Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Butchard Gardens, Canada. Photo via district8perinatal

Where to find the Best Botanical Gardens in the World

Botanical Gardens have become a touchstone between different countries and cultures throughout history, and that isn’t about to change. More and more people are seeking out botanical gardens both at home and abroad. We’ve come up with this list on where to find the best botanical gardens in the world, near or far.

Royal Botanic Gardens, United Kingdom

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew has a wide array of colourful plants. Image via UNESCO

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew has a wide array of colourful plants. Image via UNESCO

The United Kingdom’s Royal Botanic Gardens boast many incredible achievements. Founded in 1759, the Gardens boast the world’s largest collection of living plants, and their collection includes palms, ferns, cacti and carnivorous plants.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Australia

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Australia, showing off the beautiful Aussie gum trees. Photo via medstude

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Australia, showing off the beautiful Aussie gum trees. Photo via medstude

Sydney’s famous Royal Botanic Gardens was founded in 1816, and is the oldest scientific institution in Australia. It boasts 1.2 million preserved specimens, dating back to 1770. The Royal Botanic Gardens are best known for the gardens focusing on native Australian and South Pacific plants.

Butchard Gardens, Canada

The Butchard Gardens, Canada. Photo via district8perinatal

The Butchard Gardens, Canada. Photo via district8perinatal

The Butchard Gardens are found in Canada’s British Columbia, and were founded over a century ago when Jennie Butchard converted her husband’s abandoned limestone quarry into a sunken garden. Over the years, more gardens were added, detailing the travels of the Butchards.

Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, South Africa

The Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, with Witpootjie waterfall in the backdrop. Photo via Adele on pinterest

The Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, with Witpootjie waterfall in the backdrop. Photo via Adele on pinterest

South Africa’s Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden makes this list because of the incredible diversity of both the plants and the local fauna that make their home around the gardens. The centrepiece of the gardens is the Witpoortjie Falls, where native eagles build their nests.

Denver Botanic Gardens, USA

The Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo via wikimedia

The Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo via wikimedia

The Denver Botanic Gardens in Colorado, are internationally acclaimed, and has some of the most incredible examples of rock gardening in the world – with more than 500 tons of rock found around the gardens. With green initiatives in place, many of the gardens are self-sustaining year-round.

A lone sea turtle swimming in the reef. Photo by University of Denver, flickr

Short guide to scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system on the planet, located off the coast of Queensland in Australia. There are 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, which take up an area of 344,400 square kilometres.

The Great Barrier Reef is so massive that it can be seen from space! In 1981 the Reef was selected as a World Heritage Site and has since been labelled as one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World. But of course being underwater it can be difficult getting to see this entire incredible reef. So to help out our readers, we have assembled a short guide to scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

Clownfish in coral at the Great Barrier Reef. Photo by KmrksY, flickr

Clownfish in coral at the Great Barrier Reef. Photo by KmrksY, flickr

If you can’t already, the first thing item on your list is learning how to dive

Be warned, to get full scuba training in Australia you need to invest at least 2 days with classroom and pool training sessions. These classes will give you PADI or SSI Open Water Diving Certification, meaning that you can legally go scuba diving in the open ocean.

The ‘Learn to Dive’ Contiki tour is a great way to get your full scuba licence and then see the full extent of the Barrier Reef. Over a five day period this tour gives you the two days of scuba training needed before three days of diving in nine of the best scuba spots in the reef. This tour actually features a live aboard boat so that you can be on the water for as long as possible, experiencing the full majesty of the open ocean and reef systems.

The colourful underwater world in the GBR. Photo by john@aus, flickr

The colourful underwater world in the GBR. Photo by john@aus, flickr

In terms of diving without a licence there are a few options. Understandably a lot of diving companies don’t have great options for those without diving licences. Most companies will have snorkelling options, which are still a great way to see the flora and fauna, however there are a few beginner spots which you can access.

The Agincourt reef is considered one of the best diving spots

If you decide to travel through the reef using a private boat then you might want to read up on the best places to dive.

The Agincourt reef is a great beginner diving spot, with shallow reef beds that stretch more than 3,000kms; this spot features thousands of colourful corals of all sizes. This spot can be dived by scuba or snorkel so it is open to all.

An aerial view of the amazing reef. Photo by Ippei & Janine Naoi, flickr

An aerial view of the amazing reef. Photo by Ippei & Janine Naoi, flickr

A more advanced diving spot, the Ribbon Reef is located on the Northern end of the Barrier Reef. This reef has a lower sea floor, so scuba is more of a necessity but the experience is well worth it. Ribbon Reef has a large number of different species of fish which use the protected reef beds for breeding. As well there is an incredible abundance of coral formations.

The most advanced diving reef and arguably the most stunning, the Osprey Reef is home to an incredible diversity of fauna species. This reef can be a little dangerous due to the large number of shark species which primarily use the reef for feeding. But don’t be too worried, the shark species in Osprey feed on fish alone, none of the sharks get big enough to be bothered by taking on a human.

A lone sea turtle swimming in the reef. Photo by University of Denver, flickr

A lone sea turtle swimming in the reef. Photo by University of Denver, flickr

Best time to go, where to stay and how to get there

We suggest travelling from June to November while the weather is mild. If you go during the wet season of Queensland the water can get a bit choppy which restricts vision while underwater it can create adverse diving conditions.

Coral reef and sand cay. Photo by Ippei & Janine Naoi, flickr

Coral reef and sand cay. Photo by Ippei & Janine Naoi, flickr

We also suggest staying in Cairns. It is a great base to get to the diving schools littered around the city and has a decent enough nightlife scene to keep you entertained. We would suggest the Salt House for your alcoholic adventures; this bar offers excellent bar food and cocktails made to order for a reasonable price. To stay, we would suggest the Cairns Aquarius as an inexpensive but more than adequate rooming solution.

Bright coral in Eddy Reef, GBR. Photo by Paul from www.castaways.com.au, flickr

Bright coral in Eddy Reef, GBR. Photo by Paul from www.castaways.com.au, flickr

You can catch a plane to the Cairns airport, only a short distance from Cairns city. If you are travelling from an international location your best bet is probably to get a transfer from the Sydney International Airport, as Cairns only takes in domestic flights.

The Gokyo valley in the Everest Region. Photo via worldwanderingkiwi

What to do in Kathmandu? Where should you stay?

Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu is one of the world’s must-go destinations for wayward travellers looking to experience the vibrancy of Asia’s urban landscape. The city is located at the base of the mighty Himalayan mountain range, making it base camp for many a mountaineer looking to set out and conquer those hazardous peaks.

Of course it’s not just the mountains that makes visiting Kathmandu worthwhile. If you care to venture forth into the city, you’ll find a treasure trove of sights to see and activities to undertake, all the while exposing yourself to the hustle and bustle of the local culture.

Kathmandu Durbar Square is a lively place mixed with locals and tourists

Kathmandu Durbar Square is a lively place mixed with locals and tourists

Kathmandu itself is a noisy city, a cramped environment full of people and goods and constantly alive with activity. Simply walking down the street can be quite a chaotic experience; looking up at the thick stands of electrical wire hanging from building to building while you’re harangued by street merchants selling their wares. That’s not to mention the mopeds weaving in and out of traffic with little to no regard for pedestrians, or even cars squeezing down alleyways barely wide enough for them to fit, blaring their horns at everything in their path as they go. Kathmandu is certainly a noisy city, but that noise is the beating heart of a people and culture.

The best places to stay Boudhanath Stupa

The Boudhanath Stupa is one of the holiest and most recognisable sites in Kathmandu. Photo via wikimedia

The Boudhanath Stupa is one of the holiest and most recognisable sites in Kathmandu. Photo via wikimedia

Sharply contrasting the chaos and bustle of the rest of Kathmandu, the Boudhanath Stupa is an oasis of calm and tranquillity in this otherwise busy city. The stupa is one of the holiest and most recognisable sites in the city, it being a combination of Buddhist and Tibetan cultures. While you’re visiting, you’ll be able to see people practicing their religion which can be rather fascinating. However, you should keep in mind one rule while visiting, and that is to always walk through the temple in a clockwise direction as it’s seen to be bad luck not to.

The best time of day to go would be either late afternoon or early morning. These times mean you can avoid the rush of tourists, and if you’re lucky in the mornings you can see the Buddhist monks undertaking their morning prayers.

Thamel

Tham market hub is an interesting place to stroll around and browse local stalls. Photo by Amir, flickr

Tham market hub is an interesting place to stroll around and browse local stalls. Photo by Amir, flickr

Alternatively, you can choose to take the bull by the horns and dive straight into the chaos of Thamel, the market hub of Kathmandu. For explorers willing to tackle the throng of people, there is a wealth of different things to enjoy. The markets offer up all kinds of different delights, from souvenirs, knockoffs of souvenirs, local food and goods. The place is a labyrinth of sights, smells and experiences and if all of that starts to get to you, there’s always the option of visiting the tranquil Garden of Dreams nearby for a respite.
Some interesting things to do while you are there

Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath Temple is one of the most important Hindu place or worship. Photo via ThUiOenVEMI

Pashupatinath Temple is one of the most important Hindu place or worship. Photo via ThUiOenVEMI

The Pashupatinath temple is another of Kathmandu’s holy sites, except instead of Buddhism, the temple is Nepal’s most important Hindu place of worship. Although non-Hindu’s are not permitted within the temple itself, there’s nevertheless much to see. You can behold the exterior of the temple which is constructed in the pagoda style of architecture and sits on the banks of the Bagmati River and is surrounded by smaller temples frequented by Hindu holy men, known as Sadhus. There are also traders that sell souvenirs such as incense, conch shells and marigolds. Or, if you’re feeling particularly curious, you can venture down to the Bagmati and bear witness to one of the frequent cremations that occur there. It’s a tradition that’s very important to these people even if it might seem a touch morbid from a Westerner’s viewpoint. Just watch out for the smoke.

The Everest Region

The Gokyo valley in the Everest Region. Photo via worldwanderingkiwi

The Gokyo valley in the Everest Region. Photo via worldwanderingkiwi

Of course, there is one reason so many tourists flock to Nepal every year and that reason is the Everest region. Nepal is home 8 of the world’s 14 mountain peaks that reach over 8000 feet (the other 6 of which are also part of the Himalayas). From Kathmandu, the only way to reach the Everest region is by a 30 minute flight in a small plane to Lukla airport, and from there you’ll have to trek for two days to Namche Bazaar, the main town of the Everest region. If you want to proceed to Everest base camp, it’ll be another week’s trekking after that. Well, climbing the Himalayas was never supposed to be easy.

Shambaling Boutique Hotel

The Shambaling boutique Hotel. Photo via bstatic

The Shambaling boutique Hotel. Photo via bstatic

After all off that adventuring in and around Kathmandu, you’re going to need someplace to lay your weary head. The Shambaling Boutique hotel is just a 10 minute walk from the Boudhanath Stupa and built in a renovated Tibetan style house. The hotel’s design closely follows many Tibetan asthetics and every floor represents the Kalachakra elements of earth, fire, water and sky.

Hanmer Hot Springs in New Zealand. photo via newzealand

21 of the World’s Most Beautiful Hot Springs

Thermal baths are one of the most amazing natural wonders you can encounter while travelling. Soaking in the relaxing hot waters is something everyone should try at least once. So, we’ve listed 21 of the world’s most beautiful thermal baths for you to check out.

World’s most beautiful hot springs: Hanmer Springs, New Zealand

Hanmer Hot Springs in New Zealand. photo via newzealand

Hanmer Hot Springs in New Zealand. photo via newzealand

The Hanmer Springs resort began with a single fenced pool way back in the 1850s. Since then, a whole array of pools and baths has been added to the facility. It’s expertly furnished surroundings make it look like a public water park, there’s even a few water slides, but all of the water in the park is 100% sourced from natural thermal hot springs. Hanmer Springs is located on NZ’s South Island, just a 90 minute drive north of Christchurch.

Landbrotalaug Iceland

Landbrotalaug, Iceland. Photo by ooh_food via flickr

Landbrotalaug, Iceland. Photo by ooh_food via flickr


Contrasting the previous entry in aesthetics is Landbrotalaug. It’s a very interesting hot spring and about as natural as you can get, as it’s literally a hole in the ground wide enough to fit one person.
The spring is located on the south of Snæfellsnes and is only one minutes walk from the main road. To get there, you need to drive north along Road 1 from Reykjavík, through the town of Borgarnes, turn left onto Road 54 for about 40 kms and turn in to the road leading to Stóra-Hraun. Drive for about 1.3 km and you have reached Landbrotalaug.

Grutas de Tolantongo, Hidalgo

Grutas de Tolantongo, man made and natural springs. Photo via songoftheroad

Grutas de Tolantongo, man made and natural springs. Photo via songoftheroad

Mexico’s Grutas de Tolantongo is a rather remarkable assemblage of natural and man-made hot springs. Along with the usual spas and pools, there is actually a cave from where the hot springs flow. So not only is there a cave of thermal water, but there is an actual hot spring river flowing from the cave. You can get there from San Antonio, where there are plenty of public buses to and from the hot springs.

Glenwood Hot Springs

Glenwood Hot Springs, largest natural hot spring

Glenwood Hot Springs, largest natural hot spring

Glenwood Springs has the honour of being home to the world’s largest natural hot spring pool. It’s claimed that the Glenwood Springs pool delivers three and a half million gallons of hot water every day. If that wasn’t enough, there is a luxurious resort built around it.
Glenwood Springs is in Colarado in the US and is easy to get to from Denver.

Banff Upper Hot Springs

Banff Upper Hot Springs. Photo via pleiadesmassage

Banff Upper Hot Springs. Photo via pleiadesmassage

The Banff hot springs are located amongst the Canadian Rockies, making it a great place to unwind after a day of skiing or snowboarding. The hot spring is listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places and was discovered in 1884. Located in the Banff National Park, the resort is just a short drive from Calgary.

Cottonwood Hot Springs

The cottonwood Hot Springs in Colorado. Photo by Scott Albright via flickr

The cottonwood Hot Springs in Colorado. Photo by Scott Albright via flickr

Another hot spring located in Colorado, the Cottonwood boasts a more rustic aesthetic with creek side cabins and lodges to stay in. The springs here are gravity fed and are renowned for their medicinal and therapeutic value.

Cottonwood Hot Springs are located on 18999 Country Road 306, just north of Buena Vista Colorado.

Spence Hot Springs

Spence Hot Springs in the Jemez Mountains. Photo by Greg Medendorp via Flickr

Spence Hot Springs in the Jemez Mountains. Photo by Greg Medendorp via Flickr

The Spence Hot Springs on the Jemez Mountains are another example of naturally occurring hot springs. The springs themselves are two pools of hot water located on the side of a hill. They give an amazing view of the surrounding mountains and are quite popular with families.

Located in New Mexico, the springs are about a two hour drive out of Albuquerque.

Chena Hot Springs Resort

Chena Hot Springs Resort. Photo via flickr

Chena Hot Springs Resort. Photo via flickr

Thermal springs are often best enjoyed in a cold environment, so it makes sense that Alaska’s most developed hot springs resort would be a popular attraction. Not only do you get to enjoy the delights of the hot water, but in winter, they can also be a prime viewing spot for Aurora Borealis.
The springs are 60 miles out of Fairbanks, but the tranquillity makes the trip well worthwhile.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs

Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Colorado. Photo by CW George via Flickr

Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Colorado. Photo by CW George via Flickr

Strawberry Park combines a hot spring resort with a rustic mountain retreat. The pools are fed by a hot spring river and there a range of options including tents and cabins for accommodation.
You can get to Strawberry Park by driving north from Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The resort can provide shuttles to and from the town due to limited parking at the resort.

Esalen Hot Springs

Esalen Hot Springs. Photo by Nate Bolt via Flickr

Esalen Hot Springs. Photo by Nate Bolt via Flickr

The Esalen Hot Springs have perhaps a unique claim as being one of the only hot springs that can boast clear ocean views. Located on the Californian coast near Big Sur, the springs here sit on a steep hill overlooking the Pacific.

La Gruta Hot Springs, Guanajuato

La Gruta Hot Springs, Guanajuato. Photo via Punk Travels

La Gruta Hot Springs, Guanajuato. Photo via Punk Travels

Most Mexican hot springs flow out of caves and caverns and La Gruta is no exception. Boasting three different outdoor pools of varying degrees, the hottest of which is accessed by a long stone tunnel of water that empties out into a dome shaped cave. The springs are located in the town of Guanajuato.

Shizuoka Japan

Shizuoka Springs in Japan. Photo via pinimg

Shizuoka Springs in Japan. Photo via pinimg

Japan is famous for its plethora of natural hot springs. Given regions of the country are rife with small bath-houses that are fed by thermal springs, so travellers are spoilt for choice. The Shizuoka region has plenty to choose from. The region is to the southwest of Tokyo, adjacent to the Fuji region, making it easy to get to.

Australia Mataranka Hot Springs, Northern Territory

Mataranka Hot Springs, Australia. Photo via nomaddreaming

Mataranka Hot Springs, Australia. Photo via nomaddreaming

The sunburnt environment of the outback is generally not thought of as a place where hot springs flow, nevertheless there is one. These springs are located near the Mataranka Cabins and Camping site, which is itself a few hours’ drive south of Darwin.

Pamukkale, Turkey

The springs at Pamukkale Turkey. Photo via traveljunkiediary.jpg

The springs at Pamukkale Turkey. Photo via traveljunkiediary.jpg

The springs at Pamukkale in Turkey are probably the most stunning of the naturally formed hot springs on this list. The pools are arranged into terraces that are made of travertine, which is a hardened sedimentary rock deposited by water from the hot springs.
Pamukkale is a short distance away from the township of Denizli in south-western Turkey.

Bath, England

The Hot Springs or Baths in Bath, England. Photo by Grand Parc via Flickr

The Hot Springs or Baths in Bath, England. Photo by Grand Parc via Flickr

Bath in England is both the only place in the UK where you can bathe in thermal waters and is also the only city that is listed as a World Heritage site. The main draw of Bath is the majestic Roman Baths that are over 2000 years old where visitors can catch a glimpse of the history of Bath.

Oodaira Hot Spring, Yamagata

Oodaira Hot Spring, Yamagata. Photo via japanspecialist

Oodaira Hot Spring, Yamagata. Photo via japanspecialist

These springs are located deep within the mountains of Japan, making them ideal for those looking to experience all that Japan’s wilderness has to offer.

Hot Springs Cove Tofino, Canada

Hot Springs Cove Tofino. Photo via dcstudentadventures

Hot Springs Cove Tofino. Photo via dcstudentadventures

Visiting the hot springs cove in Tofino is not a journey you can make by accident. Located on the west coast of Canada’s Vancouver Island, the trip is quite an arduous one. Once you make it all the way to Tofino, you’ll then need to book a day trip to the cove, which also consists of a 20 minute plane trip to access the remote area.

Shirahone Hot Springs, Japan

Shirahone Hot Springs, Japan. Photo via japan-guide

Shirahone Hot Springs, Japan. Photo via japan-guide

The Shirahone or “white bone” hot spring is a small resort town lying in the Northern Japanese Alps. The springs get their name from the milky white water that lies within them, which is caused by deposits of magnesium and calcium sediment.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone. Photo via wikimedia

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone. Photo via wikimedia

The resort in Mammoth Hot Springs is the only resort in Yellowstone that is able to be accessed by car during the winter months. These carbonate-depositing springs are the largest in the world and are a popular destination.

Arenal Hot Springs, Costa Rica

Arenal Hot Springs, Costa Rica. Photo via costaricavacationdeals.jpg

Arenal Hot Springs, Costa Rica. Photo via costaricavacationdeals.jpg

The Arenal region in Costa Rica consists of a range of different hot springs sites thanks to volcanic geo-thermal activity in the region. There’s close to 40 different spas and resorts near Arenal Lake, all of which provide great views of the imposing Arenal Volcano, which is thankfully extinct. Travelling to the Arenal Hot Springs is a three and a half hour drive from San Jose.

Jigokudani Monkey Park, Nagano Japan

Monkeys like the springs as well, Jigokudani Monkey Park. Photo via merleshop

Monkeys like the springs as well, Jigokudani Monkey Park. Photo via merleshop

Finally, we have the Jigokudani Monkey Park. This site is so popular because it is a prime location to watch troops of Japanese macaque bathe in the hot springs. As well as tourists, it also attracts plenty of naturalists, to observe how the monkeys behave in their natural habitat. It’s approximately three and a half hours travel from Tokyo via train, bus or car.

The Foro Romano, such magnificent ruins cannot be missed

10 Free Things to do in Rome

As many tourists have discovered Italy has many wondrous sights on offer. But of course there is a payoff to such rich history and culture: expense. That dreaded word that the average tourist shudders about. Europe has a habit of chewing through income like a fat kid going through chocolate cakes.

But of course there has to be a way around expenses and indeed we can now take you through a personal, handpicked selection of the best 10 free things to do in Rome.

Free Things to do in Rome: The Trevi Fountain

The magnificent Trevi Fountain. Photo via gloholiday

The magnificent Trevi Fountain. Photo via gloholiday

Undoubtedly the most magnificent water feature in Europe, the Trevi Fountain is one of the most detailed and well-designed architectural pieces of the ancient past. Being out in the open air you can swing by the Piazza di Trevi anytime to see this incredible sight. Construction of the fountain started in 1732 and was completed in 1762, being made of marble and travertine, a type of limestone. The fountain was originally supplied by the Aqua Virgo, a 22km long aqueduct that used to feed drinking water to the people of Rome.

Assuming you are staying further away from the center of Rome the best way to access the Trevi Fountain is to walk from the nearby train station. Getting off at Barberini station lets you easily walk the 400 metres to the Trevi.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon from the front is stunning at night. Photo by Oliver K.

The Pantheon from the front is stunning at night. Photo by Oliver K.

If you are more of a history buff you can easily walk through the Pantheon, a temple dedicated to all of the Roman Gods. The ancient Romans after defeating an empire, would offer the Gods of the defeated culture a home within Rome thus adopting them. As such Rome continued to add to its Polytheistic beliefs. The Pantheon was thus constructed as a temple in which any God could be worshipped, a contrast to the typical one God one temple system that Rome often used.

The Pantheon was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. Constructed of granite amongst other materials, the massive dome of the temple is still one of the world’s largest unreinforced concrete domes

The Circus Maximus

The Circus Maximus and some of the surrounding ruins. Photo via wikimedia1

The Circus Maximus and some of the surrounding ruins. Photo via wikimedia

Many overlook the Circus Maximus as just a dustbowl; however it is an important historical site to be seen. Ruins of ancient Rome dot the site and you can walk up the hill to get a closer look if you feel a little adventurous.

The Circus Maximus was used as a racing stadium during ancient times. Chariot races were held often, being sponsored by wealthy Roman citizens striving to become a part of the Senate. Being able to hold 150,000 spectators, the chariot races were fast and often brutal, crashes and deaths of riders and horses was commonplace.

Piazza della Repubblica

The Piazza della Repubblica at night-time. Photo via worldviator

The Piazza della Repubblica at night-time. Photo via worldviator

The Piazza della Repubblica is a beautifully constructed, massive piazza in the centre of Rome. From a distance this Piazza looks just like a massive, very well decorated roundabout and indeed if you just pass through that’s all you can see. But the fast moving traffic of Rome is not the way to sight see, you have to get out and start walking.

The architecture of the Piazza is a testament to the beauty of Rome. Arches support the numerous hotels that make up the Piazza, with the ground floor being littered with fashion retailers and restaurants which cater to the cities most wealthy.

To get to the Piazza you can easily catch a train to Repubblica station. From the Piazza you can actually walk the 1km to the Colosseum.

Arco di Constantino

Arco di Constantino, the craftsmanship is incredible. Photo via ilpozzo

Arco di Constantino, the craftsmanship is incredible. Photo via ilpozzo

Located right near the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine is a massive ancient Roman celebration of the civic and military victories of Emperor Constantine. The most dominant reliefs on the arch are those that celebrate Constantine’s military victory over Maxentius, a former emperor of Rome. This is widely celebrated as Constantine was seen as a saving force for the Roman Empire, which had begun to decline in its prestige due to poor rule.

The fresco’s which cover the arch are of an exceptional detail, making it quite easy to become immersed within the story being told. We would suggest reading up on the history of Constantine and his political leadership, as it makes seeing the sites of Rome much more fulfilling.

You can access the arch by walking from the Colosseum, accessed by the metro system.

Villa Borghese Gardens

The Temple of Aesculapius in the Borghese Gardens. Photo via go-today

The Temple of Aesculapius in the Borghese Gardens. Photo via go-today

The Borghese gardens are a stunning entrance to the incredible architecture and workmanship which is on show within the gallery of the Borghese Villa. Unfortunately you have to pay to see these magnificent works of art, but with the showing off of the best of Bernini it is a must see.

The Borghese Gardens are like walking into a different world, the lush green grass and trees are only more highlighted by the incredible white marble statues which line the pathways in every direction. There are gardens dedicated to fruits off to the side of the Borghese villa, but the true masterpiece is the 19th Century ‘Temple of Aesculapius’ built overlooking a lake, this shrine is captured within massive trees and makes for the best photography you can experience whilst in Rome.

Foro Romano

The Foro Romano, such magnificent ruins cannot be missed

The Foro Romano, such magnificent ruins cannot be missed

Everybody should visit the ancient Roman forum. Being the centrepiece of ancient civilisation, Rome had some of the most exquisite architectural achievements that mankind has produced and the ruins of the forum of Rome certainly prove this. Looking through the ruins you can get a sense of the might that must have been Rome, massive granite columns broken down over centuries can give you a clear picture of the empire that was.
To access the forum just walk over from the Colosseum, it is only around 200m.

The Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps is a tourist hotspot. Photo via travelpod

The Spanish Steps is a tourist hotspot. Photo via travelpod

One of the more famous stairways in the world, the Spanish Steps is a sure thing to see whilst in Rome. Located within the Piazza di Spagna, the Spanish Steps are surrounded by the culture of Italy.

At the top lies the Trinta dei Monti Church, a late renaissance piece which can be accessed without fee. Currently restoration works are being held, which might stop you from getting in.

At the bottom of the steps lies the remainder of the Piazza di Spagna, an area now dominated by luxury brands and an absolute pile of tourists. Be warned of pickpocketing as it commonplace, however if you are careful you should have no problems.
Take the metro to Spanga and it is a short walk to the Spanish Steps.

Castel Sant’ Angelo

The Castel Sant Angelo at night. Photo via wikimedia

The Castel Sant Angelo at night. Photo via wikimedia

The Castel Sant’ Angelo is an incredible site to see whilst in Rome and serves as a great gateway to enter the Vatican. The Castel Sant’ Angelo was commissioned by Emperor Hadrian, arguably one of the most famous Roman emperors. During ancient times the Castel was the tallest building in Rome. The Tiber River flows just before the Castel making the view from the top of the Castel that much more breath taking.

The Castel is most notable for its Baroque additions of statues holding aloft depictions of Jesus Christ. The Castel acted as the tomb for many Roman emperors, however during later times much of the tombs that had remained where destroyed and their contents looted.
To get to the Castel you can catch the metro to Lepanto station and walk over. It should only take you 15 minutes from the station.

The Vatican

The breathtaking beauty inside the Vatican. Photo by Patrick

The breathtaking beauty inside the Vatican. Photo by Patrick

Of course some would argue that the Vatican is outside of the city of Rome being its own state, but really, when in Rome go to the Vatican. Religion aside the Vatican houses some of the most spectacular architecture in all of the Italian area. Obelisks from Egypt as well as incredible areas like St. Peter’s Square showcase the extent to which the Vatican and its message have spread through the world.

Much of the architecture has its roots with some of the most famous architects in human history, Bernini and Michelangelo being the two biggest names.

If you have the time, explore the Vatican as there are so many sites to see within its walls.
To get there just walk across from Rome, use Castel Sant’ Angelo as a guideline for your journey.

Medhufushi Island Resort in the Maldives. Photo via ewtc

11 Cheap overwater bungalow resorts from around the world

Some of the most luxurious living spaces are those that are within natural environments. Indeed when you think about resorts, it is the most luxurious that are on top of the water, and for good reason. When exploring the best overwater resorts we often are tempted by the best of the best, but of course you have to be able to pay for it. But what if there was a cheaper, equally luxurious alternative? Like 11 Cheap overwater bungalow resorts from around the world?

Medhufushi Island Resort (The Maldives)

Medhufushi Island Resort in the Maldives. Photo via ewtc

Medhufushi Island Resort in the Maldives. Photo via ewtc

Sometimes the classics are some of the best, and it can’t be denied that the Maldives have some of the best overwater bungalow options. In the low seasons the Medhufushi Island Resort will put you back US$311 or US$529 during peak times. The resort is cheaper than the rest of the Maldives because it is located off the main island, being around 130km from Malé. The best time to go is around February to April, but of course you will have to be willing to pay for it.

AVANI Sepang Goldcoast Resort (Malaysia)

AVANI Sepang Goldcoast Resort in Malaysia. Photo via blogspot

AVANI Sepang Goldcoast Resort in Malaysia. Photo via blogspot

One of the largest series of overwater bungalows, the AVANI resort in Malaysia offers amazing views over the water and beautiful rooms. In the low season expect to pay around US$147 and US$163 for peak times. The downside to this resort is that it is very difficult to get back into the main region of Malaysia. However to try and help this there are lots of differing activities to do such as dirt biking and archery. The best time to go is around February all the way to August, as this is considered the dry seasons.

InterContinental Resort (Tahiti)

An image taken from the sky of the InterContinental Resort on Tahiti. photo via visualitnieraries

An image taken from the sky of the InterContinental Resort on Tahiti. photo via visualitnieraries

This beautiful resort in Tahiti has incredible views out over the water, and has a great backdrop of palm trees and other spectacular greenery. During the low season you can expect to pay US$409 and in the high season expect around US$469. Some complain that the facilities are slightly out-dated, but this is a view held by very few. The best time to visit Tahiti is around May to October.

Raiatea Hawaiki Nui Hotel (Bora Bora)

Raiatea Hawaiki Nui Hotel in beautiful Bora Bora. Photo via Voyages Thematours

Raiatea Hawaiki Nui Hotel in beautiful Bora Bora. Photo via Voyages Thematours

Located near to Tahiti and Bora Bora this hotel has all of the views that the best hotels have but for a fraction of the price. The resort is by no means fancy; however the rooms are clean and comfortable and give you everything that you need. Expect to pay around US$411 yearly. The downside to this resort is that the rooms are out-dated and not as nice as other resorts in Bora Bora or Tahiti. The best time to visit is around May to October.

Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach resort

The Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort in Tahiti. Photo via Visual Itineraries

The Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort in Tahiti. Photo via Visual Itineraries

Yet another beautiful resort in Tahiti, the Sofitel Moorea Ia Ora Beach Resort offers beautiful overwater bungalows for a relatively low price. You have to get in early though, as prices vary largely during the high and low seasons. During the low season expect around US$414 compared to the high season of US$732, obviously seasonality is a big issue and if you can take the wetter weather than this might just be a great deal for you! Peak seasons are May to October.

Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort

Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort in Tahiti. Photo via cntraveler

Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort in Tahiti. Photo via cntraveler

The Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort has 24 overwater bungalows with two different room options. No matter what room you get expect lots of 4-star services and luxury and great views over the light blue waters. In the low season expect to pay around US$394 with a high season starting at US$620. This resort is a fair stretch away from the main regions of Tahiti and Bora Bora, its closest neighbours. However the accommodations savings make up for the extra flight costs.

Meeru Island Resort and Spa (Maldives)

Just sit back and relax at the Meeru Island Resort and Spa. Photo via panoramio

Just sit back and relax at the Meeru Island Resort and Spa. Photo via panoramio

Once again the best returns, the Maldives in its exquisite natural beauty has the best of the best in overwater living. With 106 villas over the water this resort is the second largest overwater resort complex and has luxury to match. Each villa is a size easily comfortable for the average traveller and there are more than enough restaurants to satisfy your hunger while you explore the area. Low season prices start at US$392 and high season prices add on another US$100.

CoCo View Resort

The beautiful view out to sea from CoCo View Resort. Photo via panoramio

The beautiful view out to sea from CoCo View Resort. Photo via panoramio

Honduras has beautiful views over the sea with seas best suited to adventurous divers. This overwater bungalow get away is perfect for adventure seekers with a passion for diving. Bundle packages with this resort gets you access to scuba-diving gear, two boat journeys a day and unlimited shore diving, which all adds up to fantastic value in a beautiful area. Prices here start at US$390 for off peak and US$452 for peak times. Peak times are around the December to April period.

St. George’s Caye Resort

St. Georges Caye Resort north of Honduras. Photo via lilylilyphotography

St. Georges Caye Resort north of Honduras. Photo via lilylilyphotography

When people think about South America, most aren’t thinking about resort living over the water. However the St. George’s Caye Resort is a great, cheap way to stay over the water in a cool location. Located on the far Eastern coast of Belize, North of Honduras, this area offers picturesque views over the water for a fraction of the cost of other more expensive areas. Prices stay at around US$380 yearly, with the best time to travel being around December through to February.

Velidhu Island Resort

The Water bungalows of Velidhu Island Resort in the Maldives. Photo via velidhu

The Water bungalows of Velidhu Island Resort in the Maldives. Photo via velidhu

Another great and unusually cheap resort in the Maldives, the Velidhu Island Resort has got beautiful and incredible views out over the water. In the low season this resort will put you back US$369 and in peak times will be around US$521. The best times to travel are around May to October. The pricing here includes hotel breakfast and dinner each day.

Te Tiare Beach Resort

Te Tiare Beach Resort. Photo via tahitivacations

Te Tiare Beach Resort. Photo via tahitivacations

Probably the least luxurious of the resorts that we have listed, the Te Tiare Beach Resort is only rated at 3 stars. This is probably due to the lack of activities to do on the island rather than the actual rooms themselves. The bungalows are spacious and overlook a serene and very clam lagoon in the South Pacific. During the low season expect to pay around US$359 and during peak times a slight increase to US$383. As the other resorts around Bora Bora, this resort has a peak time of around May to October.

The Hoodoo formations of Blue Canyon. Photo by Patrick Berden

Exploring the wind swept white rocks of Blue Canyon in Arizona

The Blue Canyon of Arizona is a geologically astonishing area in Arizona, US. Home to some of the more impressive Hoodoo rock formations, this area is also characterised by the peculiar white patterns that spread like cobwebs over the red rocks.

The Blue Canyon of Arizona and its oddly shaped rock formations. Photo by Cecil Whitt

The Blue Canyon of Arizona and its oddly shaped rock formations. Photo by Cecil Whitt

To the untrained observer this odd sight puts in mind an exceptionally inept painter; however the cause for such decolourisation can instead by attributed to the chemical and mechanical weathering of the rock itself, causing decay and colour change. An alternate theory suggests that the canyon rocks may have leached elements from surrounding areas.

The Hoodoo formations of Blue Canyon. Photo by Patrick Berden

The Hoodoo formations of Blue Canyon. Photo by Patrick Berden

In any case it has to be said that these incredible formations are breath taking to see. So come with us exploring the wind swept white rocks of Blue Canyon in Arizona.

It spans the border between Navajo and Hopi reservations

The Blue Canyon like many natural areas in the US are controlled by the Native American people. This particular stretch of land falls within the Hopi tribe’s land, as such to travel throughout the canyon a permit has to be obtained. These are fairly easy to get, a call to the Office of Hopi Lands and a quick discussion will get you all the necessary information that you will need.

The discoloured rocks stretch out through the whole canyon. Photo by Kalaman Photography

The discoloured rocks stretch out through the whole canyon. Photo by Kalaman Photography

We would also suggest bringing a lot of water and sunscreen. No matter the time of year that you travel, the canyon can get extremely hot and you will dehydrate very quickly in the sun. Bring a hat as well; prolonged exposure to the sun can be pretty damaging and you’ll be able to explore for longer if you can keep cool. Hiking shoes are another must, this isn’t a popular tourist spot and there aren’t paved paths. If you go the Blue Canyon then be prepared for rough terrain and a lot of walking.

This place is off the beaten path and is not a popular tourist area

Because this attraction is far less known to the tourist industry, there are no easy public transport methods to get to the area. So we suggest hiring out a car when in Arizona and driving up to the canyon.

The Blue canyon at dusk. Photo via wikimedia

The Blue canyon at dusk. Photo via wikimedia

Having a car to use is a fantastic way of moving around the US as there are so many sights to see off the beaten track, so after the Blue Canyon you can travel around to the more touristy attractions like the Grand Canyon or The Wave in the Vermillion Cliffs.

When is the best time to go?

We suggest going to Arizona during the Spring months. This is due to the consistent temperatures which are missed in the other months. Be warned that if you travel during the Summer and Autumn months be prepared for 40 degree days, made worse in the desert landscape. Winter is another potential option however the potential for rain is much greater.

The Stunning Blue Canyon. Photo via americansouthwest

The Stunning Blue Canyon. Photo via americansouthwest

Unsurprisingly the Blue Canyon is a day trip kind of deal. There aren’t places to stay within the canyon and the amount of other activities to do around the area is lacking. We would suggest staying in Phoenix, being the capital of Arizona there is a lot to do and see around the place which gives you lots of options when not in the Canyon.

Rounded red boulders with white cross-banding. Photo via the American Southwest

Rounded red boulders with white cross-banding. Photo via the American Southwest

The Homewood Suites in North Phoenix is an awesome base of operations, offering great pricing and very friendly service in a convenient location. From the outside this hotel may look pretty basic but it has everything that you will need to have a more than comfortable stay.

Marseille is a bustling city filled history culture. Photo via x3m

Exploring the best beaches in Southern France

Imagine hundreds of kilometres of coastline, small inlets dotted with yachts, untouched beaches where the forest meets the sand, and overlooking this paradise rise beautiful villas. In this region the favoured past time is to relax on the beach. When you’ve had enough of the beach, stroll to a beachside bar to order a beautifully made cocktail, before you lazily walk to your villa overlooking the Mediterranean coastline.

I know what you’re thinking, this is Greece, South Italy or maybe even Spain, in fact, the place in question is found in France. To the south of the French Alps, following the coast from Marseille to Nice, beaches can be found that are some of the most idyllic on the planet.

The French Riviera is almost too perfect. Photo via www.buisnessdestinations.com

The French Riviera is almost too perfect. Photo via www.buisnessdestinations.com

 

These beaches are characterized by bright blue waters that gradually move onto shores of the whitest sand, inhabited by a people of varying lifestyles; from the rich and famous to simple coast town living. Located on the Mediterranean and in the southern regions of France allows this part of the world to remain distinctly warmer than the rest of the country. The area is known as the Cote d’Azur to the French or in English, the French Riviera.

In many of these inlets and beaches the richest in France spend their weekends on the hundreds of yachts you can see dotted off shore. For the most part much of the tourism in this area is domestic; it is a favourite region for French families to go for a beach get away. While the coast line is not particularly long, a drive between Marseille and Saint Tropez is about 5 hours and there are a number of amazing places to stay along the way.

Marseille

Marseille is a bustling city filled history culture. Photo via x3m

Marseille is a bustling city filled history culture. Photo via x3m

Marseille is where we start this journey, this bustling port city is actually the second largest city in France outside Paris and is a beautiful mix of old and new. A favourite thing to do in this city is wander through the Le Panier, this area embodies the cultural heart of this city. This trendy area is made up of small lanes hiding small cafes, workshops and galleries, days can be spent meandering through eclectic laneways, drinking coffee, seeing artworks and enjoying the sea breezes.

While in Marseille a good place to stay is the Vertigo Vieux-Port Hostel, this recently renovated hostel offers a comfortable friendly stay in a convenient location. They can be found at 38 Rue Fort Notre Dame, Marseille.

 

Saint Tropez

Saint Tropez. Photo by Modern Magazine

Saint Tropez. Photo by Modern Magazine

Going further down the coast you suddenly find yourself surrounded by forest. You can hear waves crash as you make your way through the forest to a isolated beach, littered with debris from the encroaching forest making you feel like you’re a million miles from society. The only notion you have the outside world are all the beautiful people around also enjoying the beach. These are the Saint-Tropez Beaches; these beaches were made famous in the 1950’s appearing in a number of movies as places of great beauty. Even to this day they are not overly built up and offer a nice break after the bustle of Marseille.

 

Cannes

Cannes, wild city, playground of the rich and famous. Photo via shedexpedition

Cannes, wild city, playground of the rich and famous. Photo via shedexpedition

After you’ve had a rest in the relative wilds of Saint-Tropez it’s time for a bit of opulence as we head to Cannes. Hosting the Cannes Film festival is this town’s main claim to fame, but overall this is a city of beauty sitting along arguably the most beautiful part of the coast line. This is the playground of the rich and beautiful, with fancy bars and houses lining the pristine beaches. Recommended activities in Cannes? Grab a cocktail at one of the many beach bars and try to look at chic and hip as possible, go out for the night in any number of the coolest clubs and recover by spending the day on the beach. Rinse. Repeat.

 
Being such an affluent town it can be a little hard to find reasonably priced accommodation, luckily in Cannes there is the Hotel Les Tourrades. This friendly establishment offers a pleasant stay at a really great price. They can be found at Avenue Saint Exupery, Cannes.

 

Nice

The beach of Nice, France. Photo by clausitosfootprints

The beach of Nice, France. Photo by clausitosfootprints

Our final stop is somewhere many people feel is just a very nice place, this city of Nice (pronounced neese) that is. A word to the wise though, puns made by English speaking visitors are punishable by law (just joking but please don’t do it). Nice is a popular metropolis and in a way good way to finish this trip. It combines the walking café culture of Marseille, with the beaches of Saint-Tropez and a bit of the class of Cannes, allowing you to take in your favourite parts of the French Riviera. An added bonus of Nice is being able to take a trip in Monaco; this tiny sovereign state very close to Nice has the famous Monte Carlo Casino if you’re feeling lucky.

 

Victoria House Hostel is a great place to stay in Nice, they are in a great location, affordable and have an emphasis on socializing. They can be found at 6 Rue Docteur Jacques Guidoni, Nice.

What should I expect? When should I go?

While this coastline doesn’t cover such a huge expanse you can still easily spend two weeks going between beaches and towns and at each one be pleasantly surprised with the differences in culture, while still enjoying consistently magnificent beaches. The best time of year to take this trip would be through summer as you can take advantage of the beaches although it will be very crowded. If you want to beat the crowds mid to late spring is also a viable option.

The sea cross in southern France. Photo by guillaume vassord

The sea cross in southern France. Photo by guillaume vassord

How to get there?

If you plan on starting in Marseille the easiest way to get there is to fly, the airport there is a major international and domestic airport and flights from all around the world arrive and depart daily.
The cheapest and easiest way between all these towns is by bus, because it is all in a relatively small space the bus trips are never more than 3-4 hours.

Sources

http://www.lonelyplanet.com

http://www.riviera-beaches.com/

http://www.nyhabitat.com/blog/2013/05/20/top-10-best-beaches-south-france/

Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Africa. Photo by koolrooms.com

Why you need to visit Giraffe Manor in Nairobi

Giraffe Manor is one of Nairobi’s most iconic hotels, namely because it’s one of the only hotels in the world where you can feed giraffes from your window. Picturesque, and encased in history, you probably haven’t stayed anywhere quite like Giraffe Manor. So here is why you need to visit Giraffe Manor in Nairobi.

Cheeky giraffe are what makes this boutique hotel so spectacular. Photo by africanweddingstyle.com

Cheeky giraffe are what makes this boutique hotel so spectacular. Photo by africanweddingstyle.com

The most fascinating thing about Giraffe Manor is not its beautiful façade or elegant interiors, but its herd of domestic Rothschild giraffe which stroll freely on the property. These beautiful creatures often visit both morning and evening, poking their long necks through the windows in the hope of receiving a tasty treats, before venturing into their forest sanctuary.

The boutique hotel is set in 12 acres of private land within 140 acres of indigenous forest in the Langata suburb of Nairobi, teeming with verdant green gardens, sunny terraces and delightful courtyards.

Indulge in giraffe affection at Giraffe Manor. Photo by thesafaricollection.com

Indulge in giraffe affection at Giraffe Manor. Photo by thesafaricollection.com

Reminiscent of 1930s grandeur, boasting art deco features and four-poster beds, this is a boutique hotel with finesse. All guests enjoy full-board during their stay, which includes all meals and most drinks. Naturally, this comes at a price. Expect to pay from $440 USD per person.

There is plenty to do while staying at Giraffe Manor. Stroll across the lawn to the Giraffe Centre to learn about the endangered Rothschild Giraffe, or take a guided walk around the sanctuary. Sightseeing vehicles can take you around the Langata area, and local excursions include the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where guests can meet, feed, and even adopt baby elephants.

Curious and hungry giraffe poke their heads in a meal times. Photo by south-african-lodges.com

Curious and hungry giraffe poke their heads in a meal times. Photo by south-african-lodges.com

When is the best time to visit Giraffe Manor?

Nairobi is at 5,889ft above sea level, making it cool at night and warm in the day. Because it’s situated close to the equator, the differences between the seasons are minimal, so any time is a good time to visit. However, the rainy seasons are from March to May and mid-October to mid-December. Giraffe Manor is closed annually in May for maintenance.

Watch giraffe roam the surrounding grounds of Giraffe Manor. Photo by naturalworldsafaris.com

Watch giraffe roam the surrounding grounds of Giraffe Manor. Photo by naturalworldsafaris.com

The Safari Collection

Originally founded 2009, The Safari Collection manages four luxury boutique camps and lodges in Africa. Eco tourism is the backbone of The Safari Collection ethos, where conservation, community and tourism stand side by side.

Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Africa. Photo by koolrooms.com

Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Africa. Photo by koolrooms.com

Each of the properties has an individually designed sustainability programme where they support and channel funds back into the local community for education, conservation and healthcare. They also source produce and materials locally wherever possible.

Curious giraffe make themselves at home at Giraffe Manor. Photo by tripadvisor.com

Curious giraffe make themselves at home at Giraffe Manor. Photo by tripadvisor.com

The Safari Collection can create a personalised itinerary for guests and recommend a private safari guide. See local traditions, get up close and intimate with nature, and move from camp to camp and region to region, on foot, by road, or air. You have the option to mix comfort and luxury with authentic bush living – whichever way you want it.

Giraffe Manor. Photo by kenyahotelsltd.com

Giraffe Manor. Photo by kenyahotelsltd.com

Visit the Safari Collection to find out more.

The mini bus that drives by every day. Photo by Julia Sumangil

What are the Chocolate Hills in Bohol?

The island of Bohol is a wealthy province of the Philippines. It’s a province that lies in the heart of the Philippines and is typical of the sub-tropical climate of South East Asia and is very popular with tourists. However, aside from the local townships and culture, there’s one particular feature of Bohol that is a major attraction for tourists, and that is the Chocolate Hills.

Chocolate Hills in the Phillipines. Photo by Ding Fuellos

Chocolate Hills in the Phillipines. Photo by Ding Fuellos

But what are the Chocolate Hills in Bohol? And why are they so popular with tourists? Well, to answer those questions, we’re going to have to take a closer look.

The most common phrase used to describe the Chocolate Hills is “a natural wonder” and while looking out over them, it would be hard to disagree with that sentiment. The hills are an oddity, a geological accident that is a marvel to behold. Dispersed throughout the heart of Bohol is a rolling terrain of conical hills of almost perfect symmetry. They look like giant green ant hills raised up from the earth in their hundreds for as far as the eye can see.

An aerial view of the Chocolate Hills in Bohol. Photo via ggpht

An aerial view of the Chocolate Hills in Bohol. Photo via ggpht

What they are in actuality is dome-shaped limestone hills covered in grass. Official estimates number them somewhere between 1268 and 1776 individual hills with heights varying between 30 to 50 metres, while the largest stands at 120 metres high.

The reason behind the name Chocolate Hills is because during the dry season, the grass on the hills dries up and turns brown, leaving the region looking like hundreds of giant chocolate kisses dot the landscape.

An amazing dusk night of the Chocolate Hills. Photo via Huffington Post

An amazing dusk night of the Chocolate Hills. Photo via Huffington Post

Explaining just how the Chocolate hills formed can be a little bit difficult as there are some complex geological processes at play here, there isn’t even a consensus among geologists on just how they were formed. The most widely accepted explanation is that the hills are hardened formations of ancient marine limestone that sits on top of a layer of impenetrable clay. Throughout time both rainwater and erosion contributed to the dissolution of the limestone, leaving behind the famous conical mounds that are there today.

Well, that’s the dry, boring explanation for how the hills formed anyway, local legends on the other hand tells of different potential origins.

The first legend tells of two giants fighting an epic battle; for days they hurled rocks and boulders and sand at each other until both collapsed from exhaustion. In their exhaustion, they forgot the reason why they were fighting and became fast friends. However, when they left they forgot to clean up the mess they made while fighting and so the Chocolate Hills stay standing to this day.

A second, more romantic legend tells of two lovers, the giant Arogo and human girl Aloya. Since Aloya was a human, she didn’t share the long lifespan of a giant and when she finally died Arogo was in such pain and grief that he couldn’t stop crying for weeks on end. The giant mounds of tears he left behind eventually dried up, thus forming the Chocolate Hills.

The best time of year to go is in the dry season, as you’ll be able to see the Chocolate Hills in their famous brown colours.

The sunlight over the Chocolate Hills. Photo via paradiseintheworld

The sunlight over the Chocolate Hills. Photo via paradiseintheworld

Places to stay

If you want to visit the Chocolate Hills, the closest place to set up shop is the city of Carmen, Bohol. Two of the many hills have actually been converted into resorts, so it’s possible to stay right amongst them.

However, you have very little choice in accommodation if you choose to stay there. The Government runs Chocolate Hills Resort and is about the only accommodation available, but the resort is in a state of indefinite incompletion after funds to renovate and extend it ran out. However, if you’re willing to put up with the inconvenience of a half-completed resort you can put yourself in the unique position of being able to see the sun rise over the hills. For travellers a bit more accustomed to roughing it, this trade-off is well worth it.

Alternatively, there is a resort called Sagbayan Peak in Sagbayan town just 18 kilometres to the northwest. It mightn’t offer as good of a view of the hills, but the site is privately owned and might be more to your liking.

How to get there

There are plenty of tour operators and tour guides that will be happy to bring you to the Chocolate Hills. Alternatively, if you want to get there yourself, you’ll need to fly to Tagbilaran City. From there, head to the integrated bus terminal in Dao and catch a bus going to Carmen. This method is fitting for the adventurous traveller, but be warned that getting there will be the easy part. Departing is a different matter as buses from Carmen depart only by the main road in far fewer numbers.

The mini bus that drives by every day. Photo by Julia Sumangil

The mini bus that drives by every day. Photo by Julia Sumangil

The valley in summer. Photo by tu_geo via flickr

Short guide to exploring the Jiuzhai Valley in China

Deep in the Sichuan province of central China, tucked in the miles of wilderness and hills that make up the area is the Jiuzhaigou natural reserve and the Huanglong Scenic valley. Both these sites are quite close to each other and offer diverse unique sites that are only comparable in how beautiful they are.

This place inspired the concept of pristine. Photo via Jacky CW

This place inspired the concept of pristine. Photo via Jacky CW

Jiuzhaigou actually means “Nine Village Valley” and refers to the 9 Tibetan villages scattered through the region. The area is characterized by the rainbow of colours that appear throughout the landscape with lakes of crystal blue water; water so clear that from afar you can see everything at the bottom. There are many of these lakes and rivers and they transverse the land, snaking from river, to lake to waterfall forever feeding the vibrant vegetation.

The trees turn from lush green in summer, going through the whole spectrum of red, orange and yellows in autumn, to finally turning white throughout winter as a layer of snow blankets the land.

Just south in the same region the Huanglong National Parks can be found, housing a similar array of vegetation the Huanglong National doesn’t have quite the same number of lakes and rivers as Jiuzhaigou. More than making up for this is the very rare geological phenomenon that has inspired the local people hundreds of years. For miles through the valley winds golden hued calcium based over lapping pools that make their way down the hills. Huanglong actually refers to the tail of a golden dragon travelling the valley, a name obviously inspired by this remarkable geological happenstance.

The temple to the golden dragon suits the scenery perfectly. Photo via Jone Hill

The temple to the golden dragon suits the scenery perfectly. Photo via Jone Hill

Short guide to exploring the Jiuzhai Valley in China: What should I do?

The main attraction of the region and the main reason you would go is to visit the Jiuzhaigou national park. The national park is a UNESCO world heritage site and is very well looked after for this reason. Unlike many other major natural tourist attractions around the world this park hasn’t been spoilt with garish buildings and much of the buildings in the actual park follow the architecture of 9 Tibetan tribes that originally inhabited the region.

Lots of the architecture still has a traditional charm

Lots of the architecture still has a traditional charm

The most popular activity is to hike up around the mountains. The rivers and lakes look spectacular up close but from above the landscape is unforgettable. To enter the park is only a small fee and well worth it. There is a warning about climbing the mountains though, as people with breathing difficulties, the elderly and young children might be affected by altitude sickness. You can buy small tanks of oxygen for exuberant prices but for the most part healthy adults shouldn’t be adversely affected.

The Huanglong national park travertines are the top attraction of this national park and really they are something you can’t see anywhere else in the world (the only other similar phenomenon would be the Pamakkale pool in Turkey but even they are different to these). The golden pools travel for miles and you need to be there to fully experience why it is known as the dragons tale and a place revered by Chinese emperors. The most picturesque views are had behind the Huanglong temple, a temple built to honour the dragon traditionally styled and complimenting the scenery. It is recommended to put aside a whole day to see this park as it takes a good half day on a bus if you are coming from Jiuzhaigo town.

The river that flows through Jiuzhai Park. Photo by J T via flickr

The river that flows through Jiuzhai Park. Photo by J T via flickr

How do I get there?

The best way to get to the area is by flying, the region is tucked away right in the middle of central China and most other forms of transport make the journey a huge trial. From Jiuzhaigou Huanglong airport one can take the train or a bus into Jiuzhaigou town, probably the best place to stay.

Buses can be taken from Jiuzhaigou town to Huanglong but these can take up to three and a half hours, because of this it recommended to take a taxi if you’re short of time, taxis being relatively cheap in this part of the world.

One really affordable and well placed hostel is the Angelie Hotel; they have dorms rooms which are very cheap but also have private rooms if that is your preference. They are situated only 500 meters from the entrance to the national park. They can be found in Pengfeng Village, Jiuzhaigou.

The valley in summer. Photo by tu_geo via flickr

The valley in summer. Photo by tu_geo via flickr

When should I go?

Being so far inland and at such a high altitude the temperatures during the winter can go very, very low, conversely winter is becoming more popular because you don’t have to compete with as many other tourists and the white snow covering the land compliments the bright ice blue of the water.

Typically spring and autumn are the optimum times, autumn is extremely popular as the leaves start to change colours the mix of red, and yellow and orange is dazzling.

Autumn has an amazing affect on the scenery. Photo via www.redbubble.com

Autumn has an amazing affect on the scenery. Photo via www.redbubble.com

Summer is also recommended but it will get quite humid, as well as this the Huanglong pools will somewhat empty of water, not completely, but nowhere near their best.

Winter in Pamukkale. Photo by Ian Wui

Cotton Castles and Pamukkale Pools: An Ancient Paradise in Turkey

Snow white terraces created from hot underground springs cascade down the hillside creating a spectacular sight similar to a snow covered mountain. The terraces enclose pools of clear blue water and as the setting sun slides towards the horizon spectacular reflections are created. On first glance you might wonder with all the hills of pure white snow why it isn’t cold, but is not snow just calcium deposits with pools of a luxurious temperature.

Winter in Pamukkale. Photo by Ian Wui

Winter in Pamukkale. Photo by Ian Wui

From the lower regions you can see why it has the name “Pumukkale”, which literally translates to “cotton castle” in Turkish. These great walls of calcium with their water smoothed soft edges rise like a solid unmoving cloud.

The sun sets over the natural pools. Photo by Marco Menchini

The sun sets over the natural pools. Photo by Marco Menchini

When you go to the top of this surreal setting its real beauty can be appreciated, like some giant champagne tower of the gods, small pools, terraced in their snow white framework flow continually into each other cascading into the sunset.

What exactly is the Pamukkale Pools?

These are the natural pools in Pamakkale located in southwest Turkey in the Denizli region and are a registered UNESCO World Heritage site. Eventually the calcium turns quite hard, but initially it is soft, which is why for the most part swimming and walking in the pools is all but banned. Even to walk around you have to take your shoes off as the calcium deposits are easily worn down.

Even when it is cold out tourists still flock to witness the majestic views of the pools. Photo by Sian Arulanantham

Even when it is cold out tourists still flock to witness the majestic views of the pools. Photo by Sian Arulanantham

The pools are created from spring water rising from the ground at a point almost three hundred meters from the actual pools, the water emerges warm, around 35 degrees and is full of calcium. As it emerges and flows down the hills the calcium is deposited and slowly builds up creating the snow white terraces that hold small pools of light blue water.

When is the best time to go there?

One of the best things about this amazing place is that almost any time of year is a viable option in which to visit. During the peak season in summer the temperature can be anywhere from 30 to 40 degrees Celsius, which might sound harsh but will make that swim in the pools a real treat. The only real downside is that it will be very crowded at this time as it peak tourist season.

A storm brews over a lake in Pamukkale. Photo by Fatih Cetin via pixoto.

A storm brews over a lake in Pamukkale. Photo by Fatih Cetin via pixoto.

On the other hand this natural wonder can also be appreciated in the winter, because of the geological setting the temperature never really gets below 0 degrees and it only ever snows one or two days of the year. Even if does get very cold you can fight that off by warming up in the thermal pools that are warm all year round (and you probably won’t have to share them with a busload of other tourists).

Spring and autumn are probably the best times to visit as the temperature is moderate and the place won’t be nearly as packed as it will be in the summer.

What else can I do in these ancient pools?

Even though the biggest attraction is the pools the area is filled with ancient ruins, it is not just our contemporaries that appreciate such a wonder. The Romans were taking advantage of the health benefits of the springs and mineral water long ago, and the Turkish were using it to bolster tourism, this is why the ruins of the ancient Roman spa city of Hierapolis can also be explored here.

Swim amongst the ruins of an ancient civilization. Photo via www.wanderingcarol.com

Swim amongst the ruins of an ancient civilization. Photo via www.wanderingcarol.com

As amazing as the pools are, the ruins of the ancient Roman town of Hierapolis are a fascinating look into how people lived in the past. The Romans valued the healing properties of the hot springs so much there was a whole town built around them complete with a theatre.
The grand street is excavated and partly restored giving a time travel experience, as well as this there is a disproportionately large Roman necropolis (cemetery), filled with a seemingly disproportionate amount of grand Roman tombs for such a small city. It seems that while the pools feel nice they don’t possess that many actual healing powers, they lured many rich dying Romans hoping for a miracle in their last days, the bonus being that what they left behind is an eerily grand cemetery to wander through.

Turkeys parks are sights to behold. Photo by Selçuk İşsever

Turkey’s parks are sights to behold. Photo by Selçuk İşsever

At the heart of the Hierapolis is the antique bath. At this ancient bathing spot you can continue your time warp experience by taking a dip in the thermal pools used by the ancient Romans. These baths are filled with actual ancient collapsed Roman columns. Here you can attain a connection with the people thousands of years ago, enjoying the same natural wonder you take in today.
Just up the hillside from the ancient pools is a carefully restored Roman theatre. Being an amphitheatre it gives this spot not only historical value, but the topological setting gives a great view of the town and the surrounding landscape. This is great spot where you can enjoy both a natural wonder of the world and get a great insight into how people thousands of years ago lived and also appreciated such a natural phenomenon.

How do I get there and where do I stay?

The best way get to Pamukkale is from the nearby city of Denizli. Travelling from Pamukkale to anywhere else can prove to be quite difficult. There are buses that run all day between Pamukkale and Denizli. Travelling in and out of Denizli is easy as there is a major bus terminal, a train station, and an airport connecting with major Turkish cities.

Even on a cloudy day the beauty you find here is undisturbed. Photo by Nj Javed

Even on a cloudy day the beauty you find here is undisturbed. Photo by Nj Javed

A highly recommended place to stay is the Artemis Yoruk Hotel; this hotel also acts as hostel with dorms, has a warm atmosphere and is great for friendly travellers. The location is only a few minutes walk from the pools, ruins and the town centre. Getting to the hotel is no problem as they offer free transfers from Denizli bus station, the bus stops literally 15 meters away from the hotel in Pamukkale Centrum.
This hotel is located at Pamukkale Kasabasi Ataturk Cad 20280 Pamukkale Turkey‎ and their phone number is +90 258 272 2073

http://www.gopamukkale.com/pamukkale-travertine-terraces/

http://www.timetravelturtle.com/2012/09/pamukkale-hierapolis-turkey/

http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Artemis-Yoruk-Hotel/Pamukkale/16038

http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/go/Aegean/Pamukkale/sights/