Tag - travel guide

Purple Hearts:Florida Keys Holidays
Purple Hearts Christ Church Barbados
Purple Hearts: San Antonio Ibiza
Purple Hearts: Cuba Travel Guide

Purple Hearts:Florida Keys Holidays

With its luscious jungles, dazzling seas, and exotic mangroves, the string of islands that make up the Florida Keys is this year’s hottest destination. Attracted by its stunning coral reefs and the bountiful coloured fish that make them their home, thousands of tourists return to as the charming communities of Key West and Key Largo every year. Choosing which islands to get to while you’re there is difficult when you’re not in the know, so we’ve put together a travel guide to help you along the journey. Welcome to Florida Keys Holidays.

Florida Keys

Flickr/Emilio Labrador/Creative Commons

Where to go in Florida Keys

Bahia Honda Key | Tropical Bahia Honda Key centres mainly around its eponymous state park, known for its pristine beaches, wonderful snorkelling opportunities and perfect sunsets. Take a picnic with you to the beach and spend a relaxing day, dipping into the sea and enjoying the balmy breezes that caress its shores. This remote island is an excellent place to see shorebirds and other wildlife, with a nature centre dedicated to the island’s plants and animals.

Big Pine Key | Big Pine Key is a refuge to rare and endangered animals. Its authentic back country atmosphere and National Key Deer Refuge, make it a beautiful place to holiday. Big Pine is also the jumping off point for numerous snorkelling and diving charters to Looe Key reef, the perfect remedy if you feel like taking an offshore adventure.

Conch Key | This stretch of Florida Keys is dominated by the fishing community, and home to both rustic fishing villages and boating elite. Conch Key itself is a tiny fishing village, but you can quickly hop across to Duck Key, if you’re looking for a more upscale community.

Duck Key | Small, secluded, yet central to Miami and Key West, 

Duck Key is known for its beautiful sunsets. Also home to Hawks Cay, one of the region’s most popular marina resorts, Duck Key is the ideal destination for those looking for a relaxing getaway.

Grassy Key Legend has it that this remote little key was not named after its abundant vegetation as the name would suggests, but after an early settler who went by the name of Grassy. However, this doesn’t take away from its greenery – the Key is fileld with shrubs and native trees.

Islamorada | Isla Morada is Spanish for Island Home, named so by the early settlers who immediately found this island to be cosy and homely. This well-known fishing village is the perfect place for snorkelling, sunbathing and swimming.

Key Largo | Key Largo is the first of the Upper Keys that can be reached by car, and at 30 miles long, it’s also the largest island in the chain.

Key West | Close to Miami,  and just 90 miles from Havana, this end-of-the-line community is like nowhere else on earth. This is the land of eternal holiday, where no one has a care in the world and all you have to think about is what you want for lunch or which cocktail you’ll choose.

Florida from Space

 Flickr/gsfc/Creative Commons

Little Torch Key | Little Torch Key and its neighbour islands, Ramrod Key and Summerland Key, are good jumping-off points for divers headed for Looe Key Reef. The islands also serve as a refuge for those who want to make.

Long Key | Long Key is the ideal destination for those looking to avoid the masses and enjoy some ecological history.

Marathon | Marathon is a busy town – or at least busy when compared to other communities in the Keys. However, the island also lacks a certain charm when compared to its counterparts…

You Should Read… Top 10 Theme Parks in the USA

Hemingway house

Hemingway Balcony/Mattwunderle/Creative Commons

Main attractions of Florida Keys

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum 

A guided tour of Ernest Hemingway’s home is filled with amusing anecdotes of the writer’s life. Built in 1801, Hemmingway lived in the house between 1931 and 1942, writing about 70% of his life’s work, including classics like For Whom the Bell Tolls in its roomsYou can even see some of his belongings including some books, with photographs along the way to help you visualise his day-to-day life.

Audubon House and Tropical Gardens

See the works of ornithologist John James Audubon in this three-story house, which was built in the 1840s for Captain John Geiger. Today, it commemorates Audubon’s 1832 stop in Key West while he was travelling through Florida to study birds. The self-guided tour of the house and gardens and the art gallery of lithographs of the artist’s famed portraits, is one you’ll never forget.

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park

Construction of Fort Zachary Taylor began in 1845, but was halted during the Civil War. Finally completed in 1866, the fort was also used in the Spanish-American War. Guests can either take a 30-minute guided walking tour of the redbrick fort, a National Historic Landmark, at 12pm  and 2pm, or self-tour anytime between 8am and 5pm.

Purple Hearts Christ Church Barbados

With its traditional fishing villages, exclusive five-star resorts and lush vegetation, Christ Church Barbados blends the exotic with the familiar. Known as the Little England of the Caribbean, Barbados is an island that prides itself on its British customs and yet can’t help but embody the authentic spirit of the Caribbean.

When to go to Barbados

Barbados has a tropical climate, meaning it’s hot and sunny all year-round. The best time to go however, is between December and May when there’s less humidity and rainfall.

Beaches in Christ Church Barbados

The beaches around Christ Church are the chief reason why this area of Barbados sees such soaring numbers of tourists. Snorkelling, surfing and windsurfing opportunities are infinite, particularly at Dover Beach due to its favourable conditions for body boarding. Rockley Beach, with its tropical palm trees, comfortable sun loungers and good choice of local shops is another favourite. Enterprise Beach, frequently referred to as Miami, is a sandy spot that’s very much favoured with the locals due to its sheltered setting, crystal clear waters and calm waves. Windsurfers should head to Silver Sands, widely considered to be the best place to windsurf spot on Barbados. Tropical Bottom Bay is lined with mature coconut palms and boasts outstanding views of the shore. Unfortunately, swimming is not recommended here as the waves can be strong. Close to Christ Church is Crane Beach, a remarkably beautiful spot, which deservedly ranks amongst the world’s most acclaimed beaches. Crane, which takes its name from the large crane that was once located here to load and unload ships, plays home to an historic cliff-top hotel that dates back to 1867 – an excellent photo opportunity. The New York Times says, “A wave can travel nearly three thousand miles in the open ocean, undisturbed by sandbars, reefs or land, before it breaks here — on an unlikely little island shaped like a teardrop, off the radar of all but the most devoted surfers.”

What to see on the island

Apart from the beaches and water sports of Barbados Resorts like Christ Church, there are some excellent tourist attractions, especially those concentrated around the lively Saint Lawrence Gap area. Here’s our pick of the best:

Fish Cleaner, Oistins Fish Market By Day, Barbados by Patrick Bennett

Oistins Fish Market is a must-see attraction in Christ Church. Watch fisherman hauling in their daily catch and barter for some of the freshest, most delicious fish you will ever eat. Visit on a Friday or Saturday night to take part in the community fish fry, where you will enjoy the live Caribbean music, friendly atmosphere and a feast of grilled barracuda, dolphin fish, flying fish, marlin, snapper and tuna – to name but a few.

St John’s Church, on Hackleton’s Cliff, is not only one of the loveliest churches on Barbados, but it is also the burial place of Ferdinando Paleologus, last member of a family descended from ancient Greek royalty, who was a warden of the church and died in 1665.

A day at the races feels entirely different when sipping coconut water, tasting authentic Bajan cuisine, and basking in the Caribbean sun. “I hate horse-racing myself, but the atmosphere is great,” notes one Virtualtourist reviewer, “there are stalls selling Bajan food, parades, all sorts of activities, crafts stalls, etc. and the Bajans make a fun day of it.”

Located a little further away from the coast are some excellent attractions: the botanic gardens; a couple of nature reserves, including the wetlands of the Graeme Hall Swamp, which have attracted more than 160 species of bird, including some beautiful pink flamingos. In the middle of the island is Welchman Hall Gully, a kilometre-long walking trail through a sheltered and shaded ravine which hosts 200 flowering plants.

Holders Season is how the smart kids gets their cultural fix; held at Holders, a plantation house owned by Johnny and Wendy Kidd (parents of Jodie), this art and music festival is a glam event that presents the best of the island.

This EXCELLENT dinner theatre takes place in the heart of the lively St. Lawrence Gap area of Christ Church. Staged at the Plantation Garden Theatre, this production showcases the culture and traditions of Barbados. Performers at ‘Bajan Roots and Rhythm’ don spectacular costumes, and a buffet and drinks are included in the price of admission.

Where to eat in Christ Church Barbados

St Lawrence Gap, Christ Church, Barbados (00 1 246 435 6564; www.piscesbarbados.com). A beautiful restaurant overlooking the sea. Good blackened fish and friendly service.

Overlooking the sweeping view of pretty Miami Beach, Café Luna offers alfresco dining on top of the Mediterranean-style Little Arches Hotel. This is spectacular at lunchtime and magical in the moonlight, serving up contemporary favourites from around the world, including fresh Scottish salmon grilled to perfection, oven-roasted New Zealand rack of lamb, fresh seafood bouillabaisse, and local chicken breast with mango chutney. Sushi is a specialty on Thursday and Friday nights; on Saturday night, a champagne and lobster option enhances the regular menu.

Purple Hearts: San Antonio Ibiza

San Antonio spent the first 2,000 years of its existence as a small, quiet fishing village on the west coast of Ibiza. Calm, quaint and conventional, the town was the picture of Spanish simplicity. Then – enter the Brits: destroyers of all that is good and pure in the Med. Part of the mass tourism initiative, which took place across all of Spain (see Benidorm for starters), San Antonio Ibiza soon came to be known as the clubbing capital of the world.

Despite its football hooligan stigma, San Antonio gained even more popularity in the mid 1990s, when the rave scene was at its highest. Even today, young British clubbers make up the vast majority of visitors to the area, along with stag ‘n’ hens and an increasing number of German, Italian, Scandinavian and Dutch guests.

When to visit San Antonio Ibiza?

Couples and families The pre-season months of May and June, and the later months of September and October are the times for you to enjoy the new promenade, the sea and the fantastic beaches, just a short ferry ride away.

Young people and groups The high season months of July, August and the beginning of September are the best time to come if you are looking for buzzing nightlife.

Best beaches in San Antonio Ibiza?

In San Antonio, you’re never far from a beach. Each of the five small beaches within walking distance of the bay has its own character and atmosphere, so it’s best to try a couple of them before deciding which is your favourite. Playa Port de’s Torrent is a deep inlet into the coast, so the waters are tranquil and safe for swimming. S’Arenal de San Antonio is San Antonio’s main beach and stretches 500 metres along the coast, eventually joining up with the Bay. This is a beach for the active (not surprising really given its location) and there’s a wide range of water sports available to keep you busy, including sailing, windsurfing, water-skiing and diving. If you prefer something a little quieter, Cala Gracionetta is a beautiful, secret beach little just outside San Antonio. It’s a sister beach of Cala Gracio, located near the Stella Maris and Fiesta Tanit Hotels. You can also take a ferry boat to one of the nearby beaches, such as Cala Conta or Cala Bassa. They depart hourly from many landing points along the bay and from San Antonio marina.

Where to eat in San Antonio?

Sa Flama | Idyllic beach restaurant serving up Mexican favourites.

Tapas Bar Restaurant | Peaceful, water front restaurant with an open terrace, serving modern tapas, wines and cocktails, alongside chilled music and a laid back atmosphere.

Kasbah | Modern bistro, offering incomparable sunset views.

S’Avaradero | Come here for the best Spanish and Ibicenco cuisine, including fresh fish, paellas, pastas, pizzas, and a daily menu.

Sa Capella | Dine inside this old converted church – the ideal venue for grand wedding receptions or those special celebrations – for excellent quality Spanish and International cuisine.

Rincon de Pepe | This famous Tapas bar is one of San Antonio’s main attractions. From its rustic interior, to its street side patio  to the street side patio it’s a true taste of Spain and a must for seekers of authentic flavours.

Things to do in San Antonio

Take a day trip | Ferries leave regularly from sign-posted points along the main promenade. Generally, they go out to the idyllic beaches of Cala Conta, Cala Bassa and Cala Tarida, but there are also daylong cruises to Es Palmador and Formentera (Ibiza’s sister island).

Fiesta | The fabulous Fireworks Display, which celebrates the fiesta of Saint Bartholomew on the 24th August, is best viewed from the main Square in San Antonio Bay. With it exotic flowering trees, children’s play park and cascading, musical fountains, is the focal point of the resort.

Go Clubbing | San Antonio is home to myriad bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as waterfront clubs, Eden and Es Paradis. Eden has been known to attract the BBC’s top Radio One DJs – Pete Tong, Judge Jules and Dave Pearce – while the pyramid-shaped Es Paradis is famous for its Water & Foam parties, where the whole central section of the dance floor becomes flooded.

San Antonio also offers the famous sunset bars on Caló des Moro, a.k.a. Sunset Strip, including the original sunset bar, Café del Mar, which has a yacht-like design. Its neighbours are equally plush; including Café Mambo, Savannah, Mint and Golden Buddha.

However, while an evening watching the sunset whilst sipping a strawberry Daiquiri may sound like a dream; this is generally not why tourists flock to Ibiza each year. Super clubs like Amnesia, Pacha, Space, Ushuaía Ibiza Beach Hotel and Privilege (the largest club in the world) are all about 15-25 minutes away in a taxi (or about 15-30 Euro’s a trip). Alternatively, you can catch the Disco Bus (!) from the main bus station – behind the egg roundabout. This runs every half an hour from midnight onwards and costs only a few Euros per journey.

What’s with the egg?

Aside from being a bizarre attraction, the egg does have some historical significance. This is the egg of Christopher Columbus and the ship represents his ship, the Santa Maria. When Columbus was hoping to finance his trip to the Far East, he was told it was impossible. So, he took an egg, and said, “Would you say it was impossible to stand this egg upright?” Of course, everyone agreed it was impossible. Columbus then lightly cracked the base, so that the egg could stand upright and said (a little over-dramatically if you ask us), “Nothing is impossible.” He then obtained the confidence of his financial backer.

Get the best cheap holidays to San Antonio from Purple Travel.

Purple Hearts: Cuba Travel Guide

Upon arriving at Cuba, Christopher Columbus remarked that it was “the most beautiful country human eyes have ever seen.” Yet for tourists, the country is a land of continuous confusion; its economy is struggling at best, yet its cultural history is rich and diverse; its landscape is filled with relic and dust, but its architecture is indisputably magnificent; it is considered dangerous and even saddening, yet at the same time, utterly compelling, like the moment when you pass by a car crash and cannot help but slow down to take a closer look. You may even say that these mysteries and parallels are what make Cuba an attractive destination choice. They map out its troubled history like wrinkles on an aged face – a product of years of genocide, slavery, invasion, counter-invasion and revolution – adding both a character and a melancholic beauty.

The words ‘Cuba’ and ‘politics’ have gone hand in hand for more than half a century now, headed by Fidel Castro and his communist regime. However, unlike the grey, barren dystopia of archetypal communist countries, Cuba is an exuberant, romantic milieu, where art, music, literature and creativity are the dish of the day. The Cubans themselves are a nation of artists; from doers to dreamers, sceptics to sages, poets to philosophers. To put things into perspective, here is a review from one of our customers:

“We visited (Cuba) some 18 years ago, and the most attractive and memorable aspect was the pride our guides had in their country and the things they were showing us. A simple doctor’s surgery was described as cutting edge, a somewhat decrepit university as the equivalent of Oxford, and so on. That aspect was enchanting, as they obviously had so little yet treasured what they had.”

The Cubans have shaped their country into the captivating, impenetrable, paradoxical nation it is. However with tourism on the rise, and therefore a huge injection of capitalism pumping through Cuba’s socialist veins, now is the time to travel to this unique country, before its beauty fades into an increasingly globalized world. And if you need some inspiration? We’ve created this Cuba travel guide to ensure your holiday is the best it can be:

Cuba is inhabited mainly by people of African and Spanish origin, which is reflected in the cuisine. Food in Cuba is therefore unlike the rest of the Caribbean, relying heavily on onions and garlic for its flavourings, rather than spices. To find delicious food, head to the casas, rather than the restaurants, which can be somewhat hit and miss and where service is generally quite poor. The real adventure however, is eating at peso places (the national money), which serve the cheapest and most interesting food around. A meal for three people with beers will only cost around $4. Just look for a line of Cubans and jump in it – there’s sure to be something delicious at the end.

Places to go
Cuba’s sultry capital is one of the finest examples of a Spanish Colonial city in the Americas. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, Havana was once one of world’s most beautiful areas, but as the city deteriorates and tourism influxes, the city is in a state of change; now, behind the crumbling colonial façades, are hidden boutique hotels, cocktail bars and fine dining eateries.  Head for Old Havana to explore the original churches and reconstructed mansions, or to Malecon road for a lively meeting place. or try one of these fantastic new restaurants for a slice of modern Havanan culture:

Atelier: ForCaribbean and European dishes; Good
for groups and well-priced.
Café Laurent: Spanish cuisine with other European influences; the speciality is seafood.
Doña Eutimia: Traditional Cuban food; one of the specialities is the classic ropa vieja (pulled beef in a tomato sauce). About £15 for two.
San Cristóbal: Cuban and international cuisine; pork in mustard sauce is a speciality.

Thepeaceful region of Guardalavaca is home to some of Cuba’s most idyllic, powdery beaches. Crystal clear waters, filled with an abundance of marine life, make it a popular destination for snorkelers and divers, while swimming with dolphins is a not-to-be-missed opportunity. Traditionally famous for its sugar production, if you venture away from the beach, you can drive through roads lined with fields of sugar cane plantations. Although its main industry is now tourism, Guardelavaca has retained an authentic Cuban feel and you never feel too overcrowded.

Varadero is Cuba’s largest beach resort, set on a 12-mile long peninsula of stunning white sandy beaches and clear Caribbean water. Despite being a beach resort, the area is still not as commercialised as many other Caribbean locations. After it was first visited in 1870, Varadero rapidly grew into an exclusive resort for the Havana elite, visited by many celebrities, including Al Capone.
This tourism boom, which has never wavered since, has meant that Varadero is a long way from being the ‘real Cuba’, but for a great beach holiday, this is surely one of the best in the entire Caribbean.

Cayo Coyo
Cayo Coco Cuba is occupied by one of the world’s largest coral reefs – second only to the Great Barrier. Like Varadero, Cayo Coyo is a magnificent beach resort, boasting fifteen miles of virgin beaches and azure seas, perfect for indulging in a spot of Cuban deep sea fishing. If you prefer to stay on dry land, the dramatic mountainous backdrop offers some fantastic hiking or horse riding opportunities, rewarded by spectacular views. If you travel by car through the linking causeway, you can make a stop off at Parador la Silla, about half way across, which is home to hundreds of bright pink flamingos. Hotel-wise, we recommend Playa Coco, a modern, spacious hotel set right on the beach or Tryp Cayo Coco, designed like a traditional Caribbean village. For something even more luxurious, Melia Cayo Coco hotel has everything you could ever want – perfect for honeymoons or romantic couples break.

Founded in 1514, Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is home to an extensive colonial history. Expect to see locals riding on horseback down cobbled streets, past rows of houses painted in pastel pinks, yellows and blues. The renovated elegant mansions of the past are now enchanting museums, whilst original church windows are like works of art.

Santa Clara
Santa Clara is the home of the monument, museum and mausoleum of revolutionary, Ché Guevara, whose body was only returned from Bolivia in 1997, some 30 years after his capture and execution.

Things to do

Jardin Botanico Nacianol, Havana
A well-kept collection of tropical plants that includes poinsettias the size of Christmas trees, hibiscus, bromeliads, coleus and bougainvillea. Open daily.

Museo De La Revolucion, Havana

Refugio 1, between Avenida de las Misiones and Zulueta, Habana Vieja, Havana. To learn a bit about the country’s history, visit the housed in a huge, ornate, dome-topped building which was once the presidential palace. The spirit of the greatest revolutionary of them all, Che Guevara, lives on in posters, statues and murals such as the one on Plaza de la Revolucion.

Partaga Cigar Factory, Havana
Industria 520, Habana Vieja, Havana. A national treasure that hides behind the Capitolio in Havana’s main square, Partagas – formerly the second largest cigar factory in Cuba – is worth a visit.

Muse Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana
Opened in its current location in 1954, the National Museum of Fine Arts 50,000 strong collection of artworks has been divided into two separate buildings: the Cuban art collection (Arte Cubano), and the international collection (Arte Universal). The international collection is a passable survey of world art but the main draw is the building itself.

Call Purple Travel on 0207 993 9228 to find out more about holidays in Cuba.

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