South Africa Through My Lense

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African Safari on a Budget

It was my dream, as well as many others, to go on an African Safari for as long as I can remember. The problem with safari’s is you always hear how expensive they are. A couple thousand dollars for just a few days. I wasn’t sure when I would ever get to experience a safari due to the price so when I was headed to South Africa I was doing my research and came across Kruger National Park and that’s where my affordable safari adventure began.

Kruger is a 7,523 square mile national park in South Africa. It is the home to thousands of free roaming safari animals and filled with beautiful landscapes with rolling hills, mountains and plains. The animals are wild and live off the land. You can find the big 5 here; lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, black rhino among many other animals species.

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How to get there:
Kruger National Park is located in the North Eastern part of South Africa. We flew from the states to Johannesburg and then took a domestic flight from Johannesburg to Nelspruit. Once having arrived in Nelspruit we picked up a rental car and drove to the crocodile bridge entrance of the park.

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Where to stay:
You have a couple of options when visiting Kruger. The first is to stay in a resort OUTSIDE of the park. These are usually upscale, expensive but beautiful with plenty of amenities, however you are set to the resorts schedule .

What we did, and what I would recommend, is staying at one of the many camps inside of Kruger National Park. Each camp has different types of lodging, tent spots, platform tents and yurts that feel like hotel rooms. These camps cost from about $50 to ~$120, very affordable. We moved around while in the park to experience the different camps and here is what I can tell you:

Lower Sabie – This camp sits right on the Sabie river with beautiful views. You can enjoy dinner and watch the active river with hippos and crocodiles. This camp is also right near a pond that almost always has hippos in it and is lively with other wildlife such as hyenas and lions.

Olifants – High up on a cliff this gorgeous camp has sweeping views of the valley below. The animals are a little harder to find this north in the park but the landscape is beautiful.

Skakuza – This is the largest rest camp in the park. It has good dining options and plenty of accommodations. This camp also sits on the Sabie river with grand views. This camp does get busy throughout the day as it is a common stop for tours and travelers.

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Final Words:
Once you’re inside the park you drive yourself and spot animals. It’s awesome to be on your own schedule and go where you want to go. If you want to take a guided tour those can be arranged at the camps. There’s nothing quite like having a lion pride walk across the street in front of you or a heard of elephants eating  alongside your car and it is extremely rewarding when you spot the hard to find leopard.

In the end we spent for an entire week, airfare, rental car, lodging for a safari around $1,000 and I would do it again in a heart beat.

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Visiting Ecuador and the Galapagos

Hola mi amigos! I’m still mourning the end of our trip to this gorgeous country. This was my first time in South America and it did not disappoint.

We arrived in Quito late at night and headed to our hotel in the historic center of downtown Boutique Plaza Sucre and went straight to bed. The next morning we hit the ground running. We started by walking around the historic center seeing the beautiful old buildings and churches. We stopped inside and really enjoyed Compañía de Jesús which is covered in gold on the inside but you can’t take any photos. We ate snacks from street vendors throughout the day including delicious candied nuts, fresh mango and passionfruit juice.

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When we were done seeing the historic center we caught a cab to Basílica del Voto Nacional. This turned out to be quite the treat! We climbed to the top of the clock tower and looked out over the city we then walked to the back of the basilica on a wooden plank and climbed a steep ladder to the top on the north side. It was quite frightening but worth it for the views. We heard from several locals to be careful while doing this since most foreigners are not used to the elevation. Make sure you go at a slow pace and don’t out do yourself!

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That evening we grabbed dinner on the busy street of La Ronda and while our food was nothing to write home about the view of El Panecillo was gorgeous. After dinner we grabbed a taxi and went up to El Panecillo and looked over Quito in the darkness with all the lights gleaming back at us. Quito has no lack of stunning views.

The followings day we had to get up early and meet our driver, Victor Alban. He picked us up from our hotel and we headed south to Banos. Along the way Victor pointed out all the different volcanos, let us stop at view points, took us to a local food street cart and even bought us some local ice cream!

When we arrived in Banos we were all pretty exhausted but we powered through and took a cab up to The Swing at the End of the World. This was something I had seen photos of and had been dying to go to no matter how much of a “tourist trap” it seemed to be. We were so glad we went. It was gorgeous and absolutely worth it.

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After getting our fill of swings in we headed back to our hotel where Victor picked us back up and took us on a little tour. We first stopped at a waterfall that was across a valley, we thought we were just looking and taking pictures but Victor told us to go on the cable car and we thought, why not? So we paid $1.50 each and rode this fast, seemingly unstable cable car across the valley. It was such a thrill and absolutely beautiful.

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We then went to Pailon de Diablo, a stunning waterfall. We walked down to the falls and crossed some swinging bridges to get up close and personal to this gorgeous spot. On our way back we watched the sun set over the the mountains and the beautiful colors of the sky change to darkness.

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We left Banos the following day heading to our jungle lodge, Itamandi, we first made a stop at a zip line and paid $10 a person to do the most thrilling zipline I have ever done. No one spoke english and they just strapped us in a harness and pushed us over the valley to the other side over a waterfall. It was fast, beautiful and terrifying.

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Victor dropped us off on the Arujuno river and our english jungle guide, Octavio, was there to greet us. We hopped on our canoe and zoomed away to our lodge. It was an incredible feeling to be in the amazon and we were excited when we reached the lodge and were served guyusa and empanadas.

That evening Octavio took us on a night jungle walk and we were terrified of the creepy crawlies we might see. While it was really cool we were creeped out by the scorpion spider, wolf spiders and other big bugs we came across. It was quite the learning experience but I can’t say it helped me sleep that night.

The next morning we awoke early to go and watch the parrots at the clay lick. We took a canoe over to the spot and quietly hiked a short ways and then say and watched. After 30 minutes or so hundreds of parrots made their way over and started eating at the clay. It was a blur of bright greens and yellows, a really cool experience over all.

We then went on a three hour trek through the jungle. Octavio told us all about the rainforest and what it meant to him as a native and the native communities. We learned all about the plants and the animals and the spiritual meaning of the jungle. It was an experience that will not be forgotten. While on the hike Octavio made us a swing from a vine and we had a lot of fun swinging around running in to trees and just having some good old fashion fun.

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That afternoon we went and visited a Kichwa community. The children danced for us and the women shared food with us. We learned about their day to day life and got to see their school and other community buildings. It was a great experience. I wish we would have had more time to spend with the children, they were so fun!

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The following day Octavio hooked us up with some inner-tubes and while we were a little nervous about floating down a river that has known to have anacondas, Octavio assured us he hasn’t seen one in several years. We had a blast floating the river and ended in a spot with a rope swing where the boys had a blast swinging into the river.

Our next stop was Amazoonico, an animal refuge. This was a cool experience but a sad one. Amazoonico saves animals from people who illegally try to domesticate them. They then try to prepare them to go back in to the wild but often it’s just not possible for the animals to be re-introduced in to the wild so Amazoonico tries to give them a good life in captivity.

After visiting the animals we tried our hand at a blow gun, fed some camen, and went to a butterfly farm.

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It was a busy day and at the end we had to say goodbye to Octavio. In the little time we were with him we really came to enjoy his company. We missed him dearly after we dropped him off!

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The next day was a travel day as we made our way all the way from the jungle back to Quito to catch a flight to the Galapagos.

Our first day in Galapagos we went on a dive with Academy Bay Diving. We dove at North Seymour Point and Mosquera. My main goal of this dive was seeing a hammerhead shark. If you’ve read my previous posts you know I love diving with sharks and hammerheads are one’s I had yet to see. We were lucky and my goal was achieved. We saw a good handful of hammerheads and we also saw Galapagos sharks, white tip, and black tip along with rays, turtles and so much more.

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The following day we trekked out to turtle bay and did some snorkeling around there. The visibility was pretty bad but we managed to find a HUGE sea turtle. We then made our way to Los Grietas. Los Grietas did not disappoint. Bright blue water in between black rock cliffs. We swam through and climbed our way to the back pool and saw beautiful sunset fish. We had a blast just swimming and diving down in the clear blue water.

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After a good nights rest we took a ferry to Isabella. The water was choppy so this ferry ride was pretty rough. We arrived in Isabella to find that the main town is teeny tiny. We walked around rested a bit and then went snorkeling at Concha de Perla. While snorkeling a sea-lion got curious and came right up to us. Dancing and swimming in the water and even booping my camera with it’s nose. This felt like a once in a life time experience and we enjoyed every second of playing with that sea lion. That evening we walked along the beach and saw locals running around in the sand grabbing things. We asked them what they were doing and it turns out they were catching little shrimp like things. The boys wanted to give it a shot so we hung out for awhile trying to help them catch these little animals.

The following day we had a tour to snorkel at the lava tunnels. We came across countless turtles, white tip sharks and rays. It got to the point where seeing a sea turtle was no big deal. We then walked across the hardened lava and looked in the different lava pools. When we got back to town we rented bikes and rode on the trails. It was pretty hot but we saw flamingos and beautiful views over the island.

The next day was our last day on Isabella and we only had the morning. We decided to go back to Conche de Perla to see if we could play with another sea-lion, and it was a good decision. When we got in the water we had three different sea-lions come play with us but then as we were leaving a sea-lion stole my snorkel off the deck and threw it in the water! It then played with it for awhile and finally, thankfully, brought it back to me. It was pretty funny.

After Isabela we made our way back home. We loved our adventure in Ecuador! I plan on going in to more detail on some of our adventures in the future. Please leave a comment with any questions. Happy travels!

 

 

South Africa

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This has been a long time coming. My trip to South Africa was last November and it is now…. July. I got behind and the further behind I got the more I procrastinated and that’s how we wound up to today. Looking back South Africa was definitely one of the best trips I have been on. The animals and the scenery there are unbelievable. This is the summary of our trip and there is a LOT! I plan to go in to more detail on some of our adventures in the future but please if you have questions about any thing in particular leave a comment!

South Africa has been a priority on my list for a long time but I always thought it would be way to expensive just to get down there but with miles from credit card rewards we were able to make it affordable. My next budget concern was a safari, I mean who doesn’t want to go on a safari while in Africa? After doing a lot of research I found that it was manageable so with that new information we decided to go to South Africa.

We left Seattle and had to take a 1.5 hour flight down to Portland, from there we flew about 10 hours to Amsterdam and then about 12 hours down to Johannesburg. It was a LONG trip to get down there. On arrival I had planned of day of just relaxation since I knew the travel time would be rough. We landed late at night and booked a room at the Maslow hotel who arranged a driver to pick us up. Even though our body clock was way off from Johannesburg we were able to fall asleep pretty quickly. The next day we spent resting up in the beautiful hotel and checking out the Sandton Mall and that neighborhood. It is a very modern area and we felt completely safe and comfortable the whole time.

The next day we headed back to the airport and flew from Johannesburg to Nelspruit where we picked up our rental car and started driving to Kruger National Park. The drive over was only a few hours and went very smoothly once Ryan got used to driving on the opposite side of the road. We stopped for pizza along the way but mostly the drive was uneventful until we arrived at Kruger.

Kruger National Park is a national park dedicated to Africa’s wild animals. Safari animals roam the plains and live protected in this 7,500 sq mile park. You can either stay in a luxury resort just outside the park or stay in one of Kruger’s many camps within the park. We opted for the second to 1. save on budget and 2. have the full experience.

As we crossed the bridge to the park we were giddy and ready to see animals not knowing what to expect. Within seconds we noticed a hippo in the water! We were so excited for our first spotting of a Hippo, we probably spent way to long looking and taking photos. Right after the bridge we arrived at the check in station. Since we were staying 5 days in the park and also visiting some of South Africa’s other parks we got a Wild Card which is essentially a national park pass to all of SA’s national parks, it was definitely worth it and saved us a good amount of money.

After checking in we were off to our first camp with some animal searching on the way. The speed limit is about 30mph throughout the park so you drive slowly and you need to factor that in when trying to get somewhere. Even though you are driving slow the drive is fun since you always need to keep your eyes out for animals. We first encountered Giraffes, a momma and her baby, it was so surreal! They casually walked in front of our car and event stopped for a little snuggle. It was adorable to say the least. We spotted more hippos and some buffalos along the way to and finally arrived at Lower Sabie Rest Camp.

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The first two nights we decided to stay here and they were out of bungalow’s so we stayed in a platform tent. It was pretty clean although I was always a little nervous of the creepy crawlies that might be in the bathroom. We found a lizard in there which I can handle but I was worried about spiders or other big bugs, luckily we never saw any.

Each camp opens it’s gates at 4:00am and closes them at 6:00pm. You MUST be back at your camp when gates are closed. So every night we would go to bed around 8pm and get up at 3:30am to be out the gate at 4:00am since the best animal sightings took place at dawn and dusk. We would then be out all day searching for animals.

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Our nights at Lower Sabie were loud, filled with the noises of the nearby pond. The hippos, hyena’s and even Lion’s would make loud noises all through the night. Honestly I slept fine though. Anytime a loud animal would wake me up it was just a reminder of how cool of a place I was in. When we moved camps we stayed in bungalows the rest of the time which were similar to a typical hotel room and had thicker walls so we couldn’t hear the animals as well at night and the bathroom felt very safe.

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Over the course of the next 5 days we saw up-close lions, hippos, crocodiles, rhinos, monkeys, a leopard(they are HARD to spot), impalas, boars, zebras, elephants, hyenas, buffalo, kudo, turtles, marmots, baboons, wildabeasts, ostriches and more. We stayed two nights at Lower Sabie, Two nights at Olifants and one night at Skukuza.

Lower Sabie was my favorite with its proximity to a pond that always had animal activity. Olifants was set on top a cliff and had a gorgeous view over a river. Skukuza is the biggest camp and had some great food options compared to the other locations. It was amazing to be able to drive your car on these roads and come across lions taking a rest or elephants eating away at the trees.

The animal that took us the longest to find was the leopard. You wouldn’t think they would blend very well with their spots but they blend right in with their surroundings. We knew to look for dead animals up in trees as that is a tell tail sign a leopard has been there. So on one of our final days we saw a boar up in a tree right night to the road. We stopped and got our binoculars out and started looking for a leopard. Meanwhile Ryan took a photo of the boar in the tree since it was a unique sight. A few minutes later I look at the tree and up stands this leopard who had been laying there the ENTIRE TIME. We even got him in that photo Ryan took. He casually stood up and walked away. Leaving Ryan and I in awe. Here is the photo when we didn’t know where he was. Can you spot him?

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Here’s some help:

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When our five days was up we were completely satisfied with our animal spotting and were ready for a change. We flew from Nelspruit down to Port Elizabeth where we rented a car and started our road trip on the garden route.

We stopped at Jefferey’s Bay to watch the surfers and walk along the beach and then continued on to Storms River Mouth. We were able to enter SRM using our Wild Card once again saving us money!

Storms River blew us away. We knew to expect the beautiful long suspension bridge but we didn’t know the scenery there would be so spectacular. The waves crash on black rocks and as you look down the coast green mountains jut out into the sea. It reminded me of the napali coast in Kauai. After hiking across the suspension bridge and back we had to keep moving on.

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That evening we spent in Knynsa. We were able to grab a delicious dinner at 34 Degrees South and enjoy the beautiful quaint town.

The next day we drove from Knynsa to Oudtshoorn to see Cango Wildlife Ranch and learn about their animal conservation efforts. We even got to pet a cheetah here!

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We then drove through the mountains and dessert to reach the coast again at L’Agulhas where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans mean. From there we moved on finally reaching our destination of the day, Gansbaai. We stayed in the most adorable guesthouse here White Shark Guesthouse. We then went to bed quite early since we had a great white shark dive the next morning.

We woke up early and headed over to Marine Dynamics to eat breakfast and get briefed before our shark encounters. We then all hopped on the boat and took off to the Shallows to find some great whites. We were lucky and encountered 5+ different great whites. The water was freezing but it was well worth the experience.

After getting back and warming up we started back on our way to Cape Town. We stopped in Hermanus and walked around a bit and then finally made it to the gorgeous city of Cape Town. We got a room at the beautiful Atlantic Gold Guesthouse in Camp’s Bay where our room over looked the ocean.

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We then spent the next few days hiking, eating, relaxing, beaching and shopping and finally ended our trip flying out of Cape Town.

South Africa blew my expectations away. This country is stunning to say the least!

 

 

 

3 Days in Banff in late October

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When my husband and his friend went to a Mariner’s game and got 50% Alaska Airlines tickets I had no idea where to choose to go. We had to book that same day and so someone said “why not Banff“? And we all said LET’S DO IT! Before looking in to it.

Fast forward to a week before our trip, I started getting nervous because October is the off season and a lot of attractions and activities had closed. I was pretty stressed about this when in reality I had nothing to worry about. We ended up having a blast in Banff and being completely blown away by it’s beauty. Since it was the off season there weren’t huge crowds, our Airbnb was dirt cheap, and restaurants didn’t have any waits. So if you’re considering visiting Banff and can only go in the off season have no fear, it’s still completely worth it. Here are a few of my favorite activities we did while there:

1. Marble Canyon – Marble Canyon is a hike/walk that takes you over and around a narrow canyon with a beautiful crystal clear river running through it. I wasn’t sure what to expect since I couldn’t find a ton of information online but I am so happy we took the time to see this. It’s an easy walk since there is a boardwalk that takes you the whole way. There are some minimal stairs but nothing bad at all. The canyon was gorgeous and the water took my breath away. There was even a gorgeous waterfall at the end. If you’re headed to Banff make this a top priority.
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2. Scenic Drive – Icefields Parkway, or the road in between Banff and Jasper, is not short of stunning. Take a drive even if only for an hour or two and stop at all the gorgeous lookouts. Of Course Lake Louise is a must as it’s on this route, Peyto Lake is an amazing stop over, and one of our favorites was Waterfowl Lake if the wind is calm the reflection of the mountains around it is unbelievable.

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3. Banff Gondola – We did the Banff Gondola the first day we arrived in Canada. We did it around 5pm and even got an “evening discount”. It made the gondola a lot cheaper which we appreciated. At the top of the gondola is a huge center where you can learn all about the area and take in amazing views. There’s also a walkway that lets you get even more beautiful views of the surrounding area.
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4. Banff Upper Springs – I’m a big hot springs fan. Anytime I have the opportunity to sit in some hot water I’m all over it. This is a pretty standard hot springs and to be honest there’s nothing too special about it. However it feels amazing to sit in while being surrounded by the cool crisp air of Banff. Make sure you rent the original hot springs outfits. They’re super cheap and a fun experience, especially for men.

5. Grassi Lake Hike – This hike is just outside of Banff. It’s a short(2.5 mile RT) hike that if you take the difficult way up(I highly recommend) you will hike next to a waterfall. At the top you come to two stunningly green/blue clear lakes at the base of a gorgeous mountain. This is a very family friendly hike that you can do in less than two hours.

 

 

 

Best Webcams to Help the Travel Blues

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What are travel blues? When I get back from a trip and know it will be awhile until my next one I get sad and antsy until I get to start planning the next adventure. One thing that helps my travel blues are webcams. On good webcams for a moment I can feel like I am in another country having another adventure. Here are a couple of my favorite webcams:

1. Kruger National Park – This webcam is in the famous South African wildlife park, Kruger National Park. It’s a thrill to check and see if you can spot any elephants, zebras, or other fun safari animals.

2. Jokulsarlon – No that’s not a typo. This is a beautiful glacier lagoon. The mountains behind it are stunning and the giant pieces of ice make the scene even more beautiful.

3. Santorini – This destination is known for it’s sunsets and vast views. That’s why watching this webcam can be a dream.

4. Princeville, Hawaii – Tropical dreaming? Then this webcam is for you. Look at the lush mountains of Kauai as the surf rolls in at this stunning beach.

5. Budapest – This cam sits over the water looking at the city. If you hit the time right you will get a gorgeous sunset over the buildings.

Do you have a favorite webcam? Share them with me!

Why You Should Road Trip Iceland

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Iceland is still one of my favorite destinations I’ve ever traveled to. The crisp air, amazing landscapes, and kind people really make this a great vacation spot. Iceland is becoming more and more of a popular destination and with that is coming new travel deals to Iceland that encompass a few days in Reykjavik with a few day trips from there. I must advise you DO NOT DO THIS. Reykjavik and the surrounding area is great but it is only a small snippet of the amazingness Iceland has to offer. Here are my top reasons why you should road trip Iceland:

  1. Go at your own pace – When you rent a car and do a road trip you can pull off where you want, stay longer at places you love, leave earlier at places you don’t. You don’t have to follow a schedule and you can do exactly what you want to do. We quickly learned the word “foss” in Icelandic meant waterfall so when we passed a sign that said “Urridafoss” we knew it was some sort of waterfall and pulled over. We were so happy we did to.
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  2. Small to no crowds – When you have a rental car you don’t need to go on tours. You can do them yourselves! We had a blast stopping at gorgeous waterfalls and hot springs and being the only people there. It made the scenery even more perfect.
  3. See amazing landscapes – If you go to Iceland and stay in Reykjavik you will no doubt see some beautiful scenery but you will miss a lot too. When we started our drive we would stop and take a picture of each beautiful waterfall we came by, but by the 100th one we knew we couldn’t continue stopping. The amount of gorgeous waterfalls and mountains are unreal.
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  4. Get to know the people and culture – Because every night we were staying somwhere knew we really got to experience different types of Icelandic living. We stayed one night on a ranch, another night at a log cabin, and more. We got to talk with the owners who were from all different walks of life and got to eat traditional meals.
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  5. You can’t get lost – The awesome thing about road-tripping around Iceland is there is one major road, highway 1. It would be really hard to get lost. This road runs the whole way around Iceland and makes navigating a breeze.

Why I Love Travel

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It’s  hard to put into words the feeling I get when I step out of a plane into a completely new place. The adventure of travel is something I love with all my heart. I get such a rush from seeing somewhere new.  I am able to stop, close my eyes, take in a deep breath and relax to the sounds of my new surroundings. I get pure joy in seeing a well known monument for the first time with my own eyes. I love waking up in my hotel and looking out the window to a new scene. I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes after months of organizing, researching, and planning out trips. I love seeing other cultures and how different people live. I adore the adventure of tasting new foods. I love travel whether it is to somewhere across the world or a few hours drive. I love travel.

Top 5 Places to Swim in Aruba

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One of my most favorite things to do is swim in cool places. There’s nothing like a good swim! Aruba of course is an excellent place to cool off in the water, with it’s excellent beaches and unique swimming holes. Here are my top five places to swim in Aruba:

  1. Natural Pool – There’s no way you will plan a trip to Aruba without hearing about Natural Pool. It is a great sanctuary of water amongst high and dangerous waves. A rock formation guards this spot to make it an excellent place to swim around. There are even fish that have made there way in to the pool so make sure to bring your snorkel gear. You can’t reach this place in a normal car. I would highly suggesting renting an ATV from Justin’s. They are the only company on the island that lets you get to Natural Pool without going on a tour. When we arrived on our ATV the big groups were just leaving so we had the place to ourselves. Make sure to climb the rocks and find the mini pool just above the natural pool.

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  1. Boca Catalina Beach – We found this to be the beach to go to if you want to see an abundance of star fish, fish in general, and sea-turtles. If you get there early and swim straight out you should definitely find a couple turtles grazing in the sea-grass. If you swim to the right you will find an excellent snorkeling spot we dubbed “fish city” because it had so many, you guessed it, fish. There were several umbrellas at this location and it’s located right off the road making it an easy find.

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  1. Boca Mahos Pools – If you visit the old gold mine ruins make sure to bring your swimsuit. While the water on this side of the island is too rough to swim there is a spot you can get in to. If you are at the ruins look to the SE along the water and you will see two ladder prongs sticking up over a ledge. Take that ladder down and you will find a pool of water protected by big rocks. This water is crystal clear and runs under a cave. It’s best if you have some water shoes because when climbing down to it there can be some sharp rocks so be careful.

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  1. Mangel Halto – This beach is very unique to the others on the island. Mangroves grow all around giving a lot of shade. There are also plenty of umbrellas here. This beach had excellent snorkeling and where we found the most parrot fish. The currants can be strong here so take note of that before hopping in.

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  1. Palm Beach – Palm beach is the perfect spot to watch the sunset as you wade in the water. The water is bright blue and the sand soft and white. There’s even a dock out aways in the water that’s fun to climb up on and jump off. This beach is among the high rise hotels but is still definitely worth the visit.image5