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The Rainforests of Colombia

Rainforests are among the most complex ecosystems on Earth. They have a layered structure with towering trees that soar 30-40 meters high to form the forest’s canopy. Some of the most common rainforest trees are the ceiba, mahogany, myrtle, laurel, acacia, and rubber trees. Occasionally, particularly high trees known as emergentes pierce the canopy, reaching as high up as 60 meters (200 feet). Below the canopy is the sotobosque, a middle layer of smaller trees and palms that vie for the sunlight filtering in through the canopy. In the canopy and sotobosque there are many epiphytes (plants such as orchids and bromeliads) that have adapted to live on top of trees so as to be nearer to the sunlight. Near the ground live plants that require little sunlight, including ferns, grasses, and many types of fungi. The two main rainforests in Colombia, the Amazon and the Chocó, have the same layered structure, though they have some differences in their flora and fauna.

A view over the Colombian rainforest canopy.
The Amazon rainforest is considered the lungs of the world. Photo © najarich, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

[pullquote align=right]Of Colombia’s 1,800 species of birds, more than 1,000 have been identified in the Chocó, including a large number of hummingbirds.[/pullquote]The Amazon Rainforest is home to a large number of vertebrates. Over millennia, a large number of canopy-dwelling species evolved. Monkeys, such as the large and extremely agile spider monkey, the woolly monkey, and the howler monkey, evolved prehensile tails that allowed them to move easily from branch to branch. Anteaters, such as the tamandua and the oso mielero (giant anteater), and the incredibly cute kinkajú (kinkajou) also developed prehensile tails. Other inhabitants of the canopy include sloths, such as the adorable-looking three-toed sloth, whose strategy is not agility but passivity: It eats tree vegetation and is covered with algae which gradually turn it green to allow for good camouflage. The canopy is also home to myriad bats and many birds, including exotic eagles, curassows, toucans, woodpeckers, cotingas, and macaws.

Notable is the majestic harpy eagle, with powerful claws and the ability to fly unencumbered through the canopy. It preys on monkeys and sloths, which it kills with the force of its claws. The tigrillo (tiger cat) is a small and extremely endangered species. It has a long tail that helps with its balance as it moves from tree to tree.

On the ground, large vertebrates include the extremely endangered tapir, an ancient mammal species that can grow two meters long (over six feet) and weigh 300 kilograms (660 pounds). It is equally at ease on land as in the water. Other land mammals include the giant armadillo, giant anteater, deer, and boars, such as the saíno and pecarí. Smaller mammals include the guatín and borugo, both rodents. These animals are often prey to the puma and jaguar, both of which inhabit the Amazon but are difficult to observe in the wild.

The rivers of the Amazon are home to more than 1,500 species of fish, including endangered pirarucú, one of the largest freshwater fishes on Earth. There are also dolphins, both pink and gray. The former evolved separately from the ocean-going dolphins when the Amazon was an inland sea. The Amazonian gray dolphins are sea dolphins that adapted to living in freshwater. Other aquatic mammals include the highly endangered manatee and otters.

A red tree frog climbing in the Amazon rain forest.
Many species of frogs are active in the day and therefore relatively easy to spot. Photo © dirk ercken/123rf.

The Chocó Rainforest is particularly rich in palms, of which 120 species have been identified. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as the “Land of the Palms.” The forest also abounds in cycads, ancient plants that have a stout trunk and crowns of hard, stiff leaves. Chocó is also notable for more than 40 species of brightly colored poisonous frogs, known locally as ranas kokois. These small frogs are covered with a deadly poison and have evolved stunning coloring, from bright orange to red, gold, and blue. They are active in the day and therefore relatively easy to spot. Of Colombia’s 1,800 species of birds, more than 1,000 have been identified in the Chocó, including a large number of hummingbirds. Offshore, the Pacific welcomes the annual migration of Antarctic humpback whales. The beaches of the Pacific Coast are popular nesting areas for sea turtles, in particular the tortuga golfina (olive ridley) and tortuga carey (hawksbill) sea turtles. On the island of Gorgona 35 kilometers from the mainland, an unusual—and quite stunning—species of lizard is the blue anole lizard. Highly threatened, it is found only on Gorgona.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Colombia.

Touring Havana’s Cigar Factories

You’ll forever remember the pungent aroma of a cigar factory, a visit to which is de rigueur when you’re in Havana. The factories, housed in colonial buildings, remain much as they were in the mid-19th century. Though now officially known by ideologically sound names, they’re still commonly referred to by their prerevolutionary names. Each specializes in a number of cigar brands of a particular flavor—the government assigns to certain factories the job of producing particular brands.

Tours usually bypass the tobacco preparations and begin in the galeras (rolling rooms), then pass to the quality-control methods.

Note that the factory names are switched between factories with annoying regularity when one or more close for repair, and that no cameras or bags are permitted.

Fábrica El Laguito cigar factory in Havana, Cuba.
Fábrica El Laguito. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Factories with Guided Tours

You must purchase your ticket in advance at any state tour agency.

  • Fábrica Corona (20 de Mayo #520, e/ Marta Abreu y Línea, Cerro, tel. 07/873-0131, Mon.-Fri. 9am-11am and 1pm-3pm, CUC10) is a modern cigar factory producing Hoyo de Monterey, Punch, and other labels.
  • Fábrica de Tabaco H. Upmann (Padre Varela, e/ Desagüe y Peñal Verno, Centro Habana, tel. 07/878-1059 or 07/879-3927, 9am-1pm, CUC10), formerly the Fábrica de Tabaco Romeo y Julieta, reopened to visits in 2013 as the temporary home of H. Upmann.
  • Fábrica de Tabaco Partagás (Luceña esq. Penalver, Centro Habana), formerly the El Rey del Mundo factory, opened in 2011 to house the Partagás workers.
  • Fábrica de Tabaco Partagás (Calle Industria #520, e/ Dragones y Barcelona, Habana Vieja, tel. 07/862-0086 or 07/878-4368), the original home of Partagás remained closed for repair at press time.
A man works rolling cigars in a Cuban factory.
Cigar roller at Fábrica de Tabaco H. Upmann. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Factories Requiring Permission to Visit

  • Fábrica El Laguito (Av. 146 #2302, e/ 21 y 21A, Cubanacán, tel. 07/208-2486) makes Cohibas. Since Cohibas are made from only the finest leaves, El Laguito is given first choice from the harvest. El Laguito also makes the best cigar in the world—the Trinidad, a 7.5-inch-long cigar made exclusively for Castro to present to diplomats and dignitaries. Requests to visit should be made through Tabacuba (Virtudes #609, e/ Escobar y Gervasio, Centro Habana, tel. 07/877-6861), which is in charge of the industry.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Havana.

Getting Around Moloka‘i

Moloka‘i is home to a culture straddling the divide between modernity and tradition. Residents stopped in the middle of the road “talking story” in a “Moloka‘i traffic jam” may be the only cause of traffic on the island: its 7,500 residents still don’t have to worry about stoplights. That’s one of the reasons why getting around Moloka‘i is fairly easy and convenient.

A 5mph speed limit sign warns of a twisty road ahead on Moloka‘i.
While there may not be much traffic on Moloka‘i, this speed limit sign still warns you to take it easy on the curves. Photo © Big Blue Ocean, licensed Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike.

Another reason getting around is fairly easy is the closest thing to public transportation on all of Moloka‘i: the MEO public shuttle bus. The shuttle operates three routes throughout the island at times just frequent enough to make it convenient. Service in Kaunakakai originates in front of Misaki’s Market on Ala Malama Street and runs six times daily to Maunaloa and eight times daily to Puko‘o in East Moloka‘i. Along the routes the driver will usually let you stop off wherever you please. Though the service is technically free, donations to keep the shuttle going are graciously accepted. Exact schedules can be found by visiting http://www.meoinc.org.

For a more direct route–and best known as a conduit between the airport, ferry, and wherever it is you’re staying–Hele Mai Taxi (808/336-0937 or 808/646-9060) also offers private tours of the island and will get you wherever you need to go 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Also available is Mid-Nite Taxi (808/658-1410 or 808/553-5652), although the service can be a little spottier at times.

If you’d like to take care of the driving yourself, the only rental car agency with a booth in the airport is Alamo (808/567-6381 or 888/826-6893 toll free, 6am-8pm daily), which also has the largest fleet of cars on the island. For those staying a minimum of three days, Moloka‘i Outdoors (808/553-4477) rents SUVs, cars, and vans, and can provide cheaper rates for extended stays. If you’ve taken the ferry, check the Cruise and Car Package deal offered by the Moloka‘i Ferry (877/500-6284).

Keep in mind if you do rent a vehicle that there are only two gas stations on the island—right next to each other in Kaunakakai. Be sure you have at least half a tank of fuel before heading out on an adventurous day trip to Halawa or Papohaku. Rawlins Chevron (Hwy. 450 and Kaunakakai Pl., 6:30am-8:30pm Mon.-Thurs., 6:30am-9pm Fri.-Sat., 6:30am-6pm Sun.) has longer hours and more supplies, though it still will cost you at least $0.75 more per gallon than back on Maui.

On the other hand, if you’d prefer to let someone else entirely deal with the driving, navigating, and planning, Moloka‘i Outdoors (808/553-4477) offers an Island Tour package which scours the island from Halawa Lookout all the way to Papohaku Beach. Operating three times per week, these tours cover the island in an air-conditioned van and usually carry a small group of only 4-8 people. Rates for the island tour run $150 for adults and $78 for children.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Sydney’s Best Day Trips

As you’d probably expect, day trips offered in and around Sydney are mostly outdoor excursions immersing you in the land and culture of the country. These are tours in every sense of the word, which means you can expect a comfortable, accessible experience with nothing more challenging than a walk. There’s also an option for those who prefer to stay in the city for their cultural experience.

Sydney Boutique Tours (7 Campbell St., Artamon, tel. 02/9436-1333, adult $250, child under 14 years $229) offers a boutique wildlife tour to the Southern Highlands, pristine bushland where Australia’s iconic wildlife (such as kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and emus) lives without the need for zoos or fences—just a 90-minute drive outside Sydney. This tour leaves at noon and does not return until later in the evening to ensure you have the chance to spot some of the nocturnal animals, such as possums and wombats. Travel in a small group with your own naturalist guide in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, stopping for lunch or afternoon tea and dinner while on “safari.”

A family of flightless Australian birds, the emu, forages through Australia's grasslands.
The emu is the world’s third largest bird. In this species, the female is larger than the male and, after breeding, wanders away and leaves the male to perform all the incubation. Photo © feathercollector/123rf.

[pullquote align=right]Walk with an expert cultural guide through Ku-ring-gai National Park and learn about the local peoples’ art, culture, and traditions.[/pullquote]Take a tour to Canberra, Australia’s capital city, with Down Under Day Tours (tel. 02/9251-7069, Mon., Wed., and Fri., hotel pickup around 7am, returning at 9pm, adult $125, child $63). You’ll see the New and Old Parliaments, the Aboriginal embassy, the Australia War Memorial, the National Museum of Australia, Lake Burley Griffin, and Mount Ainslie. Tour cost includes a guided tour of parliament, entry to the war memorial, and entry to either the national gallery or the national museum.

Wachtl Australia (62/209 Harris St., Pyrmont, tel. 04/1208-6034, from $198) offers a tour to Jervis Bay, where you can swim, go on dolphin trips, or simply relax and enjoy the unspoiled wilderness surroundings of Booderee National Park. Drive out of the city southward, and along the way see Botany Bay, where the first settlers arrived but did not stay; visit the impressive blowhole at Kiama; and spend some time on the pristine Hyams Beach, where you will hopefully be able to spot dolphins and maybe even humpback whales. A 10-hour round-trip, this tour gives you another impression of what’s around the city.

Botany Bay, Sydney, Australia, at sunset.
If you take the Wachtl Australia tour to Jervis Bay, one of the stops along the way is Botany Bay, where the first settlers arrived in Australia. Photo © Leah-Anne Thompson/123rf.

EcoTreasures (tel. 04/1512-1648, adult $145, child $99, hotel pickup 8am, around 5.5 hours, lunch included) takes you north of the city to explore Australia’s Aboriginal heritage on the “Northern Beaches Cultural Heritage Tour.” Walk with an expert cultural guide through Ku-ring-gai National Park and learn about the local peoples’ art, culture, and traditions. Discuss Australia’s native wildlife and ecosystems, search for tracks, and learn about bush tucker; then drive to West Head, which is home to culturally significant Aboriginal sites, including rock engravings, hand stencils, and midden sites.

Find the true essence of Australia in the rural Outback on the “Tobruk Sheep Station Outback Experience” tour offered by Sightseeing (tel. 1300/655-965, adult $149, child $75, around 6.5 hours). You will drive through NSW to a traditional farm, where you can watch the stockmen muster sheep and shear them, eat the typical “damper” (the soda bread prepared by campers in the Outback around a campfire), and maybe even try your hand at shearing or cracking a whip. Lunch is a typical steak followed by a lamington cake, and the experience feels a million miles away from modern Sydney. The return journey takes you past the majestic Hawkesbury River and through the Blue Mountains.

Looking for more than just a one-day trip? Aussie Farmstay and Bush Adventures (tel. 02/9660-3245, adult $1,010, child $640) offers a four-day tour into the bush of Australia, experiencing the country and its ingrained traditions on a varied farm stay. On the way out of Sydney, you will visit the Koala Park Sanctuary and travel through the Blue Mountains to Mudgee for a wine tasting; the next day you will get into sheep shearing, bush craft, enjoying Australian bush tucker (food traditionally eaten and prepared by the Aboriginal peoples) around a campfire, and learning about the stars in the southern hemisphere sky. On day three, visit the country town of Canowindra, a fossil museum, and the Abercrombie Caves. Stay in the Megalong Valley in a log cabin. On day four you’ll go horseback riding in the Jamison Valley, visit the Scenic Railway in Katoomba, and see Aboriginal rock art before heading back. All accommodations, meals, and activities are included.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef.

Planning a Trip to the Virgin Islands

When planning a trip to the Virgin Islands, there’s a lot to take into account: your budget, when to go, how you’ll get there, and what necessities to pack. Fortunately–and unlike the question of what to do once you get there, considering all the excellent activities and opportunities to relax–those questions are easily answered with this travel advice.

Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands of the Carribean.
Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands of the Carribean. Photo © sean pavone/123rf.

When to Go

Prices, experiences, and weather vary considerably depending on the time of year you visit the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

[pullquote align=right]The so-called shoulder seasons (April, November) may be the best time of all to visit the islands, especially if you’re on a budget.[/pullquote]Winter (December-March) is the high season, when North Americans and Europeans come to escape cold weather back home. This coincides with the dry season in the islands, and the season of the best sailing winds and coolest, most comfortable temperatures. If cost is no object, there is simply no better time to visit than when the weather is clear and sunny, the breezes blow, and there is a whole array of things to do.

During the summer (May-October), travelers will find bargains. Most hotels offer discounts of up to 40 percent during summer, and airfare tends to be less, too. It is hotter, and the winds tend to die down for sailing. Some establishments, including dive shops, museums, cultural centers, and stores, cut back their hours.

The so-called shoulder seasons (April, November) may be the best time of all to visit the islands, especially if you’re on a budget. You’ll typically enjoy pleasant weather (not too hot), lower prices (15-30 percent lower than winter rates), and fewer tourists (you’ll have the beaches to yourself).

Also take into account the hurricane season (June-November). While you should not expressly avoid traveling to the Virgin Islands during the hurricane season, buy trip insurance if you do, especially for trips from August to October, the peak of the hurricane season. Flights are usually the first thing to be canceled when a storm approaches.

Before You Go

Passports

Citizens of the United States traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands will not require a passport. Travelers to the British Virgin Islands do, however, need a passport with at least six months validity remaining.

Transportation

Visitors to the Virgin Islands can fly directly to St. Thomas and St. Croix from several major U.S. cities. You can also fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and catch a commuter flight to St. Thomas, St. Croix, Tortola (Beef Island), or Virgin Gorda. Visitors from Europe can also consider routing through Antigua, St. Maarten, or the Dominican Republic.

You should always make hotel (or charter boat) reservations ahead of time, and it’s a good idea to reserve a car in advance, too, especially if you come in the high season. Other arrangements can be made once you get to the islands.

What to Take

When it comes to packing, light, loose-fitting clothes are best; pack a few long-sleeved shirts and light pants for the evenings, especially in the winter.

Nothing ruins a vacation faster than a ruined camera, so consider bringing a few disposable waterproof or underwater cameras for use near the water.

Be sure to prepare for the sun: Bring sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, lip balm with sun protection, and lots of reef-safe sunscreen. The chemical oxybenzone, commonly used in sunscreens, has been proven to negatively affect coral reefs, already under stress from disease, rising sea temperatures, pollution, and careless snorkelers and boaters. When you’re stocking up, carefully check sunscreen labels and look for formulas whose active ingredients are zinc oxide or titanium dioxide instead.


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon U.S. & British Virgin Islands.

Discover Brazil

It’s not surprising that at the turn of the last century, Brazil was sometimes referred to as “the Brazils”—after all, how could “Brazil” in its singular form possibly contain the vastly diverse worlds that coexist in South America’s largest nation?

[pullquote align=”right”]Brazil is lulling, but it’s also intense. Its landscapes are invariably dramatic, often secluded, and mind-numbingly beautiful.[/pullquote]Most people hear Brazil and imagine themselves stretched out on a sugary beach lapped by warm turquoise waters, sipping lime caipirinhas. Indeed, Brazil’s continent-size coastline is sheer bliss for surfers and divers, dog paddlers and sun worshippers. Yet it’s also home to the desertlike Sertão, lush coastal mountain-scapes, the dense Amazon rain forest, and the Pantanal, a wetland ecosystem teeming with giant otters, jaguars, and a symphony of bird calls.

Rowboats float in the clear green waters off a busy beach.
Buzios beach in Rio de Janeiro. Photo © Elder Salles.

Brazil has something for all travelers. If you want to kick back and zone out, its casual vibe and mesmerizing scenery will have you in a state of Zen. But if you’re in search of challenges and thrills, the endless opportunities range from hang gliding over Rio’s Guanabara Bay and rafting beneath Iguaçu Falls to dune-buggying across the beaches of Ceará and swimming with pink river dolphins in the Rio Negro.

Brazil is lulling, but it’s also intense. Its landscapes are invariably dramatic, often secluded, and mind-numbingly beautiful. Its cities thrum with overlapping rhythms and unexpected contrasts. Cutting-edge cultural centers sit next to 18th-century baroque churches. Surfer boys in flip-flops parade their dripping boards past gleaming skyscrapers. And when it’s time to eat, drink, and be merry, there are botecos (bars) that host samba jams and serve feijoada, the succulent national stew of beans and salted meat, as well as sophisticated clubs that throb to tecno bossa and restaurants where your mango might be topped by seared foie gras.

As varied as their country are Brazilians themselves—a mixture of indigenous, African, and European peoples, all of whom have left profound marks on Brazil’s unique culture. Despite difficult economic and social circumstances, you’ll find Brazilians to be warm, good-humored, and champions at the art of enjoying themselves. Carnaval is merely one example of the many celebrations that allow Brazilians to let loose with contagious alegria (joyfulness). No matter which of the many “Brazils” you visit, you won’t leave without some of it rubbing off on you.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Brazil.

A Guided Walk Along Calle Obispo in Havana

Linking Plaza de Armas with Parque Central, pedestrians-only Calle Obispo is Habana Vieja’s busiest shopping street and a fascinating walking tour steeped in history. You’ll have the opportunity to visit half a dozen museums and historical sites, including one of Hemingway’s old haunts and a truly ancient apothecary, as well as tour beautifully preserved and restored architecture. This walking tour begins in Plaza Albear and takes you all the way through to Plaza de Armas, stopping at all the sights along the way.

[pullquote align=right]Hemingway’s quarters have been preserved, with furnishings from his home, Finca Vigía, including his typewriter.[/pullquote]From Plaza Albear, walk east. Fifty meters on your left you’ll pass the Infotur office. Crossing Calle Havana, five blocks east of Plaza Albear, you arrive at Havana’s erstwhile “Wall Street,” centered on Calles Obispo, Cuba, and Aguiar, where the main banks were concentrated prior to the Revolution. The Museo Numismático (Coin Museum, Obispo, e/ Habana y Aguiar, tel. 07/861-5811, Tues.-Sat. 9am-4:45pm, Sun. 9:30am-5pm, CUC1) displays a broad-ranging collection of coins and banknotes spanning the Greco, Roman, and Phoenician epochs, as well as Spanish coins plus Cuban money from the republican era. Across the street is the Museo 28 de Septiembre (Obispo #310, tel. 07/864-3253, daily 9am-5:30pm, CUC2), a dour museum telling the history of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.

Pedestrians walking along Calle Obispo.
Pedestrians walking along Calle Obispo. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Continue one block to Drogería Johnson (Obispo #361, tel. 7/862-3057, daily 9am-5pm), an ancient apothecary that still operates as a pharmacy.

At the corner of Calle Cuba you reach the former Banco Nacional de Cuba (Obispo #211, esq. Cuba), in a splendid neoclassical building fronted by fluted Corinthian columns; it is occupied by the Ministerio de Finanzas y Precios (Ministry of Finance and Prices). Beyond, don’t miss the Museo y Farmacia Taquechel (Obispo #155, esq. Aguiar, tel. 07/862-9286, daily 9am-6pm, free), another fascinating and dusty old apothecary with mixing vases, mortars and pestles, and colorful ceramic jars full of herbs and potions.

Across the street, on the north side of Obispo, is the Edificio Santo Domingo, a looming contemporary building occupying the site of the Convento de Santo Domingo, which between 1727 and 1902 housed the original University of Havana. The building has been remodeled with a replica of the original baroque doorway and campanile containing the original bell. The building today houses the Museo de la Universidad (Calle O’Reilly, no tel., Tues.-Sat. 9:30am-5pm, Sun. 9:30am-1pm), displaying miscellany related to the early university.

Fifty meters beyond Museo y Farmacia Taquechel you’ll arrive at the rose-pink Hotel Ambos Mundos (Obispo #153, esq. Mercaderes, tel. 07/860-9530), dating from 1925. Off and on throughout the 1930s, Hemingway laid his head in room 511, where he wrote The Green Hills of Africa and Death in the Afternoon. The room is today a museum (daily 10am-5pm, CUC2). Hemingway’s quarters have been preserved, with furnishings from his home, Finca Vigía, including his typewriter.

One block farther brings you to a 50-meter-long cobbled pedestrian section and the oldest mansion in Havana: The Casa del Agua la Tinaja (Obispo #111) sells mineral water (CUC0.25 a glass). The Museo de la Orfebrería (Museum of Silverwork, Obispo #113, tel. 07/863-9861, Tues.-Sat. 9:30am-5pm, Sun. 9:30am-1pm, free) is crammed with silver and gold ornaments from the colonial era, including a splendid collection of swords and firearms. Next door, the Museo de Pintura Mural (Painted Mural Museum, Obispo #119, tel. 07/864-2354, Tues.-Sat. 9:30am-5:30pm, Sun. 9:30am-1pm), displays colonial murals, plus a quitrin (traditional low-slung, horse-drawn cart of the colonial nobility).

Another 50 meters brings you to Plaza de Armas.

Travel map of Habana Vieja, Cuba
Habana Vieja

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Havana.

The Black Christ of Guadalajara de Buga, Colombia

The city of Guadalajara de Buga (pop. 115,000), founded in 1555, was one of the first cities established by the Spaniards in New Granada. It is best known as a place of pilgrimage. More than a million Colombian faithful come each year to pray at the Basílica Señor de los Milagros. Buga may not be chock full of attractions, but it is an excellent launching point from which to discover many lesser-known sights and breathe the fresh air of the Valle de Cauca. Plus, it’s a friendly kind of place.

[pullquote align=right]Praying to the “Black Christ” is believed to provide miracles, and the story behind this icon is one of generosity, devotion, and miracles.[/pullquote]The star attraction in town for religious pilgrims is the Basílica Señor de los Milagros (Cra. 14 No. 3-62, tel. 2/228-2823, 5:30am-7:30pm daily). Built in the early 20th century, this pink church is not of architectural significance: It’s known for its “Cristo Negro” or Señor de los Milagros—a charred woodcarving of Christ that is displayed in a chapel behind the altar.

Charred woodcarving of Christ called "Señor de los Milagros".
Señor de los Milagros is a charred woodcarving of Christ that is displayed in a chapel behind the altar of the Basílica Señor de los Milagros. Photo © Mario Carvajal, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Praying to the “Black Christ” is believed to provide miracles, and the story behind this icon is one of generosity, devotion, and miracles. In colonial times an indigenous woman who had converted to Christianity saved for years to purchase a crucifix. One day a man crossed her path crying because he’d go to jail if he didn’t pay a debt. The woman showed her generosity to by giving him all the money she had saved. Months later, she noticed a small crucifix floating down the river towards her. She picked it up and made an altar to pray to it. The crucifix grew in size, prompting her and others to believe it had miraculous powers. After years of deterioration, the church decided to burn it and replace it with another, but it never burned, remaining charred and black—another miracle.

The shops lining the Avenida del Milagroso, a pedestrian walkway leading to the church, sell all manner of basilica-related trinkets. Each September 14 there is a large procession in and around town featuring the Señor de los Milagros. It’s accompanied by special masses and ceremonies in the church.

The Parque Cabal (between Clls. 6-7 and Cras. 14-15) is the center of this slow-paced city. Old-timers drink their tinto (small cups of black coffee) in corner cafés in the late afternoon, engrossed in political conversations with their friends, while lottery vendors circulate among the tables hoping to sell a couple of tickets. On the corner of Calle 6 and Carrera 15 is the Catedral de San Pedro (8am-noon and 2pm-6pm Mon.-Fri.), a beautifully preserved, three-nave church that was originally built in the 16th century. It is a couple of blocks west of the park.

Getting There

Buses depart Cali for Buga all day long. Tickets cost around COP$8,000, and the journey through the sugarcane plantations of the Valle takes under two hours. Buses will often leave you at the main highway, and from there you’ll have to walk about 20 minutes or take a cab into town. Cabs are always at the ready to meet arriving buses, and this is easy to do. The pleasant open-air Buga bus station, modern and clean, is a straightforward 15-minute walk from the Buga Hostel.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Colombia.

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge

People silhouetted against a blue sky climbing Sydney's Harbour Bridge.
To get a view like no other, climb Sydney Harbour’s iconic “coat hanger” bridge. It looks steeper than it is and the climb is slow with plenty of breaks, making it accessible for nearly everybody, Photo © Alberto Loyo/123rf.

The best way to really appreciate the Sydney Harbour Bridge is to climb it. There are about 200 steps to get to the top, but the views are some of the best in Sydney.

BridgeClimb (3 Cumberland St., The Rocks, tel. 02/8274-7777, from $198 adult, $148 child midweek at night up to $308 adult, $208 child weekend at dawn or twilight) offers four “ways” to climb the bridge. There is really only one route, but the time of day creates four different experiences: You can go at dawn and maybe not quite catch sunrise (but close to it) or at twilight and catch the sunset. You can go in the middle of the day and be one of those strings of ants people point at from the ferries, or you can go up at night and watch magic happen over lit-up Sydney. Each time has its own advantages and disadvantages, so think what suits you and book ahead, as certain times, such as the night climb, have severely restricted numbers.

[pullquote align=right]It takes around three hours to get to the top and back, so you need a good head for heights and a bit of fitness.[/pullquote]Once checked in, climbers are thoroughly briefed by the experienced staff about the possible dangers and dos and don’ts during the climb. You’ll get suited up in a special “bridge suit” worn over your normal clothes, not only to protect you from the worst of the weather and from getting your clothing snagged, but also to protect the people crossing the bridge underneath you from falling debris. Then you get into a harness and will be wired up with communication equipment. You have to leave cameras and phones behind. Then you go on the climb simulator, to learn a little more about how to behave on the bridge before you are let loose on the real thing. Finally, you are attached to a static line for the duration of the climb, on which you follow a professionally trained climb leader to the top. It takes around three hours to get to the top and back, so you need a good head for heights and a bit of fitness. Be prepared for wind, too—you will be 134 meters (almost 420 feet) above sea level. You will get a photograph of yourself and the group at the top of the bridge.

Note: Climbers must be over 10 years old and more than 102 centimeters (40 inches) in height. If you are up to 24 weeks pregnant, you’ll need a doctor’s certificate to climb; if you are more than 24 weeks pregnant you can’t participate. You will be tested with a Breathalyzer and only allowed up if your blood-alcohol reading is below 0.05. Bring sensible shoes, comfortable clothes, and a sense of adventure.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef.

Surfing Outfitters and Lessons on O‘ahu’s North Shore

If you’re looking for surfing on O‘ahu’s North Shore, there are plenty of outfitters, rental shops, pro lessons and even tours to suit both your skill level and the experience you want.

Hale‘iwa town is full of surf shops that sell apparel, boards, and surf accessories. Hawaiian Island Creations (66-224 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/637-0991, 10am-6pm Mon.-Sat., 9:30am-5pm Sun.) and Wave Riding Vehicles (66-451 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/637-2020, 9am-7pm daily) are two local surf brands with retail shops, and Xcel (66-590 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/637-6239, 9am-5pm daily) is a local wetsuit company where you can find all manner of wetsuits to stay warm and protect yourself from the sun.

A surfboard wedged in the sand on a blue-water beach.
If you didn’t bring your surfing gear with you, Oahu’s North Shore has many outfitters who can help you catch a wave. Photo © Pavel Ilyukhin/123rf.

Surf N Sea (62-595 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/637-9887, 9am-7pm daily) not only has apparel and new and used boards for sale, but they also rent shortboards and longboards by the hour, day, and week. Shortboards are $5 the first hour, $3.50 each additional hour, $24 daily, and $120 weekly; longboards are $7 the first hour, $6 each additional hour, $30 daily, and $150 weekly. Right across the street is Tropical Rush (62-620 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/637-8886, 9am-7pm daily). They sell apparel, new surfboards, and gear, and rent boards by the hour, day, and week.

[pullquote align=right]The surf tours include personalized surf coaching and a video of the session.[/pullquote]Hawaii Eco Divers (61-101 Iliohu Pl., 808/499-9177, 7:30am-9pm daily) offers surf tours for experienced surfers and lessons for beginners. The surf tours include personalized surf coaching and a video of the session, $150 for a morning session or $250 all day for a group of up to three surfers. Surfboards are not included. Their surf lessons run $100 for a three- to four-hour session focusing on catching and riding waves. The lesson rate includes boards and transportation. Sunset Suratt Surf Academy (808/783-8657) gives beginner surfing and stand-up paddling lessons. With an arsenal of boards and vans, they drive to where the surf is best suited for learning. Book online.

Located across from Sharks Cove, North Shore Surf Shop (59-053 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/638-0390, 10am-7:30pm daily) has a huge selection of shortboards, new and used, and carries a lot of the professional surfers’ used boards. They rent shortboards for $25 daily, $60 for three days, $125 weekly, and $300 for a month; longboards are $30 daily, $75 for three days, $140 weekly, and $300 for a month. They also have a retail location in the town of Hale‘iwa.

At Turtle Bay Resort you can rent boards at Hans Hedemann Surf (57-091 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/447-6755 or 808/293-7779, 8am-5pm daily). They rent shortboards and longboards for $15 per hour, $40 for four hours, $50 all day, $60 overnight, $35 each additional day, and $250 per week. Two-hour private lessons go for $150, semi-private lessons are $125, and group lessons, for up to four surfers, are $75. All equipment is included.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

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