The beauty of the U.S. mountain states lies in their diversity. Imagine climbing some of the highest mountains in the country or driving through a wide expanse of desert lands — or hiking through beautiful canyons and jumping into a blue lagoon. You'll fall in love with the beauty. Here are some destinations in both the northwest and southwest regions of the mountain states.

Flagstaff, Arizona: Base of Your Adventures

Flagstaff is a city graced with diverse landscapes: picturesque deserts, serene mountains, and pine forests. It is the entry point for your Humphrey's Peak adventure and the Grand Canyon. Alternative destinations are the Wupatki National Monument and the Walnut Canyon National Museum, where you can immerse yourself in the rich history of the area. Finding great hotels in Flagstaff should be the least of your concern. At DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Flagstaff, your comfortable bed ensures a sound sleep. Plus, you'll get a complimentary cookie upon check-in.

Salt Lake City, Utah: Home of Canyonlands

For a city, there is none more geographically gifted than Salt Lake City, which lies between the Wasatch mountain ranges and Great Salt Lake. You can explore the nearby Canyonlands National Park to explore. Take in the buttes designed by the Colorado River. If you prefer knowing the city more, check the architecture of Temple Square, the Salt Lake Tabernacle, and in Utah State Capitol, to name just three. If you're on a budget, you can find cheap Salt Lake City hotels. For its strategic location, Residence Inn by Marriott Salt Lake City – Downtown makes everything within reach and is affordable.

Saint George, Utah: Love by the Border

Situated in southwestern Utah, Saint George is near the border between Utah and Arizona, making it an ideal location for travelers who have long road trips in mind. Trek through Snow Canyon Park, and wait for the gorgeous sunset. Visit Sand Hollow State Park, the Mojave Desert, or the Pine Valley Mountains. You can easily find affordable hotels in Saint George. For example, The INN at Saint George offers great comfort for a very reasonable price.

Glenwood Springs, Colorado: A Dip in the Hot Spring

Hearing the name Glenwood Springs may make you think of the huge Glenwood Hot Springs Pool. Imagine dipping your tired body in welcoming warm water. It's an instant cure for your sore muscles after a day of hiking around the Hanging Lake Trail or enjoying Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. If you're looking for upscale Glenwood Springs hotels, try The Hotel Denver, situated near the train station. This hotel provides great breakfast choices, and its rooms are elegant and comfortable.

Billings, Montana: The Thrill of the Magic City

Billings, the largest Montana city, is not nicknamed the Magic City for nothing. The name came from the city's rapid growth, and Billings continues to grow. For leisure and business travelers alike, there are many things to do here. Pictograph Cave State Park and the Rimrocks appeal to the adventurous, while the Western Heritage Center and the Yellowstone Country Museum interest the history lovers. If you're looking for Billings hotels that fuse the historical and the exciting, the Northern Hotel may be the perfect place for you.

Mountain state destinations are among the most exciting in the U.S. So go ahead and pack so you can find your own adventure.

  Featured photo by Annette Kirk via trover.com

  This post was originally published on Backpacking With a Book by Jona.

Published in United States

On the Austrian border of Italy, high in the mountains, sit six distinct museums. Together, the museums comprise the Messner Mountain Museum (MMM) experience—an homage to mountains and mountain culture situated at six remarkable sites located throughout South Tyrol and Belluno. For those daring enough to make the trek, each museum can be accessed by (appropriately) climbing the mountain on which it resides. We think you’ll agree that seeing these museums in person is worth the effort it takes to get to them.

The Messner Mountain Museum Experience

The Messner Mountain Museum Experience

The MMM is the brainchild of world renowned mountain climber Reinhold Messner. Now in his 70s, the climber has spent more than a decade developing the six museums, each of which embraces a different theme pertaining to mountains and/or mountain climbing.

The first museum opened in 1995, while the most recent museum opened to tourists in July 2015. Each of the museums features interdisciplinary exhibits that blend art and natural science while celebrating the surrounding scenery. Oh, and in case you were worried? They’re all accessible by car as well as by foot.

Here’s what you can expect from each locale:

  • Corones. Located on the summit plateau of Kronplatz mountain between the Puster and Gader Valleys, MMM Corones is all about the discipline of mountaineering. Through presentations of relics, written musings, and visual art, the museum explores 250 years of mountaineering history, highlights the perspectives of philosophers and pioneers of the sport, and explores alpinism’s modern equipment and traditions. The building itself offers striking views of the Dolomites and the Alps. The most recently constructed of all six of the museums, Messner swears it will be the last.
  • . Dubbed “The Museum in the Clouds,” the MMM Dolomites is all about celebrating rock and the vertical worlds it creates. Located on a mountaintop plateau on Monte Rite, the museum boasts 360-degree panorama views of some of the Dolomites’ most stunning mountains, including Monte Schiara, Monte Civetta, and Monte Pelmo. The museum’s displays illustrate humans’ first attempts to ascend the Dolomites and feature historical and contemporary paintings of the mountains.
  • Firmian. The centerpiece of the MMM experience, MMM Firmian explores humanity’s relationship with the mountains through art, installations, and relics. Set between the peaks of the Schlern and Texel mountain ranges, the museum is located in the historic (and refurbished) Sigmundskron Castle, which overlooks the Etsch and Eisack rivers.
  • Juval. The first of the MMM museums, MMM Juval is devoted to the “magic of the mountain.” To that end, the museum features fine art collections devoted to showcasing mountains in all their splendor, including a gallery of paintings of the world’s holiest mountains and a collection of masks from five continents. The museum—which is located in the historic Juval Castle in Vinschgau—also includes a mountain zoo, home-grown produce, and a selection of fine wines.
  • Ortles. At MMM Ortles, it’s all about the ice. Located in an underground structure in Sulden am Ortler, the museum’s exhibits are devoted to exploring “the end of the world” through themes of skiing, ice climbing, and expedition to the poles. The museum explores the evolution of ice climbing gear over the last two centuries, educates visitors about the power of avalanches, and features artwork depicting ice in all its terror and beauty.
  • Ripa. The heritage of people who live in the mountains is on display at MMM Ripa, which is located in historic Bruneck Castle on a hillside in South Tyrol’s Puster Valley. The museum celebrates the cultures, religions, dwellings, and daily lives of mountain cultures from Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe. Ripa is surrounded by mountain farms and boasts views of the Ahrn Valley and the Zillertal Alps.

Ahrn Valley and Zillertal Alps

A visit to any or all of these museums will entertain mountain lovers and curious tourists alike. Visitors can purchase tickets to each museum individually or buy a tour ticket that includes entry to all six museums. If traveling by car, you’ll be able to visit all six of the museums over the course of three or four days. If you want to hike to each of the museums, you’ll need to plan a longer trip. None of the hikes are shorter than two hours, while climbing to MMM Corones will take upwards of 6.5 hours and hiking up to MMM Ortles will take around 12.5 hours over the course of two days. The energy and time you devote to the climbs will be rewarded in the form of some of the most beautiful scenery around.

If you’re already in Italy, it’s also worth driving the three hours to the cities of Milano or Bologna, both which offer a whole different kind of cultural experience (think fashion, food, and gorgeous architecture everywhere you look). As its combination of striking natural beauty and urban culture proves, Italy should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on December 5th.

Published in Travel Inspiration

Colorado is one of the best states in the USA to visit. Not only is it beautiful and historic, but it is also full of some of the nicest people in America. Although I still call Asia home, If I ever move back to America it would be somewhere in Colorado. Never been? Colorado is amazing, you have to visit! Here are seven unique and offbeat travel destinations to help get your Colorado vacation started:

  Check out the entire Offbeat Travel Guide collection!

Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour

   Silverton
  $10-20/person depending kid/senior/adult
  Official Web Site

With history dating back to the 1870s, the Old Hundred Gold Mine hit pay dirt just after the turn of the century when they began supplying gold bars to the Denver Mint for use in coining. However the ever-increasing yields from the mine were the begin of the end and before long it was officially "mined out".

Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour
via wwworks

All-in-all the tour lasts almost an hour. After getting loaded up (and bundled up, it is a little chilly underground) you board the railcars and proceed underground. There we explored a couple of the original veins with a guide who gave us a firsthand history lesson of both the mine and mining processes. But the scenery does not stop there; even outside of the mine shafts the backdrop of the local mountains is breathtaking. One neat part of the tour includes a view of the original miners' cabin, which if I remember correctly dates back to 1904. The thing is perched way up on the mountain and just barely is hanging on. As a matter-of-fact, when they first built the cabin they had to secure it to the nearby rock face with metal cables to prevent it from falling down the mountain. Wild!

Gold panning at the Old Hundred Mine in Silverton, one of the top offbeat things to do in Colorado
via wwworks

And of course no tour of a gold mine would be complete without a stop at a real-life sluice box where you can take your turn at panning for gold, silver, and other semi-precious stones just like the gold-panners of the past did. And, yes, no worries: you get to keep whatever you.

Due to the local weather this tour only operates during the warm season, from May to October. And, as with any decent tour, there is also a gift shop selling all sorts of related souvenirs and trinkets as well as snacks and drinks. Check the official web site for more information on directions, rates, and operating hours.

Royal Gorge Bridge & Park

   Canon City
  $19-25/person depending kid/senior/adult
  Official Web Site

Wow, where to start. Think amusement park combined with natural wonder and you might be headed in the right direction. Covering 360 acres and featuring nearly two dozen rides, shows, and attractions to keep you amused, it is hard to get in and out of this place in less than a couple hours -- but then again, why would you want to rush it.

The Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado

The prime attraction and namesake of this park is the Royal Gorge and its sky high suspension bridge, one of the highest in the world. It was built in 1929 for only $350,000 but the cost today would exceed $15,000,000. You can walk or drive across it but I definitely recommend walking, as that allows you to better enjoy the scenery as well as take some fantastic pictures using the 360° view. There is also an aerial tram that is apparently the world's longest single-span tram.

After enjoying the view from above, you can also admire it from below by riding down the 45° incline railway. Seeing it from this angle really puts it all in perspective; the towering bridge you just walked across is nothing more than a thing string stretching across the canyon like the tight-wire of a circus performer.

But the sights don't stop there! You can explore the gorgeous countryside by taking a mule rule ride through the pines and evergreens or strolling the Wapiti Western Wildlife Park. There is one of those free-fall skycoasters and a plaza theatre, a Mountain Man Trading Post (not sure what that is actually, I skipped it), and even a mountaintop lodge for those wanting to stay overnight.

The Royal Gorge Bridge & Park in Silverton, Colorado

The park is open year-round but some of the attractions may be seasonal or weather-permitting. I'm sure the official web site provide you with up to date information.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary

Keenesburg
$10/person, $5/kids ≤12 yrs
Official Web Site

Located just 30 miles northeast of Denver and covering a grand total of 720 acres and sheltering around 300 lions, tigers, leopards, mountain lions, bears, wolves, and other large carnivores, the Wild Animal Sanctuary of Colorado is the first sanctuary of its kind to create large acreage species-specific habitats for its rescued animals. Since 1980 the Wild Animal Sanctuary has responded to nearly 1,000 requests from private citizens and government agencies to rescue animals from across the United States and even in Mexico.

Keenseburg Wild Animal Sanctuary is one of the best offbeat things to do in Colorado
via Mark

After breaking free of the Welcome Center & Gift Shop, with a guide book in hand, you'll be set free to wander. They have huge closed-off habitats surrounding the main complex but by far the best thing is the observation ramps and decks that stretch over the animals in the center of the park. Walking up ramps and along observation decks suspending above the animals you can get a birds-eye view of some of nature's most impressive and majestic mammals.

Each of the main observation decks was thoughtfully designed with picnic tables and chairs, as does the small garden area at the foot of the main ramp. Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch, or if all else fails the gift shop does also sell a few drinks and snacks.

This is a great family expedition, absolutely perfect for the kiddos.

Beer? I like beer.

Colorado Breweries

   Fort Collins, Longmont, Boulder, Golden, & others
  Varies; Mid-range
  Colorado Brewers Guild

Craft beer is something that every real man should appreciate. It is something to be proud of, unlike that mass-produced swill that relies on a multi-million dollar advertising compaign to get you to buy their crap. It is said that pairing beer and cheese is akin to holding hands, whereas wine and cheese is like arm wrestling. If you are drinking a good craft beer then that is so very true. And if you are like me you'll be happy to learn that Colorado has a lot of microbrews, good microbrews. Colorado is one of the best states for craft beer lovers. As a matter-of-fact they have more breweries per capita than any other state in the USA. And for those that like the [ugh] mass-market beer, you probably already know that Colorado is where Coors proudly calls home. They even offer tours. I didn't go on one. Nothing fany about mass production. Craft breweries however are always cool and quirky!

The Phantom Canyon Brewing Company in Colorado Springs always has fresh, homebrewed craft beer on tap

Almost all of the larger cities have breweries. If in doubt just inquire in a local bar. I even found a restaurant in downtown Colorado Springs that has a glass-encased brewery right in its main dining room. The food was good and the beer was better. If you are in the area, definitely look up Phantom Canyon Brewing Company.

The Phantom Canyon Brewing Company in Colorado Springs always has fresh, homebrewed craft beer on tap

  Have you been to any of the breweries in Colorado or tried any of the local beers? Share your thoughts and/or recommendations at the end of the article!

    Other notable breweries include:
  • New Belgium Brewing Company (Fort Collins)
  • Boulder Beer Company (Boulder)
  • Twisted Pine Brewing Company (Boulder)
  • Crabtree Brewing Company (Greeley)
  • Left Hand Brewing Company (Longmont)
  • Golden City Brewery (Golden)

Casa Bonita

   Denver
  Entrees @ $15 - $20
Official Web Site

Forever immortalized by an episode of South Park, Casa Bonita offers an eating experience unlike any other and I just had to check it out for myself. True to the episode, this restaurant actually features shoot-em up gunfights, cliff divers, strolling mariachis, puppet shows, magicians, games, prizes, and more.

Casa Bonita is the Colorado restaurant famous for it's elaborate jungle interior and one of the quirky things to do in Denver. And yes, it's the same place from South Park.
via Rob Lee

The restaurant is huge, covering over 50,000 sq ft and seating well over 1,000. Hell it has a 30-foot indoor waterfall. You pay for the show though with the cost of the food. Casa Bonita specializes in Mexican cuisine, but their menu is very limited and stereotypical. Everything except the kids meals is over-priced and none of what we ordered stood out or overly impressed us. But the sights, now that was a different story!

United States Mint in Denver, Colorado

Kids will never want to leave this place, but even for adults it is worth at least one visit. Just one though.

United States Mint

   Denver
  Free!
  Official Web Site

How can you beat free? You can't! So why not visit the Denver location of the US Mint and learn a little bit about the coin and currency we Americans use every single day.

Tours are fairly short, only about thirty minutes, but the the guides are very knowledgeable in all aspects of the Mint from the gold rush days up to its present day production of coins. There wasn't too much crazy stuff to see as far as the machinery that actually produces the coins, but there are some interesting displays and videos. And of course the mandatory gift shop.

Take a tour of the Denver Mint, one of the best free things to do in Colorado
via Ken Lund

However, there are a few warnings: first off, you must make a reservation online first or you will not be allowed entry. Additionally, don't plan on taking any pictures for obvious security reasons. And as security is just as tight as at the airport, don't bring with you what you do not need. Finally, there is no public parking. Not a big deal but noteworthy nonetheless.

Pike's Peak

   Manitou Springs
  $10/adult & $4/kid or $35/vehicle
  Pike's Peak Guide by Derek Freal

Colorado has 54 "Fourteeners," otherwise known as mountains with peaks over 14,000 feet above sea level. One of the most well-known however is Pike's Peak. With a 19-mile paved road that winds and stretches all the way up to its 14,110 foot summit, it is no wonder this is the most visited mountain in North America.

Pike's Peak in Colorado

Pike's Peak National Park is open year round, weather permitting. You can see it in the picture above (the red rocks in the picture are the Garden Of The Gods). Be warned, in addition to extreme winds, the temperatures at the 14,110 summit can easily be 40°F less than at the base, which is only at around 8,000 feet elevation. The road to the summit, although just recently fully paved (apparently the last stretch used to be gravel), still features on a couple guardrails, sheer drops, breathtaking views, and scenic view spots you can pull over to park and take pictures.

Pike's Peak in Colorado

  More Offbeat Travel Guides     More photos from Pike's Peak     More American destinations

  Know of any other sights that make Colorado unique? Share them!

Published in United States

Do you find traditional hotels and resorts uninteresting when out on a vacation? Avid adventurists and nature lovers will say ‘yes’ to this question, and this attitude is the reason why the camping culture around the world is on rise. Camps help you to experience nature at close quarters. Be it on mountains, in deserts or be on beaches, camping is an ideal way of exploring the beauty of nature. India and its diverse geography offer a variety of camping sites where you can spend the night under a moonlit sky, sitting with your friends around a bonfire enjoying the beauty of nature. HoliDaze picks from the top camping sites in India include:

Camping in Rishikesh, one of the top places in India for camping

Rishikesh

  Uttarakhand

Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, Rishikesh is a tourist place with deep spiritual connection where tons of adventures await. The place is one of the most sought after camping sites due to its awesome natural beauty and various adventure destinations. Living by the banks of the River Ganga is a great experience for anyone. July to September is the best time for enjoying camping in Rishikesh and perfect for adventure lovers.

Camping in Spiti Valley, one of the top places in India for camping

Spiti Valley

  Himachal Pradesh

Located in the Trans-Himalayan belt of Himachal Pradesh, Spiti Valley is described as “a world within a world” by the famous English poet Rudyard Kipling. Camping here gives you a wonderful opportunity to get close to nature and explore this stunning valley. Spiti Valley is also a well-known adventure destination amongst Indians but has yet to truly catch on with foreign tourists -- all the more reason to visit now, before it does! Camping here in May or June gives you relief from the heat of late summer.

Camping in Mussoorie, one of the top places in India for camping

Mussoorie

  Uttarakhand

Adventure lovers and campers gather in Mussoorie to enjoy the thrills of camping and return home with memorable experiences. You will feel like you are in a different world soaking in the splendid views of the white capped Himalayan peaks from the comfort of your camps. Mussoorie, also known as the gateway to Gangotri and Yamunotri shrines, is the favorite spot of trekkers due to its rugged terrains and scenic beauty. March to June is the ideal time for enjoying camping in Mussoorie.

Camping in Jaisalmer, one of the top places in India for camping

Jaisalmer

  Rajasthan

Camping near to the Sam Sand Dunes in Jaisalmer gives you the opportunity to enjoy local Rajasthani food, cultural dances and more. The camps are lit by Mashaals and campfire to provide a truly royal feel of the bygone era. If you are yet not satisfied, watching stars at night from the deserts of golden city is an experience of a lifetime. You can also enjoy camel safaris in Jaisalmer. Needless to say, winter is the best season to enjoy camping here.

Camping in Ladakh, one of the top places in India for camping

Ladakh

  Jammu and Kashmir

Camping is truly an exciting experience in the land of high passes. Enfolded by the arid mountains, Ladakh offers a variety of camping sites for campers of all types. The banks of Pangong and Tsomoriri lakes are ideal camping sites where you can explore the beauty of Ladakh. Of course some other travelers prefer camping in Markha Valley, another favorite destination among trekkers. July and August are the best months to enjoy camping in Ladakh.

Camping in Chandertal Lake, one of the best places in India for camping

Chandertal Lake

  Himachal Pradesh

Also dubbed as ‘the lake of moon’, Chandertal Lake is an ideal camping site. Located at an elevation of 4300m (14,107 ft) in Lahaul and Spiti Valley, Chandertal Lake offers you a great camping experience right in the lap of nature. A stay in the camps here will surely mesmerize you and bewilder your senses. However, altitude sickness may be an issue.

Camping in Anjuna Beach, one of the best places in India for camping

Goa

  Goa

Known for its beautiful beaches, Goa offers campers a variety of camping sites. Spending a night at a camp on one of the Goa’s most popular camping locations allows you to experience the happening culture and nightlife of Goa. Agonda beach, Ashwem beach, and Anjuna beach are a few of the best camping sites here. You will get to experience something new with a beach party while camping in Goa. And be honest, who doesn't love beach parties?

Arguably the best way to enjoy the serenity of nature, camping is one of the best outdoor activities that anyone can enjoy without intense training or practice. It allows you to escape the city and modern life, and provides an opportunity to explore the unexplored countryside. The next time you are in India, be sure to take some time off the beaten tourist trail to enjoy a little camping.

See More       India Unexplored: 24 Incredible Offbeat Destinations   India HoliDaze Guides

Published in India

Jammu and Kashmir is one of the most beautiful states in India thanks to its scenic, untouched landscapes and breathtaking mountains. Though the state suffered during the years when terrorism was in its most intense and destructive phase, it has slowly limped back to normalcy.

Over the past couple of years Kashmir is quickly becoming one of the most visited states in India. The amazingly beautiful landscape of the land has enthralled emperors and kings for countless generations, and mesmerized visitors for centuries.

If you are planning a trip to Kashmir, it is important that you decide on the places you want to visit beforehand. There are so many picturesque locations that it can be a bit overwhelming. Let’s have a look at some of the places that are must-see for any tourist.

Anantnag

Pahalgam, in Anantnag, part of Jammu and Kashmir, the most beautiful state in India

Anantnag is also known as the rice bowl of Kashmir valley. Kokernag, Verinag, Achabal and Daksum are places noted for their beauty. These scenic towns are also home to many renowned health resorts and spas. Located at 2438m (8,000 ft) above sea level, Daksum is lush, green and rich in exotic flora and fauna. The dense forests are surrounded by snow-capped mountains and offer endless trekking options to enthusiasts. You can also go fishing in the trout-rich streams of Daksum.

Pahalgam is a famous hill station in Anantnag located at an altitude 2740m (8,990 ft) above sea level. Vast meadows and pastures, pine forests and snow clad mountains justify why Kashmir is often referred to as the Switzerland of India. It has featured in several Bollywood romances and still is one of the most favored honeymoon spots for Indian newlyweds.

Lidder River is any angler’s dream come true with bountiful brown trout fishing beats. The beautiful trekking routes through pine and cedar forests, a 9-hole golf course, lovely camping sites and skiing opportunities make Pahalgam an adventure seeker’s paradise. The picturesque Kolahoi glacier is another must-see.

Gulmarg

Gulmarg, in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most beautiful Indian states and a must visit destination when traveling India

Gulmarg is famous for its vast expanse of flower-clad meadows set against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains. This exceptionally beautiful mountain resort boasts of the highest green golf course in the world located at a height of 2650m (8,694 ft) above the sea level. The first ski resort in India was established in Gulmarg in 1927 and continues to be the premier skiing destination in the country.

The Gulmarg Gondola is Asia’s highest and longest -- and the world’s second highest -- cable car project. The views are breathtaking and you get to see the Meadow of Flowers, as Gulmarg is popularly known, in all its glory.< If long treks to ski spots are not your thing, you can also opt for a pony ride. Some pony owners may try to overcharge foreign tourists though, so be careful and be sure to haggle.

If you are a skiing enthusiast then head to Apparwath Peak and Shark Fin for what are arguably the best skiing trails in the country.

Srinagar

Srinagar, in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most beautiful Indian states and a must visit destination when traveling India

Srinagar is the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and does not in any way fall short where natural beauty is concerned. Lush gardens, historical monuments, ancient shrines and serene lakes make it one of the most sought after and visited tourist destinations in the country.

Shikharas are beautiful decorated wooden boats that are found on the Dal and Nagin lakes in Srinagar. No tourist to Kashmir can afford to miss a ride on the delicate Shikhara. You also get to see quaint floating vegetable and flower markets on the lakes.

There are houseboat hotels where you can book in advance for a luxury stay on the lake. You also can indulge in watersports like kayaking, water surfing, angling and canoeing.

The lakes are the star attractions but, you must also find time to visit other places of interest like Jama Masjid, Hazratbal Mosque, Sri Pratap Singh Museum, Indira Gandhi Tulip Garden and Shankaracharya Temple. The Mughal Gardens and Dachigam Wildlife Sanctuary are other places that you should visit during your stay in Srinagar.

Sonamarg

Sonamarg, in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most beautiful Indian states and a must visit destination when traveling India

Sonamarg means ‘Meadow of Gold’ and is noted for its pristine natural beauty. Sonamarg is blessed with lovely alpine forests and is nestled in the towering snow-clad Himalayan Mountains.

The valley is located at an altitude of 2800 meters, and the journey to Sonamarg is in itself as satisfying and beautiful as the destination. As you meander through the valley you get to see the imposing Harmukh range that dominates the horizon all along the way. If you are a selfie lover, there are plenty of photogenic spots along the route where you can stop to click some good pictures.

Thajiwas Glacier in Sonamarg, Jammu and Kashmir state, India
Thajiwas Glacier

Sonamarg is located on the banks of Sindh River where you can enjoy fishing for the plentiful trout and mahseer. If you are visiting in summer you can plan a trip to the Thajiwas glacier. It is a major tourist attraction and you can choose to trek up the scenic trail or hire a pony ride.

  Sonamarg experiences heavy snowfall and avalanches during winter months, so always check with authorities before you plan a trek into the mountains.

Pangong Lake

Pangong Lake, in Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most beautiful Indian states and a must visit destination when traveling India

Pangong Lake is a 5-hour drive from Leh and the extreme landscape will give you an experience you will never forget.

The azure-blue lake is a 45km stretch on the Indian side and is fed by inland streams and rivers. The salty water does not allow fish and other flora and fauna to flourish, but small crustaceans can be found in the waters. The marshy surroundings are also home to ducks, gulls, and migratory birds. So you can see this also a great place for bird watching.

Pangong Lake first got noticed when it featured in the Bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots and has since attracted tourists in thousands. But it’s not Pangong Lake alone that Ladakh has on offer. Located at a distance of 45km from Leh is the quaint town of Hemis. Leh and Ladakh are perfect places to sample India’s incredible diversity, so ensure they are on your itinerary.

Hemis is home to the renowned Hemis National Park which provides shelter to many rare forms of wildlife including the snow leopards and bharals. You can also pay a visit to the Buddhist monastery in Hemis which is the largest in Ladakh and attracts tourists from all over the world.

  Schedule your visit during the Hemis festival to enjoy the true culture of Hemis.

Conclusion   Kashmir is one of the most breathtaking and picturesque places in the world, where you get to enjoy a unique blend of cultural warmth and hospitality. The next time you are in India, make sure to plan a visit to the northernmost tip of India.

See More Incredible India: 24 Off The Beaten Path Destinations

  flickr   //   vinamra   ankurp   shahbasharat   mckaysavage   kashmir-pictures   parthasahana   _pavan_

Published in India

I don’t know if it is due to my mother coming from a mining area, visiting underground mines or caves at a young age, or my own technical work experience gained at mines in Germany and Mongolia, but I like going underground. Caverns, mines, tunnels...you name it! Some of these trips have been pretty spectacular and well worth a visit. Here are my top 5 subterranean tourist attractions:

Freiberg Visitor Mine (Saxony, Germany)   Official Site

I spent the summer of 2010 working at Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg - the oldest university of mining and metallurgy in the world (the chemical elements indium and germanium were also discovered there). Silver (and later other minerals) have been mined in Freiberg for centuries, with the 850th anniversary of the “Silberstadt” being celebrated this coming weekend. The main mine, while no longer productive (though rising metal prices may make production once again favourable), has over 1000km of tunnels running under the small city, however only 20km of these are accessible as the lower levels of the mine were flooded when production ceased.

Bergstadtfest brings together mining communities from all over the region
Bergstadtfest brings together mining communities from all over the region

Various mine tours can be arranged – however tours in English usually need to be arranged in advance with a minimum of 8 people. Alternatively take someone with you to translate the tour – many Freiberg students will be familiar with the mine which is still used today for teaching. They can be found in most bars in the town centre singing the traditional German mining song “Das Steigerleid”. There is also a kind of bar located in the mine itself, over 100m underground, where rock concerts are sometimes performed and can also be hired out for parties and other events.

Another mining-related attraction is Terra-Mineralia, a geological museum located in Schloss Freudenstein in the town centre. The museum has interesting rock samples from all over the world, as well as Freiberg and the Erzgebirge (“Ore Mountains”), and even outer space!

Freiberg is best visited over the last weekend in June, during what is known as “Bergstadtfest” – a celebration of the town’s mining heritage, with street stalls, a funfair, fireworks, beer, beer and more beer, culminating in a miner’s parade from the Dom on the Sunday morning. Even outside of Bergstadtfest, Freiberg can still be a pleasant day out if you are staying in the vicinity of Dresden or Leipzig.

Cruachan – the Hollow Mountain (Dalmally, Argyll, Scotland)   Official Site

Short and sweet, but still very interesting, Cruachan is a pumped-hydro power station. That is, during periods of surplus electricity, water is pumped to the top of the mountain (Ben Cruachan) and stored in a reservoir. When energy demand increases e.g. at breakfast time when everyone is making coffee, the water is flowed back down the mountain and used to generate electricity. The humidity and temperature in the underground tunnels is significant enough to allow tropical plants to be grown in artificial sunlight. The tour gives a deeper explanation of the process, the history of the power station, and shows the inner workings of the mountain. Cruachan is an interesting stop for anyone with an engineering background, or simply anyone who wants to know a bit more about where our electricity comes from.

The Cruachan visitor centre is pleasant rest stop on the way up to Oban, Fort William or the Western Isles, and visitors arriving by public transport or bike gain free entry (Falls of Cruachan railway station is only 200m walk). The scenery on the way is your stereotypical Scotland, and can be enjoyed whatever mode of transportation you take. Those of the outdoor persuasion can also hike up to the corrie (known to the English as a tarn) on Ben Cruachan where the storage reservoir can be found – though be prepared for the rain!

St Michael’s Cave (Gibraltar)   Official Site

St Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar

I visited this one several times during my childhood. The British overseas territory, Gibraltar largely consists of a large formation of Jurassic limestone known as the Rock of Gibraltar (or simply the Rock), containing over 150 caves. St Michael’s cave is the largest and most visited of these, being one of Gibraltar’s leading tourist attractions. Entry also includes entry to the Siege Tunnels and the Moorish Castle. Taking the Lower St. Michael's Cave tour is strongly recommended by the locals, but must be booked 3 days in advance minimum and children under 10 are not allowed (For more info, see the link above, under the option "Tours").

Window to Gibraltar
St Michael’s Cave is not the only cave in Gibraltar – the rock is honeycombed with many more grottos and tunnels – such as this one.

The cave can be reached by road, cable car or on foot – taking the cable car up and walking back down is particularly pleasant and allows you to get up close to the Barbary apes that inhabit the Rock. It is thought that the apes first reached the Rock from Morocco through the network of caves long ago. Another legend is that the ancient Greeks thought the cave to be the gateway to the underworld of Hades.

Sign at St Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar

Gibraltar packs a lot into a small area, but if you do want to venture further afield you can hop over the border to Spain or take the ferry to Morocco which is visible from atop the rock.

Eisriesenwelt (Upper Austria, Austria)   Official Site

This one is pretty spectacular. Located 1641m above sea level in the Austrian Alps 40km south of Salzburg, Eisriesenwelt is the largest ice cave in the world with the network stretching over 42km. To access the cave you drive to the visitor centre, take a 20 minute walk to the cable car station, and after a vertigo-inducing trip in the cable car (the faint of heart can take a 90 minute trek by foot), take another 20 minute walk to the mouth of the cave. The pressure differential due to the temperatures inside and outside the cave causes a blast of ice cold wind that can reach up to 100km/h when the cave doors are opened – when this happens you can easily see why the cave was once thought to be (another) gateway to hell. Once inside the cave the air is still again, and you are guided up and down 700 steps with your path lit by old-fashioned lamps, and the impressive ice formations illuminated by magnesium tapers.

The panoramic views of the Alps on the trek up to the ice cave are equally as stunning
Air enters the top of the mountain, cools and is sinks down to the bottom of the cave, causing frigid draughts of up to 100km/h in summer. In winter the process works in reverse.

One thing I will emphasise: this is an ICE cave. As the name suggests it is filled with ICE – come prepared for spending up to an hour in temperatures below freezing. That means come prepared with sensible shoes such as boots or trainers, thick socks, trousers, long sleeves, thick jumpers, hat, gloves, scarf...no matter how warm it is outside. On my tour around the cave a poor newlywed couple from the Middle East enjoying their honeymoon underestimated how cold it would be and didn’t even bring pullovers. The husband begged the tour guide to hurry through the cave - before we had even been inside two minutes! They hadn’t expected to be so cold for so long, not having any experience of sub-zero temperatures, and coming from a place where you only ever saw ice in your drink. Even me, in true Scottish style, prepared for all weathers and able to wrap up warm, found my toes getting a little cold towards the end (canvas pumps are a bad idea!).

The panoramic views of the Alps on the trek up to the ice cave are equally as stunning
The panoramic views of the Alps on the trek up to the ice cave are equally as stunning

Eisriesenwelt is a good day trip from Salzburg, with many tour companies organising bus trips. Salzburg itself is very cultural, being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with several palaces and historic churches, as well as being the famed birthplace of Mozart (there is always a busker to be found playing his music). There’s also the whole “Sound of Music” experience to found too. Finally if your hunger for all things subterranean hasn’t been sated, there is also a salt mine and museum in the nearby town of Hallein, which features among other things underground slides!

Josh licking the salt at Wieliczka cave outside of Krakow, Poland
Licking salt from the walls is perfectly
acceptable - in fact, permission to take up
to 1kg of salt is included in the tour price!

Wieliczka Salt Mine (Krakow, Poland)     UNESCO Site

This one is a subterranean MUST SEE!

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mine contains over 3km of tunnel accessible to the public – but this is only a very small percentage of the tunnel network. Also contained within the mine are several chapels, fine sculptures and even chandeliers – all of which are formed out of salt. Also present is are salt lakes and many massive chambers carved out of the rock salt – one so high as to have been the location of both the world’s first underground bungee jump and underground hot air balloon flight. Tours are available in several languages and very reasonably priced, and the mine is easily reached by bus from Krakow city centre, meaning there is no excuse to miss out on this. In one word: SPECTACULAR!

Wieliczka salt mine outside of Krakow, Poland

Krakow itself has all the charms of any historic European city, and with an excellent night life to boot (a trip down the salt mine will also help clear up a moderate hangover, should you overdo it). Did I also mention that Krakow is cheap? – I went out for 5 days with the same amount of money I spent in Oslo in a weekend (around £100), and still came back with plenty to spare. I recommend visiting in December when there is a good Christmas market to be found in the main square.

  What are your favorite caves?

  All photos copyright Josh Wilkie except for... flickr   //   davidcjones lancashire voxaeterno

Published in Travel Inspiration

The cool highlands of Sri Lanka occupy the only part of the rainforests that is remaining in the entire country. It is the natural home of the highly threatened fauna and flora species, endemic Sri Lankanleopard, and the purple-faced languor. This region consists of three protected areas: Horton Plains National Park, Knuckles Range, and Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, which include Adam’s Peak. The highest point of the range is the Adam’s peak at 2243 metres above sea level. The peak is a Buddhist pilgrim’s center as they believe there is footprint of Lord Buddha.

10 things you don't know about Sri Lanka

Peak Wilderness Sanctuary

Peak Wilderness Sanctuary is territory exclusively found on Characteristic criteria however the significant reason most traveler will visit it is to experience it when climbing Adam's Top which is spotted inside the engraved region. It is not Sri Lanka's most noteworthy mountain however is a principle site of journey due to the petrosomatoglyph that is as a foot shaped impression differently allocated to Buddha, Shiva or Adam. The primary course to the summit begins at Maskeliya and is vigorously "built" with steps. In the journey season the whole way is lined with restaurants. Generally the trip is finished at evening time to touch base in time for the day break which throws a huge shadow of the mountain over the fields underneath. This was our explanation behind going there and, given the colossal throngs of individuals additionally doing the trip, we didn't assemble much feeling for the characteristic benefits of the region we passed through!! Interestingly the journey course itself, including numerous different areas from different parts of the island, is on Sri Lanka's T List in its own particular perfectly fine social site.

Horton Fields

In any case, Sri Lanka is not all that vast unless you are especially intrigued by spotting Sri Lankan endemic winged creatures, Horton Fields won't reimburse an incredible arrangement as far as "sights". You may well appreciate getting away from the high temperature of lower elevations and the perspectives are charming enough, however not "tremendous" on a World equivalence scale – even the celebrated internationally "Planets End". Around these backwoods territories lie Sri Lanka's principle tea-creating areas and mountain resorts, for example, Nuwara Eliya. In reality, whilst the English chop down the woodland regions which today deliver tea, they likewise sanctioned a strategy which kept the chopping down of any backwoods over 5000ft. In the event that you are "doing" Sri Lanka you have to see this region and you should take in Horton Fields whilst you are there on the off chance that you have the vehicle.

Published in Sri Lanka

Of everything I've wanted to do in New Zealand, walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (TAC) has been at the top. Considered one of the best day walks in the country - if not the world - the hike is a steady climb between the peaks of one of New Zealand's most spectacular, unique environments: the volcanic slopes and craters of Mount Tongariro, and it's young, infantile and more volatile vent, Ngaurahoe (pronounced nara-ho-ee).

Mount Tongariro's head lost in the clouds on the left, while Ngaurahoe stands proud to the right
Mount Tongariro's head lost in the clouds on the left, while Ngaurahoe stands proud to the right

The recent weeks have been blighted with heavy rain and overcast skies, atypical of the summers this country is used to, so when my day off correlated with Amy's, and the promise of clear and fine conditions, we had little hesitation in deciding what we were going to do with ourselves.

Everyone I'd spoken to about the TAC recommended starting as early as possible, so we booked our campsite and shuttle, and made the three hour drive down to Tongariro National Park the evening before, past rolling fairytale hills and the vast blue waters of Lake Taupo. We spent the night at the Discovery Lodge, a site with an uninterrupted view of the massif, and further south to the grand peaks and ski fields of Mount Ruapehu.

Ngaurahoe's ethereal silhouette looming from the mist as the sun rises
Ngaurahoe's ethereal silhouette looming from the mist as the sun rises

Discovery lodge offered the earliest shuttle service available at 5:45am, though we decided the 6:15am start sounded a little less painful. The staff at the lodge made sure everyone was heading up with the necessary kit, gave helpful advice on pacing ourselves, before dropping us off at the beginning of the track for 6:30am in the morning mist. Within a few kilometres, the landscape began to change from the familiar heath and bracken moorland of the lower slopes, to strange, flat expanses of dark rock - old lava flows that had oozed during Mount Ngaurahoe's creation. Approaching the Mangateopopo Hut at the base of the ascent of the Devil's Staircase, the sun began to illuminate and clear the mist around us, and the imposing grand silhouette of Ngaurahoe began to emerge from the haze.

Mount Taranaki's summit on the horizon, a undred miles away
Mount Taranaki's summit on the horizon, a undred miles away

Before long, the sun had burned through the mist, giving us a completely clear conditions to start the ascent to the crossing itself. The climb up the Devil's Staircase itself was relatively easy, with steps built into the face of the scree, and we made it to the Mangateopopo Saddle before 9am. The Saddle sits between the rugged ridges and craters of Mount Tongariro and the perfectly conical textbook volcano of Ngaurahoe. A small sign advised walkers that the most recent major eruption of Ngaurahoe was just forty years ago, and what to do in the hopeless case of an eruption - run, basically, in the opposite direction to flying rocks. Far off in the distance, the snow-capped peak of Taranaki (Mount Egmont) poked out from above the clouds almost a hundred miles away, crystal clear against the blue of the sky.

The magnificent landscape from the summit of Tongariro: Ngaurahoe in the foreground, with Ruapehu behind.
The magnificent landscape from the summit of Tongariro: Ngaurahoe in the foreground, with Ruapehu behind.

As we'd made such good time, we decided to make the traverse to the craggy summit of Mount Tongariro. The temptation to ascend Ngaurahoe was definitely there, but the scree climb to the summit is infamously loose and dangerous during summer, so it is something I decided I would leave for next time and a winter ascent! The poled route over to the summit of Mount Tongariro was quite easy going and we managed to make it well short of the advised time, despite a biting wind picking up along the ridge of South Crater. The additional climb proved well worth the effort though, as Ruapehu became visible in the south, providing an unforgettable, majestic vista across the North Island's volcanic heart.

As we made our way back to the TAC track, the encouragement for an early start became justified: the pathway along the South Crater looked like a column of ants marching across the moonscape. Moving fast to beat the throngs of tourists, we clambered back down to the edge of the Red Crater, an ominous, somehow fearsome feature of deep red rock and dust, with fumeroles steaming from its surface. The landscape looked martian as we made our way around its edge, and down the scree to the equally surreal Emerald Lakes.

Amy making her way around the Emerald Lakes
Amy making her way around the Emerald Lakes

If the Red Crater is the dark, formidable side of this volcano, then the Emerald lakes are at the other end of the spectrum. The three pools of mineral-rich water glow with incandescent colours creating a beautiful other-worldly effect. The rock around them steams with geothermal activity, a reminder that this volcano is very much alive, breathing sulphurous breath from lungs deep within the rock.

By 11:30, we had begun the descent; a long, winding path of countless steps through fragile alpine scrub with beautiful views across to lake Rotoaira and the mighty Lake Taupo. The sacred Maori site of Ketetahi hot springs blasted clouds of steam to our left as we worked our way down to the valley floor, and after a few long hours of trudging through scrub and bush, we made it back to the car park and our shuttle bus tired and happy, completing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in a respectable 7 and a quarter hours!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing panoramic

The day was a truly incredible one, and Tongariro is a very special place. Be warned though, we saw it in the best conditions possible but they can soon turn. We saw far too many people up there in trainers, shorts and t-shirt, some without even food or water with them. At almost 2000m high, the crossing is definitely alpine and should not be taken lightly, as weather conditions can change at a moment's notice. Make sure you're prepared for anything!

We ended the day with a well-earned meal beside Lake Taupo: an amazing rack of lamb complemented by the stunning view of our day's conquests at the far shore.

Perfect.

Published in New Zealand

Now this is truly a unique sight like no other! Everyone has seen algae, that icky often green stuff that grows in water all over the world — but have you ever seen rainbow-colored algae? That is what happens for a brief period every year at a remote river in Colombia, South America.

The Caño Cristales River located high in the Serrania de la Macarena Mountains is one that most travelers have never even heard of. It’s location is so remote that the river does not even have any fish and you can only get there after a long trek via foot or donkey! But that is not all, it gets trickier...

This multicolored algae occurs only during the brief period in between the wet and dry seasons, usually in September or October. At that time, for only a week or two at the absolute tops, all the algae on the rocks of the rivers turns a rainbow of colors — and thanks to the clear river water visitors can get a perfect view!

Rainbow colored algae at Caño Cristales River in a remote part of the Colombian mountains
Show up at the wrong time though and all you see is boring old green...

I tentatively plan on joining friends in Peru in September, but I told him I would only come visit him on one condition: if we can travel to neighboring Colombia and spend a few days camping and relaxing at the Caño Cristales River. This is something I absolutely have to see with my own eyes, even if it means staying up in the mountains for two or three weeks, and that is why Caño Cristales River is #40 on the HoliDaze Ultimate Travel Blogger's Bucket List (TBBL for short).

  What do you think, pretty wild huh? Would you trek up the mountain to check it out? Let's hear your comments!

Published in Colombia

Nothing says winter quite like a proper snowfall, so make it your mission to experience it properly. Instead of a mild winter with plenty of grey skies and rain showers, you could be having fun in the snow, making memories and trying something new. That’s what Andermatt in Switzerland has to offer you; it truly is an alpine playground!

So how do you actually get to Andermatt, and what is there to do when you arrive? Here are a few hints and tips to start your planning process...

Travel Information

The closest airport to Andermatt is in Zurich/a>, 125 kilometres away; by car it should take you around 90 minutes, but if you prefer to get the train you can relax on your 2.5 hour journey. Then again, if it is easier for you to fly into Milan (MXP) the drive is still only a reasonable two hours. When you consider how much you’ll be able to do on your trip, the drive becomes a lot more appealing! Also, it’s a great time to look at the scenery as you make your way to the resort.

    Logistics
  • There are around 20 airlines that fly into Zurich airport, so you should easily be able to find a plane to get you into Switzerland.
  • You will need to change trains to get from the airport to Andermatt so be sure to write down the times you need before you depart.
  • If you don’t want to hire a car or get the train, organise a transfer to take you from the airport straight to your hotel.

Accommodation

When you get to Andermatt, you’ll want somewhere to put your bags and rest your head. There are some excellent places popping up, but The Chedi Andermatt looks especially nice...a perfect way to enjoy a little slice of Swiss luxury. Places like this stay true to the alpine playground description; it has a ski-in living room and a spa and wellness centre with hydrothermal facilities, that can help to get rid of those aches and pains from the piste!

Activities

Once you’ve arrived and had a chance to recover from your journey, it’s time to explore the good stuff. There is guaranteed snowfall in Andermatt, so skiing and snowboarding is the order of the day. You can go almost 3,000 metres high up Gemsstock Mountain in cables cars before you come down again with gravity! Beginners might prefer the Gurschenalp and Nätschen Mountain...

It’s worth keeping in mind that the temperatures in Andermatt are between -5ºC and -10ºC in the winter months; it’s a very good idea to bring your winter woolies with you. The cold can often deceive skiers who believe they’re getting hot; your skin will be exposed to the chill if you take off your layers so avoid doing this to protect yourself against frostbite!

Published in Switzerland
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