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Stories by Mary Spierling

Berlin in 7 Days or Less

I knew Berlin was a big city, but I never knew how big until I explored it on foot. I had seven days to see the major and not-so-major sites. Since the fall of its ...

Paddling with gators in Florida's Myakka River State Park

Initially I was petrified at the thought of being in a body of water with alligators, but then I realized I didn’t sign up for this kayak trip to see birds. If you’ve spent much ...

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

For those who make the trek, these massive salt flats are a sight to behold.

The landlocked (and usually overlooked) country of Bolivia in South America is home to the largest salt flats in the world, visible by astronauts in space. The Salar de Uyuni is 25 times larger than ...

Rajasthan, India: land of the kings

India's calmer, yet vibrant northwest.

The largest state in India, Rajasthan, located in the northwest of the country, is known as “the land of the kings." Rajasthan is wrapped in vibrant colors, with impressive cities including the Pink City of ...

Slumming in Budapest's ruin pubs

Hip, one-of-a-kind nightlife in this Eastern European capital.

Hungary is unlike any other country in Europe, and the enchanting city of Budapest is a center of language, culture and history. Backpackers head to Budapest to party and to party on the cheap; most ...

Budget-friendly Sofia, Bulgaria

Word to the wise: get here before the tourists do.

Most travelers are unaware that Bulgaria is one of the best travel values in Europe and its capital, Sofia, is one of the cheapest cities to visit. The country has more green space than most ...

When in Lisbon

Couchsurf, spend less euros and soak it all in.

If you’re dying to go to Europe but discouraged by the value of the euro, consider Portugal, where you can actually spend less than $50 a day. Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, has stunning Moorish castles, ...

Bohol, Philippines: hidden paradise

Tropical island rich in history, cuisine and white sand beaches.

Looking for an off-the-beaten-path island adventure with pristine beaches, wildlife, historical sites and plenty of activities? Consider Bohol in the Philippines. This unassuming island is full of baroque colonial architecture in the form of its ...

Los Llanos: wild Colombia

Welcome to Colombia's cowboy country.

If you look at a map of Colombia in South America, you see a huge region in eastern Colombia comprising sprawling, seasonally flooded plains that have been ignored by tourists due to their location (former ...

Greek Islands on the cheap

Your budget guide to Santorini, Milos and more.

The Greek Islands are on any traveler's list who envisions a Santorini sunset or a gorgeous Milos beach. Although prices have increased dramatically since Greece joined the European Union, there's still something magical about islands ...

The "Magic Town" of Cuetzalan

Four hours from Mexico City, this colonial getway awaits.

A hundred and eight miles from the city of Puebla in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental, mystical Cuetzalan is dotted with waterfalls, springs and natural pools set in tropical forest. Most guidebooks describe ...

Karnataka's untouched paradise

Pristine tropical beaches, no development.

On the west coast of India, the state of Karnataka has a spectacular 300-kilometer-long rocky coastline dotted with pristine white sand beaches. The most popular are Murudeshwar, Kumta, Malpe, Gokarna and Maravanthe. Along Karnataka’s coast, ...

Escape to Muir Beach

This easy SF getaway offers redwoods and great coastal hikes.

The quiet shoreline of Muir Beach is set among centuries-old redwoods on a remote stretch of Northern California coast. You'll feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of nearby San Francisco. At ...

Eco-luxury in the Amazon: Ariau Towers

This treetop hotel makes for a must-see.

I’ve been traveling around the world for years and always attempt to practice socially responsible tourism. I had read about the Ariau Amazon Towers for several years and decided to make it my eco-lodge destination ...

Isla Mujeres

Sail away from Cancun crowds.

Isla Mujeres, once home to occasional pirates and Mexican fishing families, has become a popular off-the-beaten-path destination for tourists and divers as well as an expat art colony. Many tourists visit the island as a ...

Iceland's Blue Lagoon

One of the strangest tourist traps in the world has to be the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, located 50 kilometers from Reykjavik en route to the airport. At a latitude equivalent to Siberia and Alaska ...

Río Lagartos — The Yucatan's Natural Side

Wildlife-rich wetlands preserve two hours from Cancun.

When you're in Cancun – and are tired of white sand beaches and turquoise water – drive to Río Lagartos, where you have a chance to see bright pink flamingos, sea turtles, rare birds and ...

Motorbiking the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Experience Vietnam's magic on this two-week route from Hanoi to Saigon.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail follows the infamous supply route created by the North Vietnamese guerrillas during the Vietnam War. We began our motorbike journey from Hanoi (left), headed toward the south to Ho Chi ...

Testaccio – The Rome You've Never Been To

When you’re in Rome and need a break from frescos and friezes, hop onto Metro Line B and get off at the Piramide stop to visit one of its most authentic neighborhoods – where butchers ...

Orcas and Kayaking in the San Juans

We were shivering under cloudy skies on the top deck of the 114-foot ferry as it entered Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands. The overcast sky suddenly parted, as if on cue, and there ...

Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

Ever been volcano boarding? Consider adding it to your bucket list – especially if you're in Nicaragua. Volcan Cerro Negro is 25 kilometers from the colonial city of León, Nicaragua. The country is populated with ...

Captivating Casablanca

This culturally rich North African destination beckons.

Many tourists visiting Morocco overlook the sprawling oceanfront city of Casablanca and instead head for more exotic cities such as Marrakech. Morocco has retained its reputation of being the most stable country in North Africa, ...

Urban Retreat: SF's Angel Island

On a recent visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, we decided to escape the congestion of the inner city. If you’ve never visited Angel Island, it should be on your priority list when visiting ...

Transylvania: A Dracula Tour

Transylvania, land of Dracula and part of the Austro-Hungarian empire for more than 1,000 years, is today in the isolated region of north-central Romania. It's been said that Transylvania sits on one of Earth's strongest ...

Shark Calling in Papua New Guinea

I became interested in shark calling when I met shark enthusiasts like myself who had visited the remote island of New Ireland off the coast of Papua New Guinea. I arrived at the village of ...

Travel with Your Dog in CA

With an estimated nine-million-plus dogs in California alone, it’s no wonder there are so many dogs at parks, beaches and recreation areas throughout the state. The mile-long Huntington Dog Beach, the epitome of a perfect ...

Istanbul is Cheap(er)

Turkish budget tips in this enchanting mix of East and West.

A cosmopolitan blend of Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a more exotic, less-pricey alternative to Paris or London, especially during the off-season winter months of January, February and March. The city is compact and walkable, ...

Cairo, Post-Revolution

Cairo, Egypt, is a riveting blend of ancient and modern. I was apprehensive traveling here, though, because of reports of lingering unrest in Cairo after the country’s recent revolution. Yet I found the Egyptian people ...

Cultural Feast in Old Delhi

Delhi, India, is all about culture, heritage and food. If you only have limited time here, the Old Delhi Bazaar walking tours are a must-see. Knowledgeable local guides lead you down the neighborhood’s winding streets ...

Go Hiking in Hong Kong

The breathtaking skyline of Hong Kong ranks in the top five of the world's most stunning cityscapes. Hop onto a 23-minute train ride from the airport to Hong Kong station, and from there take a ...

Fiji for the Rest of Us

Fiji is best known to travelers as a destination of exclusive white-sand beach resorts, catering more to honeymooners than backpackers or budget travelers. However, the more remote – and unspoiled – Yasawa Islands have a ...

Discover Dubai (and Unchecked Capitalism)

When you step foot in Dubai, you realize the country’s quite liberal compared to the rest of the Middle East. Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates and has adapted the influx of other ...

Hyderabad: A Taste of Southern India

Hyderabad, India, located in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, is a juxtaposition of old and new unlike any other city in India and often overlooked as a tourism destination. The 400-year-old Cyberabad district with ...

Bike the Dutch Lowlands

The province of Zeeland, in the Netherlands’ southwest, is made up largely of islands and peninsulas. Crossing over the many dams, you encounter one island after another, each with its own special character. Traveling through ...

Tel Aviv: The White City

The so-called “White City” in central Tel Aviv, Israel, is home to the largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings and a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The Bauhaus style (also referred to as Modern or International ...

Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

Tarangire National Park is probably the least visited of the northern Tanzanian game parks and retains a real air of undiscovered Africa. The park is famous for its huge number of elephants, baobab trees and ...

The Big 5 in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) in Tanzania includes the Ngorongoro Crater, covering 8,300 square kilometers and the only place on earth where mankind and wild animals co-exist in harmony. This uniqueness earned it a UNESCO ...

Day Trip from Delhi: Taj Mahal and the Red Fort of Agra

The stunning architectural beauty of the Taj Mahal, built entirely of white marble, is particularly evident at sunrise and sunset. At sunrise the changing light casts shadows, and at night it seems to glow – ...

Manatees in Blue Spring State Park, Florida

Blue Spring State Park is located in Orange City, Florida – a one-hour drive from Orlando, so it's a perfect place to spend the day and get away from the theme parks. This is one ...

Mount St. Helens, Washington: An American Volcano

Mount St. Helens is an active stratovolcano located near Washington State's southern border – 96 miles south of Seattle and 50 miles northeast of Portland. On May 18, 1980, the eruption changed more than 200 ...

The Galápagos: Wildlife Aplenty

Six hundred miles west of continental Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, the Galápagos Islands contain birds, fish, reptiles and mammals not found anywhere else in the world. One in four animal species is endemic – ...

Kayaking Elkhorn Slough, California

Elkhorn Slough is one of the last coastal wetlands in California and one of 27 estuaries in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, set up to study and protect estuaries and coastal watersheds across the ...

Orinoco Delta, Venezuela

An intricate labyrinth, the waters of the Orinoco Delta weave through the jungle on their way to the Atlantic Ocean. The Orinoco branches off into over 60 waterways and 40 rivers in the delta, meandering ...

Point Reyes National Seashore, California

About a one-hour drive from the densely populated San Francisco Bay Area, Point Reyes National Seashore was established to protect wilderness and natural ecosystems along the California coastline. Point Reyes is rich in biological diversity: ...

Florida Keys: Dry Tortugas National Park

The best months to visit Florida are September and October, when rates are lowest and you avoid the crowds. 70 miles west of Key West, you’ll find Dry Tortugas National Park, North America's most inaccessible ...

Mexico's Awe-Inspiring Copper Canyon

The Copper Canyon region is 25,000 square miles across almost one-third of the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico. The Chihuahua al Pacifico train route from Los Mochis passes through the farmland of Sinaloa and ...

Polar Bears in Svalbard, Norway

Halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole – high above the Arctic Circle – lies the archipelago of Svalbard, Norway. A trip to Svalbard is not for the budget-conscious, so for many this might ...

Lava and Bats: Nicaragua's Masaya Volcano at Night

Outside the town of Masaya, Nicaragua, the Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya offers a glimpse into the smoking cone of an active volcano as well as stunning views of the area around Managua at night. The ...

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