5 nature photos to inspire your next trip

Geological rocks of Meteora

What captures your attention and provides the optimal sensory elements that help shape and define your greatest trip memories?  Is it the food, the architecture, the local art and culture, music and nightlife, or the people you meet? And, including some or all of the above, are you also besotted with dramatic landscapes and the opportunity to leave with beautiful nature photos destined to be framed as your next prized pieces of wall art?

My sister CJ (and best travel buddy) will be the first to tell you “impressive man-made structures have their place, and they’re several iconic landmarks scattered all over the world matching that description.” But for her, the pièces de résistance, the vacation takeaway masterpieces so to speak, always lie in nature.

We’ve been to more than a dozen countries together and she inevitably comes back with images of landscapes, seascapes, clouds, plants and animals. She takes other pictures too, of course, but her beloved nature photos far outnumber anything else.

So for this post, I asked her to help us see the world through her Samsung Galaxy 6 lens and describe what drew her eyes to each scene.


Jamaican countryside

Nestled in the hills of St. Elizabeth there is freedom.  Freedom from the trappings of commercialization and bustling streets that create a cacophony of intrusive noises.  This lone home, enveloped by lush vegetation and surrounded by lung-friendly, pollution-free air, sits atop a hill like a beacon.  Untouched land, friendly people, and rich culture showcased Jamaica at its finest.

South Africa

insects in south africa

Cape Town is steeped in history and known for its popular V&A Waterfront as well as prominent landmarks, but one of my favorite places to visit, other than my safari and Robben Island tours, was Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.  Found on the eastern side of the famous Table Mountain, it is home to several spectacular species of flora and fauna and the immaculately groomed grounds are presided over by a bust of Nelson Mandela, which is near the entrance.

The aromatic and abundant plant life is a potent elixir for the cutest insects. This little fellow was oblivious to all the tourists milling around as he hung out all by his adobrable and lonesome self.  Clearly, there was sonly one thing on his mind…”Gotta get the pollen! Gotta get the pollen!”


Meteora rock cliff

Taking a bus tour can often be mundane and long, but when that trip is transporting you from Athens through the northern highlands to Meteora, there are beautiful natural landscapes and geological sites to behold.  The feeling of catching your first glimpse of the giant monolithic rocks on which several monasteries were built is not something that’s easily described. It is an emotion best experienced in person.


Paradise Beach_Tulum Mexico

Tulum, Tulum, Tulum. What’s not to love about Tulum?  Found in the Quintana Roo region of Mexico, the area is home to the ruins of the Mayan walled city, and it once served as a port for Coba.  Today it is a treasured UNESCO Heritage Site. 

I’ve been around beaches all my life, but nothing could have prepared me for the sight of this gorgeous shoreline bordered on either side by turquoise waters and craggy rocks. Not only do you get to stroll through the impressive ruins, you can kick off your shoes and dip your toes in the soft, squishy sand if you are not short on time,

Southwest Florida

PineIsland Sound_Florida

Famous for its shell-lined beaches, Southwest Florida is also known for absolutely amazing sunsets.  No two light shows are ever alike because they were ‘painted’ by the greatest artist ever known. He is Elohim.  It was a perfect evening when the lone bird took flight and a few, friendly dolphins frolicked in the ocean below.    

Those are some of my sister’s top picks. Do you have any tips on other cool spots for beautiful nature photos that you’d like to share? Please drop their names in the comment section below.

5 Nature Photos to inspire your next trip

6 Fun things to do in St. Thomas, USVI

Often referred to as America’s Paradise, The United States Virgin Islands is a group of breathtaking islands nestled in the eastern Caribbean, a little over 1000 miles southeast of Miami and 1,500 miles from New York City. Each of the four main islands has its own claim to fame, but St. Thomas, the capital, is home to a busy cruise port and airport, so it’s usually the first stop on any wanderluster’s journey.

Earlier this year, I jetted there to enjoy my fair share of fruity drinks, turquoise blue waters, jaw-dropping views and small-island hospitality before hopping over to Scrub Island Resort to celebrate my birthday. With only two days on the ground, I had fun, but activity wise I didn’t even scratch the surface.

Below are my suggestions for 6 fun things to do in St. Thomas, USVI if that country is on your bucket list.

Laze on the beach

Laze on the Beach_St. Thomas

According to this St. Thomas Beach Guide, they’re about 40 stretches of sand or intimate coves to choose from. Some of the most popular ones are Magens Bay, Secret Harbor, Brewer’s Bay, Coki Beach, Sapphire Beach, Hull Bay and Lindquist Beach, among others. I don’t know about you, but there’s just something about a palm-fringed shoreline that unleashes my inner do-nothing-at-all-but-lay-under-the shade-or play-in-the-water beach bum. But if you’re hankering for more action, you can easily rent gear to go snorkeling, scuba diving, jet skiing or stand up paddle boarding.

Go on an island tour

Hiring a taxi to go on a guided island tour is also a no-brainer.  The island’s stunning scenery is dramatically showcased from its hilly peaks, and with its vast mountain ranges, there’s no shortage of mind-blowing views along the winding roads. Of course, you can rent a car and see the island at your own pace too, but if heights scare you, or you have a limited time to sightsee, having a knowledgeable driver is the way to go. That way, you never have to worry about getting lost, and you get to ask questions about the country’s history and culture.

Drink a banana daiquiri atop the highest mountain

Mountain Top, a popular tourist attraction located at the highest point on the island, draws tons of visitors each year because of its coveted observation deck, duty-free shopping and the lure of its signature drink: a Cruzan rum inspired banana daiquiri. Local folklore says the recipe was created by a famous British sea captain who sailed from Barbados on a quest to find the ultimate Caribbean cocktail. Apparently, his search ended there when he mixed the local rum with additional sugar cane extract and ripe bananas from a nearby grove to concoct his perfect drink. Go test it and see what you think. Insider tip:  Try to visit on a non-cruise ship day when the crowds aren’t overwhelming, and people aren’t acting bat crazy.

Take a safari ride

The local buses are called safaris, and I suspect they were given that name because they resemble the open-air vehicles you usually see people driving on African safaris.  You can use them to sightsee much like you’d use a hop on and hop off bus in one of the big European cities. There’s no all-day or two-day ticket system, though. There are two routes – divided by Tutu Valley – and if you’re riding anywhere west of there, say from Charlotte Amalie or Havensight to Tutu, the fare is one dollar.  From the east, which has beaches like Coki Point and Secret Harbor, it’s also a dollar to Tutu. Longer rides, with multiple legs on the trip, can cost more. But basically, you can get to most of the island and back to your hotel for under six dollars.

From what I could tell, the safaris are all independently owned, and while consistent, there is no master schedule re times of operation, or any officially marked bus stops.  Just ask a local to point you in the general direction of where they stop, and wave them down as they approach.

Sample the local fare

Image Source: hlsvi.com

I’m a big supporter of sampling local cuisines when I travel, so as far as I am concerned, no trip to the Caribbean is complete without treating yourself to waterfront meals that delight your taste buds – especially if they are built around boat to plate seafood prepared with only the freshest of ingredients. For my first evening out, I ate the most amazing fish meal at Hook Line & Sinker, a small eatery tucked at the end of a narrow street in the center of town with yachts and majestic hills as the backdrop. The service and atmosphere were great too. But there are several options. Just ask your front desk agent or a local for recommendations.

For great local breakfasts, Delly Deck in Havensight Mall got rave reviews, Mafolie Hotel & Restaurant is known for its American Caribbean cuisine, and I was told Island Flavor in Crown Bay is where to go for some real island grub.

Island hop

Thanks to proximity and good transportation options, it’s very easy to take in the natural beauty of St. John or experience the charming history and culture in St. Croix while in the US Virgin Islands.  Tortola, the capital of the British Virgin Islands is also a short and inexpensive ferry ride away, and from there you can easily get to even more islands. A roundtrip boat ticket from St. Thomas to Tortola costs US$65, and as part of the price, you are allowed what airlines would call one personal item. Carry-on bags are an additional $5 each.  Since they are a different territory, US citizens will need to show their passports at the port of entry, and other nationalities may need a British visa. Everyone pays a $10 environmental fee on arrival, plus a $20 departure tax (per person) at departure. Kids under 5 are exempt.

Editor’s Notes:

Official Language: English, which is often mixed with patois (PA-twah).

Currency: US dollars.

Time Zone: Atlantic Standard Time (Daylight Savings Time is not recognized).

Passport Info: No passport is required for U.S. citizens arriving from Puerto Rico or the mainland, but you must have a valid driver’s license.

Where to find art and culture in Kansas City, Missouri

Did you know that both Missouri and Kansas have a metropolitan area called Kansas City?  Well, I didn’t realize that until three years ago.  Before then, the Wizard of Oz was my only visual reference of Kansas, so when I looked around on my drive from the airport, I expected to see flat plains, large rolls of hay and an austere, dull landscape – maybe even a random pair of red shoes and a scarecrow. But nah, it wasn’t even close.

Known for its popular barbecue joints, chic rehabbed districts, growing number of microbreweries, World War 1 Museum, and contributions to the evolution of jazz, Kansas City, Missouri, is trendier and filled with more outlets for arts and culture than you’d think. In fact, in 2012 it was named one of America’s top cities for hipsters by Travel + Leisure.

Venues for art and culture

Art Alley

If you’re into the budding street art scene, head over to 17th and 18th Streets near Locust and Cherry to see wall murals that are big, colorful and bold. Freelance artist Jason Harrington is credited with starting the movement to spruce up the buildings in the area, but paintings are done by people from all over the city. The art changes regularly, so each trip there is likely to unveil new murals.


The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Named in honor of a founder and editor of the Kansas City Evening Star, William Rockhill Nelson, and Mary McAfee Atkins, the Nelson-Atkins Museum houses close to 40,000 works of art from all over the world. In addition, outside there is also a sculpture garden that showcases an amazing collection of 35+ pieces by many of the 20th century’s finest artists. Installations include monumental bronze works by Henry Moore and the Instaworthy shuttlecocks by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Admission is free, but you pay for parking.


American Jazz Museum

Are there any jazz lovers here? After a day of browsing what I considered to be one of the coolest places in Kansas City, I discovered that the 18th and Vine District – not just New Orleans, St. Louis and Chicago – was also the base for many pioneering jazz greats who performed at nightclubs that fueled a creative and vibrant music scene in the 30s and 40s. Yes, maestros like Charlie Parker, Big Joe Turner, Jay McShann, Count Basie, and a ton of other jazz icons added their flava to the town’s musical history in a time when separatism was still the order of the day.

If possible, plan your visit late in the day on a Friday afternoon and stay for the Indigo Hour at the onsite jazz club, Blue Room. It features soul-stirring music from local R&B and Neo-Soul musicians from 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm, with no cover charge.


Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

For a foray into the performing arts, check their calendar of events and schedule a visit to the impressive Kauffman Center. It’s both a cultural and architectural icon in the city, and it attracts a wide variety of entertainers and performances from around the world. Shows range from ballet and contemporary dance, to Broadway plays, music concerts, opera, comedy shows, and more.


Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The Kemper Museum features modern and contemporary works by artists who are well-established, mid-way in their journey, and newbies on the up and up. Staying true to its mission of enriching lives through the display of art in a free and welcoming environment, it also offers access to special exhibitions, installations, workshops and lectures.  If you get hungry while browsing the venue, no need to worry. Just saunter into their elegant snack bar, Café Sebastienne, where art, culture and cuisine combine to provide you with a multisensory experience.


And that’s my list! All my favortite places to find art and culture in Kansas City, Missouri, at your fingertips.

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Kansas City arts and culture venues