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Underground caves are mysterious and mesmerizing places to explore.

From marble caves,  glow worms caves and those formed from glacial lagoons, to a cave of crystals, prehistoric rock art and ancient Mayan burial sites, natural caverns come in an incredible range of attractions.

From the Rio Secreto cave in Mexico to Patagonia’s Milodon Caves, each one we’ve visited during our travels has been more unique and fascinating than the last. 

10 BEST UNDERGROUND CAVES
  1. ATM Cave or Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (Belize)
  2. Waitomo Glowworm Caves (New Zealand)
  3. Skaftafell Ice Cave (Iceland)
  4. Patagonia Marble Caves (Chile)
  5. Mountain River Cave, or Hang Son Doong (Vietnam)
  6. Fingal’s Cave (Scotland)
  7. Naica Mine or Cave of the Crystals (Mexico)
  8. Chauvet Cave (France)
  9. Hastings Caves (Australia)
ATM Cave in Belize, photo by Peter Andersen via Creative Commons 1. ATM Cave or Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (Belize)

The most famous cave in Belize, this is an experience best reserved for the fit and adventurous. Once a Mayan burial site, the ATM Cave is full of skeletons, pottery and other ceremonial objects left by the Maya. The cave’s most famous skeleton, “The Crystal Maiden,” features bones cemented into the floor by natural processes, leaving them with a sparkling appearance.

Through tropical rainforest, multiple streams and several different chambers, the 45-minute hike from the cave entrance will have you swimming, climbing and exploring along the way.

The ATM cave is 5 km deep: The deeper into it you trek, the more recent the Mayan activities were, and the more ceramics and pottery of all sizes to be found.  

ATM Cave Tips: Note that the inner chambers will require you to take off your shoes so as to not damage the priceless artifacts, and no cameras are allowed.

There also very narrow passageways that can be tight if you’re built like a football player. Be sure to wear closed toed shoes and prepare to get wet in cold water. Mary wore a long sleeve T-shirt on top of her bathing suit to keep warm. Touring the ATM Cave is one of the best cave tours we ever took! Get more info on tours and read reviews at: Get Your Guide 

READ MORE: The 16 Best Mayan Ruins To Explore

New Zealand’s Glowworm Caves, photo photo by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner via Creative Commons 2. Waitomo Glowworm Caves (New Zealand)

Waitomo is famous for its glowworm caves, wherein thousands of magical glowworms illuminate a series of caves with their unmistakable light.

The glow worm, Arachnocampa luminosa, is a unique species only found in New Zealand, and makes these famous caves some of the world’s most unique.

Visitors can take a guided tour which explores three different levels of the caves including the catacombs, or opt to take a boat ride under the glowworms and witness a myriad of tiny bright lights dotting the cave ceilings – the lights of a thousand glowworms. Get more info about guided tours and read reviews at Get Your Guide.

READ MORE: Top 5 Ecotourism Attractions in New Zealand

Mogao Caves, photo by intothegreen via Creative Commons 3. Caves of the Thousand Buddhas or Mogao Caves (China)

The Mogao Caves are known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas– 492 cave temples near the city of Dunhuang, China, of which 30 are open to the public. These are the most famous Buddhist grottoes in China, carved into the sandstone cliffs of the Singing Sand (Mingsha) Mountains.

Originally dug out in 366 CE as places of Buddhist meditation and worship, the underground caves now contain religious artwork, murals, Buddhist sculptures and stone carvings which span across 10 dynasties, from the 4th to the 14th century.

There are over 2,000 color statues and 45,000 paintings throughout the caves, making this the greatest shrine of Buddhist art treasures in the world. Get more info on tours and read reviews at Get Your Guide.

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

Skaftafell Ice Cave, photo by Orvar Thorgeirsson via Creative Commons 4. Skaftafell Ice Cave (Iceland)

Located on a glacial lagoon on the Svínafellsjökull glacier in Skaftafell, Iceland, Skaftafell Ice Cave is one of the most unique natural wonders in the world. Travelers fortunate enough to step inside the ice cave are transported into a mesmerizing realm of blue glacial ice.

Blue ice is formed from the compression of pure snow, which develops into glacial ice over centuries of extreme pressure. This process eliminates the air originally caught in the ice when the snow fell, leaving very little reflective surface for the light from the sun. 

Skaftafell bears more resemblance to an ice tunnel than a cave, and indirect daylight into the cave gives the ice its luminescent blue glow. To get more info on a Skaftafell Ice Cave tour and read reviews, check out Get Your Guide

READ MORE: 10 Incredible Iceland Waterfalls 

Marble Caves, photo by Javier via Creative Commons 5. Patagonia Marble Caves (Chile)

Arguably the most beautiful caves in the world, the Patagonia Marble Caves of Chile are a 6,000-year-old cave system made of solid marble and surrounded by the glacial Lake General Carrera. These caves are only accessible via boat.

The caves are known for their propensity for constantly changing their appearance. The swirling patterns of the cavern walls are a reflection of the lake’s blue waters, which change in shade and intensity depending on the water levels, which are affected by weather and season.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Patagonia (South America)

Mountain River Cave, photo by John Spies via Creative Commons 6. Mountain River Cave or Hang Son Doong (Vietnam)

Hang Son Doong Cave (or Mountain River Cave in English) is the largest cave in the world, formed around 2.5 million years ago. Over the years the river water eroded the limestone underneath the mountain, causing the ceiling of the cave to collapse and form what are now huge skylights.

The Vietnam cave has both a jungle and a river found inside of it, and it’s large enough to fit a 40-story high skyscraper between its walls! This is a relatively new Vietnamese cave discovery and “trial tours” are just beginning.

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

Fingals Cave, photo by Graeme Pow via Creative Commons 7. Fingal’s Cave (Scotland)

At 72 feet tall and 277 feet deep, Fingal’s Cave is a sea cave constructed completely of hexagonal basalt columns and pillars (much like the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland). Located on Staffa, an uninhabited island in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, the cave is part of a National Nature Reserve.

Named after the hero of an epic Scottish poem by James Macpherson, the cave resembles a cathedral with its naturally arching ceiling. The cave has inspired Celtic legends, and is known as “the Cave of Melody” for the eerie sounds that emanate from within.

We had an opportunity to visit Fingal’s Cave on our 5-Day Highlands Tour from Edinburgh, which we highly recommend. Unfortunately, it was high tide and the sea was too rough to get close to the cave. To find out about a Fingal’s Cave Tour, check out Get Your Guide.

READ MORE: Top 10 Things To Do on the Isle of Skye (& How To Avoid Crowds)

Naica Mine (Cave of the Crystals), photo by Paul Williams via Creative Commons 8. Naica Mine or Cave of Crystals (Mexico)

Naica Mine is known as the Cave of Crystals because the main chamber is home to the world’s largest crystals on earth. The big crystal measures 39 feet (12m) in length, 13 feet (4m) in diameter and weighs about 55 tons.

The Mexican cave is one of the most beautiful and unique in the world, though it remains relatively unexplored due to its incredibly hot temperatures of up to 136 degrees Fahrenheit (58 degrees Celsius).

Travelers without protection can only withstand 10 minutes in the cave at a time.

READ MORE: Top 20 Things to Do in Cancun (for Nature & History Lovers)

Etologic Horse Study in Chauvet Cave, photo by Thomas T via Creative Commons 9. Chauvet Cave (France)

Located near the commune of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc on a limestone cliff above the former bed of the Ardèche River in Southern France, the Chauvet Cave is considered one of the world’s most significant sites of prehistoric art.

The chauvet cave paintings are of animals– including horses, ibex, mammoth, giant stags, lions, bears and rhinos– which were once native to the region, many of which have never been found in other rock art and most of which are now extinct. 

Holding the earliest (over 20,000 years old) and best preserved cave paintings known to man, the cave gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2014.

READ MORE: 5 Weird Foods the French Consider Delicacies

Hastings Cave, photo by Mike Jerrard 10. Hastings Caves (Australia)

Tasmania’s Hastings Caves are home to the largest dolomite cave in Australia open to tourists, with chambers which started forming tens of millions of years ago.

One of the few caves in Australia formed from dolomite rather than limestone, the underground caves are beautifully illuminated throughout, and also home to a number of strange and fascinating animals.

Over 40 species have been discovered within the caves, many of which remain undescribed and are so used to living underground that they are unable to survive on the surface. To read more about Hasting Caves Tours, check out Get Your Guide. –Meg Jerrard

READ MORE: 10 Awesome Australian Road Trips (for Your World Travel Bucket List)

 

Megan Jerrard

Megan Jerrard is an Australian journalist, and the founder and Senior Editor of Mapping Megan, an award-winning blog bringing you the latest in adventure travel from all over the globe.  With the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure, Megan and her photographer husband Mike believe travel has the potential to inspire change in people, and in turn inspire change in the world. They embraced travel as a lifestyle in 2007, and are dedicated to documenting their journey through entertaining, candid articles and brilliant photography. Follow their journey on FacebookTwitterGoogle+YouTubePinterest and Instagram.

If you enjoyed our Amazing Caves for Your World Travel Bucket List, you might also like:

10 Ancient Archaeological Sites For Your World Travel Bucket List 

10 Great Lakes For Your World Travel Bucket List 

10 Wonderful Waterfalls For Your World Travel Bucket List 

10 Exotic Islands For Your World Travel Bucket List 

20 Best Mountains For Your World Travel Bucket List

The Best Coffee in the World: A Gourmet’s Guide

The post 10 Famous Underground Caves for Your World Travel Bucket List appeared first on Green Global Travel.

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Having thoroughly enjoyed our time exploring Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama, taking a Guatemala vacation was high on our bucket list. So when Juan Rivera of Beast Wildlife Adventures of K’uk Tours  invited us to spend 10 days on a customized Guatemala adventure, we leapt at the opportunity.

We’ve long been fascinated by Guatemala history, from the ancient and modern-day Maya peoples to the mingling of indigenous and colonial influences after the Spanish conquest led by 16th century conquistador Pedro de Alvarado.

Our action-packed itinerary gave us time to explore ancient Mayan settlements such as El Mirador and Tikal (posts on both coming soon). We also visited Guatemala tourist attractions such as Lake Atitlán, the charming small town of Flores, and the National Archaeology Museum in Guatemala City.

But, for our money, the #1 can’t-miss tourist attraction in Guatemala is Antigua, a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. Antigua Guatemala (whose name means “old Guatemala”) offers an incredible array of activities for a town with just over 45,000 residents, with colonial architecture, rich indigenous culture, massive volcanoes, colorful wildlife, and more. 

Here’s a look at our picks for the Top 15 things to do in Antigua, Guatemala, with an emphasis on natural and historical attractions. 

  1. Getting from Guatemala City to Antigua
  2. Top 15 Things To Do in Antigua
  3. Best Hotels in Antigua, Guatemala

READ MORE: 40 Things You Should Know Before Traveling to Guatemala

The Iconic Arco de Santa Catalina GETTING FROM GUATEMALA CITY TO ANTIGUA

Antigua is located approximately 35 kilometers (21 miles) southwest of Guatemala City, which makes it easy to visit Antigua during your Guatemala vacation.

But if you’re coming from La Aurora International Airport, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get there quickly. Depending on traffic, road conditions, and other unpredictable factors, getting to Antigua could take anywhere from 40 minutes to several hours.

Here’s a quick look at the various ways to get from Guatemala City to Antigua: 

• Take the Chicken Bus: Although this option is cheap (around $1.25 US) and rich with local flavor, we don’t recommend using the public bus. For one, crime can be an issue, as can the language barrier unless you’ve mastered Spanish. 

• Book a Shared Shuttle: This is the best budget-friendly option– usually $10 to $15 per person– and can be reserved in advance. There’s even an eco-friendly option, CA Express, which offers spacious seats, a fully stocked bar, and power outlets at each seat.

• Hire an Airport Taxi or Uber: If money’s not an issue and you don’t want to share your space, it’s easy to get a taxi or Uber from the Guatemala airport to Antigua. It can be pricey, though: Taxis have a $35 flat rate, and Uber rides are even more expensive during peak traffic times. 

• Rent a Car & Drive Yourself: Having spent 10 days traveling in Guatemala with a private driver, I can’t recommend driving yourself. Traffic can be insane, roads are full of potholes, and let’s just say local drivers aren’t necessarily as rule-conscious as you’d like. Not recommended.

READ MORE: Things to Do in Guatemala for Nature Lovers

TOP 15 THINGS TO DO IN ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA The fantastic facade of the Antigua Guatemala Cathedral 1. Visit the Antigua Guatemala Cathedral

Also known as the Saint Joseph Cathedral (or Catedral de San José in Spanish), the Antigua Guatemala Cathedral is located right on the city’s popular Parque Central. 

The original church was built on the site sometime around 1541, but suffered through a number of devastating earthquakes and was ultimately demolished in 1669. It was rebuilt over the next decade, and by the mid-1700s it was one of the largest Roman Catholic cathedrals in all of Central America. 

The cathedral suffered serious damage again during the famous 1773 Guatemala earthquake, which began on July 29 and lasted through December. Antigua (then known as Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala) was at that time the colonial capital of Central America. But the earthquake’s destruction was so bad, Spanish authorities decided to move the capital to what is now known as Guatemala City.  

Fortunately, the two front towers remained mostly intact and were extensively restored in the early 1800s, and the cathedral was partially rebuilt. Get up close to the gorgeous facade and you’ll notice hands missing from some of the statues of saints, which could not be repaired after the earthquake damaged them.

The inside of the church is now an extremely popular wedding venue (there was one about to start when we visited). And the outside looks especially beautiful at night, when the most beautiful of the many churches in Antigua, Guatemala is illuminated. 

READ MORE: Inside Urnes Stave Church (The Oldest Church in Norway)

Violet Sabrewing Hummingbird at Finca el Pilar 2. Birdwatching at Finca el Pilar

Visiting Finca el Pilar doesn’t rank anywhere near the most popular things to do in Antigua, Guatemala on TripAdvisor. That’s because this under-the-radar private nature reserve belongs to the family of ecotourism advocate Juan Rivera, the co-owner/product manager for Beast Wildlife Adventures. 

Named after the family matriarch, the farm is a haven for nature lovers, with more than 10 kilometers of trails through forests filled with towering cypress, oak, and white pine trees. The biking and hiking trails are accessed via a winding (unpaved) road that leads up to a summit at 8695 feet above sea level, where you’ll find a spectacular overview of Antigua and the surrounding area. 

The trails are well-maintained, sculpted into the mountain side by Juan and his family, with steps, bridges, and viewing platforms ensuring a safe, slip-free hike. Wildflowers, wild orchids, and bromeliads are almost everywhere you turn, and the dense forest canopy keeps the burning sun at bay.

Along the way we saw beautiful birds such as the Thompson’s Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, and Yellowish Flycatcher. There’s also a lushly landscaped Hummingbird feeder station, where we saw 8 different species (including the Berylline, Rivoli’s, Green-throated Mountain Gem, and Violet Sabrewing). 

At the end of the hike you’ll find three swimming pools filled with pure mountain water, and BBQ grills and clean bathrooms nearby. There are also cabanas and pavilions at the top of the mountain, and overnight camping available. We advised Juan that this would be the perfect place to build an eco lodge.

There is a guarded gate on the property, and taxis won’t be allowed to enter. So if you want to visit Finca el Pilar, reach out to them on social media or email fincaelpilar@live.com for more information.

READ MORE: 15 Beautiful Birds of the Galapagos Islands

The smoking summit of the Pacaya Volcano 3. Hiking the Pacaya Volcano

Located just over an hour from Antigua, the uber-active Pacaya Volcano has erupted at least 23 times since the Spanish conquered Guatemala’s Mayan people in the 16th century. After a 70-year period of dormancy, there was a major eruption in 1961. The volcano has has a steady stream of relatively mild Strombolian eruptions ever since then. 

Part of the Central American Volcanic Arc, Pacaya rises an imposing 8,373 feet above sea level, dominating the  landscape. The road to reach its base is riddled with spectacular scenery, with rolling hills, verdant pastures, and wildflowers all around. The surrounding area is all protected as Pacaya National Park. 

Numerous different tour operators offer a wide range of half-day, full-day, and overnight Pacaya Volcano tours, some of which include visits to a nearby hot springs. But due to our busy schedule, we elected to do the half-day hiking tour and mostly hiked around the base of the mountain. 

Some tour companies used to offer hiking towards the volcano’s crater, where visitors had a chance to see lava up close. This opportunity ended in 2016, but some companies still allow hikers to roast marshmallows over fumaroles.

Given the fact that a major eruption in 2010 led the government to declare a “state of calamity” in the Pacaya area, we personally wanted to stay as far from the crater as we could. So instead we hiked through black sand from the lava rivers that flowed slowly down its slope during the 2006 eruption.

Smoke bellowed from the summit continuously, with gorgeous yellow flowering bushes (known as “Wild Margaritas”) providing a striking color contrast. The view from the mountain’s base was nothing short of breathtaking, and proved well worth the hike. 

READ MORE: Top 10 Volcanoes in the World (World Travel Bucket List)

Organic vegetables for sale at the Antigua Street Market 4. Shopping at the Antigua Street Market

Looking for fresh organic vegetables, grilled meats, toys for the kids, or perhaps some traditional Guatemalan clothing? You can find all of this and a whole lot more at the Antigua Street Market, which happens every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. 

At the epicenter of the action is the Mercado de Antigua, which is where locals shop for pretty much everything they need. But the bustling street market outside brings in villagers from surrounding areas, who hawk their wares north and west of the main market building.

It’s truly crazy– a colorful cauldron of chaos– from the maze-like interior of the Mercado to the mixture of Mayan art and clothing and modern music blasting along the ancient cobblestone streets.

If you’re remotely interested in shopping in Antigua, Guatemala, this is the place to do it. And even if you’re not really interested in souvenirs, just grab yourself some delicious street food and find yourself a good spot for people-watching!

READ MORE: 50 Fascinating Facts About Guatemalan Culture

Chicken Bus ready to roll out 5. Check Out the Chicken Bus Terminal

The Chicken Bus is a memorable, unusual part of the Guatemala travel experience. These brilliant bursts of color are a common sight throughout the country, but it just so happens there’s an entire terminal of them right behind the Mercado de Antigua.

Known locally as La Camioneta, these vehicles begin their lives as U.S. school buses, which are typically auctioned off after 10 years or 150,000 miles. Most are purchased for under $2000, then driven back to Guatemala and neighboring countries in Central America.

Once there, they’re transformed into something infinitely more interesting. The yellow paint is replaced by wild designs, with crazy colors running from hood and windshield to bumper. There may be artistic murals or names of the owner’s girlfriend, and you may find the exit doors plastered with wrestling posters.

The insides of Chicken Buses are typically decked out in festive Christmas lights, tassels, and posters of nude female silhouettes and/or Che Guevara. There’s usually a cranked-up sound system installed, often blasting lively Latin music (when they’re not playing Spanish-language hair band videos on the TV). 

There aren’t usually chickens on top of the buses these days, yet they remain one of the most fascinating ways to experience local Guatemalan culture. But if you’re not down for the wild, sometimes dangerous ride, the Antigua terminal is a great place check them out as ready for their next route. 

READ MORE: The Chicken Bus, Guatemala’s Unusual Mode of Transport

Touring a Guatemala Coffee Farm 6. Tour a Guatemalan Coffee Farm 

As diehard coffee devotees, we’ve been blessed to tour some amazing coffee farms during our travels, from Hawaii and Tanzania to Costa Rica, Rwanda, and more.

But Antigua’s volcanic soil, altitude, and temperate climate makes it a great place for growing our favorite bean, and Guatemalan coffee easily ranks among the world’s best.

Finca Filadelfia Coffee Resort offers immersive tours of its plantation, teaching visitors about every step in the process from bean to cup. You’ll learn a lot about their 140+ years of coffee-growing tradition, including a behind the scenes look at the cultivation, harvesting, processing, and sorting of the beans. 

We learned a lot about how Guatemalan farmers dealt with La Roya (“the rust”), which posed a grave threat to the country’s coffee crops just a few years ago. Visitors also get to walk through the nursery, the plantation, the wet milling area, and the drying patio. The tour ends at the finca’s cupping lab, where you get a chance to sample the world-renowned R. Dalton Genuine Antigua coffee for yourself. 

You can arrange a tour with breakfast or lunch included for an additional charge. Or, if you’re a serious connoisseur, splurge for a Professional Coffee Tasting Session, where you’ll learn all about identifying characteristics such as acidity, aroma, flavor, fragrance, and aftertaste. 

READ MORE: Best Coffee in the World (A Gourmet’s Guide to 30 Types of Coffee)

The Ruins of San José el Viejo 7. Explore the Ruins of San José el Viejo

Located just around the corner from the Antigua Guatemala Cathedral in the Tortuguero District of Antigua, the church of San José el Viejo was built around 1736. The modest chapel was designed to house a statue of Saint Joseph crafted by the famous Guatemalan sculptor Alonso de la Paz.

Unfortunately the original chapel was damaged by an earthquake in 1751, and the construction of a more spacious church took another 10 years due to a lack of funding.

The second iteration of the church was more formidable, with low, heavily buttressed walls and a single nave. But still the building was irreparably damaged by another earthquake in 1773, and for years the ruins were used as a barn for the farm next door (which now houses a Spanish language school). 

These days the ruins serve as a striking reminder of the power of the seismic activity of the volcanoes surrounding Antigua, Guatemala. The unusual façade is cracked to reveal the bricks beneath the white topcoat, and the baroque details of the interior are often cracked or missing altogether. 

But it remains one of the most popular wedding venues in Antigua, and it’s incredible to see it decked out with flowers, candlelight, white linens, and other romantic flourishes. 

READ MORE: 10 Ancient Archaeological Sites for Your World Travel Bucket List

A Child Vendor in Parque Central 8. Have a Picnic in Antigua’s Parque Central

Located at the bustling epicenter of Antigua, Parque Central (Central Park) has been around just as long as the UNESCO-protected city itself. 

It was originally known as Plaza Mayor (Main Plaza) and Plaza Real (Royal Plaza), because this is where all official celebrations took place (along with public punishments and executions). It was later referred to..

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My journey into making natural travel toiletries and other personal care products began back in 2013 at a hostel in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

I was brushing my teeth and there was no mirror, so I scrubbed while reading a flyer posted next to the sink. It was all about the ills of fluoride. With a mouth full of foamy chemicals that were no doubt killing me, I decided then and there that it was time to make a change. 

My wife Emma and I are always eager to join in on a good boycott or protest. We’ll gladly do without our favorite food brands or eating bacon if it’ll make even the smallest inkling of difference towards saving the planet.

In Central America, toothpaste had always been an issue anyway. It’s a product dominated by corporate conglomerates that test on animals and other unsavory acts in the name of whiter teeth. Finding a paste that lined up with our ethics (or whose offenses we had yet to discover) was always a challenge, but the fluoride flyer was the last straw.

So our adventures in homemade toiletries began on that December morning, as we were overlanding on our way to South America, traveling slowly between eco-farms as volunteers.

It turned out that DIY personal care products were perfect for our eco-conscious scene, and from toothpaste we gradually began to expand into other travel toiletries.

READ MORE: How to Avoid Products With Palm Oil 

Personal Care Products You Can Make at Home
  1. How To Make Natural Toothpaste
  2. How to Make Natural Deodorant
  3. How to Make Natural Shampoo
  4. How to Make Natural Hair Conditioner
  5. How to Make Natural Mouthwash
  6. How to Make Natural Body Wash
  7. How to Make Handmade Soap
  8. How to Make Natural Sunscreen
  9. How to Make Natural Lip Balm
  10. How to Make Natural Moisturizer
Personal Care Products you can make Aromatherapy image by Seksak Kerdkanno from Pixabay Why Natural Travel Toiletries Are Better

There are many positive arguments to be made for natural personal care products, which tend to benefit both the user as well as the ecosystem around said user. Commercial travel toiletries, on the other hand, generally contain a cocktail of chemicals that aren’t good for the environment.

The sulfates and anti-bacterial elements of many deodorants and soaps aren’t biodegradable, so they tend to build up in water sources. Plastic microbeads, which are used in an ever-expanding array of personal hygiene products, are often found in marine animals’ stomachs.

Palm oil, a common ingredient in toiletries, causes the mass destruction of rainforests. Petroleum, which is found in lots of beauty care products, is causing the mass destruction of the planet.

As bad as they can be for animals and the environment, store-bought travel toiletries aren’t great for our human health either. Deodorants have been linked to breast cancer, and sunscreen to skin cancer. Fluoride, a neurotoxin in toothpaste, damages the brain over time.

So making homemade toiletries is a good way to control what our bodies are exposed to, protecting the environment and our own well-being simultaneously. There are only a handful of organic ingredients necessary to make everything from toothpaste and shampoo to deodorant and skin care products. DIY toiletries can also help save money on personal hygiene products, leaving you more $$$ for travel!

Finally, making your own personal care products drastically decreases the packaging and shipping materials required to get all those tubes around the world. Now our toiletry bags are filled with reusable travel bottles rather than wasteful travel size toiletries that just add to the world’s growing plastic pollution problem.

READ MORE: 15 Ways to Reduce Waste & Embrace Waste-Free Living

How To Make Natural Travel Toiletries How to make Natural Toothpaste image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay 1. How to Make Natural Toothpaste

It can take a tremendous amount of time and money to maintain our teeth, and doing so begins with a mind-boggling selection of toothpastes. There’s teeth whitening, tartar control, sensitive teeth, and all sorts of other bells and whistles. It begs the question: Why do we complicate the simple act of brushing our teeth?

There are lots of options for ecologically concerned and health conscious consumers, including organic toothpaste, herbal toothpaste, fluoride-free toothpaste, and SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) free toothpaste. It begs the question: How much unnecessary crap are they putting in corporate manufactured toothpastes?

A quality natural toothpaste is very inexpensive to make at home. The following formula has a refreshing flavor, whitens teeth, and eliminates plaque. This flouride-free toothpaste without SLS is easy to make yourself, and it only has three simple ingredients!

  DIY Natural Toothpaste Recipe

Ingredients: Baking Soda, Coconut Oil, Essential Oil

  1. Melt ¼ cup of coconut oil in a glass jar.
  2. Stir in 4 TBSP of fine baking soda and 15 drops of essential oil (peppermint, spearmint, or cinnamon, depending on the flavor you prefer).
  3. Put it in a jar.

Important Note: Put a lid on the jar and label it somehow. The lid will prevent the baking soda from absorbing smells that occur naturally in the bathroom. And since many of these DIY concoctions use similar ingredients, labeling prevents putting DIY deodorant on your toothbrush (which would actually work fine, despite how gross it might sound).

READ MORE: Going Green- 60 Earth Day Tips for Every Day

“Take The Risk” by Kyle Jones is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 2. How to Make Natural Deodorant

It’s become second-nature to swipe our underarms with deodorant in the morning, to ensure we won’t be a sweaty stink-hog during the day. Who knew we’ve been swabbing questionable deodorant ingredients onto our bodies all these years, and that the aluminum in deodorant is harmful to our health?!

Of course, these day more conscious, non toxic deodorant choices have become widely available. You can buy vegan deodorant,organic deodorant, chemical-free deodorant, and other types of healthy deodorant for men, women, and even children. Unfortunately, these products are not always effective.

But it’s really easy to make a chemical-free deodorant that works. It’s arguably the best natural deodorant you could ask for, and it’s incredibly cheap to create.

DIY Natural Deodorant Recipe

Ingredients: Baking Soda, Coconut Oil, Essential Oil

  1. Melt approx. 4 TBSP of coconut oil in a glass jar.
  2. Stir in 4 TBSP of baking soda and your essential oil  of choice (Lemon and Lavender are good).
  3. Put a labeled lid on the jar.

In truth, I don’t even bother with three ingredients anymore. I wet my hands, put my fingertips in baking soda, and rub it underneath my armpits. It works better than any deodorant stick or spray I ever used. If your body has a bad reaction to baking soda, try a splash of apple cider vinegar instead.

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

How to Make Natural Shampoo image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay 3. How to Make Natural Shampoo

By this point, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise to learn that most store-bought shampoo has some unsavory ingredients. There are parabens, phthatlates, sulfates, and methylisothiazolin to name a few.

More disturbingly, shampoo is often has the opposite effect as advertised! If you use a shampoo for dry hair or a shampoo for oily hair, they really just create dependency rather improving things. In other words, using these shampoos perpetuates our need to use them.

There are many brands of all natural shampoo that are better if you want to avoid chemicals. You can find organic shampoo, olive oil shampoo, sulfate free shampoo, and more at just about any supermarket or beauty supply store.

But the best natural shampoo can be homemade in less than a minute, and requires just two ingredients:

DIY Shampoo Recipe

Ingredients: Baking Soda, Water

  1. Add 1 TBSP of baking soda to 1 cup of water in a reusable shampoo bottle.
  2. Shake this up.

My wife uses this natural shampoo twice a week. But I have a dry scalp, and the baking soda made it worse. So I just use the DIY conditioner recipe in the next section for my hair care regime. It’s the best shampoo for dry hair I’ve used, while Emma says this is the best shampoo for greasy hair she’s used.

READ MORE: How to Save Water (15 Water Conservation Tips)

How to make Natural Hair Conditioner Image by rawpixel from Pixabay 4. How to Make Natural Hair Conditioner

If you’re ditching store-bought shampoo, you might as well concoct a homemade natural hair conditioner to go along with it.

This is an extremely easy conditioner to make, with just two ingredients. Yet this simple solution helps prevents dandruff, which I’d battled for years with medicated shampoos.

It’s truly the best hair conditioner I’ve ever used, because I can use it as both an organic shampoo and conditioner in one.

DIY Conditioner Recipe

Ingredients: Apple Cider Vinegar, Water

  1. Add ½ cup of apple cider and two cups of water to a repurposed bottle.
  2. Shake it up.

After using this in the shower for the first year, I came up with a new method. I have the mixture in a spray bottle on the bathroom counter. I spritz my hair with it three or four times a week after a shower. In the shower, I use a scalp scrubber with just water. Your hair needs about a week or two to transition, but this does actually work!

READ MORE: Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Pouring Mouthwash by Colin Knowles via Flickr CC. 2.0 5. How to Make Natural Mouthwash

Toothpaste is undoubtedly important for keeping your teeth clean and sparkly, but mouthwash is also a great tool for fresh breath and general oral health. 

Unfortunately, most commercial mouthwashes are full of chemicals, some of which can cause major health problems. Toxic ingredients include fluoride, chlorhexidine (increased blood pressure and heart problems), methyl salicylate (dilation of capillaries), triclosan (cancer, thyroid disorders), methylparaben (breast tumors in women), and more.

Fortunately homemade mouthwash is very easy to make, and DIY mouthwash has the same minty flavor and zesty feeling of the name brand stuff. Though the antimicrobial mouth rinse is antifungal, this natural mouthwash won’t come with a laundry list of unwanted side effects.

DIY Mouthwash Recipe

Ingredients: Whole Cloves, Essential Oil, Water

  1. Boil some water and pour it into a repurposed 16-ounce bottle.
  2. Add about 10 cloves to the bottle and 20 drops of essential oil (for a mint or cinnamon mouthwash)
  3. Put the cap on, shake it up, and allow it to cool.

Tip: We use mouthwash to brush our teeth half the time. Baking soda can be abrasive, so we alternate between homemade toothpaste and DIY mouthwash to avoid enamel trouble. When we gave up using fluoride, a dentist friend said brushing with nothing works just as well. But fresh breath is nice, too.

READ MORE: How to Make a DIY Rainwater Harvesting System

“2017.07.09 Workshop: How to wASH?” by FotoMediamatic is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 6. How to Make Natural Body Wash

Body wash and natural shower gel seem to have grown more popular than soap these days. 

In our eyes, the best body wash provides an extra oomph that benefits us in ways beyond mere cleanliness. For instance, lavender body wash has a calming effect, coconut oil body wash offers moisturizing, and organic body wash is simply better for the environment.

All natural body wash can be made in three simple steps from a variety of recipes. And of course making a homemade body wash allows you to improvise: You can add exfoliants like sand or coffee grounds, moisturizers like aloe, and whatever scent suits your fancy.

The following is a fantastically simple recipe for an essential oil body wash that will improve your memory, relieve stress, instill anti-aging properties, and boost the..

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When you travel the world as much as we do, you begin to realize that most hotels are actually pretty boring and conventional.

From plush pillows and flat screen TVs to mini bars and continental breakfasts, most decent hotel brands basically offer the same amenities. The only thing that really changes is the view. But every once in a while you’ll visit a unique hotel that truly stands out.

From glamping yurts in Torres del Paine National Park and over-water bungalows in Bora Bora to a Bedouin  camp in Wadi Rum and safari tents surrounded by wildlife in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, we’ve been fortunate to stay in quite a few.

We’ve found that amazing hotels and eco lodges can help to make a good trip great, and turn a great trip into a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

While we’ve traveled a good bit in the 9 years since we started Green Global Travel, there are still TONS of cool hotels left on our bucket list. There are ice hotels, capsule hotels, hotels in caves, underwater hotels, and unusual hotels inside old airplanes, buses, and ships. 

So, in order to make this list as all-ecompassing as possible, we enlisted 20 travel experts to review the world’s most unique hotels based on their personal experiences. We’ve broken them down by continental for organizational convenience. 

READ MORE: The World’s Best Eco Lodges, Eco Resorts & Eco Hotels

    1. Unique Hotels in Africa
    2. Cool Hotels in Asia
    3. Amazing Hotels in Europe
    4. Unusual Hotels in Central America
    5. Unique Accomodations in North America
    6. Adventure Hotels in South America
UNIQUE HOTELS IN AFRICA Photo courtesy Hippo Point Wildlife Sanctuary  1. Hippo Point Wildlife Sanctuary (Naivasha, Kenya)

Despite its name, this sanctuary is better known for its screensaver-worthy views of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley than its Hippo sightings.

The Hippo House (and its seven stately bedrooms) provides the main accommodations. But it’s Dodo’s Tower, and its nine stories of understated elegance, that makes this such an amazing hotel.

The 360° views from the tower are majestic. The classic colonial British décor blends with the natural ambiance wonderfully. Organically farmed veggies and Indian Ocean-sourced seafood are the basis for the restaurant’s four-star cuisine.

But the fact that grazing Giraffes and Zebra saunter by as you savor it all makes Hippo Point truly magical. Read Reviews and Check Rates. –DeMarco Williams

READ MORE: Animals in Kenya: A Guide to 40 Species of Kenyan Wildlife

Pelican Point Lodge 2. Pelican Point Lodge (Walvis Bay, Namibia)

Sometimes a hotel is made unique by virtue of its design, and other times it’s more about an unusual location. In the case of Pelican Point Lodge, it’s both! 

In terms of design, the luxury hotel was built inside an old harbor control building situated right beside a classic lighthouse. All of the rooms were renovated and modernized to include amenities such as en suite bathrooms, free Wifi, and private balconies. There’s also a gourmet restaurant on site. 

But the real showstopper is the ultra-luxurious Presidential/honeymoon suite on the top floor, which offers spectacular 360º views of the entire Pelican Point peninsula. 

Which brings us back to location. Pelican Point Lodge is as remote a romantic hotel as you can imagine, surrounded by nothing but sand and surf. But it’s a great place for wildlife lovers, with huge Seal colonies along the beach and Dolphins, Whales, and other marine life often spotted from the shore. Read Reviews and Check Rates. –Bret Love

 READ MORE: How to Grade Captive Dolphin Facilities

Hotel Kagga Kamma, South Africa 3. Hotel Kagga Kamma (Lochlynne, South Africa)

Located in the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa‘s western cape, Kagga Kamma is both an unusual hotel and a protected nature reserve. The hotel is built right into the rocks of the reserve’s sandstone mountains, so seamlessly that you might not even see them from a distance.

Inside the rooms you’ll find all the luxuries you expect from 4-star South African hotel, including plush pillows and beds, fine linens, Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and a gorgeous decore designed to complement the natural surroundings. 

The hotel offers 1o Cave Suites (including a Honeymoon Suite) and several spacious Hut Suites, as well as a swimming pool, spa, restaurant and bar, and more. But if you can afford it, you won’t regret a night in their Star & Sky Open-Air Suites, whose remote private locations allow you to sleep beneath the stars in luxury.

The resort offers an array of tours, from hiking, mountain biking, and quad bike safaris to guided excursions to see ancient African rock art and safari game drives. On the latter, guests have a chance to see  weird animals such as the Elephant Shrew as well as Antelopes, Ostrich, Lynx, and the rare Cape Mountain Leopard. Read Reviews and Check Rates. –Bret Love

READ MORE: My Life-Changing Experience in South Africa

COOL HOTELS IN ASIA Treehouse Hideaway by Maria Haase 4. Treehouse Hideaway (Bandhavgarh National Park, India)

This eco-lodge is unique not only because it’s a luxury treehouse, but also because it’s located inside Bandhavgarh National Park in India. The park is one of the most popular Tiger safari destinations in India, and being able to stay inside the Buffer Zone is an incredible experience.

There are good chances to see an array of Indian animals right from your treehouse balcony, or at one of the observation towers throughout the property. I only saw Tigers during my safari in Bandhavgarh’s Core Zone, but was told that they’ve had Tiger and Leopard sightings right there on the lodge’s property. Amazing, right?

The Pugdundee Treehouse Hideaway only has 5 private treehouse suites. While the decor is rustic, they offer all the amenities of a luxury accommodation. Guests enjoy rain-head showers, air conditioned rooms with a tea & coffee station, and extremely comfortable beds.

Rooms usually come with full board and 1 daily safari. While they do not have a pool or spa on the property, you can use those facilities at their nearby sister property, King’s Lodge.

Another point I loved about my stay at the Treehouse Hideaway was that the Pugdundee company takes sustainability very seriously. They eliminated single use plastic, source their food locally, hire mostly local staff, and offer education about the local environment and sustainability to their guests. Read Reviews and Check Rates. -Maria Haase of India Up Close

READ MORE: Tiger Safari in Ranthambore National Park, India

Nine Hours Capsule Hotel by Jonathan Look, Jr. 5. Nine Hours Capsule Hotel (Tokyo Airport, Japan)

Capsule hotels are high-density accommodations, mostly in Japan, that were designed for people looking for an inexpensive, clean place to sleep without concern for amenities. Originally designed as a place where “salarymen” could crash near work between office hours, the concept has since expanded to be somewhat trendy, if still basic.

The idea is to put your things away, get a hot shower, change into something comfortable, and go to sleep. What I found at the Nine Hours Capsule Hotel was a futuristic looking row of individual pods that held a mattress a little larger than a standard twin bed, high-quality sheets, a white noise generator, recessed LED lighting, and a plug to recharge your electronics.

The experience includes a bath kit that contains travel toiletries such as a razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, bath towel, a pair of slippers, and loungewear for going to the locker room down the hall. The locker room itself has nice private showers and fancy Japanese-style toilets.

I am a little claustrophobic, and I expected my experience at the Nine Hours Capsule Hotel to feel a bit like trying to rest in a filing cabinet drawer. But I was surprised to find a compartment large enough to sit up in, and I actually managed to get a decent night’s sleep.

The Nine Hour Capsule Hotel is designed to accommodate travelers connecting through Tokyo Narita Airport. It’s best if you have a layover that’s too short to go into the city, but too long to stay in the main terminal. If you’re looking to explore the sights of Japan, you’d want to consider something else. But if you’re a single traveler wanting a place to rest for a few hours, this could be a perfect fit. Read Reviews and Check Rates. -Jonathan Look Jr. of Life Part 2

READ MORE: Japan Photos: 15 Pictures From a Dream Come True

Seaventures Dive Rig by Rachel Heller 6. Seaventures Dive Rig (Borneo, Malaysia)

Seaventures Dive Rig is an extremely unusual hotel because it’s located in a converted oil rig. It was moved from another site, where it served as housing for oil rig personnel, and placed near Mabul Island, off Malaysian Borneo’s southeastern coast.

The rooms are much like the cabins on a ship, but not a cruise ship. These are more basic, with painted metal walls that show the rivets, presumably unchanged since the oil rig workers lived in them. The cabins have beds and not much else, but they do include a tiny en-suite bathroom.

The decks, though, are a real treat. The main one spans the whole rig, offering shelter from the sun but open to the sea breezes. At one end is the dive center, since Scuba diving is the whole point of a visit here.

In the center of the main deck is a bar, which gets most active in the evenings. The main deck is also where meals are served, buffet style. Another deck near the top of the rig is open to the sun, but in the evenings it’s cool, comfortable, and perfect for watching the sunset over the ocean.

The area is desirable due to its proximity to Sipadan Island, one of the world’s best places to Scuba dive (partly because of the limited availability of permits). The marine life around Sipadan is simply stunning. Read Reviews and Check Rates. -Rachel Heller of Rachels Ruminations

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

Crazy House by Christine Rogador 7. Crazy House or Hang Nga Guest House (Da Lat, Vietnam)

Crazy House or Hang Nga Guest House is a popular, but quirky accommodation in Da Lat, Vietnam. It was designed by Vietnamese architect Đặng Việt Nga, who admitted it was inspired by Antoni Gaudi, the architect who designed the famous Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

The building looks like a mix of expressionist influence with a hint of a fairytale coming to life. The main design resembles a giant tree with caves, branches, spider webs, plants, narrow pathways, and stairs surrounding the building. It was built by Đặng Việt Nga in 1990 as a way to remind people how caring for nature is important and to incorporate these values into her designs.

Aside from being one of the main tourist attractions in Da Lat, Crazy House is also a popular place to stay. If you don’t mind the crowd that flocks to the guest house during the day, Crazy House offers a unique hotel experience. The rooms resemble hobbit-like stone caves that are individually themed. From Kangaroos to Bears, each offers a unique design to satisfy your inner child.

The guest house offers the typical services that 3- to 4-star hotels normally offer, including a 24-hour front desk, car hire, room service, tour desk, currency exchange, and luggage storage. Some of the rooms also have outdoor seating areas that offer a view of the complex. If it gets too cold, the fireplace in the common room is quite handy.

Crazy House also offers arguably the best view in Da Lat: From the top, you can see the entire city. If you choose to stay, you’ll get to experience Crazy House transforming at night into a Disney-like complex because of the amazing lighting. It’s like sleeping inside a work of art!  Read Reviews and Check Rates. -Christine Rogador of Ireland Travel Guides

READ MORE: Saving Asian Animals (10 Wildlife Conservation Programs)

AMAZING HOTELS IN EUROPE
La Balade Des Gnomes, photo by Michelle Barrett
8. La Balade Des Gnomes (Durbuy, Belgium)

The world-renowned La Balade Des Gnomes is located in Durbuy, Belgium, about a 90-minute drive south of Brussels. You can really only reach this unusual hotel by car, but it’s worth the drive, which allows you to take in the lush forests and winding rivers of the Ardennes region.

If you’re a fan of unique places to stay, you won’t find many more interesting than this quirky accommodation. Upon entering the hotel grounds, you’re immediately drawn into a somewhat bizarre fantasy world.

Each of the 11 rooms has a different theme, which has been carefully designed by the owner. Themes include:

● Macquarie Island, which is in two levels of the main building and includes a “cliff” and the chance to sleep in a sailboat.
● The Latcho Dom Trailer, which is a traditional gypsy trailer with a double bed, toilet, tub, and cooking facilities.
● The Trojan Horse, which is the accomodation this hotel is most famous for. The horse is situated outside the main property, and the entrance is through its back ende! The room includes a bubble bath, shower, one double bed, and two children’s beds.
● The Luna Room, which is decorated like the surface of the moon, including the stars in the sky and a bathroom that looks like a spaceship.

Prices range from 125 to 260 euros for two guests. -Michelle Barrett..

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By what standards should we measure “the best mountains in the world”?

Should it the most popular mountains? The biggest and tallest mountains? The most challenging for climbers? Or perhaps the most historically significant to the region in which they’re found?

For us, the best mountains are those that capture the imagination of locals and visitors alike. The ones that have played a role in local folklore for centuries, and which continue to draw travelers from around the world today.

It’s not just size that matters here. It’s the dynamic landscapes. It’s the flora and fauna found in the area. Chances are good that, if a mountain has been protected by National Park or UNESCO World Heritage Site status, it’s probably worthy of your bucket list consideration.

We’ve been fortunate to see some pretty extraordinary mountains in our travels. From the Great Smoky Mountains in the southeast to the remote landscapes of Alaska and Hawaii, the United States has been blessed with more then her fair share and picturesque peaks.

But every continent boasts its own impressive pinnacles worthy of appreciation (including the Seven Summits and the Seven Volcanic Summits). From the Appalachians, Andes, and Rocky Mountains to the Alps, Pyrenees, and mighty Himalayas, the planet offers countless ranges to explore.

So here’s a look at our totally subjective picks for the 20 Best Mountains in the World, some of which we’ve already visited, and many of which we hope to visit in the future…

READ MORE: The 20 Tallest Mountains in the World By Continent

LIST OF THE BEST MOUNTAINS IN THE WORLD
  1. Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)
  2. Table Mountain (South Africa)
  3. Ama Dablam (Nepal)
  4. Bogda Peak (China)
  5. Mount Everest (Nepal/Tibet)
  6. Mount Fuji (Japan)
  7. Zhangjiajie (China)
  8. Jotunheimen Mountains (Norway)
  9. Kirkjufell (Iceland)
  10. The Pyrenees (France/Spain)
  11. Swiss Alps (Switzerland)
  12. Aoraki/Mt. Cook (New Zealand)
  13. Uluru (Australia)
  14. Cerro Torre (Argentina/Chile)
  15. Huayna Picchu (Peru)
  16. Torres del Paine (Chile)
  17. Vinicunca (Peru)
  18. Grand Teton (United States)
  19. Mauna Kea (United States)
  20. Mount Logan (Canada)
BEST MOUNTAINS IN THE WORLD MAP
BEST MOUNTAINS IN AFRICA Photo via pixabay Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)

Mount Kilimanjaro is world renowned as the highest mountain in Africa, one of the famed Seven Summits.

Towering at 19,340 feet, it is topped with multiple glaciers and a small (and gradually diminishing) ice field, despite being located just 190 miles south of the equator. The snowy summit is known as Kipoo in Swahili, the local language.

First climbed in 1889, the mountain is now an extremely popular hiking destination. Its summit is relatively achievable for almost anyone who is fit in terms of both health and bank balances. Just make sure that you pay attention to your guide’s admonitions to go “pole pole” (slowly).

Along the way to the photogenic summit, hardy hikers see virtually every climate, from tropical to arctic. Visitors who prefer to stay closer to sea level can also get a stunning view up from the neighboring town of Moshi.

There’s also a variety of wildlife found in Kilimanjaro National Park, predominantly below the tree line. Blue monkeys and western black and white colobuses can often be spotted (or heard) in the forest, plus leopards, elephants and cape buffaloes can be found.

READ MORE: Top 10 Tanzania National Parks (The Ultimate Tanzania Safari)

Table Mountain, South Africa by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay Table Mountain (South Africa)

One of the most unique natural structures on the planet, this aptly named South Africa attraction looks like a piece of furniture for the gods.

Table Mountain is one of the shortest mountains on this list at a measly 3,558 feet. But what it lacks in height, it more than makes up for in prominence. Overlooking Cape Town, the mountain is a picturesque landmark that is familiar to many South African travelers.

Essentially, this is a very tall and distinct plateau that’s roughly two miles across, with each end dropping off into vertigo-inducing cliffs. On the east side, Devil’s Peak neighbors it. On the west side, Lion’s Head bookends the formation.

What makes Table Mountain a fun feature is that, unlike the other mountains on this list, this one can be climbed via cable car (built in October 1929). Hiking up the mountain is also an option.

Along the way, there are thousands of endemic species to look out for. From the top, the gorgeous city of Cape Town spreads out before you to its famous coastal border.

READ MORE: My Life Changing Experience in South Africa

 
BEST MOUNTAINS IN ASIA Photo via Pixabay Ama Dablam (Nepal)

When you talk about the biggest mountains in the world, the vast majority are found in the Himalayas.  This 1,500 mile range stretch from Pakistan and India east to China, Bhutan, and Nepal. It’s home to more than 50 mountains that stand over 23,600 feet.

At a mere 22,349 feet, Nepal’s Ama Dablam is nowhere near the tallest mountain in the range. But it is the third most popular peak in the Himalayas in terms of permitted climbing expeditions.

The first summit of the mountain was back in 1961 by a team of US, UK, and New Zealand-based climbers. They had previously acclimatized over winter at the base camp established on an expedition with legendary mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary.

The mountain’s name means “Mother’s necklace.” Locals say that the long ridges on each side of the summit look like the arms of a mama protecting her child. The hanging glacier resembles the traditional double-pendant necklace often worn by Sherpa women, which contain pictures of the gods.

Peak climbing season here is from April to May (before that annual monsoon) and September to October. All climbers are required to get a climbing permit and a liaison officer.

READ MORE: Hiking the Annapurna Circuit Trek

Photo via Pixabay Bogda Peak (China)

Located in China, the Bogda Peak (which is sometimes referred to as Bogda Mountain) stands at a whopping 17,800-plus feet high.

The mountain is noted as being particularly striking because its sides are so incredibly steep, sloping at angles between 70 and 80 degrees. Even so, the mountain has been climbed successfully on numerous occasions.

In reality, the Bogda Peak is the highest of a two-mile, permanently snow capped ridge that juts forth from Central Asia’s UNESCO-protected Tian Shan mountain range.

Making it even more remarkable, the northern perimeter of the mountain drops into the Turpan Depression, which is an earthly hollow located some 500 feet below sea level.

Amazingly, there are other mountains within the Tian Shan range that reach even greater heights. Pik Pobedy summits at 24,589 feet, while Khan Tengri is a couple of feet shy of 23,000.

Even so, because Bogda Peak is nearer to civilization and offers a unique challenge in steepness, it gets more attention.

READ MORE: Top 10 Things To Do in China (For Nature Lovers)

Mt. Everest, Nepal/Tibet Mount Everest (Nepal/Tibet)

Yes, we’re aware of the fact that Ama Dablam is a part of the same Himalayan mountain range as the almighty Mount Everest. And while we’d normally try to avoid featuring two mountains from the same range, no list of superlative mountains can ignore Everest and still be considered legit.

At 29,029 feet above sea level, Everest’s size is hard to quantify. However, with its challenging climbing routes and fabled (some might say tragic) history, its attraction surely is not. Many people consider this both the biggest and best mountain in the world.

The mountain was given its name in 1865 by Royal Geographical Society member Andrew Waugh, who was then the British Surveyor General of India. He named it after his predecessor, Sir George Everest, even though Everest himself protested the honor.

Despite its countless serious threats (including altitude sickness, avalanches, rapid shifts in winds and weather conditions) Everest has been a fixation for professional and amateur mountaineers alike for nearly a century.

The first confirmed successful summit of the mountain wasn’t until 1953, when Tenzing Norway and Sir Edmund Hillary ascended via the southeast ridge route. In the years since, the growth in Everest tourism has grown exponentially, leading to more garbage, more bottlenecks, and more deaths.

As of 2018, more than 300 people had died during their attempt to climb the world’s tallest peak.

READ MORE: Tibetan Culture in Ladakh, India (Photo Gallery)

Photo by Nick Burns Mount Fuji (Japan)

The crazy thing about Mt. Fuji is that, even though it’s wider than Rhode Island (78 miles, to be precise) and nearly 12,400 feet tall, it’s often hard to see. Blame clouds that smother from all sides for some of the obstructed views.

Mount Fuji is a stratovolcano– a composite cone caused by a series of serious eruptions that leave behind layers of rock, ash, and lava. The massive volcano (Japan’s #1 tourist attraction) is still active and sits atop a junction of three tectonic plates.

From July-August, thousands of climbers attempt to make the eight-hour ascent up the mountain. Approximately 200,000 people make it to the summit annually.

The 10 stations along the way provide both a chance to catch your breath and capture the breathtaking views. The mountain is arguably Japan’s most photographed natural landmark.

Mount Fuji is also considered sacred in the ancient practice of Shinto, and has an impressive collection of shrines around its base.

READ MORE: Saving Endangered Asian Animals (Wildlife Conservation Programs)

photo via pixabay Zhangjiajie (China)

Located in the northwestern part of China’s Hunan province, the 11,900-acre Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is part of the larger Wulingyuan Scenic Area, a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.

China’s first national forest park, Zhangjiajie is best known for its massive pillar-like geological formations. They’re commonly known as the Avatar Mountains, as they were the inspiration for the Hallelujah Mountains featured in James Cameron’s 2010 film, Avatar.

Though these massive pillars resemble limestone karst landscapes, they were actually formed by years of physical erosion resulting from expanding ice in wintertime. The tallest, which was formerly known as the Southern Sky Column, measures over 3,050 feet.

Due to the year-round moist weather, the foliage here is always abundant and verdant. If you visit, head to the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, where you can take in jaw-dropping views from a scenic perch atop the mountain.

Plan to spend at least two to three days in the area, and make sure to bring good shoes for walking! The best times to visit are in summer (when the weather is best) or in autumn (if you want to avoid the crowds). 

READ MORE: The Best Travel Clothes for Women & Men (An Epic Guide)

BEST MOUNTAINS IN EUROPE Photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett Jotunheimen Mountains (Norway)

Arguably our favorite part of an epic week-long Fjords of Norway road trip, the Jotunheimen Mountains are a highlight of the gorgeous Sognefjellet National Tourist Route.

Driving is the best way to see it, because the route takes you through Northern Europe’s highest mountain pass. There are so many jaw-dropping scenic vistas along the way, you’ll want to stop and take photos after nearly every stomach-turning switchback.

County Road 55 has connected eastern and western Norway for centuries, running from the quaint villages of the Sognefjord to the verdant Bøverdalen valley. Along the way, you’ll find yourself surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains, impossibly green fields and rushing waterfalls.

The views only get more stunning as you ascend into Jotunheimen (which aptly translates as “The Home of the Giants”). This 1,351-square mile area contains all of the 29 highest mountains in Norway, most of which tower over 6,600 feet. 

Even at the beginning of Norway’s high tourist season, you’ll likely see very few other cars along the way. In fact, we saw more sheep than people– most of them allowed to graze freely.

READ MORE: Driving Through Norway’s Jotunheimen Mountains

Kirkjufell with Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall by Mike Gerrard Kirkjufell (Iceland)

Located along the main road (Route 54) in Grundarfjordur, Iceland, Kirkjufell is considered one of the most photographed mountains in the world. Game of Thrones fans may recognize “church mountain” (named for its uncanny resemblance to a church’s steeple) from the show’s seasons 6 and 7.

The 1,519-foot tall freestanding mountain is undeniably impressive– lush and green in summer months and often covered with ice and snow in the winter.

But it’s almost always seen in the background of another Snæfellsnes peninsula show-stopper, Kirkjufellsfoss, which is widely considered among the most beautiful Iceland waterfalls.

The falls are relatively small but remarkably picturesque, allowing visitors to walk right up to the cascading water. And when you combine the crystal-clear waters with Kirkjufell’s uniquely shaped summit, the site is arguably among the country’s most photogenic sites.

READ MORE: The Top 10 Things to Do in Iceland (For Nature Lovers)

Pyrenees Mountains by Daniel Nebreda from Pixabay The Pyrenees (France/Spain)

One of Europe’s most picturesque mountain ranges, the Pyrenees divides the Iberian..

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It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of taking an Antarctic vacation was little more than a pipe dream for most travelers.

Daring explorers such as Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton captured worldwide attention with their Antarctic expeditions in the early 20th century. But regular Antarctica travel didn’t become possible until the late 1960s, and only 14,762 people took a trip to Antarctica in 1999-2000. 

Antarctic adventures have become much more accessible in recent years, and tourist numbers have grown rapidly as a result. These days more than 40,000 people visit Antarctica annually. Most of them are attracted by the diverse array of Antarctic animals, the incredible natural landscapes, and the icebergs and ice shelves that loom large over its waters. 

The coldest temperature ever recorded– a frigid -128.9° F– was at a research station on the Antarctic continent. Around 98% of its landmass is completely covered in ice, sometimes a couple of miles thick. Luckily, the weather is warmer in the maritime areas, where most Antarctica tourism takes place.

Taking an Antarctica cruise offers an opportunity for close encounters with all kinds of Antarctic wildlife. Animals found on and around the frozen continent range from megafauna such as the Blue Whale, the world’s largest mammal, to smaller extremophile species that can withstand hostile weather conditions.  Then there are the various famous species of Antarctic Penguins, Seals, Dolphins, and Birds.

But you’ll also learn about the incredible history of the continent. Those early Antarctic expeditions were extraordinary dramas more intense than anything Hollywood could dream up. Want proof? Read the saga of Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, or watch The Endurance or Shackleton.

With climate change at our doorstep and Antarctic ice melting at a rapid pace, the continent is now at a pivotal point in history. So here we’ll take a look at some of the many stunning animals of Antarctica we think are worth saving for future generations to enjoy…

READ MORE: Fascinating Facts About the Blue Whale

Antarctica Cruise Ship with Crabeater Seal on an Iceberg, by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett BENEFITS OF TAKING AN ANTARCTICA CRUISE

As previously mentioned, travel to Antarctica has become more and more popular in recent years, thanks largely to the increasing availability of Antarctic cruises.

Some environmentalists have expressed concern about the effects mass tourism could have on the continent in the future. But the Environmental Protocol of the Antarctic Treaty has numerous provisions that were designed to protect the planet’s most pristine ecosystem from the ravages of overtourism.

Massive cruise ships are not allowed to visit Antarctica. But small ship cruises allow travelers to explore both the mainland and sub-Antarctic islands, whether via motorized zodiacs, kayaks, or on foot.  

Human history in Antarctica is just over 100 years old. But travelers will hear stories and visit historic sites (including scientific research stations) that help to illuminate our existence and persistence there.

Antarctica is still a place where we, as humans, remain guests– observers who are not well-suited for long-term survival in such an extreme environment. An Antarctic holiday provides a picture of what the world looks like with minimal human footprint, while also showing where we might be heading due to our heavy carbon footprints elsewhere on the planet.

Taking an Antarctic cruise provides access to all of these insights and more. Modern cruise ships can endure the rough seas of the Drake Passage and navigate nimbly between islands. They can take tourists to places that can’t be reached by car or plane. And they can introduce you to a dazzling array of animals that seemed largely unconcerned with human presence. 

READ MORE: The World’s Best Small Ship Cruises (World Travel Bucket List)

ANTARCTIC ANIMALS
  1. Antarctic Birds
  2. Antarctic Penguins
  3. Antarctic Seals
  4. Antarctic Whales and Dolphins
  5. Other Wildlife In Antarctica
Photo by NOAA Photo Library, licensed under CC BY 2.0 ANTARCTIC BIRDS

The birds of Antarctica are an exceptionally hardy sort. Antarctic birds tend to be large, seagoing, and require water-resistant plumage and layers of fatty insulation. They’re also incredibly plentiful: Over 100 million birds flock there in the spring months to nest and breed.

Many birds of the Antarctic can be spotted among the region’s myriad islands and mainland coasts. They often congregate in colossal colonies, taking advantage of those areas that aren’t snow-laden. Here are some of the coolest Antarctic birds you’re likely t0 spot during your cruise to Antarctica:

Antarctic Skuas

With a wingspan that can measure over five feet, the Antarctic Skua (a.k.a. Brown Skua or Southern Great Skua) ranks among the biggest seabirds on the planet. They’re very intelligent and notoriously adept at stealing and snacking on Penguin eggs and chicks. Some scientists are putting the Antarctic Skua into three separate species, designating the Falkland Skua and Sub-Antarctic Skua as their own thing.

Blue-Eyed Shags

Mistaken as Penguins from time to time, Blue-eyed Shags are exclusive to the Southern Hemisphere, but they’re more closely related to Cormorants. They have distinctive rings around their eyes– either blue, purple, or red– and pink feet. Blue-eyed Shags primarily breed and nest on islands. Their nests are constructed of rocks and plants, and located in areas with no ice whatsoever. Some of the subspecies are endemic to the various Antarctic islands.

Giant Petrels

Yet another impressively large bird, the Giant Petrel can weigh in the ballpark of 17 pounds and have wings that span nearly seven feet! They range the southern seas and all the countries therein, including Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, Chile, and South Africa. A scavenger by nature, a la Vultures, Giant Petrels have various unsavory nicknames such as gluttons, stinkers, and stinkpots.

Snowy Sheathbills

The only land bird native to continental Antarctica, the Snowy Sheathbill is a ground-dweller that feeds on just about anything it can find, including Penguin vomit. This bird’s list of weird delicacies gets much more questionable, but we won’t go there. Despite their horrendous diet, Snowy Sheathbills have gorgeous feathers just as pure as the driven snow, with a bit of pink around their faces. When they do fly, they migrate north to sub-Antarctic islands, like South Georgia and the South Orkney Islands.

Wandering Albatross

Of the 10 species of Albatross in Antarctica, the Wandering Albatross (a.k.a. Snow Albatross or Goonie) is the largest. Its wings can span more than 11 feet, and the long-distance flyer can weigh upwards of 24 pounds. Though these birds spend most of their lives flying (around 75,000 miles a year), they do settle down long enough to breed on the sub-Antarctic islands. 

READ MORE: Beautiful Birds of the Galapagos Islands

King Penguins on South Georgia Island, photo by Donna Hull courtesy My Itchy Travel Feet ANTARCTIC PENGUINS

Seeing Penguins in Antarctica are often the highlight of a cruise to the frozen continent. There are six Penguin species spread across the mainland and surrounding islands, including Adélie, Chinstrap, Emperor, Gentoo, King, and Macaroni Penguins.

Even if your trip to Antarctica only takes you to the mainland, you’re still virtually guaranteed to find yourself encountering numerous types of Penguins.

This is because the preferred Penguin habitat for nesting is right along the shore, where there’s typically little to no ice accumulation in summer (December through February in the southern hemisphere).

Adélie Penguins

Both the tiniest and most widely distributed species of Penguins in Antarctica, Adélie Penguins stand around two feet tall and weigh around eight pounds. There are nearly 4 million breeding pairs, grouped into just over 250 colonies. Interesting Adélie Penguin facts include that they were named after the wife of Jules Dumont d’Urville, the explorer who discovered them. Other distinctive characteristics include a white ring around their eyes and black feathers concealing much of their red bills.

Chinstrap Penguins

As their name suggests, Chinstrap Penguins have a narrow black stripe beneath their chins. Due to an ear-piercing call, they are also sometimes referred to as Stonecracker Penguins. Chinstraps are the most prominent species on mainland Antarctica, with an estimated population of 8 million. They also like to breed in Argentina, Chile, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands.

Emperor Penguins

Emperor Penguins are famous for being the largest penguin in Antarctica, standing around four feet and weighing around 50 pounds. They were brought to global prominence as the subject of the documentary, March of the Penguins. They tend to breed on the pack ice and shelf ice, though a few colonies have recently been seen inland on the Antarctica Peninsula. 

Gentoo Penguins

Gentoo Penguins are identified by the bonnet of white running across the back of their heads, and a bright orange beak on the front. They also have the longest tail of all the world’s Penguins. Other fascinating Gentoo Penguin facts includes them being the fastest (swimming up to 22 mph), and they actively shun colony members that stray from their partners. An estimated 600,000 Gentoo Penguins breed and nest on Antarctica’s iceless shorelines.

King Penguins

The second largest Penguin species, King Penguins can grow up to three feet tall and 40 pounds. They look similar to Emperor Penguins, but with a longer, straighter bill and more orange colorings as opposed to the Emperor’s mix of white, pink, and yellow. There are over 2 million breeding pairs of King Penguins on the sub-Antarctic islands, particularly the Crozets, South Georgia, and the Prince Edwards Islands.

Macaroni Penguins

Macaroni Penguins are also quite partial to the sub-Antarctic islands, especially Heard Island and South Georgia. They have serious orange bills for snouts and comical bright orange feathers that sweep across their foreheads like really long eyebrows, spiking out at the sides. Macaroni Penguins are on the smaller side, only growing to 27 inches tall and tipping the scales at about 10 pounds. They have a large, though currently declining population of nearly 9 million breeding pairs.

Southern Rockhopper Penguins

The stars of the 2007 animated film, Surf’s Up, Southern Rockhopper Penguins are tiny. They don’t even reach two feet tall, and barely weigh five pounds. Like the Macaronis, they have prominent orange beaks and distinctive eyebrow feathers. But the Southern Rockhopper’s eyebrows are yellow and twirl up at the outer edges. As their name suggests, they’re more likely seen jumping on rocks rather than waddling.

READ MORE: Penguins in Antarctica Photo Essay

Crabeater Seal on an Iceberg by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett ANTARCTIC SEALS

Much like an East Africa’s Maasai Mara, Antarctica travel occasionally offers a brutal look at the circle of life in action. Wherever you find massive colonies of Penguins, you’re likely to find hungry Seals eager to prey on them.

Seals in Antarctica are excellent hunters. These pinnipeds (a group that also contains Walruses and Sea Lions) are actually related to land-based hunters such as Bears, Weasels, and Wolverines. So their stalking acumen should come as no surprise.

Here’s a look at some of the Antarctic Seal species you’re likely to see during your visit:

Antarctic Fur Seals

The Antarctic Fur Seal is the only eared seal found in Antarctica: The rest are “earless” or “true” seals, which are better adapted for swimming. Though small compared to other types of Seals, males can still reach over six feet long and exceed 200 pounds. More than 90% of the planet’s population breeds on the South Georgia Islands, in numbers that can be as large as four million in a given breeding season. 

Crabeater Seals

With pale fur that helps them blend in, Crabeater Seals live on the pack ice of Antarctica. They’re slender and long, reaching over eight feet from elongated snout to tail. Despite what their name suggests, Crabeater Seals don’t actually eat crabs (they prefer krill). They’re thought to be the most populous of all Seal species. In fact, after humans, they’re the most prevalent large mammal on the planet!

Leopard Seals

The Leopard Seal is the second largest of all land animals in Antarctica, with females stretching to 11.5 feet and weighing 800-plus pounds. These predators are ferocious, hunting everything from fish and Penguins to Crabeater Seals. Its name derives from the black spots on its chest and underside. During the summer, male Leopard Seals spend several hours a day swimming upside down and singing underwater.

Southern Elephant Seals

The largest pinniped on the planet, Southern Elephant Seals dwarf even giant mammals like Polar Bears. Males reach over 6,000 pounds, and get nearly 20 feet long. They have trunk-like noses that resemble small Elephant trunks, and emit something akin to a roar during mating season. These behemoths also have the ability to dive 3,000 feet deep and stay under water for two full hours.

Weddell Seals

The most southerly living mammal in the world, Weddell Seals are named after British Captain James Weddell and inhabit Antarctica’s icy coasts. They have little heads and cute faces, reaching up to 10 feet long and 1300 pounds. They are dark with pale patches, particularly on their bellies. Weddell Seals like to swim below the ice, which protects them from predators and makes prey fish easier to see.

Ross Seals

Hanging out almost exclusively on Antarctic pack ice, Ross Seals are dark on top and silver below. They have huge eyes and are relatively small at around six feet long. Like Weddell Seals, they’re named after the British explorer who discovered them. Discovered over 150 years ago, they’re one of the least-studied Seal species. They’re noted for making twitter-y sounds, but we don’t yet know the purpose of this call.

READ MORE: Fascinating Facts About the Hawaiian Monk Seal

Humpback Whale in Antarctica by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett ANTARCTIC WHALES AND DOLPHINS

There is something incredible humbling about seeing Whales in Antarctica up close. Whether it’s a full-on breaching or just the flip of a tail as it dives, their massive size puts the significance of us as humans into perspective.

Antarctic Whales are plentiful both in number as well as in diversity. There are 15 Whale species found in the continent’s waters, including the world’s biggest Whale, endangered Whales, and the most ferocious of the cetacean species.

Whale watching is truly an essential experience for anyone who cruises to Antarctica. Here’s a look at some of the types of Whales you’re most likely to see:

Blue Whales

The Blue Whale is the largest Whale species and the largest animal ever to have existed (including dinosaurs), weighing 300,000 pounds and measuring nearly 100 feet long. Luckily, they are very gentle giants. Unfortunately, that has made them susceptible to whale hunting, and they are currently on the IUCN’s endangered species list. The call of the Blue Whale is so loud that it can be heard underwater hundreds of miles away, making it the loudest animal on the planet as well.

Humpback Whales

Another extremely large baleen Whale, Humpbacks extend over 50 feet and reach more than 30 tons. They have exceptionally long pectoral fins, notably knobby heads, and sweet songs. Humpback Whales are visible in many places because they migrate some 16,000 miles a year, and they breach with ridiculous acrobatics. Unlike Blue Whales, Humpbacks have a sizable population some 80,000 strong.

Minke Whales

Though tiny in terms of cetaceans, Minke Whales still average more than 20 feet long (think London double-decker bus) and weigh up to 10 tons (think 8-10 cars). Southern Minke Whales like to frequent sub-Antarctic seas and are commonly sighted where flocks of seabirds are feeding. Unfortunately, much like Giant Petrels, they have the reputation of being a bit smelly.

Southern Right Whales

Once hunted to near extinction, Southern Right Whales are gradually recovering from commercial whaling. They now have a population of around 10,000 individuals. They’re particularly common in the sub-Antarctic seas, most notably around the Crozet, Falkland, South Georgia, and South Sandwich Islands. They’re particularly social, often swimming at the surface and getting friendly with boats.

Long-finned Pilot Whales

Long-finned

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When dreaming about Europe, most travelers imagine sipping coffee in a Parisian café, wandering the streets of Rome, or watching the sunset on Santorini.

Sure, Europe is one of the world’s cradles of history, art, and culture. But what about nature? Few tourists cross the pond in search of nature. After all, the United States has 61 stunning national parks, and many more wildlife reserves and protected nature areas.

Well, I’ll let you in on a secret… Europe’s national parks are pretty incredible as well, offering an array of stunning landscapes, biodiversity, and the opportunity to spot wildlife.

And to make matters even better, you’ll find far less overtourism-related problems there than around major European cities like Prague and Barcelona. If you avoid weekends and public holidays, you may even be lucky enough to have the place all to yourself!

Here we’ve listed  seven of the least visited national parks in Europe, which we’ve roughly listed from North to South geographically. But needless to say, there are many more to discover!

READ MORE: How Mass Tourism is Destroying Destinations Travelers Love

THE LEAST VISITED NATIONAL PARKS IN EUROPE Sipoo National Park Sipoonkorpi National Park (Finland)

Considering the fact that it’s a relatively small country,there an incredible number of national parks in Finland (39, and soon to be 40).

The easiest to access from Helsinki is Nuuksio National Park, which is famous for its gorgeous lakes and well-marked hiking paths. It’s a popular destination for weekenders from the capital.

East of the city, not far from the airport, you’ll find Sipoonkorpi National Park, a wild stretch of pine and birch forests. This is the perfect place to wander around (trying not to get lost) with a map and compass, as mobile coverage is sketchy in the area.

You can also go camping in Sipoonkorpi National Park and cook your own food, using firewood provided for free by the Finnish government. In winter, the park becomes one of the best places for cross-country skiing, and it’s just around the corner from the capital!

READ MORE: Winter Adventures in Finnish Lapland

Marloes Peninsula, Pembrokeshire by Donar Reiskoffer  GFDL Pembrokshire Coast National Park (Wales)

Wales is famous for its castles, hills, and sheep. But did you know that the Welsh coastline is also home to dramatic mountain landscapes, welcoming villages, and a booming foodie scene?

Pembrokshire Coast National Park is visited by just a few tourists every year– mostly hikers who come to walk the 186-mile long Pembrokshire Coast Path

The path is mostly at cliff-height, affording stunning views over the incredible rock formations dotted around the coast. Think arches, stacks, and sea caves, plus pristine beaches with barnacle-covered rocks and countless seabirds soaring in search of a meal.

If you can, charter a boat and visit the islands of Skomer and Skokholm, which are home to seabird colonies. Stop for lunch in Dale, where the village pub serves excellent and creative fish-based dishes.

READ MORE: 10 Eco-Friendly European Islands (World Travel Bucket List)

Slovenský raj, © Matej Kohút Slovenski Raj National Park (Slovakia)

If you like adventure and you’re not afraid to clamber up and down a slippery ladder over a waterfall, this is the place for you! Slovenski Raj means “Slovak Paradise.”

It’s one of Slovakia’s nine national parks, located in the Eastern part of the country, not far from Poprad and Tatra Mountains.

The area is rich in rivers and streams, which have carved the surrounding mountains over the centuries to create gorges and canyons with beautiful waterfalls.

Hiking trails follow the route of these gorges, allowing visitors to trek their length via boardwalks and ladders over streams and waterfalls. It’s definitely an adrenaline-rush experience, especially after heavy rains, when the waterfalls are at their best.

READ MORE: The European Green Capital of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Calanques National Park By Vincent, Public Domain Calanques National Park (France)

Though it’s not as well known as Cévennes National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), climbers from all over Europe have been flocking to the mountains of Calanques National Park since the 1970s.

Located relatively close to the city of Marseille, the park’s dramatic limestone cliffs overlook the sea, and offer perfect climbing conditions year round.

But fear not– you don’t need to be a rock climber to enjoy this national park. There are also miles of well-marked hiking trails, several caves, and opportunities for Scuba diving and exploring the coast by boat.

READ MORE: 

Wolf in Abruzzo National Park By Guido Mastrobono-Lupo Appenninico, CC Abruzzo National Park (Italy)

The Abruzzo region is located in central-eastern Italy, between the Apennines and the Adriatic coast.

It only sees a trickle of tourists (most of which are domestic travelers), which is surprising given the region’s proximity to Rome and its abundance of natural beauty.

Abruzzo has been at the forefront of European ecotourism for decades. Nowadays you’ll find some of the best cycling paths in Italy here, as well as several opportunities for nature-based tourism.

Abruzzo is one of the oldest national parks in Italy, created to protect wildlife such as the Italian wolf, Marsican brown bear, Abruzzo chamois, Eurasian lynx, and others. Wildlife tours are on offer, and there are also opportunities to hike the surrounding mountains and climb the Apennine peaks.

READ MORE: A Local’s Favorite PLaces to Visit in Le Marche, Italy

Kornati National Park (Croatia)

The Kornati archipelago has been called “a sailing paradise” by those in the yachting world. It easily ranks as our favorite national park in Croatia, and among the most beautiful national parks in Europe

Located not far from the coast of Zadar, Kornati National Park includes 140 islands in an area that is only 35 kilometers long, making this the densest archipelago in the world.

The best way to explore the archipelago is by chartering your own sailboat. That way you can spend as many days as you want hopping from one island to the other, sampling delicious seafood at local konoba, and swimming in the clear Adriatic waters.

If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, you can always join a group boat tour from Zadar. Either way, it’s a great, uncrowded place to add to your national parks checklist. 

READ MORE: Overtourism at Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Narrowest part of Samaria Gorge, Crete by Japo Public Domain Samaria National Park (Greece)

A hike across the Samaria Gorge (one of our favorite places in Greece) is a great way to get away from the beautiful, but crowded beaches in Crete for one day.

The gorge was created by a small river running through the mountains in the southwestern corner of the island. The path that traverses it starts at 1250 meters above sea level and ends on the coast, around 18 kilometers later.

The most dramatic section of the hike is the “Gates,” where the gorge narrows to a width of only four meters between 300 meter-high cliffs. Walking through it really gives you the feeling of entering a forbidden world.

Samaria National Park was created primarily to protect this fragile ecosystem, and to provide refuge for the kri-kri, an endemic Cretan goat, which can sometimes be seen munching on grass along the cliffs. –Margherita Ragg; photos by Nick Burns unless otherwise noted

If you enjoy reading about the world’s best National Parks, you might also like: 

10 Best US National Parks For Your World Travel Bucket List

Pitch Your Park! Rangers Plug Six of the Best US National Parks

10 Best US National Parks For Wildlife Watching

Top 10 Tanzania National Parks & Reserves

The 13 Most Beautiful National Parks in Thailand

Top 10 Australian National Parks

The Top 5 UK National Parks

How to Travel Responsibly to National Parks

Margherita Ragg is a freelance writer from Milan, Italy. She’s passionate about wildlife, ecotourism and outdoor activities, and runs the travel blog The Crowded Planet with her husband Nick Burns, an Australian  photographer. Margherita has an MA in Travel and Nature Writing from Bath Spa University, and was runner-up to the 2012 Guardian Travel Writer of the Year competition. Her other passions are rock climbing, skiing, homebrewing and her cat, Tappo. Follow Margherita on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

The post The Least Visited National Parks in Europe appeared first on Green Global Travel.

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One of the questions we get asked most frequently by our readers involves how to choose a responsible tour operator, eco hotel, eco lodge, or eco resort.  

Research shows that global interest in ecotourism (which was defined by The International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people”) has grown rapidly in recent years.

According to the Center For Responsible Travel’s Travel Trends & Statistics report, around one in five consumers (21%) say they would be willing to pay more for a trip with a company that has a better environmental and social record.

A report by The Travel Foundation found that 66% of travelers surveyed would like to be able to identify a “greener” holiday more easily. And 84% of those working in travel PR/marketing see “green” credentials becoming increasingly important in the near future.

Unfortunately, these sorts of stats attract a good bit of greenwashing from profit-driven people looking to cash in on the eco-friendly movement. So how do you find a responsibly managed eco resort when you travel? And what’s the difference between an eco resort, eco lodge, and an eco hotel?

Read on for the answers to these questions and many others, as well as our guide to some of the most acclaimed eco hotels, eco lodges, eco resorts around the world…

READ MORE: What is Ecotourism? (History & Principles of Responsible Travel)

  1. What the difference in an Eco Resort, Eco Lodge & Eco Hotel?
  2. How to Find A Responsibly Managed Eco Lodge or Eco Resort
  3. Best Eco Lodges in the World
  4. Best Eco Resorts in the World
  5. Best Eco Hotels in the World
Playa Holbox cabana at Las Nubes de Holbox, Mexico Eco Resort, Eco Lodge, or Eco Hotel?

The primary difference between an eco resort and an eco lodge is generally the amount of services that are provided on site.

In general, eco resorts tend to be located on larger properties than eco lodges, and may offer more amenities, such as spas, a choice of restaurants, and/or a variety of local tours. However, in our personal experiences, the terms eco lodge and eco resort are used somewhat interchangeably.

The biggest difference between an eco resort or eco lodge and an eco hotel is the setting in which you’ll find them. 

Eco resorts and eco lodges tend to be more remote, located in relatively pristine natural environments such as exotic islands, forests, and mountains. Eco hotels, on the other hand, are more often associated with cities and towns.

One thing all three of these “green” accommodation options have in common is that they emphasize elements such as environmental responsibility and minimizing negative impact.

The best ones also offer renewable energy sources, recycling services, eco-friendly toiletries, energy efficient lighting, locally sourced food, organic linens, non-toxic cleaning supplies, non-disposable dishes, water conservation methods, and various other sustainability-focused initiatives.

But most eco resorts tend to be more dependent on the natural environment than eco hotels.

They’re also generally more active in nature and wildlife conservation, more focused on educating visitors about the flora and fauna of local ecosystems, and more deeply connected with the area’s indigenous culture (whose influence is often incorporated into the eco resort’s decor and restaurant menu).

The best eco resorts and eco lodges also work to ensure positive relationships with the local people. They train and employ them at fair wages, take part in community development initiatives, offer activities that help visitors conserve and appreciate local customs, and contribute to the local economy.

In this way, they reinforce the notion of ecotourism as a more sustainable long-term business model than altering or destroying habitats for quick financial gains.

READ MORE: Why Responsible Travel Matters (& Greenwashing Sucks)

View from our yurt in Patagonia Camp, Chile Choosing an Eco Hotel/Eco Lodge/Eco Resort

One of the biggest challenges that eco-friendly hotels and resorts face is the lack of a universal definition. Exactly how environmentally friendly does an eco lodge need to be in order to qualify? And who determines which accommodations will pass muster?

Unfortunately, some of the world’s most well-known and respected “green” certification programs are cost-prohibitive for many eco lodges, which are often relatively small and owned and operated by independent entrepreneurs rather than corporations.

But there are numerous reputable certification programs that responsible travelers can look for before they book their stay at a given eco hotel, eco lodge, or eco resort.

Many– including Green Seal in the U.S.– are part of the Global Ecolabelling Network, a non-profit group comprised of 25 third-party organizations throughout the world. They’re all devoted to improving, promoting and developing labelling systems for eco-friendly products and services.

Sponsored in part by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Criteria are widely considered the gold standard in “green” certification. 

These criteria involve effective sustainability planning, maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community, enhancing cultural heritage, and reducing negative impacts to the environment.

Where the GSTC has guidelines for destinations, hotels/resorts, and tour operators, Green Key Global is designed specifically for the lodging industry. Its flagship Eco-Rating Program, which evaluates properties on an environmental, social, and economic level, has certified around 2,370 eco hotels and eco lodges in 52 countries over the past 15 years.

Green Globe is another popular certification program, offering training and education for hotels/resorts, attractions, organizations, cruise ships, and various tourism industry suppliers.

Their global network of independent auditors provide third-party inspection and an internationally recognized seal of approval that’s become increasingly popular over the past 25 years.

READ MORE: How to Choose an Eco Hotel

Best Eco Lodges in the World Daintree Wilderness Lodge 1. Daintree Wilderness Lodge (Australia)

Named one of the Top 50 Lodges In the World by National Geographic, Daintree is run in partnership with the local Kuku Yalanji tribe, allowing guests a rare chance to immerse themselves in the culture of Australian Aborigines.

The lodge is set in the Daintree Rainforest, the world’s oldest, which is part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) on Australia’s northeast coast.

The landscape looks like something out of Jurassic Park, surrounded by sandy beaches, rugged mountains, waterfalls and pristine forests. The area contains around 65% of Australia’s bat and butterfly species; 30% of the frog, reptile and marsupial species; and 18% of the bird species.

The lodge’s Advanced Eco Certification ensures your stay in their elevated treehouse-style villas makes a minimal impact on the pristine environment.

Activities include painting workshops using ocher from a nearby waterfall and hiking tours to explore the ancient, otherworldly plants of the forest. And the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, of the world’s best places to Scuba dive, is less than an hour away.  Read Reviews and Check Rates

READ MORE: Top 10 Australian National Parks

EcoCamp Patagonia 2. EcoCamp Patagonia (Chile)

The first hotel in all of Patagonia with a certified Environmental Management System, this Chilean-owned eco lodge offers luxury glamping and spectacular views of the famed peaks of the Torres del Paine massif.

The carbon neutral camp’s unique geodesic dome suites offer wood-burning stoves, en suite bathrooms, and open terraces that provide occasional sightings of local wildlife.

The dome’s design was inspired by the Kaweskars (Alacalufes), the nomadic Patagonian people who once lived in what is now Torres del Paine National Park.

Their green exteriors are designed to blend harmoniously with the surrounding environment, with skylight windows designed to utilize natural heat and light.

All of the camp’s electricity is provided by a micro-hydro turbine and photovoltaic panels. Their composting toilets, aggressive recycling program, and commitment to the local community/culture are commendable as well. Read Reviews and Check Rates.

READ MORE: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Lapa Rios Eco Lodge 3. Lapa Rios Lodge (Costa Rica)

Recently named one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, this award-winning eco lodge has also been voted one of Latin America’s top resorts by Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure. 

Lapa Rios is set on the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by over 1,000 acres of protected rainforest on Costa Rica‘s Osa Peninsula. It’s adjacent to Corcovado National Park, a soon-to-be-named UNESCO World Heritage Site widely considered one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.

The pristine lowland forest habitat is home to a stunning array of Costa Rica animals, including four species of monkeys and significant populations of endangered species such as the jaguar, baird’s tapir, white-lipped peccaries, scarlet macaws and the harpy eagle.

Opened in 1993 by former Peace Corps volunteers John and Karen Lewis, the eco lodge was a pioneer in Costa Rica’s ecotourism movement.

Their 16 thatched roof bungalows make use of cooling ocean breezes, while their salt-based pool, open-air restaurant, yoga classes and Ayurvedic massages ensure “eco-friendly” never feels anything less than luxurious.

Their community-based initiatives include working with local NGO Earth Equilibrium to build school classrooms, dining rooms, and playgrounds; provide badly needed school supplies; and install water pumps and solar panels to supply clean water and electricity in local communities around the Osa Peninsula. Read Reviews and Check Rates

READ MORE: Ecotourism in Costa Rica: The Ultimate Eco Travel Guide

Feynan Lodge 4. Feynan Ecolodge (Jordan)

After a 14-kilometer hike through the mountainous terrain of Jordan’s Dana Biosphere Reserve, Feynan seems like a mirage rising out of the desert.

Named one of the Top 50 Ecolodges in the World by National Geographic, Feynan is part of a unique partnership between EcoHotels (a private company) and Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN).

Feynan Ecolodge is a pioneer of sustainability, not just in Jordan but the entire Middle East region. It is fully solar-powered via photovoltaic panels mounted on the roof, with natural ventilation, and all water coming from a local spring.

A substantial portion of Feynan’s revenue helps fund conservation efforts in Dana, which  covers 320 square kilometers and contains the highest level of biodiversity in Jordan.

Activities at Feynan range from hiking and biking in the reserve to spending the day with a shepherd, learning about Bedouin culture from a local family in their goat-hair tented home, and taking a cooking class and making a 3-course Jordanian meal.

But our favorite was spending the night sleeping on a bed under the stars on the eco lodge’s roof. Read Reviews and Check Rates

READ MORE: Ecotourism in Jordan: The Ultimate Jordan Travel Guide

Campi ya Kanzi Lodge 5. Campi Ya Kanzi Eco Lodge (Kenya)

You can’t swing a stick in East Africa without hitting a luxury safari camp. What makes this eco lodge overlooking Mount Kilimanjaro different is the fact that it’s actually owned and operated by the Maasai people, the nomadic pastoralists who have called this region home for some 500 years.

The 400-square-mile Campi ya Kenzi (“Camp of the Hidden Treasure”) is bordered by Amboseli, Tsavo, and Chyulu National Parks.

So there’s a diverse array of ecosystems (mountain forest, grasslands, river woodlands, bush, and savanna) and remarkable biodiversity (50+ mammals and 400+ bird species) that makes for a memorable safari experience. Can you imagine taking a morning walking safari with a Maasai guide?

The tented camp is exclusive, with a maximum of 12 guests at any given time. The tents were all built sustainably, with thatched roofs, lava rocks and traditional Masai decor.

But there’s no sacrifice in luxury, including hot and cold running water, flush toilet, brass taps, massive log beds, and a verandah providing stunning views for a sundowner at the end of the day.

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In the last few decades, as international travel has gotten exponentially easier and animal rights issues more pervasive, harmful cultural practices have come to the forefront of travel concerns.

Many traditional practices rooted in indigenous culture and antiquated lifestyles have been exploited for the tourist revenue. While established rituals remain important, times do change as mankind evolves. And with them, so does the world.

There are many aspects of the “days of yore” that truly deserve to be preserved for future generations. There is a lot we can learn, for instance, from traditional shamanic healing practices and sustainable agriculture techniques.

But at the same time we must collectively make continual progress towards creating a more just and responsible world, not just for humans but for animals as well. 

While traveling, we often face choices that test our own resolve: Do we accept local customs that are in direct disagreement with our own beliefs? Or do we reject unethical acts outright, even though they may be examples of traditional cultural practices in the region?

Like many aspects of responsible travel, it’s a tough tightrope to walk. What follows are 15 cultural practices we believe tourists should never support, and which we hope will eventually go the way of the Dodo. 

READ MORE: 40 Green Travel Tips (Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Travel)

15 HARMFUL TRADITIONAL PRACTICES TO AVOID

  1. Bullfighting
  2. Bear Baiting
  3. Rooster Fighting (Cockfighting)
  4. Shark Soup
  5. Turtle Eggs & Turtle Meat
  6. Elephant Rides
  7. Buying Ivory Jewelry
  8. Souvenirs made from Animals
  9. Fox Hunting
  10. Circus Animals
  11. Running of the Bulls
  12. Tiger Temples & Tiger Petting
  13. Swimming with Dolphins
  14. Walking with Lions
  15. Shark Chumming or Baiting
Shaking Hands, photo by ResoluteSupportMedia courtesy Flickr via CC 2.0 Why Are Cultural Practices Important?

Traditions and cultural practices are things we always enjoy experiencing in our travels. They’re what makes each of the places we visit utterly unique. They’re the fabric that creates the diverse tapestry of the world we have today, defining the local communities that celebrate them.

There are so many examples of traditional cultural practices around the world, from acts as small as shaking hands to things such as white dresses at wedding ceremonies. They are tied into the way we eat, the types of homes we live in, and the deities we worship.

Our culture is sometimes so ingrained in us that it feels almost intrinsic to our humanity. And for the most part, we as travelers should celebrate these idiosyncrasies of people and place. They’re a big part of what makes world travel so interesting.

However, there are many harmful practices and traditions that have not withstood the test of time when it comes to adapting to the responsible ecotourism ethos.

These days, the exploitative nature of mass tourism is becoming an increasingly big problem in destinations all around the world. From elephant rides and swimming with dolphins to all sorts of irresponsible animal selfies, there’s always some entrepreneurial soul (or corporation) willing to sacrifice ethics for profits. 

As travelers who yearn to be responsible in our choices, it’s good to be informed about the types of tours and experiences we sign up for.

READ MORE: Maasai Mara Conservancies (Community Conservation in Kenya)

  15 Harmful Traditional Practices to Avoid Bullfight in Spain, photo by SubtlePanda via CC 1. The Cruelty of Bullfighting

Bullfighting is cruel because an animal—the bull—is essentially tortured to death for the audience’s amusement. Bullfighting is all about spectacle.

Some argue that the tradition of bullfighting allows matadors to display great skill and take valiant risk, justifying the brutality as a thing of beauty. But that point of view is dying the same slow death bulls do, pierced by one stiff stance at a time.

The history of bullfighting in Spain dates back to Moorish tradition in the AD 700s, which they carried over from the Visigoths they conquered. People rode on horseback to kill bulls for a feasting ritual. They were aided by brightly clothed men, who eventually became matadors.

Nowadays, a group of men led by a matador enter a ring and slowly kill a bull by stabbing it with swords in an attempt to enrage it. The typical corrida (fight event) sees six bulls in bullfighting, who are killed by three different matadors.

In other words, the real bullfighting facts are that the animal is outnumbered, the men all have swords, and the bleeding bull is forced into a battle it wants no part of. This practice stands in stark contrast to the increasingly popular cultural tradition of treating animals humanely.

READ MORE: The Best Things to Do in Spain (For Nature Lovers)

Bear Baiting, photo via World Animal Protection 2. Bear Baiting in Pakistan

If you think bullfighting is bad, wait until you hear about a favorite pastime in rural Pakistan sports: bear baiting. Long snubbed by animal rights activists as barbaric, this inhumane bloodsport pits bears vs dogs in brutal fights that often result in death.

As with the bulls, this “bear fight” is designed to be fair. Young bears are captured in the wild at an early age, and they’re put through immense pain long before the first fight. Their canine teeth are broken, their muzzles are painfully pierced with nose rings (to which chains are attached), and their claws are often removed.

With none of their natural weapons at their disposal (save strength), the dogs (usually a pack of them) attack it mercilessly as a cheering crowd eggs them on. The bear’s suffering is intense, and most die from their injuries before they reach the age of eight.

A bear fighting dogs in this setting serves no humane purpose. While it may be a traditional Pakistan sport, the event is nothing more than entertainment for cruel-hearted people.

In our eyes, this ranks right up there alongside bear bile farming among the most brutal cultural practices these awesome ursine creatures are forced to endure.

READ MORE: 40 Facts About the Markhor (National Animal of Pakistan)

Cockfighting, photo by Dindo Mojica courtesy Flickr via CC 2.0 3. Rooster Fighting (a.k.a Cockfighting)

Pakistan is not alone in pitting animals against each other for the sake of entertainment. Though banned in all 50 US states, cockfighting is still practiced in many communities here, as well as throughout Latin America and in Southeast Asia (including the Philippines and Indonesia).

Rooster fighting consists of putting two roosters, who are bred and trained specifically to be aggressive, going beak to beak in a ring. They often fight to the death

In other words, the so-called “game” of cockfighting is hardly that. It’s a matter of life or death for human (and inhumane) amusement.

Breeders also pump the birds up on steroids and vitamins, as well as put them through odd training for the rooster fights. Before matches, birds’ feathers are plucked and their wattles removed so that their opponents can’t rip them out. Then, in the ring, roosters will sometimes wear blades on their legs in order to make their attacks even more brutal.

Historically, rooster fighting is linked with other crimes, like gambling, drugs, and violence. In other words, it may have been around a long time, but that doesn’t mean it’s a tradition to uphold.

READ MORE: 15 Beautiful Galapagos Birds

Say No To Shark Fin Soup, photo by Frank Hebbert via CC 4. The Sad Truth Behind Shark Soup

Ours is a funny old world. The closer we study it, the more we notice that men were obsessed with obtaining extra oomph in the bedroom long before Viagra came along. There has also been a historical display of wealth that often crossed the line into wasteful.

Shark soup– which has long been a symbol of status and generosity in Asia– can pull in a price of $2000 a bowl (depending on the type of shark).

But the shark fin used to make this weird delicacy has no nutritional value or impact on flavor, which is provided by chicken and ham broth.

The shark finning facts and figures are startlingly ugly. More than 100 million sharks are illegally poached for shark fin soup every year. This typically consists of slicing off the animal’s fins while it’s still alive, then tossing their bodies into the water to die a slow, painful death. 

So, it’s no great surprise that there has been great effort to stop the harmful tradition. Nevertheless it persists, and eating this soup is a cultural practice travelers should take part in.

READ MORE: Saving Asian Animals (The 10 Best Conservation Programs)

Moving Leatherback Sea Turtle Eggs to safety in Dominica, photo by Green Global Travel 5. Poached Turtle Eggs & Turtle Meat

Sea Turtle eggs are similarly prized as an aphrodisiac in some parts of the world, and Sea Turtle meat is considered a delicacy for many cultures.

Despite being endangered and protected by the law, Sea Turtle eggs are often sold on the black market. The ultimate extinction of some species (including Leatherback Sea Turtles and Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles) seems inevitable, yet still sales continue.

On the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, poachers are so aggressive that they murdered local activist Jairo Mora as he tried to protect nests on Moín Beach. 

Beyond what this says about humankind’s me-first mentality, these irresponsible practices have now put many species at serious risk of disappearing completely. In our eyes, cultural traditions that threaten the future shouldn’t be upheld.

As responsible tourists, we shouldn’t be eating Turtle eggs, and we shouldn’t eat Turtles. We should never order any food that puts a wildlife species at risk of extinction.

READ MORE: Searching for Sea Turtles on Masirah Island, Oman

Tourist Elephant Rides in Thekkady, photo by Liji Jinaraj via CC 6. Why Elephant Rides Are Abusive

Sometimes it’s confusing to be enamored with animals and long for interaction with them, yet realize that the best thing we can do as conscious travelers is to leave them alone.

Elephant rides are one of the most common irresponsible choices made by people traveling abroad. Riding Elephants is usually on offer at major tourist venues in ThailandIndonesia, and myriad other parts of Asia. There are even Elephant trekking tours available.

But the ugly truth about Elephant riding is that the animals are commonly abused for tourist entertainment, often at the painful end of electric prods or bull hooks.

A brutal training regimen known as phajaan (which originated with people riding Elephants in India) takes young Elephants away from their mothers, then violently crushes their spirit until they’re submissive.

Though they’re super-strong, these gentle giants are not built to carry weight around on their backs all day long.

While Elephants continue to be used as beasts of burden in Asia, the damaging effect on their health far exceeds levels of acceptability. These inhumane practices may be considered tradition in certain cultures, but please don’t contribute to the abuse.

READ MORE: 55 Interesting Facts About Elephants 

Confiscated Ivory Jewelry, photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie via CC 7. Buying Ivory Jewelry & Other Ivory Products

Souvenirs are often a highlight of our travels, serving as both a treasured keepsake and a means of sharing our adventure with those back home.

But in the frenzy to buy something unique, it’s easy to lose sight of right and wrong. These days, the poaching-for-ivory trade is causing serious environmental issues.

Animals with ivory tusks/teeth include Elephants, Walruses, Hippos, and Narwhals. At one time these tusks were traded amongst indigenous people, who depended on these animals for survival. Then the demand for ivory grew so large that traditional custom gave way to commerce.

In places like South Africa and Tanzania, wildlife populations have plummeted as a result of poaching. The international ivory trade is now completely illegal. So no matter what greedy vendors might tell you, that ivory jewelry is something to skip out on.

READ MORE: Animals in Kenya (40 Species of Kenyan Wildlife) 

Confiscated Wildlife Products at JFK Airport, by Steve Hillebrand via Public Domain 8. Other Souvenir Items Made From Animals

Travelers on the whole need an overall improvement in awareness about the souvenir items we buy. There are many products made from parts animals that are protected (or should be).

Many furs and animal skins are illegal. Turtle shells and Tortoise shells are all off-limits. The safest policy for travel souvenirs is to stay away from all wildlife products, period.

Coral is another major issue, as there are many endangered coral reef systems being exploited for profit. But some unscrupulous vendors are still selling coral jewelry, coral ornaments, and other coral gifts to tourists.

Even if you see dead coral on the ocean floor while Scuba diving, it should be left in the sea.

While some of these items may still be used in local indigenous cultural practices, they have no place in international travel.

READ MORE: Scuba Diving the Belize Barrier Reef

Fox Hunting in the UK, photo by Steve Waterworth courtesy Flickr via CC 2.0 9. Fox Hunting in the UK

Fox hunting in the UK has an extensive history, both in the upper-crust enjoyment of the sport and in the public push to have it banned. Eventually, the House of Commons passed a Fox hunting ban. But persistent people have found loopholes to the law.

Regardless of what you may feel about hunting in general, hunting Foxes in this way is a uniquely vicious “sport.” A Fox is tracked and chased for hours by Fox-hunting dogs until it’s totally tuckered out. When the hounds finally catch it, it’s often ripped to shreds on the spot.

Though supporters of Red Fox hunting claim the tradition does farmers a service, the truth is that the methodology is what’s questionable about this practice. The 2004 Hunting Act made it illegal to use dogs to kill their prey. However, riders can still use dogs to track Foxes, chase them to exhaustion, and flush them out of their holes to be shot.

A simple trap would do a much more efficient and humane job of eliminating troublesome predators from a farmer’s field. History and tradition don’t make Fox hunting right, so travelers should leave this pastime for the Brits to debate.

READ MORE: Can Hunting Save the Endangered Black Rhino?

Circus Animals, photo by courtesy Flickr via CC 2.0 10. Circus Animals Are Abused

While many of us grew up in a world where circuses had animals and that was considered okay, these days times have changed. The world renowned Ringling Brothers elephants may have captivated our attention as kids, but the ugly truth..

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[Updated: 4/22/2019] Picture yourself on an unspoiled exotic island where nearly 70% of the land is devoted to the conservation of nature.

Imagine it’s home to a diverse array of wildlife, from shorebirds, Dolphins, and Manatees to Alligators, Raccoons, and River Otters. Envision uncrowded white sand beaches lined with millions of colorful seashells. Now imagine this tranquil paradise is within the continental United States (a 9-hour drive from our home in Atlanta).

Located just 20 minutes from Fort Myers, Sanibel Island, Florida offers a taste of the state as it was 60 years ago. Conserving the natural environment has been at the core of Sanibel’s ethos since it was incorporated as a city in 1974 by residents hoping to stave off overdevelopment (right after the construction of a causeway connecting the island to the mainland).

Businesses here are legally restricted from using gaudy colors or constructing buildings taller than the tallest palm tree. Any new homes must be built a certain distance back from the shore. There’s no neon, no stoplights, and no chain restaurants (except for a Dairy Queen, built before 1974).

As a result, this tranquil ecotourism haven has become a Mecca for birdwatchers, wildlife enthusiasts, kayakers, hikers, seashell collectors, and fishermen alike.

I’ve been taking semi-annual Sanibel vacations for more than 25 years now. My daughter took her first steps on those pristine Sanibel Island beaches when she was 9 months old. Weeks spent in our favorite Sanibel Island cottages remain her earliest travel memories even now, 17 years later. 

The island may not offer much in the way of lively nightlife for those seeking a walk on the wild side. But for families with a deep love of the outdoors, its placid Gulf of Mexico waters, beautiful beaches, and extensive array of protected areas offer a broad range of activities that are guaranteed to create a lifetime of wonderful memories.

Here’s a look at our picks for the top 10 things to do in Sanibel Island, with an emphasis on nature and wildlife-related attractions.

Sanibel Island Map
Top 10 Things to Do in Sanibel Island

1. EXPLORE J.N. DING DARLING NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

One of the things we love most about Sanibel Island is the fact that over a third of its land is set aside for the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Named after the early 20th century, Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist who headed what became the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and founded the National Wildlife Federation, Ding Darling encompasses 6,400 acres of mangrove forest, marshes, and seagrass beds.

The refuge can often get a little hot and crowded during the day, but its five mile road makes for a gorgeous sunset drive, walk or bike ride, filled with all manner of Raccoons, Alligators, Butterflies, Turtles, Blue Crabs, and more. When you need to cool off, make your way to the Visitor’s Center to learn more about J.N. Ding Darling’s legacy of wildlife conservation.

The Ding Darling refuge’s mangrove estuary also provides a safe haven for a vast array of shorebirds and birds of prey, including Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, Anhingas, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, Pelicans, Osprey and, our favorite, the vivid pink Roseate Spoonbill.

Time it just right and you can catch them feeding in the shallows at the golden hour, as the sunset reflects on the water and the silhouettes of palm trees against the multi-hued sky creates a picture postcard-worthy view. Word to the wise: Bring bug spray!

READ MORE: Complete List of U.S. National Parks (A EPIC Guide)

2. SHELLING ON SANIBEL ISLAND BEACHES

Sanibel Island’s gorgeous white sand beaches are consistently ranked among the finest in the world. They’re all lined with picturesque sea grape and sea oats that lend themselves to striking sunrise and sunset photography.

But what really separates the beaches of Sanibel apart are the millions of colorful seashells that line its shores. Sanibel Island is widely considered the number one shelling beach in the world. Even a casual morning walk along the water’s edge will lead to sightings of myriad Coquinas, Scallops, Fighting Conchs, Lightning Whelks, and other deeper-water mollusks.

You’ll need to get up early, preferably around low tide, if you want first dibs on the morning’s treasured finds. If you come out later, you’ll find yourself competing with dozens of shell-seekers, who adopt a position affectionately known as the “Sanibel stoop.” Look for smaller shells near the Sanibel Lighthouse, and larger ones near the Captiva end of the island.

If there’s been a recent storm in the area, you might be lucky enough to find rare, beautiful gems such as the Junonia. There was a time when the island newspaper would publish your photo if you found one. Many years ago I found two in one day, but I haven’t seen another one since!

A word of caution: It is illegal to take live shells from Sanibel and Captiva, which are both considered refuge islands. Violators can be fined up to $500 and, more importantly, doing so damages the delicate balance of the marine ecosystem. 

READ MORE: The World’s Most Colorful Beaches

3. GO ON A DOLPHIN WATCHING CRUISE

We love dolphins, and one of our favorite things about Sanibel Island is how frequently you can spot Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins there.

Many days you can see them swimming just off the shore, feeding on schools of fish in the glistening light of the early morning sun.

But one of our favorite activities is taking the sunset Dolphin Cruise offered by Captiva Cruises, which never fails to provide entertaining views of our fine-flippered friends in the wild (they have a 95% success rate).

Our latest trip produced some of our best video footage to date, as a small pod of dolphins swam and leapt in the wake of our boat for nearly five minutes. No matter how cool you think you are, the sight of dolphins frolicking in the waves is sure to reduce you to child-like “Oooohs!” and “Aaaaahs!”

READ MORE: How to Grade Swimming With Dolphins Facilities

4. EXPLORE TARPON BAY

It’s very rare that we visit Sanibel and do not rent a canoe or kayak from Tarpon Bay Explorers to explore the tranquil waters around Ding Darling.

Paddling through the mangrove forests along the Commodore Creek water trail, you’ll understand immediately why Sanibel has been named one of the Top 10 Kayaking Locations in North America by Canoe & Kayak magazine.

Beautiful birds such as Anhingas, Herons, Cormorants, Ibis, Egrets, and Roseate Spoonbills can often be found sunning themselves in the mangroves as osprey hunt for meals from above.

Dolphins and even the occasional Manatee have been spotted in the bay at high tide, and the still waters make for amazing photographs of the mangrove reflections. Due to the extreme midday heat, we find morning excursions to be the best.

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

5. VISIT THE SANIBEL-CAPTIVA CONSERVATION FOUNDATION 

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation is one of the largest and oldest organizations involved in the preservation of the island’s precious natural resources. 

The Foundation owns approximately 1,800 acres that have been set aside as wildlife preserves, including a lovely 28.3-acre homestead formerly owned by Sanibel Island legend Francis Bailey.

Their Nature Center encompasses 260 acres, on which visitors can walk 4.5 miles of hiking trails, climb an observation tower, see a butterfly exhibit, and get hands-on with a live marine touch tank.

The Foundation is heavily focused on estuarine research. It offers guided trail tours, shoreline discovery walks (where you can see the protected sea turtle and snowy plover nesting grounds) and other highly interactive educational programs as well.

READ MORE:Saving Asian Animals (10 Best Wildlife Conservation Programs)

6. STUDY MARINE CONSERVATION WITH SANIBEL SEA SCHOOL

Sanibel Sea School is an excellent organization devoted to teaching kids and adults alike about marine conservation. Taking a class with them was definitely one of our favorite things to do in Sanibel Island.

Founded by J. Bruce Neill, who has a PhD in Conservation Biology, and his wife Evelyn, the school offers excellent half-day, full-day and week-long programs that give visitors an immersive, interactive exploration of Sanibel Island’s abundant marine life.

My daughter Allie had a blast there during our 2011 Sanibel vacation, learning why the island is one of the world’s best shelling beaches. She also got hands-on with some of its most intriguing inhabitants, including sand dollars, bivalves, fighting conchs, and a broad variety of fish.  

Visiting this marine conservation school is a highly recommended activity for any family who wants to learn more about the importance of our planet’s oceans and the animals that inhabits it. 

READ MORE: The Best Small Ship Cruises (World Travel Bucket List)

7. TALK TO THE ANIMALS AT C.R.O.W.

In the nearly 20 years I’ve been going to Sanibel Island, I’ve seen the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife grow from a quaint little rehab facility into a multi-million dollar tourist attraction.

Originally founded by a small group of volunteers in 1968, in recent years CROW has expanded to include the state of the art 4800-square foot Healing Winds Visitor Education Center, a 4800-square foot veterinary hospital, and a 3700-square foot George E. Batchelor Student Housing Complex to accommodate its growing staff of student volunteers.

The facility treats over 4,000 injured animals representing more than 200 different species every year, from raccoons and otters to shore birds and sea turtles.

On our last visit, we were fortunate to get a behind-the-scenes tour with Executive Director Steve Greenstein. He helped us get up close ‘n’ personal with CROW’s staff and a few of their adorable patients, including orphaned Rabbits, injured Turtles, and the cutest baby Raccoon you’ve ever seen.

READ MORE: The Best Environmental Charities & Animal Charities

8. SANIBEL ISLAND FISHING CHARTERS

Sanibel Island has been renowned as a haven for fishermen for more than 125 years now. In fact, it could be said that the island owes much of its early 20th century popularity to fishing.

Back in 1885, William H. Wood reeled in a 93-pound Tarpon off the Sanibel Island coast. That sensational catch revolutionized sport fishing, luring luminaries such as Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison and Ernest Hemingway to the area.

Today, there are tons of Sanibel Island fishing charters offering an array of half- and full-day trips, with deep sea and in-shore options in Sanibel’s protected back bay.

Our favorite fishing charter guide is Captain Mike Smith of Mangrove Island Charters, whom we’ve fished with multiple times. Captain Mike is a laid-back, genial Sanibel Island native with over 30 years of experience in guiding anglers in search of Redfish, Snook, and Tarpon.

He was fantastic teaching my daughter to fish when she was 5 years old, and even introduced her to a friendly Manatee who hangs out near a favorite fishing hole. But he’s also adept with Sanibel fishing pros, and knows the area around Pine Island Sound like the back of his hand!

READ MORE: Fishing Mobile Bay & the Mobile Tensaw Delta

9. THE BAILEY-MATTHEWS NATIONAL SHELL MUSEUM

Once you’ve had your fill of fun in the sun, Sanibel Island offers plenty of indoor activities as well. The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum remains one of our family’s perennial favorites.

This is the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to the study of seashells. There are more than two dozen exhibits ranging from the history of Sanibel’s native Calusa Indians and a shell classification wheel to a children’s learning lab with touch tanks and more. 

There are almost always opportunities to do crafts projects, such as using hot glue guns to make animal sculptures out of small seashells. There are also guided group tours of the museum, as well as guided Sanibel beach walks led by local shell experts. 

The museum is currently in the midst of a massive Alive! campaign, raising funds for an expansion that will include an interactive aquarium. The installation will shine a spotlight on all kinds of mollusks, including Cuttlefish, Octopus, and Squid. The aquarium is expected to open in early 2020.

READ MORE: Snorkeling & Diving the Cancun Underwater Museum

10. TAKE A DAY TRIP TO CAYO COSTA STATE PARK

As much as we love Sanibel, we also enjoy taking day trips to the more remote outer islands off the coast of Fort Myers, especially Cayo Costa State Park

Various companies offer private guides and group tours to the 2,426-acre park, but during our last Sanibel visit we treated ourselves with a ½-day boat rental and headed out to Cayo Costa on our own.

The 30-minute ride to the barrier island was perfectly picturesque, passing North Captiva Island and Pine Island, with over a dozen Dolphins swimming and diving in our wake along the way.

As previously mentioned Sanibel Island beaches are consistently ranked among the best for shelling, but Cayo Costa is arguably even better, with spectacular Fighting Conchs, Olive Shells, Sand Dollars and more.

But be sure to wear water shoes (I can tell you from experience that stepping on the business end of a Lightning Whelk is no fun). And under no circumstances should you ever take any live shell from the water, as it is illegal and there are park rangers patrolling the beaches.

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

BEST SANIBEL ISLAND RENTALS & HOTELS Casa Ybel, Sanibel Island Casa Ybel

Arguably among the most upscale of all Sanibel Island resorts, Casa Ybel offers an array of family-friendly suites with stunning views overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Every suite has a patio or balcony, full kitchen, living rooms with sleeper sofas, flat screen TVs, and free WiFi. The resort also features 2 pools, tennis courts, beach volleyball, a kids’ activity club, and an Asian-European fusion restaurant. Read Reviews and Check Rates.

Gulf Breeze Cottages Gulf Breeze Cottages

We’ve stayed in lots of different types of rentals over the years, but these quaint Sanibel Island cottages are arguably our favorites. Located mere steps away from the beach, they offer a taste of Old School Florida at its finest, with wood floors, tropical decor, kitchens and screened-in porches.

There are small studios and 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom cottages available, and all have free Wi-fi and satellite TV.  Read Reviews and Check Rates.

Sundial Beach Resort & Spa Sundial Beach Resort & Spa

The Sundial Beach Resort ranks among the most highly-rated Sanibel resorts, with a great location about 3 miles from the historic Sanibel Lighthouse. Like the best Sanibel Island rentals, its units include full kitchens, living rooms, cozy beds, and free WiFi.

But the Sundial Resort also features a beachfront spa, 5 pools, 4 restaurants (indoor and outdoor dining), 2 bars, a sea school, ocean kayaks, and lots of tours and organized activities. Read Reviews and Check Rates.

‘Tween Waters Resort & Spa ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa

Owned by the same company as Beachview Cottages and Castaways Cottages (two of our favorite Sanibel Island vacation rentals), ‘Tween Waters is located just across..

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