jalpaiguri to an elevation of 2200 meters to the hilltop town of Darjeeling. The DHR was declared a World Heritage Site, only the second rail network to be bestowed with this honor. Pictured here is the Batasia Loop section of the railroad, which offers panoramic views of Darjeeling town with the Kanchenjunga and other Himalayan mountains in the background.
 Inca rail Machu Picchu
The Belmond Hiram Bingham is a luxury train which takes you up the Sacred Valley to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Named after the American explorer who discovered the famed ruins, this train is the last word in luxury travel. A journey on the Belmond Hiram Bingham commences in Poroy, close to the city of Cusco. The train runs through Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, heading up to the ruins, believed to have been built in the mid-15th century and are the finest examples of Inca architecture.
Ghan Express
The Ghan Express follows a 1851-mile route from Darwin to Adelaide, crossing the length of this huge country. The trip takes three nights and four days to complete, with a stopover in Alice Springs. In true colonial style, the erstwhile Afghan Express was an offensive reference to the Afghan camel herders who were brought here to "help" explore the harsh expanse of the Australian desert. The modern journey is an experience in itself, offering several off-train excursions, including a helicopter ride over the Uluru.
Glacier Express
The Glacier Express is perhaps the most famous railroad in the world. The train travels from Zermatt to St. Moritz, winding through virgin mountain landscapes, glamorous resorts, gorges, and ravines via 91 tunnels and across 291 beautiful bridges. This is one journey where every moment is a photo op, seeing as you're traveling through the majestic Swiss Alps rising tall against the deep blue sky.
West Highland Line Scotland
This one's exclusively for all the Potterheads out there. And even if you don't happen to be one, this magical train journey across the Scottish highlands is a treat to the senses in every manner. This historic steam train is called The Jacobite, which runs from Fort William to Mallaig along the west coast of Scotland. The main highlight of the journey, of course, is crossing the 21 arches of the Glenfinnan viaduct, memorably captured in the Harry Potter films which overlooks the Loch Shiel.
Qinghai Tibet railway
Dubbed as "rocket to the roof of the world", the Qinghai-Tibet railroad is a landmark achievement in terms of human ambition and tenacity. The railroad extends 1215 miles from Xining, Qinghai Province, to Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region. The train runs through the Tanggula Pass, located 5072 meters above sea level, making it the world's highest railway. Along the way, travelers can witness unrivaled views of the Tibetan landscape including the Kunlun and Tanggula mountain ranges, Qinghai Lake, and the Tuotuo River. Breathtaking doesn't even begin to describe this experience.
Orient Express station Istanbul
Yes, yes, we most certainly realize that the Orient Express in its original avatar ceased its operations years ago. The original service ran from Paris to Istanbul, traveling through Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, and Budapest, thus connecting the world's finest cities. Little surprise then, that this journey was one of the most famous back in its time, featuring in several books and films of the era. The Venice-Simplon Orient Express, as it is now known as, offers a solitary trip from Paris to Istanbul every year. It is known to be quite exclusive, and thereby rather expensive as well, but if you are fortunate enough to have the means, this is one train trip that is highly recommended. Because when you embark upon a trip that begins in Paris and culminates in Istanbul, its surely got to create some fantastic memories.
Some train journeys really bring the element of romance and intrigue back into traveling. Don't believe us? Take any of these train trips to know for sure!


Central America Vacation Ideas

Sources: penpaland.com
Vacation ideas for Central America are actually endless. If you want to know some of the best places to enjoy a quality time in, then you have come to the right page.

The meeting point of the Northern and Southern American continents; Central America is considered as a subcontinent and is the isthmus of southern North America. It is spread across around 202,000 sq mi; with the Caribbean Sea to its northeast, pacific ocean to its southwest and the Gulf of Mexico to the southern side. The region is home to seven countries and is declared as a Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot. A biodiversity hotspot is the region with large amount of natural scenery, flora and fauna, that has a threat from humans. Having said that, Central America boasts of more than 7% of the world's biodiversity treasure. The region is a great combination of the wonders of natural, ancient and modern civilizations.

When it comes to planning a vacation to this beautiful part of the world, there are a lot of things for you to determine, in terms of sightseeing and traveling. The area is very large and hence, it is virtually impossible to cover each and every vacation destination on a single vacation. You may need to consider each and every country separately.

Best Places to Visit in Central America

Central America encompasses seven countries - Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. The entire region is a tourist destination in itself, let aside the special vacation spots of each and every country of Central America.



Belize was initially know as British Honduras and it gained the independence, as late as in the year 1981. Belize is the only Central American country that has English as its official language, which makes it easy for all the non-Spanish speaking people to travel around. Similar to the rest of the Central American regions, Belize is gifted with copious and undisturbed tropical rainforest, pristine sandy beaches, numerous historical monuments and the best of modern infrastructure! Since Belize is the nearest country to North America, most of the American airlines offer short and inexpensive round trips to this mystical place. Here are some of the best places to visit when you are in Belize.

Barton Creek Caves
Located near the town of San Ignacio of the Cayo District, Barton Creek Caves are one of the largest caves in the world. The Mayans ruled these caves and used them for their infamous ritualistic ceremonies. You can still find skeletons of the victims of those ancient sacrifices. Another attraction here is the giant cylindrical walls (stalactites and stalagmites) in these limestone caves and a variety of flora and fauna.

Belize Barrier Reef
This is world's second largest barrier reef after the Great Barrier Reef. It is more than 300 kms long and is located around 25 miles off the northern coast of Belize. It is the best place for the snorkeling, fishing, and scuba diving enthusiasts. You may also enjoy one of those cozy and cheap round trips by ferryboat, while staying in one of the nearby coastal towns.

El Caracol
This is one of the most famous Mayan ruins in Belize that unveils the temple pyramids including Canna, Cahal Pech, Xunantunich, Lamanai, Altun Ha, etc. El Caracol used to be a Mayan observatory where they made naked eye observations of the horizon and made their predictions.



The Republic of Guatemala is bordered by Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras and the water bodies of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Original name of this country was Goathemala, which means the "land of the trees". The country is rich with tropical rain forests, interesting biodiversity and historical Mayan ruins. This region saw the peak of the Mayan civilization, arrival of the Spanish colonists, independence from the Spaniards, the Mexican Empire and the modern-day infrastructural and economical developments. As far as your stay and traveling is concerned, Guatemala is a small country and most of its tourist destination could be visited in a single tour to the country.

Mayan Ruins
The entire country beholds many ancient Mayan ruins. But the places that anyone must never miss out on the tour of Guatemala are the ruins of the El Mirador and Tikal. Both of these are the unforgettable pre-Columbian places to visit for all of you who are interested in history and the ancient heritage.

Pacaya Volcano
Set at the altitude of 8,371 feet; this volcano is located near the Lake Atitlan. You can enjoy hiking up the Pacaya volcano with a knowledgeable tour guide and get some memorable thrilling experience. You can easily arrange such hiking tours from the nearest cities of Panajachel or Antigua.

Explore Guatemala
Apart from the historical and natural sites, you may like to enjoy a lot of other things like shopping in the colorful Chichicastenango market; visiting various cities like Flores, Panajachel, Antigua,; taking short term Spanish language lessons; or enjoying serene volcanic countryside and the beautiful beaches like Monterrico!

El Salvador

El Salvador

If you are totally into the adventure sports, water sports and other such thrilling outdoor activities, then El Salvador is the place for you. Bordered by the Pacific Ocean, the country shares its borders with the neighboring countries of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua. Here you will get to enjoy lazy days, sandy beaches and the bustling nightlife that you may enjoy after spending the entire day in sightseeing! El Salvador is popularly known as The land of Proud and Arrogant Volcanoes. It was dwelt by the Native Americans, Mayans and the Spanish conquistadors! All these inhabitants left a rich and proud heritage which is still visible while you are in El Salvador. The country is rich with historical monuments, mighty volcanoes, playful beaches and serene forests. Here are the best vacation spots in El Salvador.

El Boquerón National Park
One of the most popular vacation destinations in El Salvador, this National Park is located in the crater of the dormant San Salvador Volcano that hasn't been active for more than 80 years now. The area has pretty cool temperature and it is enriched with nature's realm, various natural hiking trails and diverse wildlife. All this makes this place a must visit in Central America!

Los Planes de Renderos
Los Planes is a township in San Salvador, which is popular for its views and numerous parks like the Balboa Park, Family Park and La Puerta del Diablo, which is a place made of three rocks making different halls and caves that are located in this area. The entire region is a feast for the outdoorsy people.

Explore El SalvadorIn case you don't want to visit these natural treasures, you can always have the best of time by visiting various sparkling lakes; going to Punta Rico, which is the best surfing spot in El Salvador; enjoying shopping and clubbing in the city of San Salvador. You may also like to visit numerous art museums, historical museums, art galleries, live musical plays or simply spending your holidays one of the hilltop resorts!



Honduras is one of the largest countries of Central America. It is bordered with El Salvador and Nicaragua and the water bodies of the Gulf of Honduras, Gulf of Fonseca and the Caribbean sea. This is another beach country, with most noticeable traces of the indigenous cultures including the Mayans. Rich export markets of clothing and tropical fruits, make Honduras one of the noteworthy nations on the world map. The long coastline and diverse wildlife has made Honduras to be one of the bustling tourists spots in Central America. Vacation ideas for Honduras are just endless, provided you have enough time and energy for their execution!

Romantic Vacations
If you haven't considered Honduras to be one of the lover's nest for a romantic getaway or honeymoon vacation, then this is the right time to start doing so! You may visit the Bay Islands, Mosquito Coast, and various other islands like the Utila and Cayos Cochinos to experience the totally undisturbed paradise on earth. The region is blessed with exotic coral reefs, colorful fish and pristine beaches to accompany both of you!

Family Vacations
Along with various beach fronts, you can always visit various Mayan ruins like the Copan and learn about the historical heritage of this rugged country. You may also like to visit the Bay Islands and the Roatan Islands to enjoy the innovative eco-tourism of Honduras. You may also take the kids to Guanaja, which is a playful Caribbean coast with rich corals and kid friendly atmosphere.

Adventure Vacations
If you are planning the vacation with a group of friends, then you can rent one of the motels or hostels in the cities like La Ceiba, Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula and visit various beaches for watersports, surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking and even beach football! You may also consider living in the upscale areas like Puerto Cortes and Guanaja Islands!



The Republic of Nicaragua is the largest country here, which is bordered by Honduras and Costa Rica. The Pacific Ocean is situated to the western side and the Caribbean Sea is situated to the eastern side of Nicaragua. The country is divided into two cultural regions, Mesoamerican and Andean. Nicaragua was inhibited by various indigenous cultures, the most significant of them being the Aztecs and the Mayans. Later the country was ruled by the Spanish conquistadors. Nicaragua has had a troubled political past, until the revolution of 1961. The fertile west coast of Nicaragua is home to a diverse wildlife and tropical rainforest too. As a result, it is a great tourist attraction.

San Juan del Sur
If you are looking for a peaceful family holiday, this is an ideal place for you. San Juan del Sur is located on the Pacific coastline of the country. It provides good quality local infrastructure, the best beach front resorts, inexpensive hotels and plenty of watersports activities like surfing, snorkeling and fishing that offer you a guaranteed fun! The kids may also get to enjoy horseback riding along the seashore!

Trip to GranadaOne of the oldest cities in Nicaragua, Granada was established in the year 1524. The best things to do in the city of Granada include shopping for Nicaraguan souvenirs and munch on the delicious Nicaraguan cuisine in various city restaurants. You may also enjoy unhurried stroll in this city which is located near Lake Nicaragua, which is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world!

Bosawas Biosphere Reserve
The Bosawas Biosphere Reserve beholds one of the largest tropical rainforest of the world, and is a UNESCO protected site in Nicaragua. The variety of flora and fauna in this reserve is a real treat for the nature lovers and the students of biodiversity. The forest has around 150,000 types of insects, 600 species of birds and numerous animals that are on the verge of extinction.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

The Republic of Costa Rica is the only Latin American country which is a part of the list of world's 22 oldest democracies. Literal meaning of the word "Costa Rica" is the "rich coast", which is quite apt. The country is bordered by Panama to the south, Caribbean Sea to the east, Nicaragua to the north and Pacific Ocean to its west. While in Costa Rica, one can still feel the deep cultural impact of various indigenous people that once inhibited this region. The most significant of them being the Nahuatl, Chibcha and the Spanish conquistadors. Costa Rica was one of the nations to gain early freedom from the Spaniards. Tropical Mediterranean atmosphere, more than average rainfall and rich historical background of Costa Rica has made it a famous vacation destination in Central America.

Costa Rican National Parks
The diversity of flora and fauna in Costa Rica is beyond one's imagination. To experience it in person, one has to visit various national parks like the Corcovado National Park, Tortuguero National Park and the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. All these parks are home to various exotic birds, amphibians, reptiles and some of the endangered species of various living organisms.

Arenal Volcano
The Arenal Volcano is a highly active volcano where one can experience at least five explosions of lava on a daily basis. It is the reason why the resorts surrounding this volcano and other nearby spots like Tabacon Hot Springs are bustling with tourists who gather for this glowing miracle, that never fails your trip.

Water Adventures
Once you reach to Costa Rica, you will surely get to enjoy numerous water adventures. Some best things to do here include, white water river rafting, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing, surfing, parasailing, and hiking up the natural trails that are located along the rives and sandy beaches of this natural paradise. You may easily find cheap beach rentals at the Jaco Beach, Guanacaste Beach, and other places like Playa Grande and Playa Hermosa.



The Republic of Panama is the last vacation spot of Central America. Located on the isthmus of the South and North American continents, Panama shares its borders with Costa Rica, Colombia, Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean sea. The country was explored and settled by the Spanish conquistadors way back in the wake of the 16th century. Today, according to the Global Competitiveness Index from the World Economic Forum (WEF); Panama is the 2nd most progressive nation in the entire Latin America. The country is also home to the largest rainforest in this region, outside the densely rich Amazon Basin. Panama is a great mixture of natural and man-made miracles like the Panama Canal. Because of all this, Panama is a must visit place for you as well!

Bocas del Toro
This is one of the most untouched islands of Panama which is located at the Panamanian border near Costa Rica. It is made up of around 7 islands and numerous tiny islets; that are rich with various opportunities for snorkeling, surfing and fishing and various other watersports. The friendly native of this island and the booming real estate here will definitely tempt you to stay here a bit longer!

Chiriqui Highlands
If you want to visit the most picturesque landscapes of Panama, then do not forget to visit Chiriqui Highlands. This is one of the developed areas of Panama which is easy to reach by the Pan American Highways. Visit various Chiriqui cities like David, Volcan and Boquete to enjoy the friendly natives, local culture and cuisine here.

Panama Festivals
Panama is also popular for various of its festivals and carnivals like the Boquete Flower and Coffee Festival which is held in January; New Orleans Mardi Gras, Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Panama Carnival which is held on Ash Wednesday and not to forget, the Panamanian New Year's Eve!

Well, these were some of my personal favorite places to visit when you go to Central America. Now that you are aware of almost all the best vacation spots here, vacation ideas would now be unending. In order to execute your Central America vacation ideas in the most appropriate way, make sure that you visit this region during the ideal traveling season and with the bookings and tickets in advance! Have a happy and safe journey!


Best Places in the World to Watch the Sunset

Source(s): penpaland.com

Well, sunsets are meant to be seen that is why, unlike sunrises, they are in the evening. Sunset! Do you have a special spot marked for this purpose or are you still in search of the best place to watch sunset? Let us have a gist of best places in the world to watch sunset from, in this post.

Sunset is a wonderful opportunity for us to appreciate all the great things the sun gives us! ~ Mehmet Murat Ildan
Nature has created such wonders that keep reminding human beings that man can develop as many new technologies as he can but, the best and the real art of creating wonders is still and will always be with nature itself. Sunset is one such beautiful creation. Everyone of us have special feelings associated with sunset. We all connect with it in unique ways.

Sunset point is a highly romantic place for couples, on the other hand some feel saddened while watching it. But, arising of sad feelings associated with sunset in one, is a rare case. Generally, sunset can be best viewed from a beach. Maybe you like to observe it from other places, like mountains, historical places, from amongst the trees in a forest or even from the top of the sky-scrapers. Here are a few places short-listed for you to enjoy the sunset view, take a look at them.

Best Sunset Points
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Mesa Arch Sunset
Grand Canyon, Arizona is one of the seven wonders of the world. It is famous not only for its size, but also for the beautiful scenic views it offers. The views are so wonderful that they can leave you possessed for days. The month of May and October are the driest amongst all and are best to visit Grand Canyon. Three fantastic scenic view points are developed on the North Rim namely Cape Royal, Point Imperial and Point Sublime. The sunsets from these points are spectacular to watch. It is the time when the Grand Canyon shows the depth of nature's beauty. Many people stand on the rim with their hands in the air, as if to offer a solemn salute to nature and surrendering to the ultimate power of Grand Canyon maker. These actions give a spiritual touch to the visit and make the Grand Canyon stand apart from other sunset spots.

Taj Mahal, India
Sunset Over Taj Mahal
The term Taj refers to the crown and Taj Mahal signifies it as the crowning glory of all the man-made structures. It is the exuberant monument of love and beauty. It is one of the seven wonders of the world and most visited places in Agra, India. It is also the most photographed monument. The movement of the Sun from east to west has several light effects on the Taj Mahal. It blushes in the rosy glow of the dawn and it appears pinkish orange in the dusk. But, the most breathtaking view of Taj is from an octagonal tower of the Red Fort across the river Jamuna.

Cape Town, South Africa
Table Mountain Sunset
Cape Town is the mother city of South Africa. It is located at the southern tip of the African continent. One of the best views of sunset in Cape Town is from the Table Mountain Silhouette. Table Mountain is one of the famous places to visit in Cape Town. The highest point of this range is Maclears Beacon. It is around 1,087m high. At the time of sunset, the viewer standing inland can experience the African landscape becoming golden. Also the sunset from the Dolphin beach in Blouberg gives you an opportunity to have an awesome view of the Table Mountain.

Silhouette of Buildings at Water Front, Singapore
Skyline Of Singapore
The extravagant Twin Towers offer an awesome view of the vibrant city. It is situated in the heart of Singapore's financial center. The architectural credit of silhouette of buildings goes to Carlos Otts. It is the perfect location for the people who want to enjoy life to the fullest as it offers a spectacular view of sunset.

Another best place to watch sunset, in Singapore, is the Sentosa Island. Out of the 63 islands, Sentosa Island is the 5th largest island located in Singapore. The name of the Island comes from the terms peace and quiet in Malaya dialect. On the contrary, in the past it was referred to as the Death Island. No one knows the exact reason behind it but, it was probably related to the pirates that sailed around. The sunset views from the beaches here will make you feel breathless for sure.

Santorini, Greece
Santorini Sunset
Beaches are the perfect places to watch sunset. It offers you a look of the never ending sky, filled with extravagant shades of colors with the setting Sun showing its grandeur. Santorini Beaches possess typical beach characteristics of long stretches of black sand and small black pebbles. It is a unique feature for a beach to have and it is because of the volcanic origin of the island.

Other Greek islands like Naxos, Los and Mykonos have golden sand beaches. All the beaches are surrounded by spectacular rock arrangements. The Perissa and Kamari beaches are most famous beaches located in the eastern part of the Greece. Apart from these, there are two more interesting beaches, one is called Kokinni Ammos and the other is Aspri Ammos. Kokinni means red in Greek which complements the sand on this beach which is reddish in color, whereas Aspri means white and there are white cliffs from where you get the beach view. They are also called Red Beach and White Beach and are adjacent to each other.
Sunset! Though it is a daily happening, it looks different from every place on each day. Watching it gives so deep a pleasure that is not easily definable. Every one cherishes the sweet memories of such moments and steals a smile from them when the going is tough. I am sure, the above article will tempt you to visit a sunset point.


Best places to visit in Australia


Planning a holiday? Well, Australia can be your answer. If you like to explore the places on your own, then you always have the option of biking across different cities. However, if you do not have a longer vacation, then flying is the option you will want to take. Australia will not cease to amaze you, from the time you step your feet onto the land, till the time you decide to take off.

Australia is one of the Commonwealth countries, located in the Southern Hemisphere. It has constitutional monarchy and has federal division of power. The Queen is the head of the state and is represented in Australia through the Governor General. The mainland of the Australian continent is the island of Tasmania and other smaller islands located in the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.
Australia was inhabited by the Aborigines before the European settlers made the land their home. It was initially discovered by the Dutch explorers. It was in 1770 that Britain claimed half of the eastern region. Yet Australia has retained its natural beauty and charm. There are a number of scenic places along with the man-made scenic spots as well, which attract thousands of tourists everyday.
The Great Ocean Road
This scenic road is located an hour's drive from Melbourne. It is among the most beautiful roads in the world. The road runs for 250 km and it was constructed in the memory of soldiers who were killed in World War II. The beauty of this road is that it passes through beautiful cliffs and lonely beaches.
There are many places of attraction on the stretch of the Great Ocean Road. If you are the kind who likes hiking, then you have ample opportunities for the same in the Otway National Park. Then there is also the Campbell National Park, which is located on the western side of the Great Ocean Road, which is well-known for the rocks jutting out from the ocean. The famous among these rocks are the "Twelve Apostles".
Ayers Rock - Uluru
The old name of Uluru is Ayers Rock. It is located in the Red Center and is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Center. It is the world's largest monolith rock, which is positioned against the flat surroundings, giving it a stark contrast. A number of people visit Uluru either at sunrise or at sunset to view the color change, which is both mysterious and magical. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see it being referred to as a physical and spiritual center.
The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is among the top places to visit in Australia, what with the rich bio-diversity it has to offer. It is located off the Queensland coast and is in the Coral Sea. It is the largest coral reef in the world. One cannot estimate the variety of bio-diversity that is supported by the reef.
In the Great Barrier Reef, one will come across the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, flat back turtle, dwarf minke whale, saltwater crocodiles, olive ridley turtles, etc. Hence, it is not uncommon to see a number of scuba divers coming back to the reef over and over again. At the same time, one will also come across a huge variety of birds in the reef as well.
Kangaroo Island
Kangaroo Island is the third largest island in Australia and next only to Tasmania and Melville Island. One cannot get to the island by road and one has to take a ferry from Adelaide. It is among the best places to visit in Australia with kids for the wonderful wildlife that it has to offer.
In Kangaroo Island you can spot albino wallabies on your visit there. Along with the albino wallabies, you will also be able to spot some sea lions, little blue penguins, etc. If your kids are animal lovers, they will love feeding the blue penguins at sunset.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour is a natural harbor. The Sydney Harbor Bridge is located against the backdrop of the harbor. A lot of adventurous people walk across the top of this bridge, which has a steel coat hanger-like structure 134 meters above the sea level. People who do dare to climb the bridge are rewarded with a panoramic view of the city. The bridge is located centrally and therefore about 20% of the population of Sydney can see the bridge at least once a day.
Gold Coast Dreamworld
One of the interesting places to visit in Australia is the Gold Coast, especially Dreamworld on the Gold Coast. There are a number of exciting rides and a number of entertainment avenues. They are enjoyed not only by the kids, but by people of all generations. There is an Imax Theater, Wiggles World, etc. It was in one of the studios in Dreamworld that the TV show 'Big Brother' was filmed.
Kings Canyon
Among the interesting places to see in Australia is Kings Canyon, which is situated in the Watarrka National Park. It is 270 meters deep. A trek to the rim of the canyon will bring you to the Garden of Eden swimming hole, the different rock formation of the Lost City. It is important to start the trek early in the morning to avoid being fatigued. This will also give you a lot of time to investigate the areas around the canyon.
Purnululu National Park
national park
The Purnululu National Park is located in Western Australia. Although not many people visit the place, it has numerous scenic sights. It is very rarely that one comes across a number of travelers in the area. When you are visiting the park, it is a must that one heads straight to the Bungle Bungles, which have the tiger stripped sandstone rocks, which is a mesmerizing site. One can either choose to trek to the rocks or also have an aerial view of them.
Vineyard in Barossa Valley
Barossa Valley
If you particularly are a wine lover, then you should head to the Barossa valley. The famous wine brands from the Barossa valley are Orlando Wines, Wolf Blass, Yalumba, etc. Taking a tour around the different wineries in the valley is something most tourists enjoy.
Walls of Jerusalem National Park Tasmania
Jerusalem National Park
Walls of Jerusalem is a part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The park has been so named, because of its resemblance to the walls in the city of Jerusalem. If you are planning on visiting Australia during its summer months between December to February, then you will be able to see wildflowers in full bloom. The dolerite peaks along with alpine vegetation and endemic conifer forests, make the park very beautiful.
Sydney Opera House
opera house
A performing arts center in Sydney, the Sydney Opera House is located near the Sydney Harbor Bridge on the Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbor. Open since 1973, it has many performance venues where more than a million visitors come every year to attend over 1500 performances hosted by it.
Apart from theaters and performance venues, the Sydney Opera House also has cafes, bars, retail stores, and a recording studio. Designed by architect Utzon, it became famous for its construction and design, and earned him the Pritzker Prize in 2003. In 2007, it was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites' List.