Quite a few months ago, Katie over at TripBase.com initiated an interesting project in which travel bloggers interact with each other in order to create an extensive database of ‘travel secrets’. Each travel blogger, once nominated, writes a post about their ’3 Best Kept Travel Secrets’ and then nominates other bloggers to do the same and thus adding to the collection.
Recently, I was nominated by Francoise over at CultofTravel.com to participate, so this is my ‘travel secrets’ post. And while some of these places might not exactly be secrets to many of you, I consider my time visiting or exploring them to be major highlights of my ten years of wandering.
MADHUKUNJ MANGO LASSI STAND, CALCUTTA
Hidden down a narrow, unmarked lane in the midst of Calcutta, one of the most chaotic cities in the world, sits a mango lassi stand that has nearly brought me to tears on numerous occasions.
For those who might not be familiar with a mango lassi, it is a traditional Indian drink made by blending yoghurt, milk, sugar and fresh mangos. While nearly every mango lassi in India is praise-worthy, this particular mango lassi stand serves up what is perhaps the most exceptional beverage known to man.
For a mere 15 rupees (although they will attempt to charge foreigners 25 rupees – it is India after all!), they hand over a large glass mug, full of fresh mango goodness, topped with raisins and barfi (an Indian sweet made of condensed milk) and with a dollop of cherry sauce on top. And no matter how full you are or how much of a budget traveler you may be, as soon as you down your mug, you’ll fork over another 15 rupees and enjoy a second mug, every single time.
When you finally summon up the courage to walk away, that’s when the tears start to form in the corner of your eyes as you dwell in the satisfaction that you have sampled such a heavenly creation.
The following day, you’ll undoubtedly be back again for two more. I actually had three on my most recent visit last May and had to be dragged away by a friend before trying to pour a fourth into my mouth.
And believe me, all of the nerve-racking intersection crossings, attempted pick-pockets and lungfuls of polluted air you’ll inhale as you trek across the city, will instantly be forgotten as the first sip of lassi touches upon your lips.
Just remember – don’t pay more than 15 rupees!
Located along the Pacific coast of Mexico, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, lies a small village of approximately 1500 inhabitants. This is a peaceful village, set along a stunning bay that offers long stretches of uncrowded beaches, where the water is warm and the waves perfect for surfers of all skill levels. In this village, palm trees and chickens seem to outnumber humans, and the handful of cobblestone streets see little more than a light trickle of traffic most of the year. It’s also a remarkably safe village, where few people lock the doors of their homes, there are no police officers and the most common crime is forgetting to take an afternoon swim in the ocean.
Every day begins with a brilliant sunrise and every night is welcomed with an even more impressive sunset. The lush jungle surrounding the village offers hiking trails that lead to hidden beaches with water the color of emeralds and chances to spot some wildlife such as Lilac Crowned Parrots, iguanas and armadillos.
In the evenings, life focuses around a central plaza, where locals strum on their guitars as birds sing from the tree branches above, simple festivals are held and small restaurants and food stalls serve tasty local specialties at prices too cheap to be noticed.
In this village, stress and anger are practically unheard of, but friendliness and generosity are abundant. It is a place where shoes are seldom worn, shop owners let you buy now and pay later and you can rent a one-bedroom apartment, complete with swimming pool and ocean view, for around $500 per month.
This ideal village is Sayulita.
CESKY KRUMLOV, CZECH REPUBLIC
The moment you step into Cesky Krumlov, you feel as if you’ve been dropped directly into a wild fairy tale. With the mysteriously magnificent, and massive, Cesky Krumlov Castle rising straight out of the rocky cliffs above the 13th century town, the sight of Shrek or Snow White walking through the central plaza would not seem out of place at all.
Medieval, renaissance and baroque buildings, many displaying beautiful external frescoes, are packed into the enigmatic maze of narrow cobblestone lanes. One could spend hours wandering around and around, with eyes opened wide and a sense of awe that intensifies with each step. Old wooden bridges span the narrow Vltava River and the gothic St. Vitus church stands impressively tall in the center of town.
Surrounded by rolling hills and forest, just as any fairy tale town should be, Cesky Krumlov offers more than just fine architecture and an extraordinarily inspiring castle. It offers a glimpse into the life of South Bohemia, a lifestyle that is simple, traditional and community-based, where locals gather in small cafes every evening and welcome visitors as instant friends.
Long before I spent time in Cesky Krumlov I had heard about its magical vibe, and sure enough, I encountered it first-hand during my visit. And I still continue to feel that magic every time I think about the existence of that living, breathing, fairy tale town.
It is now my turn to pass the reins on to two other travel bloggers who will keep the project going by writing their own ‘travel secrets’ post. The two travel bloggers I’ve nominated are Dina & Ryan over at VagabondQuest and I want to thank them for accepting! I’ll be curious to see what they come up with…