Although this small Central American nation spans less than 9,000 square miles — roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts — few places on Earth can match Belize's diverse natural beauty. The barrier reef's turquoise and coral hues contrast with the staggering Mayan ruins scattered throughout the country's lush rainforests. Plus, it's not just the landscape, the history, culture and people of Belize are just as blended.
Belize has spent years concealed underneath the shadows of its Mexican neighbors —Cancún, Cozumel, and Tulum. But today, this Central American country beckons visitors with its thatch-roofed jungle lodges, impressive Mayan ruins, secluded snorkeling and scuba diving havens, and laid-back atmosphere. Sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize's eastern shoreline flanks the Caribbean Sea, while its mainland extends into a myriad of wild rainforests to the north, west and south. Facing off against the sun-drenched mainland coast are hundreds of tiny islands known as cays and atolls. These islets lure travelers with swaying palm trees and cerulean waters.
Belize's largest island, Ambergris Caye, attracts the most visitors. Stroll through Ambergris Caye by day and you'll find a relaxed beachfront filled with spectacular waterfront sites; by dusk, you'll revel in its vibrant nightlife. Just be sure to save some time on the mainland for unraveling Belize's subtle charms. From its luxuriant Mayan sites to its sparkling waters, there's plenty to explore in this enchanting coastal country.
New Orleans is known for its European-style architecture, mouth-watering Creole cuisine and all-around mysticism. And as its backbone is music: Jazz, blues, rock 'n' roll and Zydeco tunes ooze from every city crevice. But for many, the main reason to visit is Mardi Gras, an over-the-top party with Carnaval traits, such as masks, music and an all-around wild time. Even if you don't make it to Mardi Gras, you'll still find a party year-round, with revelers pouring out of Bourbon Street clubs until the wee hours of the morning.
Despite past environmental disasters — namely the BP Oil Spill, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Isaac — New Orleans continues to thrive. Over the past several years, major efforts have been made to restore the distinct districts. Today, the Crescent City looks almost as good as new. So start your visit in the French Quarter, where colonial heritage still survives. From here, you can explore the major architectural sites before enjoying a hearty plate of jambalaya and a rowdy evening out.
The sight of winding cobblestone streets and towering cathedrals; the sound of French pleasantries and tourists' "Oohs;" the smell of fresh-baked bread and pungent cheese; the taste of creamy cafe lattes and buttery croissants. All your senses agree: You're in France. But they're wrong: You're in Québec.
Québec City – the capital of the Canadian province, Québec – dwelled in the shadow of its neighbor, Montreal, for a long time, but the 2008 celebration of its 400th birthday catapulted Québec City back into the spotlight. Since then, travelers have flocked here to experience this UNESCO World Heritage site's charm for themselves. As the birthplace of New France, Québec City continues to uphold the culture of its motherland. Upon passing through the fortified walls of Old Québec, you'll discover a world straight out of a European painting: 17th- and 18th-century buildings house bakers, bistros and boutiques, while cobbled squares are drowned by a sea of cafe tables. And around every corner, a piece of Québec City's rich heritage awaits discovery.
Sandwiched between Grand Teton National Park to the north and miles of national forest in every other direction, the Jackson Hole valley has remained relatively isolated from the burgeoning travel industry. Instead it has survived on local industries like logging, ranching and, during the 19th century, fur trading. But recently, Jackson Hole has encouraged the rise of tourism. Former blue-collar settlements like Jackson and Grand Teton now boast notable art and performance venues, and mega ski resorts have transformed the region into an up-and-coming winter wonderland. When planning an opulent getaway, many people don't give western Wyoming a thought. To those travelers, we say: Think again.
Sure, you won't encounter the glitz and glam of Aspen or Lake Tahoe, but the beauty and vastness of the Jackson Hole region has caught the attention of Hollywood celebs like Harrison Ford and politicos like former Vice President Dick Cheney. Yet, even with its fresh and luxurious upgrade, Jackson Hole remains first and foremost the heart of mountain country, with rugged trails and miles of open space that recall a time before the West was won.
Incredible, extraordinary, mind-boggling … try as you might, you'll have difficulty finding words that do justice to the sheer beauty of Lake Tahoe. Resting on the California-Nevada border, Lake Tahoe has long been a favorite vacation spot, welcoming upward of 200,000 tourists on a good weekend. Visitors are drawn here by the steep granite cliff sides and towering mountaintops, as well as the crystal clear waters that have earned Lake Tahoe the reputation of being one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the United States. While the stunning blue lake alone is worth a trip, the surrounding area, also known as Lake Tahoe, boasts miles of hiking trails, dozens of picture-perfect vistas and some of the best skiing in North America.
But wait — there's more. Lake Tahoe seems to have adopted the major traits of its neighbors. You'll find San Francisco-style high-end shopping and dining along the lake's north shore, while opportunities to test your luck reside in the south shore's Reno-esque casinos. You'll also find plenty of activities that Lake Tahoe is proud to take credit for, including mountain gondola rides, hot air balloon adventures and scenic cruises across the mirror-like water.