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Coron, Palawan can be seriously confusing at first. The municipality encompasses a town (located on Busuanga Island), an island (nearby Coron Island), and over 50 minor islets in the Philippines’ Calamian archipelago.

Say Coron’s name to Filipinos while you’re in the capital city of Manila and you’ll see their eyes light up like kids on Christmas morning. That’s because Coron is arguably the most picturesque part of Palawan, which was voted Best Island in the World by Travel + Leisure readers several years in a row.

We had the pleasure of spending a week in Coron, bookending our time teaching a branding workshop at TBEX Manila. From gorgeous beaches and dramatic limestone landscapes to exquisite Scuba diving and all sorts of wildlife, it was an extraordinary experience that left us eager to go back and spend more time in the Philippines.

Here we’ll take a brief look at the history of Coron, tips on where to stay, and share our picks for the best things to do in the area.

  1. The History of Coron Palawan, Philippines
  2. Coron Palawan Map
  3. Top 15 Things To Do in Coron
  4. Our Favorite Coron Hotels & Resorts

READ MORE: The Top 10 Things to Do in San Vicente, Palawan (Philippines)

A BRIEF HISTORY OF CORON PALAWAN, PHILIPPINES

Stretching from Tara Island in the northeast to Canipo Island in the south, northern Palawan’s Calamian Archipelago separates the South China Sea from the Sulu Sea.

The original inhabitants of this area were the Tagbanwa, Calmiananen, and Cuyonon tribes. Coron Island and the waters that surround it are the ancestral domain of the Tagbanwa people, and have been officially designated as such since 1999. They’re one of the oldest ethic groups in the Philippines, believed to descend from inhabitants who lived over 20,000 years ago.

European contact in the region came long after Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippines in 1521, and Spanish colonization of Cebu began in 1565. The first permanent Spanish settlement in the Calamianes was on Culion, where a fort and church were built in 1670 in defense against Muslim raids.

It was a migrant to this settlement, named Nicolas Manlavi, who ultimately established the first settlement on Coron Island Palawan, in present-day Banuang Daan. Manlavi– a Cuyo Islands native who served for several years on Spanish Galleons– lived in Culion but owned farm land on Coron. His daughter Evarista later wed Claudio Sandoval from Iloilo, and the Sandoval clan rose to become one of the region’s most prominent families.

At the turn of the 20th century, American naturalist Dean Worcester became Secretary of the Interior for the First Philippine Commission. He recommended Culion as the site of the Philippine Leper Colony, which forced the Sandovals to relocate to what is now known as Coron and Busuanga.

Now, nearly 120 years later, Coron’s population has grown from just over 5,000 to 52,ooo, spread across an area of 266 square miles. Just 2700 or so people live on Coron Island, and many of the Calamian Islands remain relatively uninhabited. Perhaps that explains why the Coron Island Natural Biotic Area is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.

READ MORE: Danjugan Island, An Idyllic Philippines Escape

  CORON PALAWAN MAP
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 TOP 15 THINGS TO DO IN CORON

If you’re the sort of person whose idea of a great vacation in lazing about on gorgeous beaches, with a good book in one hand and a fruity tropical drink in the other, Coron has that in spades.

But if you’re like us, and prefer healthy doses of outdoor recreation in between spa treatments, there’s plenty of that as well.

Here’s a look at our recommendations for the Top 15 activities in the area, listed in no particular order…

READ MORE: How Palm Oil Threatens Palawan, Philippines

1. Birdwatching in Kingfisher Park

One of the lesser-known ecotourism attractions in Coron, this Palawan nature park is located on Busuanga Island near the Malbato Chapel. Transfers can be arranged to and from the two of Coron

The mission of this is “to protect, preserve, and restore the biodiverse ecosystem of Malbato through economically and environmentally sound sustainable development, education, and proactive community involvement.”

Kingfisher Park offers an array of activities, from half-day birdwatching and mangrove kayaking tours to hiking and waterfalls tours. Their full-day package includes lunch, dinner, all trekking activities, mangrove kayaking, and their Starry Starry Night boat tour at sunset. Sunscreen and insect repellent are HIGHLY recommended, especially for the latter activity.

For those interested in Asian wildlife, the park is home to six species of Kingfisher and an array of other endemic birds, plants, and animals. The 73 bird species that may be spotted there include the Palawan Flowerpecker, Oriental Dwarf-Kingfisher, Blue Paradise-Flycatcher, Javan Frogmouth, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Philippine Hawk-owl, Palawan Hornbill, and many more.

There are also six different species of frogs in the park, including two fascinating endemic amphibians. The park is also home to Parrot International’s Blue Racquet Tail Parrot /Kilit Project, among other community-focused conservation initiatives.

READ MORE: Beautiful Birds of the Galapagos Islands

Stunning View from Atop Mount Tapyas 2. Climb Mount Tapyas

Imagine it’s 3PM on a 93º Fahrenheit day, with 97% humidity. You’re on a beautiful tropical island (Busuanga) surrounded by brilliant blue waters. Climbing to the top of a mountain whose summit stands 700 feet above sea level is probably not going to be at the top of your “must-do” list. But it definitely should be!

The second-tallest mountain in the town of Coron, Mount Tapyas is the most distinctive landmark in the area. The Hollywood-style CORON sign and gigantic white cross at its summit can be seen for miles around, looming large over the bustling port town.

There are steps – a whopping 723 of them– that take you to the top, with plenty of shaded benches and scenic viewpoints for photos along the way. Unfortunately, I’d torn a muscle in my calf the week before we left for the Philippines.

Between that and the heat/humidity, we had to take it slow and steady, stopping frequently along the way to rest and hydrate.

But the 360º view from the top is spectacular, with pastoral scenes of the surrounding hills on one side and gorgeous blue/green ocean and neighboring Coron Island on the other.

I’d recommend going a little later in the day than we did so you can watch the sunset from the summit. But even with a hurt leg, this was still among my favorite Coron attractions.

READ MORE: 10 Best Mountains in the World Bucket List

3. Explore Beautiful Coron Bay

Surrounded by dynamic karst landscape islands, with towering tree-studded rocks rising straight out of the sea, Coron Bay is arguably amongst the most beautiful places we have ever visited during our travels.

Boating in Coron Bay takes you to countless attractions, from Apo Island and beautiful beaches (including Atwayan and Banul Beach) to the snorkeling hotspot known as Siete Pecados (Seven Sins).

The coral reef here is colorful and pristine, and marine life is abundant, but you’ll want to get there early if you hope to avoid the tourist crowds.

The stunning sight that greets you as you round the corner of Coron Island– with Baquit, Busuanga, and Uson Islands all around you– is truly breathtaking.

The brilliant blue water is so gorgeous, it almost doesn’t look real. And if you go in the early morning or late afternoon, you may be delighted to realize that you have this portion of Coron Bay virtually all to yourself (see photo above for proof!).

This part of the bay is where you access the steep, occasionally slippery hiking trail to Kayangan Lake. But it’s also an exceptionally tranquil spot for a picnic, snorkeling, or simply soaking in the sights of one of the most picturesque places on the planet.

READ MORE:  20 Most Beautiful Caribbean Islands (World Travel Bucket List)

Photo by Jennifer Dombrowski of Luxe Adventure Traveler 4. Feast at a “Boodle Fight”

One of our favorite Filipino cultural traditions we experienced in Coron is the boodle fight. In American military slang, “boodle” (which is thought to derive from “the whole kit and caboodle”) is the word for contraband sweets.

But in the Philippines a boodle fight is generally a meal that uses no silverware and no dishes. Instead, the bounty of food is spread out on a long table covered in banana leaves.

In the Filipino military, diners stand shoulder to shoulder on either side of the table. When the command is given, they practice what is known as kamayan, or eating with the hands.

We had two boodle fights during our visit, one at TBEX and another at Club Paradise Resort. But the latter was much more memorable, as it took place on the island’s beautiful Hidden Beach. The table was covered in rice, fish, shrimp, squid, clams, crab, mussels, meats, and a variety of vegetables.

It was extremely tasty and extraordinarily messy. You would use the fingers of your right hand to gather up rice and ulam (the Filipino word for the main dish), mushing them into a ball to make it easier to get it all into your mouth.

As we ate and talked with our blogging friends, we looked out over one of the most stunning ocean views we’ve ever been fortunate enough to witness. It was an excellent meal I don’t neither any of us will ever forget!

READ MORE: 5 Weird Foods the French Consider Delicacies

R&R on Club Paradise’s Hidden Beach 5. Get Away from It All at Club Paradise

The resort so nice we stayed there twice, Club Paradise is located about 40 minutes by boat from Busuanga on its own private island (Dimakya).

You can see Busuanga from all sides of the island, but Dimakya Island feels blissfully remote: The only boats we ever saw nearby during our 6 days there belonged to the resort.

Though the island itself is very small, Club Paradise offered such a diverse array of activities that we spent six days there and never once got bored. Sunrise Beach, Sunset Beach, and Hidden Beach are all gorgeous, tranquil and uncrowded.

The snorkeling from the beach is exceptional. We saw colorful coral reef, giant clams, a pair of color-changing octopi, sea turtles, reef sharks, and much more less than 50 feet from shore.

If you do get tired of staying on Club Paradise property, they also offer tours for Scuba diving and island hopping (more on that below). You can also arrange an all-day trip encompassing many of our other favorite things to do in Coron!

READ MORE: What Is An Eco Lodge? (Top 10 Eco-Lodges in the World)

6. Get a Traditional Hilot Massage

Getting to Coron, Palawan from our home base in Atlanta was no easy task. It required three flights, nearly an hour-long drive from the Francisco B. Reyes Airport in Busuanga, then a 30-minute boat ride. By the time we reached the private island on which Club Paradise Resort is based, we’d been traveling for nearly 27 hours.

Fortunately, the resort’s Glow Spa was both affordable (around $30 for an hour) and incredibly effective at stress relief. They specialize in Hilot, a Filipino massage style that was traditionally used to heal everything from body aches and strained muscles to colds, coughs, and fevers.

Long before Western medicine reached the shores of the Philippines, the manghihilot (masseuse) worked alongside the albularyo (herbalist) to heal the people of the community.

Elders typically passed down their knowledge of ancient Filipino massage techniques to their children, teaching them how to detect congestion, an imbalance of energy, and/or skeletal misalignments.

During the Phillippines’ colonial era, Hilot fell out of favor, and became associated with impoverished people who couldn’t afford Western medicine. But over the past few decades Hilot has made a comeback, and is now a popular healing alternative at spas throughout the country.

Our Hilot sessions at Glow Spa were so remarkable, we had three during the six days we were there. It started like any other massage, with oil, checking for pressure points, and a mixture of circular and long strokes to move energy through the body.

Despite their tiny size, our manghihilots were incredibly powerful, with deft fingers and tugs that created chiropractor-like cracking sounds.

By the end, we felt relaxed, rejuvenated, and ready to tackle all the Coron tours and attractions on our itinerary.

READ MORE: 40 Healing Vegetables (Nature’s Medicine)

Dimalanta Island Beach 7. Go On a Coron Island Hopping Tour

Our favorite Club Paradise excursion was a half-day Coron Island Hopping Tour that took us to three different islands in the area. Each offered compelling arguments for why the Palawan archipelago has been voted Best Island in the World so many times.

The islands they visit change slightly depending on weather, but we started out on Diatoy Island. Uninhabited and as tranquil as you can imagine, the island’s pristine white sand didn’t have a single footprint on it when we arrived.

The picturesque view was equally stunning above and under water, where we saw Clownfish, Angelfish, and Parrotfish less than 20 yards from shore.

The snorkeling was even better at Dimalanta Island, which boasted a stunning coral reef system. The crystal clear aquamarine waters were teeming with marine life, including an intensely colorful Mantis Shrimp that hid before I could snag a photo. As colorful as the myriad fish were, this was one place where the coral itself was even more impressive.

We finished our tour on Malpagalen Island, a.k.a. the Island Without Trees. The closest island to Club Paradise, this striking sandbar features fascinating rock formations and dramatic limestone cliffs.

At low tide its small sea cave makes a great selfie spot, with the beautiful blue ocean and rolling hills of Busuanga Island’s coast in the background.

READ MORE: 10 Exotic Islands For Your World Travel Bucket List

8. Hike to Kayangan Lake

We loved what is widely considered the cleanest lake in Asia so much that the fact that it rained the whole time we were there did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm. It was the last stop on our Coron Island Tour (which can be booked through Club Paradise), and also our favorite.

Coron Island is part of the ancestral domain of the indigenous Tagbanua people, who are known locally as Calis. They protect the pristine fishing grounds around the island, including the gorgeous cove pictured above, which you enter to reach the hiking trail to the lake.

The rock-strewn trail is steep and extremely slippery, but there are railings to hold onto as you ascend and descend. The heat and humidity conspire to leave you sweaty and winded, but the world-class views will truly take your breath away.


My only regret is that we didn’t have more time to savor the lake’s cool waters and dynamic karst landscape. It’s the sort of place you could take a picnic and easily spend the whole day.

But I would definitely advise going there in the early morning or late in the afternoon. When we passed by at lunchtime, the cove was swarming with tourist boats that would’ve ruined the serene vibe we ultimately savored.

READ MORE: 20 Biggest Lakes in the World Bucket List

9. Meet the Tagbanua People

Many of our favorite things to do in Coron– including visiting Coron Bay, Kayangan Lake, and Barracuda Lake– bring you into the domain of the Tagbanua (or Tagbanwa) people.

This indigenous Filipino tribe was given a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title to around 85 square miles that encompass both land and sea, to which they now manage all tourism.

The Tagbanua people are among the oldest of all the indigenous people in the..

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Original content owned & copyrighted by Green Global Travel.

I fell in love with Isla Holbox (a.k.a. Holbox Island) the first time I visited the burgeoning ecotourism hotspot back in 2013. It was everything we wanted from an island destination: Quiet, remote, relatively pristine, surrounded by natural beauty, with lots of outdoor activities. 
 
It’s located just two hours north of Cancun, with a picturesque ride on the Holbox ferry taking you from the mainland to the car-free island. Holbox is best-known as a great place for taking swimming with whale sharks tours and other nature/wildlife attractions. 
 
But there are also plenty of Isla Holbox hotels and resorts that make it easy to kick back, relax, and do next to nothing at all (if that’s your thing).
 
Isla Holbox is a relatively tiny island at 26 miles long and .9 miles wide, much of which is protected as part of the Yum Balam Biosphere Reserve. Yet there are dozens of Holbox hotels to choose from, including adults-only and all-inclusive hotels, boutique hotels and eco lodges.
 
From the pristine beach at Las Nubes de Holbox and the soothing Mayan spa at Casa Las Tortugas to the inquisitive iguanas at the infinity pool at Hotel Villas Flamingos and the exceptional cuisine at Casa Sandra, each of these Holbox resorts offers unique attractions. 
 
Here’s a look at 15 of the best hotels in Isla Holbox, broken down into categories and rated in terms of both cost and quality…
 
  1. Boutique Hotels in Holbox
  2. All-Inclusive Hotels in Holbox
  3. Adults Only Hotels on Holbox Island
  4. Other Holbox Resorts
 
ISLA HOLBOX HOTEL MAP
  Boutique Hotels in Holbox

Las Nubes de Holbox

Quality: 4 Stars / Budget: $$

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If peace, tranquility, and natural beauty are the qualities you seek in a vacation destination, then Las Nubes de Holbox is the perfect place for you.

Located 20 minutes from the center of town on foot (or a 5-minute golf cart taxi ride), this is the last hotel on the island and our favorite hotel in Isla Holbox.

The laid-back boutique hotel is situated along miles of picturesque sandbar and undisturbed Caribbean views, right next to the undeveloped part of Yum Balam nature reserve.

So you can expect relatively empty beaches, mangroves just a kayak paddle away, and lots of birds, marine animals (including dolphins swimming just offshore), and other wildlife.

Each of their 28 rooms is decorated with traditional Mexican charm (ours had lots of Frida Kahlo-inspired accents) and features air-conditioning and a balcony. The hotel also offers ocean views, a spa, paddle boats, bikes, and kayaks.  

With their El Sabor de las Nubes restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner made from fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, you honestly won’t want to leave. The second story bar/lounge is the perfect place for sipping sunset cocktails, especially their Tamarind Margaritas!  

At night, be sure not to miss the expansive roof deck, which is perfect for looking up at the stars and winding down after your day of adventure (or blissful relaxation). But whatever you do, don’t be tempted to feed the resort’s resident raccoons!

READ MORE: What is an Eco Lodge? (The Best Eco Lodges in the World)

Casa Sandra Boutique Hotel

Quality: 4 Stars / Budget: $$$

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Located just a short walk from town and right on the Holbox beach, the posh Casa Sandra offers the perfect combination of convenience, artful sophistication, and tranquility.

The luxurious, 20-room boutique hotel boasts rustic wood-beam ceilings, with hand-made furniture and bright colors. Each room has a private balcony with hammocks that look out to the sea.

Be sure to enjoy Sandra’s small gallery of Caribbean and Latin American art, which includes vividly colorful paintings by renowned artists. 

One of the highlights of our visit was the excellent mixture of Mexican and international cuisine available in the hotel’s elegant Gourmet Restaurant. There’s also a beachside bar that offers a variety of snacks and drinks all day long.  

During the day you can enjoy your time relaxing on the outdoor pool’s sundeck, gently swaying in your private hammock, or taking an onsite yoga class. At night, the mood is mellow and romantic, with excellent music creating the perfect laid-back vibe. 

READ MORE:  Top 20 Things to Do in Cancun, Mexico (For Nature Lovers)

Casa Las Tortugas Petit Beach Hotel & Spa

Quality: 4 Stars / Budget: $$

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Each of the 21 rooms at this bohemian-chic beachfront hotel offers a mixture of relaxed Mexican hospitality with a dash of Italian flair.

Located just a short walk from the center of town, this laid-back boutique resort offers a yoga center, kiteboarding school, beach club, and organic restaurant.

Of special note is the resort’s Aqua Spa, which is influenced by ancient Mayan traditions.  Manager Aida Maria Argaez Gasca and her nieces, Tania and Karla Uribe, are trained in Ixmol (medicine woman) practices. So their massages are a spiritually transcendent experience. 

Each room in the hotel is an adobe-style casita with carefully sourced antiques, colonial-style furniture made by local artisans, and fine linens.  

Mandarina Restaurant is widely considered one of the best restaurants on Isla Holbox. They make delicious tropical drinks and offer a great menu that can be enjoyed in roomy double-loungers and palapa day beds, either on the hotel’s private beach or at the spacious pool.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Beach Vacation Packing List

Villas Flamingos Beach Front

Quality: 4 Stars / Budget: $$

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Villas Flamingos was the first hotel in Isla Holbox we ever visited, and still ranks among the most romantic places we have stayed during our travels.

The certified boutique hotel (one of just 35 in all of Mexico) features 29 ocean view bungalows. All of them feature traditional thatched roofs and are tucked back away from the hustle & bustle of Playa Holbox’ public beach area.

The second to last resort on the strip, Villas Flamingos is just down the beach from Las Nubes de Holbox. Our favorite features there included the infinity pool (with resident iguanas), overwater  hammocks, old boats converted into beach beds, and a beautiful restaurant overlooking the sea.  

To maintain the property’s sense of peaceful serenity, there are no TVs in the rooms and no speakers are allowed.

What you will find instead is porch hammocks and lots of lounge chairs and other places to lay about for relaxation. The hotel also provides bikes and paddle boards free of charge.

READ MORE: The 10 Most Romantic Places We’ve Ever Stayed

Hotel Casa Palapas del Sol

Quality: 4 Stars / Budget: $$

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Run by a team of passionate and dedicated staff, Casa Palapas del Sol is a charming hotel situated right on the beach inside the Yum Balam Nature Reserve.

Guests here can choose from a wide range of accommodation options. These include a rustic bungalow right on the beach or a Superior Watchtower Suite, which overlooks the hotel grounds and offers..

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We normally don’t like cities much. They’re generally crowded by overtourism, congested with traffic, and homogenized by the rise of globalization.

To get the feel of the soul of a destination, you really need to get outside the major cities, see the area’s natural beauty, and connect with local communities.

Still, we couldn’t travel to the Czech Republic and not visit Prague, the cultural heart of Bohemian central Europe. After all, the capital city’s history includes the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque eras, and the entire Historic Centre of Prague is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So when we found out that ThinkPrague offers fully customized Prague tours with your own private local guide, we jumped at the opportunity to explore the best things to do in Prague.

Unfortunately, after spending five days at the TBEX conference in Ostrava and another four traveling around the South Bohemia region, we only had one day left to see the city’s highlights.

If we were to do it again, we’d definitely spend a whole weekend in Prague, allowing us more time to explore some of our favorite attractions (such as the Prague Castle exhibitions and St. Vitus Cathedral) in-depth.

But our guide, Ales Pitin, seemed to relish the challenge of giving us a condensed look at where to go and what to do in Prague. Based on our interest in ecotourism, history, and culture, he put together an amazing Prague walking tour that encompassed dozens of impressive attractions.

What follows is a detailed itinerary for seeing the best of Prague in 3 days. It takes in most of the city’s most important attractions, yet allows plenty of time for touring the individual gardens, churches, and other historic sites you’ll see along the way.

READ MORE: The 50 Best Travel Shoes for Walking Tours

    1. Prague Tourist Map
    2. Petrin Hill
    3. Hradcany District
    4. Mala Strana & Old Town Prague
PRAGUE TOURIST MAP
DAY 1: PETRIN HILL

Located at an elevation of 1,073 feet smack dab in the center of the city, Petrin Hill is a great place to begin your weekend in Prague. Easily the city’s largest green space, Petrin is covered in parks, and offers exceptional views of the Malá Strana, Prague Castle, and the Vltava River.

The historic hill, which was named after its abundance of marlstone rocks (petrus is Latin for rocks), has been important to locals since the mid-1300s.

That’s when a Medieval defense wall– known as the Hunger Wall because it provided jobs for the poor during a famine– was ordered to be built on Petrin Hill by King Charles IV.

Petrin featured prominently in author Franz Kafka’s early short story, “Description of a Struggle,” and was mentioned in the Milan Kundera novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Now spending a day on Petrin Hill easily ranks among the best things to do in Prague. It’s a beloved recreation area for locals, as well as a popular Prague tourist attraction. Here’s an overview of the many things there are to see and do on Petrin Hill during your Prague vacation.

READ MORE: The Tallest Mountains in the World (World Travel Bucket List)

Memorial to the Victims of Communism

If you only spend a few days in Prague before heading off to another country, you might not realize that the Czech Republic was under a fairly brutal communist rule from 1948 to 1989.

Located at the base of Petrin Hill in Old Town Prague, the Memorial to the Victims of Communism pays tribute to the political prisoners who became victims of the oppressive regime. Created by Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek and architects Jan Kerel and Zdeněk Holzel, the public art piece was unveiled in 2002.

The installation is striking, to say the least, featuring seven bronze statues descending a flight of stairs. The further away the figures are, the more decayed their bodies appear, with missing limbs and bodies broken open to represent the impact communism had on Czech people.

You’ll pass the memorial en route to the Petrin Funicular, but it’s worth stopping to see. Don’t miss the harrowing stats on the bronze strip that runs down the center.

It says that there were 205,486 people arrested, 170,938 forced into exile, 4,500 who died in prison, 327 shot trying to escape, and 248 executed during the era of “totalitarian despotism.”

READ MORE: Rwanda History at the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Petrin Funicular Railway

If your sightseeing in Prague includes a visit to Petrin Hill, as it should, taking the Petrin Funicular Railway (a.k.a. the Prague Funicular) to the top is an absolute must. It’s fast, affordable, easier than climbing all the way up a 30º incline, and also offers a stellar scenic view of Old Town Prague.

The funicular opened in 1891, and was originally shorter and powered by water balance propulsion. It closed at the start of WWI in 1914, then reopened after renovations in 1932.

Service was suspended again in 1965 after a landslide on Petrin Hill, opening with new cars, an electric motor, and a new track in 1985.

Today the railway has three stops, but most people get on at the Újezd station at the bottom of the hill, which is in the Malá Strana district. It runs from 9AM to around 11:30PM, with departures leaving every 15 minutes or so. Tickets cost the same as the Prague tram– 26 CZK (about $1.14).

Be aware that there may be long lines on the weekend when the weather is warm, as Prague locals love spending the day on Petrin Hill with friends and family. If you do the same, consider packing your lunch, as it’s an excellent place for a picnic!

READ MORE: The 40 Best Backpacks for Travelers

Petrin Park (a.k.a. Petrin Gardens)

Much of Petrin Hill has been divided up into beautifully landscaped gardens, many of which have been cultivated for nearly 200 years. The largest (Kinský Garden) is outside the Hunger Wall, while the oldest (Lobkowicz Garden) is part of the German embassy and not open to visitors.

Of the Petrin gardens you can explore, the 8-hectare Nebozízek Garden is the biggest, spreading from the foot of Petrin Hill to the upper funicular station. Originally an orchard, it was modified into a garden and opened for public use in 1842. In addition to a gorgeous array of flowers, the garden is home to sculptured monuments to famous Czechs such as composer Vítězslav Novák.

Built in 1836, the park around the Petřín Tower encompasses about 2.5 hectares on the plateau of Petrin Hill. It was modified from 1933 to 1937 and connected with the Seminary Garden, which was formerly the garden of the White Friars from the Church of Our Lady of Victory. You can see a bronze monument to renowned Czech writer Jan Neruda there.

The newest garden in Petrin Park is the Rose Garden, which covers about 5.6 hectares on top of Petrin Hill. It replaced what used to be military land in 1934, and includes three sections as well as sculptures by Czech artist Ladislav Šaloun. There’s also a beautiful garden filled with thousands of perennials and bulb flowers.

Collectively, this oasis of fabulous flora was definitely among our favorite Prague highlights.

READ MORE: What is Permaculture Gardening? (Intro to Design & Principles)

Petrin Tower

The Petrin Tower is a historic Prague landmark that can be seen from virtually any part of the city. Especially at night, when its resemblance to the illuminated Eiffel Tower really makes it stand out.

Also commonly known as the Petrin Observation Tower or the Petrin Lookout Tower, the 208-foot-tall steel frame attraction was built in 1891 for the General Land Centennial Exhibition. Its design was directly inspired by Eiffel’s, which members of a local Czech travel club had seen at the 1889 World Expo in Paris.

Unlike its French counterpart, the Petřínská rozhledna (as it is known in the Czech language) has an octagonal cross-section.

Under its legs is the entrance hall, where visitors can pay 50 CZK ($2.20) to climb the 299 steps up to two observation platforms. There’s also an elevator to the top that costs around 50¢ more, but it was broken when we visited.

The views of the city from the top are spectacular, but be aware that this is one of Prague’s most popular tourist attractions. Lines can get long, but there’s a small exhibition area you can check out while you wait, as well as a a small gift shop and cafeteria on the main level.

READ MORE: Weird Foods the French Consider Delicacies

Cathedral of St Lawrence

Located right next to the Petrin Lookout Tower and the Hunger Wall, the Cathedral of St Lawrence served as the Czech Republic’s primary church of the Old Catholic faith for centuries.

Local legend holds that the church (which is known as Kostel sv. Vavřince in the Czech language) was built sometime in the 10th century on a hilltop site once held sacred by pagan Slavs. The earliest written record of the church dates back to 1135 and is attributed to Duke Soběslav I.

The St Lawrence church was originally built on a Romanesque style, and the walls of that single-nave building remain intact today. Prominent architect Killian Ignaz Dientzenhofer (who also worked on St. Loreto Church in Hradčany and St. Nicholas Church on Prague’s Old Town Square) rebuilt and expanded the church in the Baroque style in the early 1700s.

Noteworthy features on the exterior of the cathedral include statues of the Holy Trinity, St Adalbert, St John of Nepomuk, and St Mary Magdalene.

On the inside of the cathedral you’ll find a painting of St. Lawrence’s martyrdom by Jean Claude Monnot. And next to the church is a Calvary chapel built in the 1730s, which has a gorgeous sgraffito etching of Christ’s resurrection.

READ MORE: A Rare Look Inside Norway’s Urnes Stave Church

Mirror Maze

With its Disney-style castle exterior and wacky hall of mirrors on the inside, this is arguably one of the most fun things to do in Prague with kids. The entrance fee is 90CZK ($4) per person, or 250 CZK (around $11) for the whole family.

Known locally as the Zrcadlové bludiště Petřín, the Mirror Maze was built around the same time as the Petrin Tower for the Czech Tourists Club pavilion at the Prague Jubilee exhibition of 1891. It was originally installed at a different location, then moved to Petrin Hill two years later.

Designed by Czech architect Antonín Wiehl (a leading figure in the country’s neo-Renaissance in the late 19th century), the building was inspired by a similar tourist attraction in Vienna. In addition to the main maze, the Prague Mirror Maze includes 14 different convex and concave mirrors, which were added later. We had a fun time seeing ourselves stretched and squatted by the illusion.

For history lovers, the highlight of the attraction is a huge diorama at the end. It features an 80-square-meter painting that depicts that battle between Prague locals and invading Swedes on the famous Charles Bridge in 1648.

Painted by brothers Adolf and Karel Liebscher in just 50 days, the diorama offers an epic glimpse of how the left bank of the Vltava River looked in the 17th century.

READ MORE: 20 Longest Rivers in the World (World Travel Bucket List)

DAY 2: HRADCANY DISTRICT

The Hradčany district (a.k.a. the Castle District), is the area that surrounds Prague Castle.

Because of this proximity, the district is dominated by spectacular scenery and noble palaces of historical importance. Many of these are now part of Prague’s National Gallery collection of art exhibition halls.

Our guide included numerous Hradčany attractions in our Prague walking tour, as we made our way down the Strahovska from Petrin Hill and made our way towards the castle.

If you have a full 3-day weekend in Prague, you might have time to explore the district at the end of your day on Petrin Hill. But given the variety of Petrin attractions, we recommend touring the Hradčany district in the early morning, then spending the rest of the day visiting the castle complex.

The Church of Our Lady of Loreto

This stunning church, which was designed by Italian architect Giovanni Orsi and financed by local noblewoman Kateřina Benigna, dates back to 1626.

The original church was surrounded by cloisters in the late 1600s, with K.I. Dientzenhofer adding an upper level and a baroque facade in the early 18th century.

The church has since become a popular pilgrimage destination for Christians from all around the world. It’s easy to see why just from looking at the cathedral’s exterior, which boasts gleaming green and gold spires, dozens of statues, and the famous clocktower.

It’s the latter feature for which the church is arguably most famous. The clock was constructed in 1694 by watchmaker Peter Neumann, with thirty bells of varying sizes. Its melodious chime can be heard throughout the Hradčany district every hour.

Touring the Loreto Church is surprisingly pricy– admission is 150 CZK (nearly $7) for adults, or 310 CZK (nearly $14) for families. But it does house an impressive collection of liturgical tools, and you can often see intriguing exhibitions on the first floor of the cloister.

READ MORE: How I Fell For Travel (& Got Blessed By Pope John Paul II)

Schwarzenberg Palace

Although currently closed to the public for renovations, Schwarzenberg Palace is one of the most beautiful early Renaissance-style palaces in Prague.

Located around the corner from Prague Castle in Hradcanske Square, the striking t-shaped mansion was built for wealthy Bohemian nobleman Jan Popel of Lobkowicz. Construction of the main building lasted from 1545 to 1567, while the west wing was finished several years later.

The most distinctive feature of Schwarzenberg Palace is the black-on-white sgraffito (a method of etching that reveals color underneath) designs that adorn its walls. Built by Agostino Galli, with clear northern Italian and Venetian influences, it looks more like a castle than a true palace.

Inside, the palace’s ceilings are decorated with classic paintings (including The Conquer of Troy, The Judgment of Paris, and The Kidnap of Helen), all of which date back to 1580.

When the attraction reopens on September 13, 2019, it will include a new permanent exhibit, Old Masters. The exhibit will feature art by icons such as El Greco, Francisco José Goya, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, and many others from the 16th to 18th century.

Owned by the National Gallery Prague, the palace offers free admission to children and students under 26 years old. For everyone else, a CZK 500 ($22.30 US) ticket gets you entry to all of the National Gallery’s permanent exhibitions (details below) for 10 days after purchase.

READ MORE: Exploring Doune Castle, Scotland 

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We normally don’t like cities much. They’re generally crowded by overtourism, congested with traffic, and homogenized by the rise of globalization.

To get the feel of the soul of a destination, you really need to get outside the major cities, see the area’s natural beauty, and connect with local communities.

Still, we couldn’t travel to the Czech Republic and not visit Prague, the cultural heart of Bohemian central Europe. After all, the capital city’s history includes the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque eras, and the entire Historic Centre of Prague is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So when we found out that ThinkPrague offers fully customized Prague tours with your own private local guide, we jumped at the opportunity to explore the best things to do in Prague.

Unfortunately, after spending five days at the TBEX conference in Ostrava and another four traveling around the South Bohemia region, we only had one day left to see the city’s highlights.

If we were to do it again, we’d definitely spend a whole weekend in Prague, allowing us more time to explore some of our favorite attractions (such as the Prague Castle exhibitions and St. Vitus Cathedral) in-depth.

But our guide, Ales Pitin, seemed to relish the challenge of giving us a condensed look at where to go and what to do in Prague. Based on our interest in ecotourism, history, and culture, he put together an amazing Prague walking tour that encompassed dozens of impressive attractions.

What follows is a detailed itinerary for seeing the best of Prague in 3 days. It takes in most of the city’s most important attractions, yet allows plenty of time for touring the individual gardens, churches, and other historic sites you’ll see along the way.

READ MORE: The 50 Best Travel Shoes for Walking Tours

    1. Prague Tourist Map
    2. Petrin Hill
    3. Hradcany District
    4. Mala Strana & Old Town Prague
PRAGUE TOURIST MAP
DAY 1: PETRIN HILL

Located at an elevation of 1,073 feet smack dab in the center of the city, Petrin Hill is a great place to begin your weekend in Prague. Easily the city’s largest green space, Petrin is covered in parks, and offers exceptional views of the Malá Strana, Prague Castle, and the Vltava River.

The historic hill, which was named after its abundance of marlstone rocks (petrus is Latin for rocks), has been important to locals since the mid-1300s.

That’s when a Medieval defense wall– known as the Hunger Wall because it provided jobs for the poor during a famine– was ordered to be built on Petrin Hill by King Charles IV.

Petrin featured prominently in author Franz Kafka’s early short story, “Description of a Struggle,” and was mentioned in the Milan Kundera novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Now spending a day on Petrin Hill easily ranks among the best things to do in Prague. It’s a beloved recreation area for locals, as well as a popular Prague tourist attraction. Here’s an overview of the many things there are to see and do on Petrin Hill during your Prague vacation.

READ MORE: The Tallest Mountains in the World (World Travel Bucket List)

Memorial to the Victims of Communism

If you only spend a few days in Prague before heading off to another country, you might not realize that the Czech Republic was under a fairly brutal communist rule from 1948 to 1989.

Located at the base of Petrin Hill in Old Town Prague, the Memorial to the Victims of Communism pays tribute to the political prisoners who became victims of the oppressive regime. Created by Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek and architects Jan Kerel and Zdeněk Holzel, the public art piece was unveiled in 2002.

The installation is striking, to say the least, featuring seven bronze statues descending a flight of stairs. The further away the figures are, the more decayed their bodies appear, with missing limbs and bodies broken open to represent the impact communism had on Czech people.

You’ll pass the memorial en route to the Petrin Funicular, but it’s worth stopping to see. Don’t miss the harrowing stats on the bronze strip that runs down the center.

It says that there were 205,486 people arrested, 170,938 forced into exile, 4,500 who died in prison, 327 shot trying to escape, and 248 executed during the era of “totalitarian despotism.”

READ MORE: Rwanda History at the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Petrin Funicular Railway

If your sightseeing in Prague includes a visit to Petrin Hill, as it should, taking the Petrin Funicular Railway (a.k.a. the Prague Funicular) to the top is an absolute must. It’s fast, affordable, easier than climbing all the way up a 30º incline, and also offers a stellar scenic view of Old Town Prague.

The funicular opened in 1891, and was originally shorter and powered by water balance propulsion. It closed at the start of WWI in 1914, then reopened after renovations in 1932.

Service was suspended again in 1965 after a landslide on Petrin Hill, opening with new cars, an electric motor, and a new track in 1985.

Today the railway has three stops, but most people get on at the Újezd station at the bottom of the hill, which is in the Malá Strana district. It runs from 9AM to around 11:30PM, with departures leaving every 15 minutes or so. Tickets cost the same as the Prague tram– 26 CZK (about $1.14).

Be aware that there may be long lines on the weekend when the weather is warm, as Prague locals love spending the day on Petrin Hill with friends and family. If you do the same, consider packing your lunch, as it’s an excellent place for a picnic!

READ MORE: The 40 Best Backpacks for Travelers

Petrin Park (a.k.a. Petrin Gardens)

Much of Petrin Hill has been divided up into beautifully landscaped gardens, many of which have been cultivated for nearly 200 years. The largest (Kinský Garden) is outside the Hunger Wall, while the oldest (Lobkowicz Garden) is part of the German embassy and not open to visitors.

Of the Petrin gardens you can explore, the 8-hectare Nebozízek Garden is the biggest, spreading from the foot of Petrin Hill to the upper funicular station. Originally an orchard, it was modified into a garden and opened for public use in 1842. In addition to a gorgeous array of flowers, the garden is home to sculptured monuments to famous Czechs such as composer Vítězslav Novák.

Built in 1836, the park around the Petřín Tower encompasses about 2.5 hectares on the plateau of Petrin Hill. It was modified from 1933 to 1937 and connected with the Seminary Garden, which was formerly the garden of the White Friars from the Church of Our Lady of Victory. You can see a bronze monument to renowned Czech writer Jan Neruda there.

The newest garden in Petrin Park is the Rose Garden, which covers about 5.6 hectares on top of Petrin Hill. It replaced what used to be military land in 1934, and includes three sections as well as sculptures by Czech artist Ladislav Šaloun. There’s also a beautiful garden filled with thousands of perennials and bulb flowers.

Collectively, this oasis of fabulous flora was definitely among our favorite Prague highlights.

READ MORE: What is Permaculture Gardening? (Intro to Design & Principles)

Petrin Tower

The Petrin Tower is a historic Prague landmark that can be seen from virtually any part of the city. Especially at night, when its resemblance to the illuminated Eiffel Tower really makes it stand out.

Also commonly known as the Petrin Observation Tower or the Petrin Lookout Tower, the 208-foot-tall steel frame attraction was built in 1891 for the General Land Centennial Exhibition. Its design was directly inspired by Eiffel’s, which members of a local Czech travel club had seen at the 1889 World Expo in Paris.

Unlike its French counterpart, the Petřínská rozhledna (as it is known in the Czech language) has an octagonal cross-section.

Under its legs is the entrance hall, where visitors can pay 50 CZK ($2.20) to climb the 299 steps up to two observation platforms. There’s also an elevator to the top that costs around 50¢ more, but it was broken when we visited.

The views of the city from the top are spectacular, but be aware that this is one of Prague’s most popular tourist attractions. Lines can get long, but there’s a small exhibition area you can check out while you wait, as well as a a small gift shop and cafeteria on the main level.

READ MORE: Weird Foods the French Consider Delicacies

Cathedral of St Lawrence

Located right next to the Petrin Lookout Tower and the Hunger Wall, the Cathedral of St Lawrence served as the Czech Republic’s primary church of the Old Catholic faith for centuries.

Local legend holds that the church (which is known as Kostel sv. Vavřince in the Czech language) was built sometime in the 10th century on a hilltop site once held sacred by pagan Slavs. The earliest written record of the church dates back to 1135 and is attributed to Duke Soběslav I.

The St Lawrence church was originally built on a Romanesque style, and the walls of that single-nave building remain intact today. Prominent architect Killian Ignaz Dientzenhofer (who also worked on St. Loreto Church in Hradčany and St. Nicholas Church on Prague’s Old Town Square) rebuilt and expanded the church in the Baroque style in the early 1700s.

Noteworthy features on the exterior of the cathedral include statues of the Holy Trinity, St Adalbert, St John of Nepomuk, and St Mary Magdalene.

On the inside of the cathedral you’ll find a painting of St. Lawrence’s martyrdom by Jean Claude Monnot. And next to the church is a Calvary chapel built in the 1730s, which has a gorgeous sgraffito etching of Christ’s resurrection.

READ MORE: A Rare Look Inside Norway’s Urnes Stave Church

Mirror Maze

With its Disney-style castle exterior and wacky hall of mirrors on the inside, this is arguably one of the most fun things to do in Prague with kids. The entrance fee is 90CZK ($4) per person, or 250 CZK (around $11) for the whole family.

Known locally as the Zrcadlové bludiště Petřín, the Mirror Maze was built around the same time as the Petrin Tower for the Czech Tourists Club pavilion at the Prague Jubilee exhibition of 1891. It was originally installed at a different location, then moved to Petrin Hill two years later.

Designed by Czech architect Antonín Wiehl (a leading figure in the country’s neo-Renaissance in the late 19th century), the building was inspired by a similar tourist attraction in Vienna. In addition to the main maze, the Prague Mirror Maze includes 14 different convex and concave mirrors, which were added later. We had a fun time seeing ourselves stretched and squatted by the illusion.

For history lovers, the highlight of the attraction is a huge diorama at the end. It features an 80-square-meter painting that depicts that battle between Prague locals and invading Swedes on the famous Charles Bridge in 1648.

Painted by brothers Adolf and Karel Liebscher in just 50 days, the diorama offers an epic glimpse of how the left bank of the Vltava River looked in the 17th century.

READ MORE: 20 Longest Rivers in the World (World Travel Bucket List)

DAY 2: HRADCANY DISTRICT

The Hradčany district (a.k.a. the Castle District), is the area that surrounds Prague Castle.

Because of this proximity, the district is dominated by spectacular scenery and noble palaces of historical importance. Many of these are now part of Prague’s National Gallery collection of art exhibition halls.

Our guide included numerous Hradčany attractions in our Prague walking tour, as we made our way down the Strahovska from Petrin Hill and made our way towards the castle.

If you have a full 3-day weekend in Prague, you might have time to explore the district at the end of your day on Petrin Hill. But given the variety of Petrin attractions, we recommend touring the Hradčany district in the early morning, then spending the rest of the day visiting the castle complex.

The Church of Our Lady of Loreto

This stunning church, which was designed by Italian architect Giovanni Orsi and financed by local noblewoman Kateřina Benigna, dates back to 1626.

The original church was surrounded by cloisters in the late 1600s, with K.I. Dientzenhofer adding an upper level and a baroque facade in the early 18th century.

The church has since become a popular pilgrimage destination for Christians from all around the world. It’s easy to see why just from looking at the cathedral’s exterior, which boasts gleaming green and gold spires, dozens of statues, and the famous clocktower.

It’s the latter feature for which the church is arguably most famous. The clock was constructed in 1694 by watchmaker Peter Neumann, with thirty bells of varying sizes. Its melodious chime can be heard throughout the Hradčany district every hour.

Touring the Loreto Church is surprisingly pricy– admission is 150 CZK (nearly $7) for adults, or 310 CZK (nearly $14) for families. But it does house an impressive collection of liturgical tools, and you can often see intriguing exhibitions on the first floor of the cloister.

READ MORE: How I Fell For Travel (& Got Blessed By Pope John Paul II)

Schwarzenberg Palace

Although currently closed to the public for renovations, Schwarzenberg Palace is one of the most beautiful early Renaissance-style palaces in Prague.

Located around the corner from Prague Castle in Hradcanske Square, the striking t-shaped mansion was built for wealthy Bohemian nobleman Jan Popel of Lobkowicz. Construction of the main building lasted from 1545 to 1567, while the west wing was finished several years later.

The most distinctive feature of Schwarzenberg Palace is the black-on-white sgraffito (a method of etching that reveals color underneath) designs that adorn its walls. Built by Agostino Galli, with clear northern Italian and Venetian influences, it looks more like a castle than a true palace.

Inside, the palace’s ceilings are decorated with classic paintings (including The Conquer of Troy, The Judgment of Paris, and The Kidnap of Helen), all of which date back to 1580.

When the attraction reopens on September 13, 2019, it will include a new permanent exhibit, Old Masters. The exhibit will feature art by icons such as El Greco, Francisco José Goya, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, and many others from the 16th to 18th century.

Owned by the National Gallery Prague, the palace offers free admission to children and students under 26 years old. For everyone else, a CZK 500 ($22.30 US) ticket gets you entry to all of the National Gallery’s permanent exhibitions (details below) for 10 days after purchase.

READ MORE: Exploring Doune Castle, Scotland 

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The largest of the primate species, gorillas rank amongst the most recognized and the most endangered species in the world. Much of our cultural fascination with gorillas centers around just how human they can seem.

Like us, gorillas’ hands have opposable thumbs, and they can walk upright on two legs. They are intelligent, interactive, and identifiable. The gorilla lifespan can be up to 50 to 60 years in captivity (though they tend to die younger in the wild). They even have impressive language skills!

These gentle giants have loomed large in the public consciousness for nearly a century, ever since a fictionalized version of the great ape, King Kong, began appearing in movies in 1933.

The 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist showcased the groundbreaking work of Dian Fossey, a highly controversial figure in the world of gorilla conservation. Fossey was not only a trailblazer in primatology and gorilla research, but she’s widely credited with habituating the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda to human presence.

More recently, Project Koko turned a young female gorilla into an international celebrity. Koko taught from an early age to communicate with American sign language, could use over 1,000 signs and understand over 2,000 spoken (English) words. By the time she passed away in 2018 at age 46, Koko had learned to adapt and combine words to express herself.

In 2016 gorillas were dominating headlines again, but for all the wrong reasons. A 17-year-old silverback gorilla named Harambe was shot in the Cincinnati Zoo after a three-year-old boy fell into his enclosure. The incident instigated a huge amount of public debate, and drew further media attention to the increasingly endangered species.

So, with interest in the species at an all-time high, perhaps it’s no surprise that the popularity of gorilla safaris has surged dramatically in recent years. Travelers pay anywhere from $600 (in Uganda) to $1500 (in Rwanda) for a gorilla trekking permit. This allows a group of up to 8 people to spend an hour with a gorilla family in their native habitat.

Gorilla watching trips are an incredible experience, with baby gorillas clinging to their mothers as silverback gorillas watch over them protectively. Rules state that visitors must maintain a safe distance, but the gorillas don’t always follow the rules. GGT founders Bret Love and Mary Gabbett describe their time in Rwanda’s Mountain Gorilla habitat as life-changing.

So here’s a look at 50 interesting facts about gorillas, including trivial tidbits about different types of gorillas, why gorillas are endangered, gorilla conservation efforts, and much more.

READ MORE: Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda 

    1. Basic Gorilla Facts
    2. Gorilla Families
    3. Interesting Facts about Gorilla Habitat
    4. Fun Facts about the Gorilla Diet
    5. Cross River Gorilla Facts
    6. Mountain Gorilla Facts
    7. Eastern Lowland Gorilla Facts
    8. Why are Gorillas Endangered?
    9. Gorilla Conservation
    10. FAQS & Gorilla Information
Baby Gorilla in Rwanda, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett Basic Gorilla Facts

1) Gorillas are primates, an order of mammals that also includes monkeys, apes, tarsiers, lemurs, and humans. In fact, they are considered the largest primates in the world. Despite often being referred to as monkeys, they are not. They are great apes. Amongst various other differences, monkeys have tails while apes do not.

2) There are two gorilla species: Eastern and Western. The scientific name for Eastern Gorillas is Gorilla berinngei, and the scientific name for Western Gorillas is Gorilla gorilla. There are four gorilla subspecies. Western Lowland (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and Cross River (Gorilla gorilla diehli) are the two western species. Eastern Lowland (Gorilla beringei graueri) and Mountain (Gorilla beringei beringei) are the two eastern subspecies. Western gorilla subspecies tend to be brownish-gray, while eastern gorilla subspecies tend to be blacker.

3) After chimpanzees and bonobos, gorillas are the closest primate to humans (or any animal, for that matter) in terms of their genetic make up. Gorillas are very intelligent, and often prove it with their ability to laugh, express sadness, and convey other emotions.

4) Gorillas can learn sign language, utilize rudimentary tools, and even make some of their own tools. Gorillas’ hands even have unique fingerprints, like humans (and koalas).

5) Though gorilla size varies by species, most adults measure somewhere between four and six feet tall when standing on their hind legs. Gorilla weight also varies by species: The smaller Western Gorilla weighs 150 to 400 pounds, whereas the biggest gorillas (Eastern Lowland) can weigh up to 550 pounds in the wild.

6) Gorillas’ arms are longer than their legs, which makes it easier for them to walk on all fours. They usually walk on the knuckles of their hands, which is appropriately referred to as “knuckle walking.” Though they are capable of walking on two legs, they can only do so for short distances, up to about 10 feet.

7) The gorilla’s strength is the stuff of legend, especially when it comes to the upper body. In fact, the average gorilla is roughly six times stronger than the average human. This arm, chest, and back burliness comes from the fact that gorillas still use their upper bodies for moving around and supporting their massive weight.

8) Gorillas in the wild typically live to be about 35 years old, sometimes up to 40. In captivity, the gorilla lifespan can be considerably longer, averaging about 50 years. The oldest known gorilla was a female that lived at Ohio’s Columbus Zoo & Aquarium. She lived to be 60 years old, and died in 2017.

READ MORE: Interview with Primatologist Jane Goodall

Mother & Baby Mountain Gorilla in Rwanda, photo by Carine06 via CC by 2.0 Facts About Gorilla Families

9) Gorilla families are usually small groups of around ten or so individual members, though they can be as little as just two adults or as large as 50 animals. These groups of gorillas are called troops, or bands.

10) Troops are dominated by silverback gorillas, which are older male gorillas with gray fur on their backs. Average silverback gorilla weight is 300 to 400 pounds, but the biggest gorillas can grow to 500+ pounds. These protectors decide when the troop gets up, eats, moves, and rests. Silverbacks can be more dominant and aggressive (and are known to beat their chests) when they perceive a threat. However, like all gorillas, they are generally very peaceful creatures.

11) The remainder of the troop will consist of numerous females, with which the silverback mates, and the young offspring produced by the silverback and these females. Silverbacks have exclusive rights to mating with the females of the troop, and will often cast out male offspring once they get old enough to mate.

12) Gorillas gestate for 8.5 months, which is only slightly less time than humans. And, like other primates, a mother usually gives birth to just one live baby. Twins are rare, but do happen occasionally. Most baby gorillas weigh about four pounds at birth. A mature female will have one baby every few years, and normally only three to four over a lifetime.

13) Baby gorillas are called infants and will nurse until they’re about three years old. By two months they can crawl, and by eight or nine months they’re able to walk. Mothers carry baby gorillas in their arms until they’re about four months old. After that, they begin to ride on their mothers’ back. They do this until they are two or three years old.

14) Gorillas reach maturity between seven and 10 years old, at which time they leave the troop to search for a mate. Young males, called blackbacks, can wander alone to become solitary silverbacks or find a mate and start a gorilla family of their own. Young females will typically find a mate and join another band.

READ MORE: 10 Simple Wildlife Photography Tips

Silverback Gorilla in Rwanda, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett Interesting Facts about Gorilla Habitat

15) Wild gorillas are only found in a few countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Western Gorillas live on the western side of the Congo River, while Eastern Gorillas inhabit the volcanic mountains on the eastern side.

16) Gorillas are ground-dwelling animals that reside in tropical and subtropical forests. They are at home in everything from the steamy and swampy lowland tropical rainforests to notably chilly montane forests.

17) Eastern Gorilla habitat includes altitudes as high as 13,000 feet above sea level, whereas the Western Gorilla habitat usually tops out at about half that altitude.

18) Western Lowland Gorillas are the most widely distributed subspecies. They inhabit Cameroon, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Angola.

19) Mountain Gorillas live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, either in the Virunga Mountains (which straddle all three countries) or Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

20) Cross River Gorillas, which are the rarest of the subspecies, only exist in a small region in Nigeria and Cameroon.

21) Eastern Lowland (a.k.a. Grauer’s) Gorillas inhabit the eastern side of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their primary population centers are in Maiko National Park and Kahuzi Biega National Park, as well as the forests adjacent to them.

READ MORE: Rwanda History at the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Silverback Gorilla eating leafy greens in Rwanda, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett The Gorilla Diet

22) Gorillas are considered herbivores, because they primarily feed on a wide range of vegetation, including wild celery, bamboo, roots, and fruits. But the gorilla diet also includes bark, small branches, and tree pulp. Occasionally, to aid digestion, they’ll even eat soil and ash. And, although they’re not hunters, gorillas sometimes eat small animals and insects.

23) An adult male gorilla can eat up to 40 pounds of vegetation a day, which is about 10% of its total body weight. In terms of broccoli, that would be about 80 heads of broccoli in a day. In terms of lettuce, it would be roughly 23 heads of iceberg. That’s an awful lot of salad!

24) Gorillas are diurnal animals. Morning and evening are their main feeding times, but they can often be seen snacking on leaves throughout the day. Midday is typically time for naps and grooming, but baby gorillas and young adolescents might play. At nighttime, the entire troop sleeps. Gorillas actually make beds out of leaves and twigs, and these are called nests.

25) Amazingly, gorillas don’t often require sources of fresh water for hydration. They generally get adequate moisture from the food they eat and the morning dew on it.

READ MORE: Are GMO Crops the Future of Food? (Plant Biotechnology)

Cross River Gorilla, photo by Julie Langford, CC BY-SA 3.0 Cross River Gorilla Facts

26) The Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) is the least populated of the subspecies. A 2014 study suggests that there are less than 250 mature Cross River Gorillas left in the wild, making them one of the world’s most critically endangered primates.

27) They’re part of the Western Gorilla species, but have distinct differences from the Western Lowland Gorilla (which are found nearly 200 miles away). Though the two subspecies have similar body size, the Cross River Gorilla has a noticeably smaller palate and cranial vault, shorter skull, and shorter hands and feet.

28) Where other gorillas have been habituated to human presence, the subspecies is particularly wary of people. Cross River Gorilla habitat covers rough terrain on the Cameroon-Nigeria border that prevents easy observation, with the remaining 11 groups roaming a relatively small area of roughly 3,000 square miles.

READ MORE: Top 15 Inspirational Animals Rights Activists

Female Mountain Gorilla, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett Mountain Gorilla Facts

29) Despite being in a tropical part of the world, Mountain Gorilla habitat can have freezing temperatures due to the high altitude. To help them survive the colder climates of the high mountain elevations (8,000-13,000 feet), they have longer, thicker hair than other subspecies.

30) Unfortunately, human encroachment is pushing the Mountain Gorillas even higher up into the hills. If this trend continues, they may soon be forced to live at elevations where their fur is not warm enough to protect them from the cold.

31) About 2/3 of the Lowland Gorilla diet is focused on fruits, with the other 33% being greens and other vegetation. But over 80% of the Mountain Gorilla’s diet comes from leaves, shoots, and stems.

32) Amazingly, both populations of Mountain Gorillas– the one in the Virunga Mountains and the one in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park– have gradually increased in the last two decades. This is largely due to ecotourism and the conservation efforts of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. All other gorilla subspecies have dwindling populations.

READ MORE: Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International CEO Tara Stoinski

Western Lowland Gorilla, photo by Smudge 9000 courtesy Flickr via CC 2.0 Western Lowland Gorilla Facts

33) Western Lowland Gorillas are the most numerous of the gorilla subspecies. According to recent reports, there are now over 360,000 in the wild and over 4,000 in zoos. This is partly because they have the widest habitat range.

34) Unfortunately, the Western Lowland Gorilla population has declined by over half in the last 20 to 25 years. Scientists believe it would take over 75 years to recover the lost population, even if all threats to gorillas were removed immediately.

35) These gorillas have noticeably different traits than the other subspecies. They tend to be slightly smaller, and they have brown-grey coats with auburn chests. Their heads are also different, with wider skulls, more pronounced brows, and smaller ears.

READ MORE: Joan Embery On Why Zoos Are Good For Conservation 

Eastern Lowland Gorilla, photo by Joe McKenna courtesy Flickr via CC 2.0 Eastern Lowland Gorilla Facts

36) Eastern Lowland Gorillas are also known as Grauer’s Gorilla. There are only about 5,000 of them remaining in the wild, which is a sharp decline from an estimated population of around 17,000 animals in the mid-1990s. Since then the gorilla’s habitat has shrunk from 8,000+ to 5,000 square miles, and they now occupy just 13% of their historical range.

37) The decline was caused in large part by poaching due to the ongoing civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a result of the conflict, an accurate census is no longer possible. But Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund researchers discovered a previously unknown population in Maiko National Park in 2017.

38) There is only one Eastern Lowland Gorilla currently living in captivity– a lone female living at the Antwerp Zoo in Belgium.

39) Eastern Lowland Gorillas are the largest of the four subspecies. They are differentiated from other subspecies by a stockier body, larger hands, and a shorter muzzle.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Environmental Charities & Animal Charities

Silverback, photo by Keith Roper courtesy Flickr via CC 2.0 Why are Gorillas..
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If you’re a lover of the great outdoors, you might be surprised to realize that you really need to add Taiwan to your world travel bucket list.

Gone are the days when the 14,000-square-mile northeast Asian island nation (which is officially called the Republic of China) was known primarily for its manufacturing industry and polluted skies. Taiwan has the 22nd largest economy in the world, a Democratic government, rich indigenous cultures, and ranks among the world’s most highly educated countries.

Today, there are countless things to do in Taiwan for people who love nature, wildlife, and outdoor adventure, and countless Taiwan tourist attractions in which to do them. In fact, 70% of the island (which is located 110 miles from mainland China) is covered with dense forests and mountains.

Though Taiwan is roughly the same size as the state of Indiana, it boasts a whopping 286 mountains over 3000 meters (9800 feet). The island’s rugged landscape is also punctuated with steaming hot springs, not to mention the sheer vertical cliffs that fall to the sea on the wild east coast.

Most travelers tend to hit the three most well-known natural places to visit in Taiwan: Sun Moon Lake, Alishan, and Taroko Gorge. The reputation of these stunning sights is well deserved. But there are many other must-see Taiwan tourist spots that are visited much less frequently.

What follows are 20 of my personal favorite places to go in Taiwan, based on my 10 years of living in and exploring the island…

READ MORE: Top 7 Things to Do in China for Nature Lovers

  1. Things to Do in Northern Taiwan
  2. Things to Do on the East Coast of Taiwan
  3. Things to Do in the Central Mountains of Taiwan
  4. Things to Do in Southern Taiwan
  5. Other Taiwan Tourism Hotspots
Things to Do in Northern Taiwan Youbike Taipei 1. Ride a Bike from Youbike Taipei

Taipei’s bike sharing system, YouBike, has been enormously successful since it was first introduced in 2008.

Each YouBike is rented out approximately 12 times per day, which is more than similar bike-sharing systems set up in major cities such as New York City and London.

The orange and yellow bikes– which are produced by the well-known Taiwanese bike manufacturer, Giant– are a ubiquitous site throughout the city. You can swipe with your MRT card, and the rate is only NT 10 (USD 32¢) per 30 minutes for up to four hours.

The city’s best bike rides can be had in the parks alongside Taipei’s numerous rivers, where you can easily forget that you are in the middle of a large urban metropolis.

READ MORE: Things to Do in Taipei, Taiwan: 5 Outdoor Attractions

Bayan Hot Spring by Liu Dyson, CC BY 3.0 2. Soak in a Taiwan Hot Spring

Like many islands in the South Pacific, Taiwan is riddled with volcanoes. Geologically speaking, the country’s landscape is a collision zone of tectonic plates.

As a result, the island has an abundance of hot springs, and has even been called “the Hot Spring Kingdom.” Some of the country’s most popular geothermal spring areas were originally developed by the Japanese when they colonized Taiwan (1895-1945).

The sad truth today is that many of Taiwan’s thermal areas have been hastily overdeveloped. Hot spring resorts recklessly battle for access, and have destroyed countless natural landscapes. Luckily,  it’s still possible to visit many of the more remote and uncrowded Taiwan hot springs.

There are hot springs in just about every county. But I included this in the northern Taiwan section because one of my favorites is Bayan Hot Springs, which is located an hour’s drive from Taipei.

READ MORE: How Mass Tourism is Destroying 30+ Destinations Travelers Love

Cliff Diving in Longdong 3. Cliff Diving or Rock Climbing at Longdong

Longdong (which literally translates as “Dragon Cave”) is a large bay located on the northeast coast of Taiwan.

In recent years, it has become the top northern Taiwan tourist spot for activities ranging from snorkeling and scuba diving to rock climbing and cliff diving.

There are several spots along the bay’s rocky coastline (and the small islands located just offshore) that are perfect for a thrilling leap into the sea. Just be warned that the waters can get pretty choppy here, and the rocks can be quite jagged. So proceed with caution.

The sandstone cliffs facing the shore, which are mostly around 30-something meters (100+ feet), are also ideal for rock climbers in training. This broad combination of activities available at Longdong make it the ecotourism adventure capital of Northern Taiwan!

READ MORE: Top 25 Things to Do in Malaysia for Nature Lovers

Hiking in Taiwan 4. Go Hiking in Taiwan

Whether you prefer laid-back day hikes or serious backpacking, Taiwan is a paradise for trekkers. There are countless places to go in Taiwan for hiking. But I included the activity in this section to emphasize just how many amazing treks there are within easy access of the capital city.

Right in Taipei City, you’ll find Yangming Mountain (a dormant volcano), the Four Beasts, and Maokong, all of which offer numerous hiking trails of different lengths and difficulty levels.

Two of the most exhilarating hikes around Taipei are the Pingxi Crags and Wuliaojian trail in Sanxia. These hikes feature ascents of sheer vertical cliffs on death-defying ropes and ladders. They are perfectly safe for anyone who is moderately in shape… just don’t look down!

The Caoling Historical Trail is another popular trek in northern Taiwan that features coastal bluffs, wild buffalos, and slopes that are covered in silvergrass in the autumn.

READ MORE:  The Best Hiking Trails for your World Travel Bucket List

Things to Do on the East Coast of Taiwan Taroko Gorge, Taiwan 5. Explore Taroko Gorge, the “Grand Canyon” of Taiwan

Taroko Gorge is one of Taiwan’s most popular attractions, but it can’t be left off this list. The dramatically steep walls of this river gorge lend it the nickname “the Grand Canyon of Taiwan.”

The most eco-friendly way to explore Taroko is by cycling up the gorge. If your legs aren’t up to the challenge, local hotels will drive you to the top of the gorge so that you can cycle back downhill.

There are also numerous hikes in the gorgeous valley, ranging from leisurely strolls to exhilarating jaunts on narrow paths that hug the cliff walls.

There is also a large shrine located in the gorge that commemorates the many people who died during the construction of the road up from the gorge.

READ MORE: 5 Hobbies That Help Offset Your Carbon Footprint

Qingshui Cliff, Taiwan 6. Admire the Beauty of the Qingshui Cliff

Just north of the entrance to Taroko Gorge along the coast, the Qingshui Cliff features some of the most gorgeous scenic views you’ll find on the wild east coast of Taiwan.

Considered to be one of Taiwan’s 8 natural wonders, the 21-kilometer cliff is the best place to see the three distinct colors of blue that make up the Pacific Ocean.

The sheer vertical cliff drops approximately 800 meters to the sea, with Mount Qingshui (the area’s highest point) towering at 2,400 meters above sea level.

Qingshui Cliff can also be seen from a notoriously dangerous road that connects Yilan county to Hualien county.

READ MORE: Top 15 Things to Do in Coron, Palawan (Philippines)

7. Go Sea Kayaking or Rafting in Hualien

To see the Qingshui Cliff from a totally different angle, why not hire a sea kayak in Hualien and admire them from the sea?

Just make sure to bring a lot of sunscreen, as the sun can be quite fierce in Taiwan, particularly in the summertime.

White water rafting is another popular activity in Hualien county, a bit further south from Hualien city and Taroko Gorge.

The most popular place to do it is the Xiuguluan River, which is the longest river in Taiwan and the only one to cut through the coastal mountain range.

READ MORE: The 20 Longest Rivers in the World by Continent

The Taiwan Surf is perfect for beginner surfers 8. Ride the Taiwan Surf

What, you didn’t know that Taiwan had surfing? Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one!

There are a few beaches on the east coast of Taiwan that offer decent surfing opportunities. The waves there aren’t huge (unless there’s a typhoon coming), which make it a perfect place for beginners to learn the sport.

On the northeast coast, Wai Ao is the most popular place, mostly in summertime. On the southeast coast, warm weather makes it possible to surf year-round: The surf town of Dulan is the best place.

Generally, the waves in Taiwan are smaller in summertime, so that’s the best season for beginners. In winter, they can be larger, but a little rough for newbies.

READ MORE: The World’s Most Colorful Beaches (World Travel Bucket List) 

Things to Do in the Central Mountains of Taiwan Yu Shan a.k.a. Jade Mountain, Taiwan by Kailing3 GFDL , CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5 9. Climb Yu Shan (a.k.a Jade Mountain)

Looming large at 3952 meters (12,966 feet), Yu Shan– which is also known as Jade Mountain– is taller than any peak in Japan, Korea, or the northeast portion of China.

Ascending the summit is not terribly difficult, but it typically requires two full days of climbing. Most hikers spend the night at Paiyun Cabin, then make an early morning ascent for sunrise on the summit.

Daily trekker numbers are strictly limited, so the summit trail is never crowded. But it is a very popular hike, so you do need to arrange a permit several months in advance.

READ MORE: 20 Best Mountains in the World (World Travel Bucket List)

Sea of Clouds in Taiwan’s Central Mountains 10. See the Sunrise Over a Sea of Clouds

It’s possible to witness the “sea of clouds” phenomenon from many high-altitude points in Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range.

If you’re lucky, with a sunny day and a good vantage point, you can witness what looks like a sea of clouds flowing over mountain peaks or filling the valleys below. The best time to see this happen is usually right at sunrise or sunset.

The phenomenon is closely associated with Alishan, or Mount Ali, Taiwan’s most famous mountain resort. Millions of tourists each year pack onto the Alishan Forest Railway, a small-gauge, high mountain railway line built by the Japanese. They all head to a popular sunrise viewing point, hoping to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon.

The good news for those who want to avoid the crowds is that it’s possible to observe a sea of clouds from many other high mountain treks in Taiwan. I saw an amazing one when I climbed Yushan!

READ MORE: The Top 10 Things to Do in San Vicente, Palawan (Philippians)

Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan 11. Cycle Around Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon Lake is another incredibly popular Taiwan tourist attraction. But it absolutely merits a mention on this list for its jaw-dropping natural beauty.

Shaped somewhat like a sun and a moon, the gorgeous lake is the homeland of the Thao people, one of Taiwan’s smallest indigenous tribes.

The road around Sun Moon Lake has been called one of the most beautiful cycling routes in the world.To minimize your impact when staying, consider getting around only by bike.

If you go for a boat ride on the lake, choose one of the eco-friendly electric boats. And consider camping instead of staying in one of the many resorts on the lake.

Sun Moon Lake also hosts one of the largest mass swims in the world every September.

READ MORE: The 20 Largest Lakes in the World by Continent

Snow in Hehuanshan 12. See Snow in Hehuanshan or Snow Mountain

Few people would imagine that you could see snow in Taiwan, but it’s definitely possible! Your best odds are in January or February, and you need to get as high as possible (in elevation, that is).

Hehuanshan is one of the most popular places to see snow in Taiwan, because..

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As a professional travel writer, there are some destinations that speak to your soul on such a deeply personal level, telling others about them almost feels like a betrayal.

Sanibel Island, Florida was that way for me for many years, as was Costa Rica’s Tortuguero National Park. It’s not that we didn’t want to promote these places, but that we feared the impact the ravages of mass tourism might have on their pristine beauty.

This explains why I’ve never written much about our 2013 visit to Isla Holbox, Mexico (other than including it on a list of the most romantic places we’ve ever stayed). It’s not that I didn’t love Holbox island. It’s that I loved it so much, I didn’t want to share it with the world!

When I returned to visit Holbox earlier this year, I was delighted to finally introduce Mary to one of my favorite islands in the world. But I was also slightly dismayed to see how much the island’s tourism industry has grown over the past five years.

The once-sleepy fishing village (home to around 2000 residents) was busy with activity and lots of new construction. Though few cars are allowed, the streets were hopping with the golf cart taxis that provide transport from the Isla Holbox ferry to Holbox hotels and attractions.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to get away from the hustle and bustle, if you so desire. Holbox is part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, so once you get outside the tiny downtown area you’ll find yourself surrounded by natural beauty.

There are plenty of things to do on Isla Holbox, especially for people who love nature. There are beautiful beaches, serene spas, charming shops, excellent restaurants, and tons of wildlife. But it’s also the sort of place where you can have an amazing time doing nothing at all.

So check out our in-depth guide to the gem of Quintana Roo, including how to get to Holbox, the best Holbox hotels, and our favorite things to do there. By the end, you’ll understand why we consider one of the best islands in the Caribbean!

READ MORE: The 20 Best Caribbean Islands to Visit (For Nature Lovers)

  1. How to get to Isla Holbox from Cancun
  2. Top 10 Things to do in Holbox
  3. The Best Isla Holbox Hotels
HOW TO GET TO ISLA HOLBOX FROM CANCUN

Isla Holbox is located approximately 99 miles from Cancun in the northern part of the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. There are several different ways of getting from Cancun to Holbox, depending on your budget, time, and a few other factors. But all of them ultimately include taking the Holbox ferry, which we’ll talk about in more detail below.

Cancun-Holbox Transfer

The easiest option for getting to Holbox island from Cancun is also the most expensive– hiring a private car transfer.

There are many different companies that offer this service, but we went with VIP Holbox because I had done a great tour with them during my 2013 visit to the island.

The company offers a door-to-door service for around $150. This includes ground transfer (in a car or van with driver) pick-up from the Cancun airport or any local hotel, a ticket on the Holbox ferry, and a golf cart taxi waiting to take you to your Isla Holbox hotel.

This may sound like a lot of money if you’re traveling on a budget. But when you consider the combined cost of bus fare, fees for the ferry to Holbox, and taxi to your Holbox accommodation (not to mention the fact it will save you nearly two hours), it’s really not a bad deal!

READ MORE: Top 20 Things to Do in Cancun (For Nature Lovers)

Photo courtesy Autobuses de Oriente Local Bus (Autobuses de Oriente)

The bus from Cancun to Holbox, run by Autobuses de Oriente (ADO), only costs about $9 per person. But because they stop to pick up and drop off local school kids, other passengers, and vendors selling snacks and souvenirs, the ride to the Holbox ferry will take up to 2 hours longer.

The Holbox bus departs from Cancun’s “terminal center,” then gradually makes its way to the port town of Chiquilá. There are daily departures scheduled at 7:45 AM, 10:30 AM, and 12:45 PM. You can also take a bus directly from Playa del Carmen to Holbox.

Check the bus schedule in advance, because departure times are always changing. We also recommend buying tickets in advance and getting there as early as possible. These buses are usually standing-room-only, and the air conditioning doesn’t really reach the back of the bus).

Once you arrive in Chiquilá, nearly four hours later, you’ll have to take the 2-hour ferry to Holbox. When you reach the island, you can either walk to your Holbox hotel if it’s in town, or take one of the many golf cart taxis if it’s further away. This usually costs anywhere from $2 to $5.

READ MORE: The Chicken Bus of Guatemala 

Street Art Mural in Isla Holbox Driving To Holbox

With so many other options for transportation from Cancun to Holbox, and no cars allowed on the island, getting a rental car is unnecessary.

But if you’re planning to visit Holbox as part of a larger Quintana Roo road trip, you can park your car in Chiquilá before taking the ferry.

To get there from Cancun, take the libre (free) road to Merida, which will take you through a small town called Leona Vicario. After 15 km, you’ll arrive at a crossing called Nuevo Valladolid, where you’ll have to turn right.

After that you’ll pass two small villages, then arrive at a T-turn. Turn right to take the road to Kantunilkin. From Kantunilkin, you’ll have to continue another 40 km towards Chiquilá.

Once you arrive, find a safe parking lot for your car and walk to the port to take the ferry.

READ MORE: The World’s Best Road Trips (World Travel Bucket List)

The Holbox Ferry, photo courtesy of Holbox Express Holbox Ferry

There are two different ferries to Holbox– 9 Hermanos and the Holbox Express– but both cost about the same and are of similar quality.

The boats depart once every half hour or so until about 9:30 PM. The ferry costs $140 MXN (approximately $7) each way. In our experience you don’t need to buy tickets in advance, but of course it couldn’t hurt to ensure you have a seat!

Be aware that people who sit on the ferry’s top deck outside may get wet from ocean spray. When we were there, around 20 people rushed up the stairs in order to get the best scenic views.

Although the weather was fine and the water wasn’t choppy, they all came running inside about 15 minutes into the boat ride, completely soaked from head to toe. So we recommend sitting inside the ferry to Holbox, where the AC works wonderfully.

TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN HOLBOX
Playa Holbox cabana at Las Nubes de Holbox
1. Relax on Playa Holbox

Called “Mexico’s best barefoot beach” by CNN, Playa Holbox has silky smooth sands, a laid-back vibe, and crystal clear aquamarine waters as far as the eye can see.

The section of Holbox beach closest to the heart of town can get a little congested during peak season (we visited around the same time as Spring Break). But fortunately the 26-mile long island has plenty of picturesque shoreline to explore.

It’s easy to walk, rent a bike, or get a golf cart taxi to take you far away from the crowd. Or you can do what we did and book yourself in Holbox hotels located at the far end of town, where you’re surrounded by the Yum Balam Nature Reserve.

Our eco-resort, Las Nubes de Holbox, was located on the last section of Playa Holbox before you reach the reserve. We spent an amazing day relaxing in their waterfront cabanas, with gauzy linens providing protection from the sun.

The people-watching was superb, the mood was sublime, and the gorgeous Caribbean waters were 20 feet away when we needed to cool off.

Snorkeling with Sea Turtles in Cabo Catoche 2. Snorkeling in Cabo Catoche

Located around 26 miles east of Isla Holbox, Cabo Catoche lies at the juncture where the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico come together. Though this northernmost part of the Yucatan Peninsula is technically part of Isla Mujeres, it’s a popular day trip from Holbox.

The Cabo, or cape, is the site of both the first accidental landing by Europeans in what is now Mexico (a shipwreck in 1511) and the first intentional landing (Spanish conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba’s ill-fated 1517 expedition).

But now it’s best known for its marine life, which is attracted by the abundant krill and phytoplankton stirred up by the converging waters. You can find many whale sharks in the area for 4-5 months a year, and Cabo Catoche’s beaches are important sea turtle nesting grounds.

The waters here are beautifully colored and crystal clear, with dolphins, fish, rays, turtles, reef sharks, coral, and more almost everywhere you turn. The area is also teeming with bird life, and many tours include time to walk the beaches and enjoy fresh-made ceviche.

READ MORE: Cancun Underwater Museum: A Marine Conservation Masterpiece

Kayaking in Isla Holbox 3. Kayaking Through the Mangroves

Because of Isla Holbox’s location, the waters are remarkably calm. So kayaking along Playa Holbox and into the mangroves of Yum Balam Nature Reserve is another popular activity.

If you’ve never been in a mangrove forest before, it can be an otherworldly experience. The air is eerily quiet and still. The twisting limbs of the mangrove trees form an intricate spider web whose beauty is only magnified by their mirror-like reflection in the water.

Along the way, be sure to watch for birds, which can often be found in the shallow water and trees. Here, species such as herons, egrets, cormorants, and anhingas feed on small fish (which use the mangroves as a protective nursery) and crabs. If you’re lucky you might even see some flamingos!

Keep your eyes peeled for crocodiles, which can occasionally be seen sunning themselves on the banks. And make sure you take plenty of water, as temperatures get high at midday!

READ MORE: The 10 Best Kayak/Canoe Trips (World Travel Bucket List)

A few of the species you’ll see on Bird Island 4. Birdwatching on Isla Pájaros (Bird Island)

Holbox means “black hole” in the Yucatan Maya language. It was named for the picturesque Yalahau lagoon, in which you’ll also find this aptly named, 200-foot wide island.

Humans are not allowed to set foot on the island, which is protected naturally by mangrove swamps and relatively impenetrable brush and cactus. But there are two observation points and walkways, which makes it a perfect place for birdwatching.

The island is home to over 150 different species of birds, around 35 of which nest in its trees all year round. During our two visits we saw double crested cormorants, ducks, osprey, reddish and snowy egrets, frigate birds, herons, roseate spoonbills, and rare white pelicans.

Several Holbox tour operators offer day trips that include Isla Pájaros and other nearby attractions. Visit from April to October and you may see some flamingos near the shore. If possible, plan your visit around sunset, when hundreds of birds return to roost for the night.

READ MORE: Beautiful Birds of the Galapagos Islands 

Yalahao Cenote 5. Swim in Yalahao (a.k.a Holbox Cenote)

A common stop for tours to Isla Pájaros, this cenote (a natural limestone sinkhole that was considered sacred by Mayan people) is located about 30 minutes from Holbox Island by boat.

The breathtaking pool is fed by a freshwater spring, and was home to an ancient Mayan trading port until a Mayan king decided to make it his own private paradise. Local legends say he built beautiful gardens and fountains and a royal pool decorated with Jade stones.

Unfortunately the Spanish conquistadors destroyed it all upon their arrival on the Yucatan Peninsula. They kept the Jade for themselves and used the stones to build one of the first Christian churches in Latin America (in nearby Boca Iglesias).

The site was later used as a refuge by the Spanish pirate Miguel Molas, who lived in Yalahao for around 40 years. Molas was an employee of the Spanish government who ultimately realized he could make more money making deals with and guiding smugglers. His exploits, including a fight with Jean Lafitte’s brother Pierre in Isla Mujeres, would make a great Hollywood film,

Today, the Holbox cenote is peaceful, pristine, and perfect for cooling off during a hot day. Try to visit in the morning before the crowds arrive: Other than one other couple, we basically had the whole place to ourselves. Some locals consider the spring a fountain of youth!

READ MORE: Museo Maya de Cancun (Cancun’s Mayan Museum)

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Cancun - YouTube
6. Go Swimming With Whale Sharks

About two hours by boat from Holbox Island, you’ll find the site of the largest gathering of whale sharks ever recorded. There were more than 400 spotted off the coast of Isla Mujeres in 2011, feeding on spawn from the little tunny (a type of tuna).

There are approximately 200 boats in Quintana Roo that are licensed to lead whale shark tours. Each of these boats can carry up to 10 passengers. So you can imagine the hundreds of tourists that visit the afuera daily from mid-May to September, during peak whale shark season.

Still, when my daughter I took the VIP Holbox tour in June of 2013, there were many more whale sharks than tourist boats. Even the boat ride to get there was impressive, as we saw dolphins, manta rays, and sea turtles swimming along the way.

Once you reach the afuera, it’s time to put on your fins, mask, snorkel, and life vest. Tourists must go with licensed guides, and each person gets three chances to swim with the whale sharks. These massive mammals (up to 35 feet long, around 20,000 pounds) are surprisingly fast, so keeping up with them is a workout.

You’re not allowed to touch them, and rules say to stay at least 10 feet away. But sometimes the whale sharks don’t follow the rules: I swam with one feeding in a slow, lazy circle who nearly brushed me with his tail during a turn. It was a heart-pounding moment– the rare animal encounter that made me (a burly 6’3″, 250-pound man) feel small by comparison.

If you’re an animal lover, this is a truly humbling bucket list experience that ensures you’ll become passionate about preserving these majestic creatures.

READ MORE: Swimming with Whale Sharks in Cancun

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Growing up in Atlanta in the ’70s, the influence of Martin Luther King, Jr. was virtually inescapable.

Assassinated two months before I was born, Dr. King  had gone to Booker T. Washington High School, which was located a few miles away from the neighborhood where I grew up.

The church in which he had preached so passionately, Ebenezer Baptist Church, was right down the street from Georgia State University, where both my father and I went to college.

His teachings were revered in our racially mixed neighborhood, and one of my first public performances focused on African-American history and the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on American society.

Even now, King’s presence looms large over Atlanta: I pass by the “I Have A Dream” monument of the King Center For Nonviolent Change practically every time I head into the city.

Needless to say, his teachings have had a huge impact on my life. In honor of the great man’s life and work, we thought we’d share a few of what we think are the best Martin Luther King Jr day quotes:

READ MORE: Jimmy Carter on World Peace, Politics, & Saving the Planet

DR KING QUOTES
  1. Equality Quotes
  2. Quotes on Love
  3. Quotes about Peace
  4. Quotes on Leadership
  5. Quotes on Work Ethic & Science
Dr Martin Luther King Jr. at March on Washington DR MARTIN LUTHER KING EQUALITY QUOTES

1. “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

2. “All I’m saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

3. “On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ And Vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But Conscience asks the question ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”

4. “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: ‘This is not just.'”

5. “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

6. “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”

7. “There is nothing more majestic than the determined courage of individuals willing to suffer and sacrifice for their freedom and dignity.”

8. “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

9. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

10. “We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

READ MORE: Interview with the Kiva Director on Ending World Poverty

DR MARTIN LUTHER KING QUOTES ON LOVE

11. “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

12. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.”

13. “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

14. “I have decided to stick to love … Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

15. “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

16. “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

17. “Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must do it. That is the meaning of love.”

18. Without love, there is no reason to know anyone, for love will in the end connect us to our neighbors, our children and our hearts.

19. “I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world. It is not an expression of impractical idealism, but of practical realism. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love.”

20. “You know, a lot of people don’t love themselves. And they go through life with deep and haunting emotional conflicts. So the length of life means that you must love yourself. And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself.”

READ MORE: How to Volunteer with Responsible Organizations

MLK QUOTES ABOUT PEACE

21. “Through our scientific genius we made of the world a neighborhood, but we failed through moral commitment to make of it a brotherhood, and so we’ve ended up guided missiles and misguided men”.

22. ​”I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

23. “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”

24. “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.”

25. “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But, whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

26. “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”

27. “Now I say to you in conclusion, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.”

28. “The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.”

29. “Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results. Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace.”

30. “Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace.”

READ MORE: Rwanda History from Colonialism to Genocide

DR MARTIN LUTHER KING QUOTES ON LEADERSHIP

31. “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

32. “We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

33. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

34. “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

35. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

36. “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

READ MORE: 45 Pieces of Advice I Would Include in a Letter To My Younger Self

DR KING ON WORK ETHIC & SCIENCE

37. “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

38. “Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.”

39. “What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the disciplined heights of tough-mindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hard-heartedness?”

40. “Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.” –Bret Love

The post The 40 Best Martin Luther King Jr Day Quotes (Other Than “I Have A Dream”) appeared first on Green Global Travel.

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You’ll see the iconic rock outcroppings of Elsa’s Kopje (a.k.a. Mughwango Hill) long before you reach its location near the epicenter of Kenya’s Meru National Park, which is located about 220 miles northeast of Nairobi.

The kopje (a South African word for a small hill) is surrounded by approximately 335 square miles of thorny acacia bush, wooded and open grasslands, and dense riverine forests.

Though the pyramid-shaped mound is no more than a few hundred feet tall at its summit, it stands out like a lighthouse beacon against the park’s seemingly endless flat landscape.

On our journey to reach Elsa’s Kopje after a few magical days at the Lewa Conservancy, we quickly realize that Meru is unlike any other national park we’ve ever visited.

During our hour-long safari drive into the park, we literally do not see a single other tourist vehicle. There’s not a single lodge, campground, restaurant, or gift shop in sight. Clearly mass tourism is not an issue here.

What we do see is a stunning array of wildlife, many of which are endemic to this part of Kenya.

There’s the “Northern 5″– the East African Oryx, the long-necked Gerenuk, Grevy’s Zebra (which has more and smaller stripes than its popular cousin), Reticulated Giraffe, and Somali Ostrich. There are Cape Buffalo, Common Waterbucks, and around 420 other species of animals.

But none of these attractions are what brought us here to one of the most remote, least touristed national parks in Kenya.

We’ve come to Meru primarily to visit Elsa’s Kopje, which was named after Elsa the Lion in honor of legendary conservationists George and Joy Adamson.

All three were made famous by Born Free, the book Joy wrote about their inspiring lives here in the Kenyan wilderness, and the movie based upon their incredible story.

READ MORE: Animals in Kenya: A Guide to 40+ Species

  1. George & Joy Adamson
  2. Elsa the Lion
  3. The Rise & Fall of Meru National Park
  4. The Rebirth of Meru
  5. Elsa’s Kopje
  6. Exploring Meru Park Today
Joy Adamson resting on Elsa by her favorite river George & Joy Adamson

Meru National Park was established in 1966, the same year Born Free was released in movie theaters. But George and Joy Adamson had been living and working in the area for more than a decade before that.

George Adamson, who was born in India to British parents and moved to Kenya at the age of 19, had joined the country’s Game Department in 1938. He eventually rose through the ranks to become the Senior Wildlife Warden of what was then known as the Northern Frontier District.

Friederike Victoria Gessner (better known by her nickname, Joy), had grown up near Vienna, where she earned a degree in music. She moved to Kenya in 1937, married and divorced botanist Peter Bally, and ultimately met George while on safari. They were married in 1944.

The Adamsons’ lives were changed forever in 1956. One day while George was out patrolling the bush, he and another game warden were charged by a lioness. George shot the animal in self-defense, only to find out that she was merely protecting her trio of young lion cubs, which were hidden amongst the rocks nearby.

Joy Adamson, who had suffered several miscarriages and was told she could never have children, did her best to raise the cubs while George was working. But they eventually had to send the two biggest cubs to live at a zoo in the Netherlands. The smallest cub, whom they named Elsa, Joy and George would ultimately raise themselves.

This incredible adventure in wildlife rehabilitation became the basis for Born Free, which inspired an entire generation of conservation enthusiasts. Among them were Liz and Stefano Cheli, the co-founders of Cheli & Peacock Safaris, who built the Elsa’s Kopje safari lodge in the late 1990s.

“In these days of David Attenborough and Planet Earth,” says Liz Cheli, “people forget that most pre-1960s portrayals of wild African animals were as dangerous, savage beasts that had to be killed to save some damsel! Born Free was groundbreaking because it was one of the first films that showed empathy for wild animals. It’s a very important milestone in conservation history, and should not be forgotten.”

READ MORE: The 10 Best Wildlife Conservation Programs in Asia

Tribute to George and Joy Adamson, Elsa the Lioness and Born Free! - YouTube
Elsa the Lion

Before she was released into what is now known as Meru National Park, Elsa was hand-reared (primarily by Joy Adamson) from the time she was just four days old. Joy treated the cub like a domesticated pet at first, with many of the hilarious results you might expect from trying to train a rambunctious young lion.

But gradually the Adamsons came to understand that they would need to teach Elsa essential hunting and other skills if she was ever going to survive on her own in the wild. The problem was that, at that point in time in the mid-1950s, nobody had even attempted to rehabilitate an orphaned lion before.

After much trial and error, Elsa gradually developed her natural instincts and was permanently relocated into the wild. But her bond of trust in and affection for George and Joy Adamson was never broken. Within a year of being released, she introduced them to her first litter of three cubs, whose story makes up the bulk of Living Free, the sequel to Born Free.

Sadly, Elsa’s life was cut tragically short by a form of babesiosis, a tick-borne blood disease that often infects members of the cat family. She died with her head in George’s lap, and was buried in a grave near her favorite river in Meru park. But still her inspirational story lives on today, more than six decades after her death.

Virginia Mckenna with lion cub in the movie Born Free

In fact, before Cecil was killed by trophy hunter Walter Palmer in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park in 2015, Elsa was arguably the most famous lion in the world. Over the last 50 years there have been five books (including Living Free and Forever Free by Joy Adamson) and more than a half-dozen films and television shows based on her life and that of her progeny.

According to Virginia McKenna, who portrayed Joy Adamson in the Born Free film and co-founded the Born Free Foundation with her late husband, Bill Travers (who played George), the world needs real-life stories of love and understanding between humans and animals now more than ever.

“The impact of Elsa’s story was extraordinary, and led to a new understanding of non-human animals,” she says. “Of course, predators are still killed today. In our shrinking wild environment, lions come into conflict with cattle and goats as they’re herded into wild areas to graze. And the hideous scourge of trophy hunting plays its own terrible part. But the balance is that wildlife tourism has increased their protection in game parks such as Meru.”

READ MORE: The Walking With Lions/Canned Lion Hunting Connection

Grevy’s Zebra with one month old foal in Meru National Park The Rise & Fall of Meru National Park

After the death of Elsa, the Adamsons dealt with their grief in different ways. Joy poured her passion into her books, donating most of the proceeds to animal rights and conservation causes.

George retired from his job as Game Warden to focus on lion conservation (including working with the lions in the Born Free movie). He became known as “Baba ya Simba,” or Father of Lions.

Virginia McKenna recalls her friendship with the Adamsons (who were by then living separately) during and after filming warmly, particularly the time they spent together in Meru National Park.

“I was invited by Joy to visit her in Meru when filming was over, and it was an unforgettable experience. She never really recovered from Elsa’s death. We bathed in ‘Elsa’s river,’ and walked along the path to ‘Elsa’s rock,’ where she gave birth to her cubs. We sat in silence at her grave. That she wanted to share this with me was deeply touching. I’ve been back to Meru many times since.”

Reticulated giraffes in front of Elsa’s Kopje, Meru National Park

McKenna waxes rhapsodic recalling the park’s many fantastic features, from the wildflowers and beautiful birds to endemic species such as the Grevy’s Zebra and Reticulated Giraffe. But within a few years of its opening in 1966, Meru National Park’s history started taking a dark, disturbing turn.

Shortly after the country achieved independence from Britain, ethnic Somalis in northeast Kenya began fighting for their land to be part of Somalia, in what was known as the Shifta War. Although the war ended in 1967, the region became increasingly unstable.

Militias began poaching Meru’s wildlife, particularly elephants and rhinos, in order to satisfy the growing demand for ivory and rhino horn in Asia. Other animals were poached for food by impoverished locals.

By the 1980s, the entire region was like the wild, wild west: Both George and Joy Adamson were ultimately murdered in separate incidents in neighboring national parks.

Meru’s infrastructure was ruined: The only safari lodge burned down and roads became impassable. Kenya’s Wildlife & Conservation Management Department was underfunded and outgunned, using old rifles against the militias’ machine guns.

As a result, most of Meru National Park’s big game species– including the Adamsons’ beloved lions– were almost completely wiped out.

By the early ’90s, Meru National Park was a haunted ghost of its former self. There was even talk in the Kenyan government of de-gazetting the park and turning its fertile land into rice plantations.

READ MORE: Top 10 Tanzania National Parks & Reserves

Rhino Baby and Mother in Meru National Park The Rebirth of Meru

Exploring Meru today, with excellent sightings of Elephants, Rhinos, and countless other animals all to yourself, it’s hard to imagine this dark period in the park’s history.

The rebirth of Meru National Park was largely driven by the work of one man, Richard Leakey, whose father (paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey) gave legends like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey their early start in primatology.

Richard Leakey, who followed his parents’ footsteps into archaeology and paleontology, was named chairman of the newly created Kenya Wildlife Service in 1990. His approach to the poaching problem was aggressive. He created highly trained anti-poaching units authorized to shoot on sight, and insisted national parks should be self-contained ecosystems with no human residents allowed.

Locals (and the corrupt politicians Leakey also set his sights on) weren’t happy, but the results spoke for themselves. Impressed with his progress in stopping poachers, the World Bank approved $140 million in grants to the Kenya Wildlife Service. According to Liz Cheli, a good portion of that was used to restore Meru to its former glory.

“When we opened Elsa’s Kopje in 1999,” she recalls, “Richard Leakey supported us by putting Mark Jenkins– one of his most dynamic Game Wardens– in charge of Meru park. With KWS support, they rehabilitated old roads, airstrips, vehicles, and buildings; retrained all the rangers; started excellent community networks; and built support around the park. This cut down poaching to zero.”

Later, the park received an additional donation of $1.25 million from the International Fund for Animal Welfare. These funds helped to further improve the park’s basic infrastructure, including providing equipment and vehicles for law enforcement. They also rehabilitated and restocked the park’s Rhino conservation area, which now contains around 60 rhinos.

READ MORE: NatGeo’s Dereck Joubert on Rhino Conservation 

Elsas Kopje, Private House in Meru National Park Kenya Elsa’s Kopje

It’s easy to see why Stefano Cheli selected Mughwango Hill as the site upon which to build his elegant 5-star safari lodge in 1999. If Meru National Park was the setting for The Lion King, the granite outcroppings above where George Adamson made his camp would be its Pride Rock.

Stefano and Liz had brought many of their clients to stay in Meru on mobile tented safaris. They ultimately decided the hill offered the perfect setting for a boutique lodge, with its cool breezes and breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.

Stefano designed the picturesque property himself, building cottages in and around the rocks where Elsa and her cubs used to sun themselves and play.

Each room is different, but all are tucked into the natural landscape and use minimal power (Elsa’s Kopje earned Kenya‘s first Eco-rating in 2003).

Elsa’s Kopje Living Room, Meru National Park

“Building on a small rocky hill is not easy!” Liz Cheli admits with a laugh. “So each room was chosen for its view, and the design was made around the landscape. Meru has a hot, dry climate, so Stefano designed the rooms to be open to the environment. It has a rustic, natural feel in order to blend with the surrounding vegetation, and cooling nyiru-style floors.”

Now part of the Elewana Collection of boutique lodges and safari camps in Kenya and Tanzania, Elsa’s Kopje feels like a loving tribute to George and Joy Adamson, Elsa, and the history of Meru National Park.

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We get off the bus at a remote stop, with just a few shops clustered together in hopes of selling last-minute supplies. I look down a road that disappears into a blur of forest vegetation, and head in that direction.

My wife Emma and I arrive before midday, because we know we’ll have to hike to reach Tayrona National Park. Our backpacks loaded with food supplies, a change of clothes, a tiny tent, and not much else, we disappear into 58 square miles of jungle.

Known locally as Parque Nacional Tayrona, the park is situated along the Caribbean Sea in the northeastern corner of Colombia. It’s about an hour outside the city of Santa Marta, where drug cartels once held sway but now the tourism industry is a bustling business.

Entering Tayrona park feels like taking a step FAR away from civilization, with modern buildings, transportation, and conveniences disappearing as you head further into the protected area.

At the entrance, passenger vans pick up riders, drive them towards the coast, and drop them off where the road ends. From there, it’s an hour-long walk to the nearest accommodations in Tayrona National Park– a choice between camping or, if you’re better-funded than us, rustic cabins.

Both my wife and I are giddy as we get out of the van. We’ve been surrounded by the hustle and bustle of cities— Cartagena and Santa Marta— for nearly two weeks now. While seeing the sights was great, we yearn to get back to nature.

From everything we’ve read, we know we’re in for a treat. It’s a complete retreat from the white noise of traffic, the gray gloom of concrete streets, and crowded sidewalks littered with trinket-hawkers and tourist police. This should be just our sort of place…

READ MORE: The 40 Best Backpacks for Travelers 

How to Get to Tayrona National Park

The nearest major city to Tayrona National Park is Santa Marta. It has an airport (Simón Bolivar International Airport) and is located about 20 miles from the park.

Flights from anywhere in Colombia to Santa Marta should be very reasonable (around $100 USD) on Viva Air. Once you’re in Santa Marta, there are many possibilities for getting to Tayrona, including by boat, bus, organized tour, or rental car.

Obviously, organized tours are the easiest option. A tour guide will handle all the little details of entering and exploring the national park, and providing background on the park’s history.

An established tour is probably best for those with only a day to devote to the park. But for nature lovers and diehard beach lovers, Tayrona will demand more time. This remote slice of paradise is too beautiful to sum up in a busy 10-hour day, begging visitors to linger.

For those wanting to stay for a night (or four), taking a shuttle to the park works best. Boat transport is a great adventure, but requires transportation-hopping and strict timing. They offer departures just once in the morning and return just once in the evening.

Any Santa Marta hotel can arrange a shuttle that will pick travelers up, take them (and their luggage) to the park, and drop them off at the head of the trail for less than $10 USD. Those same shuttles will shuffle visitors back to town every day as well.

While driving a rental car to Tayrona National Park is possible, the routes might involve tolls. And it’s easy enough to get there without dealing with driving in an unfamiliar country. That being said, the route isn’t all that difficult.

Official parking is available in four spots around the park, and there are locally run lots nearby as well. So, as long as it isn’t a very busy time (such as a holiday), finding a parking space shouldn’t be an issue.

To get to Tayrona National Park from Cartagena takes about six or seven hours and can be done via bus. For those who aren’t pressed for time, it’s probably worth spending a night in Santa Marta and getting to the park early the next day, rested and ready.

Remember: Visiting Tayrona’s coolest sites is going to require some hiking right off the bat.

READ MORE: The Best Hiking Trails (For Your World Travel Bucket List)

Getting Into “Parque Tayrona“

Admission to “Parque Tayrona” is a fairly simple process, but there are definitely some requirements you’ll need to be aware of.

For instance, even if you’re just visiting Tayrona on a day trip, you’ll need your passport, which must be shown to officials at the gate before entering. Don’t make the mistake of leaving your passport in the safe at your hotel, as you will be denied entry to the park.

There’s also a fee for entering the park, but most Tayrona National Park tours usually include this in the price. If you’re visiting on your own, tickets cost around 35,000 Colombian pesos (roughly $20 US), and they’re valid for your entire stay. For budget travelers like us, that’s all the more reason to stay longer!

The shuttle that takes visitors to the trailhead are also included in organized tours. For those that self-drive or bus in, as we did, the cost is a dollar. It’s well worth it: The walk from the entrance to the trail takes about an hour, and isn’t nearly as noteworthy. For those staying in Tayrona, carrying your bags for this extra hour would be nutty.

With that in mind, it’s important to keep your bag weight at a minimum. You’ll probably want the usual beach essentials– a flashlight, swimsuit, a long sleeve something, a camera, and whatever sun/bug stuff you require. A good pair of hiking shoes is also a good idea.

Water is available in the park, so there’s no need to go overboard. Alcohol cannot be brought in (and security will check your bags), but can be purchased inside the park. Campers who prepare their own meals will need to carry whatever food they’ll want.

Unfortunately, there is not much in the way of cell or Internet service available in the park. There is one spot—the restaurant on Cañaveral Beach— where you can get a signal. But why not embrace the remote beauty of the area and avoid technology for a few days?

READ MORE: The Ultimate Beach Vacation Packing List

Hiking in Tayrona National Park

Almost immediately upon entering the park, we find ourselves on a hiking trail through the dense jungle.

Our hike has us meandering along dirt pathways intermingled with wooden platforms and steps. Trails climb and wind through dense plant life replete with chattering birdcalls, brightly colored feathers, and the distant roar of the ocean.

We lather up a sweat in no time, happy to be clambering atop rocks and walking amongst the trees once again.

Though we feel utterly alone in this unspoiled ecosystem, we’re hardly the first people to walk these trails. Established in 1864, Tayrona National Park has been housing natural and archaeological treasures and preserving indigenous culture for 150 years.

The Tayrona tribe, who created “The Lost City” of Ciudad Perdida, has inhabited the area around Colombia’s Sierra Nevada mountains for over 2000 years. Even now, it’s possible  (after a considerable hike) to visit Pueblito, a village inside Tayrona park.

After half an hour of hiking, glimpses of the brilliant blue Caribbean Sea flash beyond the foliage. Finally, we crest onto a lookout point that sweeps down to the shoreline. The sea is dotted with smooth, mossy boulders. The blue spans the horizon, with no boats in sight.

Yet somehow, despite a line of hikers headed towards the same handful of accommodation options, we find ourselves utterly alone on a tropical beach in Caribbean Colombia.

READ MORE: 20 Best Caribbean Islands to Visit (If You Love Hate Crowds)

Cotton-Top Tamarin, photo by LT Shears via CC BY-SA 3.0 Things to Do in Tayrona

Tayrona Park is special for a wide array of reasons. In this relatively small protected area, you’ll find massive ecological diversity, including arid brush forests, muggy tropical rainforests, and elevated cloud forests.

As you move through the woods, wildlife seems to be everywhere around you. The park is home to several species of monkeys, including the common howler and capuchin and the critically endangered Cotton-Top Tamarin. There are also around 400 different species of birds, puma, deer, 30+ species of reptiles, and countless other intriguing animals.

But the reason most people visit this remote area is to see the stunning beaches of Tayrona National Park.

The soft sand upon which we’re walking tells us we’re getting close, but there’s only the occasional signpost to let us know that there’s ultimately somewhere to get to. We stay on the beach for 20 minutes without seeing another soul. The only sound is the cerulean blue waves lapping against the sand as I wipe the sweat from my brow.

From there, the sandy path leads us through thickets of jungle, with brambles, brush, and low canopy trees on one side and a high rise of forest on the other. The sea disappears except for the metronome of waves and a rush of wind through the dense greenery around us. Animals scramble as we pass– a scattering of birds and the odd agouti or Jesus lizard.

READ MORE: 40 Amazing Animals of Costa Rica’s Rainforest

Here’s a look at our picks for some of the best things to do in Tayrona National Park:

Bask on Beautiful Beaches

The beauty of Tayrona National Park’s beaches are the stuff of legend for travelers and locals alike. Having spent time there myself, I can assure you that these sandy swaths warrant the adulation.

Occupying a huge stretch of Caribbean coastline, the beaches are secluded, serene, pristine, and perfect for a swim or a romantic stroll. You’ll find them all along the coastal trail.

Cabo San Juan is the park’s most popular beach because it is open to swimming, has a stunning view, and is at the verge of a huge campground. La Piscina is another popular beach for swimming. There’s even a nudist beach!

Explore the El Publito Ruins

Walking along the beach from Cañaveral or Arrecifes to Cabo San Juan del Guía, you’ll find a marked hiking trail to the ancient ruins of Chairama.

More commonly known as El Pueblito, these ruins of an ancient city were built by the same people as the famed Lost City. El Pueblito is smaller than that nearby attraction, and thankfully requires a less more daunting hike.

After a bit of clambering over boulders here and there, fit hikers can reach this spot in under two hours. You’ll likely spot plenty of Tayrona’s animals along the way.

Nearby, there’s also an existing settlement of indigenous Colombians who actually live in the park. PLEASE don’t take their picture, as it is strictly forbidden by their culture!

Hike to the Nine Stones

The trail known as Nine Stones offers yet another excuse to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Tayrona National Park, get some great exercise, and check out Colombia’s ancient culture along the way.

This beautiful trail tends to be less frequented than others you’ll find in the park, but it offers stunning scenic vistas.

The cultural significance of it is the nine stones (piedras) found along its route. Each contains a perfectly round hole bored through it, through which ancient people studied the cosmos. These observation points could date back over 1000 years.

This is another hike you can do in a couple of hours without getting in a hurry.

Watch for Tayrona Park’s Wildlife

Wildlife spotting in Tayrona is ridiculously easy. There are several species of monkeys that are found throughout the park, particularly howlers and capuchins.

Reptiles and amphibians are pretty common as well. Iguanas are all over the place, yellow-striped poison frogs hang out near streams, and even caiman lurk in some of the park’s many freshwater lagoons.

Agoutis– chunky little rodents that are like a smaller capybara– are everywhere. And the beautiful birds range from colorful toucans to brown pelicans. Dusk and dawn are the best times to spot most of these animals as they come out to feed.

SCUBA Diving & Snorkeling

Scuba diving and snorkeling tours are also available in certain parts of Tayrona National Park.

Scuba trips, equipment rentals, and even beginner diving courses are run out of nearby Taganga. The best dive sites in the park are around Granate and Isla Aguja.

Snorkeling can be done wherever swimming is safe, with La Piscina being a decent location for spotting aquatic life. But Playa Cristal is known as the best beach for snorkeling, with clear waters, mild currents, and plenty of wildlife.

READ MORE: 10 Best Places to Scuba Dive (World Travel Bucket List)

Photo courtesy of EcoHab Santa Marta Tayrona National Park Accommodations

There are Tayrona National Park accommodations available to suit just about any traveler’s taste, but all are of the eco-friendly variety.

Since we’re traveling on a budget, we’ve reserved a site at Don Pedro Camping. There are other, more upscale (and expensive) glamping options available nearby, such as the posh cabins at Eco Hab Arrecifes. But quite a few people come here to camp.

It’s no letdown. All of the campsites around us are full of coconut and banana trees, and the thick jungle around them remains largely untouched by human hands.

We elect to nestle beneath the overhang of one of many citrus trees, including a grapefruit tree that still drops the occasional snack. We get our tent put up fairly quickly, stow our camping gear inside, and head out for another romp on those beautiful beaches.

Once we’ve cleared the campsites, the walk there is on a phenomenal pathway winding through a coconut grove. In 20 minutes or so we’ve clambered over a sand dune, and we’re once again standing at the edge of the Caribbean Sea.

READ MORE: What Is Glamping? (Guide to Eco-Friendly Accommodation)

Camping in Tayrona National Park

Most visitors who stay in Tayrona National Park overnight elect to camp, primarily because that is the only widely available accommodation option.

Camping there generally involves either renting/bringing a tent or renting/bringing a hammock. Obviously, prices are lower when you’ve got your own camping gear. The park’s campgrounds have really crude cooking facilities, and they often have overpriced canteens.

Wilderness camping is not allowed, but there are six areas within the park where visitors can camp, all with slightly different experiences:

  • Bahia Concha– This is the nearest spot to Santa Marta, just beyond Taganga. It’s cheaper, and the beach there is really nice. However, campers who stay here here must have their own gear, and it’s on the far side of the park from Tayrona’s main attractions.
  • Arrecife–  This area is less-visited for camping, but it’s actually closer to the park entrance and has cheaper, less crowded accommodation. This is partly because it’s still a walk to the beach, with La Piscina about 20 minutes away. There are two different campgrounds here, Don Pedro and Yuluka.
  • Cabo San Juan-  This is both the park’s most popular beach and, consequently, campground. This is where most campers go, despite the two-hour hike it takes to reach it. Also, this is where boats coming from Taganga drop you off. As a result, prices for camping here more than double.
  • Playa Brava- This is the park’s most remote camping option, requiring a three-hour jaunt (and ascending a small mountain) to reach it. Most tourists won’t make this trip. But those looking to hang around a couple of days and get away from the tourist crowds might opt for here.
  • The park’s other two camping areas are Cañaveral, which is along the Nine Stones hike, and Los Castilllettes. To be honest, neither of these sites are very good for beachgoers. They are located further from the beach, and the beaches they’re closest to are too dangerous for swimming.

READ MORE: Camping Tips & Tricks for Responsible Travelers

Photo courtesy of Ecohabs Santa Marta Hotels Near Tayrona National Park

While the Tayrona doesn’t have much in the way of luxury accommodations, there are some handsomely priced “Ecohabs” for rent within the park boundaries. There are also a couple of very nice eco-lodges located between Tayrona and Santa Marta. If you want something fancier than that, you’ll probably want to stay in Santa Marta, which is about an hour away from the park.

  • Ecohabs Tayrona- Located at Cañaveral beach within the Tayrona National Park boundaries, Ecohabs Tayrona is a collection of small thatch-roof bungalows. The cabins are built from local woods, inspired by ancient Tayrona (tribe) architecture. It also has a nice restaurant as well as a spa. Transport can be arranged from Santa Marta, Simon Bolivar International Airport, or Cartagena.
  • Other Ecohabs Santa Marta Properties– Ecohabs offers several other options for staying near Tayrona National Park. For those in need of all the modern conveniences, the company has accommodation options in Taganga, Minca, and Los Naranjos. All are located right outside the park.
  • Cabañas Arrecifes- The only other non-camping accommodation in Tayrona National Park, these  six large, rustic cabins are located in the forested area of Arrecifes. All cabins have bathrooms, balconies with hammocks, and Direct TV. The site also has its own restaurant and hammock area, making it a great choice for families staying inside the park.
  • Quetzal Dorado Eco Lodge- This eco-lodge also offers ecohabs (the local name for eco-friendly accommodations). All rooms have free breakfast, WiFi, and pool access. There’s a spa there offering a view over the Piedra River, and an on-site restaurant that uses local, organic fruits and vegetables. Lush..
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