16 October, 2014

Indian Culture Before Your Trip: Food for Thought

Diwali, the Festival of Lights
When it comes to culture, few countries can claim a more storied history or a more diverse present than India.  Though it’s unlikely that you’d try to learn a new language or make a religious pilgrimage on your trip to India, there are still many aspects of this magnificent country’s culture in which you can partake during your journey.  From festivals to cuisine to the performing arts, here is some information regarding Indian culture that may help you to make plans for your trip:

1. Festivals

Though the majority of India’s biggest festivals are religious in nature, respectful foreigners are always welcomed with open arms.  Perhaps the grandest festival of them all is Diwali—India’s festival of lights.  Depending on the year, Diwali occurs either in October or November.  Nearly every town celebrates with fireworks and by lighting itself up for five nights straight, while many also have their own unique traditions associated with the festival.  If you can’t make it for Diwali, there are many different festivals all year round—just do your research before you head out!

Gulab Jaamun
2. Indian Cuisine

A quick disclaimer: there really is no “Indian” cuisine—every region and state has its own unique culinary history.  That being said, there are some commonalities throughout the country.  Due in large part to Hindu and Buddhist religious influences, most Indian cuisine is vegetarian—with beef being the rarest meat of all.  Of course, the very popular curry dish is found throughout India, containing complex blends of herbs and spices that vary greatly by style and region.  If you’re in the mood for street food, try Kati—a sort of wrapped sandwich containing vegetable, egg, and kebab.  When it’s time for dessert, make sure to try gulab jaamun—balls of dried milk cooked in a sugary syrup that are sure to blow your taste buds away.

Bharatanatyam Dance
3. Performing Arts

India’s artistic traditions are of course widely varied as well.  Perhaps at the forefront of the Indian performing arts is dance, whose roots on the subcontinent go back millennia.  Classical dance forms include Bharatanatyam, Kathak, and Odissi, while folk dancing spans a wide number of traditions as well.  Traditional Indian music is just as expansive and goes way beyond the sitar popularized in the West by hippies during the 1960s.  You owe it to yourself to check out a live arts performance during your trip to India at least once!

Before You Go... 

http://store.gpstravelmaps.com/India-GPS-Map-Garmin-p/india.htm?click=1475Pick up our India map. This GPS map will give you turn by turn directions to your destination using a point of interest (POI), city point, and/or latitude and longitude, with the ability to preplan driving destinations before getting into your car.

The easy to follow instructions allow you to download and install the map into Garmin BaseCamp desktop software and transfer it to your Garmin GPS in minutes. This installable map is compatible with ALL Garmin GPS units .


It's like having your own personal travel guide with you on your trip!





Screen Capture from our India GPS Map
Screen Capture from our India GPS Map







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14 October, 2014

3 Different Takes on Indian Adventure Tourism

Located in South Asia, India is the world’s second-largest country by population as well as its largest democracy.  Renowned for its linguistic and religious diversity, its colorful history, and its increasingly important role in an ever-globalizing world, India is also putting itself on the map as a popular destination for adventure tourism.
Lake Roopkund, India

Because of its size and geographical diversity, India offers a wide variety of options for vacationers seeking an exciting adventure in an exotic land.  Let’s take a look at just a few of the locations throughout this magical country that are growing ever-more popular with a unique class of tourists who want more from their vacation destinations:

Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India

1. Uttarakhand

This northern state is situated in the heart of the Himalaya Mountains and is renowned for its natural beauty and peaceful nature.  Its mountainous topography makes it ideal for hikers, rock climbers, and skiers.  Uttarakhand is home to the infamous Roopkund, a trekking destination where, during the summer months, a vast number of human skeletons can be seen beneath the thawed lake water.

2. Rajasthan

Located along India’s western border, this massive state is home to the equally gigantic Thar Desert—one of the largest in the world.  For those who fancy a visit to this culturally- and geographically-isolated locale, there might be no better way to do it than on the back of a camel, taking a true Rajasthan-style safari.  No matter your price range or preferred travel style, there’s an option for you—from simple backpacker accommodations to posh and luxurious desert treks, Rajasthan has it all.

3. Goa

Goa, India
This tiny southwestern state is by far India’s richest, with a GDP over two times the country’s average.  If your idea of an Indian vacation includes cultural immersion and historic sites but you prefer beaches to the mountains or the desert, this is your place.  Options for adventure tourism in Goa abound—from water sports to scuba diving to fishing to hiking, there is bound to be an activity in Goa that piques your interest.  Once again, the tourism industry in Goa caters to visitors of many price ranges, and whether you’re looking at hostel dormitories or upscale hotel rooms there is a space in Goa for you.

Before You Go... 

http://store.gpstravelmaps.com/India-GPS-Map-Garmin-p/india.htm?click=1475Pick up our India map. This GPS map will give you turn by turn directions to your destination using a point of interest (POI), city point, and/or latitude and longitude, with the ability to preplan driving destinations before getting into your car.

The easy to follow instructions allow you to download and install the map into Garmin BaseCamp desktop software and transfer it to your Garmin GPS in minutes. This installable map is compatible with ALL Garmin GPS units .


It's like having your own personal travel guide with you on your trip!





Screen Capture from our India GPS Map
Screen Capture from our India GPS Map







Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
You can also connect with us on Google Plus, see our travel guide pictures on Pinterest, and view some of our videos on YouTube.

09 October, 2014

The Joys of True Mexican Food

Beautiful Tamales!
There’s no denying it—Americans love Mexican food.  That being said, there seems to be a lot of confusion north of the border (and throughout the world) regarding what Mexican food actually is.

But first, let’s be clear—we’re certainly not knocking Tex-Mex, a perfectly valid and frequently delicious cuisine.  However, what many foreigners assume to be Mexican food is only peripherally related to what’s really happening in the kitchens and on the streets of that country.

For example, the option of a “hard taco” simply doesn’t exist in Mexico—it’s a wholly American invention dating back to the early 20th century.  And burritos?  Their story is a bit less clear, but what’s certain is that they were popularized in Los Angeles and remain much more popular in the U.S. than in Mexico itself.
Woman Making Mole Negro

Now that we know what Mexican food isn’t, let’s take a look at some true Mexican cuisine that is less than well-known outside of the country:

Tamales
Plenty of non-Mexicans have heard of tamales, but considerably fewer are actually familiar with the dish.  Before we begin, let’s make something clear—in proper Spanish, a single unit of this dish is not a “tamale,” but rather a tamal.

The history of the tamal goes back thousands of years to pre-Hispanic times.  The dish consists of a corn-based dough steamed in either a banana leaf or a corn husk depending on regional tradition.  They are commonly filled with a meat, mixed vegetables, mushrooms, red or green sauce, or mole.  What’s mole?  Funny you should ask…

Mole

There are many variations on this traditional Mexican sauce whose roots can be traced back to the early Spanish colonial period.  All moles include chili peppers—frequently blends of many different varieties—and most include chocolate as an ingredient.  The end effect is a sweet and spicy sauce that can taste strange at first to foreign pallets but that in time is guaranteed to win over any foodie.
Delicious looking Tortas.

Tortas
If you plan to ask for a sandwich in Mexico, you’re going to have to be more specific.  Generally speaking, a sándwich refers to one served on bland white bread (“pan bimbo” in Mexico) while a torta refers to the version that you probably actually want to eat.  Tortas vary wildly by region, with one of our favorite takes being Guadalajara’s torta ahogada (“drowned sandwich”), a basic torta served completely doused in a spicy red sauce.





Before You Go... 


http://store.gpstravelmaps.com/Mexico-GPS-Map-p/mexico.htm?click=1475Pick up our Mexico map. This GPS map will give you turn by turn directions to your destination using a point of interest (POI), city point, and/or latitude and longitude, with the ability to preplan driving destinations before getting into your car.

The easy to follow instructions allow you to download and install the map into Garmin BaseCamp desktop software and transfer it to your Garmin GPS in minutes. This installable map is compatible with ALL Garmin GPS units .


It's like having your own personal travel guide with you on your trip!


Screen Capture from our Mexico GPS Map.


Screen Capture from our Mexico GPS Map.





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You can also connect with us on Google Plus, see our travel guide pictures on Pinterest, and view some of our videos on YouTube.

07 October, 2014

Misunderstood Mexico

A Street in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico
For those readers from the United States, Mexico is our next-door neighbor, the second-largest customer of our national exports, and the largest source of migrant/ seasonal labor to the United States.  Whether we as individuals think much about it or not, Mexico and the United States are more than just connected—they are hugely reliant upon each other.

Despite this, there may be no country more misunderstood by the average American than Mexico.  According to a poll undertaken by consulting firm Vianovo, here are some of the words that most frequently come to mind when Americans think of Mexico: “drugs,” “poverty,” “violence,” “dirty,” and, of course, “beaches.”

Temple of Inscriptions, Palenque, Mexico
Though there are certainly some truths behind these stereotypes, they have been hugely exaggerated in the American media—sensationalism sells.  Most Americans would be surprised to know that, outside the Border States and some urban areas that are of little interest to tourists anyway, crime rates in Mexico are generally lower than in the United States.  And many people would be equally surprised by the tourism opportunities in Mexico beyond the beaches of Cancún and Puerto Vallarta.

The southern Mexican state of Chiapas, for example, is one of the world’s prime adventure tourism destinations.  Most excursions into Chiapas start from San Cristóbal de las Casas, a colonial town situated in a mountain valley with a strong indigenous influence and an important regional market.  Many visitors head to Palenque, a Maya historic site that features some of the most well-preserved temple and pyramid
Sumidero Canyon, Mexico

ruins in the Americas, as well as the Sumidero Canyon, a geological wonder whose Grijalva River cuts through vertical rock faces that can exceed 3,200 feet.  The state’s 59 Montebello Lakes range in color from deep emerald greens to iridescent blues, making a wonderful destination for hikers and mountain bikers alike, and the myriad small indigenous towns that dot the mountainous landscape all charm visitors in unique ways.

And this is just a fraction of the sites to see in one of Mexico’s 31 states (and one federal district!).  We urge Americans to look past the CNN and Fox News headlines and head south.  Get to know your neighbor—whose culture is both ancient and modern, traditional and innovative, certainly proud, and one of the warmest to be found anywhere on this planet.

Before You Go... 



http://store.gpstravelmaps.com/Mexico-GPS-Map-p/mexico.htm?click=1475Pick up our Mexico map. This GPS map will give you turn by turn directions to your destination using a point of interest (POI), city point, and/or latitude and longitude, with the ability to preplan driving destinations before getting into your car.

The easy to follow instructions allow you to download and install the map into Garmin BaseCamp desktop software and transfer it to your Garmin GPS in minutes. This installable map is compatible with ALL Garmin GPS units .


It's like having your own personal travel guide with you on your trip!


Screen Capture from our Mexico GPS Map.

Screen Capture from our Mexico GPS Map.





Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
You can also connect with us on Google Plus, see our travel guide pictures on Pinterest, and view some of our videos on YouTube.

02 October, 2014

Colombia’s Dazzling Biodiversity

In our last blog post, we discussed briefly how Colombia’s topographical and climatic diversity leads to a wide array of settings for adventure tourism.  What we didn’t mention, however, was how the same factors conspire to make Colombia one of the most biodiverse countries found anywhere on this planet!

Colombia is the nature-lover’s dream.  According to The Convention on Biological Diversity, Colombia is one of the world’s very few “megadiverse” countries—despite making up less than 1% of the world’s total land area, within Colombia’s borders one can find more than 10% of the world’s biodiversity.  When you take a moment to let that sink in you realize how truly impressive it is. There are 314 unique ecosystem types within Colombian territory, each of which is inhabited with its own endemic flora and fauna.  Let’s take a look at just a few of the different species that this country has to offer:

The Andean Condor

The Andean Condor


Colombia is home to nearly 2,000 different species of birds—more than Europe and North America combined.  Among these, perhaps the most impressive is the massive Andean condor.  A mature adult Andean condor can have a wingspan of up to 10 ½ feet, making it one of the world’s largest birds.  It’s also a very long-lived creature—individuals have been known to live longer than 70 years!  Though rare, the Andean Condor can be sighted in southwestern Colombia.

Golden Poison Frog

The Golden Poison Frog


The Colombian National Flower
Colombia is also the world’s second-most diverse country for amphibian species and, among many others, is home to the golden poison frog.  This creature has the dubious honor of being perhaps the world’s most poisonous living animal—however, when raised in captivity and separated from their nature food sources, the frogs grow up to be totally harmless!  Traditionally, indigenous groups from Colombia have used the golden poison frog to poison the darts that they hunt with.  They’re found only in primary forests along Colombia’s Pacific coast.

The Flor de Mayo


Unlike the previous selections, this species is not exceedingly rare—but it is Colombia’s national
flower.  It was chosen in 1936 to represent Colombia because it is endemic to the country and its lips grow to be yellow, blue, and/or red, the colors of the Colombian flag.  It is an orchid—yet another family of life in which Colombia can claim to possess the world’s greatest biodiversity.

Before You Go... 


http://store.gpstravelmaps.com/Colombia-GPS-Map-Garmin-p/colombia.htm?click=1475
Pick up our Colombia map. This GPS map will give you turn by turn directions to your destination using a point of interest (POI), city point, and/or latitude and longitude, with the ability to preplan driving destinations before getting into your car.

The easy to follow instructions allow you to download and install the map into Garmin BaseCamp desktop software and transfer it to your Garmin GPS in minutes. This installable map is compatible with ALL Garmin GPS units .

It's like having your own personal travel guide with you on your trip!



You can also connect with us on Google Plus, see our travel guide pictures on Pinterest, and view some of our videos on YouTube.

30 September, 2014

Colombia: The Next Best Destination for Adventure Tourism?

Playa Blanca, Cartegena, Colombia
For decades, Colombia was synonymous with drugs—their production and distribution and all of the horrible things that go along with that industry.  An armed revolutionary movement terrorized large parts of the countryside while paramilitary groups paid by large landowners for “protection” often did the same.  In short, it wasn’t the ideal place for tourists to go exploring.

Recently, though, things have begun changing.  After violence peaked in the 1990s, government forces have regained the upper hand.  Millions of Colombians have taken to the streets to protest against violent conflict, the rebels have officially declared an end to kidnappings for ransom, and productive peace talks are currently taking place.

Rafting in San Gil, Colombia

This is great news for Colombians, but it’s good news for us as well!  Colombia is a dream come true for adventure tourists.  Stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, the country’s territory consists of snow-covered mountain peaks, highland plains, picturesque beaches, and pristine lowland rainforest.  Whereas other countries may have beautiful sites to “explore,” in Colombia you really are exploring—these are places that tourists simply couldn’t access even a few years ago.

Guatape Rock, Colombia
As Colombia “comes back,” the government and individuals alike have plans to make tourism a major part of the process.  And with good reason—the country’s natural blessings provide incredible settings for all sorts of activities.  The rapid topographical shift from mountains to lowlands results in a diverse array of rivers, making Colombia a worldwide destination for rafting.  The whitewater stream on one mountainside may be accompanied by a wide and lazy river on the other, and alongside these water bodies the country’s mountain plains are perfect for horseback riding.  In the same highland regions, mountain biking is growing in popularity among tourists and locals alike.

From here, heading either north or west will take you to the Caribbean or Pacific coasts, respectively.  Colombia’s 2,000+ miles of shoreline offer an array of options for adventurous types, from diving to surfing and beyond.  The Caribbean coast is renowned for its clear and calm waters while the Pacific is known for its black sand and stronger currents.

Whatever you end up doing in Colombia, make sure to appreciate the experience.  In the not-so-distant future, these might be the times that fellow-travelers look back on as the “Golden Age”—when Colombia opened up and shared its treasures for the first time.

Before You Go... 


http://store.gpstravelmaps.com/Colombia-GPS-Map-Garmin-p/colombia.htm?click=1475
Pick up our Colombia map. This GPS map will give you turn by turn directions to your destination using a point of interest (POI), city point, and/or latitude and longitude, with the ability to preplan driving destinations before getting into your car.


The easy to follow instructions allow you to download and install the map into Garmin BaseCamp desktop software and transfer it to your Garmin GPS in minutes. This installable map is compatible with ALL Garmin GPS units .

It's like having your own personal travel guide with you on your trip!



You can also connect with us on Google Plus, see our travel guide pictures on Pinterest, and view some of our videos on YouTube.

25 September, 2014

Brazilian Carnival and Beyond

Carnival scene in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In the eyes of many, Carnival is the embodiment of Brazilian culture.  Most of us have seen the pictures, perhaps heard the music, and think we know what Carnival is all about.  But how well do you really know Carnival?

For example, it’s widely understood that Carnival is a celebration before Lent, the Catholic season of 40 days that precedes the Easter holiday.  But did you know that this is where the name “Carnival” itself comes from?  During Lent, it’s typical for Catholics to abstain from eating meat.  At the time of its naming, Italian was a dominant language in Catholic discourse, and in Italian carne levare means “to remove meat.”  Interesting, no?

So what else is there to know about Carnival?  Sure,
Colofrul Carnival, Rio
there’s music and dancing, but it’s not just people out on the street singing and moving their bodies around.  In fact, the festivities associated with Carnival are in many ways quite regimented, falling in line with specific regional traditions.

Carnival Capoeira
Let’s look at some examples: In Rio de Janeiro, home of the most famous Carnival activities, the celebration is focused around the music and dance style known as samba.  This is perhaps Brazil’s most famous contribution to international culture, and most likely what you see in your head when you picture Brazilian Carnival.  This isn't uniform throughout the country, however.  In the Bahia region, Carnival features a strong emphasis on African elements of Brazilian culture and much of the music shows influence from the reggae genre.  In Pernambuco, a style of music called frevo permeates the celebrations.  Frevo itself is highly influenced by capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, and as such has an entirely different feel from the samba we generally picture in our Carnival fantasies.  Meanwhile, in Brazil’s largest city of São Paulo, the main Carnival celebrations take place several days before they do in the rest of the country!

It’s clear then that Carnival is a much more diverse celebration than many foreigners often imagine.  Many people from outside Brazil learn this only after visiting Carnival for themselves, which many do—over 400,000 foreigners tend to come for Rio’s Carnival alone.  Even if you can’t make it during Carnival, Brazil’s beautifully diverse culture is worth getting to know any time of the year.  From Rio to São Paolo to Pernambuco and beyond, Brazil is a cultural hotspot that is not to be missed.

Before You Go... 


http://store.gpstravelmaps.com/Brazil-GPS-Map-Garmin-p/brazil.htm?click=1475
Pick up our Brazil map. This GPS map will give you turn by turn directions to your destination using a point of interest (POI), city point, and/or latitude and longitude, with the ability to preplan driving destinations before getting into your car.


The easy to follow instructions allow you to download and install the map into Garmin BaseCamp desktop software and transfer it to your Garmin GPS in minutes. This installable map is compatible with ALL Garmin GPS units .

It's like having your own personal travel guide with you on your trip!

Screen Capture from our Brazil GPS Map.
Screen Capture from our Brazil GPS Map.







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You can also connect with us on Google Plus, see our travel guide pictures on Pinterest, and view some of our videos on YouTube.

23 September, 2014

Brazilian Adventures—Take Your Pick!

Brazil is perhaps South America’s most emblematic country, but it’s also a regional anomaly.  It’s a Portuguese-speaking country surrounded by Spanish-speaking neighbors.  It’s one of the most ethnically-diverse countries found anywhere in the world.  It’s also massive in size and home to one of the world’s last true wilderness areas, the Amazon Rainforest.  It should come as no surprise, then, that Brazil is one of the world’s greatest destinations for adventure tourism—and like everything else in this country, there is so much going on that sometimes the array of possibilities can be overwhelming.  Let’s take a look at just a few of the choices that magnificent Brazil has to offer:

Paddling up the Amazon River
1. Exploring the Amazon

The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest, and it’s also home to the planet’s most massive river system.  The Amazon River itself is huge and is able to accommodate larger ships, making it a popular destination for luxurious “river cruises” that still provide a window into the natural beauty of the jungle ecosystem.  For a true adventure, however, take the opportunity to explore some of the river’s tributaries in smaller vessels or even a traditional dugout canoe.  In doing so, you’ll get up close and personal with the flora and fauna of both the river and the forest and you may even experience a chance encounter with one of the region’s many still-thriving indigenous tribes.



2. Adventures in the Big City

A Variety of Activities in Rio de Janeiro
Just because Brazil is renowned for its rainforest doesn’t mean you have to leave the city for an adventure.  Rio de Janeiro, one of the most exotic cities in the world, is cosmopolitan in every way, but it’s also surrounded by natural features stunning enough that they alone would make the city an attractive destination.  Within the boundaries of Rio de Janeiro itself, go cycling.  Go surfing or scuba diving off the city’s beach.  And, in the surrounding mountains, try hang-gliding, paragliding, or simply take a hike.

3. Visit Iguaçu Falls

Iguacu Falls, Brazil
On Brazil’s southwestern border sit the Iguaçu Falls, some of the most impressive waterfalls found anywhere in the world.  Though most of the falls are technically on the Argentinian side, this means that Brazil has the superior view!  Companies located on the Brazilian side offer helicopter tours to visitors who want to get up close and personal, so if this sounds like an adventure you’d like to take we highly recommend it.


Before You Go... 


http://store.gpstravelmaps.com/Brazil-GPS-Map-Garmin-p/brazil.htm?click=1475
Pick up our Brazil map. This GPS map will give you turn by turn directions to your destination using a point of interest (POI), city point, and/or latitude and longitude, with the ability to preplan driving destinations before getting into your car.


The easy to follow instructions allow you to download and install the map into Garmin BaseCamp desktop software and transfer it to your Garmin GPS in minutes. This installable map is compatible with ALL Garmin GPS units .

It's like having your own personal travel guide with you on your trip!

Screen Capture from our Brazil GPS Map.
Screen Capture from our Brazil GPS Map.







Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.


You can also connect with us on Google Plus, see our travel guide pictures on Pinterest, and view some of our videos on YouTube.