A couple of hours out of San Jose, the small town of Turrialba nestles in a verdant valley of coffee plantations and montane forests. The fresh air and mild climate make it perfect for outdoor activities, and adrenalin seekers can enjoy world class white-water rafting on the Rio Pacuare. If you prefer a more relaxed approach, take a day trip to the country's largest ruin site Guayabo National Monument, or trek around the Turrialba Volcano National Park. Casa de Lis is an excellent hostel in the centre of town, offering spotless dorms and private rooms at rock-bottom prices (£6.50 and £10 p.p. respectively). The delicious free coffee served in morning is the icing on the cake!
This national park has some amazing beaches on its southern side and along its northern coast. Very few roads but plenty of trails to access these beaches. The masses tend to stay on the beaches around Roses as you will need to walk about 30 mins to get to the first if you come by car. The ones on the north coast are difficult to get to without a boat. The south coast also has the last home of Dali, Port Lligat which is also a museum that operates with the museum in Figueres.
Swaledale is one of the most northerly Dales in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It tends to be slightly less busy that some other parts of the Dales, but offers a spectacular variety of landscape and scenery.
My chosen hike takes in not just one but two of the UK's finest long-distance footpaths. The 18 mile trail starts off at the remote Tan Hill Inn which is England's highest pub. You then head southwards along the Pennine Way, which is one of Britain's best known trails. Once you reach the footpath above the village of Keld, you can then head off eastwards along the Alfred Wainwright's Coast To Coast long-distance path. This section of beautiful and challenging route takes you past many sites of historic interest from the region's mining past. It also takes you along beautiful river banks, up steep ravines, and across remote moorland, before finishing up in the heart of Swaledale in the village of Reeth. Here a classic village green and a selection of old fashioned pubs and tea rooms will ensure your walk is well rewarded.
Tan Hill, Reeth, Richmond, Swaledale, North Yorkshire Dales, DL11 6ED
Google map: bit.ly/JDEb43
The “Lac Blanc”, at an altitude of 2500m, is at the heart of the National Park La Vanoise and is situated near Pralognan. Leave your car at “Pont de la Pêche”. The climb to the lake takes up to 3 hours and you’ll need a further 2h30 for the return journey. While walking, enjoy the beautiful mountains around you and the colourful flora. If you’re lucky, you might see marmots, ibexes and chamois. The “Lac Blanc” is quite a sight: a deposit of minerals gives it a strange milky colour. The slopes down the lake are an ideal setting for a picnic.
Almost 60 years ago but not forgotten …
We set out from Helmsley, now a trailhead of the Cleveland Way, on heavy sit-up-and beg bikes with three-speed gears, and started by taking a rewarding detour to the northwest. We stopped off for a bar of chocolate and some lemonade at Riveaulx Abbey and enjoyed wandering through the ruins. Then onwards, through moorland dotted with fields and woods, past Scawton and onto the main road. Then, sandwiches on the bridle path near the top of Sutton Bank with Gormire Lake in the foreground and the unending Vale of York ahead. A few of the more intrepid of us rode down the one in four gradient, through the dauntingly tight hairpin, and on to see the White Horse at Kilburn, an eight mile excursion. Riding back up Sutton bank, however, defeated us all. Back to Helmsley on the A170 (few cars there back then) until, on a downward hill, my rolled up ex-army combined waterproof cape and groundsheet parted company with the handlebars and dropped into the front forks. For those who saw it, my flying somersault over the handlebars was an awesome sight; the bike hit my back on our way down, but I was unhurt. Not so the bike. With front forks bent in a graceful S-shape, and the buckled front wheel jammed around the pedals, it had to be walked with front wheel lifted the remaining four miles back into Helmsley. The lavish Yorkshire Tea that awaited us there (egg, bacon, chips, lashings of fresh white bread, cakes, and strong sweet tea) brought an appropriate ending to an eventful day
North Yorks Moors
Google map: bit.ly/HjqQrv
Two iconic lochs, one symbolic steamship and a 20 mile ride through scenery to drool over: bike rides don’t come better than this.
For an epic, eco-friendly bike day, take the magical West Highland Railway www.scotrail.co.uk from Glasgow to Tarbet, then the ferry www.cruiselochlomond.co.uk across Loch Lomond to Inversnaid. Cycle three miles to Stronachlachar on the banks of the bewitching Loch Katrine, head clockwise and enjoy the twelve miles round to Trossachs Pier, on a well-surfaced, traffic-free route. Savour the stunning scenery and admire the skills of Victorian engineers who transported clean water thirty miles from the loch to rid Glasgow of cholera in the mid nineteenth century.
At Trossachs Pier board the historic steamship Sir Walter Scott, www.lochkatrine.com/steamship.htmlone that has plied the loch for over 100 years, and relax on the cruise back to Stronachlachar. From here, retrace your route, stopping off for coffee and cake at the quirky Inversnaid Bunkhouse www.inversnaid.com
Full details of tour: www.bootandbike.co.uk/2010/10/a-loch-katrine-odyssey
Google map: bit.ly/H3Bwgx
Further info on Loch Katrine:www.lochkatrine.com/
The Peak District is a great place for flat, family cycle trails, with a number of disused railways having been converted to multi-use trails. The most exciting has to be the Monsal Trail, with its recently (2011) reopened tunnels. The trail runs for 8½ miles between Blackwell Mill and Bakewell following the course of the delightful River Wye. There are three car parks at former stations where you can also hire bikes (if you don’t take your own). There is a further car park just off the A6 at Wyedale, linked to the western end of trail by a bridleway (no cycle hire here). As well as taking you through the six tunnels, you cycle through deep limestone cuttings, along high hillsides with splendid views of the river and former mill buildings. Bridges carry the trail across the river a number of times – with the most spectacular crossing being the Monsal Head Viaduct. Between the Litton and Cressbrook tunnels there is a listening post which allows you to listen to, “Monsal Memories,” a series of six podcasts covering aspects of the railway’s history (these can also be downloaded from the link below).
For the best views of India's highest mountain head to Singalila National Park. At 8,586m Kanchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world, but you only need to reach 3000m to catch the dawn over this spectacular Himalayan massif.
The first leg is the steepest, but once on the ridge the walk is less strenuous. Tiny wild strawberries littered the trail when we were there in May, but we were too late for the wild rhododendron bushes and orchids which carpet the mountains in April. Renowned for its wide variety of bird life, the park is also home to wild boar, black bears and the beautiful clouded leopard. If you are very lucky you might see its most famous resident, the shy and rare red panda.
In the dark, smoky huts dotted along the trek, try quenching your thirst with 'tongba', a millet beer served in bamboo segments. If you want something stronger then the Himalayan hooch 'rakshi' will warm up hands and heart. After a well-deserved hot evening meal a cosy night's sleep under heavy blankets is all you'll need.
The clearest skies are usually found in November when panoramic views will enthuse budding photographers looking for the perfect image to enter in the Guardian's 'Been there' photo competition.
Guides are compulsory and can be pre-booked in Darjeeling. Apart from showing you the way, they have encyclopaedic knowledge of the area's flora and fauna.
Google map: bit.ly/xXcEk9
Ranging between 20 and 200 feet in diameter, these Orwellian sentinels tower eerily over the shingle peninsular of the Dungeness National Nature Reserve. Erected between 1928 and 1930 the three concrete 'listening ears' detected the approach of enemy aircraft, but when radar was invented before WW2 they became redundant.
You can get up close to these impressive feats of engineering is by joining one of Dr Richard Scarth's walks organised by the Romney Marsh Countryside Project. Check the noticeboard on the Project's website for dates.
It's always spectacular to look across the tops of the Cairngorm mountains. This was a trial last summer; a guided walk of the alpine top of Cairngorm, run by the ranger service. After a ride up in the funicular railway, a small group of walkers left the Ptarmigan top station, to walk to the mountain top (not far, not hard) and learn about the special environment, the ecological measures taken to protect the flora and fauna, and the local life including visitor management. The restaurant serves a warm meal which was nice after the chilly experience we had.
You don’t take sandwiches when you walk in the Forest of Dean with a good food forager. You harvest your lunch. You graze your way through tangy sheep sorrel, fresh mints, crunchy hogweed and burdock leaf stalks, and snappy bistort leaves. We carefully stuffed nettles leaves into carriers for later soups. Sneaking wild strawberries from the grassy banks and purple elderberries from high hedgerows decided the recipes for puddings to come. The ground beneath our feet was revealed as a continuous carpet of lunch. We learned that locality, season, and ecology make for different treats at different times of year. The Forager guide was amazing. He knew just where to take us, what was safe to eat and how to identify it. He was full of anecdotes and folk wisdom. But best of all he knew that most plants were edible but that only some were worth the bother, and showed us which were which. We even came home with recipes.
The One-Horned Rhinos of Kaziranga National Park.
This Unesco World Heritage Site is set in spectacular scenery and is professionally run, without any fuss. Please believe the hype and take an elephant safari. It's a humbling experience to ride these stoical and patient relics from prehistory. You'll see plenty of rhinos as you pass through the elephant grass swampland, and if you're very lucky you may see some of the fifteen species of India's most threatened mammals. We saw wild elephants, several dear species and fantastic birds, but you could see fish eagles, hornbills, King Cobras, tigers, bears, leopards, or more.
We stayed in pristine huts with new kids on the block, the Nature Hunt Eco Camp. Superb.
Kaziranga National Park & Tiger Reserve
Bokakhat – 785 612
Google map: bit.ly/GXeG7s
1st Floor, House No-96,Borthakur Mill Road
Ulubari, Guwahati, Assam, 781007, India
Found 15kms outside Munnar, Eravikulam was declared a sanctuary in 1975 and upgraded in 1978 to a national park, in part due to its unique flora and fauna. We went at the wrong time to see the enigmatic Neelakurunji, a plant which produces its carpet of blue flowers every 12 years (go there in 2014 for the next viewing) but we did see the fabulously rare Nilgiri Tahr, the only species of Caprine ungulate (look that up in your Funk and Wagnall’s) found south of the Himalayas. There are around 2,500 left of this friendly wild mountain goat in the world, ensuring its place among the status of ‘endangered’ in the WWF list of rare animals.
We arrived at the park excited at the prospect of seeing rare goats. In addition to nature’s gifts, it is home to Anamudi (2690m), the highest peak in India south of the Himalayas. We were not allowed to walk up the mountain path, so along with everyone else ascended the foothills aboard the park bus. We jumped off with about 40 domestic tourists at the high entrance point. We were not allowed to deviate from the path. We were told to keep quiet so as not to upset the wildlife. We could not pass go. Fair enough.
Accompanied by families of screaming children scrambling in the undergrowth, shouting groups of men and chattering women in bejewelled thong sandles and saris, we tried to pretend we were at one with nature. A Nilgiri Tahr crossed the carefully designated pathway in front of us ignoring the noise: the 25 species of other mammals, 132 species of birds, 101 species of butterflies and 19 species of amphibians recorded in the Park kept their distance. An abrupt end to the path made it clear we would not be allowed any further, ending our dream of a decent shot at climbing the highest peak in southern India.
A little disappointedly we returned down the hill-path, trying to find a moment of tranquility among the tourist madness. Anyone who has visited India will know this is never an easy task. We gave up at the bus drop-off point, and, in a last ditch effort to find some serenity in the beautiful surroundings, decided to walk back to the bottom. Fat chance. A guard shooed us back up the hill and we joined a heaving bus of tourists back to the park entrance.
Oh well, we saw the goats.
Idukki, Forest Information Centre, Wildlife Warden's Office, Munnar PO, Kerala 685 612, India
+91 4865 231 587
Google map: bit.ly/xjyUeq
It might just be me, but I felt like Kings Canyon was the best place for me to get in shape. It's away from the crowds of Yosemite and empty enough that no one will watch you sweating and panting as you hike through the beautiful redwoods. It's a beautiful place, and the weather in the summer is always fantastic. I'd combine a trip here with a tour around northern California. I spent three weeks hiking, shopping and relaxing and I lost two dress sizes without altering my diet! Finally, the best point about the national parks is that they're very family orientated so there will be something for everyone.
Posada de la Laguna in the north east of Argentina was quite the most special place I've ever stayed. It was a four hour 4x4 drive from the city of Posadas on the Paraguayan border deep into the heart of the Iberà wetlands to the luxurious yet homely ranch where four of us stayed. On a quiet boat ride at dusk, with a guide who knew his environment and who was intuitive of his guests' level of interest, we marvelled at the caiman, the carpincho and wealth of bird life. We rode bare back with a gaucho in the pampas and ate delicious food served to us communally without the need of menu deliberations. If ever there was a place to feel at one with the world, Posada de la Laguna truly is it.
Jiuzhaigou Valley National Park is an area of outstanding natural beauty; truly world class, as reflected in its UNESCO listing as a World Heritage Site.
The main attractions are the crystal clear lakes which, because of a high mineral content, appear blue and green, and the waterfalls which separate the series of lakes down through the valley.
Actually, it would be more correct to say two valleys as the main area of the park is y-shaped. A shuttle bus service operates within the park for those who buy the relevant ticket; otherwise, there is a lot of walking.
A third valley, the Zharu Valley, is not open to the general public but it is possible to viist if booked on one of the eco-tourism options with the park authorities. A write-up of my 3-day trek is linked below. This also includes other eco-options that we were shown during the trip.
A related site, Huanglong (Yellow Dragon) is nearby and easily combined in a short break from Chengdu.
In southern Idaho lies a vast black lava field, created by a series of volcanic eruptions over the last 15,000 years. Managed by the National Park Service, it's a magical place, with a fierce, dry heat, astonishing sunsets and wildlife including eagles, owls and bats. It's crowning glory is a series of lava tube caves open to visitors, where you can scramble down over boulders to discover vast, cavernous tunnels under the black rock. Take a torch!
My family and I spent a wonderful day hiking with an exceptionally knowledgeable naturalist/ guide from Canadian Wilderness Tours. Our guide, Rosemary, selected a trail for us with breathtaking views. She helped us identify the flowers, birds (including some unique alpine birds like ptarmigan and rosy finches). We had never really been able to understand geology but Rosemary showed us how the layers in the mountain were actually ancient sea floor deposits; she even managed to find some fossil coral for us. Rosemary also gave us a lot of background history and real insight into her piece of the wilderness. Her enthusiasm was very inspiring. After reviewing hiking safety with us, including hiking in bear country, she gave us a personalized list of other walks and hikes she thought we would enjoy. Our day with her was well worth the money, the information we received from her greatly enriched our two weeks in the magnificent Canadian Rockies
+1 403 678 3795
While Santa Fe is chilled and has an OK beach, it's the boat rides to the islands that you come here for. Jump on a boat and head to the islands where you can eat fresh oysters from a man just walking round with a bucket of them and some limes, stroke the huge lizards and then pop back on the boat for some snorkelling in some beautiful, marine life abundant coral reefs - perfection.
Eight years ago when we went it was still relatively unknown and quiet - pure bliss.
Parque Nacional Mochima
Google map: bit.ly/rnZLpb
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