This long line of islands, stretching south of Miami like an alligator’s tail, has long captivated visitors. And, just as you’d be careful while hiking through gator territory, exploring the Keys today demands a certain amount of caution. No, there are no real dangers (although the crass consumerism comes close), but there are real highs and real lows. And because the highs are so great – stunning tropical fish, unparalleled views of the sea, scrumptious dining adventures – it’s best to not waste any time with the lows of T-shirt shopping or cheesy-hotel stays.
The 45-island chain, held together by a 1130-mile roadway, has a pace of life that becomes more mellow and island-like the further you get from Miami. Surroundings also turn more beautiful as you travel south, and your experience will peak in all ways as soon as you settle into the southernmost point in the lineup, Key West. But don’t make the mistake of flying by all that rest spots in between these points.
While much of the HWY 1 (the only road that takes you through) is lined with fortresses of strip malls that block any views of the the gleaming shores, it’s worth turning off the highway, breaking through the barrier and enjoying what lies in wait,. Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Grassy Key’s Dolphin Research Center, Marathon’s kayaking tours and the amazing Cuban food tucked away in Big Pine Key are just a few of the pleasures.
Islamorada (eye-luh-murr-ah-da) is actually a collection of smaller islands with equally fanciful names – Plantation, Upper and Lower Matcumbe, Lignumvitae. It’s one of the best driving stretches because you can actually see water on both sides for much of the way. There are several placid, easily accessible little ocean-beach nooks providing scenic rest stops. Islamorada is known for fishing and as a result has some of the best seafood dining in the Keys.
We all need vacations to recharge and refresh our perspective on daily living. While we all fantasize about vacationing in exotic locations, many of us don’t really know what we want.
So, for a change, I recommend that this year, you won’t copy-cat the vacation ideas of your neighbors, friends or family. Nor that you’ll be lead by vacation package offers and deals. Sure, learn from others’ insights and travel tips and hints. But this time, why don’t you stick to your goals and create your custom vacation. Only by centering your trip around your need can you create your true dream vacation.
When planning your vacation this year, take some extra time to consider why you need a vacation. Moreover, decide what you really want to do during your vacation. Is it discovering new cultures? Is it adventure trailing? Is it sun tanning on the beach? Is it exploring antique castles? Once you have determined what you want to do during your vacation, it is real easy to decide on a vacation destination.
Here are 3 special destinations that will allow you to have very different dream vacations.
1. The Regions of Italy. Adjacent to France, this historically rich and magnificently beautiful country is a prime destination within Europe. If you love to explore history by being there, if you crave good wine and one of the world’s finest cuisines, then, ah, consider Italy. Oh, did I mention its astounding cheeses for sale at local markets at a fraction of the cost of what we pay in the US?!
Italy is an amazingly varied country, which features mountains areas which are ideal for skying in winter and hiking or biking in summer. It world famous buildings such as the tower of Pisa or the Basilica in Florence. It has wide sand beaches and top notch resorts in places like Rimini and Riccione. It has whole cities that could be classified as ‘living museums’, such as Venice, the city of water ways, gondolas and romance; or ancient Rome, which features sights from several civilizations all within a single city block. And then, of course, there is the world of design in Milan and the world of the elite in nearby Lake Como.
Because of its culinary peak, its sophistication, its beautiful, varied nature, and rich cultural background, Italy is a must-see destination in a lifetime. Oh, did I mention that it’s usually sunny??!
2. Key West, Florida, in the United States For leisurely, beach-side fascination, places like Key West in Florida come to mind. Driving along the row of keys leading up to this famous resort destination is a treat in itself. Key West has been sought-after by famous writers and other artists. There are some great luxury resorts to be found in Key West, as well as private villa rental accommodation. The old tabacco plantation houses and old villas result in an far-away island feel. However, this sunny island that is far south but still part of the US is within easy reach of most of us.
3. Tokyo & Kyoto/Nara, Japan. Japan is an island that does not feel islandish, but instead represents one of the more sophisticated cultures in the world. Wtihin Japan you can have a very varied vacation. You can go hiking on Mount Fuji to see the sun rise, or trotting the philosophers’ path in Kyoto down to your Ryokan (Japanese-style inn) after having visited gorgeous Buddhist temples & gardens and having sipped tea at world-famous Japanese tea houses. No trip to Japan is complete without a visit to the vibrant capital city of Tokyo. Tokyo has many unique areas that are destinations within themselves. I suggest you pay a visit to its electronics district Akihabara, the Emperor’s Palace and serene gardens in Chiyoda-ku, its haute couture fashion district called Ginza, and its entertainment area called Roppongi. Oh, there is so much more to see and explore, but these are highlights. All areas are easily accessed by subway. What makes a trip to Japan adventurous is that there isn’t a single street sign you can read. Everything is written in Japanese, which gives you a very foreign sensation. Oh, don’t worry. Subway signs are in English and taxi drivers know their way around. You won’t get lost. However without trying, you are immersed in a unique and very attractive Asian culture.
These three top vacation destinations can help you sort yourself out, and plan a dream vacation, that is customized to be exactly what you need.
About the Author
A. Lee is a travel writer. She is the owner of this blog: http://www.TravelTipVacation.com . Leave a comment if you like her ideas.