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Posts from the ‘The U.S.’ Category

Visit Snoqualmie Falls!

A very real waterfall close to Seattle?! Yes, please!

 

Snoqualmie Falls falling into the Snoqualmie River.

 

If you look for the standard “Things to Do” in Seattle, you will come across Snoqualmie Falls. A mere 45 minutes from Seattle, these 268 ft. falls are the real deal! We have already been to the Falls twice, once in January and then again in March and on both occasions the waterfall was dense with a lot of spray, which makes me think these are year-around falls that neither dry out nor freeze during the year!

 

 

Getting to the falls

The easiest way to get to the falls is through your own car. The GPS directions are easy to follow and the roads are in a great condition. There is a small parking lot, all too small for the amount of tourist traffic that this place gets, but on both occasions we were able to park on the shoulder of an adjoining road. If driving is not your thing, a number of day trips are offered to the Falls by a variety of operators. Once you leave the car, a small footbridge and a few more steps would get you straight to the different viewing platforms for the falls.

 

The footbridge leading up to the viewing platforms

 

The Snoqualmie River in the Cascades Mountain Range

 

 

The hidden gem

Don’t just head back after enjoying the lovely waterfalls. The best part of Snoqualmie falls is the easy access to Snoqualmie river. A short, shaded and absolutely lovely trail leads all the way down to the river. Here you can sit on the rocks and be really close to nature, making the hike well worth it. There are a number of picnic tables near the “lower” falls region which are ideal for enjoying a lovely picnic lunch. If a relaxing day in your mind does not include hiking, you can drive straight to the parking lot by the river.

 

On the banks of Snoqualmie River

 

The easy and shaded hike to the River

Hope you enjoy these lovely falls and the Snoqualmie River when you are in Seattle area.

 

Leavenworth – A slice of Bavaria in Washington, US

Last Christmas, we ventured on our first road trip in the Pacific Northwest, first of the many I hope will follow. We drove about 2.5 hours from our home in suburban Seattle to the town of Leavenworth.

Leavenworth is nestled between the Cascade mountains. When you come to Leavenworth, you are amazingly transported to an alpine town in Germany – not only because Leavenworth is on the foothills of tall peaks, but because it is a little slice of Bavaria, right in the middle of Washington, USA, complete with shops selling bratwurst, store fronts bearing names such as “Kris Kringl“, biergartens and all manner of cuckoo clock souveniors.

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And this town really comes alive during Christmas, with the whole main street decorated with fairy lights, a large Christmas tree, a Christmas market fashioned after the Christmas markets of Europe, and the crowds to rival any Christmas market in Europe.

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Here are some tips for visiting Leavenworth:

  • The drive to Leavenworth passes through the Cascade mountains and it stunning, especially around the Snoqualmie pass.

img_6789While Christmas time is magical, do not visit during Christmas holiday weekends. The decorations are lit up close to Thanksgiving and stay on well until February. The more the time gap between your trip and Christmas/ New Year, the less crowds you will encounter. The crowds take away from Leavenworth’s natural beauty and give the appearance of an overcrowded theme park.

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  • If you do visit in winter, definitely take a horse carriage ride in the snowy fields. The horses, decorated with bells and red ribbons, will make you feel you are on a reindeer sleigh ride in this beautiful winter wonderland.

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  • The more widely known hotel chains do not have a presence in Leavenworth. Most accommodations are of the charming bed and breakfast variety, tend to sell out quickly and could be outrageously priced. If you do not plan to spend too much time in the hotel, Hampton Inn & Suites is a good option for a decent no-frills night’s sleep and a surprisingly good free breakfast the next morning.

If you are planning to explore the beauty of Washington, US and the Cascades, definitely consider stopping at Leavenworth for its quaint Bavarian charm and gorgeous scenery.

 

 

More beauty in Acadia National Park, Maine

Even with little planning and research, Acadia National Park in Maine, U.S. left us enthralled. A trip to Acadia National Park would require some amount of driving to get there and depending on where are you are starting from, this could be between a few hours to a very long drive. Thus parents with young kids might wonder, “It it worth it?” And take my word for it.. the answer is a big resounding yes. Even with a toddler who was terribly car sick in the drive from New York to Portland, Maine, the beauty of Acadia was so worth the trouble to get there.

Acadia National Park is vast and can be a little overwhelming. I previously wrote about Cadillac Mountain. Here are some other stops in the National Park that can help you plan a trip. Hopefully the pictures can convey the beauty where the words may have failed.

1. Sand Beach:

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While its name is clearly unpretentious and a bit lacking in flair, the Sand Beach is nothing short of lovely. I have seen beaches with softer-white-powder-sand and beaches with more-turquoise-waters but I had never seen a beach in a cove with so much greenery surrounding it. Bordering the beach on all three sides are the ubiquitous forests of birch and Pine. The Sand Beach is not too far from the entrance to Acadia National Park and since we made our way there at 6:30 am on a Monday morning, we were rewarded with having the entire cove to ourselves. The beauty of the beach is accentuated with rocks and pebble formations, and Siena had a great time hopping on the pebbles and splashing in the gentle waves. If anyone is asking me, I would gladly rename this beach Emerald Cove.

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2. Park Loop Road:

This road which runs against the rocky coast of a large portion of Acadia has many lookout points to take in the waves crashing the rocky outposts. A lot of these lookout points are also the starting point of hikes and trails which are very popular with families.

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3. Jordan Pond:

This lake surrounded by mountains is known for its very clear water. A lush green and wooded walking trail meanders around the whole perimeter of the lake. We were easily able to walk sections of this trail with our toddler. We stopped at one point and dipped our toes in the calm waters, and saw schools of fish swimming around our feet.

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Before walking the Jordan Pond path, we stopped at the Jordan Pond House restaurant for lunch. Their specialty is a puffy soft pastry called pop-overs.  Even if you do not have time for a full meal, do try to snag a table and enjoy the pop-overs with a view of the lovely pond.

4. The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse:

This iconic lighthouse perched on a cliff is often the image that appears when you google Acadia National Park. This was our last stop in Acadia before driving back to Portland and the lighthouse did not disappoint.  After walking down a mud path and climbing over rocks, we were rewarded with expansive views of the Atlantic and the lighthouse. However, as much as I tried to go into a corner and take a picture, I could not get a good picture of the lighthouse and the cliff. A good picture would most certainly have to taken from a boat. Below you would only see my sad attempt at capturing the lighthouse.

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If these posts have piqued your interest in Acadia National Park, consider staying at the Holiday Inn, Bar Harbor. Its location is great for exploring Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor. With its heated outdoor swimming pool and restaurants overlooking the ocean, it packs a lots of Maine-coastal charm.

p.s. – Now that we have moved to the Seattle area, Acadia National Park and Maine are an entire breadth of a continent away from us. Hopefully, we would get a chance to visit this beautiful, rocky, rugged place again!

Images from Carlsbad, California

Recently, I had a chance to visit Carlsbad, a city about 45 minutes away from San Diego in southern California.

As this was a work trip, I was only able to use a few hours on the last morning there to capture images of the beach and the Pacific Ocean. Once I reached Carlsbad I figured that the city is very popular with family travelers as it is the location of Legoland California, and so there were a lot of families on the beach and a lot of young people learning to surf.

The images do not show the busy highway that was behind me and the loud roar from the  highway’s traffic but nonetheless, seeing the Pacific Ocean with its calm waves on this beach after almost 5 years did make me think, Can I please move here? I will even learn to surf! But, anyway, I did return back to New York with a resolve to explore the California coast more with my travel buddies, Siena and Sachin.

Cadillac Mountain, and our first National Park visit with a toddler.

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The view of the Atlantic Ocean from atop the Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine.

We climbed a mountain! We actually climbed a mountain, with our three year old! Okay, in the spirit of full disclosure, we drove to a mountain summit with our three year old properly harnessed in her car seat, but still, as any parent would attest, the fact that we toured a bonafide US National Park and managed to see the views from Cadillac Mountain with our little one makes me very proud and happy!

Cadillac Mountain is one of the tallest peaks on the east coast of the United States and is a part of Acadia National Park in Maine. If you have a small child or children and are wondering if a national park holiday is worth your time, and money, and sanity, there is good news! Acadia National Park is very drivable, and you can soak in a lot of scenic beauty by driving and through small and easily doable hikes.

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The many viewing points at the summit.

Bordering the Atlantic Ocean, Acadia National Park gave me the feeling of having left the United States, even though we were very much in it or at least at the very east of it. With sweeping views of waves crashing over a rugged coastline dense with forests of pine, fir and birch trees, Acadia National Park felt remote and a perfect antidote to the busyness of New York.

One of the stops on our road trip in this National Park was the Cadillac Mountain.  While we did not investigate into this, there appeared to be hiking trails that can get you to the summit of the mountain. We took the scenic Summit road though, up to the parking lot at the top, and then explored by foot.  There a 3 or 4 stopping points along the way too, so that if you absolutely cannot resist the urge to take pictures, you can park the car safety and let the camera shutters go wild.

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Enjoying family time at Acadia National Park

Once we reached the top of Cadillac, there was little else to do but just enjoy the beauty surrounding us. On the pink granite dotted with shrubs and wild flowers, there is a well marked and long gravel path which let Siena, our little one, also explore the summit safely and easily. The view in front of us was of the vast Atlantic, dotted with numerous Maine islands, including the most popular one, Bar Harbor.

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A quite moment to enjoy the beauty of the moment

Stay tuned for more on what we saw and did in Acadia National Park.

Practically speaking:

  • Wear good hiking shoes and carry drinking water (and snacks if you are travelling with little kids). Also carry sunscreen and a sun-hat if you travelling in summer like we did.
  • The daily weather is a tad unpredictable. It might be cloudy in the morning but could get very sunny later in the day.
  • Most definitely carry and apply bug spray when you are out and about in this thickly wooded National Park!
  • Acadia is a very popular tourist destination (as we came to realize), so if you are visiting during a public holiday, expect a lot of crowds and wait times for available spots in parking lots.

 

Why you should visit Bermuda in December

“This is going to be great”, I thought with giddy relief as we stepped out of the airport into the beautiful Bermuda sunshine, on December 24. The sunny weather, hovering around 75F/ 24C, was nothing short of glorious and a perfect escape from the blistering cold of New York. There had been was a good chance that in late December, we would have encountered cold, rainy and “unbeachy” weather. But it was looking like our roll of the dice would pay off. We were in for a perfect Bermuda Christmas.

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The sherbet – colored bungalows of Bermuda add to its charm.

If you live in or near the East Coast of the U.S. and have wondered whether Bermuda in the winter is a good idea, let me put your mind to ease – with less crowds, great deals on airfare and resort stays, and Christmas cheer everywhere, there is no better time to visit Bermuda than Christmas.

Bermuda is a prosperous island in the Atlantic Ocean, and a British Overseas Territory. It is only a 2-hour flight from New York but it is a world apart. Northern than the Caribbean islands, it is surprisingly lush-green. The shimmering Atlantic Ocean peeks through the sherbet colored, almost color-coordinated bungalows, which are surrounded by manicured gardens.

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Lush greenery overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

The weather was a sunny mid-seventies which in my book is perfection – not cold but not scorching hot either, and thus we could spend most of our days outdoors. Our grand resort, the Fairmont Southampton was beautifully decorated for the festive season and had an entire roster of festive activities and celebrations for the guests. There would be few more things that would lift your spirits more than the sight of the large Christmas Tree next to the ocean. And since we were outside of the peak tourist season of June through August, everything was more easy, from reservations in the restaurants to loungers on the beach.

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A Christmas Tree with a view.

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How would you like a beach all to yourself?

On the subject of beach, the famed Horseshoe Beach did not disappoint. The quite beaches, the soft sand and the teal-blue waters were a treat for sore eyes and a sore spirit.

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The soft sand and the clear waters of Horseshoe beach.

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A happy Christmas morning.

Bermuda has made a fan out of me, and I hope to visit this island once again, in different seasons, but maybe at Christmas time again.

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Washington D.C. continued – Gardens, Archives and more.

On the Saturday of the Thanksgiving weekend, I thought (quite naively, in hindsight) that it might be a great idea to see the Christmas display in the National Botanic Gardens. I was totally enticed by the description of tiny trains passing through many miniature twinkling lighthouses in an artificially created fog, amidst landscape created in amazing detail solely with plants. We could not have chosen a worse day for this endeavor!

When we reached the exhibit, we found that the line to get in was very long and it required waiting for a few hours in the freezing cold. We quickly gave up the idea, and decided to browse through the general open-all-year section of the Botanic gardens in the temperature controlled conservatory. What we saw were beautiful orchids, and Washington D.C.’s landmarks created in miniature with plant materials. Even though we could not see the Christmas display, the short time in the Botanical Gardens was well spent. The Botanic Gardens have a lot more to offer to a summer visitor, and the entrance, as is the case for a lot of other DC attractions, is free.

The Capitol recreated at the National Botanic Gardens

The Capitol recreated at the National Botanic Gardens

Orchids in bloom!

Orchids in bloom!

We then walked our way to the thing that I was really looking forward to in this trip – seeing the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives! En-route, we also took pictures of the Capitol, which is currently under restoration works, because of which the dome of the Capitol resembles a bird’s nest.

The US Capitol's dome resembles a bird's nest, while under restoration.

The US Capitol’s dome resembles a bird’s nest, while under restoration.

There is no photography allowed inside the National Archives, so the only photo I have is of the impressive facade of the building, which has the Greek-Roman columns which are the trademark of of D.C.’s landmarks. After some wait, we entered the vault like room which contains the original Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, all under glass display cases and heavily guarded (stealing these might not be as easy as it was made out to be in the movie “National Treasure”!). The writing in the documents is faded, especially on the Declaration of Independence, but the iconic signatures are clearly visible. Despite the wait and the having to slightly elbow the crowd to get a proper look, I was very happy to check off this item from the bucket list.

The only photo that I have of the National Archives

The only photo that I have of the National Archives

Our last day in D.C. dawned with an impressive 60F weather, which was perfect for what we had in mind for that day – the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall.

The Lincoln Memorial is truly impressive from the inside and the outside, and is such a fitting tribute to Abraham Lincoln. I was spellbound by the massive statue of Lincoln, and got goosebumps from reading the Gettysburg Address (“…. the Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”) which is carved on one of the inside walls of the monument.

After soaking in the grandeur of the Lincoln Memorial, we walked leisurely down the reflecting pool of the National Mall, enjoying the bonus warm day, and stopped to take pictures of the World War II Memorial and the Washington Monument.

The National Mall and the Washington Monument

The National Mall and the Washington Monument

The World War II Memorial in the National Mall

The World War II Memorial in the National Mall

As is obvious from my first and this account of our 3 day stay in Washington DC, we took things slow.. so much so that I still have not seen the Jefferson Memorial, the Holocaust Museum and the famed panda in the National Zoo. This only means one thing – I am (quite happily) not done with DC just yet!

 

 

Washington D.C. at leisure

The Washington Monument, Washington D.C.

The Washington Monument, Washington D.C.

Where do you stand with hop-on hop-off bus tours? Yay on the convenience of not having to take public transport or taxis to navigate between the important sites, and nay on being stuck in traffic? Unfortunately, once we “hop on”, we don’t easily “hop-off”. This held true when we once took a long mind-numbing long loop tour of Paris, not sure when to click pictures, or even if the tour-bus would be stationary enough for us to take the picture.

Now back to the topic at hand, in our first trip to Washington DC in the summer of 2008, where we had only one day to check off everything on a tourist’s must do list, and there were 5 people in our group, a hop on – hop off bus tour seemed like the easy way to get 5 people from point A to point B. We hopped off to see the Capitol from up-close, hopped off again to click and get clicked with the White House, and then we did not hop-off again until we reached the Georgetown neighborhood. There we took a short boat cruise on the Potomac river, and then hopped back on the bus. In short, we spent an inordinate amount of our precious one day on the bus, and all the interesting sights including the Arlington cemetery and the countless memorials of men in bronze statues, seemed to pass by in a blur.

So in a recent trip to DC (Thanksgiving, 2014), we did things a little (or a lot) differently. We had very few things on our to-see list and almost three days to see them. Added bonus – we took a train from New York into DC, and thus arrived more refreshed, than if we had taken a flight or a car.

The rotunda on the second level of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

The rotunda on the second level of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Our first stop, right after checking into the hotel, was the National Gallery of Art. The fact that you can freely take photos alone has taken this museum to the top of my favorite list! But there are a few other things going for it – the entrance is free, the cafeteria serves decent food, the museum has its own free and excellent downloadable app which precludes the need to rent an expensive audio guide, and last but not the least – a very impressive collection of Impressionist Art (the one kind of art that I understand and appreciate). I was in a state of total bliss after feasting on the works by Manet, Monet, Camille Pissarro, Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne, and the very distinctive pointillist strokes of Van Gogh. But Impressionist Art is only a very small portion of the Gallery’s art collection.  Apart from brilliant masterpieces by Raphael and Rembrandt, the Gallery also has on display the only painting by Leonardo Da Vinci in the Americas – Ginevra de Benci, painted in the same enigmatic style as the Mona Lisa but considerably more austere.

Here is a gallery of some of the paintings at the Gallery. Hover over the painting’s photo to see the painting’s name and its painter.

The next day we left downtown DC to visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I have a special fondness for all places of worship – not only do they display stunning architecture on the outside and magnificent art on the inside, but also they offer peace and quite and a form of respite to the mind, and this church was no exception. The fact that it was a very cold late November morning, and that the church is not within walking distance of other DC tourist attractions resulted in not too many tourists.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C.

The Basilica is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, and is one of the ten largest churches in the world. The blue tiles of the dome and the adjoining spire against the white facade are quite striking. The most striking feature inside the church is the beautiful mosaics extending into the ceiling. One of them, in gold, is very reminiscent of the church of St. Mark in Venice.

While getting to the church was easy (quick taxi ride from downtown DC), going back to our next destination, the National Botanical Gardens proved to be cumbersome. With no taxis in site, we had to use Uber to call a cab.

One practical tip for visitors to Washington DC – Destinations on the map may appear closer than they really are! The distance between different tourist attractions can be covered by foot, but be prepared to walk fairly long distances. And really bundle up if you are visiting in the winter months.

More to come on our days in DC.

I know that it’s an over-saturated tourist destination, but have you had any unforgettable experiences in Washington DC? Please do share here.

10 Things about Hawaii

Until I visited the islands of Maui and Oahu, I thought I could collectively refer to (and dismiss) all the Hawaiian islands as simply Hawaii. Oh, but that is the view of the uninformed! The reason is that each of the separate islands has so much to offer. I only experienced one tenth of the tip of an iceberg containing beaches, national parks, rocky coastlines and volcanic mountains. Among the throng of American tourists, it’s still easy to find places of inordinate natural beauty. Here I have made an attempt to capture 10 facts about the visit to Maui and Oahu that stuck me and made me smile as I remembered them again.

The coast of Ihilani, Oahu

The coast of Ihilani, Oahu

 

10 – The sheer convenience of all road signs and menus in English: If you are a vegetarian like me, or have any other dietary restrictions, you will know what a blessing it is to see all menus in a language that you understand (I ordered something with “frango” or chicken in Brazil just because almost every dish seemed to contain it and I thought, because of the ingredient’s omnipresence, that it must mean potatoes or tomatoes). Also, no need to buy another currency when traveling from the US!

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The beach at Kapalua, Maui

 

9 A new efficient airlines: You probably have not traveled on Hawaiian airlines before, but trust me, this is a very efficient regional airlines offering a direct flight from New York to Oahu, and departs on time and has great service. And I love the fact that the stewards and stewardesses are casually dressed. This puts you right in the holiday mood.

The Keanae Peninsula, Maui

The Keanae Peninsula, Maui

 

8 – The extremely casual dress-code: It is really okay, in fact expected, that you walk into every restaurant/ bar in shorts and sandals.

The Diamond Head crater and the Waikiki beach in Honolulu, Hawaii. The beach was so crowded that I was not possible to take even one picture of this dormant volcano without a fellow tourist!

The Diamond Head crater and the Waikiki beach in Honolulu, Hawaii. The beach was so crowded that it was not possible to take even one picture of this dormant volcano without a fellow tourist!

 

7 – Aloha and Mahalo: Aloha is Hawaiian for Hello, and Mahalo is Hawaiian for thank you! You can come back from Hawaii without learning any other word, but I bet you will learn these two words. After all, Hawaii is called the “Aloha” state. You might hear all the specials in a restaurant in English, but no one will use the words “Thank you”. It will always be Mahalo. Kind of sweet.

The winding road to Hana, Maui

The winding road to Hana, Maui

 

6 – The value for money – You will have a new found respect and love for money, considering very few things are complimentary in the hotels or resorts. Everything comes with a price tag, including deck chairs and a cabana on the beach, even if you are staying in a resort with its own beach!

The calm waters of some beaches are perfect to try a hand (and leg) at water sports such as stand-up paddle boarding!

The calm waters of some beaches are perfect to try a hand (and leg) at water sports such as stand-up paddle boarding!

 

5 – A different culture – Ignore what I said earlier about the omnipresence of English. Even though Hawaii is a U.S. state, the culture is essentially Polynesian. If your long flight does not make you feel that you have come to a remote island in the Pacific, the strong Polynesian vibe definitely will.

A hawaiian "warrior" getting ready to do the cliff dive from Black Rock, Kaanapali, Maui

A Hawaiian “warrior” getting ready to do the cliff dive from Black Rock, Kaanapali, Maui

 

4 – Mai Tai: Why did I not discover this drink earlier? It seems this signature Hawaiian drink is made for me! While it was normally served with a pineapple, at one place, they actually served it with a flower in it!

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Mai Tai served with a flower in a restaurant in Maui

 

3 – Crashing waves upon a beautiful coast line: Hawaii is anyone’s dream of a beach paradise come alive. You might find nicer, smoother, whiter sand, but its hard to beat the view of large waves crashing upon a rocky coast adjacent to a grove of palm trees.

Watching the waves in Ihilani, Oahu

Watching the waves in Ihilani, Oahu

 

2 –  The winding road to Hana in Maui is like driving through a very exotic garden.

The winding drive along the road to Hana comes with gorgeous views.

The winding drive along the road to Hana comes with gorgeous views.

 

1 –  The beautiful sunsets: The sunsets are truly gorgeous. You must have heard this a million times, but honestly, the sunsets on the islands of Hawaii are not at all overrated.

Sunset in Maui

Sunset in Maui

 

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