Virtual Tourist: 10 things to try in 2015

Eating from street vendors can be quite an experience in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by

Tribune Media Services


1. Hiking Cinque Terre, Italy

Italy has long been a bastion of cultural icons and landmarks, from religious sites to Renaissance masterpieces. Of the sites to be visited, Cinque Terre is among the most beautiful, and also the most unique. Composed of five small villages perched above the Ligurian Sea, the towns date back to the late medieval period and are still, in 2012, unable to be reached by car. While one can access them by train and boat, neither transport provides the same experience as the hike between the towns: slowly descending from the rocky cliffs into each brightly painted fishing village is an experience unlike any other in the world. Hiking from Riomaggiore, the southernmost village, to the fifth town, Monterosso, is quite a workout (11 miles, and usually takes about five hours, but can take longer depending on how fit you are). Instead, many complete the first leg of the trip, from Riomaggiore to Manarola. This section is commonly called the “Via dell’ Amore” and is paved and level, so it’s a great half-mile stroll for travelers of all ages.


2. Cycling in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

While Montreal’s most famous paths may lie underground, its most intriguing routes lie among its 2,400 miles of bike trails and paths. The first North American city to adopt a bicycle-sharing program, Montreal has a few popular rides, including along the Lachine Canal, the quays of the Old Port and Rue McGill. In addition to paths within the city, Montreal lies in the center of the Route Verte, a series of bikeways throughout Quebec modeled after Denmark’s national cycle routes and the Danube and Rhine bikeways. The route, which starts further west at Fort-Coulogne, also connects Montreal with Quebec City to the north.


3. Skywalking on Tianmen Mountain, Zhangjiajie, Hunan, China

Located more than 800 miles from Shanghai and 628 miles from Guangzhou, the Skywalk on Tianmen Mountain is unique in the astonishing height at which it was built, while also being built onto a natural object. The pathway, which runs alongside the Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, suspends the visitor high in the air, providing amazing views of the surrounding mountains and the nature of Hunan Province. A fun fact about this Skywalk: Visitors are required to wear sock booties because they have been unable to find workers willing to clean the glass floor at this height!


4. Eating Street Food in Bangkok, Thailand

If you’re looking to try new foods this year, Bangkok is the place to do it. VirtualTourist members recommended Soi Rambuttri, a U-shaped lane off of Khao San Raod and near Wat Chana Songkhram, as a great spot in the old district of Bangkok. One member lovingly described his last meal there: After getting an enormous pad thai from a street vendor against the wall, he turned 180 degrees to find an open-air beer garden. Another highly recommended spot is Soi 38 near Sukumvit, which is almost like an evening food market, running until about 3 a.m., and very close to much of the city’s best nightlife. Green Papaya salad bruised on a stone pestle, mango sticky rice, pad thai and chicken with green curry are all some of the Thai specialties our members mentioned finding in Bangkok.


5. Sunbathing on the city beach in Paris, France

It’s not surprising that the culture that gave us the bikini would also be the first to figure out how to bring the beach to their fabulous city! The original “plage urbaine,” the Paris Plage began in 2002, with the French converting the Seine’s banks into pedestrian areas, as well as sandy sunbathing spots. The first plage spread from the Louvre to the Pont de Sully on Voie Georges Pompidou, covering 1.86411 miles along the Seine River. The popularity of the event caused organizers to build additional plages at Port de la Gare and Bassin de la Villette. The beaches open around July 20 and usually last four weeks, with all Paris Plages open until midnight daily.


6. Exploring the Ruins of Calakmul, Campeche, Mexico

One of the most important cities of Mayan civilization, Calakmul was once home to more than 50,000 inhabitants. Though the city’s timeline goes as far back as the Preclassic period (300 B.C. to 240 A.D.), its golden age was in the Classic period (250 A.D. to 900 A.D.), when it served as Tikal’s main rival and battled for dominance of the central Mayan area. Many visitors might focus on the 6,000 structures within the city, but it’s equally important to experience the surrounding Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, which encompasses over 723,000 hectares (292,594 acres) of protected land and wildlife. While the reserve is a paradise for bird-watching, the site itself is a hotbed of stelae, or stone monuments, often in the form of a high-relief sculpture, that were popular and characteristic of the Mayan civilization. One hundred and 17 stelae have been discovered at Calakmul so far, more than any other Mayan site, and all of them from the Classic period.


7. Animal Gazing at Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Northern Tanzania provides more opportunities to see large numbers of animals in the wild than possibly any other spot in the world. Serengeti National Park is famous for spotting the “big five,” a phrase coined by hunters in Africa referring to lions, elephants, buffalos, leopards and rhinoceros. The Serengeti area also provides a unique opportunity to watch animal migration in action. The wildebeest and zebras spend the rainy season from December to June in the volcanic open plains below the Ngorongoro Crater where the grass growth is most productive and nutrient contents high. Once the rains stop in June, the animals move west toward Lake Victoria, and then migrate north into the Masai Mara, only to return to the Serengeti with the rain in December. It is one of the last great migratory systems intact and there are few opportunities to see over a million of any species, let alone just two, roam together.


8. Paddle-boarding in Bora Bora, Tahiti

Known as a luxurious honeymoon destination, few locales offer the bright blues and calm disposition of Bora Bora’s lagoon. The flat conditions are ideal for a first-timer, and paddlers frequently spot manta rays in the lagoon, since it has visibility up to 150 feet!


9. Chasing Waterfalls along Pipiwai Trail, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Along the Hana Highway (or Road to Hana, as it is commonly called) there are countless picturesque spots, including Mokulau and Honomanu Bay. On the southeastern side of Maui, just off Route 330, visitors will find the Pools of Oheo, commonly known as the Seven Sacred Pools. One of the most popular attractions in East Maui, the gulch is a string of pools and waterfalls that are easily accessed for swimming, cliff jumping and people-watching. While the Seven Sacred Pools is beautiful, continuing on the Pipiwai Trail for 1.8 miles into Haleakala National Park is truly rewarding. First, you’ll come across the Falls at Makahiku, which plunge almost 200 feet. If you continue on, the hike culminates at Waimoku Falls, which drops more than 400 feet above you. The trail is maintained by National Park Service, so it is relatively well-traversed and you will most likely pass other people while on the hike.


10. Hitting the Road along the Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

Only 60 miles from Victoria’s capital of Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road winds alongside the Southern Ocean from Torquay to Portland. Created by soldiers returning from World War I, the route is more than 180 miles long and includes a variety of sites, such as world-renowned beaches, national parks and shipwrecks. The most famous spectacle along B100 is the 12 Apostles, a natural formation of limestone stacks, which seem to magically rise from the Southern Ocean. There are two walkways alongside the 12 Apostles so park your car and get a great photo.

(c) 2015, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

This article was printed in the February 8, 2014 – February 21, 2014 edition.