It is so kitsch that it is ingenious! The “strip” is a 4-mile stretch of Las Vegas Blvd. South where many of the world’s largest casinos and hotels are located. Fifteen of the largest twenty five hotels in the world are here. I stayed in the MGM Grand, a gigantic 30-floor, 6852 room hotel with dozens of restaurants, clubs and the largest casino in the city. This was my first ever city in Las Vegas and despite the fact that I was prepared to stay unimpressed, I was amazed by the size of the project. Take MGM Grand, multiply it by 30-something, add luxury shopping outlets and stand-alone entertainment venues and you start understanding how a city in the middle of the dessert can generate a GDP of $92b.

Welcome to Las Vegas
Welcome sign in the Leas Vegas International Airport.
Elvis
Elvis with full gear on a really hot day in Las Vegas.

 

Las Vegas by night

The strip is at its best during the night, when the neon is glowing. It looks like a huge amusement park, dominated by colors and hordes of indifferent, badly dressed people. The occasional interesting characters are mostly professional street weirdos that try hard to stand out from the competition. It takes about one hour to walk from the MGM Grand to the Mirage as the sidewalks are blocked by stairways and pathways to channel the crowds. It feels like a huge shopping mall. As a first timer I was overwhelmed by the spectacle as the real world was matching against movie scenes and book descriptions. It turns out that the match is perfect. It is not surprising as the Las Vegas concept is so simplistic and strong that it very easy to describe.

 

The Strip
Nighttime at the Strip, full of lights and and people.
The Bellagio
The famous water jets of the Bellagio with Ceasars Palace at the backdrop.
Party Time
A group of young girls on their night out in Las Vegas.
Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower of Las Vegas at night. Really?
Harley Davinson
The Harley Davinson cafe on the strip.
The Strip at Night
Night shot of the strip in front of the luxury Gucci outlet.
New York New York
The New York, New York hotel and casino at night.
MGM Grand
A big sign of the David Coppoerfield show at the MGM Grand hotel and casino.
Red Light
Cars waiting for the traffic light to turn green on the strip.
Volcanic Explosion
Corwds gather evry night to see the volcanic explosions at the Treasure Island hotel and casino.
The Mirage
The mirage is one the best known hotel casinos in Las Vegas
Welcome
A couple of lightly dressed ladies at the entrance of a club.

 

Gambling

The casinos are huge, filled with hundreds of slot machines and dozens of tables where people dressed in t-shirts and shorts or in cocktail dress try their luck. I fail to see the point. Having spent quite some time in the Monte Carlo and Divonne, Las Vegas gambling is beyond my understanding. A noisy, mass-market setup that lacks the ambience and style that is necessary when someone is losing or winning big. It really feels strange when you exit your room in the morning to get a cup of coffee to see people sitting at the slot machines or playing their cards against of a 60-year old dealer of Korean descent.

 

Casino Entrance
The entrance of the Mirage casino.
Slot Machines
Slot machines in the MGM Grand casino floor.
Slot Machines
Casual dressed palyers in th MGM Grand casino. Make no mistake, there isn't any glamor here.
The Gamblers
Typical guests of a Las Vegas casino.
Sports Screens
A huge sports lounge inside the MGM Grand.
Black Jack Dealer
An asian lady wiating for customer at one the many black jack tables in the MGM Grand casino.

 

Las Vegas by day

The strip during the day is quite different. When the neon lights go off, all is left is the bad taste. And the heat. During the summer the temperature climbs to 40+°C. Even in the beginning of June, the temperature rose to 36°C, but the extremely dry air – 15% humidity – made walking the strip a possibility. The strip, with its architectural monstrosities, like the grotesque imitations of the Eiffel tower and the Fontana di Trevi may look funny in the night but are definitely sad during daytime.

 

New York, New York
Daytime view of the New York, New York hotel and casino.
The Strip at Daytime
A shot of the Strip from one of the pedestrian bridges.
Couple of Elvis
Two Elvis characters in the streets of Las Vegas
Never Give Up
A performer on the Strip, mixing art with religion. Obviously this has a wide target audience in Las Vegas.
Harrahs
The Harrah's hotel and casino sign, one of the most photographed in Las Vegas.
Hungry
Homeless guy, begging on the strip. A sharp contrast against the staged affluence of LV.
The Strip at Daytime
Walking along the strip in the summer is difficult as the temperature rises to 35+ Celcius.
Vegas Lady
A young lady selling clothes on the Strip.
Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel tower of Las Vegas is a half-size "accurate" replica of the original. Kitsch at its best.
Star Wars
Street models posing with a young fellow for some bucks.
Red Ferrari
A red Ferrari in front of the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas.
Cabaret Girls
A couple of street models dressed in cabaret gowns, in the streets of Las Vegas
Dolphins in Las Vegas
Dolphins at the Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. Do not waste your dollars.

 

The Grand Canyon

The Colorado river has exposed two billion years of the earth’s geology and created a spectacular 446km canyon in the heart of Arizona. Its close location to Las Vegas – the south rim is 450km away – created an industry of airborne tours that allow LV visitors to enjoy this geological marvel. I joined a tour that included airplane transportation to the south rim air strip, a helicopter tour above the canyon and a visit the Mather Point, one of the most popular observation points. Hotel-to-hotel it was a less than 7 hours and gave me the chance to see the best aerial and vantage point views, but left me with a feeling of unfulfillment.

I am not saying it was not worth the $545 I paid for, but I realized that it would take probably to 3-4 days that would include trekking, river trips, the chance to see the sunrise and sunset, to appreciate the beauty of this unique place. I had one day only and the air transfer-helicopter-bus combination was definitely the best choice for a one day visit.

The views from the helicopter were breath taking. This was my first ever chopper ride and I had the chance to sit in the front row and fully enjoy the panoramic 180 views. My only complaint is that the light was harsh during the mid day flight, so the colors were a bit washed out. I can only imagine what the Canyon will look out in the golden hour.

 

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon, helicopter view.
Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon, south rim, helicopter view above the Colorado river.
The Chopper
Our helicopter that took us for a ride above the south rim.
Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon, helicopter view.
Taking Off
On the runway in Las Vegas, taking off to the Grand Canyon.

 

The Mather Point is one of the most popular vantage points to appreciate the Grand Canyon glory and it did not disappoint me. The views of the Not only that, but I had the rare chance to see from a really close distance two of the amazing California Condors. A critically endangered specie that became extinct in the wild by 1987 and reintroduced to northern Arizona and Utah, the California Condor is the largest Northern America land bird with an impressive wingspan of 3m.

Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon from the Mather Point.
Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon from the Mather Point.
California Condors
Two Californian Condors, resting on a rock at Mather Point.
Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon from the Mather Point.
Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon from the Mather Point.

Las Vegas

Grand Canyon