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Travel

Your Essential Travel Guide to Spain

One of the gems of Europe, Spain is a beautiful country known for its beauty, culture and the hoard of otherworldly experiences that make it an essential stop for every tourist. Steeped in the embrace of history, culture and several entertainment outlets, Spain has something for everyone from its sprawling beaches to the architectural masterpieces. Here are some things that every traveler to Spain should necessarily make a part of their checklist.

Note the weather

Spain experiences diverse and varying weather conditions, despite what popular opinion says and the frequent imagery of Spain as the ‘Hawaii of Europe’. For example, in Madrid temperatures can drop down to even 40 degree Fahrenheit. Not to forget, the frequent snowstorms and hailstorms that happen with absolutely no warning or precaution, usually between December and February. Summers are not always pleasant and breezy, and the prime time can be really hot where even the locals and islanders escape to the coast and try to escape the heat. Therefore, as a traveler, you need to make sure you account for these dire changes in weather suitable planning and clothing as well as plan ahead to book your time during the season from May to June (see Galicia for 300 rainy days a year, Basque for the snow and Barcelona for a chilly fall and rainy winters), if you’re not too fussed about crowds, the prices during seasons and other demands of the time.

There are four official languages

Spain has four official languages that may be seen as dialects of Spanish but have key differences. Of course, you can still go through your trip with the basic Spanish that every language app or translation book teaches as well as with English. Apart from this, there is Castellano, which is Castillian Spanish. This form is majorly spoken on the Iberian Peninsula and differs from Español that refers to general Spanish. The various dialects of this form can be troublesome for the non-Spanish speaker. Then there is Gallego, a romance language that is more prominent in the community of Galicia that is located at Northwest Spain and finds more similarity with Portuguese. There is Euskera from the Basque Country of Northeast Spain. Credited as one of the oldest languages in the world, its origins are not very clear – this form of Spanish seeks familiarity with the Hungarian tongue in its sound similarity and phonetics. Finally, Catalan is another romantic language that has gained more press because of its speakers from the Catalunya community engaging in a constant struggle with the Spanish government for their independence. The language seems to have a hint of French accent to it.

Welcome to the siesta culture

Spaniards are world-renowned for their laid-back culture and socially (not legally) approved time-off at specific hours in the afternoon (12 noon – 3 pm) where people either actually take brief naps or take a break off from work. This laissez faire approach keeps stress levels low in the short run but for the long term, it results in struggles with the government on timely wages and monetary requirements. As a tourist, you need to plan accordingly to avoid these rest hours whether it be shopping or grocery needs. Of course, bigger cities like Barcelona and Madrid rarely observe this siesta culture as they are more connected with the global community and cannot afford to sacrifice on productivity to meet with a standard that isn’t legally required anyway. The trend is more visible in smaller towns and cities, mom-and-pop stores and some grocery stores.

Late dinners

Spanish people are used to late dinners that range from 9 pm to 12 midnight. Some places even close immediately after lunch and open only by 9 pm when people get out with dining plans. Make sure you stack up snacks for those mild hunger pangs and prepare yourself for this schedule. Of course, you can always prepare your own dinner or dine at international food chains like McDonalds, which do not follow these timings or cultural habits. Most tourists go to Spain to experience the famed food culture as well – beware of restaurants that will advertise in too-good-to-be-true formats, this will result in watered down versions of the actual delight and a bad memory of the experience going down the drain, literally. For authentic experiences, follow the old tourist experience of asking the locals the underrated places and ones that don’t advertise with Stock images.

Travel options

The national mode of transport is the train system Renfe that has a good form of connectivity between cities and towns but can turn out to be very expensive, especially if you book on the same day of your travel. Costs can run so high for a single trip between Madrid and Barcelona that a flight becomes cheaper. Another option then is a ride-sharing service called ‘Bla Bla Car’ that allows for savings up to a shocking proportion, sometimes even 80-90%. Much like Uber Pool, it brings together travelers moving to the same destination – this also encourages you to meet the locals and maybe practice your Spanish. Or, there is always Alsa Bus that offers affordable travel options.

Don’t forget the festivals!

Spanish festivals can go beyond the average person’s perception of normal, but it is a definite checklist item and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There is La Tomatina in Buñol (the tomato festival as anyone who saw the Hindi movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara would know), San Fermin in Pamplona (running with the bulls, also in the above mentioned movie) and Las Fallas in Valencia (includes beautifully designed floats and lighting lots of structures on fire). If you are looking for authentic versions of flamenco, firstly remember that it is not the national dance of Spain despite its rising popularity; also note that Andalusia has the most authentic version of the beautiful dance form in Granada, Sevilla and other parts of the region in small cave-like venues in traditionally intimate settings.

Travel

Top 7 Things to do in Punta Cana

In the Dominican Republic, there lies a gem named Punta Cana, a beautiful and diverse location that tourists will appreciate very well the secluded beaches, the numerous activities suited for tourists and complete peace and enjoyment in discovering the excitement of new activities. There is a wide natural scenery and span of breathtaking beauty with various cultural experiences that make the entire experience a combination of cultural. Here are some things that should definitely make it to the checklist when visiting this magical place.

Scape Park

Within the heart of the Cap Cana resort, there lies a beautifully nature themed park that allows the tourist to simultaneously experience the beauty of the theme which is combined with adventure and adrenaline. The space expands up to one million square meters with a topography that majorly uses limestone to create the view along with other landforms that may appear strange to the eye at first. The most spectacular sight among all these views belongs to the Farallon, a cliff that is over 100 meters high and along a coastline of 800 meters. It provides a pleasing backdrop and background to all of the activities and adventures within the park. You can feel your heart in your throat when you zipline across the cliff, explore the old and antique caves with cultural insights, swim leisurely in the underground caves, jump around the various zip lines and use the splash hammocks to your heart’s content. To calm down after these activities, you can always go walking along the beach, go snorkeling in the deep and tropical waters and utilize the facilities of the vibrant beach club. All the major hotels located around Punta Cana, Bayahibe and Bavaro provide the necessary transportation to this site that promises to engage you to the fullest.

The Jeep Safari tour

There is no better way to intake Punta Cana to the fullest without indulging in a jeep safari tour, off the well-trodden path and through every visible spot that promises an entirely new experience. The natural scenic beauty requires the muted registering of every aspect, building up to the beautiful image that eventually builds up in your head. The trip begins with a scenic ride to the Macao beach, which turns into a slow ride through the natural beauty of rice and sugarcane fields. Every nature enthusiast will truly enjoy the beauty of different types of flowers and plants, as well as the multitude of colorful butterflies. For the coffee lovers, the larger garden promises views of the growth process of coffee and cocoa, where the beans are dried in the old manner. The tour continues for you to enjoy the Horseplay Ranch which also has facilities for ziplining across and get a beautiful aerial view through treetops and the Dominican Oriental mountain. Get yourself on a horse and experience the thrills of horse riding before proceeding to a ranch and getting an eyeful of the cigar production process; experience the majestic feel of Dominican cigars, followed by an unwinding session at the Macao beach with the beautiful and scenic coastline and enjoy a typical Dominican meal.

Marinarium snorkeling cruise

This is a half-day tour that encompasses an experience of witnessing the breathtaking view of the ocean floor through the bottom of a glass boat while indulging in the color, diversity and the vibrant sea life along the coastline. The Marinarium is a marine oasis within the middle of the ocean where you get the once-in-a-lifetime chance to swim with stingrays and nurse sharks. The ‘Toro’ section of Punta Cana has blue waters, an open bar and endless snacks on board along with some local music to complete the ambience.

Rancho Capote’s Fun-Fun cave

Let this begin with a warning – this spot is for those who are in to hardcore adventures and live for the constant pounding heart beat. This adventure spot is renowned for constant testing of one’s physical abilities and the ease of the individual in getting down and dirty. There is mandatory horse riding required to reach the cave entrance with the guide’s assistance and previously provided equipment. This cave belongs to the Haitises National Park, an extension of mangrove forests, thought-to-be pirate hideouts and also the ancient home of Taino Indians who once resided there before Columbus discovered America. The walls have petroglyphs carved on the walls, stalactites and stalagmites in beautiful shapes and forms along with long corridors artfully built.

Bavaro Splash speedboats

Race through the Caribbean waters on your very own speed boat and feel the wind in your hair and water on your face. If you’re below 18 years, you might be left out of the experience of driving your own, but you can definitely experience the same rush of adrenaline while on the passenger seat. Get introduced to the wonderful and innovative concept of SNUBA diving – a combination of snorkeling and diving to explore the ocean floor and with a 20 feet long oxygen hose that allows you to free with the depth you choose.

Isla Saona day tour

Saona is an island of the Dominican Republic with many splendid beaches and perfect weather all year around. Get yourself acquainted with the starfish, swim in the beach, play sports like volleyball while eating traditional meals.

Super Truck safari

This tour takes you through the Higuey region’s cane fields where you can meet the local communities and interact with the children. Make sure to spare sight for the most famous church, home to patron saint Our Lady of La Altagracia. Expose yourselves to rural ranches with plush crops of cocoa, tobacco and coffee while familiarizing yourself with the production process. Don’t miss out on the alcoholic beverage ‘mamajuana’, locally considered a strong aphrodisiac. There are also plenty of options available for horseback riding, as at all other locations in Punta Cana. Don’t forget Cayo Levantado’, also known as the Bacardi island, for the open bar in the midst of the cool sands.