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Things to Do and See in Puerto Nariño, Colombia

When you disembark at the village of Puerto Nariño, atop a sloping hill overlooking the Río Loretoyacú, you’ll wonder: Where are the motorbikes? Here in idyllic Puerto Nariño, there are no roads and no motorized vehicles whatsoever. Environmentally minded and forward-thinking town council members decided many years ago that they wanted Puerto Nariño to chart a different path than almost all other towns in Colombia (and for that matter in the world), and for their efforts, this town was named the first tourism sustainable town in the country. Here “roads” are actually palm-lined sidewalks that connect all the neighborhoods of this community together. Puerto Nariño is so peaceful, you’ll probably want to linger a while.


To get a bird’s-eye view of Puerto Nariño and the rivers and jungle beyond, climb up the steps to the Mirador Nai-pata (COP$7,000, closes at 6pm). You pick up an entry ticket in the adjacent house. The tall treehouse (which is what nai-pata means in Ticuna) is the perfect place to be at dusk.

A bird's-eye view of Puerto Nariño. Photo © Andrew Dier.
A bird’s-eye view of Puerto Nariño. Photo © Andrew Dier.

The Centro de Interpretación Ambiental Natütama (cell tel. 312/410-1925, 8am-12:30pm and 2pm-5pm, donations encouraged) is run by the conservation and education nonprofit Natütama. At their center, you can watch some excellent videos about two important river species: the pink dolphin and the manatee. While the pink dolphin is celebrated in indigenous mythology, the unfortunate manatee is not. Thus it has been hunted to the brink of extinction. The focus of this organization is conservation awareness among the community, and in large part due to their educational outreach activities, the number of manatees in the Puerto Nariño area has grown from 11 in 2002 to 24 in 2012. They also sell handicrafts and T-shirts, the proceeds of which help them carry out their activities. Natütama means, in Ticuna, the “world below the water.”


Lago Tarapoto

Lago El Correo and Lago Tarapoto are about a 20-minute boat ride from Puerto Nariño, and this area is a good place for dolphin spotting (both pink and gray), swimming, piranha fishing, and nature hikes. Lago Tarapoto is connected with the Amazon, so by swimming in its serene waters you can truthfully say that you swam in the Amazon. The Lago Tarapoto at 37 square kilometers (14 square miles) is much larger than the adjacent Lago El Correo, which is closer to Puerto Nariño.

There are several spots in this area where you can see renacos, also known as el arbol que camina (the tree that walks), a tree with a jumble of above-ground roots. To get to the lake you’ll have to go with a guide on a boat. The tourist office in Puerto Nariño or any hotel can help organize a visit to these lakes and surrounding flooded jungles. This excursion, pleasant to make in the late afternoon, will cost COP$50,000 per person.

The Colombian Amazon.
The Colombian Amazon. Photo © Lukasz Janyst/123rf.

Getting There and Around

It takes just under two hours on a public boat to make the 87-kilometer (54-mile) river journey from Leticia to Puerto Nariño without stopping. Tickets (COP$24,000 one way) for this trip can be purchased at the Leticia malecón. Look for the office at Malecón Plaza Local 101, to the left of the malecón. Three companies provide this service: Transportes Amazónicos (tel. 8/592-5999), Líneas Amazonas II (tel. 8/592-6711), and Expresos Unidos Tres Fronteras (tel. 8/592-4687). There are usually three boats per day starting at 8am, 10am, and 2pm.

When leaving Puerto Nariño bound for Leticia, make sure you reserve your spot a day or so in advance. You can do this at the office on stilts along the walkway to the docks. Boats leave Puerto Nariño at 7:30am, 11am, 2pm, and 4pm. You can also take a boat to Caballococha, Peru, from Puerto Nariño. Ask at the office about this option.

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4-Day Itinerary: The Mekong Delta via Ho Chi Minh City

Down in the far reaches of the south, the Mekong Delta is a more authentic, off-the-beaten-track part of Vietnam. Things move a bit slower, with less infrastructure than other parts of the country and fewer English speakers. Spend as little as a single day from Saigon out to My Tho or Vinh Long, or keep busy for as long as a week, following the Tien River toward the border before hopping over to Chau Doc and onward into Cambodia.

Bookend a trip to Ho Chi Minh City with a long weekend in the delta. It’s an easy bus ride from HCMC to Vinh Long, one of the delta’s northern towns.

Paddling through the Mekong Delta. Photo © Dana Filek-Gibson.
Paddling through the Mekong Delta. Photo © Dana Filek-Gibson.

Day 1

From downtown Ho Chi Minh City, head to the Western bus station and find a vehicle bound for Vinh Long. Once you arrive, you’ll want to arrange a homestay, either by visiting one of the local travel outfits, stopping by the ferry to An Binh, where you should be able to recruit a willing local to put you up for the night, or simply heading across to the island on your own and scoping out potential accommodations.

Spend some time with your local family, but don’t forget to hop on a bicycle and explore the rest of the island, too. You’ll find a charming church and plenty of fruit orchards down An Binh’s narrow concrete paths. For a locally made gift, give the folks at Viet Artisans a ring to put together your own handmade souvenir in its workshop. Make a point of catching sunset over the river, and eat dinner with your host family.

Day 2

In the morning, travelers have two choices. The first is to enlist the services of your homestay family or an island boat to head out to Cai Be floating market. Do this early, as much of the vibrancy of the market is lost by late morning. The second option is to linger a little longer on An Binh, enjoying your breakfast and a final goodbye to your host family before you head to Can Tho, where another, larger floating market awaits.

Once you arrive, you’ll have the rest of the day to explore the city’s charming waterfront, including the colorful Ong Pagoda, swing by a Khmer wat, or visit the local museum. At some point, you’ll need to arrange your floating market tour for the following day, either with an independent boat at Ninh Kieu Pier or via a hotel or tour outfit.

In the early evening, grab a seat along the river and take in Can Tho’s bustling nighttime activity. If you’re interested in local cuisine, you can hit the town with Open Tour CT, which runs nightlife tours in addition to its daytime offerings. You’ll probably want to get to bed at a reasonable hour, as Can Tho’s floating market is an early-morning affair.

Travel map of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam
The Mekong Delta

Day 3

Rise before the sun to visit Cai Rang Floating Market, the Delta’s largest on-the-water trading post. Depending upon your tour, travelers can spend most of the morning and even part of the afternoon plying the waters of the Can Tho River.

Vendors await their early-morning customers at Cai Rang Floating Market. Photo © Dana Filek-Gibson.
Vendors await their early-morning customers at Cai Rang Floating Market. Photo © Dana Filek-Gibson.

Get back to the downtown docks by mid-afternoon at the latest and either spend the rest of the day taking it easy or hop straight on a bus bound for Tra Vinh.

Day 4

Enjoy an early breakfast at one of the shops overlooking the town’s main roundabout. From here, you can rent a bicycle and set off for Ba Om Pond, Ang Pagoda, and the Khmer Cultural Museum.

Head back to town for lunch. Spend the afternoon exploring the shaded lanes of Tra Vinh, swinging by Ong Pagoda and Ong Met Pagoda on the way. If you’re up for another Buddhist hall of worship, Hang Pagoda is a cycle or taxi ride away, but you can just as easily relax at one of the local cafés in town. Grab dinner at the local market or stop in to La Trau Xanh for a fancier meal.

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Discover the Belize Cayes

On my first trip to Belize, I immediately hopped on a connecting flight to Ambergris Caye. As fate would have it, the plane was full and I was seated next to the pilot. In a matter of minutes, the cockpit views of Belize’s Caribbean coastline overshadowed my angst about flying in a puddle jumper. Surrounded by a vast expanse of sapphire and jade—sea and reef—we soared over one speck of land after another. Mangrove clumps gave way to larger plots brimming with white sand and coconut trees, beckoning from our windows. Years later, these aerial views still take my breath away.

Silk Cayes. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
Silk Cayes. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Belize’s cayes are everyone’s deserted island fantasy come true. While the Belize Barrier Reef is the country’s best-known asset, first-timers miss many of the islands winding along its 180 miles. More than 200 islands are scattered along the country’s shoreline, north to south. They range from uninhabited plots to at least 20 coral isles offering cozy cabanas, postcard-worthy beaches, and utter seclusion. Others, like Laughingbird National Park, a World Heritage Site, are protected swoops of sand where park rangers stand ready to receive day-trippers.

The northern cayes are the most visited—Ambergris being the only caye with paved roads and cars—not least for offering a wide array of tourist amenities and proximity to Belize City. Those who venture off the tourist trail and head south, just an additional one- to two-hour journey, are rewarded with the most spectacular Caribbean scenery. Tobacco Caye’s rustic, overwater cabanas, Ranguana Caye’s charming cottages, and Glover’s Reef’s adventure camp sites are just a handful of idyllic island getaways. Meanwhile, renting an entire caye is a distinct possibility on French Louie Caye or remote Lime Caye, among others.

A stone’s throw from the cayes, a symbolic white line of surf signals the reef’s entrance—a happy sight for divers and snorkelers who find their bliss in marine reserves teeming with giant corals, sponges, and colorful critters.

Regardless of your chosen island, days are spent alfresco: kayaking, sailing, fishing, feasting on fresh catch, swimming alongside rays and turtles, gazing at magnificent frigatebirds hovering in blue skies. Or mastering the art of dolce far niente: the sweetness of doing nothing.

When to Go

High season is mid-December through May, which is considered the “dry season.” Sunny skies and lush vegetation dominate throughout the country during the North American winter. It can change, however. November can be dry and sunny, while December, January, and even February have played host to wet cold fronts that either blow right through or sit around for days. The weather has become more unpredictable each year, as in most places in the world. And when you’re visiting the cayes, weather is critical.

June, July, and August technically form the rainy season, which may mean just a quick afternoon shower or rain for days. This also means significantly discounted accommodations. August is most popular with European backpackers, while December and February are dominated by North Americans. Some tourism businesses shut down completely during the month of September and part of October, the peak of hurricane season.

Your best bet? Be prepared for clouds or sun at any time of year. A week of stormy weather may ruin a vacation planned solely around diving, but it could also provide the perfect setting for exploring the beaches, culture, or inland attractions surrounding each mainland jump-off point.

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Romantic Getaways in the Belize Cayes

On the rise as a wedding and luxury honeymoon escape, Belize offers easy romance, but there are a few unique places and ways to experience the best of all its magic.

Toll bridge connecting San Pedro with north Ambergris Caye. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.
Toll bridge connecting San Pedro with north Ambergris Caye. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Romantic Lodging

  • Infinity pools, a beach, and all-around island glam await at Victoria House on Ambergris Caye. Opt for a beachfront thatch-roofed casita.
  • On Ambergris Caye, Tranquility Bay Resort offers seclusion along a beautiful swim-to-snorkel white-sand beach.
  • Dive or snorkel together daily while staying at Isla Marisol Resort on Glover’s Reef Atoll. Stargaze, camp out on the beach, or live it up in your seafront villa with views of the Belize Barrier Reef.

Fine Dining

  • Reserve a table for two at Habaneros on Caye Caulker, where you’ll dine on a candlelit porch to the sound of live Latin ballads.
  • Share a meal at the beachfront Blue Water Grill, where the breeze and waves drown out the otherwise bustling open dining room.
  • Opt for seclusion under tiki torches at the beachfront Barracuda Bar and Grill in Hopkins Village, where you should splurge on a five-course meal, toes buried in sand.
  • Indulge in fresh catch and unique eats like lobster wontons, before or after dipping in the pool or snuggling on the couch at Rojo Lounge on northern Ambergris Caye.
  • Head off the beaten San Pedro path and enjoy fine dining at Casa Picasso, set in a residential villa turned restaurant. Savor tapas and entrées in a dimly lit, cozy dining room with a romantic turn-of-the-20th-century feel.

Outdoor Adventures

  • Catch a glorious sunset on Caye Caulker by kayaking a deux or hopping on a sunset boat ride. While watching the sun go down, enjoy the boat captain’s freshly made conch ceviche and sip on some bubbly.
  • Stop at Billy Barquedier National Park to enjoy the waterfalls and surrounding jade pool, sheltered by a verdant canope.
  • Head off the beaten path to Río Blanco National Park for a park experience without the crowds.

    Billy Barquedier National Park. Photo © Lebawit Lily Germa.
    Billy Barquedier National Park. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Secluded Escapes

  • Take it up a notch by renting an entire island for yourselves. Spend three blissful days in a wooden home on two-acre French Louie Caye, complete with a caretaker to cook your fresh catch. The sky-blue cottages on Ranguana Caye and its perfect blend of gin-clear seas and white sands are difficult to resist.
  • Get lost off the deep southern tip of Belize by holing up in your wooden, reef-facing cabin on Lime Caye.

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Hilo’s Wailoa River State Recreation Area

To the east of downtown Hilo is Waiakea Pond, a brackish lagoon where people often fish, although that might not be such a great idea given the rumored levels of pollution. The Wailoa River State Recreation Area, which encompasses the lagoon, is a 132-acre preserve set along both sides of this spring-fed pond. City residents use this big broad area for picnics, pleasure walks, informal get-togethers, fishing, and launching boats. On the eastern side are picnic pavilions and barbecue grills. Arching footbridges cross the river connecting the halves.

Stop at the Wailoa Arts & Cultural Center on the western side for tourist information and cultural displays (Mon.-Tues. and Thurs.-Fri. 8:30am-4:30pm, Wed. noon-4:30pm). The walls in the upstairs gallery of this 10-sided building are used to display works of local artists and cultural/historic exhibits, changed on a regular basis. On the lower level hang astonishing pictures of the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis that washed through the city. The Wailoa Center sits in a broad swath of greenery, an open, idyllic park-like area that used to be a cramped bustling neighborhood known as Shinmachi. It, like much of the city, was almost totally destroyed during the tsunami of 1960. Nearby stands the Tsunami Memorial to the residents of this neighborhood who lost their lives in that natural disaster.

A rainbow is caught mimicking the bridge in Hilo's Wailoa River State Park.
A rainbow is caught mimicking the bridge in Hilo’s Wailoa River State Park. Photo © Tristan Schmurr, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Also close by is the county Vietnam War Memorial, dedicated to those who died fighting that war, and a statue of King Kamehameha, a new version of that which graces the town of Kapa‘au at the northern tip of the island.

East of Waiakea Pond and across Manono Street you’ll see Ho‘olulu Park, with the Civic Center Auditorium and numerous athletic stadiums. This is the town’s center for organized athletic events, large cultural festivals, the yearly Merrie Monarch Festival, and the annual county fair.

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Best Kayaking in Kailua

Kailua Beach Park

The same reasons that make Kailua Beach Park an attractive destination for swimming, stand-up paddling—shallow and calm water, and beautiful views all around—make it the hub for kayaking on O‘ahu. You can launch from Kailua Beach Park and paddle out to Flat Island, or paddle up and down the coast. Another popular place to launch from is Lanikai.

Those not comfortable with a little chop on the ocean surface can also kayak in Ka‘elepulu Stream, which spills into the ocean at Kailua Beach Park. The stream opens up into Ka‘elepulu Pond, a wetland area that was flooded to create the Enchanted Lake neighborhood. The water in the stream will contain urban runoff, and if the mouth of the stream has not opened in some time, it can be a bit stinky. On the other side of the coin, the water will be smooth, calm, and more protected from the wind. Just try not to get wet. For first-time kayakers, a group tour is a great way to get acquainted with the water.

Mokulua Islands

The Mokulua Islands, less than a mile offshore from Kailua Beach, are a popular draw. You can actually land on Moku Nui, the larger, more northern island. There’s an inviting beach on the leeward side, just make sure to pull your kayak all the way up to the rocks to allow other people to land. Pack a lunch and put your camera in a dry sack because the view of mainland O‘ahu from the island is breathtaking. There is trail that circles the island, but make sure to remain on the trail because the island is a seabird nesting sanctuary.

Kayaks on the beach of Moku Nui, with the ocean and O‘ahu in the background.
Kayakers rest on the beach of Moku Nui, looking back towards O‘ahu. Photo © jongela19, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.


In Kailua, you can rent kayaks at Hawaiian WaterSports (167 Hamakua Dr., 808/262-5483, 9am-5pm daily). Single kayaks start at $49 half day, and double kayaks start at $59 half day. All rentals include life vests, paddles, seats, backrests, and dry bags. Add a snorkel set to a kayak rental for an extra $15. They also offer two- and four-hour group and private tours of Kane‘ohe Bay and the Mokulua Islands. Rates start at $99 per person for the group tour and $179 for private tours.

Windward Watersports (33 Hoolai St., 808/261-7873, 9am-5pm daily) rents single kayaks starting at $49 half day, double kayaks for $55 half day, and triple kayaks for $79 half day. Kayaks can be picked up at their retail store or dropped off and ready for you at the beach. They offer a three-hour guided excursion to Flat Island and Lanikai Beach for $95, a four-hour guided adventure that includes a trip to the Mokulua Islands and lunch for $125, and a six-hour guided fishing expedition starting at $175.

Twogood Kayaks (134B Hamakua Dr., 808/262-5656, 9am-6pm Mon.-Fri., 8am-6pm Sat.-Sun.) rents single kayaks for $45 half day and tandem kayaks for $55 half day. Rentals come with a paddle, but there is an additional charge for a dry bag and backrest. They offer free delivery of kayaks to Ka‘elepulu Stream at Kailua Beach Park and basic instruction. They will deliver kayaks to other Kailua areas for $15. Twogood Kayaks has two packages that run 9am-3pm: an Adventure Package for $75 per person with kayak rental, life jacket, paddle, lunch, and round-trip transportation from Waikiki and a Guided Tour for $125 per person with extras like a guide, snorkel gear, dry bag, and backrest.

Just across the street from Kailua Beach Park you’ll find Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks (130 Kailua Rd., Ste. 101B, 808/262-2555 or 888/457-5737, 8:30am-5pm daily). They rent single kayaks for $59 half day, and high-performance single kayaks and double kayaks for $69 half day. Dry bag, cooler, and backrest are an additional fee. They have a four-hour guided tour for beginners that includes snorkeling, transportation from your hotel, and lunch for $129 adults and $114 children 8-12; a two-hour guided kayak tour with a one-hour massage after your paddle for $229; a four-hour guided adventure of Kailua Bay, Flat Island, and the Mokulua Islands with snorkeling, lunch, and hotel transportation for $179; and a six-hour exploration tour for experienced kayakers with snorkeling, lunch, and hotel pickup for $249.

Map of Kailua, Hawaii

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Taking a Xe Om in Vietnam

Xe om (motorbike taxis) are a popular and inexpensive means of transportation used throughout the country. Drivers—usually men—perch atop their vehicles on street corners near public parks or in busy tourist areas, waiting to ferry passengers to their preferred destinations around town. As a foreigner, you’ll no doubt come into contact with at least a few of these two-wheeled vehicles and their drivers, as xe om drivers often call out to passing pedestrians in order to drum up business. Don’t be surprised if you hear a “YOU! Motorbiiiiike!” or “Xe om! Xe om!” as you approach a street corner, even if you’re not looking for a ride.

Motorbikes are the most common form of transportation in Vietnam. Photo © Dana Filek-Gibson.
Motorbikes are the most common form of transportation in Vietnam. Photo © Dana Filek-Gibson.

While xe om are an easy and affordable way to get around, most foreign visitors also find them to be a hair-raising experience. Xe om drivers, like Manhattan cabbies, move at their own pace, which is usually breakneck, and defy most of the laws of physics, not to mention traffic. In a country so enamored of two-wheeled vehicles, xe om are a good way to experience the true pulse of major cities like Saigon or Hanoi. However, if a xe om driver is racing down a one-way street in the wrong direction, voice your concern if you feel unsafe. While the “helmets” provided by xe om drivers would probably prove useless in an accident, it’s required by law to wear one. Even if you are advised otherwise, it’s important to insist upon some headgear, at least when in the city.

When taking a xe om, have the address of your destination written down, as not every driver speaks English, and always agree upon a price before you set off. Xe om fares are open to negotiation. Feel free to haggle, but once you’ve settled on the price stand firm. Drivers will sometimes continue to negotiate their fee once you’ve already hopped on. If you stand your ground and stick to the original agreement then your xe om driver will usually lay off.

With few qualifications required beyond a motorbike license and a full tank of gas, xe om drivers are a mixed bag: There are many honest, hardworking men who make a living this way, but, like any profession, there are also a few bad apples. For this reason, it is strongly recommended that you opt for taxis over xe om when traveling at night, as it’s not unheard of for passengers to be robbed or even thrown off a motorbike after dark, and the xe om driver is sometimes in on the deal. Be careful when heading back to your hotel after a night on the town, as it’s also possible that your xe om driver has had as much to drink as you have. Never hop on a motorbike with someone who appears to be intoxicated—the streets of Vietnam can be dangerous enough as it is.

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Where to Catch Havana’s Cabarets Espectáculos

Spectacular, gaudy, decadent, or a combination of all three, Havana’s cabarets espectáculos definitely deliver. From the incredible and infamous two-hour show at the Las Vegas style Tropicana nightclub to small campy shows followed by steamy disco, here’s where to go to experience it all.

Las Vegas Cabaret. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.
Las Vegas Cabaret in Vedado. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Centro Habana and Cerro

Cabaret Nacional (San Rafael, esq. Prado, tel. 07/863-2361, CUC5), in the dingy basement of the Gran Teatro, has a modest espectáculo nightly at 10pm. The campy show normally doesn’t begin until later and is followed by a disco. A dress code applies. It packs in Cubans on weekends for steamy dancing; ostensibly only couples are admitted.

Vedado and Plaza de la Revolución

The most lavish show is the Cabaret Parisien (Calle O, esq. 21, tel. 07/836-3564, CUC30, or CUC58 with dinner), in the Hotel Nacional. The Cubano Cubano show is offered Sun.-Fri. at 10pm and is followed by a Latin dance school. The dinner special (CUC50-70) is best avoided. The place is cramped and fills with smoke, and while the show is nowhere near the scale of the Tropicana, it has plenty of color and titillation and avoids the long trek out to the Tropicana.

The Cabaret Copa Room (Paseo y Malecón, tel. 07/834-4228, CUC20, or CUC45 with dinner and cocktail), in the Hotel Habana Riviera, hosts a cabaret (Wed.-Mon. at 10:30pm). The venue often features the top names in live Cuban music, such as Los Van Van. It’s one of Havana’s top spots for serious salsa fans.

[pullquote align=right]A classic Harley-Davidson, an old Pontiac, and a 1957 open-top, canary-yellow Chevy add a dramatic effect.[/pullquote]Catering mostly to a tourist crowd, Habana Café (Paseo, e/ 1ra y 3ra, tel. 07/833-3636, ext. 147, nightly 8pm-3am), adjoining the Hotel Meliá Cohiba, offers cabaret at 8:30pm. A classic Harley-Davidson, an old Pontiac, and a 1957 open-top, canary-yellow Chevy add a dramatic effect, as does an airplane suspended from the ceiling. Entrance is usually free, but a CUC5 consumo mínimo applies (entrance costs CUC30 when top bands such as Los Van Van and Charanga Habanera play). Legendary percussionist Amadito Valdés plays on Thursday night.

Playa (Miramar and Beyond)

The small open-air cabaret at La Cecilia (5ta Av. #11010, e/ 110 y 112, tel. 07/204-1562, Fri.-Sat. 10pm-3am, Fri. CUC5, Sat. CUC10) draws monied expats and Cuba’s youthful hipsters for the disco that follows. Top bands often perform (CUC20-25).

Cuba’s catwalk divas strut at La Maison (Calle 16 #701, esq. 7ma, Miramar, tel. 07/204-1546, Thurs.-Sun. 10pm, CUC5), renowned for its desfiles de modas (fashion shows) and cabaret espectáculo in the terrace garden of an elegant old mansion.


Cuba’s premier Las Vegas-style nightclub is the Tropicana (Calle 72 #4504 y Línea del Ferrocarril, Marianao, tel. 07/267-1717, nightly 10pm, entrance CUC75/85/95, cameras CUC5, videos CUC15), which has been in continuous operation since New Year’s Eve 1939, when it was the most flamboyant nightclub in the world (celebrities such as Nat “King” Cole, Josephine Baker, and Carmen Miranda headlined the show, which was so popular that a 50-passenger “Tropicana Special” flew nightly from Miami for an evening of entertainment).

Sexy Las Vegas-style cabarets, such as Tropicana, remain a staple of Cuban entertainment. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.
Sexy Las Vegas-style cabarets, such as Tropicana, remain a staple of Cuban entertainment. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Patrons watch mesmerized as a troupe of near-naked showgirls parades down the aisles wearing see-through body stockings and glowing chandeliers atop their heads, while rainbow-hued searchlights sweep over scantily clad, gaudily feathered, long-legged showgirls parading among the floodlit palm trees. The show boasts more than 200 performers, a fabulous orchestra, and astonishing acrobatic feats. The two-hour cabaret takes place in the open-air Salón Bajo Las Estrellas; on rainy nights, it’s held in the Salon Arcos de Cristal.

The entrance fee is outrageous (CUC95 gets you a stageside seat) but includes a bottle of rum with cola, a glass of cheap champagne, and a cheap cigar. It’s best to book in advance through your hotel tour desk, as the show often sells out. Beware rip-offs by the waiters, who often wait until the end of the show to bill you for any incidentals, then disappear without bringing your change.

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Ocean Safety in Hawaii

More people drown in Hawaii than anywhere else in the world. In addition, powerful shorebreaks are also the cause of severe injuries like broken backs and necks. But don’t let these statistics deter you from enjoying the ocean. Instead, educate yourself on the day and area’s ocean conditions and enjoy the water responsibly.

Ask lifeguards or beach attendants about conditions and follow their advice. Common sense, good judgment, and respect for the ocean go a long way. And never turn your back on the ocean while enjoying the shoreline. Rogue waves can wash over reef, rock, and beach and pull you out into the water. Obey all warning signs posted on the beach, and if you’re swimming, surfing, or snorkeling, return to shore before you get tired. If you engage in an ocean activity by yourself, make sure you tell others in your party your planned whereabouts in the event of an emergency. If you find yourself on the beach psyching yourself up to get in the water, it’s probably better to heed the warning, “If in doubt, stay out.”

Signs warn beachgoers to be cautious of jellyfish.
Beware of jellyfish! Keep an eye out for signs warning of local conditions. Photo © Eric Chan, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Sharks, Urchins, and Coral

Sharks live in all the oceans of the world. Most mind their own business and stay away from shore. Hawaiian sharks are well fed—on fish—and don’t usually bother with unsavory humans. If you encounter a shark, don’t panic! Never thrash around because this will trigger their attack instinct.

Portuguese man-of-wars and other jellyfish put out long, floating tentacles that sting if they touch you. Jellyfish are blown into shore by winds on the 8th, 9th, and 10th days after the full moon. Don’t wash the sting off with freshwater because this will only aggravate it. Locals will use hot saltwater to take away the sting, as well as alcohol (the drinking or rubbing kind), aftershave lotion, or meat tenderizer (MSG), but lifeguards use common household vinegar. After rinsing, soak with a wet towel. An antihistamine may also bring relief. Expect to start to feel better in about a half hour.

Coral can give you a nasty cut, and it’s known for causing infections because it’s a living organism. Wash the cut immediately and apply an antiseptic. Keep it clean and covered, and watch for infection. With coral cuts, it’s best to have a professional look at it to clean it out. Most infection comes from tiny bits of coral that are left deep in the cut. Never stand on or grab coral. It damages the fragile life form and can send you to the hospital.

A Hawaaian sea urchin in a coral crevice.
Keep a lookout when entering and exiting the ocean, because sea urchins like to hide in the crevices of lava rocks and coral. Photo © bonita cheshier/123rf.

Poisonous sea urchins, like the lacquer-black wana, are found in shallow tidepools and reefs and will hurt you if you step on them. Their spines will break off, enter your foot, and severely burn. There are cures. Soaking a couple of times in vinegar for half an hour or so should stop the burning. If vinegar is not available, the local cure-all is urine.

Leave the fish, turtles, and seals alone. Fish should never be encouraged to feed from humans. Green sea turtles and seals are endangered species, and stiff fines can be levied on those who knowingly disturb them. Have a great time looking and taking pictures, but give them respect and space.

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