Maui is paradise on earth. Never too hot and never too cold, it's a peaceful rock in the middle of the powerful Pacific Ocean that houses beautiful jungle hikes, warm seas, and enough activities for a lifetime. But, you may find yourself parked on the beach sipping testing organic vodkas and pineapple wine until you can't see straight.
With almost 2.5 million visitors a year, Maui is the second most visited Hawaiian island, and it's easy to understand why. It has an easily accessible airport, which opens the gateway to luxurious resorts, the famous Road to Hana, Ocean Organic Vodka's plantation, cliff jumping at Black Rock Beach, quaint towns like Paia, and Haleakala National Park - overlooking dormant volcanoes and rainbow bamboo forests.
Want to learn how to maximize a week in Maui then keep reading and see all that the Valley Isle has to offer.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency in Ka'anapali. It's situated where most of the other resorts are on the western side of the Island. But, if you want something a little more "authentic" check out Airbnb's near Paia. Here there are tiny villages and bed n' breakfasts that have a distinctly calmer vibe. If you're new to the island though, I can't recommend the Hyatt enough as the employees and location give you excellent access to all that Maui has to offer, without having to look too hard.
If you trust this blog for only one thing, it should be this. Breweries, distilleries, and vineyards run aplenty here, so you have the whole gamut to choose from.
- Maui Brewing Company
This award-winning beer can be found all over the island, but you can take a tour of the brewery in Kihei. If you just want a taste, head over to the brewpub in Kahana and get some food with it too. Personally, I recommend the Pineapple Wheat, but the Coconut Porter is great too if you like dark beers.
- Ocean Organic Vodka & Rum
I didn't know vodka tastings were a thing, but the views from the farm are worth the trip alone. I've found the vodka at Bevmos in California, but the rum can only be found on site. It's a pretty informative tour with an immaculate backdrop.
- Maui Wine
Famous for its pineapple wine, I'll admit, at first, I was skeptical, but Maui Wine's Maui Blanc is actually a dry wine and doesn't have the sweet taste that you'd imagine given the fruit. It's a unique take as it's certainly different from your typical white, but not so much that your standard pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc fans won't love it.
- Ka'anapali Beach
Sunset from here was like no other (featured image). With unobstructed views of the neighboring islands and a warm, calm sea. It's a great place to pop in or take a stroll.
- Black Rock Beach
Located by the Sheraton (north end of Ka'anapali Beach), this beach has a stronger surf and is built more for the adventurous in the bunch. Hawaiians believe this was where their spirits leaped to join their ancestors, leading some to believe that the tradition of taking Hawaiian volcanic rock as bad luck started here. Now, it's a cliff jumping and snorkeling paradise. Make sure you wear your water shoes when climbing up the rock as I stepped on a sea urchin, making for a very uncomfortable next few days.
- Keawakapu Beach
Translated as "forbidden cove", this beach is near Kihei, and while it is pretty developed, the condos and hotels are a bit off the beach, keeping all that dreaded commercialization at bay.
A multicultural mill and fishing village. Paia is perfect for a stroll along the main drag where you can buy products from local artisans and grab a bite that has influence from Chinese, Portuguese, and native cuisines.
The largest "city" on the island is home to much of the island's museums and is a jumping off point for most of the whale watching tours. It's also the only real place for nightlife that you will find nearby.
Maui's "most isolated village" is located on the tip of the island's north shore. Famous for it's Congregational Church (built 1892) where you get the best of both worlds with its ocean and mountain backdrop. The town is also home to Julia's Banana Bread, touted by many as the best in the world!
- The Road to Hana
The most famous activity on the island is well worth the 4-hour drive with hairpin turns on the cliffside road. It is a major commuter road, so take your time and make plenty of stops to not only let the locals pass but also so you can take in all the sites. Some of the must-see natural beauties include Twin Falls, the Painted Forest, and the Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe'o; just to name a few.
- Iao Valley
The old burial place of Hawaii's chiefs. It is also the site of an old battlefield from 1790. Not to be outdone by its history, the valley and state monument's Needle Lookout Trail is also home to some of Hawaii's most beautiful fauna with placards explaining what the Hawaiians brought with them.
- Wainapanapa State Park
Towards the end of the Road to Hana, you'll find a volcanic black sand beach and surrounding tide pools that turn bright red at different times of the year. Local legend believes this is the blood of a murdered princess, but scientists say it's the arrival of small shrimp. You decide.
- Haleakala National Forest
The crown jewel of Maui. Haleakala possesses the most endangered species of any park in the National Park System. Home of Maui's highest peak at 10,023 feet, it does snow, so bring your jacket, but highs also get up into the 80s. Home to volcanic ash, cinder cones, and numerous types of flora and fauna. You need to make sure to book your reservation before you come (because it sells out fast and they cap the number of visitors), but watching the sunrise from here is the most magical offering Maui will provide you on your trip.
Last week, I introduced my new nostalgia column, "Turkey's Hidden Top 10", where I go into some of the hidden gems in the beautiful country that is Turkey. You can check out the 1st iteration here. The previous issue talked about another old neighborhood in Istanbul that houses some of its famous history and cultural diversity.
In honor of summer, this blog is about the Turkish Riviera. Turkey has a long beautiful coastline with some of the most beautiful and active spots on the Mediterranean. If you're looking for a great way to map out your trip here, check out this post.
If you're looking to get a combination of the adventure and relaxation this region supplies, look no further than three little towns: Xanthos, Letoon, and Patara.
This UNESCO Heritage site is a waymark on the Lycian Way, which is the Appalachian Trail of Turkey; but older, hotter, shorter, and with a nicer finish. Xanthos is famous because it was the capital of the Lycian Federation until the invasion of the Persians in the 4th Century BC. What remains are the Lycian Acropolis (the Roman one as well) and many ornate Lycian sarcophagi, the most famous being the Harpy Monument.
It's a surprise there's this much left because after the Lycians found out the Persians were coming, they murdered all the women and then committed mass suicide, with only about 80 families opting out.
Another UNESCO site, Letoon has a history that is closely tied with Xanthos. It's the next stop on the Lycian Way after Xanthos and is an important religious site. You can find Hellenistic Temples and inscriptions written in Lycian, Greek, and Aramaic. Some even detail a visit from Alexander the Great.
The greatest lore surrounds Mithridates VI of Pontus. Wanting to clear a grove of trees on his way to sacking the city of Patara, he has a nightmare about the importance of the trees and the repercussions if he were to cut them down. He relented and they won the battle. The importance of the grove lasted so strongly and deeply to those that lived there that its inhab-itants blessed the site every generation for over 1000 years and was even christened in the 700s.
Patara was the primary port of Lycia, you can see why with their 11 miles (18km) of continuous beach. A dip in the pristine water is definitely called for if you've just finished the Lycian Way. However, the city has its own historical significance. It has many ruins - like a 40 ft. tall lighthouse from the 1st century AD - but it's most famous as the home of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. This makes Patara a significant pilgrimage site, but I'd prefer just going to the beach.
In 2014, Turkey was quickly becoming one of the top tourist targets in the world. Now, the media makes it out to be another type of target. It was the sixth most visited country in 2015, but is now looking at losing up to $12 billion compared to last year. Not to mention, with everything that is going on politically--Turkey's everyday citizens and beautiful landscapes need some positive press. I'm not going to include "The Big 5" destinations that everyone sees in their inflight magazines or travel brochures. You will learn there's far more to this country than suppressed journalistic freedoms, terrorist attacks and threats, autocratic leaders, and regional "disputes" that could be said about lots of countries (and are definitely still ongoing here and are real issues). It's a place with an immense history and beauty that has been the center of the world for millennia. Napoleon once said, "if the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be the capital." Istanbul was my home for 3 years and the rest of the country lifts the city to its place of prominence.
First off, 'The Big 5'. Let me break them down:
Sultan Ahmet, Cappadocia, Ephesus, Pamukkale, Bodrum & Fethiye are the biggest draws. Most people fly into Istanbul and stay in Sultan Ahmet, then visit Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Tokapı Palace. However, there are so many places that you wouldn't normally find when wandering the old-stone streets of Sultan Ahmet.
Families' then move to Cappadocia. Here you stare at Phallic rock formations, hike through underground cities and ancient Christian valleys. Then you finish it up like any destination worth its weight--wine, sunsets, and tacky pottery (some is quite beautiful, actually).
If you're here in the summer (or British, Russian or German) then you may just head to one of the Turkish Riviera's beautiful turquoise beaches. Bodrum, Fethiye and Antalya are the most famous with their own bits of culture to keep you interested, but what makes these places really worth their salt is setting up camp on the beach and letting the sea slightly cool you from the scorching sun until you recharge with fresh fish and cold drinks.
Turkey's most well-preserved ancient city, Ephesus (Efes, in Turkish) was the Greek capital of Asia Minor and once the 2nd largest city in the world. It's an open museum that is as interesting as it is beautiful. As far as ancient cities go, if Rome is New York then Efes is Chicago. Which is to say that it may actually be better (I come from Chicago and am incredibly biased). It's massive and definitely worth shelling out the extra cash to get the full history. A bonus section shows old apartments from the time and detail the extravagance of the upper class and the depression of the lower. Very close is the Temple of Artemis, or really, a column from it, that was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
About an hour or so away, you have Pamukkale and Hierapolis. Pamukkale, or Cotton Castle, are limestone baths that give the appearance of sitting in bathtubs in the clouds the way the Gods are always depicted in Greek myths. It's connected to Hierapolis, the original Florida. An ancient city that people have been flocking to in retirement since the 2nd century BC. The hot springs amongst the ruins are the only ones that I've discovered.
Now that you're caught up on the must see destinations, I'll give you the first place on my list--Kumkapı. Those that have been to this neighborhood know it for its square filled with fish restaurants to lure in tourists. On the other hand, trickling through the windy ravines of streets that flow from this reservoir of rakı, mezes, and fresh fish is evidence of Istanbul's diverse ethnic and religious origins. Still boasting a large Armenian population, it also possesses some of Istanbul's most original churches and mosques.
On my trip I came from the seaside at Yenikapı and I think it's the best way to encounter the neighborhood, though it's probably the opposite that most people will use. When you cross the concrete underpass by Kennedy Caddesi you'll encounter the Armenian Patriarchate and a large Armenian Orthodox church. Together, they represent much of pre-WWI Istanbul with an infusion of traditional architecture of the Ottomans mixed with an Armenian Apostolic style.
As you walk one more block inland you'll notice a stark contrast in the upkeep of the buildings. With run-down shops and homes, the business spills into the street where you can find a plethora of supplies. Anything from socks to booze, and even pork, can be haggled for while strolling down the street; make sure to grab some fruit from the street vendors for your walk.
That walk should take you up the hill a bit more towards Beyazıt and you'll end up at Mother Mary Church. Unassuming from the side, with a plain brick wall, but it's stunning on the inside and a gorgeous classical exterior that helps it sit like an island oasis in a concrete sea of dilapidation and gentrification. If checking out old churches is your thing also check out Aya Kiryoki and Rum Kilise for larger and grander structures, but with slightly less "je ne sais quoi" to them.
Turn towards the Old Town and you'll run into the main square that's filled with restaurants and not so passive waiters trying to get you to sit down. Kumkapı Historical Restaurant is the most famous, but in my opinion you really can't go wrong where ever you go here.
Once you're refueled head out towards Marmara University's campus and check out Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Camii just passed the police station. It's beautifully ornate with a piece of the Kaaba on the inside. You can chat with the caretaker who speaks enough English to give you an idea of the history and meaning of the place, while he'll also throw in pictures of all his grandkids to show you.
When you finally get a word in, ask him how to get to Küçük Aya Sofya and he'll point you there. Close to Sultan Ahmet, you'll come across the church-turned-mosque that actually predates the larger Aya Sofya by a year--being finished in 536 AD--and was used as a template to help them prepare for the much larger and more famous follow up. Due to Islamic law all the interior mosaics have been covered, but the current interior's design can be traced back to as early as 1506.
From here you can follow the path near the water or the streets next to the parks and end at Bukoleon Sarayı, the remnants of a palace from the 5th century. It was one of the few palaces still standing when the Ottomans sacked the city and a wall remains to this day. It's a last little photo-op before heading back into the much more dense Sultanahmet district.
When you need to walk off all the delicious food, it's best to stay local and look at the capital of the city's illustrious street art. One of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, it maintains its character while embracing the city's graffiti takeover.Read More