• Mashatu Botswana  - credit Bethan Evans

Whale Watching in South Africa

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There are several locations around the world where one can enjoy whale watching, but few can compare to South Africa. In June, the Southern Right whales leave their sub-antarctic feeding grounds and migrate north to mate and calve in the warmer waters of the protected rocky bays and inlets that occur along the South African coastline. From Cape Town, along to Hermanus, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Jeffrey’s Bay and Port Elizabeth, these magnificent mammals can be seen from the shore, their antics providing hours of entertainment for travellers intent on playing witness as literally tonnes of aquatic beast breach and tail-slap as if to order.

Hermanus

Hermanus provides the perfect base, with elevated views of the bay from the rugged cliff-top paths. The ‘Whale Crier’ patrols the streets blowing a kelp horn to inform passers-by of the best sightings of the day. From July through to October, good sightings can be almost guaranteed – and although Hermanus is well known for this, don’t discount sightings at other seaside towns.

De Hoop

For a more laid back place to stay and see the whales, the De Hoop will fit the bill. This place used to be the retreat of Presidents of South Africa up to the end of apartheid and subsequently is set in a beautiful bay and the land around is now a reserve for wildlife. Imagine standing on a sandy dune  watching whales in front of you while not far behind you are zebra browsing on the fynbos. This is a great place to relax, bike around and swim in the sea while being aware of the history of the place.

A tour of the Cape Peninsular, a stroll on the beach at Knysna or Plettenberg Bay, or a stay at Jeffrey’s Bay will also prove rewarding, and all can be combined in a self-drive route along this southern coast – please see “South African Highlights”.

Photographs by kind permission South Africa Tourism

SAT Hermanus          SAT Humpback whale

Kwazulu Natal

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This corner of South Africa has much to offer, and is home to battlefields and beaches, wildlife and vistas.

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Kwazulu Natal

A corner of South Africa with much to offer.  KZN is home of Zulu culture, battlefields, beaches, wildlife and vistas.

Day 1: Ballito
Day 3: Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Game Reserve
Day 5: Maputaland
Day 8: Hluhluwe
Day 9: Battlefields
Day 12: Northern Drakensbergs
Day 15: Depart Durban or Johannesburg
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Description

 

The Zulu Kingdom of KwaZulu Natal represents a holiday destination in its own right, and here we explore just such an itinerary including a little of everything, for everybody. The State of KwaZulu Natal is the traditional home of the Zulu people, a nation of tribes, ruled by a chief. They are lovely warm and friendly people, eager to please!

Day 1: Ballito
From Durban, drive to Ballito – a quiet little residential seaside town. At the right time of year, bottlenose dolphins, southern right and humpback whales can be seen.
Two nights Ballito

Day 3: Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Game Reserve
Head north, roughly following the coast, to Hluhluwe. The big five are present here, which hopefully you’ll spot on your game drives.
Two nights Hluhluwe/Umfolozi National Park

Day 5: Maputaland
Driving further north today, heading towards the Maputaland Marine Reserve. In the Coastal Forest Reserve are several lodges, offering a range of activities from scuba diving to horse riding and walking. At the right time of the year you will be able to see the turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs.
Three nights Maputaland

Day 8: Hluhluwe
It is possible to get all the way to your next stop in one go, but it is a long day, and worth, we think, breaking the journey at Hluhluwe again. This time, we suggest choosing a lodge close to the St Lucia Wetlands for an overnight stay.
One night Hluhluwe

Day 9: Battlefields
Turn inland now to the Battlefields, to re-live the Zulu wars. For even the armchair historian or those with a passing interest, a tour is essential; one cannot help but feel moved by the stories of these epic battles.
Three nights Battlefields

Day 12: Northern Drakensbergs
Drive via the Spionkop Battlefield, to the Drakensbergs. See the Amphitheatre – the source of the Tugela River, and home of the second highest waterfall in the world.
Three nights Drakenbergs

Day 15: Depart Durban or Johannesburg 
Return to Durban or Johannesburg today for the onward or homeward journey.

SAT Drakensberg      SAT impalas KWN

 

SAT Isandhlwana      SAT zulu hut

 

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Little Gems

Fifty miles of pristine beaches, backed by dunes and only three lodges to choose from.  This is remote wild Africa at its best – we love it!
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Victoria

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Explore the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians National Park in this itinerary.

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Victoria

Each Australian state has its own highlights and Victoria is no exception

Day 1: Melbourne
Day 4: Yarra Valley
Day 5: Walhalla
Day 7: Mornington Peninsula
Day 9: Apollo Bay
Day 10: Warrnambool
Day 11: Port Fairy
Day 12 : Hall’s Gap
Day 14: Ballarat
Day 15: Mebourne

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Description

Each Australian state has its own highlights and Victoria is no exception, from cosmopolitan Melbourne to the beauty of the rugged coast, from the wines of the Yarra Valley to the walking trails of the Grampians.  This idea concentrates only on the state of Victoria, but could easily link in part of full to a wider Australian itinerary.

Day 1: Melbourne
Arrive into the city, where we recommend at least a 3 night stay. Hop on board the free City Circle Tram to visit the main city sights and attractions. Sports fans will enjoy a tour of Melbourne Cricket Ground. Explore Melbourne from the water on a cruise along the Yarra River past Melbourne’s parks and gardens and Herring Island. Explore historic Williamstown.
Melbourne 3 nights

Day 4: Yarra Valley
Collect a hire car this morning and drive out to Yarra Valley. Take an authentic historic steam train through the scenic Dandenong Ranges or perhaps take a hot air balloon ride for spectacular views of the valley and surrounding areas.
Yarra Valley 1 night

Day 5: Walhalla
Drive to the remote town of Walhalla, once a thriving gold mining town – visit the restored Goldfields Railway, or Long Tunnel Mine. The valley is a rain forest area with some lovely walks; the more adventurous may consider an extended overnight walk.
Walhalla 2 nights

Day 7: Mornington Peninsula
Back to the coast and the Mornington Peninsula to begin your journey along the Great Ocean Road. On Philip Island enjoy spectacular coastal scenery and an abundance of wildlife.
Mornington Peninsula 2 nights

Day 9: Apollo Bay
This morning take the ferry from Sorrento to Queenscliffe. Drive to Apollo Bay for an overnight stay. Keen hikers may extend their time here to include one of the excellent guided or self-guided walks along the coastal path.
Apollo Bay 1 night

Day 10: Warrnambool
Continue along the Great Ocean Drive, stopping at the Twelve Apostles visitor centre where you can take a dramatic helicopter flight. Continue on to Warrnambool where you overnight stop could include dinner and the sound and light show at Flagstaff Hill.
Warrnambool 1 night

Day 11: Port Fairy
Begin your day with a second daylight visit to Flagstaff Hill followed by a tour of Tower Hill, an extinct volcano. Continue on to Port Fairy; keen golfers may consider a round here
Port Fairy 1 night

Day 12 : Hall’s Gap
Inland to The Grampians where a 2 night stay gives you a full day to explore the area – keen walkers may want to extend this.
Halls Gap 2 nights

Day 14: Ballarat
Head east with an overnight stop at Ballarat, Victoria’s largest inland city. Visit the former gold mining site of Sovereign Hill and the opportunity to pan for real gold
Ballarat 1 night

Day 15: Mebourne
Return to Melbourne for your return home or to continue your Australia exploration…

Photographs Tourism Australia Copyright

Great Ocean Road      Vic - Melbourne      Vic - Twelve Apostles

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Little Gems

A helicopter ride over the Twelve Apostles will settle the conundrum of exactly how many ‘apostles’ there are once and for all.  You may like to buy a DVD of your trip to remind you of a great day out – and don’t forget to take your own camera too.

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Tropical North Queensland

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Explore Great Barrier Reef and the ancient Daintree Rainforest in this itinerary. ‘Beautiful one day – perfect the next’ more than adequately describes Tropical North Queensland 

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Tropical North Queensland

‘Beautiful one day – perfect the next’ more than adequately describes Tropical North Queensland and although travellers can and do visit year round, do beware that the months of December through to March are the wet season – you may get wet! 

Day 1: Cairns
Day 2: Cape Tribulation
Day 3: Palm Cove
Day 7: Return to Cairns

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Description

Day 1: Cairns
Arrive in Cairns and collect hire car before heading north; the Captain Cook Highway soon reduces to a single carriageway, hugging the coast as it wends its way to Port Douglas. Spend two nights in Port Douglas, a pretty little town with an attractive marina, good shopping and home to the famous Iron Bar on Macrossan Street.
Port Douglas 2 nights

Day 2: Cape Tribulation
Take a full day drive north to the Daintree National Park and on to Cape Tribulation. See the perfect white sandy beaches as Captain Cook saw them many years before. Stop at the one of the many excellent boardwalk trails into the Rain Forest, or climb the observation tower giving you fabulous views over the canopy.
Cape Tribulation 1 night

Day 3: Palm Cove
Return south to Palm Cove for a further 3 nights. We suggest that on one of the days here you take a full day trip out on the Great Barrier Reef; your boat will take you to the pontoon for the opportunity to dive, snorkel or view this amazing living garden from underwater observation decks. See exotic fish of all colours and sizes. On the other full day take a trip on the Kuranda Skyrail, a gondola journey skimming you over the top of the rain forest canopy to Kuranda. You will see the Barron Falls and may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the railway on the other side of the valley.
Palm Cove 3 nights

Day 7
Return to Cairns for your journey home or onward journey.

Photographs Copyright Australia Tourism

Cape Tribulation      Fitzroy Island Great Barrier Reef      Great Barrier Reef

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Little Gems

Hotels come and hotels go or change ownership, but the The Reef House in Palm Cove has remained one of our favourites for many years.  Simple colonial elegance probably describes it best and the honesty bar is still as good as ever it was – we love it!

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The end of the rainy season and the box jellyfish season in Tropical Queensland was not an issue. Virtually no rain and as we are not avid sea-bathers the ‘stingers’ (as they call them) didn’t bother us so we didn’t bother them, although we did notice some areas of beaches had an anti-stinger (and anti-shark) boom around them. We would have no hesitation in recommending all of the aspects of the itinerary and no hesitation in recommending you and your company. Thanks for a wonderful holiday.

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The Wild West Story

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Start and finish in Denver on this spectacular drive.

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The Wild West Story

A round trip drive, starting and finishing in Denver, this itinerary offers a circular route overview through Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and Utah.  This itinerary works well in either direction, or simply take part of the itinerary for a more in-depth exploration of a smaller area.

Day 1: Denver
Day 2: Cheyenne
Day 3: Rapid City
Day 6: Ucross
Day 7: Cody
Day 8: Yellowstone National Park
Day 10: Jackson Hole
Day 12: Vernal
Day 13: Grand Junction
Day 15: Moab
Day 16: Mesa Verde National Park
Day 17: Colorado Springs
Day 18: Denver

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Description

The West where spectacular scenery awaits including Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Buffalo Bill country, Yellowstone and Mesa Verde National Park Meet real cowboys, stay on a ranch, visit Cody…

Day 1: Denver
Depart UK arrive Denver.
One night Denver

Day 2: Cheyenne
Pick up the hire car that awaits you and drive north to Cheyenne, take the Street Trolley Tour, a narrated tour detailing the town’s Wild West past.
One night Cheyenne

Day 3: Rapid City
Today you will travel into the Black Hills of South Dakota, famous for its granite needles, lakes and green forests. Visit the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. A “must-see” and only a short drive away are The Badlands.
Three nights Rapid City

Day 6: Ucross
Traverse the cowboy country from South Dakota into Wyoming; passing through the town of Deadwood, a Gold Rush town and home to the famous Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
One night Ucross

Day 7: Cody
A short drive will take you to Cody, Buffalo Bill country. Arriving early afternoon will be time to visit the famous Buffalo Bill Museum; seven acres of American history. In the evening visit the rodeo show where real cowboys round up cattle.
One night Cody

Day 8: Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, home to Bison, Wolves, Elk, Moose and birdlife. There are 10,000 thermal features, and endless lush forests and spectacular blue lakes.
Two nights Yellowstone

Day 10: Jackson Hole
Depart Yellowstone for The Grand Teton National Park where the magnificent Tetons rise from the valley. The famous Snake River flows through the park and white water rafting is a favourite pastime.
Two nights Jackson Hole

Day 12: Vernal
South to Rock Springs, skirting the Flaming Gorge National Recreation area and into the State of Utah.
One night Vernal

Day 13: Grand Junction
A short and scenic drive will take you into the State of Colorado to the delightful town of Grand Junction. Near Grand Junction is the Colorado National Monument and well worth a visit.
Two nights Grand Junction

Day 15: Moab
Drive to Moab, where you can visit the spectacular National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands
One night Moab

Day 16: Mesa Verde National Park
Today the short drive will take you to The Mesa Verde National Park, a World Heritage Site where you will see the famous Indian dwellings of the Pueblo Indians that date back to 1200 AD. You could include Durango for the famous Durango – Silverton steam train.
One night Mesa Verde

Day 17: Colorado Springs
Located on the plains at the foot of Pikes Peak. Visit the “Gardens of the God’s” red rock formations set against a back drop of the 14,000 feet Pikes Peak.
One night Colorado Springs

Day 18: Denver
Drive to Denver, for your scheduled flight to the UK

The Wild West - The Bighorn National Recreation Area in Wyoming      The Wild West - Canyonlands NP

 

 

The Wild West - yellowstone canyon      The Wild West - Mount Rushmore

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Little Gems

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Winter in Quebec

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The Province of Québec has to be the most understated of all Canadian Provinces and yet one of the friendliest, varied and attractive. The Québecois know how to celebrate winter and do so with the charm and sophistication of this delightful people.

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Winter in Quebec

Day 1: Montréal
Day 3: St Alexis-des-Monts
Day 6: Hotel De Glace – Quebec City
Day 7: Quebec City
Day 9: Depart Quebec City

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Description

 A winter holiday is not exclusively for the downhill skier and if you talk to many Canadians, they will tell you that there is a lot more to a winter holiday that simply dusting off your ski’s or snow board.  A winter holiday in Canada and Quebec in particular is about all sorts of winter adventure.  Montreal is a relatively quick hop across the Atlantic and opens up the entire province of Quebec and all that it has to offer for a winter wonderland holiday.

Day 1: Montréal
Fly to the cosmopolitan city of Montréal. Two nights here, and an opportunity to explore this vibrant city. Take a half day city tour visiting the quaint streets and buildings of Old Montreal, the intricate wrought iron balustrades of the residential district and the Olympic Stadium of the 1976 Summer games. Take in a little retail therapy in the shops of the underground city and try your hand at the tables of the Casino.
Two nights Montréal

Day 3: St Alexis-des-Monts
Moving east today, to the foothills of the Laurentians at St Alexis-des-Monts. Three nights here staying in log built accommodation in a fairytale setting of lakeshore accommodation. From here, take part in snowmobiling, cross country skiing and sightseeing flights over this winter wonderland. The province of Quebec offers a vast network of snow mobile tracks – great fun, and second nature to native Quebecois.
Three nights St Alexis

Day 6: Hotel De Glace – Quebec City
We’ve all heard tell of the Ice Hotel – but who is brave enough to spend the night in this unique environment! The Hotel De Glace, located a short distance from Quebec City is built a-fresh each winter, offering an extraordinary combination of ice-carving, and artist design.
Hotel De Glace 1 night

Day 7: Quebec City
Head into the romantic city of Quebec, dominated by the fairytale towers of the Chateau Frontenac and the imposing city wall of the old city
Quebec City 2 nights

Day 9: Depart Quebec City
Return to Montreal today for your overnight flight home to London – or perhaps squeezing one or two more nights to round off your winter holiday with a romantic stay in the Eastern Townships

More time? – then you may consider extending your stay and adding in a few nights in one of the ski areas such as Le Massif or Tremblant – skiing , snow-shoeing and ice-skating are just some of the winter activities on offer – contact us for more details

All photographs © Ministère du Tourisme du Québec

Ice Hotel - pls credit OTCQ      Piscine hiver      5.0.2

 

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Little Gems

The cosy log fire at the Hotel Sacacomie welcomes visitors as soon as you step in from the cold, stamp the snow off your boots and accept a very welcome cup of hot chocolate.  This log built hotel sits on the shores of a frozen lake of the same name – a flat plateau that provides a winter playground in itself – to land a light aircraft, cut a hole for a little ice fishing or take to the ice on dog sled or snow mobile.   This hotel is a firm favourite!

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Country: Madagascar

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While coming under the heading of Southern Africa, Madagascar should be in a category on its own. Firstly, being the world’s fourth largest island, there is much to do and see and almost all of it is unique. 80% of its flora and fauna is endemic added to which most of it is fascinating and beautiful to see.

This uniqueness also applies to the Malagasies themselves. Many being a mixture of African, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern origin, they vary considerably in looks and physique. Tourism has not reached mass market proportions and unlikely to do so in the near future. Expect the accommodation to be more basic than such places as Mauritius and the Seychelles, but this is part of the charm of the place.

There is so much to recommend to do for your trip to Madagascar but below are some of the highlights/suggested activities. For the fuller background to these places, do give us a call.

Highlights:

  • Spend 2 nights exploring Antanarivo, the capital, with its markets and French influenced quarters.
  • Swim with turtles at Nosy Be
  • Watch turtles laying their eggs and/or the eggs hatching at Nosy Be and other locations on the Island
  • Sail along this tropical paradise coastline on a dhow, camping on different beaches each night.
  • Visit the 30 species of lemurs in the indigenous forest National Parks that are found all over the island. Your drive to these Parks will take you through villages and paddy fields that are a feature of Madagascar.
  • Explore the drier south with its Spiny Forest in a 4×4.
  • Dive, fish or snorkel from almost all the beaches that surround Madagascar
  • Explore the old pirate haunts of the Eastern part of the Island. This is wilder and for the more adventurous.
  • Hike in the drier Western part of the Island.

Whatever your itinerary, ensure that you end with a few days lazing (or not) on one of the fabulous Madagascan beaches.

Golden Lemur          Green Turtle          Nosy Iranji

 

 

Region: Western Australia

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Western Australia, in our experience is a second-timers destination, and if you’ve enjoyed other parts of Australia already, just wait until you’ve seen what WA has to offer.  From the Kimberley, Broome and the Bungle Bungles in the north, through the pristine, untouched and relatively undiscovered Ningaloo Reef, to the extraordinary ecology of Shark Bay, the wild flowers in the spring, Perth and the award winning wines of the south-west – and we haven’t even started on the Nullabor, the Indian Pacific rail journey, the gold fields of Kalgoolie and the whales!

Hamelin's Pool Stromatolites Western Australia          Pinnacles Western Australia          Western Australia - KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

 

MEXICO – Yucatan Peninsula & Riviera Maya

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Kirsty Saunders

 

Our colleague at SASPO recently shared her experience along with her photos of her family trip to Mexico. If you are inspired from this blog then please contact us to start your own Mexican adventure.

 

When planning our family holiday destination, this year the compass pointed us to the multi-coloured country of Mexico.  With a 9 year old boy, we concentrated our 2 week trip on the Mayan Riviera and the Yucatan Peninsula, flying in and out of Cancun International Airport with convenient direct flights from the UK and Europe.

With Tulum as our base on the Riviera Maya, we explored ancient Mayan cities and swam in secluded cenotes before venturing inland to the Yucatan Peninsula to Chichen Itza (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World) and to the beautiful colonial city of Merida, ending with beach time on laid back Holbox Island.

As a family trip, Mexico has lots to offer and I wish to share with you my experience and personal input on suggested do’s and don’ts…

Cancun

Flights from Europe generally arrive late afternoon/early evening so I would recommend an overnight stay in Cancun.  We stayed at Beachscape Kin Ha Hotel which is a mid-range hotel just 25 minutes’ transfer from the airport and situated on the best beach in Cancun, facing the turquoise, tranquil Caribbean Sea.

The hotel is low key and offers great value.  Rooms are arranged in blocks set within a tropical garden.  There is a pool-side restaurant and a beach-front restaurant as well as nice communal areas with books and board games to borrow, a pool table and air hockey.  For longer stays there is even a self-service laundry room, ideal when travelling with children.
From the hotel, you can stroll along the beach passing the neighbouring hotels or it’s an easy 10-minute walk to various nearby shopping malls with restaurants, fast food outlets and supermarkets.

Do: take an early morning walk to have the beach to yourself and enjoy the sunrise.

Don’t: change money at your hotel as there are exchange bureaux within a 5 minute walk of your hotel offering a better exchange rate.

Tulum

There is a great range of hotels in Cancun and along the Riviera Maya’s Caribbean coastline to suit every budget – from “unlimited luxury” resorts to small eco boutique hotels.  We stayed in Tulum, 130 km south of Cancun, with a transfer time of around 1½ hours. Tulum and the beaches south of Cancun are suffering at the moment from unsightly sargassum seaweed which gets washed ashore onto the previously pristine shores.   So why stay here and not in Cancun?  Eco-friendly and laid-back, you are much closer to nature and can get away from the crowds.  The archaeological site of Tulum is literally on your doorstep.  Built on a cliff above the sea in honour of the sun, Tulum is the only walled Mayan city to be discovered.

We stayed at the El Pez Colibri boutique hotel where the service was second-to-none.  From the turndown service with tea and chocolates.. to the tray of morning coffee (and hot chocolate for our son) delivered to our room.. to the concierge’s call to our room at 10 pm on our first night to let us know that there was a sea turtle laying her eggs on the sand if we wanted to quietly come and watch.

Close to Tulum, there are gorgeous and easily accessible “cenotes”, natural freshwater pools in the rock – the water is deep and refreshingly cool after the heat of the beaches.  Bring a mask and snorkel (or rent them along with buoyancy vests) and see the fish and turtles swimming in the crystal clear water.  My personal highlight was a visit to the little-visited Muyil archaeological ruins and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a sprawling protected area and home to tons of wildlife, particularly birds and flamingos.  Here you can take a boat ride through a freshwater lagoon and float down Mayan-built canals through the Yucatan jungle.

Along the Riviera Maya, there are also various eco-parks that make ideal day excursions for families with children.  Xcaret is an eco-archaeological park with its own beach and natural pools as well as a coral reef aquarium, aviary and various shows.  Xel-Ha is another eco-park with a collection of cenotes, lagoons, caves and zip-lines – ideal for families looking for adventure and adrenaline-pumping activities!

Do: visit the Tulum ruins in the evening (between 5-7 pm when the day-trippers have gone home) for picture-perfect views and gorgeous sunsets.

Chichen Itza

A 2-hour drive from Tulum, Chichen Itza is in the heart of the Yucatan. We stayed at the Lodge at Chichen Itza, part of the Mayaland Hotel, set in extensive tropical gardens with towering Royal palm trees.  Within the gardens, there is a planetarium (with various shows each day), a spa and several swimming pools.  In the tropical jungle heat, I recommend an afternoon by the swimming pool where you can spot different birds and huge lizards!

With a private entrance to the ruins from Mayaland Hotel, Chichen Itza can be visited in the early morning before the day visitors arrive and before the heat rises.  A truly magical experience to see the sun rise over the pyramid of “El Castillo”.

Do: take a sunrise tour of the ruins and beat the crowds!

Don’t: try to do too much – it’s hot and humid so take time and relax.

From Chichen Itza,  it’s a two-hour transfer to Mérida and I would recommend a stop at Izamal, a small traditional town with a pretty main square with market and its impressive yellow-painted Convento.  The journey takes you along straight roads passing by small pueblos and Mayan communities and tropical forest.

Mérida is a charming city of wide tree-lined boulevards and historic mansions.  We visited on a Saturday evening which is Noche Mexicana when Paseo de Montejo is closed to traffic and there was a lovely atmosphere with families strolling by and riding bicycles and musical and dance performances.  Paseo de Montejo leads to the pretty downtown area with squares, churches, palm trees and good restaurants and pavement cafés.  Both the Mayan ruins of Uxmal and the Celestún Biosphere Reserve with flocks of flamingos and birdlife are within easy reach for day excursions from Mérida .
We stayed at Hacienda Misne, a beautiful oasis 20 minutes’ drive outside Mérida (one-way taxi to downtown Mérida cost around US$5).  The hacienda is situated in a rather plain suburb but once you step into the walled garden, you’re in another world with tall old trees, hammocks, an outside football table, small gym, two swimming pools with excellent waiter service and a superb restaurant.  The guest rooms are situated in separate buildings lining the perimeter of the walled garden, built in similar style to the original hacienda building with high ceilings and steep roof.

Do: take a walking tour of the city to best appreciate its colonial architecture and fine churches.

Don’t: miss the opportunity to visit the ruins of Uxmal – one of the great showpieces of Mayan architecture.

Holbox

It’s a pleasingly easy journey to the island of Holbox, situated just off the northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula.  From Mérida, it’s a 3½ hour drive along straight roads through the tropical forest to the port of Chiquila.  En route, you can stop at the charming town of Valladolid with its lovely main square and interesting shops.
Valladolid would also make an ideal overnight stop for those who want to stay a little off the beaten track with a lovely colonial style hotel overlooking the square.  From Chiquila, the ferry departs every 30  minutes and takes 20 minutes to cross the water to reach Holbox – all very straightforward with luggage loaded and unloaded quickly and efficiently.  On arrival on Holbox, you are met by the “taxi rank” of golf buggies ready to take you along the sand road to your hotel as very few cars are permitted on the island.

There is a good selection of hotels to choose on Holbox – most are beach-front and “barefoot chic”.  We stayed at Holbox Dreams Beachfront Hotel which is a mid-range hotel.  Guest rooms are simple but attractively decorated with nice touches.  There was no water on a couple of occasions but it came back pretty quickly and is one of the challenges of being on a small island.  The hotel has two small swimming pools which are kept very clean and were lit at night.  Walk through the gardens to reach the beautiful white sand beach with calm, shallow waters ideal for small children and a convenient beach club with restaurant, sun loungers and shade and excellent waiter service.

Holbox is easily walkable (or you can rent bicycles) with a small downtown area with good shops and restaurants.  Our highlight on Holbox was a boat trip to swim with whale sharks.  My initial nerves were swiftly allayed as these gentle giants are shy and docile and the experience of swimming alongside them is quite magical.  Very well organised with experienced and helpful crew and snorkeling equipment and buoyancy vest provided, this is a full day tour with time also to snorkel on the reef and stop for a delicious ceviche lunch on the beach.  I would recommend a 4 or 5 night stay on Holbox.  There are various island tours and if you visit when there is no moon you have the opportunity to see the “Bioluminescence” – the phenomenon where the water on the beach is illuminated by micro-organisms in the sea.
After your stay on Holbox, you can easily make the transfer (ferry + drive) directly to Cancun airport for your flight home as most of the flights back to the UK and Europe depart in the late afternoon/evening.  The transfer time to the airport is around 2 – 2 ½ hours plus the 20 minute ferry crossing.

Do: take a boat trip to swim with the whale sharks – a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Don’t: over-pack – there are some superb restaurants on Holbox but island life is low key and informal.

All our transfers were arranged with a private car and driver with the flexibility to stop for lunch or to pick up water and supplies or change money, or even with time for a quick swim in a cenote en route.
Another option would be to have a rental car and self-drive.  With straight roads passing through low forest and small towns, the peninsula is safe and easy to navigate.

Wishing you all happy planning, and remember that Mexico is not just beach.  There is much more to explore inland and to experience the warmth of the Mexican welcome – travelling with or without children!

 

Iceland Self Drive Tour

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Posted by:

Kirsty Saunders

 

This Iceland self drive tour takes you on a voyage from the West Side of Iceland through the Golden Circle area followed by a few days on the South Coast. Get familiar with Iceland’s history at the Settlement Center in Borgarnes village, visit waterfalls and hot spring areas as well as three National Parks and fishing villages.

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Iceland Self Drive Tour

This 7 day self drive tour will take you through some incredible landscapes and natural wonders. Visit Deildartunguhver hot spring, Hraunfossar waterfalls, The Snæfellsnes peninsula, The Golden Circle with Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir, Reynisfjara Black Beach, Seljalandfoss and Skogafoss waterfall, Sólheimajökull Glacier and  Reykjanes peninsula.

Other places of interest on enroute include Reykjavík, The Settlement Center, Shark Museum and the Skógar folk museum. There are numerous activities to consider such as Horse Riding, a Glacier hike, Snowmobiling, Lava tube caving and Whale Watching. If you visit between September and April see the amazing Northern Lights as they illuminate the sky.

Day 1: Arrival – Reykjavik

Day 2: Reykjavík & Borgarfjörður valley

Day 3: Snæfellsnes peninsula

Day 4: National Park Þingvellir, Geysir & Gullfoss waterfall

Day 5:  Waterfalls, Glacier & Reynisfjara black sand beach

Day 6: Lava landscape & hot springs of Reykjanes peninsula

Day 7: Reykjanes peninsula – Departure

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Description

This 7 day self drive tour will take you through some incredible landscapes and natural wonders. Visit Deildartunguhver hot spring, Hraunfossar waterfalls, The Snæfellsnes peninsula, The Golden Circle with Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir, Reynisfjara Black Beach, Seljalandfoss and Skogafoss waterfall, Sólheimajökull Glacier and  Reykjanes peninsula.

Other places of interest on enroute include Reykjavík, The Settlement Center, Shark Museum and the Skógar folk museum. There are numerous activities to consider such as Horse Riding, a Glacier hike, Snowmobiling, Lava tube caving and Whale Watching. If you visit between September and April see the amazing Northern Lights as they illuminate the sky.

 

Day 1: Arrival

Upon arrival at Keflavík International Airport, you will pick up your pre-booked rental car. If you arrive in the morning or afternoon, you might want to stop by at the Blue Lagoon on your way into the city of Reykjavík. If arriving late, you can stay for the first night closer to the airport.

 

Day 2: Reykjavík & Borgarfjörður valley

Take a walk around the most northerly located capital of the world Reykjavík. A must see are the Reykjavik city hall at lake Tjörnin, the old harbour area, Harpa concert hall and the city centre with its colourful buildings.

Head on to Borgarnes and perhaps visit the Settlement Centre before you drive upcountry. Deildartunguhver hot spring is the most active hot spring in Iceland, and the picturesque waterfalls Hraunfossar and Barnafoss are not far away. Guided tours of the lava cave Víðgelmir or the man made ice cave Inside the Langjökull Glacier are available all year round.

2 nights –  Borgarfjörður valley 

Photo credit: Gonorth

 

Day 3: Snæfellsnes peninsula

Make time to stop at Bjarnarhöfn farm for tasting the famous “Hákarl”, the Greenland shark. Passing by the peculiar shaped mountain Kirkjufell you´ll reach the National Park around the glacier covered volcano Snæfellsjökull.

Enjoy a walk to the black pebble beach Djúpalónssandur, the stunning rock formations of Hellnar cove and the Cliffs at Arnarstapi fishing hamlet. The lava cave “Vatnshellir” offers guided tours daily.

On the sand beaches of Búðir and Ytri-Tunga, seals can be spotted whilst resting on the rocky coast. Visit the basalt columns in Gerðuberg, or hike to the crater of Eldborg, the “fire castle”, to round up the visit to the peninsula.

1 night – Snæfellsnes peninsula

The seals at Hvitanes, in the Isafjardardjup region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 4: National Park Þingvellir, Geysir & Gullfoss waterfall

Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Park Þingvellir while walking through the Almannagjá rift, passing the first parliament site, the Althing, to the waterfall Öxaráfoss.

Your journey takes you to the geysers, where the hot spring Strokkur erupts every five minutes or so. At the majestic waterfall Gullfoss a footpath leads to the edge of the falls where you can feel the spray on your face.

Treat yourself with tomato ice cream at the greenhouses at Friðheimar, or relax in the Secret Lagoon geothermal pool.

2 nights – Hella

Photo credit: Gonorth 

 

 

Day 5:  Waterfalls, Glacier & Reynisfjara black sand beach

Today perhaps start with an unforgettable walk behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall or take the stairs to the brim of waterfall Skógafoss. Also The local folk- and transport museum Skógasafn is well worth a visit. The exhibits include an original turf farm, the first vehicles to drive onto a glacier, and an uncountable collection of items depicting daily working life of days gone by.

You can join a Glacier hike or Snowmobile tour at the Sólheimajökull Glacier, before heading on to the bird cliffs of Dyrhólaey. See the rock arch and the grand view from the lighthouse over the endless seeming coastline. Also the fascinating black beach at Reynisfjara with its basalt columns is only a short drive away.

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Day 6: Lava landscape & hot springs of Reykjanes peninsula

Today allow time for activities such as visiting the lava cave Raufarholshellir, a horse riding tour, the exhibition of the geothermal power station Hellisheiðarvirkjun or the ghost museum in Stokkseyir.

 

Day 7: Departure

Head back to the airport today for your onward flight. You will need to return your rental car before departure. For later departures you may have time to explore more of the Reykjanes peninsula before you go.

The village Hveragerði was built around natural hotsprings, heating the greenhouses where mainly flowers are grown today. Enjoy a detour to the picturesque fishing villages of Eyrarbakki and Stokkseyri before heading on to Reykjanes peninsula with its raw lava landscape. Make your way to the fumaroles and mud hot springs at Krisuvik and Kleifarvatn Lake. The milky blue geothermal water of the Blue Lagoon are known for the therapeutic benefits, and unique relaxation.

You will now be at the end of the 7 day Iceland self-drive tour, so your accommodation for the night will be located close to the airport.

1 night

 

 

 

 

 

 

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