10 ways to stay safe no matter where you’re traveling

Travel always involves a bit of uncertainty. And there will always be location-specific warnings to observe depending on where you’re going. The good news is there are several proven precautions you can take ahead of time and while traveling to stay safe and navigate any unexpected catastrophes when away from home.

Here are 10 tried-and-true methods to dodge danger and maximize your enjoyment of practically any destination. Remember, safety and adventure aren’t mutually exclusive. And feeling anxious is totally natural. Either way, you got this!

Check for any destination-specific shots you might need before boarding your flight © BaLL LunLa / Shutterstock

Before you leave

  • Check local advisories. Traveling to Iowa comes with a different set of risks than, say, traveling to Africa. The same is true when traveling to Europe, Latin America, Asia, or to any specific country within every continent, let alone specific regions that demand their own precautions. For the latest information, if you’re traveling from the US check the State Dept website, as well as local news reports, and travel guides to your specific destination.
  • Get your shots (where needed). Not every location demands special immunizations before visiting. But many of them do, especially less developed countries and continents. What’s more, the pandemic made things a lot more complicated, as certain countries drop or maintain proof of vaccination before entering. Either way, if you’re in the US check with the CDC for any destination-specific shots you might need before boarding your flight.
  • Share your plans with emergency contacts. Doing so can be a simple but life-saving act, especially when traveling off-grid, on high adventure trips, or in more dangerous destinations. Tell your friends and loved ones when and where you’re going, what you’re doing, where you’re staying, how you’re traveling, and how they can get in touch with you should anything come up.
Online searches can go a long way to expose and help you avoid any harm to your wallet and/or your safety © golubovystock / Shutterstock
  • Know common scams. In many countries, individuals might feign assistance and incessantly follow you, only to later demand payment for their unsolicited help. Others might wow you with offers that are too good to be true, work in teams to distract you and take your goods, or worse. Many travel advisories will include this information, but some extra online searches can go a long way to expose and help you avoid any harm to your wallet and/or your safety.
  • Get travel insurance. If you really want to cover your bases while abroad, you’ll want travel insurance, such as that offered by Seven Corners. Doing so can help recoup your money if you need to cancel a trip (or your flight is delayed) and cover the cost of treating medical emergencies while traveling, including care at foreign hospitals and medical evacuation, lost bags, early returns home, and many other unexpected mishaps.
Listen to your mind and body and make sure you know your limits while traveling © nullplus / Shutterstock

While traveling

  • Know your limits. Feeling nervous before traveling somewhere new is normal. But if you’re feeling downright sick about your plans, you’ve probably bitten off more than you can chew. The best pre-test of an experience is whether you’re still excited about it, even if it’s something you’ve never done before. After you arrive, however, be sure to listen to your mind and body and back out of anything you’re not comfortable with.
  • Eat and drink like your life depends on it. This is especially true on high adventure trips. Dehydration is easily preventable but amazingly one of the leading causes of illness while traveling abroad. So, drink more water than you think, plan for regular bathroom breaks, and stay away from street vendors unless you’re certain they’re free from food poison.


No photo is worth your life or good health © Sergey Uryadnikov / Shutterstock
  • Secure your valuables. It’s always important to protect your personal property, be it in parked rental cars, beach bags, or wallets and phones in your usually secure pockets. Again, travel advisories will often alert you to higher areas of petty theft but be on the extra lookout when traveling someplace new.
  • Avoid getting too close to wildlife (or the edge of a cliff). Many years ago, an American college student was sadly (but unsurprisingly) eaten by a lion after sticking her head out of a car window while at Lion Park in Johannesburg, South Africa. Others become seriously sick after licking psychedelic toads in Sonora. And far too many tourists have fallen to their deaths while snapping selfies at the ends of a cliff. Don’t do it. No photo is worth your life or good health.
  • Stay alert. Be on the lookout. If you’re not sure about something, step inside a public building, follow the crowd, and trust your gut, especially if you find yourself in unfamiliar surroundings or cultures. Although you may be tempted to “travel like a local,” don’t do it. You’re probably not as experienced as they are and that’s okay. Instead, travel like a respectful tourist and accept that you don’t know everything. Doing so will keep you safe.
Safety and adventure aren’t mutually exclusive, and feeling anxious is totally natural © 3rdtimeluckystudio / Shutterstock

Despite what the news will sometimes have you believe, the world is a safer than it has ever been. Yes, there are risks. But when traveling, these 10 tips can help you avoid almost any setback. Bon voyage!

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Falls, canyons and bioluminescence: Puerto Rico’s natural wonders

It’s hard to escape the allure of Puerto Rico’s natural beauty. With its wealth of breathtaking landscapes, lush forests, misty mountains, and stunning waterfalls, there’s no shortage of heart-stirring adventures for nature lovers. From bioluminescent bays that light up the night to seaside caves, the Island’s natural wonders will leave you in awe of its splendor. 

Whether you are an adventure seeker or want to bask in the beauty of nature, Puerto Rico’s top natural wonders will captivate and inspire you. Get ready to immerse yourself in a world of wondrous beauty and experience the Island’s rich and diverse ecosystems. 

El Yunque National Forest is the only subtropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System © Alejandro Granadillo / Lonely Planet

Explore the waterfalls at El Yunque National Forest 

El Yunque National Forest is the only subtropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System and is home to a diverse range of flora, fauna, and waterfalls. Visitors can hike many scenic and well-marked trails and stop to admire the towering trees, vibrant flowers, and rushing streams. 

As you enter the park, don’t miss La Coca Falls, just off Road PR-191, right after the entrance checkpoint. The 85-foot drop is impressive, making this a great place to stop for a photo. For a more hands-on experience, head to Juan Diego Creek, where a short trail winds through the forest along smaller waterfalls and pools. You’ll be rewarded with a 20-foot cascading waterfall, whose shallow pool allows you to swim right up to the fall. 

Note: You need a prior reservation to visit El Yunque. You can book a timed ticket at Recreation.gov, but act early – tickets go fast. Reservations are per vehicle, not per person, and shared-ride vehicles like Uber or Taxis are not allowed inside the park. No reservations? No worries. Ask the park ranger to point you towards open trails like Puente Roto or the Angelito trail.

Puerto Rico’s bio bays are filled with tiny microorganisms called dinoflagellates, which create a magical, otherworldly glow © Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

Marvel at the glow-in-the-dark biobays

Puerto Rico is home to three of the world’s best-known bioluminescent bays: Mosquito Bay in Vieques, La Parguera in Lajas, and Laguna Grande in Fajardo. The bio bays are filled with tiny microorganisms called dinoflagellates. When disturbed, the “dinos” emit a bright blue-green light, creating a magical, otherworldly glow that can be seen when kayaking, boating, or simply splashing in the water. Plan your trip carefully; the best time to see the bioluminescence is during a new moon when the sky and water are darkest. 

The brightest of the three is Mosquito Bay, but you will need to spend the night on Vieques to get there. The road is unpaved and can be challenging to navigate at night, so it’s best to book a tour. Operators like Taino Aqua Adventures offer transparent kayaks, which make the experience even more magical. 

The second brightest is La Parguera, where booking a boat tour is necessary, as kayaking isn’t allowed. Natural Wonders can take you there directly from San Juan, or you can book a tour directly from Lajas. Last but not least is Laguna Grande, where you can venture on your own via paddleboard or kayak – but be advised, it’s a 3-mile roundtrip paddle to the bay. 

The intricate rock formations of Cueva del Indio were formed by erosion over thousands of years © Alejandro Granadillo / Lonely Planet

Take in the views at Cueva del Indio in Arecibo

It’s all about the views at Cueva del Indio, a cave on the sea’s edge on Puerto Rico’s rugged north coast. The site was once used by the Taínos (the original inhabitants of Puerto Rico), and ancient petroglyphs that predate Columbus’ arrival in 1493 can still be found here. 

Although you can no longer climb into the cave (and we don’t recommend you try), you can still admire its impressive entrance, towering rocks, and mighty blowhole. The intricate rock formations were formed by erosion over thousands of years, and you can explore all the arches, eyes, and even a natural bridge as you walk around. Just wear appropriate footwear, as the exposed limestone can be sharp and rough.

Cañon San Cristobal is a haven for experienced outdoor enthusiasts © Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

Hike down the deepest canyon in Puerto Rico 

Cañón San Cristóbal is the deepest canyon in the Antilles, reaching up to 750 feet in depth. It’s a haven for experienced outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy challenging hikes across lush trails, sheer rock walls, and rushing streams and waterfalls. A river runs through the bottom, forming scenic waterfalls and refreshing pools for hikers like El Juicio (The Judge), a stunning cascade 250 feet tall. 

The descent and ascent are physically demanding and best accomplished with a local guide on an organized tour. Go Hiking Puerto Rico runs both basic hiking tours and more heart-pumping tours with rappelling and rock climbing. Another recommended operator is Para La Naturaleza, the nonprofit unit of the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust, which owns the land and is responsible for its maintenance and conservation. 

The waterfalls of Gozalandia are popular, especially for families with children or people with limited mobility © Alejandro Granadillo / Lonely Planet

Family- friendly falls at Gozalandia in San Sebastián 

Gozalandia is one of the most popular waterfalls on the Island, especially for families with children or people with limited mobility, as access to the falls is fairly easy. From the paid parking area, it’s only a five-minute walk down a well-maintained trail to the first falls. You can swim right up to the falls – towering at about 60 feet. 

Continue on the trail past the first falls for about 10 minutes and you’ll arrive at the upper falls.  They’re usually less crowded, but both sets of falls tend to get busy on hot days, so best to come early to avoid crowds.

The unique black magnetic sand of Playa Negra  is created from volcanic rock © Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

Experience Playa Negra in Vieques

Playa Negra, also known as Black Sand Beach, is a picturesque beach located on the island municipality of Vieques. The unique black magnetic sand (bring a magnet to test it out!)  is created from volcanic rock and gives the beach the distinct and visually striking appearance that sets it apart from other beaches in Puerto Rico. 

From the roadside parking, it’s about a 10 to 15-minute walk down a well-worn dirt path. Although white at the beginning, the sand turns black as you walk towards the beach and contrasts strikingly against the golden cliffs and the blue waters. 

El Yunque National Forest is home to a diverse range of flora, fauna, and waterfalls © Courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico

Practical Tips

Sudden downpours are an everyday occurrence, so it’s safe to assume you’ll get caught in one at some point – be ready. If you go to a river or waterfall, everything will get wet, especially your shoes. Bring an extra pair in a dry bag. Flip-flops are only appropriate for the beach; everywhere else you’ll need sturdier footwear. Flash floods are real and can be quite dangerous, so be sure to check the weather for warnings. Finally, trash cans are rare at most of these locations, so be sure to bring your own trash bag and leave the place better than you found it.

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Crossing the Canadian Rockies by train: Here’s what I saw on my week-long adventure

Our slow travel series explores how you can take more mindful journeys by train, boat, bus or bike – with tips on how to reach your no-fly destination, and what to see and do along the way. Here, writer Marcia DeSanctis reports on crossing the Canadian Rockies by train – and the natural wonders she saw in Jasper National Park during a stop-off.  

The Canadian Rockies form a vast and pristine wilderness straddling the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. This region covers an area of 180,000 sq km (69,500 sq miles), contains seven national parks and provides some of the most dramatic scenery on earth.

The value of a visit here lies, in part, in its remoteness. So to get there, I hopped a train in Vancouver for Unesco World Heritage site Jasper National Park, 510 miles away. The next train to Edmonton, my ultimate destination, would not be for four days. 

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The Canadian dining carriage
The plush dining car on board The Canadian © Via Rail


“If we can’t export the scenery, then we’ll have to import the tourists,” declared Canadian Pacific Railway President William Cornelius Van Horne in 1880. With adventure on the brain, I boarded at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station to complete the first leg of the route Via Rail Canada has branded the Canadian (it crosses the continent, all the way to Toronto).

For my night on board, I secured a Sleeper Plus Cabin for two (even though I was solo). The train, built in the 1950s, retains a romantic authenticity: stainless-steel fixtures, etched glass, worn leather chairs and a handsome, old-world dining car. “It’s a rolling museum,” said service coordinator Sean Pidgeon.

My class of service gave me access to a lounge and the Dome, an elevated car enclosed in glass offering 360-degree views of the landscape. Darkness fell soon after we left the station, so I chose the early dinner seating, and was placed at a table with three other travelers. I returned to see my sitting room transformed to a cozy bedroom. I slept well as the train trundled south, intermittently awakening to the soothing rumble of wheels on the track.

Winter on Medicine Lake with snow blanketing the landscape
Winter on Medicine Lake © Marcia DeSanctis

I awoke at 5am to see the sunrise – only to remember that in northern winter day breaks much later. I sipped coffee in the Dome until the first muted rays of morning opened up a landscape that hardly looked real. I saw jagged snowy peaks, plunging valleys, frozen lakes, granite ravines and dense stands of lodgepole pines and pale-white birch. 

The train powered through a heavy snowfall, reaching an altitude of about 5000ft before we descended into a valley, snaking along iced-over rivers and streams. We were deep into the Rockies, passing the highest peak in the range, Mt Robson, as well as the frozen wonders of Pyramid Falls and Moose Lake. At Yellowhead Pass, just before the Alberta border, we crossed the continental divide, where water flows either west to the Pacific or east to the Atlantic. 

Welcome to Jasper: Banff’s cool little brother

Twenty-one hours later, I arrived in Jasper, picked up my rental car, and checked into my room at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. No more relaxing in the quiet of a train: the next days would be all about immersion in nature, and exploring Jasper’s distinctive culture and style. 

I met Estelle Blanchette, who runs Jasper Food Tours, for a spin through this small, utterly captivating mountain town, which has a surprisingly eclectic and unique food scene. We went to four restaurants and bars, sampling elk meatloaf, falafel, a succulent pork rib and maple cheesecake. We sipped beer from Jasper Brewing Co., a range of Canadian wines and, at Fiddle River, something marvelous called Sortilège – Canadian whiskey flavored with maple syrup. 

Jasper Park Lodge at night
Jasper Park Lodge under a full moon © Marcia DeSanctis

Different from Banff, another national park and a somewhat glossier town 180 miles to the southeast, Jasper is laid-back and intimate. More than three hours from the nearest airport in Edmonton, Jasper is a destination for the daring, the curious and the bold. “Jasper is Banff’s cool little brother,” is a commonly heard bon-mot around town. 

Jasper Park Lodge has Hollywood links: Marilyn Monroe checked in when she was filming River of No Return, and Bing Crosby loved to golf here back in the day. Nonetheless, the 100-year-old JPL is a wild expanse of a place. With low-slung log cabins, and a Great Hall constructed of fieldstone and cedar, the property is an organic extension of the national park that surrounds it. At the hotel, you can grab a fat-tire bike, or use the hotel as a base for backcountry exploration, or skate on the lake. There is an entire building of gear to make all these wintry pursuits possible (and fair-weather ones, too). Elk – known as “wapiti” in the Cree language, for “white rump” – graze around the property’s perimeter (separated by a fence, of course).

Elk roaming through the snow at Jasper Park Lodge.jpg
Elk roaming around Jasper Park Lodge © Marcia DeSanctis

The Jasper Planetarium is located at the hotel: Jasper National Park is a noted Dark Sky preserve. Each night, there is an excellent show in the dome, as well as stargazing with experts, with the help of powerful telescopes. I saw the constellation Auriga, the star cluster Pleiades, Jupiter and four of its moons, bright pink Mars, and this year’s celebrated Comet E3 ZTF – a blue smudge in the sky. 

In the morning, under a powdery snow, I met a van from Sundog Tours for a wildlife tour. We spotted no wolves or lynx on this run, but did see many elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep on the crags. And tons of frozen landscapes: along the Athabasca River, and glacier-fed Medicine, Jasper, Maligne and Talbot Lakes, it was one spectacular vista after another. Spindrift swirled in ghostly clouds over the white bodies of water.  

Artefacts in Jasper-Yellowhead Museum.jpg
The artefacts at Jasper Yellowhead Museum © Marcia DeSanctis

It’s never a mistake to visit the local history museum. In the afternoon, after a bowl of JPL’s famous tomato soup, I went for a tour of the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum & Archives, to learn more about Jasper’s human, economic and geological past as a transportation and fur trading hub. I had crispy Brussels sprouts and pork belly at Terra in town for dinner – further proof that Jasper is a thriving center for innovative, local-based cuisine. 

Icefields Parkway, which connects Jasper with Banff National Park, is consistently named one of the most beautiful drives in the world. For this, I needed a National Park pass, which I placed on my dashboard. Advised to pack water and snacks, I set forth at 8am; snow tires are required on rentals, thankfully. The parkway had been closed for three days due to a snowstorm, and there were few cars on the road. I was overwhelmed by the horizon – there was so much raw beauty to take in – and I stopped my car every couple of seconds to take pictures.

I affixed my trusty spikes, and hiked up to the blue-ice mass at Athabasca Falls – and it was dizzying and powerful to look down into the gorge. I hoped no stray grizzly would come out of hibernation. Next, I trekked up to Sunwapta Falls, and stared with some trepidation at the great frozen chasm below. About 90 minutes into the Icefields drive, a storm churned up, so I turned back to the warmth and safety of JPL. 

Snacks laid out on a table
All-important snacks for the Icefields Parkway drive © Marcia DeSanctis

In the evening, next to a firepit on the property, I had a fireside chat with Matricia Bauer, a member of the Cree tribe and founder of Warrior Women. Until they were forcibly expelled in 1907, an estimated 26 Indigenous tribes inhabited and connected with the land that became Jasper National Park. Bauer, whose Cree name is Iskoachitawichy, or She Who Moves Mountains, aims to “indigenize the world, one drum beat at a time,” by reviving and retelling the stories of Canada’s First Nations people. 

She was joined by Theresa Westhaver, a member of the Secwépemc tribe and the Indigenous Relations Liaison to Jasper National Park. The pair sang some intertribal songs, and one in the Cree language, keeping tempo with their drums. Among the many fascinating bits of knowledge: their respective tribal languages have no commonalities. “They are as similar as English and Chinese,” Westhaver told me. 

The Ice Walk into Maligne Canyon descends 165ft (50m) into the limestone gorge. Slippery conditions were no issue with spikes, and the team also furnished us with tall rubber boots (and helmets, in case of falling chunks) for the slushy parts. We passed several waterfalls, frozen like monumental sculptures on the cliffsides, as well as caves, ice shelves and smooth canyon walls carved by water. The tour includes lunch, and the bison chili hit the spot after an active morning. 

Alberta's frozen waterfalls
The Ice Walk into Maligne Canyon © Marcia DeSanctis

I asked around the hotel for the best place to see sunrise in Jasper, and decided on Pyramid Lake, about 15 minutes away. There is not a lot original to say about witnessing the dawn of a new day, even an exquisite one such as I saw over the towering, snow-capped summit of Mt Edith Cavell. Yet I believe that even when it demands patience, even it is 15°F outside, watching the first light pour from the sky is a most intimate occasion, and one that connects a traveler indelibly to a place. 

Under a clear blue sky, I was back on the Via Rail train to Edmonton. Service manager Priyan Thomas welcomed me, and said, “I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and the views are so beautiful, I’m still taking videos every time I go through the Rockies.”

Standing by a frozen waterfall
Taking a moment to marvel at nature © Marcia DeSanctis

Edmonton: A sweet ending to a brilliant journey 

An hour into the trip, the land flattened out. We were on the edge of the great Canadian prairie – and in a snowstorm, with ferocious-looking winds, I understood why people prefer the six-hour train to the 3.5-hour drive. After dinner, I arrived in Edmonton and checked into the JW Marriott Ice District, a skyscraper. This former frontier town is today a city of 1.5 million people. 

I met Kieth Diakiw of Talking Rock Tours for a fascinating walk through the cultural and geological history of the North Saskatchewan River Valley. Edmonton has the longest stretch of contiguous urban parkland in North America, and it feels almost alive with history: of the colonial settlers who set up a western outpost of the fur-trading Hudson’s Bay Company, and the Blackfoot, Cree, Dene, Iroquois and other Nations that were the region’s first inhabitants. Diakiw is métis, someone of mixed European and Indigenous race, and he led me to a sacred burial ground, as well as to the Indigenous Art Park, where vibrant works by six artists were on display. 

For my last dinner in Canada, I ate at Biera, one of the brightest stars on Edmonton’s food scene. I had fromage blanc dumplings, served with a sauce of kale, lemon and whey, as well as a flight of house-brewed micro beers. For the plane home, I packed a couple of salted caramel and rose macarons from Little Duchess Bake Shop, which I sought out in the afternoon. It was a sweet ending to a brilliant journey to Western Canada. 

What I bought

Lots of books for the quiet time back at the lodge, and then for the train to Edmonton. I picked them up in downtown Jasper and at the museum, both as mementos and for research. I love digging deep into a place you are spending time. 

What I brought

Microspikes are easy to slip onto my all-weather, waterproof Lowa Renegade hiking boots. They are also instant miracles: the crampons make me feel like Spider-Man when I walk on ice, with my confidence, balance and safety improving immeasurably. And my Black Diamond retractable poles are very handy to pack – plus, they carry all sorts of memories for me. 

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The best ways to get around in New Orleans

New Orleans is a fairly small city, but it’s big enough that getting around town can require some planning.

If you’re staying in the French Quarter, avoid the congestion, potholes and lack of parking by getting around on foot. But if you’re looking to explore more of the city, you’ll need more than your own two feet by making use of the relatively limited public transportation. Here’s everything you need to know about getting around New Orleans.

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A streetcar on St. Charles Ave in New Orleans
Streetcars aren’t the most efficient mode of transport, but they’re part of the New Orleans experience © Kris Davidson / Lonely Planet

Slide along in an iconic streetcar

The streetcars of New Orleans sort of sum up Crescent City: beautiful, graceful, antique, old-school, infused with history and romance but not terribly efficient. As a form of transportation you can get around using them, but only certain places. The streetcars cover a lot of tourist-friendly areas, including Canal Street (which runs between the French Quarter and the Central Business District), St Charles Avenue (which cuts through the Garden District and Uptown, including South Carrollton Avenue), the Riverfront Line (which again, runs the edge of the French Quarter) and Rampart Street (which forms the border between the French Quarter and Treme).

It’s worth noting that even with the Rampart, Riverfront and Canal St lines, the French Quarter is not really served by streetcar — these routes form a perimeter outside the Quarter, and you’ll still have to walk to get into the neighborhood. Similarly, the Rampart line follows the curve of the northern boundary of the Marigny (note that the Rampart line also remains closed because of the 2019 collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel; it is hoped it will reopen in 2023, fingers crossed. 

The streetcars are not fast, but they do have a clacking air of nostalgia. They’re run by the Regional Transit Authority. Fares cost $1.25; you’ll need exact change if you want to use cash, but you can also use the NORTA app or purchase a Jazzy Pass, good for unlimited rides and usable on buses, too. Streetcars ostensibly run 24 hours a day, but as you might guess, the service gets slower as the night wears on.

Go further on board the bus

New Orleans has a pretty extensive bus system. It’s not the fastest means of getting around, but the buses more or less go everywhere, and they’re inexpensive (same as the streetcar, $1.25). You’ll want to plan ahead, though, if you’re focusing on using the bus as your means of getting around, and be aware that a good chunk of your time will be spent in transit.

A man rides a bike on Canal Street in downtown New Orleans
New Orleans is relatively flat, so biking is one way to get around © Peek Creative Collective / Shutterstock

Cycling is an option

New Orleans is a funny city for cycling. In general, we recommend it: you’ll have time to gawk at the city’s architecture, and the geography of the city (ie flat and compact) lends itself to bicycle exploration. Plus, there’s a whole fleet of blue bikes in the city’s bike-share program, available for those who want to pedal around. There’s a thriving, economically and racially diverse cycling community here that is enthusiastic about getting around town on two wheels; Nola Social Ride is a great resource for those who want to know about upcoming cycling events or where to find a good rental or repair shop.

The picture isn’t all rosy, though. Potholes abound and although bike lanes are expanding, they’re often taken up by inconsiderate or unaware car drivers. Locals are becoming more accustomed to bicycles, but we still don’t recommend cycling along major streets like Broad, and even St Claude Avenue, which has an established bike lane, can feel dangerous to pedal on, especially at night. And then there’s the weather: New Orleans is humid (often topping 70% humidity) and summer can last, without exaggeration, for six months, so you’ll want to stay hydrated and, especially if you’re coming from somewhere significantly cooler and/or drier, give yourself a day or two to acclimate. Then, consider whether or not you want to arrive at your destination somewhat sweaty.

Stylish couple walks along Frenchmen Street in New Orleans
You’ll get a greater sense of local life when you wander the streets of New Orleans on foot © Page Light Studios / Getty Images

Soak up the neighborhood vibes on foot

Downtown neighborhoods – like the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, Treme and the Bywater, as well as the Garden District and the CBD and Warehouse District – are best explored on foot. You can walk the length of the French Quarter in about 15 to 20 minutes, and less than that in the Marigny. This is a city where casual conversations between neighbors on porches is a time-honored tradition, and you get to really see these knots in the social fabric while walking. Do stick to well-lit roads at night and keep your wits about you; street crime is a reality. 

Uptown and Mid-City are physically large neighborhoods broken up by walkable clusters of activity, especially around Magazine Street and Oak Street in Uptown, and Bayou St John and Esplanade Avenue.

Get where you need to go in a car or taxi

Taxis are generally the most practical and budget-friendly means of transportation for getting around New Orleans, and recommended if you’re traveling alone or at night. It’s generally easy to hail a taxi on the street in the French Quarter and other busy areas, but elsewhere you might need call one (there are several cab companies in town, including United Cabs) or use one of the ride-hailing apps. 

Renting a car is a good option if you’re planning to be outside the main tourist areas, and, of course, the big plus for renting a car is that when you have your own wheels in New Orleans, you can get outside of town too — day trips to places like the Barataria Preserve become a lot more feasible. 

If you do rent a car be aware that the roads here can be pretty bad and parking in the French Quarter is almost inevitably a nightmare and/or expensive — you’ll either have to shell out for a parking garage or look for street parking nearby. If you go with the latter choice, be cautious walking at night and note that on-street parking is typically short-term only; check the meters (one meter often serves an entire block, so don’t assume parking is free just because there’s no meter on the curb immediately beside where you park) as well as the parking signs carefully (street cleaning rules limit parking on certain streets) so that you don’t get a pricy parking ticket. Outside of the Quarter and the CBD, parking is generally not too difficult to find, but again, if you have to walk, remember crime is real. Be wary without being paranoid.

Take the ferry across the Mississippi

The Algiers Ferry runs from the foot of Canal St to Algiers Point, a neighborhood on the Mississippi River’s west bank side, full of wedding-cake cottages and general local cuteness. The Algiers Ferry is a beloved means of commuting for many locals; watching the waters spread out on all sides is humbling and beautiful.

There’s not a lot of accessible transportation in New Orleans

New Orleans is somewhat lax in this department. Sidewalk curbs rarely have ramps, and many historic public buildings and hotels are not equipped to meet the needs of wheelchair users. Modern hotels adhere to standards established by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by providing ramps, elevators and accessible bathrooms.

Red streetcars on the Canal St, Rampart Riverfront and Loyola-UPT Streetcar lines are accessible to riders with disabilities. Some of the Green streetcars that travel the St Charles Avenue line are accessible. 

Regional Transit Authority buses offer a lift service; for information about paratransit service (alternative transportation for those who can’t ride regular buses), call RTA Paratransit. The RTA has also partnered with the nonprofit Lighthouse Louisiana to develop the Assistance Card Program, which benefits riders of public transportation who are blind, deaf-blind or have low vision.

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Get into: calcio storico in Florence

When traveling through Tuscany in the warmer months of the year, it is not unusual to encounter parades of people wearing colorful, traditional clothing inspired by medieval culture. Historic reenactments are deeply rooted in local folklore, bringing Tuscans back to an era of city-states, tower houses, and clashing dynasties.

If a town in the region has been around for a while, you can be pretty sure there’s a festival that pays tribute to its history. Siena has its Palio, Arezzo has its Giostra del Saracino, Montepulciano has its Bravìo delle Botti – I could go on and on. None of these celebrations, however, can compare to Florence’s calcio storico, held each year in June in Piazza di Santa Croce.

Picture this: fifty four (mostly bare-chested) men beating each other up on a 5000-square-meter sand arena – known as the sabbione – set up for the occasion in the heart of this Renaissance city, surrounded by 4000 cheering spectators and half a dozen ambulances ready to welcome injured athletes on board. It is just as brutal as it sounds – calcio storico is an early version of football that combines kicking the ball with boxing, wrestling and rugby-style tackles. The four teams represent each of Florence’s historic neighborhoods – the Bianchi (Whites) of Santo Spirito, the Azzurri (Blues) of Santa Croce, the Rossi (Reds) of Santa Maria Novella, and the Verdi (Greens) of San Giovanni – and they give everything in pursuit of winning the title.

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The origins of the calcio storico fiorentino

Although its origins are somewhat uncertain – the sport is regarded as an heir to harpastum, a game Romans played as early as the 1st century BCE – 1530 is typically referred to as the year when calcio storico fiorentino was born. Back then, football was already a popular pastime in the streets of Florence and elsewhere in Italy. The year 1530, however, was marked by an event that would remain stuck in the city’s collective memory.

In 1527, a violent revolt broke out in Florence against the ruling Medici family, who were ousted from power and expelled from the city. Florence became a republic, but this status was short-lived – Pope Clement VII, a member of the Medici family, struck a deal with Emperor Charles V, asking him to invade the city and reestablish the former government.

The siege was planned for February 17th, 1530. On that same day, a game of calcio had been planned in Santa Croce to celebrate Carnival. As a show of strength, the Florentines decided not to bow to the threats and play anyway. When Charles V’s troops reached the city, they found the Whites and the Greens busy kicking an air-filled leather football in Santa Croce, unmoved despite being on the brink of conflict.

That legendary game made it into history books as the “partita dell’assedio” (“game of the siege”) and inspired the contemporary reenactment that is still played today. Little is known about the popularity of the sport after the 16th century, but in 1930, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the siege, the city council decided to reintroduce the calcio storico fiorentino tradition. Since then, it has been played every year in June.

A member of the Santa Croce football team receives treatment for an eye injury in Florence
There aren’t many rules when it comes to calcio storico matches… © Megan Varner / Getty Images

The rules of the game

The rules have not changed much since the 16th century. A modern-day calcio storico match lasts 50 minutes. Two teams of 27 players known as calcianti challenge each other to score the largest amount of cacce (goals) on a 50-by-100 meter sand arena. Temperatures often surpass 30 degrees celsius. Each time a goal is scored the teams switch sides, but if a player mistakenly throws the ball over the net rather than into it, half a point is given to the other team.

The calcianti are allowed to attempt a caccia using any and all means available – they can kick the ball with their feet, throw it with their hands, and physically tackle opponents who stand in their way. Bare-knuckle punches, kicks, and clashes are all fair game. Violence is not just expected, but somewhat encouraged by the cheering crowds that populate Santa Croce’s pop-up bleachers, in an atmosphere reminiscent of millennia-old gladiator games.

In the past, blood spilled on the sabbione didn’t always come from athletic endeavors. Games have often turned into full-blown brawls involving both players and their supporters. In 2006 the tournament was suspended after the match turned into a mass fight, with 43 out of 54 players legally prosecuted after the dust had settled. The city council suspended the festival the following year to show how seriously they took the carnage inflicted on the streets. Stories of such incidents are often heard around Florence, especially during the weeks surrounding the tournament when locals enjoy reminiscing about the wild events of the past.

Rules were changed slightly in 2008 to ensure safety and avoid uncontrolled brawls. Only one-on-one clashes are permitted and athletes with serious criminal convictions are no longer allowed in the arena. This didn’t stop some of the Blues team’s players from hitting three referees in 2017, causing police in riot gear to intervene and stop the violence from escalating.

The calcianti are not paid to play in the tournament and they must all be born in Florence or have resided in the city for at least 10 years. The only prize for the winning team, besides the glory, is a Chianina cow with gold-painted horns.

Know before you go

Florence’s calcio storico tournament consists of three games: two semi-finals and one final. The final is always held on June 24, the day Florence celebrates its patron saint John the Baptist, while the other two games typically happen over a weekend in mid June. Despite the violent nature of the game and the incidents that have occurred in the past, it is safe to attend – that is, if you can get tickets.

Getting tickets

Make no mistake, this is a very popular event, beloved by Florentines and attracting increasing interest from outsiders. Tickets go on sale a few weeks before the start of the events and can only be bought in person at the box office on Via delle Vecchie Carceri 1 next to Le Murate. If tickets are still available after the initial sale, they are sold online via TicketOne. 

With only 3000 seats available for the public (and 1000 for guests), tickets tend to sell out fast. Keep an eye on local newspapers for the announcement of the sale and get to the box office early. Prices start at €40.

Easter Sunday fireworks in front of the Duomo in Florence, Italy
All the fun kicks off with scoppio del carro on Easter Sunday © Getty Images / EyeEm

The “scoppio del carro” fireworks on Easter Sunday

The first event related to the tournament is the Scoppio del Carro, which occurs each year on Easter Sunday in Piazza del Duomo. During this celebration, dating back to the 11th century, an ancient chariot is brought to the city’s most famous square, escorted by soldiers, musicians, and flag throwers, and placed between the Cathedral and the Baptistery.

There, a small rocket shaped like a dove is set on fire, followed by a series of fireworks that symbolize the Holy Fire – the biblical miracle preceding the resurrection. During this event, which attracts thousands to Piazza del Duomo, there is a draw to establish which teams will play against each other in the semifinals.

Flag wavers and legendary musicians

The calcio storico tournament isn’t just confined to the field of play – it involves celebrations that run throughout the city during the month of June. The first match is preceded by a grandiose performance by the Uffizi Flag Wavers and the parade of the Florentine Historical Procession. About five hundred sbandieratori (flag wavers) in medieval clothing cross the city to inaugurate the beginning of the games.

Flag wavers are not the only performers that take to the city streets in celebration. The Musici del Calcio Storico Fiorentino is the oldest musical band in Florence, active since the first calcio storico reenactment in 1930. The seventy musicians in the band open the celebrations with drums and flutes as they parade from the Santa Maria Novella to Santa Croce on the day of the first match. Their most elaborate performance, however, is seen in Santa Croce after the final, when the musicians form a circle to play the Inno della Victoria (Victory Anthem) in the sweat-soaked arena.

Once the games are over, a big party is usually held on the banks of the Arno river, where fireworks in Piazzale Michelangelo can be seen from all over the city.

Beyond folklore

As Florence’s popularity as a vacation destination has grown over the past couple of decades, the calcio storico is often perceived as a spectacle for tourists rather than an actual sports tournament. However, this is not the case and, if you choose to participate, it’s best to keep in mind that this is a heartfelt event that should be taken seriously. Athletes train hard throughout the year to get selected and be in the best possible shape, and ancient rivalries between historic neighborhoods still exist.

Smiling woman and man drinking cocktails outdoors in Florence
Learn more about the tournament at one of the restaurants owned by a team member © Westend61 / Getty Images

A calcio storico inspired lunch

The calcio storico tradition has made its way into Florence’s urban fabric – if you happen to visit the city and decide to get into the game’s atmosphere, you can eat at one of the restaurants that are either run by former calcianti or pay tribute to their neighborhood’s team. These trattorias specialize in local delicacies that are always served with a generous side of Chianti and stories from games past.

The Trattoria I’Raddi, in the Santo Spirito neighborhood, is run by one of the members of the Bianchi team and has long functioned as a gathering spot for the players. Every detail here seems to be a reference to great tournaments of the past, from the neighborhood’s coats of arms to the many pictures of athletes that have made history in the game.

Similarly, the Trattoria I’Brindellone, an old-school eatery in the San Frediano area, is adorned with nostalgic images of glorious calcianti, honoring both the simplicity of Tuscan cuisine and a sporting tradition that has deep roots in Florence’s history but continues to thrive in the present.

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