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The Best Beaches in Honduras

Cayos Cochinos beach in the Honduras.
Cayos Cochinos beach in the Honduras. Photo © Oisin Prendiville, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

With 735 kilometers of coastline, the three large Bay Islands, and a couple dozen smaller cays, sun worshipers will have no problem finding palm-lined beaches large and small on which to lay their towel or sling their hammock. Here are a few tips to help you find the best beach for you.

Travel map of West Bay, Honduras
West Bay

Best All-Around Beach

If you have to pick just one beach in the country, it’s hard to argue with West Bay, Roatan. A couple of kilometers of powdery sand fronted by turquoise waters, with a coral reef just a few meters offshore, West Bay is a tropical daydream.

Most Secluded Beaches

After the paved road ends in eastern Roatan, adventurous travelers can press on, taking a rutted dirt road all the way to Camp Bay. On Guanaja it takes a boat to reach spots like Dina Beach and Soldado Beach, on the island’s north shore. Those who make the effort to reach these far-flung beaches will be rewarded with white sands and crystalline waters all for themselves.

Best Sun and Fun

The beach town of Sambo Creek, a few kilometers east of La Ceiba, makes an excellent home base for anyone wanting to split their days between soaking up the sun on golden sands, and nearby adventure activities such as jungle hiking and white-water rafting.

Best Diving

Utila lures visitors with stunning reef, quirky scuba culture, and the possibility of snorkeling with whale sharks. Guanaja is the least-visited Bay Island, but offers equally extraordinary (or perhaps even better) sea life for underwater explorers.

Best Beach off the Beaten Path

Those who make a day trip to the Cayos Cochinos from Roatan, Utila or La Ceiba, are rewarded with paradise-perfect islets swaying with palm trees and surrounded by colorful fish. Those who want to extend their stay can dive with Plantation Beach Resort or Pirate Island Divers, or rent a room from a local in the Garífuna fishing village on the cay of Chachahuate.

An Island All For You

Those who prefer to really get away from it all should head to the Utila Cays, where they can choose from camping on Water Cay for a nominal fee and having a fish cookout, or actually renting their very own island, Sandy Cay or Little Cay.

Best Garífuna Beach Town

Numerous towns and villages along the north coast of Honduras are populated by the Garífuna, a unique group of people of African and American indigenous origin. Triunfo de la Cruz, just east of Tela, is one of the friendliest, and makes a great place to stay for a couple of days. Head to Rice and Beans on a Sunday and you just might catch an impromptu Garífuna jam session, to go with your seafood soup.

Best-Kept Secret

Far east along the northern coast lies the sleepy town of Trujillo, on a broad bay near the edge of the Mosquitia jungle. The cabins at Banana Beach Resort or Tranquility Bay, or the budget-friendly digs at Casa Kiwi, are ideal for soaking up the glorious natural setting and mellow vibe.


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Honduras & the Bay Islands.

Scuba Diving in South Maui: Ma‘alaea Dive Sites and Charters

A moorish idol photographed in front of clusters of colorful coral.
A moorish idol at Molokini Crater. Photo © snorkelingdives.com, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

While Molokini Crater can be a great place to snorkel, to truly tap into the magic of the crater you need to put a tank on your back and go and see what’s down there. For experienced divers, Molokini ranks in the upper echelon of dive locations around the world. For novice divers who have just been certified, it’s a window into a new aquatic universe. Only certified divers are allowed to dive at Molokini Crater. If you aren’t certified but still want to experience Molokini from below, sign up for a 20-minute snuba dive to depths of up to 10 feet.

[pullquote align=”right”]Even though diving at Molokini offers a chance of seeing sharks, if you want a 100 percent guarantee of diving with sharks, the most unique dive on the island is offered at the Maui Ocean Center where you can go diving inside the shark tank.[/pullquote]What makes the crater such an exceptional dive spot is the combination of two different factors: Its pelagic location means there is the possibility of seeing anything, and there are multiple dive spots within the crater that cater to a wide range of ability levels. Novice divers will want to inquire about trips that go to either Middle Reef or Reef’s End, as depths on these dives don’t usually exceed 70 feet. Middle Reef is home to large schools of pelagic species such as jacks and reef sharks, and the sand channel houses curious-looking garden eels. There’s also a huge drop-off at the Middle Reef section where it can be easy to exceed your dive profile, so keep an eye on your depth gauge when swimming over the ledge. Similarly, at Reef’s End, the dive traces the wall of the underwater caldera to the point where it drops off into the abyss. Since this underwater promontory sits on the fringe of the crater, this is the area with the best chance of sightings of bottlenose dolphins, manta rays, humpback whales, and even the occasional whale shark. There was even a great white shark sighting out here captured on video by Ed Robinson’s dive charters, although encounters like this are so rare they aren’t even worth worrying about. While Middle Reef and Reef’s End are both fantastic dives, the best and most advanced dive in Molokini Crater is a drift dive of the legendary Back Wall. Beginning at Reef’s End, divers will follow the current along the back of Molokini where a vertical wall drops over 250 feet to the ocean floor below. If you’re the type of diver who dabbles in nitrox or mixed gases, this is the deepest dive available anywhere in Maui County, although you should still stay within the recreational dive limit of 145 feet.

Map of Makena, Hawaii
Makena
Even though diving at Molokini offers a chance of seeing sharks, if you want a 100 percent guarantee of diving with sharks, the most unique dive on the island is offered at the Maui Ocean Center where you can go diving inside the shark tank. As part of its Shark Dive Maui program, certified divers are able to spend 30-40 minutes surrounded by various species of sharks, some of which can include hammerhead and tiger sharks. The dive has a maximum limit of four divers, costs $199, and is only offered on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. The cost includes the tank and the weight, although divers will need to provide the rest of their gear. Although diving at an aquarium might seem like cheating, even some of Maui’s most seasoned divers claim it’s a great dive. More than just a novelty, this is your best opportunity to be completely surrounded by the ocean’s most feared and misrepresented creatures.

One of the island’s newest wreck dives is a Helldiver WWII airplane which was abandoned by a pilot on a training run off Sugar Beach. When the pilot ejected, his plane sank in 50 feet of water, and for the better part of 60 years this plane sat forgotten in the mudflats off Ma‘alaea. When a local fisher tipped off a Kihei dive instructor that there was probably something down there, the exploratory dive mission yielded a historical discovery which is now property of the U.S. military; divers aren’t allowed to touch or enter the aircraft. While there isn’t an overwhelming amount of marine life here, this is a unique dive you won’t find in many people’s logbooks. There aren’t any regularly scheduled trips to the Helldiver, but many South Maui operators periodically plan excursions to the site, so inquire about when the next outing might be.

Rental Operators

The only retail operator in Ma‘alaea that rents out dive gear is Maui Dive Shop (300 Ma‘alaea Harbor Rd., 808/244-5514, 6am-6pm daily) in the Ma‘alaea Harbor Shops. Although most dive operations will furnish their own gear, this is a good place to pick up equipment if you’re diving at the Maui Ocean Center, are planning a dive off a nearby shoreline, or need some accessories such as a flashlight or a knife.

Dive Boats

Although most Molokini dive boats depart from the Kihei Boat Ramp, two that depart from Ma‘alaea Harbor are the 48-foot Maka Koa which is operated by Maui Dive Shop (808/875-1775) as well as the 40-foot Maui Diamond II (Slip 23, 808/879-9119). Maui Dive Shop offers two-tank trips to Molokini Crater three times per week, and the second dive is either along the shoreline of Maui or at the St. Anthony wreck off Kihei. Rates for a two-tank dive are $139, and BC and regulator rental is an additional $20. Snorkelers are allowed to accompany divers for a reduced rate of only $80, and this is a good option for the novice to intermediate diver who wants to explore in the 65-70 feet range. In addition to providing a good trip, an added perk of booking with Maui Dive Shop is that they provide complimentary transportation from your hotel to Ma‘alaea Harbor. If you’re driving yourself to the harbor, check-in is at 6:30am at the store in the Ma‘alaea Harbor Shops.

For a few dollars less, Maui Diamond II offers 2-tank trips to Molokini and the South Maui shoreline for $129, and BC and regulator rental is an additional $15. If you aren’t a certified diver, you have the option of partaking in a Discover Scuba Diving introductory class in which you will snorkel at Molokini and then dive with an instructor at the second spot along the shoreline. The rate for the snorkel and introductory dive combo is $145, although the price is inclusive of all your equipment. This boat is a little older and a little slower, but they feed you well, so the added transport time can be devoted to digestion.


Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Maui.

Dive Shops in Utila, Honduras

The endangered Hawksbill sea turtle is just one of the amazing creatures you can see while SCUBA diuving in Utila.
The endangered Hawksbill sea turtle is just one of the amazing creatures you can see while SCUBA diuving in Utila. Photo © stokes rx, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

If there’s any complaint to be leveled against Utila, it’s that all anyone ever talks about is diving. All things considered, that’s no surprise. Word has gotten out that Utila offers one of the least expensive Open Water scuba certifications in the world, and business has been booming ever since. Competition between shops is fierce, with employees sometimes pursuing potential clients at the docks and on the streets. A whopping 14 shops were in business in Utila at last count. All the competition is wonderful news to the discerning would-be diver, who would be wise to ignore the touts that meet the ferries at the dock and instead spend a bit of time wandering through town, asking around among other travelers, and checking out several dive shops before deciding where to go and what courses to take.

Travel map of Utila, Honduras
Utila

Note: Although they are extremely rare, especially considering the very high number of divers passing through the Bay Islands, accidents—including fatal accidents—have occurred on both islands.

One advantage of making sure your dive shop is certified by PADI, SSI, or NAUI is that all accidents must be reported and investigated, while noncertified shops can simply fire the dive master/instructor and hire another.

It is certainly true that some shops are more diligent than others, particularly regarding quality of instructors and upkeep of equipment. Don’t make your decision based on price, or at least not exclusively, as most courses and dives cost about the same in the good shops—instead, focus on the background of the instructors (most important), the quality of equipment and boat, your rapport with the dive shop staff, and the quality of the accommodations.

Those who worry about decompression sickness will be glad to hear that Utila has its own hyperbaric chamber at the Bay Islands College of Diving (tel. 504/2425-3378, VHF channel 71).

Prices currently stand at US$270 for an Open Water or Advanced Open Water course, including accommodations. Those whose prices are slightly higher typically include more things—such as the required PADI notebook (US$7), the daily reef tax (US$4), and drinking water—or have better accommodations. Most classrooms have air-conditioning, which is key if you are on Utila in April or May. If you’re penny-pinching and plan to take advantage of the free accommodation offers, note that some of the dorms are cleaner and more pleasant than others, some have private bathrooms while others do not, and a few have hot water. If you are looking for a little more comfort (and a bathroom in your room), consider springing for a private hotel room, either at your shop’s affiliated hotel (many shops can get their students a discount) or at a hotel elsewhere in town.

Fun dives currently run US$55–65 for two (plus the reef tax), and 10-dive packages run US$270–300. Most shops have Open Water courses starting every day, available in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, and a surprising number of other languages as well—take the time to check it out if you are looking for a particular language. (Japanese? Check. Swiss German? Check.)

All the shops here are PADI-certified and have close to the same prices for all services.

A few shops have SSI or NAUI certification as well. Likewise, all will accept e-referrals, should you choose to take care of the theoretical part of your dive course online at PADI’s website.

Travel map of Utila Town (East Harbour)
Utila Town (East Harbour)

Alton’s Dive Center

Alton’s Dive Center (tel. 504/2425-3704) was named by its former owner but is now run by a friendly German- Canadian couple who are especially committed to sound environmental practices. It is a PADI five-star shop, and also an IDC (Instructor Development Center). PADI certifications are of course available (US$299, including manuals, accommodations, two fun dives, and reef and certification fees), and Alton’s is the only shop on the island offering certifications with NAUI, an organization considered by many to have the highest standards for diving safety. Instructors typically have dive counts in the thousands, and readers have reported very positive experiences with the staff. There are kayaks and snorkel equipment available, but for an extra charge. The dorms are not the best in town, nor the cleanest, but acceptable, and they can be reserved online in advance, a plus if your visit will be during high season. Rooms with two twin beds are also available, usually given to couples traveling together. Additional nights (after your course is over) can be had for US$7 per person in the rooms with two twin beds, US$5 per person in the dorms. All fun dives are sold in sets of two (US$58), allowing the boats to go out farther—their fast boats go out at 8 a.m., can do two dives (an hour each) on the north side, and get back in time for lunch (although they have also been known to stop in the Utila Cays for lunch if divers wish). Boats go out again at 1:30 p.m., returning about 4:30 p.m. Packages of 10 dives can be purchased for US$265 (geared for backpackers) and US$300, the latter geared toward “resort divers”—folks who want a little more comfort, as they get their own dive guide, equipment reserved for the whole package, the privilege of making special requests like Nitrox and deeper dives, and transportation to and from the dive shop if they are not staying close by. The folks at Alton’s are passionate about whale sharks, and if it’s the season and the boat is headed to the north side for dives, a whale shark encounter might be had for no extra charge. Snorkelers who would like to tag along are charged US$20, including all snorkel gear.

Bay Islands College of Diving

Dive masters at Bay Islands College of Diving (BICD, tel. 504/2425-3291) are pros, and classes are kept small. They get new equipment every two to three years and are fastidious about its maintenance, and the shop is also committed to sound environmental practices. Like Utila Dive Centre and Alton’s, the college can certify divers all the way up to instructor level. The confined-water dives are done in the shop’s indoor pool—a plus for those studying to be instructors, but perhaps less appealing for those in the Open Water certification courses—unless, of course, the weather is bad, and then it’s great for everyone. There is also a Jacuzzi, ideal for relaxing at the end of a long dive day, especially during the cooler rainy season, and a rooftop bar. The only hyperbaric chamber and trauma center on Utila is located at this dive shop (in case you are unlucky enough to get the bends), although it is open to use for any diver in case of emergency. The free accommodations have significantly upgraded since BICD built its own—there are four individual apartments (each with a full kitchen) and two basic rooms, all with TVs, wireless Internet, hot water, and clean, nice bathrooms—reserve ahead in high season (US$20 for additional nights beyond the course). Air-conditioning is available for US$15 extra. There is even a fitness center onsite, open to anyone, US$4 per day or US$14 for a week. Prices here are competitive with the other shops (US$279 for the Open Water course, including accommodations, fees, and two fun dives). The classroom is large and airconditioned, and multimedia interactive lesson guides are used. This is also the dive shop that forms part of the very nice, but much pricier, Utila Lodge Dive Resort, and divers can use the pool table and sundeck of the lodge, and have a meal at the lodge’s buffet restaurant if they wish. Boats are spacious and well maintained.

Captain Morgan’s Dive Shop

Captain Morgan’s Dive Shop (office near the municipal dock in East Harbour, tel. 504/2425-3349) is a bit farther afield than most, run out of the Hotel Kayla on Jewel Cay, a small, tranquil island (with a bit fewer sand fleas) a half-hour boat ride from East Harbour. All rooms at the hotel have a private bath with cold water, wireless Internet, and there is kitchen, TV, and DVDs, as well as free use of the kayaks and good snorkeling gear (US$11 per night for non-divers). The shop, which has two dive boats, is a great place for those who prefer a quieter scene, and trips into town are easily arranged. Its location makes it a lot easier to reach some of the north coast dive sites, considered by many to be the island’s best, thanks to the better visibility. Whale sharks are found on the north side of the island too, as well as pilot whales and dolphins. The Open Water certification is US$268 including four nights accommodation, two fun dives, fees, and taxes. A two-tank fun dive is US$65, and a 10-dive package is US$310.

Coral View

Outside of town, but just a US$1 taxi ride away, is Coral View, a brother and sister–managed shop that focuses on small group diving and has its own hotel (and restaurant, with so-so food). Kayaks and snorkel gear are available, the latter perfect for the great snorkeling found right off the hotel sundeck. There is also a pool, but it could use a little better maintenance. Open Water certification is US$279, a whale shark excursion is US$50, and kid-oriented dive courses like Bubblemaker are available.

Cross Creek

Cross Creek (tel. 504/2425-3397) has the same owner as the Utila Dive Centre, but a different vibe, with an entire complex built over the lagoon stretching out behind the shop office. Equipment is serviced every month. The largest boat is 39 feet and can accommodate 20 divers (which would be a lot of people underwater at a dive site). They have prescription masks for contact lens wearers. Accommodations are on-site, the free dorm rooms in a long cabin with hammocks hanging in the breezeway. Rooms are acceptable, although not spotless, and a few have their own bathroom (although both the shared and private bath are cold water only), and some even have air-conditioning. All have access to a shared kitchen. There’s a separate dive master cabin with hot water and—a big step up—four “deluxe” rooms, in separate cabins built on decks over the mangroves and lagoon, with TVs, air-conditioning, and mini-fridges (but still no hot water). The deluxe rooms are free for one night only with a course, then US$15 for additional nights. The Open Water course is US$275, and in addition to the usual perks, Cross Creek throws in a T-shirt and a drink voucher. Hopefully you’re not paying with plastic though, because the staff I spoke with informed me that there is an additional 8 percent charge for payment with credit card (charging a fee for payment with credit card is actually illegal in Honduras, but many vendors do it anyway).

Deep Blue Divers

Deep Blue Divers (tel. 504/2425-3211) is a five-star Gold Palm IDC Center, meaning that certification all the way through dive instructor is offered here. Divers here tend to be a little less about the partying and a little more about the diving, with many on the plus side of 25. The Open Water certification is US$262 here, including all materials, certification, two fun dives, and five nights accommodation in their simple hotel. Seven rooms (two of them dormstyle) are around a big kitchen and living area with a common TV, there are three shared (and rather worn) bathrooms, one of which has hot water, a big upper porch with a hammock to relax in, and wireless Internet. The dive shop has sundecks along the water’s edge, and guests have free use of kayaks. Additional nights are just US$8, and non-divers can stay here for US$10. Class size is limited to just four (although an exception can be made if a group of five friends wants to have the class together).

Ecomarine Gunter’s Dive Shop

Ecomarine Gunter’s Dive Shop (in Sandy Bay, tel. 504/2425-3350) offers the beginner’s Open Water course for US$259 including two fun dives as well as accommodation (but not including the US$4 per day reef tax). Gunter’s is renowned for its great staff and small diving groups; just don’t expect much from the free accommodations. Students are put up in the Backpacker Lodge across the street, which is very basic (bare light bulbs, cold water only)—you may want to pay to stay elsewhere. Kayaks are available for rent (US$17–25), and non-divers can ride out on dive boats for a snorkel trip for US$15 (including equipment rental), or rent snorkel equipment from here to take to Blue Bayou (US$10 for half a day rental, US$15 for all day). Unique at Gunter’s is Apnea Total (tel. 504/2425-3350), a specialty shop within the shop, which teaches free diving: diving without a tank. It’s run by Mark “Tex” Rogers, the only free-diving instructor in the Bay Islands, and teaches those looking for a thrill how to hold their breath underwater for extended periods of time—five minutes or more for the record holders. Tex is a friendly, easygoing guy who instills confidence in his students while teaching them to push their limits.

Parrots Dive Centre

Parrots Dive Centre (tel. 504/2425-3772) is a PADI five-star, locally owned dive shop, with a few of those rarest of breeds—native Utilian dive instructors. The Open Water certification here costs US$279 including five nights accommodation and a trip to Water Cay at the end of the course. There is now a second set of rooms at the Parrots Inn, to accommodate the shop’s growing clientele, which increased by a remarkable 412 percent between 2009 and 2010. All that growth can never be without its kinks— do check the equipment carefully before signing up for a course to make sure it’s in good condition. On the plus side, Parrots has new, nice, air-conditioned classrooms for the theory portion of the course. Some of the rooms have a private bath, others share, but all have two fans per room, wireless Internet, and access to the common kitchen. For non-divers, or those looking to stay beyond their course, rooms are just US$5 (a room doesn’t get any cheaper than this!). Those looking for slightly more upscale accommodations can stay at Margaritaville, a five-minute walk down the road (US$15), or at Rubi’s Inn (US$20) when diving with Parrots. They have opened their own restaurant, Friendly Girl’s Café, with “Utilian food at backpacker prices”—this is one place where you can try “bando soup” (Utilian fish stew). Kayaks and snorkeling are free for divers, and a snorkel tour for non-divers is just US$5 including equipment. For those who like to be in the thick of things, Parrots is also appealingly located on the same pier as Tranquila Bar and the Indian Wok. One of the things that we like best about Parrots is their commitment to the community—one of the ways they show it is by providing free dive training to local kids, so that those kids can grow up to be dive masters and instructors as well.

Underwater Vision

Underwater Vision (tel. 504/2425-3103) is also locally owned, set on the East Harbour beachfront, around a large patch of sand (volleyball net included). The one-day Discover Scuba Diving class is US$80, the beginner’s Open Water course is US$299, and two fun dives are US$63. At the time of our visit, the shop had recently bought new boats and equipment (pretty big boats in fact—expect to go diving with a number of others), and was extending their dock to build a new sundeck. Free accommodations are at the adjacent Trudy’s Hotel, which offers hot showers to guests in the dorms; priceless at the end of a diving day during the rainy season, and the hotel also has a beach volleyball court, night security, and a bar and restaurant. Private rooms are also available, US$30 for dive students, US$40 otherwise, with funky fish murals, ceiling fans, polished wood floors, and hot water (basic private rooms are also available in the dorm building). The breezeway shelters Adirondack chairs and hammocks, perfect for relaxing at the end of a challenging day. There are also private rooms with rather grimy, cold-water showers, which can be had as part of the free accommodations in lieu of the dorm. Tuesday is chicken wings night, and islanders flock here for the delicious wings (often heading afterwards to Tranquila Bar for Tequila Tuesdays).

Utila Dive Centre

Utila Dive Centre (UDC, on the Point, tel. 504/2425-3326), the first dive shop opened on the island, in 1991, is highly respected and, according to experienced divers, has the best boats on the island. It is also one of the four IDCs on the island—shops where divers come to be taught to be instructors— so you can be sure of getting experienced dive masters and instructors. Frequent northside trips on two 12-meter cabin cruisers are offered; dorm accommodations are at the Mango Inn, including a simple fruit and toast breakfast (those who wish can pay a charge to upgrade from the dorms to a better room). While the beginner’s Open Water certification (US$299) is a 3.5-day course at most shops, UDC likes to provide a more relaxed pace, taking 4.5 days, and four nights’ accommodations are included rather than three. Trimix is available for those interested in deeper diving. They have kayaks free for their divers to use, and there is good snorkeling right around their dock. The shop also rents out sea kayaks and offers dive trips to the Cayos Cochinos.


Shops selling dive gear include Cross Creek, Utila Dive Centre, and Bay Islands College of Diving, and there is a shop selling mares gear right on the main drag through town. For more information on dive shops and diving in Utila, check out the website.


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Honduras & the Bay Islands.

The Beaches of Lahaina: A Sunbather’s Paradise

White wash runs up onto golden sand where a woman sits letting the water run over her.
Enjoying the perfect weather at Canoe Beach. Photo © Peyri Herrera, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

The beaches of Lahaina are the most underrated on the island. The swimming is poor due to the offshore reef, but they are sunnier, less crowded, and more protected from the wind than most other beaches on Maui. If it’s raining in Kapalua or Napili, or windy on Ka‘anapali Beach, 90 percent of the time it’s going to be sunny and calm on the beaches of Lahaina.


Makila Beach

Also known as Breakwall, 505, or Shark Pit, this is the most happening stretch of sand in Lahaina. Most visitors access the beach from Kamehameha Iki Park, and there is beach parking in a small lot or in the back of the Front Street tennis courts. This is the area where most of the surf schools set out from. There is also a beach volleyball court which can get busy during the afternoons. Visitors are encouraged to marvel at the Polynesian voyaging canoes on display as part of the Hui O Wa‘a Kaulua Canoe Club. This area was once the playground of Hawaiian royalty. You can hear the drums of the Feast of Lele lu‘au while watching the sunset from here the north end of the beach, which can be busy. Visitors rarely wander to the south end of the beach where palm trees hang out over a secluded cove. Locals call this area Shark Pit, referencing the harmless reef sharks which hang around the offshore ledge. The swimming here is poor due to the offshore reef, although it provides calm water for wading with small children. There is one shower but no restroom at this beach.


Pu‘unoa and Mala (Baby Beach)

On the northern end of Front Street, the beach which runs along Pu‘unoa Point (and known to locals as Baby Beach) is an oasis of tranquility where you have to ask yourself if you’re still in Lahaina. Shielded from visitors by its residential location—and protected from big surf by the offshore reef—the sand running along this lazy promontory is the perfect spot for a sitting in a beach chair and listening to the waves. Numerous trees provide shade, and the calm waters are ideal for beachgoers with young children or those who want to tan on a raft.

Finding the beach can be a challenge, and parking can be an issue. For the access point with the largest amount of parking, turn off Front Street onto Ala Moana Street by the sign for Mala Ramp. Instead of heading down to the boat launch, proceed straight on Ala Moana until the road ends by the Jodo mission. From here you will see the beach in front of you, and the best section of beach will be a five-minute walk to your left along the sand. Transients sometimes hang out around this parking lot; don’t leave any valuables in your car. If you’re walking from downtown Lahaina, the quickest access to the nicest part of beach is to turn off Front Street onto Kai Pali Place where you will notice a shoreline access path. If you are coming from downtown Lahaina, this turn will be about three minutes after you pass the Hard Rock Café.


Wahikuli and Hanakao‘o Beach Parks (Canoe Beach)

On the northern tip of Lahaina, these two beach parks comprise the strip of land between Front Street and Ka‘anapali. Wahikuli is the beach closer to Lahaina, and Hanakao‘o is the one at the southern edge of the Hyatt. Of the two beaches, Wahikuli offers better swimming, although a secret about Hanakao‘o is that on the days when the main stretch of Ka‘anapali Beach is windy, Hanakao‘o stays tucked in a cove where the wind can barely reach. Hanakao‘o is also known as Canoe Beach since this is where many of the outrigger canoe regattas are held on Saturday mornings. As of the time of writing, a new beach path was being constructed so visitors can walk or ride bicycles from the south end of Ka‘anapali through Hanakao‘o, Wahikuli, and down to Front Street in Lahaina.


Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Maui.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland

Silhouetted flocks of birds cross an orange sky as the sun reflects in the glassy surface of the water.
Birds in flight as the sun goes down at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (2145 Key Wallace Dr., 410/228-2677, daily dawn-dusk, vehicles $3, pedestrians $1, cyclists $1) was established in 1933 as a sanctuary for waterfowl migrating along the Atlantic Flyway (a migration route along the Atlantic coast). It is open all year 12 miles south of Cambridge. The refuge encompasses 27,000 acres including freshwater, brackish tidal wetlands, meadows, and forest.

More than 250 species of birds live in the refuge, and it is home to the largest breeding population of bald eagles on the East Coast north of Florida. The eagle population swells in the winter months, when many birds migrate here from northern areas. During the winter, the refuge is also home to more than 35,000 geese and 15,000 ducks. Fall (Sept.-Nov.) is the best time to see migrating waterfowl and songbirds.

A wide variety of mammals also live in the refuge. Delmarva fox squirrels, southern flying squirrels, voles, shrews, nutria, gray foxes, red foxes, river otters, mink, skunks, deer, and beavers all call the refuge home.

There is a wonderful visitor center on Key Wallace Drive (year-round Mon.-Fri. 8am- 4pm, Sat.-Sun. 9am-5pm) with wildlife exhibits, nature books, birding guides, a butterfly garden, maps, restrooms, and a gift shop. The prime attraction in the refuge is the Wildlife Drive, a four-mile paved road where visitors can drive, bike, and walk through the refuge to view wildlife. There is also a great viewing platform over the marsh. In addition to the Wildlife Drive, the refuge has four land trails and three paddling trails. Visitors can also hunt, fish, and crab. Environmental education programs are also offered for young people.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Virginia & Maryland.

Dining Etiquette in Hong Kong

A series of dishes in steaming baskets similar.
Yum Cha (tea tasting) dishes. Photo © Yi Chen, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Much of Hong Kong life seems to revolve around the dining table and communal eating is essential to everything from family life to concluding business deals. Evening meals and business lunches are often done in groups and food is shared, as evidenced by the spinning tables used in restaurants to deliver grand feasts to up to eight people. Communal dining is a highly ritualized experience; there are a few rules and customs worth following to make sure you end up with food—and not your foot—in your mouth.

[pullquote align=”right”]Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty when dining.[/pullquote]Whoever is oldest, or at business meetings the most senior, acts as the host. You should wait for the host to sit at the head of the table and invite you to sit, before taking your seat. It’s normal for the host to order for everyone and although they will usually ask for suggestions, it’s best to keep your arm down. It’s considered good form and food face to let them do the ordering. In general, a good host will not order anything normally seen between the pages of National Geographic, but there are occasions when an honor meal will be served, usually involving something rare, pricy, and potentially displeasing to a Westerner’s palate. Shark Fin soup is the most popular and fairly inoffensive, at least to the taste buds. Unfortunately, there is little room here to escape eating without causing offence. Health reasons or allergies are the best excuse, although both can be a tough sell for the snake course special. Tea and water are usually provided as communal drinks and, at business dinners, wine or a spirit, though rarely beer.

Once the food arrives, resist the temptation to spear the nearest piece of meat with your chopsticks. instead, wait for the host to dig in. Food generally comes in small bowls, along with side dishes of vegetables, various sauces, and rice. Health scares mean communal chopsticks are now used to serve food. It’s best not to treat the table as a roulette wheel and instead wait for the host to spin the table and deliver a different set of food within striking distance of your chopsticks. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty when dining. Slurping, chomping, and lip-smacking are considered celebrations of the quality of food and you can feel free to lift soup bowls to your lips to lap up the leftovers or suck any bones dry—everybody else will. Next to your bowl you’ll be provided with a small plate to deposit any bones, gristle, or other leftovers. Avoid sticking chopsticks upright into rice, which signifies death, or laying them across the top of your bowl. Instead, set them to the side on your plate.

The bill is the responsibility of the host and splitting the bill is very rare. Instead, you can reciprocate the offer of a meal sometime in the future, if amongst friends.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Hong Kong.

A Guide to Free Saturday Tours in Jerusalem

A road in the Old City leading toward Jaffa Gate.
A road in the Old City leading toward Jaffa Gate. Photo © Brian Jeffery Beggerly, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Saturday is one of the best days of the week to go on a free tour in Jerusalem. Most of the city shuts down and doesn’t start opening again until late Saturday evening so there is very little foot and vehicular traffic. It’s also a good chance to explore some of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods (for detailed tour listings by type, go to www.itraveljerusalem.com).

Several types of three-hour-long Saturday tours depart at 10am from Safra Square (24-26 Yafo St., 02/531-4600, free).

  • The Explore Ethiopia Tour explores Eliezer Ben Yehuda’s old neighborhood (he was instrumental in reviving the Hebrew language) and also goes through the Russian Compound, Beit Anna Ticho, Ethiopia Street, Bnei Brit Library, and Beit Tavor Street.
  • The German Colony Tour takes you through the neighborhood built by German Templars at the end of the 19th century and includes a route from King David Street down through Emek Refaim Valley.
  • The Hanevi’im Tour takes visitors through the history of Hanevi’im Street and its ties to the British, Germans, Italians, and Ethiopians. Some of the buildings on the tour help tell the stories of famous leaders, ambassadors, doctors, poets, artists, and hermits.
  • The Kidron Valley Tour explores the burial grounds of the Second Temple period, the Kidron River and its streams, and the story behind four rock-hewn graves here. The route goes through Jaffa Gate, the Jewish Quarter, Dung Gate, Kidron Valley viewpoint, and Kidron Valley proper.
  • The Muslim Quarter Tour takes you from Damascus Gate in the Old City to the Western Wall.
  • The Rehavya Walking Tour includes national institutions in the Rehavya neighborhood, including a monastery and the President of Israel’s home.
  • Sandeman’s New Europe Free Jerusalem Tour meets just inside the Old City’s Jaffa Gate by the tourism information stand (8:45am and 11am Fri., 8:45am, 11am, and 2pm Sat.-Thurs.). Look for the guides in the red Sandeman’s T-shirts; guides might encourage you to tip them.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Jerusalem & the Holy Land.

David Baldacci on THE FINISHER

You may have seen David Baldacci’s name on your parents’ bookshelves before — he’s written 27 novels for adults, and there are more than 110 million copies of his books in print worldwide! We’re happy to report, though, that his latest endeavor — THE FINISHER — belongs squarely in the YA section of your local library.

In this interview, David tells us about his writing process, the mythological creatures that inspired some of the monsters in THE FINISHER and why he chose to write from a female perspective. Read more here.

Discover the Always Interesting Beat of Nashville, Tennessee

View of the downtown Nashville skyline at midday.
Nashville’s downtown. Photo © Henryk Sadura/123rf.

When it comes to creative energy, nowhere compares to Music City. People come here to make their dreams come true. Even before Johnny Cash picked up a guitar or Elvis entered RCA Studio B, this was a city that attracted mavericks and iconoclasts. And whether you have a banjo in that overhead bin or you can’t tell a harmony from a melody, it doesn’t matter. Because Nashville isn’t just about the music. People here are willing to try new things and do things differently.

[pullquote align=”right”]You don’t have to be here more than a day or two to encounter truly talented musicians singing on the curb on Broadway or taste the creative genius emerging from the kitchens of the city’s restaurants—both upscale and down home.[/pullquote]Creativity of all kinds flows in the veins of folks who call this place home. Nashville is filled with hyphenates like chef-singer-songwriters and artist-poet-hula-hoop-makers. It fosters an entrepreneurial energy that results in funky music clubs for jamming, quirky boutiques for shopping, and one-of-a-kind roadside eateries for… well, eating.

But the “anything can happen” attitude isn’t limited just to residents. You don’t have to be here more than a day or two to encounter truly talented musicians singing on the curb on Broadway or taste the creative genius emerging from the kitchens of the city’s restaurants—both upscale and down home. Whether you’re in town for the weekend or for good, take advantage of that optimism, offered with a dash of Southern hospitality. Move to the offbeat and always interesting Nashville beat.


The Setting

Map of Downtown Nashville, TN
Downtown Nashville
The Cumberland River winds its way through Nashville, bending and turning through its neighborhoods and skyline. The river and its banks provide Music City with the water for its lush, green open spaces. It’s also responsible for some of the traffic congestion, as streets curve along its meanders. Often heading to the next neighborhood requires finding a bridge.

That said, Nashville’s location in the Cumberland River basin is part of its appeal. The river gives even Music City’s most urban areas a bucolic quality. The neighborhoods are full of hustle and bustle, but it doesn’t take much effort to escape when you need some R&R.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Nashville.

Horseback Riding and Bird-Watching in Central Maui

A paddock with a donkey is in the foreground with a dramatic view of cliffs dropping into the ocean in the distance.
At Mendes Ranch, a family-run operation on the road to Kahakuloa. Photo © Steve Isaacs, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Horseback Riding

The most well-known horseback riding outfit on this side of the island is Mendes Ranch (3530 Kahekili Hwy., 808/871-5222), a family-run operation on the road to Kahakuloa. Just before the seven-mile marker on Kahekili Highway, often you will smell Mendes Ranch before you see it. That’s what happens when you have a fully operational ranch with more than 300 head of cattle, but it’s all part of the paniolo experience. While group sizes can be large and the 1.5-hour rides run $110/person, what separates Mendes from all the other ranches is that you can actually run the horses. That’s right: You can gallop at Mendes, so there’s no nose-to-tail riding here. The ride itself goes from the family ranch house down the bluffs to the windswept shoreline, and lunch can be included with some of the tours. Expect afternoon rides to be windy and the morning rides to be clearer and calm. The coastal views here aren’t accessible by any other means, and Mendes Ranch is a fabulous option to see them.

Much closer to the main resort areas is the central Makani Olu Ranch (363 W. Waiko Rd., 808/870-0663), another working cattle ranch set back in the Waikapu Valley. Only 25 minutes from Wailea and 35 minutes from Ka‘anapali, Makani Olu maintains a herd of 100 longhorn cattle and caps the trail rides at only four riders. The two-hour, $125 ride takes guests across Waikapu Stream into the forest behind the Maui Tropical Plantation and eventually turns inland and works its way up the valley. The views from this part of the trail look back at Haleakala and the green central isthmus, and this is the only way you can gain access to this remote part of the island. Unlike at Mendes Ranch, all the tours are at walking pace only, which makes them a better option for novice riders. A lunch option is available with the ride, and experienced riders can opt for a $150, private or semiprivate ride that includes 45 minutes in a round pen working on skills. While this is a nice option for families, all riders must be over 10 years old and under 220 pounds.


Bird-Watching

The best bird-watching in Central Maui is at the Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary, five minutes from the Kahului airport along Hana Highway. This royal fishpond used to provide island ali‘ i with a consistent supply of mullet, although the dredging of Kahului Harbor in 1910 altered the natural flow of water. Today this pond is on the migratory route of various birds and serves as a temporary home to dozens of vagrant bird species. Most important, it’s also home to the endangered Hawaiian stilt (ae‘o), a slender, 16-inch bird with a black back, white belly, and sticklike pink legs. The Hawaiian coot (‘alae ke‘oke‘o), a gray-black, duck-like bird that builds large floating nests, may also be seen here. An observation pavilion is maintained on the pond’s south edge, accessible through a gate by a short walkway from the parking area. This pavilion is always open and free of charge. Entry to the walking trails within the sanctuary is free, but only by permit on weekdays from the first day of September to the last day of March. Apply 8am-3:30pm Monday-Friday at the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife (54 S. High St., Rm. 101, Wailuku, 808/984-8100) and supply the exact dates and times of your intended visit.

The best place for bird-watching in Wailuku is the Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Preserve, an expanse of low grassland where various seabirds and native species can be observed.


Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Maui.

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