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The 12 Best National Parks in Europe

The United States may seem like the obvious choice for a national park vacation, especially for American travelers, but Europe has an abundance of national parks worth exploring as well. Whether your thing is hiking fjords in Norway, exploring castle ruins in Portugal, or sampling local cheese in Slovenia, the national parks of Europe appeal to a wide range of interests.

Ready to get inspired? Here are 12 of the best national parks in Europe.

Jotunheimen National Park, Norway

About 100 kilometers southwest of the Norway’s oldest national park, you’ll find Jotunheimen National Park, home to Norway’s highest mountain, Galdhopiggen.

It’s got all the water features you’d want for an outdoor adventure: waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and glaciers. It’s also known for its spectacular day hikes and hut-to-hut treks, including the famous Besseggen Ridge. People come here to ski, river raft, and glacier walk, too.

While you’re in the (relative) area, pay a visit to the largest glacier in continental Europe.

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Saxon Switzerland National Park (Germany)/Bohemian Switzerland National Park (Czech Republic)

Don’t let the name throw you off: Saxon Switzerland National Park borders the Czech Republic and is nowhere near Switzerland. The park continues into the Czech Republic where it is called Bohemian Switzerland National Park (there’s even a border crossing for hikers, though with more than 150 square miles of trails, including some for cyclists, you may not need to leave the country).

Rock climbers can choose from among 700-plus sandstone summits, carved by the Elbe River for millions of years. You don’t have to dangle from a rope, however, to appreciate the flower-filled valleys, chalky cliffs, mesas, and surrounding castles and fortresses. In fact, one of the best ways to take in the rocky terrain is from the source that created it: the Elbe. Entrance to the park is free.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Lakes make up only one percent of Plitvice Lakes National Park‘s surface area (the northwest part of the park is a beech-fir forest), but they’re one of its biggest draws. There are 12 in the Upper Lakes area and four in the Lower Lakes group.

Boardwalk-style hiking trails lead around many of them, allowing you to get up close without disturbing the delicate ecosystem. The steep canyons make for dramatic waterfalls, including Great Waterfall, the highest in the country. And because limestone is prone to weathering, sinkholes and caves like Supljara Cave have formed in the park. Admission prices vary with the seasons, but include boat rides on Lake Kozjak and panoramic train rides.

Plitvice Lakes National Park is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its geological and ecological value. The karst topography, defined by its limestone and dolomite rocks, retains water in the lakes thanks to tufa formations that act as a natural barrier.

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Vatnajokul, Iceland

The largest national park in Iceland, Vatnajokull covers 13 percent of the country and encompasses the Vatnajokull glacier, as well as the area that once made up Skaftafell and Jokulsarglijufur national parks. This is where fire meets ice in the form of glaciers and volcanoes.

For those looking to climb the country’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjukur, Skaftafell is a good place to start. Another popular hiking route takes visitors along a canyon from Asbyrgi to Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe.

The park’s lowland areas are the most easily accessible, with highland areas being only accessible by 4×4 vehicle for a few months at the height of summer and beginning of autumn. In the winter, ice caves formed by water or the geothermal activity are a popular draw. And though outside the park, Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon is also worth a stop if only to glimpse the icebergs floating on the lake’s waters.

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North York Moors National Park, England

North York Moors National Park is part forest, part moorland, with a mix of heathland, bog, and coastal cliffs thrown in. Wandering through villages on the rocky coastline between bays and beaches will give you an entirely different sense of the park than wandering through the higher ground covered in heather, turning the moors into a purple magic carpet in summer.

Explore the coast on the cliff path, part of the Cleveland Way National Trail, but otherwise don’t worry too much about sticking to trails; most of the park is open access, so you can wander at will through wooded valleys and past grazing sheep.

Beyond the natural features of the park, this chunk of earth has witnessed a considerable amount of history, with remains in the area dating to the end of the last Ice Age (tools and camps from the first hunters) on through the Cold War (concrete bunkers). Roman fortifications, ancient crosses, and medieval castles and abbeys are seemingly (and fortunately) unavoidable.

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Triglav National Park, Slovenia

It may be Slovenia’s only national park, but Triglav National Park preserves three percent of the country’s land, including much of the Julian Alps, the park’s namesake mountain, and the country’s highest peak, Triglav. Several mountaineering routes lead adventurous climbers to the top.

Elsewhere in Triglav National Park, deep gorges carved by the park’s rivers contrast with the high peaks, while caves have formed in the limestone mountainsides. It’s no surprise that hiking trails offer one of the best ways to appreciate the varied park features.

There are 25 settlements within Triglav, and many of the inhabitants make their living from agriculture (try the local hard and soft cheeses made from cow’s or sheep’s milks). Just outside the park’s eastern edge, picturesque Lake Bled is a good base for exploring the park’s attractions like Vintgar Gorge.

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Bialowieza National Park, Poland

On the border with Belarus, Bialowieza National Park is a rare area of undisturbed nature. It’s Poland’s oldest national park, covering the central part of Bialowieza Forest, considered the last original bit of European lowland forest. Because of its extensive old-growth forest and the role it plays in conserving the area’s biodiversity, Bialowieza National Park was named UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It’s also is also home to the largest population of European bison, with breeding reserves located within the park. The oldest (and most protected) sections of the park are only accessible with a guide, but there are areas for hiking and biking that do not require supervision. Admission fees to the park are minimal.

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Cevennes National Park, France

The appeal of Cevennes National Park (website in French) is varied. For some, the park is at its best in summer thanks to canoeing, kayaking, climbing, caving, and fishing. For others, it’s winter with snowshoeing, tobogganing, and Nordic skiing. But whether you hang out in the woods, moors, and meadows or the valleys, mountains, and gorges, you’ll likely see traces of human settlements past and present. People have inhabited the lands here since at least 400,000 B.C.E., and much remains: ancient megaliths from the Neolithic era, Roman ruins, medieval churches and monasteries, mills once famous for producing silk, and remnants of silver, coal, and iron mines, including water towers and railway tracks.

Eight national hiking trails cross through Cevennes National Park, which has hundreds of miles of marked trails, including mountain bike and equestrian routes. Around 300 footpaths with the average length of about five miles make for easy day hikes, though the park is equally great for scenic drives. Forage for mushrooms and chestnuts, among other edibles, but make sure you’re not picking them from private property.

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Gargano National Park, Italy

Forgo the most well-known national park in the country, Cinque Terre, and skip the also-packed Amalfi Coast for even more gorgeous cliff-side villages, hikes, and Mediterranean views in the less-traveled Gargano National Park. Located in Puglia in the “spur” of Italy’s boot, the rocky coastline of white limestone cliffs abutting turquoise blue waters of the Adriatic is a major draw. But Gargano National Park also encompasses wetlands, valleys dotted with wild orchids, and woodlands in the Foresta Umbra.

Millions of years ago, this section of land was disconnected from mainland Italy, which helps explain the dramatic geography dotted with almond, orange, and olive trees. The Tremiti islands also form a section of the park with the most developed, San Domino, also being the only isle in the archipelago with a sand beach. And there are enough coves, caves, and sea stacks to fill a photo album.

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Sarek National Park, Sweden

Sweden has a ton of national parks worth exploring, including Tyresta National Park (an easy day trip from Stockholm) and Fulufjallet, home to the country’s tallest waterfall and one of world’s oldest trees (more than 9,500 years old and counting). But Sarek is otherworldly.
The inaccessibility of the park (you have to hike or ski in and will probably end up wading through water since there are few bridges) only adds to its allure. This is the real wild, with no marked trails. Reading a map and compass aren’t just nice to know—they’re essential. The park contains nearly 100 glaciers and almost half of Sweden’s tallest peaks, including Barddetjahkka, the country’s most easily ascended 2,000-meter summit with views of its largest glacier.

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Peneda Geres, Portugal

Abutting the border with Spain, Portugal’s only national park is notable for its castles, culture, and ponies—Peneda Geres is full of wild Garrano ponies that have been in the region since the first millennium B.C.E. Today, you can find domesticated ponies that will take you across the park’s countryside. Granite cliffs, forests, and bogs keep the terrain interesting.

Castles like Laboreiro and monasteries like Santa Maria dos Pitoes are popular spots within the park for those interested in history. Beyond castles, remnants from earlier eras like megalithic tombs and a Roman road that you can still cross via bike are evidence of the area’s long history.

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Archipelago National Park, Finland

You might expect to find Archipelago National Park, with more islands than any other archipelago in world, in someplace like the Maldives. But this park and UNESCO Biosphere reserve is in the Baltic Sea off the southwest coast of Finland. The fairly remote location is reached by ferry, taxi boat, rented motor or sailboat, or kayak.

The larger islands have villages where cattle and sheep still graze, while some of the smaller ones are rocky islets. Oro Fortress Island, a former military area, was only recently reopened to visitors. Because it was closed for so long, it has protected threatened species and habitats. All the islands are good for birding, and you may also spot moose and seals. Two underwater nature trails off Stora Hasto Island give snorkelers and divers a different perspective on the landscape. Off Dalskar Island are statues on the seabed.

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What to Pack

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11 Underrated Africa Tours for Your Bucket List

If you’ve landed on this page you’ve either seen the Big Five already in South Africa, or you’re after a trip to Africa that’s more “off the beaten path.” But Africa is a vast continent, and finding the right trip here can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve narrowed down 11 tours to less-traveled African destinations that are worthy of your bucket-list.[st_content_ad]

The Best Africa Tours to Lesser-Known Destinations

Tourism to Africa is rapidly increasing, with over 2,800 hotel rooms added since late 2019 and another 6,600 new rooms coming in the next few years. Plus, new air routes from Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates, Kenya Airways, and Turkish Airlines are opening up the continent to more overseas travelers. These 11 tours and destinations are now more accessible for travelers and will be sure to gain popularity over the next few years.

Get a Taste of Food, Culture, and Coffee in Nairobi

nnairobi kenya food market

Sure, a trip to Kenya and the Masai Mara are already known to most well-versed travelers, but many skip out on the country’s lively capital, Nairobi. It’s one of the most modern cities in Africa, and its stories can be told through food and culture. One of the most underrated things to do here is to take an urban city tour. Airbnb offers a walking tour called Nai Nami, or Our Streets – Our Stories. Travelers have the chance to explore the city via a walking tour led by underprivileged youths. Other off-the-beaten-path tours in Nairobi include food tours, like this authentic Kenyan food tour (from Viator, SmarterTravel’s sister site) or a coffee farm and tasting tour (also on Viator).

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Explore Lesser-Known Senegal and the Gambia

beach in Serrekunda, Gambia.

Most travelers don’t think to visit Western Africa, but the countries of Senegal and the Gambia are building up their infrastructure to be more tourist-friendly. Traveling with a group tour operator to these countries is a reliable way to experience their deep-rooted history, coastal landscapes, and local village life. We recommend G Adventures’ 10-day Classic Senegal & the Gambia tour, as it covers a lot of the region’s highlights with a good balance of guided tours and free time.

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Safari in Tanzania with the Family

REI tanzania tour africa.

The gorgeous landscapes of Tanzania offer just as much, if not more, as the surroundings in South Africa. Plan your next epic family vacation to Tanzania with REI Adventures’ Tanzania Family Adventure & Safari. The nine-day trip takes you through multiple wildlife reserves, cycling on a forest canopy walkway, hiking with Maasai in a local village, and more.

Find Out Why Everyone Is Going to Ethiopia

woman tossing corn gondar ethiopia.

Ethiopia is one of the fastest-growing destinations in Africa, and for good reason. The country offers unparalleled landscapes, delicious food, and unique history. Intrepid Travel’s 13-day Incredible Ethiopia tour covers all this and more. Spend a day in the capital city before heading out to the lakeshore towns of Bahir Dar and Gondar, continuing on to the Simien Mountains, and ending in the town of Lalibela, home to some of the region’s most significant religious sites.

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Go Gorilla Trekking in the Congo

gorilla trekking in congo

Travel to the heart of Africa on this all-inclusive safari and gorilla trekking trip with Deeper Africa. You’ll spend most of your time in Odzala-Kokoua National Park across three different safari camps. Activities include a kayak safari, a boat cruise, forest walks, gorilla trekking, and night walks with the chance to see western lowland gorillas, the guereza colobus mustached monkey, forest buffaloes, and forest elephants.

See Three National Parks on a Luxury Safari in Rwanda

silverback gorilla rainforest.

African Travel’s Discover Rwanda tour explores three national parks over the course of 11 days: Akagera National Park, Nyungwe National Park, and Volcanoes National Park with stays at luxurious accommodations like a One&Only resort. No stone is left unturned with this itinerary, which includes game drives, canopy walks, chimpanzee trekking, hiking, gorilla trekking, and more. Rwanda is home to dozens of animals such as lions, black rhinos, shoebills, buffalo, leopards, elephants, giraffes, spotted hyenas, zebras, elands, chimpanzees, and gorillas.

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Relax with a Beach Escape to Zanzibar

stone town zanzibar.

Looking to chill out on one of the most pristine coastlines in the world? Head to the Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar for a few days of pure relaxation. Contiki’s six-day Zanzibar Beach Escape includes five nights on the main island, Ungujain, in a beachfront hotel with plenty of free time to explore. Snorkel, dive, and enjoy watersports for a few days, and then explore the capital, Stone Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can also attend full moon parties, eat at the Rock Restaurant, and take a day trip to Prison Island.

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Discover Africa by Train on the Rovos Rail

train on journey in south africa

While there aren’t too many ways to explore Africa by rail—yet—Vacations By Rail’s Rovos Rail journey is truly an off-the-beaten-path way to experience multiple countries on the continent. Spend six nights aboard a luxury train, as well as a night in a game lodge in Etosha National Park in Namibia and a night at Soussusvlei Lodge. Along the way you’ll see dramatic landscapes like Big Hole, Fish River Canyon, the Kalahari Desert, the Namib Desert, Walvis Bay, and Etosha National Park. Other stops include the Diamond Mine Museum, Windhoek (Namibia’s capital), and Upington in South Africa.

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Take a Safari-Cruise in Southern Africa

croisieurope boat african dream deck.

CroisiEurope’s Southern Africa Safari-Cruise tour is truly a bucket-list experience in a relatively less crowded region of Africa. The highlights of this tour include the comfortable boat, the African Dream, built by the river cruise company, as well as game drives in Chobe National Park (home to a quarter of the continent’s elephant population). Plus, unadvertised experiences, like seeing the Milky Way every night while sleeping on the largest manmade lake in the world, can’t be beat.

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Experience Madagascar a la Jane Goodall

eastern lesser bamboo lemur madagascar.

The 14-day Highlights of Madagascar tour by G Adventures is endorsed by primatologist Jane Goodall, which means the trip not only has a low impact on the environment but also contributes to the protection of wildlife and supports local communities. You’re guaranteed to see amazing animals and landscapes on this itinerary, including lemurs, baobab trees, natural swimming pools, beaches, and rice paddies.

This tour also includes a stay at a local community guesthouse as well as visits to an artisan workshop and a traditional healer.

Spend a Week Sleeping on the Nile River

temple of karnak cairo egypt.

Most travelers visit Egypt for the epic Pyramids and don’t spend much time exploring the rest of the country’s offerings. (Did you know, for instance, that the Aswan High Dam’s reservoir capacity is five times the size of the Hoover Dam?) The 12-day Splendors of Egypt & the Nile tour by Uniworld gives you ample time both in the rising capital city of Cairo and on the famed river. Sailings are set to start in the fall of 2020 and include a full week aboard a brand-new ship, the S.S. Sphinx. Included excursions span from lesser-visited temple visits to bird-watching boat rides, and, yes, visits to the Ancient Memphis sites.

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What to Pack

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Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Outdoors

Kaleidoscopes in Motion: Visiting Mexico’s Monarch Sanctuary

The monarch butterflies have no set flight pattern. Some dive-bomb from trees, others flutter down like fall leaves. Against the clear sky, whole colonies swish back and forth, orange marbles sent skittering across a tile floor. We think these things, but we do not say them aloud. We’ve been asked to stay quiet. It’s one of the conservation rules at Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary in Valle de Bravo, three hours outside of Mexico City.

My husband, David, and I have come to do some major monarch-spotting. Twenty to 30 million butterflies migrate to this sanctuary between November and March each year. They’ve flown south to escape the North American winter in Mexico’s highlands, some traveling as far as 3,000 miles.

 

Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary in Valle de Bravo, three hours outside of Mexico City.
Only the Sanctuary’s guides are allowed to touch any of the monarch butterflies.

Our path to the monarchs isn’t short either. The summit is an hour’s hike, or 45 minutes on horseback. “Steep” and “strenuous” are words that autofill when you Google the park, so we opt for horseback, knowing we’ll still have to dismount and walk the last 10 minutes to the peak.

Through the Hotel Rodavento, we arrange a lift to the sanctuary and an escort, Alejandro. On arrival, David and I tumble out of the van and chase butterflies to a grassy divot. They lay in a sunbeam, occasionally taking a bobbing lap around our heads as we snap photos. Alejandro laughs, clearly thinking, This is just the parking lot! Wait until the forest. He arranges for our park guide, Gustavo, and three petite horses.

“Not to worry,” Alejandro jokes. “These are automatic horses.”

He’s not wrong. Riding skills are not required. The short mares can be mounted as easily as a porch swing, and the reins are handled by a señor who walks beside us.

Before we set off, we tour the spotless base camp, with its bathrooms, food stands, and tchotchkes like hats embroidered with plastic monarchs. But I’m eager for the real thing. We saddle up.

“Andale!” I shout.

 

The trail starts out paved and fenced, but reverts to a dirt path as we climb. Much of it is shaded by oyamel fir trees, the monarchs’ favorite hideout. Occasionally, a lemon wedge of sunlight breaks through the forest canopy and the butterflies cluster there. Gustavo, who leads our equine parade on foot, takes off his sombrero, fanning them off the path.

“We are custodians for these butterflies,” Gustavo explains in Spanish. “Imagine if we trampled over them!”

As the monarchs get shooed away, I’m struck by their fragility—they’re flimsy as two-ply Kleenex. How have they traveled the distance of a high-powered jet plane?

Our troop continues its ascent. Behind me, Alejandro calls a booming “buenos dias” to the people we pass—young sweethearts hiking, fathers and sons on horseback, and one executive-type taking a cellphone call mid-trot. Despite our differences, we’re all seeking this one wild marvel.

After 40 minutes, we arrive at what Alejandro calls our “horse parking lot.” We dismount and climb with Gustavo the rest of the way. It’s slow going, twisty and—as Google warned—steep. But the butterflies, just a trickle at the bottom of the park, flow freely around us.

Here Gustavo announces the final rule: We must whisper. No more booming buenos dias.

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Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary in Valle de Bravo, three hours outside of Mexico City.

As we reach the top, the canopy of trees cracks open and daylight floods in, heating the powdery earth and infusing the air with a pine-needle scent. The flip-book sound of a thousand beating wings surrounds us. Monarchs are everywhere now, spilling from trees—swooping, falling, shimmering. Waves of them pinwheel through the sky, climbing up into blue infinity, before falling back down to earth in a whoosh. The four of us stand in silence, faces tipped to the sky. I feel the same awe I’ve had in grand cathedrals.

Alejandro reads my thoughts. He leans over to whisper, “You sense God is in this place.”

On our descent to base camp, Gustavo grows somber. “We’ve seen fewer and fewer butterflies,” he says, echoing what scientists have discovered: Monarchs have suffered an 80 percent decline since 2000. Global warming, as well as the loss of milkweed (the monarch caterpillars’ only food), are to blame.

“We can’t control climate change, so we try to control the little we can,” Gustavo says.

 

 

He tells me that because the butterflies arrive in November, during the Day of the Dead celebration, many believe them to be souls of loved ones returning. I can’t ignore the subtext: If these butterflies disappear, part of this country’s soul will be lost, too.

Back at base camp, we return our horses to their hitching posts, then head back. For the first mile, the butterflies surf the jet-stream peeling off our van.

At home months later, I spot a flattened monarch on the pavement and stop to wonder what else was stamped out.

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If You Go

Our writer’s tour was arranged through the Hotel Rodavento. Tours can also be booked through Viator, starting at $60, or on arrival directly with park guides. Fees for guides and horses are 250 pesos per person (approximately $13 USD). Note that park guides tend to speak limited English, and package tours have translators. The entrance/parking fee is 70 pesos ($3.50 USD), which is included in pre-booked tours. Clean bathrooms are on site with paid access of 5 pesos ($0.25 USD). Gift shops and food vendors are also on the grounds. Sturdy walking or hiking shoes are recommended.

[viator_tour destination=”5424″ type=”3-mod” tours=”9483P155,9483P141,3467P8″]

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Health & Wellness

Everything You Need to Know About Visiting a Travel Clinic

Until recently I had never visited a travel clinic. But after going once, I’m a convert, and from now on will always go before I take far-flung trips.

After going to Thailand and meeting a handful of people with friends who had contracted malaria on their trips, I vowed to start making a visit to the travel clinic part of my pre-trip prep work before going to developing or at-risk countries. So, when my next trip to Colombia came up, I decided to follow through on this promise. When I researched online and checked out the CDC website, I found mixed opinions on whether to get certain vaccines. I knew what to do next: get a professional opinion on what exactly I needed for the areas I was headed.

I contacted my primary care doctor, who referred me back to the CDC website, and after explaining that I’d already done the initial research, they decided to schedule me for a yellow fever vaccine. However, the yellow fever vaccine at the time was on national backorder (which it usually is), and my primary care doctor would not have it in enough time to administer it before my trip. The wild-goose chase to find a yellow fever vaccine led me to the Harvard Vanguard Travel Medicine Department.

I made an appointment a little over a week before my trip. (Which is a big mistake, keep reading to see why). When I arrived, I met with a nurse who asked which areas I was traveling to and went over my immunization chart they had from my primary care office. Shortly after, the doctor came in and handed me a thick folder with information I didn’t even know I needed. She went over the Travax Traveler Health Report for Colombia, which included health concerns, requirements for entry (i.e. necessary visas, immunization requirements—some countries require proof of a yellow fever vaccine for reentry within a certain time period of entering their country if you’ve been to areas with yellow fever cases), recommended immunizations, travel advisories, general information (i.e. entry and exit fees, currency, unusual laws, driving laws, civil unrest warnings), embassy contact information, basic preventative measures, and finally a pre-travel checklist.

Access to Shoreland Travax reports are restricted to licensed professionals only, so you can only receive this information at a clinical visit.

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We also went over a detailed map of the country with at-risk areas for yellow fever and malaria and determined I should take malaria pills and get the yellow fever vaccine since I was going to a national park. She also recommended I get the typhoid vaccine since mine was outdated and gave me a prescription for traveler’s diarrhea medicine since most areas in the country are at high risk.

She also helped me register in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) and verified my travel insurance coverage through work with GeoBlue. I also got a handy over-the-counter travel medicine/product list to keep for future travels.

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Overall, I had a surprisingly pleasant experience and will make sure to visit the clinic before any travels to developing countries or destinations where I am unsure of what health and safety precautions I should take.

Things to Consider Before You Go to a Travel Clinic

The CDC website is a good place to start; however, the amount of information can be overwhelming and sometimes vague or conflicting. If your primary care office has its own travel medicine department, call them first and see what they recommend. In some cases (like mine) you may end up needing additional vaccines or prescriptions, so having an appointment or consultation is best in person so the doctor can order everything you need at the time of your visit. If your primary care office does not have a travel medicine department, call around and find a clinic covered by insurance in your area, as consultations and vaccines can be pricey if not covered.

Keep in mind that some vaccines can take up to six weeks to be active, so you will need to make your visit well in advance (something I will make note of for my next trip). Also, some vaccines cannot be given at the same time, or need to be given in doses, so it’s extra important to give yourself plenty of time in advance for the necessary vaccinations.

What to Bring With You to a Travel Clinic

A copy of your itinerary or at least a list of places you are going to as well as an updated immunization list if you are visiting a clinic outside of your primary care office. Also make sure to notify the clinic of any allergies, especially to medications.

What to Expect at a Travel Clinic

My visit was short and sweet. I got all of the information (and more) that I needed. My two shots were administered at the time of my visit and I filled out a card to keep with my passport verifying I had the yellow fever immunization.

Preparing for Your Trip

In addition to any prescriptions needed, this basic list for health and safety comes in handy for international travel:

  • Antihistamines: Benadryl, Zyrtec, or Claritin
  • Pain/Fever Relief: Asprin, Ibuprofen, or Tylenol
  • Insect Repellent: 30 percent DEET spray, and permethrin clothing spray
  • Anti-Diarrhea and Rehydration: Loperamide, Pepto Bismol, Pedialyte powder packets, Gatorade powder packets
  • Probiotics: Culturelle
  • Motion Sickness: Meclizine
  • Other Supplies: Hydrocortisone cream, flight compression socks, digital thermometer, bed net for mosquitos

We also have a handy first-aid packing list that you can download, as well as nine over-the-counter medicines you should always pack.

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After Your Trip

Make sure you take all of the recommended doses of your prescriptions, as oftentimes it’s necessary to take them for a few weeks after travel. Watch for any signs of diseases, as symptoms can have delayed onset.

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Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @ashley_stravel for more advice on travel hacks and destination ideas.

Editor’s note: This story was originally written in 2015, it has been updated with the latest information.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Outdoors

5 Things You Can’t Miss in Anchorage, Alaska

Anchorage, the most populous city in Alaska, is modest-sized—with only about 300,000 people—yet it’s bursting with experiences that appeal to both residents and visitors. Alaskans live under midnight sun and auroras, share their backyards with moose, and fish in urban salmon streams at lunch. Anchorage residents spend their weekends beyond the reach of email, whether in the backcountry or the brewery. Live like the locals with these easy-to-access Alaska adventures.

Wildlife viewing

a brown bear walks through the grass in anchorage, alaska

Anchorage’s residents include more than 1,500 moose, plus bears, eagles, beluga whales, and millions of migratory birds. The city’s parks and greenbelts offer exceptional opportunities to see Alaska’s vast array of wildlife. Visit Kincaid Park for a solid chance at spotting a moose while on an urban stroll or during a game of disc golf.  Be sure to snap a photo of Mount Susitna—locally known as Sleeping Lady—or even Denali, on a clear day.

Glacier tours

Hikers enjoy the view of Portage Glacier from Portage Pass Trail outside Anchorage, Alaska.

With approximately 60 glaciers just east of the city, Anchorage provides the opportunity to fly out to a glacier, cruise amid tidewater glaciers, or climb a mountain peak for views of surrounding glaciers.  Portage Glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers, about an hour’s drive south of Anchorage. Daily cruises throughout the summer on Portage Lake bring visitors to the face of the icy ridge. Aboard the ship, Forest Service rangers share the story of Portage Valley’s geology, wildlife, and history. The Forest Service rangers also lead a tour from the nearby visitor center to the popular Byron Glacier Trail, which travels less than a mile from the trailhead to the glacier.

Urban trails and hiking

Hikers stop to rest at Winner Creek in anchorage, alaska.

Anchorage’s 135 miles of paved urban trails are perfect for biking and walking. Trails stretch well beyond the bounds of the cityscape, with an additional 300 miles of hiking trails spread out over Chugach State Park. Take advantage of any of these trails with Anchorage Downtown Bicycle Rental. Rent a bicycle and hop on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, or take the shuttle to the Glen Alps Trailhead and summit Flattop Mountain for scenic views of Cook Inlet and the Chugach Mountains.

Fishing

Hauling in salmon at Anchorage's urban salmon Fishery, Ship Creek in Anchorage, Alaska.

Ship Creek is a bustling salmon fishery steps from downtown. The creek sees king and silver salmon runs in summer, spurring enough activity to support an annual angling competition. Whether you go for the fishing or simply to watch others reel in their catch, Ship Creek is a great spot to view salmon making their way upstream. Outfitters conveniently located nearby can provide all the necessary gear, fishing license included. Those interested in learning more about the life cycle of salmon can visit the hatchery just up the road.

Rail tours

The Alaska Railroad's Glacier Discovery Train approaches Bartlett Glacier in the Chugach Mountains and the Grandview area.

Anchorage owes its beginning to the Alaska Railroad. In the summer, daily service ties Anchorage to Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop, Whittier, Seward, Talkeetna, Denali National Park, and Fairbanks. The train offers large picture windows that perfectly frame Alaska’s epic scenery, and offer an easy way to view wildlife. Take the train to the remote location of Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop, a hidden jewel just a short trip from Anchorage. Disembark for a short hike or venture on a tour by kayak, raft, or stand-up paddleboard to view the glacier up close.

Anchorage is the perfect jumping-off point for iconic Alaska adventures. But it’s also awash in the conveniences of city life. Start each day with locally crafted coffee, feast on local seafood, and brewery-hop to discover the thriving local beer scene. Discover Anchorage’s mix of frontier spirit, creature comforts, and natural beauty, and you’ll find a home away from home.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Outdoors

SmarterTravel Spotlight: Nimmo Bay Resort, British Columbia

The wilderness lodge Nimmo Bay Resort offers all-inclusive stays of three, four, or seven nights throughout its May-through-October season. The rate includes accommodations, local and lodge-based activities, all meals, and access to resort amenities like its waterfall-adjacent hot tubs and daily yoga classes. Nimmo Bay Resort is a luxury resort, but it manages to create an environment in which luxury feels less like garden-variety exclusivity and more like the privilege of deep connection.

The Location

Nimmo Bay Resort kayaking

Nimmo Bay Resort offers some of the world’s most pristine natural beauty. Located deep in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia—the world’s largest unspoiled temperate rainforest—the resort is accessible only by seaplane, boat, or helicopter. The peaceful cluster of cottages along the water’s edge on a small, sheltered bay offers the feeling of having a national park all to yourself. Because you pretty much do, though you’ll share all this nature with an exciting variety of wildlife, including bald eagles, bears, dolphins, porpoises, whales, seals, and sea lions.

The Rooms

Nimmo Bay Resort cabins interior

The small resort has nine two-bedroom, one-bathroom cabins with living rooms and outdoor seating. The six intertidal cabins sit along the water’s edge, while the three forest cabins are tucked back into the trees next to the resort’s cascading waterfall. All cabins have ultra-comfortable pillow-top mattresses with Stonewashed linen cotton bedding, a constantly refreshing supply of house-made cookies, plus complimentary wines (mostly local British Columbia reds and whites), juice, beer, tea, and coffee. The cabins offer a beautiful and peaceful place to soak up the scenery.

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Dining

Nimmo Bay Resort culinary experience and dinner on beach

When you’re at Nimmo Bay Resort, there’s nowhere else to go, but the resort rises to the challenge by offering creative, hyperlocal, and sustainable meals that change each day. Often, on the first night, there will be an a la carte menu, followed by a tasting menu on the second night, and a family-style meal on the third. In addition to meals in the dining room, there are also picnics and other al fresco meals. Cocktail hour brings drinks made with tinctures from local plants and flowers and intriguing appetizers—think nootka-rose tinctures, cedar-infused rye, local halibut beignets, and duck rillette tempura.

Activities

Nimmo Bay Resort massage outdoors

During your stay, you’ll meet each morning and evening with your guest experience optimizer, who will ask you a series of questions meant to gauge your mood, energy level, and interests. The optimizer will then create a day for you that might include wildlife sightings, beach picnics, hiking, kayaking, forest bathing, whale watching, fishing, massage, or other activities. Adventure here is tailored to each guest on a daily basis. It creates a sense of expectation and mystery, but also a feeling that each day brings exactly what it should.

Price and How to Book: Per-person nightly rates at Nimmo Bay Resort start at about $1,500 CAD. To book, call 800-837-4354 or book online.

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Christine Sarkis visited Nimmo Bay Resort as a guest of the resort. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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Cities Island Outdoors Security Travel Scams

Is Tasmania Safe? Warnings and Dangers Travelers Need to Know

An island off the southern coast of Australia, Tasmania makes an out-of-the-way but rewarding destination. But is Tasmania safe for travelers? Below is information about wildlife to watch out for and tips to keep yourself safe.

Tasmanian Snakes

There are three kinds of snakes in Tasmania. The white-lipped snake is generally harmless, but the tiger snake and the lowland copperhead snake are highly venomous and can be dangerous to humans. To be safe, it’s best to keep your distance from any snake in Tasmania.

Biting Ants

Another common danger in Tasmania are the local ants. Known as jack jumpers, they are small but nasty. Look out for black and orange ants. The ants are poisonous. If you think you’ve been nipped, you might notice an itch. Get immediate medical attention.

Driving in Tasmania

Tasmania is a large island with long distances. Driving is often a necessity. However, be careful when driving. Many roads are narrow and can get slippery in the rain. Slow down whenever possible in order to keep safe, especially in rain or snow. The roads are also full of animals crossing. Look for animals ranging from wallabies to Tasmanian devils as you’re driving. You don’t want to hurt the animal or yourself. Be particularly careful at night as many Tasmanian animals are nocturnal and will be more active during this time.

Climate Hazards in Tasmania

If you visit Tasmania during the colder months, you may encounter snow and ice, especially at higher elevations. Like the rest of Australia, Tasmania is sometimes subject to bushfires. The Tasmanian government notes that in the face of climate change, “Tasmania is expected to experience more heat waves, more frequent and intense bushfires, rising sea levels, increased storm surge, and increase in wind and flooding risk in certain locations.”

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated with the most current information.

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Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Family Travel Food & Drink Island Weekend Getaways Women's Travel

Why Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit Is the New Cancun

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Throughout the 30-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta to the brightly colored surfer town of Sayulita, there was one thing, besides the ocean views, that remained constant: New construction. The region of Riviera Nayarit, which got its name from Mexico’s tourism board of the same name, has a “made up” label of sorts, created in hope of differentiating this section of Mexico’s Pacific coast from its more popular neighbor, Puerto Vallarta.

The new construction, however, is about the only thing in common between each of the 23 distinct communities on this stretch of coastline. A vacation to Riviera Nayarit means experiencing different cultures, beaches, and activities, depending on which part you stay in.

Later this year the Conrad Playa Mita hotel is opening, and renovations are finishing at the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita. Also new this year is the Marival Armony Punta de Mita. Come 2020, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts will open the Rosewood Mandarina. One&Only Mandarina Resort and One&Only Mandarina Private Homes will also open next year, at a location with breathtaking ocean views, cliffside bungalows, an ocean-fed pool, all on a long strip of a pristine and remote beach.

AMResorts’ Dreams Punta de Mita Resort & Spa and Secrets Punta de Mita Resort & Spa are also both slated to open in 2020. Coming in 2021 is Auberge Resorts Collection’s Susurros del Corazon. In 2022, a new development called Costa Canuva will open featuring a Fairmont and Ritz-Carlton Reserve.

And 2019 visitor numbers support the hotel expansion projects. According to the tourism board, the region saw a five-percent increase in North American travelers compared to last year, and the average occupancy rate was 82 percent in the southern part of the region: the Bay of Banderas.

Interested in seeing this up-and-coming slice of Mexico before the crowds arrive? Here are the best ways to experience Riviera Nayarit.

Best Places to Visit in Riviera Nayarit  

colorful banners in mexico town.

Puerto Vallarta, the closest airport, is only 15 minutes away from the start of the Riviera Nayarit. And the farthest part of the region where most tourists visit, San Blas, is about three hours away from Puerto Vallarta. Riviera Nayarit’s close proximity to Puerto Vallarta makes it accessible via many North American hubs: Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, Toronto, and Calgary. And for those who want to explore more of Mexico, there’s a new toll road being developed between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta which will be about a three-hour drive. Within the region, there are also new roads being constructed to connect the towns along the Bay of Banderas.

Here are the best places in Riviera Nayarit to visit, in order of closest to farthest from Puerto Vallarta and the airport:

  • Nuevo Vallarta: A community of all-inclusive and family-friendly resorts on the Bay of Banderas; many properties have beach access.
  • Punta de Mita: A luxury development area where celebrities vacation.
  • Sayulita: A surfer-town made (in)famous by the reality show Bachelor in Paradise. It’s about 30 minutes to this section of the region, and the town is a popular place for surfing, shopping, and hanging out by the beach. It’s also one of Mexico’s famed pueblos magicos, a government designation for culturally significant towns.
  • San Francisco (San Pancho): San Pancho is what Sayulita was 10 years ago before the crowds found it. The sleepy town—about 15-minutes north of Sayulita—has a new eco-boutique hotel, remote beaches, and local charm.
  • San Blas: This is the northern-most point of Riviera Nayarit and a popular area for bird-watching. Back in the late 1700s, this was the most important port on the coastline and you can learn about its history as a fishing village. 

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Getting off the Resort in Riviera Nayarit

hidden cave beach in mexico.

While many come to the area to enjoy time at resorts, the region offers plenty of activities to enjoy off-resort as well.

For nature and water lovers, there are islands and national parks; Isla Marietas is the most famous one for its “Hidden Beach”. There are also two biosphere reserves: Isla Jaguar-Marismas and Isla Isabel National Park. And no matter what area you stay in, you’ll have opportunities to deep-sea fish, jet-ski, kayak, scuba dive, paddleboard, and more. During May through September whale sharks are spotted throughout the area, and the whale-watching season for blue whales, orcas, humpbacks, sperm whales, and more begins mid-December and ends in May.

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Birdwatching is a popular activity along the water, and there are also plenty of interior hiking trails and jungle walks to take that have gorgeous views of the coastline. It’s recommended to book an experience with a local guide, and you can learn more about Riviera Nayarit hikes here.

For culture visit the small towns along the coastline, like San Pancho. While perusing the towns, try a mezcal tasting class at a local mezcaleria like La Baba del Diablo. Isla de Mexcaltitan, which is often referred to as the “Venice of Nayarit” for its urban canals, is also a worthy day trip. And while resort dining is convenient and tasty, try at least one local meal off-site; the region is famous for pescado zarandeado (grilled fish) and aguachile (shrimp ceviche).

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Lastly, there’s plenty of golfing. The Punta Mita area especially is a popular vacation destination for golfers, home to two courses designed by famous golfer Jack Nicklaus. In total, the region has eight courses and is home to the only green in the world that’s on a natural island.

Best Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

stretch of beach on mexicos pacific coast.

From family-friendly properties to affordable hotels, there are plenty of hotels in Riviera Nayarit for every type of traveler.

All-Inclusive Resorts in Riviera Nayarit

All-inclusive resorts are the way to go if you want to check-in and forget about planning. The Nuevo Vallarta area and Punta Mita have concentrated sections of all-inclusive resorts. Here are three well-reviewed options:

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Luxury Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Celebrities have flocked to the Punta Mita area of Riviera Nayarit for years. Here are two of the most famous luxury hotels:

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Boutique Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Up-and-coming sections of the region are home to quaint, smaller, boutique hotels. Here are options in Sayulita and San Francisco:

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Family-Friendly Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Riviera Nayarit is a haven for families on vacation. Here are three well-known, family-friendly hotels in the Nuevo Vallarta area:

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Affordable Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Budget-conscious travelers will be happy to know that there are plenty of options for them as well; check out these three affordable hotels in the region:

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What to Wear in Riviera Nayarit

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Ashley Rossi was hosted by Riviera Nayarit. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Outdoors

12 Gorgeous Photos of America’s National Parks

Summer may be winding down, but it’s not too late to plan a trip to visit a national park. The National Park Service in the U.S. protects 61 located throughout the country. To help inspire that future trip, we’ve rounded up 12 gorgeous photos from some of our favorite national parks.

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Arches National Park, Utah

First light on turret arch framed by north window

There are more than 2,000 stone arches in Arches National Park, guaranteeing there will be at least one free from tourists for your photos. One of the most famous, Delicate Arch, offers a three-mile trail hike and is the perfect spot for watching the sunset.

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Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia vs man. giant sequoias forest and the tourist with backpack looking up

California’s Sequoia National Park is best known for its enormous sequoia trees that can live 3,000 years. The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world by volume and is a must-see on your tour through the forest.

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Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

The grand prismatic spring, located in midway geyser basin

Yellowstone was the first national park, designated by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. A visit to Yellowstone should include the iconic Grand Prismatic Spring; it’s the largest hot spring in the U.S. and an unforgettable sight. The bands of color around the hot spring are caused by microbes that thrive in the hot water.

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Zion National Park, Utah

Morning fog on the towers of virgin zion national park

The Towers of the Virgin at sunrise is one of Zion National Park‘s most iconic scenes. For a less-crowded hike, take the moderate three-mile Watchman Trail and catch stunning views of Towers of the Virgin, West Temple, and the Altar of Sacrifice.

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Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Thors hammer bryce canyon national park

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is famous for its hoodoos—tall, thin rock formations shaped by weather and erosion. Tourists flock to Thor’s Hammer, one of the best-known hoodoos for its precarious shape.

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Great Basin National Park, Nevada

summit of wheeler peak, to the sage-covered foothills, great basin national park

Some of the oldest trees in the world are in Great Basin National Park. Walk among these bristlecone pines, some of which are 4,000 years old (or even older).  Explore the Wheeler Peak grove to see some of these ancient trees.

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Denali National Park, Alaska

A long exposure lets the camera capture movement of ribbons aurora in denali

The aurora borealis (Northern Lights) are spectacular in Denali National Park, and best seen from September to April. Several tour companies offer nighttime tours into the wilderness for Northern Lights viewing.

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Haleakala National Park, Hawaii

Sea of clouds with the bright sun on haleakala national park

Haleakala means “house of the sun.” Local myth tells how Maui the demigod imprisoned the sun at Haleakala to make the day longer. At Haleakala National Park, don’t miss Kalahaku Lookout for Instagram-worthy views of Haleakala’s crater floor.

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Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Rock layers ice cream rocks petrified forest

About two hours east of Flagstaff, Petrified Forest National Park is named after its large petrified wood formations. These fossilized logs and stumps have turned to quartz and appear like crystals and brightly colored gems. Not to be missed are the sandstone hoodoos known as Ice Cream Rocks.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Couple hiking a dune ridge great sand dunes national park and preserve

For something different than most national parks, visit the massive sand dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Some of the dunes sprawl across 30 square miles. Star Dune is the highest sand dune in North America and provides gorgeous views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

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Olympic National Park, Washington

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, Olympic National Park offers mountains, beaches, glaciers, and even rain forests. Spend a morning walking through the trails in Hoh and Quinault rain forests, and take in the beauty of moss-covered trees and bright green plants.

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Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah national park, virginia

Hop in the car and take a scenic drive on Skyline Drive; the only road in Shenandoah National Park is 105 miles long and full of incredible vistas. Along the route, stop at some of the 70 overlooks to take in the spectacular view.

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What to Wear on Your Trip

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It’s been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Adventure Travel Outdoors Packing

How to Pack for an African Safari

Packing for a safari can be challenging based on your destination and time of year that you’re visiting. The three biggest threats to your comfort and health on a safari are the sun, the dirt, and the bugs. In addition to protecting yourself from the elements, you want to make sure you’re prepared to view the incredible wildlife you came to see.

What to Wear on Safari: General Tips

Packing loose layers and accessories that protect you from the sun and biting insects should be your priority. Choose these items carefully, as many safaris require transportation on small planes or vehicles that have strict luggage restrictions (most lodges and hotels have laundry facilities). This is not the terrain for a wheeled suitcase; instead, invest in a duffel or soft-sided bag that can be placed into small compartments. Carry everything that’s valuable in a day pack.

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The African bush can be chilly during the mornings and evenings; be sure to bring a windbreaker and long pants. You’ll want to pick your shoes depending on the type of safari you’re taking; while heavy hiking boots are necessary for a walking trip, you’re better off with light hikers and sports sandals if you’ll be spending most of the time in a vehicle (sandals are also great for walking around the camp at night).

The African sun can be brutal. Bring a pair of polarizing sunglasses that can protect your eyes. During the day, you’ll want a hat that covers not only your face, but also your ears and neck. Look for one that has a cord so it won’t fly off as your Jeep sprints across the savannah. Those roads can get bumpy, so women might want to pack a sports bra.

A small flashlight or headlamp can also assist after hours, as many lodges and camps run on generators. And finally, you’ll kick yourself if you don’t bring a pair of good, mid-size binoculars. Look for ones that are sturdy enough to survive getting dropped.

So common back home, batteries can be a priceless commodity if you run out of them in the bush. Pack some extras—and buy an extra memory card card while you’re at it. You don’t want to run out of space right when you’re ready to take that close-up of a lion. Also, make sure you do your research on what types of adapters you’ll need as this varies widely throughout the continent.

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A small first-aid kit full of bandages, hand sanitizer, and medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, may be your best friend. Consider including ibuprofen, Dramamine and Imodium; ask a doctor if he or she will prescribe you some Cipro (for intense stomach problems) and/or Ambien (for sleeping on the plane). Pack an extra travel toothbrush in case you forget and use tap water. And it goes without saying that insect repellent and malaria medication should be on your list (ask your outfitter if mosquito netting is provided).

What Items to Pack for a Safari

See below for a list of specific products our travel editors have taken on their safari trips:

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Specialty Accessories and Toiletries 

Sun Hat: When layering on the sunblock, it’s easy to forget your head. Skip the scalp burn and remember to wear a hat.

Polarized Sunglasses: The sun in Africa can be very bright and you don’t want to spend your once-in-a-lifetime trip squinting into the distance. Investing in a pair of polarized sunglasses will not only protect your eyes, but will also reduce glare and haze, so you can see better. 

Insect Repellent Wipes: If you’re not checking a bag, packing your insect repellent in wipe form is a great way to stock up on this essential item. 

Day Pack: While you’re out on game drives, you’ll want to have a back-up of everything, from sunscreen to memory cards for your camera. Always bring a small backpack and keep everything you need close at hand.

Safari Essentials

Telephoto Lens: If you want to come home with amazing close-up shots of wild animals, you’ll need a telephoto lens. These super-zoom lenses will let you keep a safe distance from animals while still nailing the shot.

Binoculars: To get the best view of animals up close on your safari, you’ll want a pair of binoculars. Some lodges may have these on hand, but it’s always smart to bring your own.

Shoes 

Hiking Boots: The terrain on these game drives can be unpredictable at times, so bring a sturdy pair of boots.

Sports Sandals: A pair of Tevas is a versatile option as you can wear them on boat tender drives as well as while at the lodge.

Layers

Jacket: A lightweight rain jacket that packs up into itself will provide just enough warmth on chilly mornings and comes in handy in case of sudden downpours.

Convertible Shirt: Something that easily converts, like shirts that go from long sleeve to short sleeve, are a great choice if you’re packing light, as they do double-duty.

SPF T-Shirt: There are many outdoor clothing options that come with a built-in SPF factor, which help keep you safe from dangerous UV rays.

Scarf: Whether it’s as an extra layer for cooler mornings or to protect your face from desert sand and dust, bring a buff or thin scarf.

Bottoms

Lightweight Pants: Pack Craghoppers’ Insect Shield Clara Pants, which have a SolarShield fabric with UPF 40+ protection, as well as a NosiLife treatment, which provides up to 90 percent protection from biting bugs.

Breathable Shorts: For the most part, you’ll be spending your time sitting on leather seats under the sun. Pack shorts that will keep you comfortable and cool, and that are on the longer side to protect you from the burn of hot black leather. The Insect Shield Clara Shorts from Craghoppers offer full coverage, plus built-in insect shield protection.

How to Pack for a Safari: General Tips

Check the time of year and season you’re traveling in. This varies by wet and dry season as well as winter or summer. Patricia Borrageiro, Lodge Manager at Lion Sands Game Reserve, gives the following advice: “Although you may be here during winter or summer, think three climates in a day. So, layers are the key. Afternoons are the hottest so when departing on your safari you will need hats, sunscreen, and a long sleeve or wrap for sun protection and also for when the sun goes down for a little warmth. Winter days are shorter, and morning drives can be very chilly so pack beanies and scarves (we provide blankets and hot water bottles).”

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The colors that you wear on safari are almost as important as the actual clothes. Anything white and bright will distract the animals, and black and blue (including jeans) attract flies. Tami Fairweather at ExOfficio, a travel-wear brand, recommends choosing items in neutral shades: “Lighter colors are always better in sun-soaked environments to help cut-down radiant heat.” Stick to olive, green and khaki.

Forget your formal clothes; things are casual out in the bush, even at upscale lodges.

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Editors’ Note: This article was originally published in 2017. It has been edited and updated with the latest information.

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Active Travel Outdoors Road Trip

How to Do a Week in Alaska in the Summer

Alaska is the largest state in the U.S. by far—it’s more than twice the size of the second-largest, Texas. That means you could easily spend months here and not see it all. But even if you only have a week in Alaska, you still have plenty of time to get a taste of “The Last Frontier.” Consider the following seven-day itinerary to sample some of the best the state has to offer.

Day One

Flattop mountain, anchorage alaska.

Anchorage is one of Alaska’s easiest airports to fly into, with plenty of connections available. It’s also conveniently located within driving distance of some of the state’s best tourist attractions, so it’s the best place to start your trip. Pick up your rental car at the airport, or from Avis’ handy downtown location.

If you skipped the in-flight snacks, start your day off with breakfast at lively Snow City Cafe, an eclectic eatery that’s popular with locals.

Shake out your legs after a long flight with a hike on Flattop Mountain. A quick 20-minute drive from downtown Anchorage, it offers a great bird’s-eye view of the city to help you get your bearings. The trail to the summit is three miles and involves a bit of rock scrambling. The Blueberry Loop trail is a gentler route that offers equally impressive views without the exertion. And, as the name hints, this route is full of delicious wild berries that you can pick for free.

There’s also a short, paved 0.3-mile loop that’s wheelchair accessible from the parking lot and leads to a great Anchorage vista.

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Head back to Anchorage and stop in at the Anchorage Museum, Alaska’s largest. This recently expanded museum displays a wide variety of Alaskan art, cultural exhibits, and historical artifacts. Don’t miss the unique grocery store display, which shows the price of staples throughout the state and gives you a good window into the cost of living here.

Finish your day at 49th State Brewing Company, a local brewery with a great food menu. On a clear day, you can enjoy your drinks and dinner with a Denali view from the patio.

Where to Stay in Anchorage: The Comfort Inn Downtown – Ship Creek makes a great base for exploring Anchorage. It’s located a short walk away from the downtown area, next to picturesque Ship Creek (a big local fishing spot). There’s also a free airport shuttle.

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Day Two

Aleyska resort, anchorage alaska.

Enjoy an organic and locally sourced breakfast at the Middle Way Cafe on your way to Alyeska Resort. In the summer, this ski resort turns into a hiker’s and mountain biker’s paradise, with tons of trails. Not feeling the climb up? Hop on the tram to the top and keep your eyes peeled for bears and other wildlife below. A lodge and plenty of dining options await once you disembark. For the best views of the mountains and hanging glaciers, follow the short trails up to the mountain’s summit.

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Disappointed that you haven’t seen a bear or moose yet? On your way back into town, stop in at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a sanctuary that takes in injured animals (or those that can’t live in the wild on their own, such as abandoned bear cubs). Here you’ll be able to see bears, moose, bison, wolves, foxes, caribou, and other Alaskan wildlife.

Back in the Anchorage city center, take advantage of the approximately 19 hours of daylight and rent a bike to take out on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. This 11-mile paved path winds along the coast and is another great spot for Anchorage city views. A few miles in, you’ll come across Earthquake Park, which commemorates the place where a 1964 quake sent an entire neighborhood into the ocean.

After your ride, treat yourself to a cone from Wild Scoops. This ice cream shop serves up unique flavors made from local ingredients like fireweed, a ubiquitous Alaskan wildflower.

Day Three

Road to valdez, alaska.

Get an early start this morning and make your way to Valdez. This drive should take just over five hours, but unless you’re completely jaded, you should budget six or seven hours, as you’ll be pulling over often to admire the jaw-dropping scenery and snap photos.

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About 100 miles into your drive, you’ll come across Matanuska Glacier. Pull in here and take the short trail through the woods to a viewing platform for the best vantage point.

Once you arrive in Valdez, stretch your legs with a walk around town. Stroll along the waterfront and watch the fishermen bring in the day’s catch.

Get dinner at The Potato, where you’ll find many locals unwinding on the deck with a drink and an order of rosemary curly fries.

Where to Stay in Valdez: Totem Hotel and Suites, Valdez’s newest hotel. This sparklingly clean property has the best location in town, less than a five-minute walk from the waterfront area and most tour operators. Plus, it offers a free, generous buffet breakfast each morning.

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Day Four

Gold creek kayak tour valdez alaska.

By now you’ve had plenty of time to admire Prince William Sound from the land. Join Pangaea Adventure’s Gold Creek Coastal Journey tour to get a new perspective on the area. This kayak trip will take you from the harbor downtown to Gold Creek State Park, where you can have a picnic on a beach, walk through rainforests, and explore a hidden waterfall. This is a great chance to see wildlife like otters, seals, and salmon.

The tour lasts for about six hours, leaving you plenty of time in the afternoon to explore Valdez Glacier. This glacial lake is a quick 10-minute drive out of town and very accessible. From the parking lot, you can walk right down to the lake and follow a path around to viewpoints of the glacier and floating icebergs.

For dinner, check out Valdez’s gourmet food truck scene—local favorites include the Nat Shack and Aunty Yum Yum’s Real Thai Food Truck.

Day Five

Columbia glacier valdez alaska.

You can’t come to Valdez and not check out the largest glacier in the area. Sprawling across more than 400 square miles, Columbia Glacier is the second-biggest glacier in the entire state of Alaska and is absolutely awe-inspiring to see. Book yourself on Anadyr Adventures’ Columbia Glacier Iceberg Tour to get the best experience. You’ll take an hour-long boat ride to the end of the glacier (keeping an eye out for otters, seals, and whales on the way) before transferring into kayaks. Kayaking will let you go to places that the larger boats can’t, and give you a silent atmosphere that allows you to hear the glacial icebergs popping and fizzing as they melt in the water. You’ll need to keep your distance from the larger icebergs, but be prepared for a show—my group saw several icebergs flip and calve during our paddle.

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For dinner, grab a seat at The Fat Mermaid, but be prepared to wait, as it’s a local favorite.

Day Six

Denali state park hiking path.

Wake up early, as today you’ll be driving about seven hours to Talkeetna. As with the drive to Valdez, this road is very picturesque, so leave yourself lots of extra time.

The best way to recover from a long car ride is to move, so sign up for a hike with Alaska Nature Guides to get your blood flowing again and introduce yourself to the area. These guides operate hikes in Denali State Park and around Talkeetna. You can book a custom hike, or opt for a five- to six-mile wilderness hike with epic Denali views. Shorter and more/less strenuous hikes are available as well, all of which offer a great overview of the Denali region. I highly recommend the Cury Ridge Hike, which gets you up above tree line fairly quickly and exposes amazing views of the Alaska Range (when the weather is cooperating). The hike takes around three hours and isn’t too grueling. The guides are Adventure Green Alaska certified, adhere to leave-no-trace principles, and take care to not disturb the wildlife. All the guides are extremely knowledgeable about the area and the wildlife and make the hikes a great learning experience.

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Where to Stay in Talkeetna: Talkeetna Cabins. Located in the heart of downtown Talkeetna, these adorable cottages are perfectly located within walking distance of all the major attractions, restaurants, and shops. The cabins are equipped with kitchens, plenty of living space, and cute porches with views of Talkeetna.

Day Seven

Talkeetna air taxi plane on glacier valdez alaska

If you’re not one of the 1,000 expert mountaineers here to climb Denali, the second-best way to see the amazing Alaska Range is by air, so book a seat on one of Talkeetna Air Taxi’s flightseeing tours with a glacier landing. The experienced aviators will take you up in a small plane, getting heart-poundingly close to the mountains and giving you a view non-climbers would never get to see otherwise. Up above the clouds, you’ll see Denali, massive glaciers, and the other high peaks of the Alaska Range before gently landing on a glacier. You’ll have time to walk around, have a glacial snowball fight, and snap plenty of photos before boarding your return flight.

After you’ve come back to earth, take the rest of the afternoon to explore downtown Talkeetna.  There are lots of quaint shops for souvenir shopping and plenty of independent restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat. Don’t miss the Talkeetna Ranger Station, a National Park Service outpost where you can learn about Denali’s history, current conditions, and other fun facts—this is where climbers must check in before they start their summit attempt.

From here, it’s about a two-hour drive back to Anchorage where you can drop your car off and catch your evening flight home.

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[viator_tour destination=”4152″ type=”3-mod”]

Caroline Morse Teel was hosted by the Alaska Tourism Board. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos of Alaska and the rest of the world.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Cities Island Outdoors

The 24 Most Beautiful Places in Canada

[st_content_ad]The Great White North is blessed with endless beauty. It comes in many varieties, from unspoiled wilderness to urban splendor. But the following 24 places take the prize for being the most beautiful places in Canada, with at least one stunning destination in each province and territory.

Alberta

Banff National Park

 

lake louise banff national park.

Perhaps the most obvious place to start when discussing the most beautiful places in Canada is Banff National Park and its magnificent Lake Louise. Take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain for an incredible view of some of the world’s most dramatic mountain scenery, then explore the park’s stunning waterfalls, forests, and glacier lakes, including vibrant Lake Louise, an unlike-anywhere-else oasis in the Canadian Rockies.

Where to stay: Elegant Mount Royal Hotel has a Banff-themed library, rooftop hot tubs, a lobby museum, and modern decor that echoes the destination.

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Jasper National Park

glacier skywalk jasper national park.

Jasper is the Canadian Rockies’ biggest national park, and it’s packed with snow-covered peaks, translucent lakes, roaring waterfalls, inspiring highways, and large populations of wildlife including moose, caribou, wolves, and grizzlies. Step out onto the kilometer-long, 918-foot-high, glass-floored Columbia Icefield Skywalk—if you dare.

Where to stay: Airy Glacier View Lodge opened in summer 2019 and offers tours of the Athabasca Glacier, tall windows with views of icefields and steep mountains, gourmet dinners, and live musical performances every evening.

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Abraham Lake

Abraham lake clearwater county alberta canada.

When considering beautiful places to visit in Canada, don’t overlook Abraham Lake, on the Kootenay Plains’ North Saskatchewan River. Peer into its crystalline surface to see eerie methane bubble formations trapped in frozen bright blue water. These underwater oval towers of gas turn the manmade reservoir into a bucket-list destination for any Instagrammer worth his or her salt.

Where to stay: It may be about 80 miles from Abraham Lake, but the epic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is worth the drive. This gilded resort showcases one of the prettiest places in Canada by way of lovely accommodations right on Lake Louise. Guests get to borrow bikes and canoes for free.

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British Columbia

Victoria

butchart gardens victoria in spring.

Victoria is British Columbia’s fairy tale-like capital—easily one of the most beautiful cities in Canada—and Butchart Gardens is the jewel in its flowery crown. Besides touring these enchanting gardens, things to do in Victoria include visiting the expansive Royal BC Museum, strolling salty Fisherman’s Wharf, and exploring idyllic Beacon Hill Park.

Where to stay: Victoria’s stately Fairmont Empress is famous for many things, its classic afternoon tea chief among them. Service and accommodations are as regal as you’d expect.

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Vancouver Seawall

Vancouver seawall in fall british columbia canada

The 17-mile Vancouver Seawall allows for one of the most exhilarating bike rides you’ll ever take. Ride (or walk) the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path for wide, glittering views of the Pacific and plenty of entry points into dynamic Stanley Park. Stop to enjoy the beaches and other fun surprises along the way. While in Vancouver, you may as well visit a couple more of the prettiest places in Canada: the immersive Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and 4,100-foot-high Grouse Mountain.

Where to stay: At the impressive Fairmont Waterfront, service is so bespoke that even your shampoo bottle is personalized with your name on it.

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Whistler

whistler in winter.

If you’re aiming to see the most beautiful places in Canada, you could do far worse than Whistler in winter. It’s got sheer white mountain peaks, world-class skiing and snowboarding, an inviting apres-ski village, zip-lines through snow-covered trees, and fantastic places to eat and sleep.

Where to stay: For magical views, book Nita Lake Lodge, which has luxurious guest rooms, a spa, three restaurants, and a shuttle that takes you to the base of Whistler Mountain.

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Glacier National Park

glacier national park canada.

Amid the massive Canadian Rockies is Canada’s own Glacier National Park and its jaw-dropping beauty. The namesake geographical features take the form of icefields, waterfalls, and brightly hued lakes, making for some of the most resplendent natural scenery on Earth.

Where to stay: In the park, you can camp, use an RV, or book a hut or cabin. There are no hotels in Canada’s Glacier National Park, although the town of Revelstoke is nearby, and its Poppi’s Guesthouse hostel gets high marks for coziness, friendliness, and affordability.

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Great Bear Rainforest

black bear in great rainforest canada

Into wildlife adventures? The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the best places in Canada to see grizzly bears catching salmon in wild rivers, whales breaching, eagles soaring, and wolves roaming. In Klemtu on the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, you’ll find mossy forests, untamed fjords, and natural hot springs. As the name implies, ursines frolic everywhere, including the rare white “spirit bear.”

Where to stay: The indigenous-owned Spirit Bear Lodge offers exclusive access to wildlife-viewing areas and cultural sites within the Kitasoo Xai’xais territory. Accommodations are homey and dinners communal.

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Yoho National Park

yoho national park british columbia canada

The Kootenay Rockies’ Yoho National Park is named for the Cree word meaning “awe,” and it’s easy to see why—its imagery seems out of a movie. You’ll see intense blues and greens, dramatic peaks, the immense Takakkaw Falls, and gem-colored Emerald Lake, making this park one of the most beautiful places in Canada. Hiking trails and scenic drives let you take in the full force of this stunning wilderness. Don’t miss Yoho’s Burgess Shale, a paleontological jackpot containing 500-million-year-old fossils of more than 120 types of marine animals.

Where to stay: The historic, cabin-style Emerald Lake Lodge has balconies and wood-burning fireplaces right on the shores of the famous lake, amid towering mountains.

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Manitoba

Cape Churchill

polar bears in churchill manitoba canada.

Cape Churchill, Manitoba, is the polar bear capital of the world. If your idea of impressive scenery involves endless stretches of ice and dozens of polar bears striding across it, head up to the Arctic to experience one of the most beautiful places in Canada. In October and November, Hudson Bay freezes over and thousands of polar bears migrate to its ice, although climate change is already taking effect. Local tour guides in tundra rovers get you up close to see the endangered white creatures.

Where to stay: At Churchill’s Lazy Bear Lodge, accommodations are simple but comfortable. It’s a rustic log cabin with a huge stone fireplace and a location that’s walking distance from town. The lodge’s beluga whale tour is highly recommended.

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New Brunswick

Fundy National Park

waterfall in fundy national park.

Fundy National Park, on the Bay of Fundy, has the world’s highest and lowest tides. This means that you can walk out onto the ocean floor during low tide, then kayak alongside landforms like the must-see Hopewell Rocks when the Atlantic refloods the bay. Elsewhere in the park, hike through the Acadian Forest to see dozens of lovely waterfalls, explore sea caves, attend festivals and outdoor concerts, or drive Fundy Trail Parkway to see some of the prettiest places in Canada.

Where to stay: Fundy National Park has three hip campgrounds, as well as Fundy Highlands Motel, which offers simple, comfortable, dog-friendly chalets right on the bay.

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Newfoundland and Labrador

Gros Morne National Park

gros morne national park newfoundland labrador canada.

The iconic image of Gros Morne National Park is Western Brook Pond, whose name makes it sound small. It’s actually a massive freshwater fjord around which dramatic cliffs plunge into a glacier-formed gorge. Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is also home to the Tablelands, a geological rarity where earthquakes have forced the earth’s mantle up for all to see. There’s also Green Point—sheer cliffs full of ancient sea fossils—as well as waterfalls, dwarf forests, moose and caribou, and Gros Morne Mountain, which is among the planet’s oldest peaks.

Where to stay: Neddies Harbour Inn, a boutique property in the national park, provides unbeatable views over the Bonne Bay fjord, as well as a peaceful atmosphere and an excellent restaurant.

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Nova Scotia

Cabot Trail

cape breton drive canada.

Nova Scotia’s 185-mile Cabot Trail loops around Cape Breton Island, making for one of North America’s most memorable drives. In addition to providing gorgeous coastal views, the highway takes you to small fishing villages, the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, golf courses, museums, galleries, and artisan boutiques. It also passes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, where moose, bears, and eagles roam, and where autumn’s vivid colors secure Cabot Trail’s spot among the prettiest places in Canada.

Where to stay: Keltic Lodge is a historic, well-appointed resort right on the Atlantic in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Amenities include in-room fireplaces, verandahs, a golf course, a heated swimming pool, and a satisfying restaurant.

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Ontario

Niagara Falls

horseshoe bay niagara falls canada.

Niagara Falls isn’t just one of the most beautiful places in Canada—it’s one of the most beautiful places in the whole world. And though Americans tend to think of it as a U.S. attraction (of course), the Canadian view of the famous falls is actually even better. Come in summer to be treated to nightly fireworks over the mist.

Where to stay: The city around Niagara Falls is pretty touristy, so it’s worth the effort to drive about 13 miles north to a charming little town called Niagara-on-the-Lake and its elegant Charles Hotel, where guest rooms have fireplaces, private verandahs gaze over Lake Ontario, gardens bloom with flowers, and service is superlative.

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CN Tower

CN tower ontario canada.

Those in search of Canadian urban wonders can look no further than the CN Tower, the defining feature of Toronto‘s skyline, punctuating postcards all over Ontario. The tower’s observation deck has glass floors, its 360 Restaurant rotates, and its heart-pounding EdgeWalk lets you strap in and hang off a five-foot-wide ledge more than 1,000 feet high. This iconic structure is prettiest when it illuminates after dark.

Where to stay: The Shangri-La Hotel, set in in a 66-floor glass-encased skyscraper, epitomizes modern luxury with its artistic decor, high-tech amenities, and hammam-inspired spa. And it’s within easy distance of the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada.

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Prince Edward County

winery prince edward county canada.

Prince Edward County, a detached peninsula on Lake Ontario’s north shore, is ideal for both beach lovers and oenophiles. The region’s limestone bedrock makes for great wine grapes, which is why there are more than 40 vineyards here. There are also expansive fields of sunflowers and lavender, more than a dozen breweries, some 450 farms, and plenty of talented chefs who put all this local bounty to good use. PEC was relatively unknown until recently, when it gained something of a buzz among urbanites, artists, gourmands, and hipsters.

Where to stay: The colorful Drake Motor Inn opened in spring 2019, full of whimsy and modernized nostalgia. Its 12 rooms are all retro-chic, and the entire property pays playful tribute to the bygone days of road travel.

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Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island National Park

winter waves prince edward island canada

Prince Edward Island National Park is easily one of the most beautiful places in Canada, especially its windswept Greenwich section. Visitors can explore red sand beaches, wavy dunes, mystical forests, boardwalk trails, and the idyllic places that formed the setting for L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

Where to stay: Dalvay by the Sea, a national historic site on the north shore, was built in 1895 in Queen Anne Revival style. Its 25 rooms—each one unique—remain furnished in antiques from that ornate era.

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Victoria-by-the-Sea

victoria by the sea lighthouse prince edward island canada.

Victoria-by-the-Sea is a storybook village full of small-town seaside charm, including a photogenic lighthouse, red sand beaches, and artisan shops and galleries. Historically known for its fishermen, it’s now more populated by artists and creatives who leave an inspired mark on their lovely municipality.

Where to stay: The historic Orient Hotel is an inviting bed and breakfast that provides wonderful views of the water from almost every guest room.

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Quebec

Old Montreal

old montreal city street quebec canada.

Montreal is one of the most beautiful cities in Canada—and one of the most interesting, too, what with its amalgam of European and North American culture and engaging attractions like Olympic Park’s Biodome and Botanical Garden. The prettiest part of the city, however, is Old Montreal, founded as a French colony in 1642, with intricate architecture to match. If you ever feel like going to Europe without crossing the Atlantic, visit Old Montreal’s resplendent Notre-Dame Basilica, browse its stately Bonsecours Market, gawk at its colonial-era mansions, and watch the St. Lawrence River’s dynamic Old Port at work.

Where to stay: The newish Four Seasons Montreal puts forth its brand’s usual level of service and comfort—which is to say, it’s an excellent place to stay. Adding to the appeal is its central location in the Golden Square Mile, its fine cuisine, and its proximity to high-end shopping at Holt Renfrew Ogilvy.

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Quebec City

quebec city sunset quebec canada

Ask Canadians which is the most beautiful city in Canada, and most will respond the same way: Quebec City. It’s hard to overstate how magical this French-speaking town is—its fairy-tale charm pervades every cobblestone street. Quebec City, the only fortified city north of Mexico, is also blessed with colonial-era architecture, the bustling St. Lawrence River, and a rich, palpable history. It boasts four distinct seasons, each more beautiful than the next. Just outside of town, Montmorency Falls is almost 100 feet taller than any of Niagara’s three falls, making for a truly underrated natural wonder.

Where to stay: The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is the world’s most photographed hotel for good reason: Its legendary castle-on-a-hill look makes it an icon of Old Quebec. The elegance continues inside, in terms of both decor and hospitality par excellence.

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Saskatchewan

Grasslands National Park

grasslands national park saskatchewan canada

Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Canada, but in a bit of an unexpected sense: The grandness here isn’t so much village charm or even distinctive nature attractions. It’s more the vast golden prairies, the open country, the huge skies, and the roaming herds of bison that provide their own type of wild gorgeousness. One great way to take it all in is via a brand-new scenic road called the Badlands Parkway. Perk up your Instagram feed with photos of the park’s iconic red Adirondack chairs, or scour the hoodoo spires for dinosaur fossils.

Where to stay: Sky Story Bed & Breakfast in nearby Val Marie earns high marks for its warm hospitality, delicious breakfasts, and friendly cats.

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Northwest Territories

Great Slave Lake

aurora borealis great slave lake canada

If seeing the northern lights is on your bucket list, plan to visit Yellowknife and Great Slave Lake, in the Northwest Territories. In winter, this remote Arctic region transforms into one of the most beautiful places in Canada, thanks to its position north of the 60th parallel, placing it firmly inside the aurora oval. This, plus a flat landscape far from the ocean, makes Yellowknife one of the world’s best places to see nature’s most spectacular light show. Prepare to see deep, glowing greens and purples dominating the skies over North America’s deepest lake.

Where to stay: Blachford Lake Lodge is an eco-conscious wilderness resort where you can see the auroras from your bed, the hot tub, or the dining room. You can also take igloo-building workshops.

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Nunavut

Baffin Island

mount thor auyuittuq national park aunavut baffin island.

Baffin Island, above the Arctic Circle, is Canada’s largest island—it’s bigger than Great Britain. But it’s among the prettiest places in Canada because of Auyuittuq National Park, where icy fjords and glaciers dominate the landscape with their intense blues and bright whites. This surreal expanse of tundra is home to wildlife like you’ve never seen: narwhal, ringed seals, snow geese, Arctic foxes, caribou, and, yes, polar bears.

Where to stay: The Discovery Hotel is a boutique property with modern rooms and refined Arctic cuisine.

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Yukon

Whitehorse Region

white pass yukon route railroad.

The Yukon is full of beautiful places to visit in Canada, and the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad is a thrilling way to take them in. This scenic narrow-gauge railway was built in the late 1800s for the Klondike Gold Rush. Today, it still connects Skagway, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital city. The memorable ride takes passengers, many of them on shore excursions from Alaska cruises, into wide expanses of rugged scenery, over and through impossible bridges and tunnels, and past wildflower-packed meadows, waterfalls, and glaciers at a speed that allows appreciation for the sheer magnitude of it all.

Where to stay: Northern Lights Resort & Spa, true to its name, is well positioned to see the winter aurora borealis. Book a glass chalet or a log cabin and enjoy this much-loved B&B’s saunas, warm hospitality, and highly personalized service.

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What to Wear on Your Canadian Adventure

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Abraham Lake was 50 miles from Lake Louise, rather than 80 miles. It has been corrected.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Romantic Travel Senior Travel Sustainable Travel

5 Reasons Why This River-Cruise Safari Is the Best Way to See Southern Africa

As I began to research my itinerary for CroisiEurope’s Southern Africa river cruise, I was giddy going through the photos on the website of the lodge, riverboat, and animals that we were going to see. An African safari vacation is a top bucket-list trip for many people, but if you haven’t been on this type of vacation before, it can be daunting to plan and execute. That’s where joining a group trip comes in—and this one is a little more unique than your ordinary group safari.

CroisiEurope’s Southern Africa cruise itinerary covers four countries in nine days—Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. With visions of zebras, Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River, and more playing in my head, I eagerly began prepping a packing and to-do list for this trip.

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And then my traveler mindset kicked in … “four countries in nine days, how is this going to work?!” Not only did it work, but this trip’s thoughtfully curated itinerary went above and beyond my expectations. It’s the ideal bucket-list trip to Africa, whether it’s your first time to the continent or your tenth.

The Most Bang for Your Buck

With rates starting at $7,100 per person, you might think this all-inclusive trip is expensive, but in reality, it’s not. Bear with me; the value of this once-in-a-lifetime vacation can’t be beat, especially considering what’s included.

Keep in mind, many four- and five- star safari lodges start at $400 per night, with many accommodations even hitting the $1,000 per night mark. On the CroisiEurope Southern Africa trip, not only is every meal included, but port fees, drinks, travel assistance insurance, onboard activities, national park entrance fees, daily excursions, game-drives, internal flights, and service tips are also part of the trip price. It’s also worth noting that the majority of the nights on the trip are spent exclusively with the CroisiEurope group (which is capped at 16 travelers) at either the private lodge, called Cascades, or aboard a brand-new floating lodge, the African Dream.

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For a comparison point, according to the Discover Africa Group, a four-star group safari trip that visits four countries in nine days during mid-season on average costs over $8,000 per person, and over $9,500 per person in high season.

The Perfect Mix of Culture and Leisure

Whether it’s meeting local villagers on Namibia’s Impalila Island or staring up at the Milky Way on the sun deck of the African Dream, the itinerary provides the ideal balance of education and relaxation.

The first day of the trip includes a visit to the township of Soweto and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, which is an eye-opening primer to post-apartheid South Africa and the time period’s effects on the continent. With this important cultural foundation, travelers head to the Chobe River the following day via a commercial flight into Kasane, Botswana.

The Chobe River and Chobe National Park sit at the intersection of four countries—Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The Chobe River flows in to the Zambezi River—Africa’s fourth-largest river—and is home to an abundance of wildlife, including one-quarter of the entire continent’s elephant population.

For a few days, Cascades Lodge, located on a private island in Namibia is the group’s home base for game-drives, water safaris, and more. The island is located across from Impalila’s community of 46 villages, and CroisiEurope provides electricity and water to all the inhabitants, including its employees as well as other locals, in exchange for use of the land.

After three nights at the lodge, guests are transported by private charter plane to the largest manmade lake in the world. Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe was created from the damming of the Zambezi River and is CroisiEurope guests’ home for three nights aboard a riverboat.

The final leg of the itinerary is visiting world-famous Victoria Falls, which guests are transported to once again by private plane. The final day includes one night at a luxury safari hotel, as well as a guided tour of the national park and an option to go on a helicopter ride (at an additional cost).

Throughout the trip, guests are given opportunities to discover each country through activities like a village tour, guest talks on the boat, a visit with an elder from Impalila Island, and game-drives in two different national parks.

Each day’s itinerary includes at least one or two activities, with downtime to enjoy the gorgeous lodge and relax on the boat while on Lake Kariba.

Top-Notch Amenities and Cuisine

 

CroisiEurope is a France-based tour company, mostly known for its European river cruises. But this trip itinerary is a new venture and, at the time of writing, is only in its second season. The cuisine is French-inspired and the chefs on board the boat and at the lodge are trained by award-winning chefs from South Africa. Each morning there’s a breakfast buffet and three-course lunches and dinners are served at the lodge and onboard the boat; dietary restrictions can be accommodated. I felt there was a good variety with the food, a mix of meat and fresh seafood, and the chef even created a dish with a bream fish that I caught myself fishing on the lake.

At both the lodge and onboard the African Dream, your room is spacious, with amenities like adapters, hairdryers, and toiletries (including bug spray) all included. At the lodge, each guest has his or her own private bungalow, complete with a wrap-around-deck, swing, outdoor shower, and plunge pool.

 

The riverboat built by CroisiEurope also exceeded my expectations. It has only been sailing for one year, so the entire ship was modern, clean, spacious, and constructed with today’s traveler in mind. The boat consisted of one level of cabins, a dining area, lounge area, sun deck, bar, and small pool. Onboard, everything is truly all-inclusive, including drinks. 

Avoiding the Crowds

 

When I deplaned in Johannesburg, the person behind me asked where I was headed next. I answered “Chobe National Park,” and he said: “Enjoy the wild frontier.” At the time I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, but after hearing comparisons between Chobe and some of the more famous parks, like Krueger, it became clear that Chobe had fewer vehicles on the roads and the wildlife was more hidden, making for a more exciting game drive.

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Between the two national parks on the trip itinerary, Chobe National Park and Matusadona National Park (which includes a game-drive from the riverboat in Lake Kariba), you have the chance to see lions, elephants, zebras, leopards, cheetahs, giraffes, water buffalo, hippos, crocodiles, impala, waterbuck, greater kudu, sable, warthogs, baboons, and birds like the African Fish Eagle and Lilac-Breasted Roller. On my trip I was lucky enough to see all of the above—only missing out on spotting a leopard or cheetah.

Since most of the trip is at the private lodge or aboard the African Dream, you aren’t traveling with any other groups and get a much more catered and exclusive experience than you would with most other African safari vacations.

Everything’s Included

 

While this means you don’t have to worry about paying for almost anything on your trip while you’re there, it also means you don’t have to think about planning while you’re on your African safari vacation. Everything is taken care of with the CroisiEurope guides, and this allows you to truly relax and enjoy the animals, culture, and sights that you traveled so far to see.

More from SmarterTravel:

Ashley Rossi traveled on CroisiEurope’s Southern Africa tour courtesy of CroisiEurope. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

What to Wear on an African Safari

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Arts & Culture Budget Travel Cities Entertainment Family Travel Food & Drink

13 Free Things to Do in Las Vegas

I know, I know—what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But if you’re not careful, it could be the contents of your wallet, savings account, and retirement fund that stay in Vegas, too.

The Top 13 Free Things to Do in Las Vegas

While hotels come cheap in Las Vegas, the attractions and shows do not. That’s why you should supplement your trips to the Las Vegas casinos, roller coasters, Cirque du Soleil shows, and other expensive endeavors with these free attractions. Here are 13 fun, free things to do in Las Vegas on your next trip.

Bellagio Fountains and Conservatory & Botanical Garden

bellagio fountains las vegas.

The Bellagio fountains pop up in just about every Las Vegas movie ever made, including the iconic ending to Ocean’s Eleven. Create your own crime caper or rom-com ending and catch the Fountains of Bellagio in action; the free show plays every 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the time of day, and watching it is one of the best free things to do in Las Vegas.

Thrillingly synced to pop and classical music, hundreds of separate fountains and water features shoot up into the air with the Italianate hotel facade as their stunning backdrop. When you’ve had your fountain fill, take a leisurely stroll through Bellagio’s Conservatory & Botanical Garden, where horticulturalists maintain an ever-changing array of florals, gazebos, bridges, and ponds.

The gardens are also free for visitors and provide a nice respite from the relentless desert sun.

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Fremont Street Experience

fremont street experience las vegas.

Equal parts mall, concert venue, and light show, the Fremont Street Experience takes everything that Las Vegas is known for (glitter, lights, and gambling) and rolls it into one five-block area. The main attraction here is a barrel vault canopy aglow with 12.5 million LED lights that lead pedestrians to vintage casinos such as the Golden Nugget and the Four Queens. Guests can also enjoy free concerts from hard-rocking headliners all summer long.

Art at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

cosmopolitan las vegas lobby.

And you thought Las Vegas had no culture. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has amassed one of the most exclusive art collections in the country, providing a highbrow break from the Strip’s bare skin and penny slots.

You’ll find fascinating installations throughout The Cosmopolitan’s public spaces, including the lobby, the stairwells, and even the parking garage.

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CBS Television City Research Center at MGM Grand

cbs television city research center.

You might not be a network exec, but you can still have your voice heard. At the CBS Television City Research Center at MGM Grand, you can sample brand-new TV shows and opine on potential pilots during the hour-long screenings. It’s one of the best free things to do in Las Vegas.

Head into one of the studios to sample program offerings by CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, and other Viacom-owned channels. Register your opinion on a test monitor and consider yourself part of television history before returning to your regularly scheduled vacation.

Circus Acts at Circus Circus Las Vegas

circus circus act las vegas.

Looking for free shows in Las Vegas? The whole family will approve of the circus acts at Circus Circus. This special spot on the Strip has long entertained guests with its Carnival Midway and countless circus acts. In fact, the resort contains the largest permanent circus in the world.

A rotating cast of jugglers, acrobats, aerialists, and roller-skating stuntmen delights kids of every age (and the cash-strapped parents toting their new carnival prizes). Cap off the entertainment with a rousing show from Circus Circus’ resident clowns on the Midway’s main stage. Let the fact that all this entertainment is free assuage any lingering clown phobia.

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Downtown Container Park

praying mantis downtown container park las vegas.

A giant mechanical praying mantis welcomes visitors into this open-air park made from repurposed shipping containers. Here you’ll find shops, restaurants, bars, and a stage for free live music performances. Kids can enjoy The Treehouse, a play area with a slide and building blocks, up until 9:00 p.m. each day (when the park becomes adults only).

Wildlife Habitat at Flamingo Las Vegas

flamingos in las vegas.

You’ll likely encounter a variety of colorful creatures on the Las Vegas Strip, from partying bachelorettes with anatomically correct lollipops to celebrities on their baddest behavior. Catch a glimpse of a different kind of flamboyance at Flamingo Las Vegas, with its habitat chock-full of the pink-hued birds.

A flock (actually called a flamboyance) of Chilean flamingos is on view at the free exhibit, which also features an array of swans, ducks, koi fish, and turtles who live among the foliage and waterfalls. The habitat is located next to the pool area and is one of the great free things to do in Las Vegas for hotel guests and non-guests alike.

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Volcano at The Mirage

mirage volcano las vegas.

Well, this spot has really blown up. With a soundtrack by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Indian table drummer Zakir Hussain, the heart-pounding audio/visual attraction at the Polynesian-themed Mirage spews fire into the air beginning at 8:00 p.m. every night, making it one of the most memorable free shows in Las Vegas.

The smoke that the volcano spouts more than 100 feet above the water is actually perfumed with a pleasant pina colada scent (to cover up the odor of natural gas). The spectacle rivals the well-known fountains at Bellagio, another free Las Vegas attraction, just a half-mile up the Strip.

Pinball Hall of Fame

pinball hall of fame.

This nonprofit please-touch museum is actually the world’s largest pinball-machine collection. In 10,000 square feet of space, you’ll find an assortment of more than 200 pinball machines and arcade games from a half-century of gaming history. And every game is playable, from a 1992 Super Mario Bros. machine to the wooden 1947 Heavy Hitter.

Admission is free, although the games are coin-operated (25 or 50 cents per play). Just arm yourself with the knowledge that all excess revenue goes to charity. Who knew doing good could feel like such good old-fashioned fun?

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Aquarium at Silverton Hotel and Casino

aquarium at silverton hotel and casino.

The only sting here is from jellyfish. Consistently ranked one of the top free things to do in Las Vegas, the massive saltwater aquarium at the Silverton Hotel and Casino will transport you from the parched desert to a vast tropical oasis. Around 117,000 gallons of saltwater house thousands of fish, sharks, stingrays, and reef plants. Interactive feeding demonstrations and a mermaid show round out the offerings.

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign

welcome to fabulous las vegas sign.

A selfie with this famous sign is a must-have for your Instagram feed, and it won’t cost you a dime. Located at 5100 S. Las Vegas Boulevard, the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign has marked the beginning of the Strip since 1959.

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Ethel M. Chocolates

factory workers at ethel m chocolates

Located in nearby Henderson is one of the Vegas area’s most delicious attractions: Ethel M. Chocolates, where you can enjoy free samples, stroll through a botanical garden filled with cacti, and take a complimentary self-guided tour through the factory to see how the staff prepares pecan brittle, caramels, and other tasty treats.

First Friday in the Arts District

first friday las vegas.

On the first Friday evening of every month, from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., the Arts District of downtown Las Vegas opens its streets for wallet- and family-friendly fun. Find a variety of artists and vendors hawking their wares, plus live music, activities for kids, and a fleet of food trucks for peckish revelers. Each month’s event features a different theme.

What to Wear in Vegas

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

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Beach Island

How Education Can Help Curb Your Fear of Sharks

Recently, I found myself in the open ocean with sharks, by choice. As part of a quest to find non-touristy things to do on Oahu, I was on the North Shore participating in a pelagic shark snorkel with marine biologists and shark conservationists at One Ocean Diving.

I was the first in my group to head into the water and threw myself in, similar to what I imagine it’s like jumping out of a plane to skydive. I didn’t know what to expect when I dove under the surface, and I had a “What the **** am I doing?” moment. Within seconds, I spotted at least five sharks circling under the boat, but when they didn’t instantly swim up to me, I quickly calmed down.

I then processed everything I had just learned with Ocean Ramsey, an internationally known shark biologist, researcher, and conservationist. The most important thing to remember is to make yourself look like an equal predator and not weak prey. This means swimming with your arms close to your body, swimming and diving streamlined (as opposed to flailing around), and constantly maintaining eye contact.

Swimming with sharks was eerily calming. It’s easy to feel threatened or scared of sharks based on movies and other media, but in reality, sharks kill about 10 humans per year, whereas humans annually kill more than 100 million sharks. According to Ocean Ramsey, “Sharks go to a bite for the last resort. They are smart and don’t want to get injured themselves so they try to warn their peers by saying ‘I don’t want you here get out of my space’ with their body language first. If you see a shark drop its pectoral fins, pop its gills, or open its mouth, it is a good idea to remove yourself from their area.”

The experience was humbling, educational, and completely changed my perspective of sharks.

To learn more, visit One Ocean Diving’s website. And check out @OceanRamsey and @juansharks on Instagram.

 

More from SmarterTravel:

Ashley Rossi visited Oahu courtesy of the Oahu Visitors Bureau. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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