Jackson is a unique and famous city. The area, collectively referred to as Jackson Hole, is like a bubble of flat land surrounded 360° by forests, mountains and national parks. The high elevation keeps the entire region cold at night year round and thanks to the rugged yet scenic terrain, the area is also famous for skiing. However there is much more to do in and around Jackson than just that!

Jackson is entirely surrounded by the Grand Teton National Park and National Elk Refuge. Outdoor adventures abound! There are many great land- and water-based activities to be had nearby. Hiking. Wildlife. River-rafting. Fishing. Hot springs. There are countless day-trip adventures to be had -- or better yet check out Jackson Hole cabin rentals to spend an authentic night under the stars but without the work that comes with camping ;)

National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming
National Elk Refuge

Whatever you end up doing in and around Jackson, don't miss these unique and offbeat activities:

Visit an Intermittent Spring

Old Faithful isn't Wyoming's only time-based water attraction, just its most famous. That reliable hot water geyser has been Wyoming's claim to fame since the late 1800's. However the state also has a cold water feature that operates intermittently, hence the name -- Intermittent Spring. Also known as Periodic Spring, this natural occurance is the largest in rythmic spring in the world.

At Intermittent Spring, the water flows in 18 minute cycles. 18 minutes on, 18 minutes off.

Why the river flows like this is not as much of a mystery as one might first thing. There is a widly accepted as true scientific theory behind Intermittent Spring. Basically, cold spring water collects in underground cave and begins slowly filling up a narrow shaft that leads to the surface. Eventually water pressure builds up too great, forms a funnel and all the water gets sucked out. Incoming air then closes the waterway until water pressure builds up again.

Like Flushing A Toilet

Think of it like flushing a toilet. The funnel sucks the entire basin down a narrow tube in a flash. Only at Intermittent Spring, you get to watch the toilet water coming out, instead of filling back up.

Intermittent Spring, a rare natural formation that starts and stops on its own -- one of the unique and offbeat things to do in Jackson, Wyoming
Unique and offbeat enough for you?

Go to the Range

Growing up in Texas, I'm used to shooting and comfortable around firearms. But if you are not, consider checking out the Jackson Hole Shooting Experience. Here you can not only learn to shoot but also take a firearm education class and understand why so many people support gun ownership. Maybe even begin to grow a little more appreciative of them yourself.

Beginners can learn the basics about gun safety and go for their first shoot. Rather than just pick any random gun, an expert will pair a first-time shooting with the most appropriate gun. Already know how to shoot? Browse the massive arsenal and pick something new.

Those already familiar with handling various firearms at close range can improve their long range skills or learn a new one, such as mastering the shotgun or taking a tactical defense class. JH Shooting Experience even offers ladies-only classes and other specific courses, such as improving your hunting skills.

Still in doubt? Leave all of your precoceived notations and judgements at the door and come try for yourself. As a wise man once said, "Don't knock it until you try it."

See the Abandoned Mansion of Yellowstone

Everyone always talks about how great Yellowstone National Park is -- don't get me wrong, it is beyond great. It's stunning. Absolutely breathtaking. No trip to Wyoming is complete without a visit to the world-famous Yellowstone National Park. This obligatory stop sometimes referred to as "the first and still the best" is on every traveler's bucket list. There's a reason why America's first national park -- and the first in the entire world -- attracts over four million visitors per year. However what most people fail to mention is the unique, offbeat and out of place Smith Mansion, otherwise known as the Abandon Mansion of Yellowstone.

Smith Mansion, one of the coolest unique and offbeat things to do while visiting Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming

This handmade wooden structure tells the story of a man who loved a lady, but seemily loved carpentry more. In 1970 Lee Smith began making a house for his wife. After the first floor was complete, Lee kept building, kept adding on new floors, new balconies, and eventually even giant elaborate exterior staircases. He never stopped. After the divorce he kept building. It was not until his death in 1992 that construction ceased. Lee was only 48 when a strong gust of wind blew him off the roof while he was (you guessed it!) working on his house. He fell twelve feet and passed away from his injuries.

The Smith Mansion is truly one-of-a-kind. There are no blueprints. Everything came from Lee's mind. Unfortunately after he died the house became neglated and began rotting. Efforts are currently underway to preserve and repair the mansion by Lee's daughter, Sunny, and her husband. Although public tours are not regularly scheduled due to the disrepair the house has fallen into, the family is trying to raise funds to help pay for the preservation. Give them a shout and perhaps you can score a private tour.

It is impossible to miss the Smith Mansion if you are entering Yellowstone from the the eastern entrance. It is less than hour drive from Yellowstone Lake, and regardless of which entrance you used, definitely worth the drive just for the photos. Read more about the history of Smith Mansion.

  More Offbeat Travel Guides

  Any other unique or off the beaten path things to do/see/eat in Jackson?

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Published in United States

A hugely popular favorite with cruises and resort dwellers, you could be mistaken for believing that there is no stone left unturned in The Bahamas. However, these islands have a wealth of hidden gems which make them a must for anyone’s traveling bucket list.

Swimming around an underwater airplane wreck in the Bahamas
Photo via WikiMedia

Underwater Plane Wreck

If you’ve ever wanted to explore deep sea wreckages, head to the island of Norman’s Cay where the remains of a smuggling plane lie under 6 feet of warm Bahamian waters. The wreckage can be easily explored with a snorkel, just watch out for the nurse sharks who like to sleep under its wings!

Flamingos in the Bahamas
Photo via WikiMedia

Lake Rosa

Located on the island of Great Inaguas, Lake Rosa (also known as Lake Windsor) is home to some 80,000 West Indian flamingos, making it one of the largest flamingo sanctuaries in the world. The birds feed in the wetlands of Rosa Lake which is within the Inagua National Park 287-square-mile reserve. Stretching 12 miles, Lake Rosa is also home to a vast array of other species including herons, ducks, pelicans and roseate spoonbills, making it the ideal destination for bird watchers.

Mount Alvernia

Complete with a medieval style monastery, Mount Alvernia (also known as Como Hill) is the highest point in the Bahamas. Although only 206ft above sea level, the view from the top is stunning so make sure to pack your camera. The monastery was built in 1939 by a Catholic Priest, Father Jerome, who named the hill Mount Alvernia, after a mountain in Tuscany which was given to St Francis of Assisi.

Look at the size of this seashell
Photo via WikiMedia

Doc Sands’ Conch Stall

There are so many places to eat out in the Bahamas, but none quite as awesome as Doc Sands’ Conch Stall. Proprietor Nicola Sands treats customers to the preparation of their meal, as she shucks the conch flesh and chops it into the salad right in front of them. Located by the Paradise Bridge, Doc Sands’ Conch Stall is a must for anyone traveling the Bahamas on a budget.

Clifton Heritage Park

Hidden away on the island of Nassau, Clifton Heritage Park is most definitely off the beaten track, as it is not even accessible by public transportation. With historical ruins such as the Pirate Steps, as well as three stunning secluded beaches, a sacred circle and an underwater sculpture garden, this park is perfect for anyone wanting to get away from the crowds.

Glass Window Bridge

Originally a natural stone arch connecting the northern and southern parts of the island of Eleuthera, the Glass Window Bridge is an amazing example of nature at its best. Though the natural arch was destroyed by hurricanes many years ago, the bridge has been rebuilt since and still goes by the name given to it by artist Winslow Homer in 1885. Also known as the “narrowest place on earth”, the bridge provides a panoramic view of the striking contrast between the rich navy blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the calm turquoise-aqua waters of the Caribbean Sea, separated by a strip of rock no more than 30ft wide. Stunning!

Want more offbeat things to do?     More Offbeat Travel Guides

Published in The Bahamas

Hawaii is rich in activities and attractions both cultural and geographic. It poses as one of the top tourist destinations in the US. You can also find great accommodations in many places such as the Bluegreen Resorts. Consider visiting the following locations if you are planning to tour the Hawaiian Islands.

1. USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor is the biggest natural harbor within the State of Hawaii, initially referred to as “Pu’loa” by the ancient Hawaiians. Situated in Honolulu, the USS Memorial at Pearl Harbor is the top tourist destination in the Hawaiian Islands. You can visit here to see the nine historic sites where the WWII began for America. At the Pearl Harbor, you can get a movie ticket to watch a film that summarizes the history of this primeval site.

2. Waikiki Beach

The name Waikiki means ‘sprouting waters’ and refers to the freshwater rivers that used to flow towards the ocean. It was at first a holiday destination for Hawaiian royalty but was later recognized by foreign visitors. The Beach town of Waikiki is decorated with a broad array of luxurious resorts and restaurants. In Waikiki Beach, you can see the Duke Kahanamoku Statue, the Waikiki Aquarium, and Honolulu Zoo.

img src="/images/countries/us/hawaii-north-shore.jpg" alt="The north shore of Oahu, Hawaii, is one of the best surfing destinations in

3. The North Shore of Oahu

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The North Shore of Oahu is the geographic region between East Oahu’s Kahuku Point West Oahu’s Ka’ena Point. The North Shore of Oahu is widely acclaimed for its huge waves and impressive coastline that attracts surfers from all around the world during the Winter. Among the famous North Shore surf spots are Sunset Beach, Ehukai Beach, and Waimea Bay. Here you will also see the historic town Hale’iwa that is widely recognized for its art galleries, a surf museum, food trucks, and yoga studios.

4. Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park

The Na Pali Coastline is considered one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is rich in Hawaiian cultural history. The perfect way to explore this coastline is by use of an ocean vessel. You can also choose to study the coast through the Kalalau Trail by foot and experience the magnificent beaches, streams and natural waterfalls.

5. Road to Hana

This is one of Hawaii’s most spectacular landscapes. As you are on the Road to Hana, you can get a glimpse of the Twin Falls, the Garden of Eden Arboretum, and Wai’anapanapa State Park. In Hana Town, you can check out the art galleries, farmers markets, and Hana Bay.

6. The Kalaupapa National Historical Park

This is a secluded destination ideal for lovers of nature. It serves as a symbolic gesture of contemplation for those who have suffered from Hansen’s Disease. As you tour Kalaupapa, you can stop to experience the windward side of the peninsula.

The view of Waikiki Beach from the top after hiking Diamond Head Volcano in Hawaii

7. Diamond Head State Monument

This is Hawaii’s most renowned signpost. While at Diamond Head State Monument, you should take the short hike through old military bunkers. Remember to carry a flashlight as part of the trails goes through long dark tunnels.

8. Haleakala National Park

The Haleakala National Park is perfect for camping and hiking trips. The summit area here offers a stunning view and landscape good for watching sunrise or sunset.

9. The Island of Lana’i

Sometimes referred to as the “Pineapple Isle”, it is a striking, privately owned island located in the Hawaiian archipelago. While in Lana’i, you can explore the beautiful garden of Keahikawelo, a landscape of rock towers, Sweetheart Rock, and the romantic Puu Pehe Beach. There are also some world-class golf resorts and scuba diving spots here.

10. Hawai’i Volcanoes

To get the history of how the Hawaiian Islands were formed, visit the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Here, there are some volcanic lava fields, steam vents, old lava cave, the Kilauea’s Caldera and the Halema’uma’u Crater.

With all these breathtaking attractions, Hawaii is your destination of choice. It is fun to visit whether you are traveling alone or with your family.

  Want More Hawaii?

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Published in United States

One of the reasons I love visiting Colorado is that I am always stumbling upon new things to do and sights to see. Known as the Garden Of The Gods, this tranquil park got it's namesake in 1859 from two surveyors from nearby Colorado City who happened to stumble upon the rock formations while exploring the area. As is too often the case, namesake goes to the first white guy to brag about something he discovered, instead of the locals who all too often have known of the existence of that place/species for 1,000+ years. Anyway, I digress...

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

The beauty of this place -- well, besides the obvious natural beauty -- is the this park is 100% free to the public. The park itself consists of a few main roads looping around the red rocks with numerous scenic overlooks and photo spots, as well as trails for hiking, biking, and even horseback riding. There are even Segway tours run by the nearby visitor center located just a few hundred yards down the road from the entrance to the park. (Those, however, are not free.)

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Once you have had your fix of the free views and explored all you can around the park, I recommend following it up with a brief visit by the Garden Of The Gods Visitor & Nature Center. Just like any other national park souvenir shop, this place has it all. From historical items, local gems, books, artwork, clothes, postcards, native species of flowers, and anything and everything else you would expect to find, this place has it.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Not only that, but they offer also provide a wealth of information about Colorado, the Garden Of The Gods history, and of course the nearby Pike's Peak. Additional knowledge can be gained by watching (and that means paying) for the visitor center's information movies, which run on a loop every 15 minutes in the miniature movie theater.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Been here before? Have a favorite FREE park? Share your comments!

Published in United States

Gujarat is one of the most aggressively marketed states in India from the tourism point of view. So when I got a wedding invite from a friend (with Ahmedabad as venue) I seized the opportunity with both hands. And Gujarat hasn't let me down. The trip itself was short but quite memorable.

We spent a day in Ahmedabad and got a taste of the famed Gujarati Thali. The meal was sumptuous and I ate more than my fill. Ahmedabad is like any another bustling Indian city. A mix of the new and the old, of the organized and the chaotic. Chaos on the roads makes me feel right at home and Ahmedabad sure felt like home!

Deer sighting on the side of the road in Gujarat, India
Deer sighting from the highway

From Ahmedabad We left for Diu via cab and after spending the entire day on the road arrived at Diu in the night. The roads were good for the most part. A portion of the road passes through the Gir National Park and we were able to spot some deer on the roadside! This stretch of the road presents some of the most beautiful scenery you will see in Gujarat. The arid landscape was bathed in a golden hue with a pure blue sky as the backdrop. I had never imagined that a thorn and scrub forest could be a thing of such beauty!

Diu Beach in Gujarat, India
Diu Beach

After checking into the resort, we headed straight for the beach. The beach wore a deserted look. There were only a handful of people on the beach. The sea appeared to be calm and there were no roaring waves splashing ashore. However sunrise was beautiful! Light in a thousand hues of red and orange bounced off the glimmering waters of the Arabian sea. A sunrise had never felt more captivating.

Sunrise over Diu Beach in Gujarat, India
Mesmerizing sunrise view from Diu Beach

After a leisurely stroll on the beach and a quick breakfast we left for our next destination: Somnath.

Somnath is a temple town close to Veraval and is famed for the Shiva temple situated there. This temple has been looted 11 times by Afghan invaders but it has bounced back each time. Somnath is a 90 minute drive from Diu and the road isn't particularly good. Somanth is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas and is a highly regarded pilgrimage spot for Hindus. The temple itself is majestic but what struck me most was the efficiency with which it is managed. Unlike some other temples there are no VIP darshans. Everyone gets to do the darshans and it was all very well managed. The highlight of the darshan was the 'Aarti' and we were lucky enough to witness it. The Arabian sea forms the southern boundary of the temple and the view of the ocean from the temple is something that will always remain with me. Unfortunately photography wasn't allowed within the temple premises.We left for our next destination, Gir National Park, soon after collecting 'Prasad' from the temple.

Gujarat
Somnath Temple

The drive to Gir was the same scenic drive that we had experienced earlier. The unforgiving sun at Somnath Temple was tempered by the cool breeze from the forest. We quickly checked into our resort and then queued up for the most exciting event of the trip -- a Jungle Safari through the forests of the Girnar hills. After about an hour of queuing up we got our permits for a safari on Track #3 of the park. With high spirits and soaring expectations we entered the jungle.

Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat, India

Fifteen minutes into the safari my senses were totally over powered by the sights and sounds of the jungle that surrounded us. I went quiet and started absorbing the beauty of the landscape that was unfolding before us minute after minute. The diversity in the landscape was unbelievable. One minute we were passing through a lush green jungle and the next moment we would be in an arid landscape adorned by thorny scrub and bereft of greenery. We spotted a few specimens of the deer and antelope family but the big cat did not oblige us with an appearance. The disappointment of not able to spot lions notwithstanding, the jungle left us mesmerized with the sheet beauty it possesses. I will definitely be back for another shot at the lions.

Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat, India
Beautiful desolation at Gir Forest National Park

Gujarat has impressed me and left a longing to return and resume my explorations from where I am leaving off.

Panoramic view of Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat, India
Panoramic view of Gir Forest National Park

Want to see more from Gir National Park?

  Gir Forest in Gujarat, Home of the Asiatic Lion     India Archives

  Written by Abhigya Verma

Published in India

After windy Surat Bay, I drove along the coast to Te Anau. Where famous sounds where. You know...the Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. Te Anau was a really beautiful place with a beautiful lake and the refreshing background noise make it even more beautiful. It is a little town, mostly popular in summer but now, in the winter, it was almost desserted. No worries though -- without the tourists it was even more beautiful :-)

The next day I headed to Milford Sound. 120km to the Sound and 120km back. The highway to Milford sound dates back to the 1930's but I was happy it gave me the opportunity to go there. I also wanted to go to Doubtful Sound but that was almost impossible....unless you have lots of money ;)

On the way to Te Anau, New Zealand, famous because of the Milford and Doubtful Sounds

  Milford Sound is New Zealand's most famous tourist destination and tends to be crowded.

I was warned about the big buses headed to Milford Sound and told me to avoid the mornings and late afternoons. But of course I didn't listen. In Te Anau it was pretty much desserted, so Milford Sound would be the same, right? I was totally wrong!! Lots of big buses, especially Chinese. Yeah, Chinese tourists are pretty much everywhere nowadays. But in the end, I did a pretty good job of avoiding them. Cheers for me. :-)

Milford Sound in Te Anau, New Zealand

And it was a pretty amazing view. I didn't do a boat trip to see the sounds up close but the drive was well worh it. Alrighty and now back to Te Anau. Another 120km's and after that heading to the party and ski town called: QUEENSTOWN!

Published in New Zealand

Australia is a continent of extremes with Queensland generally going through two types of weather per year; dry, clear and cool or wet, muggy and hot. The recent bout of arid conditions, coupled with crystal-clear sunshine days means that the National Parks in Queensland, Australia are in top condition for discovery through camping, hiking and four-wheel driving.

We took advantage of the 25+ days of no rain to head out and explore a spot we had not visited previously: Conondale National Park. Approximately 130km North West of Brisbane in South East Queensland, the reserve spans an enormous 35,000+ hectares. To gain access we had two creek crossings to make. The waters at this time of year were less than half a metre deep, but it was still a thrill to take the vehicle pummelling into the glassy, ice-cold streams.

We were at once surrounded by trees, hundreds of years’ old, rainforest with towering palms and other native plant life of every shade of green ever conceived. With our windows down, crisp country air rich with the scent of earth began filling our nostrils and immediately grabbing our attention, its’ coolness like a slap in the face.

Sunset at Conondale National Park in Queensland, Australia
via duality

We parked up at the first campsite which was a wide-spanning grassy area in amongst trees and flanked by thicker forest and bordered at one side by the pristine creek, glistening in the sunshine. Soon we discovered there are four separate campsites. These are some of the best maintained areas we’ve seen, including toilets, running water, creek views, rainforest surrounds and fire rings. Campsite 1 even includes shower facilities. Families, couples and individual adventurers have plenty of privacy and space between each site.

Here are our top 10 tips for a safe & rewarding camping trip to this unique area:

  1. Log on to the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service website to check current conditions, closures and any current warnings derm.qld.gov.au
  2. Choose your preferred spot and pre-book your campsite www.qld.gov.au/camping or ph 13 74 68 (within Australia)
  3. Hire a 4×4 vehicle. Shop around for the best deals with Sunshine Coast or Brisbane companies. They will generally be willing to beat the last quote you receive.
  4. If you’re not into camping, there are plenty of B&B options in nearby Maleny, Montville or Kenilworth.
  5. For hiking, pack plenty of water and food – take more than you think you’ll need. Make sure you take a map of the trails with you.
  6. Whatever you bring in, you must bring out with you. Don’t leave anything behind, including food that could be consumed by animals and encourage them to become reliant on humans. Instead pack all refuse and dispose of when you return to town.
  7. Plan ahead. For those using the mountain bike trails as well as hiking trails – only walk/ride within your ability.
  8. Be aware that there is no mobile phone signal, so ensure you are well-prepared and exercise caution at creek crossings, on slippery trails and so forth. Don’t take unnecessary risks.
  9. Allow yourself enough time to walk back to camp before dark.
  10. Look up, look down and look around. Be aware of your surroundings, keep your noise to a minimum and you’ll come upon wildlife in its’ natural habitat. Enjoy the scenery and the stillness of your surroundings.

Australia is ever-teetering on the knife-edge of extremes. Severe drought crippled much of the continent for many years before 2011 brought the heart-breaking flood disaster. Ever in the forefront of our minds are how much we depend on the fragile weather system and how important it is for us to get out and enjoy the national parks when that system is in balance, remembering to never take it for granted.

Published in Australia

“Quick, stand still and get ready – they are coming towards us”. This was the moment I had been waiting for.

3 hours earlier. I was standing under a tree outside the headquarters of Parc National des Volcanos, having just been introduced to our local guide for the day, a handful of specially trained gorilla trackers and seven other travellers. Nearby, seven other groups were being formed as we all prepared for what we hoped would be the experience of a lifetime.

We were about to trek towards mountain gorillas.

I felt a growing feeling of excitement as our guide talked about the gorilla family we were heading towards, gave us some information about the area we were trekking in and shared some interesting facts about the endangered mountain gorillas that lived there. This excitement was slightly offset by my nervousness of starting what I had heard could be a simple two hour hike or an eight hour intense trek, depending on where the gorillas were currently located. I was hoping that my comfortable North Face hiking shoes, waterproof jacket, cargo trousers, bandanna and small backpack disguised my poor fitness levels and presented me as a confident and experienced trekker.

We jumped into a small mini-van and drove the short distance to our starting point, the edge of the 160km² national park that protects Rwanda’s section of the Virunga Mountains which is a range of six extinct and three active volcanos crossing the intersection of the Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo border and home to the endangered mountain gorilla.

There are less than 800 mountain gorillas left in the world and half of them live in the Virunga Mountains, a region famous for the studies of Dian Fossey and infamous for the on-going human conflicts and poaching that have contributed to the gorilla population decline. There are currently eight gorilla families living in the region and each group was trekking towards a different one.

A few months earlier I had paid $500 for my trekking permit in what seemed an expensive fee. But already I realised it was money well spent as I learned more about the conservation efforts employed by the Park as they not only worked to avoid a further decline in the mountain gorilla population but aimed for future growth and sustainability.

As we started our trek I forgot the gorillas for a moment as I was mesmerised by the stunning Rwandan landscape. Endless green, lush mountains surrounded me with the occasional splash of colour from the clothing of local farmers brightening the landscape. The bright sun warmed my face as my jacket protected me from the bitter wind and after twenty minutes of a steady but comfortable walk across the relatively flat ground, I took my first step into the tree-filled forest and began to climb up towards an impending meeting with a mountain gorilla.

The guide and trackers kept my mind off my aching knees as they shared facts and antidotes about the gorillas and the local farmers. Information about the alpha-male role of a silverback in a gorilla family was amusingly followed by a tale of farm bosses placing a bottle of vodka at the end of a field as incentive for their staff to work harder and faster. The trackers often ran ahead or communicated with their colleagues on their radios to ensure we were heading in the right direction and as we grew closer they reminded us of the ‘rules’ of gorilla trekking, designed to protect the great animals:

Viewing time is limited to one hour
Always keep a distance of at least 7 metres between yourself and the gorilla
Keep your voice low
Do not make any rapid movements
If you are charged by a silverback stand still, look away and make no eye contact
And the one rule above all others: follow the direction of your guide. After all, they carry the rifle!

A couple of hours into the trek, I was enjoying a chat with the local guide as I learned about his lifestyle, listened to the passionate description of his job and reflected on his interesting view that poachers should be given jobs in the Park rather than sent to jail “to teach them to love, respect and protect the mountain gorillas”. It was an interesting conversation but one that ended abruptly as we looked ahead to see one of the trackers calling out to us.

“Quick, stand still and get ready – they are coming towards us”. This was the moment I had been waiting for.

We were no longer heading towards the mountain gorillas – they were heading towards us! We followed our guide’s instructions and placed our backpacks on the ground, got our cameras out and stood waiting for the majestic animals. Within a few minutes I heard the rustling of leaves and thought I was prepared for my first sighting of the gorilla family.

Mountain gorilla in Rwanda
via langille

I was wrong. Nothing can prepare you for your first encounter with a mountain gorilla and words cannot adequately describe it.

Within seconds of seeing our first mountain gorilla many of us broke one of the gorilla trekking rules (keep your voice low) as we unintentionally called out variations of “oh wow”!

Our first viewing was of a mother and her small child and as magical as it was, it didn’t compare to the surreal arrival of the alpha male of the group, the silverback. His arrival caused the second rule break of the day but this time it was the silverback breaking the rule instead of us. We all understood that keeping a distance of seven metres was for the protection of the gorilla as human germs do not always mix well with gorilla DNA, but when a large silverback walks towards you and other gorillas in the family are behind you, you aren’t going anywhere!

I had heard stories of a silverback charging trekkers to stamp his authority on his territory but this one seemed indifferent to our existence. He sat down with his back to us for a few minutes giving us all an opportunity for the obligatory ‘near a mountain gorilla’ moment before climbing a tree to rest. The sight of a large silverback climbing a tree with speed and ease is one I will not forget and when the mother and child we had first seen followed him I was a bit alarmed that our one hour viewing would be reduced to ten minutes.

But it didn’t take long for the rest of the family to arrive and we were treated to an incredible hour of being up close and personal with these mountain gorillas. Like the silverback, they seemed indifferent to our presence and lazily chewed leaves, wandered around, scratched their backs and used their bush toilets! The similarity of their behaviour to that of human beings is both extraordinary and entertaining.

The hour seemed to fly by and we reluctantly started to make our way back, leaving the mountain gorillas behind. In just a few hours I had experienced one of the most memorable and uplifting experiences of my life and felt like I was skipping back to the park’s headquarters, such was my excitement at what I had just seen.

There have been moments in my life when I have had a sudden awareness of both the insignificance of the human race in the bigger scheme of things and the importance of the human race playing our part in the bigger scheme things. This was one of those moments.

It had truly been a great experience!

Mother mountain gorilla with baby gorilla in Rwanda
via duplisea

  How To Make It Your Experience

First you need to get yourself to Rwanda!

Rwanda is accessible to all types of travellers but when visiting any developing country I encourage you to do your research so that you are supporting local businesses and people as much as you can.

Those who are short of time, not suited to long and sometimes bumpy overland rides or not interested in long queues at overland border crossings will be relieved to learn there is an international airport 10km east of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. There are direct flights from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Bujumbura (Burundi), Entebbe (Uganda), Nairobi (Kenya), Johannesburg (South Africa) and Brussels (Belgium).

There are land border crossings into Rwanda from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Uganda for the more adventurous traveller but you should always check the security situation first, especially in the often volatile regions near Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo. The Foreign Offices in both Australia and UK have great websites with updated information that I always check before I visit a country.

One of the most common ways to visit Rwanda is on an overland tour and these are designed for those ‘in between’ travellers (or those I refer to as All Rounders in my What is Your Travel Personality article) who want to travel independently without the bureaucratic red tape and security concerns that sometimes accompany travel in Africa. I spent three incredible months in East and Southern Africa in 2009 and visited Rwanda as part of an overland tour with Intrepid Travel.

Mountain gorilla in Rwanda
via puddlepuff

Then you need to get yourself to Parc National des Volcanos (Volcanoes Park)

The most common base for visitors is the town of Ruhengeri. As there is no public transport from the town to the Park’s headquarters the most common way to organise your trek is through a pre-booked tour. This may be part of a longer overland tour, a tour specific to Rwanda or a pre-booked day for gorilla trekking. This is the easiest way to organise your trek as the tour company will organise the permit that must be obtained before you arrive and your transport to/from the Park. When I visited the Park, permit fees were $500 but these have recently been increased to $750.

In an effort to protect the already endangered gorillas trekking groups are limited to eight people and there are only eight treks a day. Don’t arrive at the Park expecting to purchase a permit and book yourself on a trek that day – it simply will not happen.

You are then ready to start trekking

You may experience both sunshine and rain in the same day so it’s best to dress in layers with a long-sleeved t-shirt and thin waterproof jacket. You will be trekking through trees and bush so long sleeved shirts and trousers are ideal and of course you will need comfortable hiking shoes (my North Face Hedgehog GTX XCR shoes were my best friend during my round-the-world trip).

  Remember that your guides know best and the ‘rules’ exist for a reason. We are a visitor in the mountain gorilla’s home and their survival relies on us learning to co-exist with each other. If you have a contagious illness or even the flu or a cold, you won’t be allowed to join the trek.

Also remember that the National Park is not a zoo and the gorillas are not waiting in cages for us to come and look at them. You need to trek to reach them and you cannot predict the length or level of difficulty of the trek. I was quite luck in that my trek was only a couple of hours and relatively easy but to be honest I would have felt a little short-changed if it was anything less than that. Reaching the gorillas felt so much more satisfying knowing I had made the effort and worked up a sweat to get there. Of course some people do have limitations and letting the guides know this at the start will make it a more enjoyable day for you.

  The Final Word

I have never come across anyone who has trekked to mountain gorillas in Rwanda and regretted it. It is an incredible experience that you will never forget and you can enhance this experience by visiting some other areas of Rwanda. Don’t let Rwanda’s traumatic history deter you – this is a country in recovery, a country that is relatively safe for tourists and a country full of beautiful people. Almost all Rwandans I met begged me to ‘spread the word’ about how beautiful their country is and to encourage my friends to visit. They recognise the value of tourism to their country and they are proud of their landscape, culture and wildlife.

  The genocide and historical civil unrest in Rwanda is like a cloud in an otherwise blue sky and Rwandans believe a clear blue sky awaits them – they need the rest of the world to believe the same.

Want more Rwanda?     5 "Must-Have" Experiences in Rwanda

Published in Rwanda

The Most Visited Mountain In All Of North America

Driving into Colorado Springs and the surrounding area it is impossible to miss Pike's Peak, which staggers up into the clouds and makes dwarfs of most of the other summits in nearby range. It is also home to the highest railroad in the United States, the Pike's Peak Cog Railway, which offers tours up to the summit. As such, Pike's Peak (aka America's Mountain) is the most visited mountain in North America. On a clear day the view from a distance can be absolutely breathtaking!

Pike's Peak, Colorado

If you have seen the Garden Of The Gods then you will undoubtedly have noticed Pike's Peak in the background. (As a matter of fact, as they are located so close together I encourage you to visit both at the same time -- makes for the perfect way to kill an afternoon in Colorado Springs. And then when you come back down from the mountain, might as well go enjoy some tasty food and fresh home-brewed local beer at the Phantom Canyon Brewing Co in downtown Colorado Springs.)

  Pike's Peak gets its name from Zebulon Pike, an explorer who led a failed expedition up to the summit in 1806, but was not made a national historic landmark and park until 1961. It was home to a gold rush in the mid-1800s and was also the site that inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write the song "America The Beautiful."

At the park entrance, which is actually just a tollgate entrance, you have to pay the fee before you can proceed up the 19-mile road that winds all the way up to the summit. It costs $10/person with a limit of $35 per vehicle, although fees may vary slightly between seasons. But happily enough the road was just recently completely paved from start to summit, eliminating the old stretch of gravel towards the top.

There are a few notices and heads-up that you are given at the gate, mostly pertaining to your vehicle and personal safety. Keep in mind you are going to want to have a fairly decent amount of gas in the tank, as you have to ascend and descent the steep and windy 19-mile road. Bring extra cash too, as the park offers three gift shops / snack parlors: two located at 1/3 and 2/3 of the way up and a third at the summit.

Pike's Peak, Colorado

Additionally there are also many scenic view points and paved shoulders at various points, allowing you to pull over and take pictures, stretch the legs, or even give the car a break. (Yeah, that's another thing, definitely don't be showing up with any old and busted vehicles hoping to make the trek all the way to the top.) The most notable mile markers include: MM#3 Features you first view of Pike's Peak; MM#14 Scenic views of Garden Of The Gods, Colorado Springs, the Pike's Peak summit, and the Continental Divide; MM#16-16.5 Scenic views of the Switchbacks, Pike's Peak Reservoirs, the Continental Divide, Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range, and the Ghost Town Hollow Mine.

Pike's Peak, Colorado

Pike's Peak, Colorado

Pike's Peak, Colorado

If you don't stop to take a bunch of pictures, and don't get stuck behind that one obnoxiously slow vehicle, then it takes between 45-50 minutes to reach the summit. Up there you can be prepared for the temperatures to be up to 40° F colder than at the base 6,000 feet below. I went during September and despite the fact that is was about 75° in Colorado Springs, it was 30° and snowing at the summit of Pike's Peak! Additionally, due to the extreme elevation oxygen levels are only at 60% of what they are at sea level.

Pike's Peak, Colorado

Pike's Peak, Colorado

The summit is absolutely breathtaking. I have been up at extreme elevations before, seen volcanoes and mountains up close in Costa Rica and Hawaii and other places, but each one is unique in their own way. Pike's Peak not only has the history but also the Cog Railway that rolls all the way up to the station up top, a mere few feet from the gift shop and prime picture zone. While I have not experienced the railway myself first-hand -- you have to buy tickets at least a day, if not several, in advance -- I have heard that trip to the top is even more spectacular than by taking the tollway.

View from the summit of Pike's Peak, Colorado

View from the summit of Pike's Peak, Colorado

The summit of Pike's Peak, Colorado

The summit of Pike's Peak, Colorado

View from the summit of Pike's Peak, Colorado

Before beginning the less-exciting trek down the mountain, make sure to grab a few souvenirs from the gift shop. The offer all of the usual postcards, shot glasses, t-shirts and clothing, information books, magnets, random trinkets, and everything else you have come to expect from gift shops around the world, as well as food! Something about the high altitude always make me hungry ;)

Have you been to Pike's Peak or traveled up the Cog Railway? Maybe you've even been up an even taller mountain? Feel free to share your comments below!


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Published in United States

Nearly everyone on this planet, traveler or not, has at least an idea of roughly what Machu Picchu is so I'll just summarize the basics. Built and occupied by the Incas from the early 1400s to the late 1500s, this lost city is arguably the crowning achievement of the Inca civilization. Totally unbeknownst to Spain during their conquests, Machu Picchu sat undisturbed until it was discovered in the early 1900s.


The iconic Machu Picchu shot ;)

Since that time many of the ruins have been reconstructed and the place has become a tourist sensation known worldwide, seeing an average of 75,000 visitors a year. The entire 125-sq-mile national park is known as the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary, which includes South America's most famous hiking trail, the Inca Trail, within its borders.

If you have not yet hiked the Inca Trail, I'm going to take a wild guess and say it is on your bucket list. It is on the HoliDaze Ultimate Travel Blogger's Bucket List (TBBL for short) -- but then again with 366 items, you have to have some stereotypical things on there. Well have no worries my friend, there are a good 150 different tour companies and groups offering excursions to Machu Picchu, most of them located in Cusco.

But along with that many tour companies come tourists, most of which book during the dry season (June-September). If that's when you will be going plan on booking a couple months in advance, as the trail and Machu Picchu can see the majority of its yearly visitors during these peak months. Additionally, due to the extreme elevation differences of Peru and the lack of oxygen at such high altitudes, you should spend at least a day or two in Cusco upon initial arrival -- if not three or four -- before attempting to move on to the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary.

If you choose to go all in for the authentic Inca Trail hike then you will have two choices: the 2 day / 1 night package, or the 4 day / 3 night package. Which one you choose really depends on 1) how much you love the mountains; 2) whether or not you are a photographer (the landscape shots offered on the larger trek are phenomenal!); and 3) how tight your wallet / schedule is strapped.

Prices can vary significantly from place to place, but remember that you always get what you pay for -- especially in foreign countries. You can expect to spend around $100/day for an adult participating in the group tours (less for kids I'd assume but I don't have any info) after ticket, fees, tips, etc. Additionally, they also have private tours available for a more hefty fee.

  In closing, I will leave you with a video taken from Machu Picchu. It is a short clip from the first season of An Idiot Abroad and if you have never heard of that show, I suggest you look it up. Anyone who loves travel will get a kick out of it....And at the same time probably be a tiny li'l bit envious that it is not you on the all-expenses-paid journey but rather this strange funny little man named Karl Pilkington who is laughably out of place and wants nothing to do with foreign travel...or everything anything out of his British tea-time comfort zone for that matter.

  Have you ever hiked the Inca Trail or is it still on your bucket list? Share comments below!

Published in Peru
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