Alaska Itinerary and Travel Tips

Of all of the 50 states in the United States, Alaska is consistently in the top 10 most-visited states. Although planning a vacation to Alaska can seem a bit challenging, it’s certainly not difficult to do on your own. Alaska is by far the largest state in the United States, at 663,300 square miles and many of the major cities are vast distances from each other. Further, much of Alaska is only accessible by water, making it even more challenging to visit, hence the popularity in Alaskan cruises. But what do you do if you or your traveling companions get motion sickness on boats and a cruise is not an option or you just don’t want to take a cruise? Of course, you dive in and start planning your own itinerary!

Some questions you may ask when planning a trip to Alaska:

How long should I spend in Alaska?

The longer, the better, given the enormous size of the state and the fact that only 20% of the state is accessible by roads. For most people, roughly ten days to two weeks is a good amount of time to spend on your first visit, to get a “taste” of Alaska. It’s best to focus on visiting a few areas rather than trying to cram in a dozen different areas and spending much of your time in transit from one place to another.

Getting to Alaska and Getting Around

Although there are many small airports in Alaska, major airports include ones in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau. Other communities with jet service in Alaska include Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Glacier Bay/Gustavus, Yakutat, Cordova, Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, Adak, King Salmon, Dillingham, Bethel, Nome, Kotzebue, Barrow and Prudhoe Bay. As mentioned above, only 20% of Alaska is accessible by roads, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider driving an option. We picked up our rental car in Anchorage and were able to drive to all of the places we wanted to, without any problems, and we didn’t need a 4×4 vehicle either. This was during the summer, so if it’s winter, be prepared to drive on snowy roads. Taking the Alaska Railroad is also an option for getting between cities.

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When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Alaska?

In my opinion, there is no “best” time of year to visit anywhere and Alaska is no exception. Summer is the most popular time to visit Alaska, with mid-June to mid-August being peak season. If you prefer warmer weather and plan to do a lot of hiking, July through early August are your best bets but if you want to see the Northern Lights, the winter months when it’s the darkest are best. If you plan on going to Denali National Park, the park’s only roadway remains open through early September for bus tours although a 15-mile portion of the road is also open for private vehicles. Crowds are a bit thinner during the shoulder months of April to May and September.

Tips for Planning your Alaska Itinerary

If you plan on going during the busy summer months, book in advance whenever possible. Bus tours through Denali National Park sell out months in advance, as do campsites and accommodations in more popular areas of the state.

Because of the remoteness of the state, WiFi is non-existent in many rural areas. Cell phone service is also spotty at best in many places, even in some of the bigger cities. Download Google maps offline and drop pins on places where you want to go so you have access to areas where you don’t have coverage.

Pack for cool or cold weather even in the summer. I was a bit surprised to learn the average daytime highs in August are usually in the low-to mid-60’s Fahrenheit (16 to 19 degrees Celsius). This coupled with the fact that it rained many days made it feel pretty chilly, which brings me to my next tip.

Pack a poncho or lightweight rain jacket. August and September are the wettest months but rain is pretty common in July as well.

Consider hiking with others and/or buy bear spray. Bears are abundant in Alaska, as are moose. Many people may not realize moose are even more dangerous than bears in Alaska. Moose outnumber bears nearly three to one in Alaska, wounding around five to 10 people in the state annually. That’s more than grizzly bear and black bear attacks combined.

Remember that fresh fruits and vegetables cost more in Alaska than in the lower 48 states (as do many other things). As we were reminded with a sign in a grocery store in Alaska, those bananas have to travel a very long way to reach Alaska, which increases the cost. Alaska has a short growing season and primarily cool season vegetables such as beets, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, carrots grow here, although some fruit trees have successfully been grown near the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Tourism also increases prices so anywhere frequented heavily by cruise ships will have higher prices, especially in the direct vicinity around the port.

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Itinerary:  11 days/10 nights in Alaska

Stop 1:  Anchorage (3 nights)

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is the busiest airport in Alaska, with twice as many passengers in June, July and August as between October to April. This is likely the airport you will be flying into. For most people, it will be a long flight, and you will want to focus on checking into your hotel and resting for the first day and possibly part of the second day.

After you’ve rested up, venture out and do a bit of hiking or just driving around to take in the scenery. On our first full day in Anchorage, we saw a moose drinking water from a small lake just off a highway. This was our first moose sighting, despite having traveled previously to many other places in the US and Canada that are heavily populated by moose, so we were of course excited to stop and take some photos. As mentioned earlier, moose can be extremely dangerous, so make sure you don’t get close to the animals and give them a huge berth of space.

Chugach National Forest, which stretches for 6,908,540 acres in south central Alaska is easily accessible from Anchorage and there are many options for trails and hiking.

Mount Baldy is another hiking option and the trailhead parking lot is only about 30 minutes from downtown Anchorage.

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is a scenic place to take a walk, go for a run, or take a spin on some rental bikes.

Turnagain Arm is just south of Anchorage and I recommend driving along here and stopping at some of the stops along the way such as McHugh Creek Recreation Area and Beluga Point Lookout.

Some of our favorite restaurants in Anchorage include Snow City Café, South Restaurant and Coffeehouse, and Wild Scoops.

You can find a full description of our time in Anchorage here.

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Stop 2:  Denali National Park (3 nights)

The drive from Anchorage to the surrounding areas of Denali National Park is a long one, taking approximately 5 hours, give or take, depending on traffic and road construction (which we ran into on our way back from Denali National Park). If you can’t get reservations to stay inside the park or don’t want to stay in the park, there are options in the nearby town of Healy or a bit further away, McKinley Park.

I found the options for accommodations in Healy to range from fairly expensive to super-expensive, with nothing other than campgrounds offering anything what I would call affordable. However, I wanted to be as close to the park entrance as possible, so I chose one of the more affordable of the expensive hotels, Cabins at Denali. We had a two-story room, with nothing but a bathroom and entryway on the bottom floor and a huge room upstairs with three beds, a sitting area with a couch and coffee table, dining room table and chairs, microwave, sink, and coffee maker.

You can only drive the first 15 miles into Denali National Park, so you will need to make reservations well in advance for one of the buses. There are many options, depending if you want to get off the bus and hike or just stay on the bus, and how far into the park you want to go.

On our first day in Healy, since we arrived in the evening, we just ventured out for dinner and relaxed for the evening. We took a bus tour for hikers on our second day and it was a full day indeed, since we chose the bus tour that went several hours into the backcountry of the park. For our third day, we hiked on the trails around the areas closer to the entrance of the park that are private vehicle-accessible and went to the sled dog tour.

You can find a full description of our time in Healy and Denali National Park here.

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Stop 3:  Seward (3 nights)

Even though the drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park is a long one, the drive from Denali National Park to Seward is even longer, since you actually drive past Anchorage to get to Seward. The drive took us around 6 1/2 hours, but we stopped to do a bit of hiking along the way and break up the drive.

The area that includes Seward is filled with glaciers, so we decided to stop and hike at one before we reached our Airbnb in Seward. Driving south from Anchorage on the Seward Highway, go to the end of the 5-mile Portage Spur Road. Byron Glacier trailhead is near Portage Lake. It’s a one-mile scenic walk to the glacier face along Byron Creek.

We also hiked to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park (which has no entry fee). This is a popular glacier to visit and there will likely be crowds if you’re there during the summer. It’s an easy hike to get to the first viewing area for the glacier. There are actually two viewing areas, one a bit further away, for people that can’t or don’t want to hike the trail, and the one much closer to the glacier. If you want to walk on the glacier, you need to arrange a tour with a guide.

On our second day in Seward, we took a Kenai Fjords National Park tour with Kenai Fjords Tours, a 6 hour boat tour. Despite taking anti-motion sickness medication, my husband and daughter were still sick for the entire tour. However, I was perfectly fine and thoroughly enjoyed the tour. We saw many glaciers and animals like seals, whales, and puffins. Although this was a highlight of my time in Alaska, my husband and daughter would not say the same thing, so if you have problems with motion sickness, you should probably skip a boat tour here.

For our third day in Seward, we went to what became my daughter’s favorite part of our time in Alaska, Seavey’s Ididaride. Since it was summer, instead of being pulled by Alaskan huskies in a dogsled, we were pulled in a cart by the dogs. The dogs train year-round and you can visit here year-round and see these beautiful dogs that clearly love to run and also check out some of Mitch Seavey’s, (a former Iditarod winner), trophies and race-related gear. We also got to see and even hold some adorable Alaskan husky puppies, which was the icing on the cake for my husky-loving daughter.

Since we had a really nice house through Airbnb to stay at with a well-stocked kitchen in Seward, we stopped at a nearby grocery store on our first day so we could eat most of our meals in the house (plus it was better for our budget). We only went out to eat once, at Seward Brewing Company and really liked our food there.

You can find a full description of our time in Seward here.

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Stop 3:  Girdwood (1 night)

This is an optional stop you could even add on during your time in Anchorage, since it’s a bit under an hour from downtown Anchorage. Since we had a late evening flight back home, I thought it would be a good way to not have such a long drive from Seward to the airport (about 2/12-3 hours) and see a new area as well. It ended up being a good decision and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Girdwood.

We stayed at the beautiful Alyeska Resort and were able to snag the Summer Tram Package deal where you get free tram tickets when you stay the night. Alyeska Resort is a 300-room year-round hotel with skiing in the winter and hiking and mountain biking the rest of the year. Normally we don’t stay at huge resorts like this, but every now and then I like to splurge, and since it was just one night, it didn’t break the bank.

We took the tram up to the top of the mountain above the resort and hiked around some trails there and were rewarded with some truly gorgeous views. You can hike up and down the mountain and skip the tram, but taking the tram was a good way to save our legs to be able to do more hiking around the top.

Besides taking the tram to the top from the Hotel Alyeska and hiking up there, we really wanted to hike Lower Winner Creek Trail. The trail begins behind the Hotel Alyeska. The first 3/4 mile is a wide, well-developed boardwalk. The next 1.5 miles are easy hiking along a firm dirt trail  through the Chugach National Forest. When you reach Winner Creek Gorge, you’re in for a special treat, the hand tram. The hand tram is just like it sounds, powered by hand, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have people waiting on both sides of the gorge who will happily pull the ropes to get you across the gorge (otherwise you will have to pull yourself across). I have a fear of heights but loved going across the hand tram and highly recommend it.

For restaurants, we liked Girdwood Brewing Company (there was a food truck when we were there with awesome Mexican food), Sitzmark, Alpine Diner & Bakery, and The Bake Shop.

You can find a full description of our time in Girdwood here.

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11-day Alaska Itinerary at-a-glance

Day 1:  Anchorage- flight arrival, hotel check-in, settle in

Day 2:  Anchorage- hiking and/or Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Day 3:  Anchorage- check out Turnagain Arm

Day 4:  Healy- drive here from Anchorage

Day 5:  Denali National Park- bus tour of park

Day 6:  Denali National Park- hiking, dog-sled demonstrations

Day 7:  Seward- drive here from Healy, with option to stop at Byron Glacier along the way

Day 8:  Seward- Kenai Fjords National Park tour

Day 9:  Seward- Seavey’s Ididaride and hiking to Exit Glacier

Day 10:  Girdwood- drive here from Seward, hiking around Alyeska Resort

Day 11:  Girdwood- hiking Winner Creek Gorge, flight home

I feel like this itinerary hits some of the major highlights of Alaska, but I’m not an expert by any means; I just did a ton of research beforehand. During our time in Alaska, we felt like these places were definitely great choices and we didn’t feel like we were in the car for too much of our time there. That being said, I can’t stress enough if you are prone to motion sickness, skip the boat tours in Alaska. The water can be rough, sometimes with huge swells, and it’s just not enjoyable when you feel nauseous and sick.

Alaska is such a beautiful state with many options, even though it seems like the vast majority of people who go here do so on a cruise. I’d just like to point out you can still see different areas of the state and hike and see some of the natural beauty on your own, without a tour guide from a cruise ship. Even if you don’t like to hike, you can just go for scenic drives in many of the places I’ve mentioned, like Turnagain Arm for example. The drive from Anchorage to Seward is one of the most scenic areas I’ve ever been through.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

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Book Review- Footnotes How Running Makes Us Human by Vybarr Cregan-Reid

I have to start out by saying this book is one of the most unique books on running I’ve ever read. Unique isn’t necessarily bad, just different. Cregan-Reid is a literature professor and runner who decided to write a book about biomechanics, psychology, and the environment in the context of running and literature. I’m quite sure I’ve never read another book that combined all of those things together before.

The book is divided into four parts:  sensing, reasoning, earthing, and roaming. I’ll discuss some of the things that stood out to me from each part. In the first part, Sensing, the author describes how he became a runner and his experiences with the early stages of running. He spends a great deal of time discussing running shoes and the history of running shoes. He also goes into detail about barefoot running and how he became to be a firm believer of barefoot running.

There is also a large section of part one of the book about Cregan-Reid’s visit to Boston to meet with Dr. Irene Davis at the Spaulding National Running Center. The author has an assessment of his running biomechanics and there is a lengthy part on ‘natural running’ and how shoes effect that. One quote that stood out to me from part one of the book is, “Running changes who you are and how you see, feel, and sense the outside world- how can you still be you if you run?” I like this quote a lot and think it sums up how much running changes a person.

Part two of the book, Reasoning, like the other parts of the book is filled with literary references and detailed personal runs by the author. One quote from this section I liked is “Put simply, running makes you smarter,” and he continues, “If performed in a softly fascinating (more on this later) and natural environment, running can make you better at your job, more independent, a more attentive friend or partner, care more for the environment, enhance your concentration levels, improve exam reports, and feel more attractive to whoever it is you want to attract.” Cregan-Reid backs up these claims with numerous references, which I’m not going to get into here but it is a weighty quote!

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Also included in part two is a discussion on “runner’s high,” with scientific studies and the author’s personal experiences with it. The author even has specific requirements for runner’s high:  the run will be longer than 40 minutes and the run takes place in a green space, plus some others mentioned in the book. Cregan-Reid also discusses a meeting he had with environmental psychologists from the University of Michigan, Dr. Avrik Basu and Dr. Jason Duvall. They discuss how distractions negatively effect our attention spans, among other things. Dr. Duvall has a study on the effect of ‘awareness plans’ on outdoor exercise. Basically, the groups that were aware of their senses had significant improvements in their well-being.

Cregan-Reid also discusses how running should be neither work nor exercise but more like play. He traces the history of exercise back to the 18th century and notes author Jane Austen’s references to exercise. By the 19th century, exercise is more commonly seen in what the author calls “leisured classes” of society. Poor people were working in the fields and doing other types of manual labor so they had no time nor need for exercise on top of this. Finally, the author says, “Running, like literature, like art, helps you to remember and re-experience some of the impossible strangeness of what it means to be who and what we are, of what it means to be human.”

Part three of the book, Earthing, discusses humans need to connect physically with the earth for our well-being. There are parts where the author discusses running in the fir and redwood forests of California. From this, he segues into a discussion on a review paper from 2010 that concluded forest environments lowered blood pressure and pulse rate among other things compared to city environments. Other studies have concluded that forest time “improved nocturnal sleep conditions for those with sleep complaints.”

Also in part three is a discussion on the treadmill as a torture device beginning in the 18th century. William Cubitt invented the treadwheel or ‘Discipline Mill,’ which soon became known as the treadmill. Beginning in 1818, prisoners of ‘Her Majesty’ who had committed more serious crimes were sentenced to hard labor, including put to work on the treadwheel. Oscar Wilde is one of the most famous victims, who spent as much as six hours a day on the treadmill in prison and was basically physically broken because of this. One interesting claim by the author is that he says he remembers nearly every outdoors run he has done in the last 12 months, but only a couple out of a hundred runs on the treadmill.

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Part four, Roaming, is basically about how exploring new places by running can be exciting and wonderful or it can be frustrating and disheartening. Cregan-Reid of course gives personal examples of this in this section, along with other sections of the book. There is also a discussion on wildness, freedom, and trespassing. Possibly the most famous author on this subject is Henry David Thoreau, who wrote Walden. The author visits the replica of Thoreau’s hut at Walden Pond but is disappointed to find the area fenced off in places and finds the area not so natural but rather touristy.

The final chapter is about the author’s experience running the London Marathon. This was the author’s first race since school, so there were no 5k’s or other distances leading up to this marathon. Cregan-Reid, who is an asthmatic, applied for a charity spot, was accepted, and began raising money for Asthma UK. Four days before the race, Cregan-Reid’s asthma worsened after he caught a cold. Concerned about running a marathon when he was ill, he told everyone he wasn’t able to run. When he went to formally withdraw from the race one day prior to the event, he had missed the deadline that would have allowed him to run it the following year.

The morning of the 2012 London Marathon, Cregan-Reid awoke before 6:00 and debated whether or not to run the race. He decided to wear his heart-rate monitor and run so slowly that his heart rate wouldn’t exceed 130. He walked the mile from his apartment to the race start with his partner. The author made his way to the back of the 35,000 people at the race start, with the agreement that he would check in with his partner along the course to make sure he was OK. Ultimately, he finished the race and says that “at mile 26.2 I find that, almost by accident, I have run a marathon.”

There are several references to the author running in cities around the world, including the places I’ve already mentioned, as well as Venice, Paris, the Cotswolds, California, and Boston. Being a runner who loves to travel, I found these sections interesting, as I too love to explore new cities by running. Finally, the author states that running has made him more “self-reliant, resilient, and free.” I would concur with this statement about myself personally.

While this book may not be for everyone, especially if you’re put off by the many literary references, I found it refreshingly different and enjoyed it. At 293 pages, it’s not what I’d call a “quick read,” but it’s not meant to be. If you enjoy running and would like to read a book about the history of running, biomechanics, and psychology involved in running, written in a unique way, I recommend checking this book out.

You can find this book at your local library or on Amazon here.

How many of you have “accidentally” run a marathon? Do you enjoy reading books about running that aren’t full of advice but more about the history of running and other aspects of running like psychological effects?

Happy running!

Donna

Hiking in Tenerife, Canary Islands- Teide National Park and An Alternative to Barranco Infierno

I’ll save the best for last here and begin with Barranco Infierno. A popular hiking trail in Tenerife is Barranco Infierno (Hell’s Canyon in English), 350 meters above sea level, and open every day from 8:00 am to 2:30 pm, weather permitting. Only 300 visitors a day are allowed entry to preserve the flora and fauna of the area. Entrance to the trail costs 8 euro per person. What can you do if you get there like we did only to be told the area was closed due to weather?

My husband thought we would have to just go back to the car and try something else since we couldn’t hike in Barranco del Infierno but then I noticed a small sign to the left of the ticket area and I walked over that way to check it out. There was a sign noting an alternative hike that was 6 km so we decided to take it. Even better, it was free!

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This trail is moderately difficult as it has virtually no shade and goes up and up. It took us about 2 hours to hike to the top, including taking some rest breaks, and 1 hour to hike back down, with no stops. Along the way, we saw many different types of plants and these tiny lizards that would dart in and out of the rocks. The trail is very well-marked and easy to follow the path to the top.

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Look for this sign to the left of Barranco Infierno for alternative trails

The views kept getting better along the way and we kept stopping to take photos. When we reached the top, we all agreed the view was one of the best we had ever seen and the hike was well worth it. There were also several people paragliding in the area and we watched them soar over the ocean and canyon.

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View from the top 

While we were in Tenerife, the weather took a turn for the worst and heavy rains with strong winds moved in for a couple of days. Knowing that Teide National Park would be colder and windier because of the elevation of the park, I didn’t want to go on a day with 100% chance of rain. Fortunately on our last full day in Tenerife, the weather was sunny with no rain in sight so we left our hotel room early with plans to spend the entire day at the park.

Teide National Park is the largest of the Canary Islands’s four national parks with its crown jewel Mount Teide, the highest point in Spain at 12,198 feet (3,718 meters). Weather-permitting, you can take a cable car up to Mount Teide but you need a permit to hike to the summit. Mount Teide is still considered an active volcano, with the last eruption in 1909. There are 37 trails in the park so you can spend many days hiking here but camping is not allowed in any nature reserves or national parks in Tenerife.

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One thing to keep in mind that I knew ahead of time but still didn’t prepare adequately for was just how much colder and windier it is in Teide National Park than in the rest of Tenerife. We ended up stopping at a small town about 20 or 30 minutes outside the park to buy gloves for my daughter and me, a winter hat for my husband, and a fleece pullover for me. When you go to the park, be better prepared than I was and wear a pullover (or even a winter coat if you’re going in the heart of winter), gloves, and a hat even if it’s supposed to be sunny and warm at your resort that day. Dressing in layers is a great idea because you can adjust accordingly throughout the day.

There is a cafe in the park with a wide array of foods like pizza, sandwiches, salads, and snacks along with hot and cold drinks. We had talked about picking up lunch from a market on the way and eating it at the park but that somehow never happened so we ended up eating lunch at the cafe. As you might expect, the food at the cafe is average and over-priced, on-par with other cafes at national parks we’ve been to. There is also a bathroom in the cafe but you have to pay 50 cents per person to use it.

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Snow-capped Mount Teide

Beyond dressing warmly and in layers, my one big piece of advice is to stay until the sun goes down before you leave the park. There are a few advantages to this:  1) the cyclists that you will encounter entering the park will have already have left so you don’t have to contend with them on the road leaving, 2) many other people will have already left so you don’t have as many cars to negotiate the roads with, and 3) the park is beautiful at dusk.

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Hiking at Teide National Park was our last full day in Tenerife, as I mentioned earlier, and we couldn’t have ended our vacation on a better note! Teide National Park was definitely a highlight of our vacation in the Canary Islands and if you’re planning a vacation to this area, it’s a must-do! Even if you don’t enjoy hiking, you can drive around the park and take some photos at pull-outs along the way. Because it’s such a large park, you can easily spend an entire day here (it would take several days to hike more than a few of the 37 trails). I’ll have to add Teide National Park to my list of some of my favorite national parks I’ve been to around the world.

What are some of your favorite national parks?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Exploring Natural Parks, God’s Finger, and a Botanical Garden in Gran Canaria, Canary Islands

Let me start with God’s Finger or El Dedo de Dios, as it’s called in Spanish, since that’s the place that had me intrigued by the name but then came as a disappointment once we learned the truth. Near the town of Agaete, God’s Finger is a rock formation about 30 meters high in the Atlantic Ocean off the northern part of Gran Canaria. Or, it was until a tropical storm broke off the top in 2005 and it fell into the sea. We didn’t learn the history of all of this until we arrived at the area and couldn’t find any kind of rock structure that might resemble a finger. Finally, we saw something on a local shop, Googled God’s Finger, and found the complete story.

Why did we end up at God’s Finger in the first place, you may ask? Well, I was checking out places to hike and other towns of interest, and God’s Finger came up, but the author failed to mention that it fell off many years ago and there’s really nothing to see now. Not that it would have been something worth going out of your way for even when it was still standing, but I thought since we’ll be in Agaete anyway, we’ll check it out. If you go to Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, you’ll know to skip God’s Finger.

Agaete, on the other hand, is a beautiful little port town you shouldn’t skip. The Agaete Santa Cruz de Tenerife ferry route connects Gran Canaria with Tenerife, which is how we got from Gran Canaria to Tenerife. Besides taking the ferry, the other option is to fly.

When I checked prices for my family, there wasn’t a huge price difference between flying and taking the ferry and since we enjoyed the ferry from Gozo to Malta last fall, I made reservations for the ferry. Long story short, the inter-island ferry is also something you should skip. The water was extremely rough (we had been warned by some ex-pats prior to taking the ferry that this is often the case) and honestly the only thing to see the entire way there was the water between the islands. Skip the ferry and fly instead.

Back to Agaete. Puerto de las Nieves is the port town with some shops and restaurants (many selling fish, not surprisingly). Walk around this area, take in the scenery, and grab lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants. We ate dinner here one evening and were lucky enough to catch the sunset.

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Puerto de las Nieves at dusk

About a 30 minute drive north from Agaete is Amagro National Park or Macizo de Amagro.  This park is full of natural monuments or geological formations. If you have several hours, a rental car, and don’t mind winding roads, take the GC-200 for one of the most scenic drives you’ll ever take to Tamadaba, south of Agaete. Tamadaba is a natural park with a large picnic area and camping areas and is beautiful. We also stumbled upon a very picturesque beach in this area, Playa de la Aldea and walked around here for a while.

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Playa de la Aldea

I also wanted to go to a botanical park in Gran Canaria and discovered quite a gem indeed. The Viera y Clavijo Botanical Garden in northern Gran Canaria is one of the biggest and most extensive botanical gardens I’ve ever been to, and even better, admission is free! The garden is 27 acres (10 hectares), on which approximately 500 plant species endemic to the Canary Islands are cultivated.

There are several sections of the Viera y Clavijo Garden including the Garden of the Islands (Jardín de las Islas), the Garden of Cacti and Succulents (Jardín de Cactus y Suculentas), the Macaronesian Ornamental Garden (Jardín Macaronésico Ornamental), and the Hidden Garden (El Jardín Escondido) with a greenhouse. At the “Fountain of the Wisemen” (La Fuente de Los Sabios), botanists who discovered and described the flora of the Canary Islands are honored. There are no restaurants or cafes on-site so you’ll need to plan accordingly.

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Viera y Clavijo Botanical Garden

One of the things I liked best about this botanical garden is how it’s spread across different levels, so you can pretty quickly walk up and get great views of the area. If you can’t climb stairs or go up steep inclines there’s plenty to see on the main area on the ground too.

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Viera y Clavijo Botanical Garden from the top

The ferry from Gran Canaria to Tenerife that I mentioned earlier is the last thing we did in Gran Canaria. You can read my posts about some of the most beautiful beaches of Gran Canaria (and Tenerife), hiking in Gran Canaria, and things to do on a rainy day in Gran Canaria (and Tenerife) here. I’ll also have a post specific for Tenerife coming soon.

Happy Travels!

Donna

 

Hiking Roque Nublo and Caldera de Bandama in Gran Canaria, Canary Islands

While on vacation in the Canary Islands recently, one of our main goals was to hike as much as possible. We weren’t there to enjoy leisurely days on the beaches, although that’s certainly a popular option with tourists as you can read here.. There’s so much more to the Canary Islands than the beaches, however, and we found some gorgeous day hikes while in Gran Canaria, two of which we combined in one day.

We started off in the center of Gran Canaria at Caldera de Bandama. If you’re staying in Las Palmas, it’s only a 20 minute drive from there. The crater was formed by a volcano Pico de Bandama many years ago and is 216 meters (709 feet) deep, 574 meters (1883 feet) high and 1,000 meters (3281 feet) wide. We picked up our lunch from a market on the way, with the intention of enjoying our lunch with a view along the hike. The first thing we noticed when we arrived was all of the flowers and shrubs in bloom. The contrast between all of the flora with the black lava rocks was stunning.

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About an hour away from Caldera de Bandama is Roque Nublo, a natural monument 67 meters (220 feet) tall with the top 1813 meters (5948 feet) above sea level. This is an easy hike and not far from the nearby parking lot. Only the first portion is paved with cobblestones, but most of the trail is well-cleared dirt and easy to navigate. From the main road it’s about 1.5 kilometers to the proximity of Roque Nublo and Roque de la Rana. Before getting there, you go past another natural monument, el Roque de El Fraile. When we were there it was foggy when we reached the monuments but fortunately the fog cleared enough to get this photo:

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The person on the far right shows the scale of this monument.
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A foggy shot of the Roque Nublo area.

This was only one of many days full of hiking that my family and I did while in the Canary Islands but this was probably the best hiking we did during our stay in Gran Canaria.  I’ll have another post later about hiking in Tenerife.

Two things to remember if you’re hiking in the Canary Islands that we discovered:  1) caldera means it was formed by a volcano collapsing onto itself but more importantly for hikers it means there will be great scenery for hiking and 2) barranco means ravine. Wherever you see barranco on a map, chances are there will be great hiking in this area.

How many of you enjoy hiking while on vacation? What are some of your favorite places you’ve hiked?

Happy travels!

Donna

“Welcome to Miami”- Long Weekend in Miami, Florida

I have a dear friend that used to live where I do and she moved to Miami several years ago. The last time I went to see her was around 6 or so years ago so I was long over-due for a visit to see her. When I was planning my vacation to Malta, I was curious to see how much more it would cost to go through Miami on my way home. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a single penny more (in fact it was a bit cheaper to go through Miami) so after making sure she would be available in late November (she was) I booked our airfare.

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I’ll admit, I’m a huge planner and always have been. It’s nothing for me to have tentative plans for vacations or races a year or more in advance. It may all be in my head, with nothing purchased, but it’s still more or less planned. However, for my time in Miami, I didn’t plan a single thing. I didn’t go online to check out restaurants. I didn’t go to TripAdvisor to choose things to do. Since we would be staying with my friend and she would be driving us around, I didn’t even have to make hotel and/or rental car arrangements. This is truly unusual for me, to trust another person with all of the details for my vacation.

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I’ll also admit our time in Miami may not be how many of you would choose to spend time there. We didn’t go to a single club or bar. When we went to South Beach, the only things we did were go to lunch and spend the rest of the day on the sand and/or in the ocean. We also went to my friend’s neighborhood pool and my daughter had a grand time there. Most of all, we relaxed and thoroughly enjoy ourselves as my friend went out of her way to make us feel truly welcome.

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So what did we do other than go to the beach and pool? Well, we went on an airboat ride in the Everglades. We wanted to also go to Everglades National Park but because of a recent hurricane, they were closed. My friend has gone on multiple airboat rides in the Everglades over the years with visiting friends and relatives and she likes Everglades Safari Park the best. For $28 per adult or $15 per child you get a 30-40 minute airboat tour, a wildlife nature show, and you can walk along the “Jungle Trail,” observation platform, and exhibits on your own after the airboat tour. There’s also a discount if you buy your tickets in advance online.

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I’ve been on airboat rides before through the Everglades but I had forgotten how much fun they are! My daughter had never been on one and she loved it as well. During our tour, we saw multiple alligators, a few birds, and our guide pointed out some interesting plants in the area such as some so poisonous you would be dead within 20 minutes of touching it. After the airboat ride, we watched the wildlife nature show, where they had a boa constrictor and alligators. You could also get your picture take with a baby alligator after the show for $3 (we didn’t). We finished up our time at Everglades Safari Park with a walk around the “Jungle Trail,” which was nice but we didn’t really see much of anything of note.

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One of a few alligators seen on our airboat tour

Two things of note come to mind when visiting the Everglades: this is apparently an entirely different experience if you come during the warmer versus cooler months. My friend has been here during all seasons and said the mosquitoes will eat you alive during the warmer months (most of the year in Miami) and you may not even see a single alligator on the airboat ride. More reasons to go to Miami during the winter.

This vacation was a nice break after being so busy and active in Malta the previous couple of weeks. Normally you wouldn’t think of a long weekend in Miami as being quiet and relaxing, but like I’ve said many times, my family and I don’t vacation like typical Americans do.

How many of you have been on an airboat ride through the Everglades? What was your experience like?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Beaches of Malta- We Saved the Best for Last (Maybe)

On our final day in Malta we decided to check out some of the beaches a bit further away than the one across the street from our hotel. Although we had walked along this beach in St. Paul’s Bay a couple of times, we hadn’t attempted to get into the water and it was a rocky beach so it’s not one where you would sit on the sand and relax. Still, it was nice to walk along the water in the evening and watch the beautiful sunsets.

I had read that Ghadira Bay Beach is Malta’s largest sandy beach and that even in November the water could be warm enough for some people to swim in. I also knew that Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and Gnejna Bay were also worth checking out. Popeye Village, the movie set for the movie Popeye that was left permanently after filming ended on Malta is also close to Ghadira Bay Beach, so I thought we could make a day of it going to all of these places.

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Popeye Village, movie set from the 1980 movie “Popeye”

First we went to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and were blown away by how beautiful the view was. The water is this mixture of turquoise, greens, and darker blues that’s mesmerizing. It’s all surrounded by these huge limestone cliffs that just add to the beauty of the area. We hadn’t packed our bathing suits or towels because we hadn’t planned on doing anything other than taking in the views but our daughter begged my husband and me to drive back to the hotel and put on our swim suits and get beach towels. We agreed on the condition that we could first check out Ghadira Bay Beach and if we didn’t like it as much we’d go back to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay.

Ghadira Bay Beach is beautiful but we didn’t think it was nearly as beautiful as Ghajn Tuffieha Bay. Honestly, I don’t have nearly as good of photos of Ghadira Bay Beach as I do of Ghajn Tuffieha Bay, so I’m only going to show Ghajn Tuffieha Bay here. After having lunch at Ghadira Bay Beach, we drove the short drive to Popeye Village. We decided it wouldn’t be worth the 30 Euro it would have cost to go inside the village, especially since we didn’t want to spend more than 20 or 30 minutes there. After admiring the view and snapping some photos, we drove back to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay.

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Just look at this water!

My husband and daughter who are both more cold-tolerant than I am got in the water and swam around for quite a while before they both got out to warm up on the soft sand under the warm sun. I kept thinking to myself that this was a very nice way indeed to spend our holiday. I felt very fortunate to be here in this beautiful country with such rich history, awesome scenery, and friendly people.

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One unexpected thing that we discovered in the Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and Gneja Bay area were all of the trails there. We explored the many paths that wrapped around the bays and were rewarded with some fantastic views of both bays.

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Stopping on one of the trails to take a photo

After leaving Ghajn Tuffieha Bay we went back to our hotel to get cleaned up for dinner (which happened to be Thanksgiving Day for us Americans). So what did we decide to have for our Thanksgiving dinner in Malta you ask? We actually got take-away from a Chinese restaurant and celebrated back in our room. It was our last day in Malta, since we would be flying out the next morning to continue our vacation in Miami, Florida.

As we were driving to the airport bright and early the next morning to leave Malta, I started thinking about what was my favorite part. Usually I have an answer to questions like that pretty quickly, but here, I’m not sure. I loved Gozo and the salt pans there. I loved Dingli Cliffs and the views from there. I also loved Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and the beautiful water. I think in this case, I’ll have to go with my top three.

You can find other posts about Malta here:

Where in the World is Malta?

Rabat/Mdina/Mġarr Area of Malta- Touring a Roman House, Temples, and Catacombs

Valletta Area of Malta- the Capital City

Harbour Area of Malta- A Palace, a Fort, and Temples

How many of you have been to Malta and have been to these beautiful beaches and bays? What is your favorite part of Malta?

Happy travels!

Donna