Photo Cred: Karen Nyborg
Do you remember the travel buzz that followed the movie Eat Pray Love? People were booking tickets left and right to create their own Italian romance or forge their own path of self-discovery.
But shouldn’t we be able to see the beauty right outside our own front door?
You’d think the answer would be yes. But sometimes you need your own “mini-quest.”
You need an adventure that separates you from your hectic, corporate, polluted 9 to 5, or one that gives you the rest you need after knocking out another powerful week at the office.
You need an adventure that reawakens your senses and helps you return to your front door ready and willing to see the beauty in front of you.
In the northwestern region of Rajasthan, bordering Pakistan, Jaipur is a city that wears its royal history like a badge — much like its women wear their golden bangles with pride. But the palaces and forts are not the only things worthy of honor. The food and people will certainly leave you feeling like you had the royal treatment, or like you are a member of the royal family yourself.
At the City Temple, you’ll find bearded priests who throw brightly-colored flower pedals on the heads of unsuspecting tourists. There are also dancers who offer regular performances and are always dressed to impress, with heavy gold bangles, rings and makeup. You will always find children here as well. The smiles, the energy, and the surprise will stay with you for years to come.
I have two words for you my friend: street food! Go to Hotel Chawla for the Gol Gapp (or Panipurri), a fried crisp (similar to a Mexican sopapilla) that’s filled with a wonderful array of options: from potato and onion to chili and chickpeas. It’s served with sweet, fruity chutney, which makes it hands-down the best $2 sweet and spicy snack I’ve ever had. For dessert, try Lassiwala’s sweet, whipped yogurt creation served in a terra cotta pots.
Made entirely of stone, the story of the World’s Largest Sundial goes all the way back to 1738 when the rajah, or prince, Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh wanted an astronomical piece of architecture in his home city of Jaipur. But it is much more than a decorative piece. The 73-foot structure is accurate down to the minute and with its beautiful curvatures, it puts the new Apple Watch to shame.
Antigua is a place where two worlds collide. It’s a place that attracts the rowdiest of tourists from Australia to Brazil to party in its discos and bars, but still maintains its Spanish architecture and Catholic roots at heart. Come here to let loose, connect with God or create your own adventure spice.
With curtains made out of coffee sacks, the music dive Café No Sé is a perfect representation of Antigua’s eclectic personality. Musicians perform most nights of the week, and the café is known for serving its own unique flavor of smoky mezcal, a tequila-like liquor which literally means “oven-cooked” agave. When you find a mountain goat’s head on the wall, you know you’re in the right place. Salud!
In the city’s heart, you will find Parque Central (or The Plaza). This is the place where Antigua really comes alive. From local street vendors selling pupusas (thick corn tortillas stuffed with beans, cheese or pork) or corn tortillas that are handmade on portable grills right in front of your eyes, the food alone marks the park worthwhile.
If you’re up for a nightlight adventure, La Chimena is the oldest dance club in the city where you can experience true, authentic Latin dance (this ain’t no reggatone). Or, for an adrenaline boost, hire a bus to take you to the top of Fuego Volcano (or “Fire Volcano”). As a live, active volcano (yes, they do let people go to the top), you will get 10-feet away from the lava flow. Plus, the hike alone is breathtaking enough to merit a life-changing experience on its own.
Some call it a city of decadence and extremes, but Dubai is quickly becoming one of the most charming and exciting destinations in the Middle East, or even the continent of Asia. It is the melting pot of the East, with expats from New Zealand to Brazil calling this place home. Spend 12 hours here, and I dare you to not leave amazed at what the human mind and imagination can create.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that half of Reem Al Bawadi’s appeal is its location along the Dubai Marina canal. But, ambiance aside, no trip to Dubai would be complete without having a true, Lebanese meal done right. From sheesh tawook (or chicken skewers) to grilled halloumi cheese and homemade fattoush (a salad with mint and lemon dressing). it will make you wonder why you don’t eat Mediterranean every day (which most of the locals and experts do). Feeling adventurous? Try the shisha!
It is all-too-tempting to fall into the normal tourist traps in Dubai, especially the local “safaris” that advertise a true cultural experience complete with Arabic food, bellydancers and camel rides (which only last about 10 minutes). If you want a true desert experience, go to Khalid Alfalasi’s horse farm about 30 minutes from the city center. Khalid owns about 10 purebred Arabian horses and arranges overnight safaris in the golden, desert sands. You can opt for a horse, camel or even 4×4 ride out to the campsite, where Khalid and his team will provide dinner and evening entertainment, along with an authentic Arabic breakfast (complete with coffee) the next morning.
No trip to the UAE would be complete without visiting Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the crown and glory of Dubai’s sister city Abu Dhabi and the 2nd largest mosque in the world (competing only with the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca). The guided tours go through every detail of its construction, from the inlaid precious stones like jade, amethyst (donated from countries around the world) and the lines in the football-field sized carpets (which were made to separate people into lines during prayer). This mosque is breathtaking. Imagine Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory on a spiritual level, with an architectural giant behind the wheel. My neck is still store from staring at the Moorish archways and gold-crusted minarets that towered to the sky.
Now, if you’re worried about how to get to these places without spending a fortune, find out how to travel internationally without going broke.