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The Iguazu Falls

The Iguazu Falls

The Iguazu Falls

November 182013

More Than One Wonderfall Experience

If you are anything like me, you are looking for the slightly understated bucket list of wonders; something that is special, not just because someone else says so, but because you can feel it in every bone rattling through you. To think about grand wonders, particularly natural, I could only think of one type of ‘structure’.  Waterfalls have always drawn my attention; how important to life water has and always will be and the magnificence of its cascading waters gushing with immensity.

Sunset over Iguazu
The Iguazu Falls SF Brit / Foter.com / CC BY

Now you may think about the grand scales of Victoria and Niagara; but with sparse locations to breathe in the magnificence, the delivery of expectation oft meets an unanticipated end. Personally, I feel some people are simply unable to absorb the singular capture upon their eyes. This isn’t to say they’re not marvels to behold; only that they are more difficult to contextualise; a journey to view the largest waterfalls possible almost seems too easy with one trip and one sparse set of view-points.

Iguazu Falls Argentina

Iguazu Falls Argentina

Iguazu is a waterfall with a difference; it isn’t a singular waterfall; it isn’t one massive drop from the top; it’s a collection of waterfalls that spans a huge 2.7 kilometres in width. This width allows for a diversity of view-points and experiences that few places except true wonders can produce where can you surround yourself with 260 degrees of water at the Devil’s Throat; the name in itself wreaks power and wonder in accordance to its view.

Iguazu Falls Argentina

Iguazu Falls Argentina

The Iguazu (Iguaçu) Falls has been superseded in history by the waterfalls of Niagara and Victoria Falls for too long; if you ask someone what they know about Iguazu Falls, they ask “Where?” First seen by European eyes in 5141, it is legend that a god once planned to marry a woman until she fled with her mortal-lover down the Iguazu River. “In rage, the god sliced the river, creating the waterfalls and condemning the lovers to an eternal fall” (Wikipedia, Iguazu Falls).

With 275 separate drops, 1756m3 of water passes over Iguazu Falls every second; to put that into further context, 1 cubic metre is equal to 1000 litres of liquid. With such force and velocity, I argue that there is no other wonder as unrivalled for the integration of both power and beauty; it is little wonder why legend has a god involved with its formation.

With Iguazu meaning “Big Water”, there is no understatement to these set of cascading falls being both powerful and harmonic; the surrounding areas were soon recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, yet the waters have been found to be receding approximately 3mm per year.

Sitting on the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, there are three unique places you are able to pass through to get to Iguazu Falls; the Paraguayan town of Ciudad del Este is potentially the most adventurous, with a so-called centre for contraband and cheap electronic goods, it’s a location that contrasts the idyllic Falls compared to the small town of Puerto Iguazu in Argentina and the city of Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil.

Cruise excursions from the Iguazu River has become ever more popular with European and US tourists; travelling through Brazil with full amenities and comfort, many people have found it to be more relaxing and less stressful – and with Devil’s Throat being on the Brazilian border, the apparent best views for this announced New Wonder means visits to this isolated area has become ever-more accessible and encouraged. Furthermore, excursions are often on the cruise visa, making the overall experience easy and without worry.

However, depending on which country and way you choose to explore from, you will receive your own unique travel experiences and culture to enhance your overall experience at the Iguazu Falls; whether because it’s on your bucket list or because you simply want to see the magnificence of nature, this is what I can only call, a Wonderfall.

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The natural phenomenon of Aurora Borealis
June 282013

If you are looking to indulge in a natural phenomenon, then visiting the Northern Lights is a must. Also known as the Aurora Borealis, this incredible marvel showcases a strikingly beautiful coloured display. The explosions of magnetic energy shine 60 or 70 miles above the earth’s surface. Aurora takes its name from the Roman Goddess of Dawn, whilst Borealis is titled after the Wind, and the Roman God of the North.

Aurora Borealis
Aurora Borealisalf07 °,° / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The Science Behind Aurora Borealis

Each and every sighting of the Northern Lights is exclusive and you can never be certain which colours you will see. The one truth about nature’s phenomenon is – it has been captivating sightseers for generations. This spectacular display is formed when certain particles connect with the Earth’s magnetic shield, these particles then journey to the North Pole where they interrelate with the atmosphere’s upper layers. The released energy is what we call the Northern Lights.

Northern Lights
Northern Lightseir@si / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Where To View The Northern Lights

One of the best places to view the Northern Lights is in Alaska. As dawn takes place, a variety of colourful light bands dance across the night sky. This display is so renowned; travellers often visit from far and wide. Whilst in the vicinity, many will also take part in activities such as skiing, snowmobiling and dog mushing. Although these pastimes are extremely fun, they are also quite fast-paced and as such, travel insurance is imperative. In order to source the best annual holiday insurance available, the best place to look is online. Many providers will often offer better deals on annual policies, so if you travel repeatedly, this option may be cheaper than taking out a single cover each and every time.

Dog sledge tours allow visitors to partake in a new experience and one that commands some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. Watching the midnight sun come to light, as it covers the mountains, is a truly magical occurrence.

Guided snowmobile tours generally take around half a day to complete and such an excursion offers an insight into the Alaskan traditional way of life. It’s also an extremely thrilling pastime as many of the sleds are exceptionally fast-paced.

Alaska is one of the most celebrated places to visit the Aurora Borealis, mainly because its geographic location lies directly beneath the auroral oval. Guests are invited to take part in both one day and multi-day excursions in order to witness the lights in action. August 21 to April 21 is the best season to visit nature’s most magnificent natural wonder.

The Viewing Conditions

Ideal viewing conditions should be cold, crisp and clean, and the skies should boast zero clouds with little light. Depending on where you choose to view the lights and at what time of year, the display can last from as little as a few minutes to as long as five days.

The Aurora Borealis extends ten times higher than a jet aircraft and often spreads hundreds of miles into space. Travellers will regularly see vivid yellows, greens, purples and blue pattern light up the evening sky, which makes for an experience like no other.

If it’s not already on your bucket list, make sure you add the Aurora Borealis now. As well as Alaska, there are a number of other places to view this spectacular display, including Denmark, Scotland, Canada, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Russia and Sweden.

In Denmark, alterations in both the gases and altitudes create a variety of hues, whilst Scotland tends to showcase only a vivid green light. Lake Superior in Canada is an excellent viewing spot, as the lights not only illuminate the sky, they also showcase reflections from the lake.

Iveta Ivanova is an enthusiastic traveller and trip review blogger who loves discovering the world`s beautiful places. She tries to seek out the less explored touristic destinations and reveal them to other travellers. Make sure to book the best annual holiday insurance from http://www.annualtravelinsurance.com when travelling. You can follow her on Twitter @IvetaSIvanova and Google+ https://plus.google.com/104324707679934155318/posts.
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Experience Natural Wonders and Texas History at Longhorn Caverns
June 112013

Located in the beautiful rolling hills of the Texas Hill Country, Longhorn Caverns provides visitors a rather unique opportunity to experience the natural beauty of caverns whose story is intertwined with Texas history.  Daily tours are offered, but special themed tours and concerts also take place for those that want an extra special experience.

longhorn cavern
Longhorn Cavernseschipul / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Unique Cave Formation

While Caverns form in a variety of ways, the most common way is gradual dissolution of limestone.  Dissolving limestone did contribute to the formation of these caverns, and visitors will see a few stalactites and stalagmites formed by the slow dripping of dissolved limestone that are signature features in many caverns.  However, Longhorn Caverns is unique in that it was also formed simultaneously by the cutting action of water.  An ancient underground river flowed through the limestone bedrock, forming beautiful, curvaceous chambers of smooth rock that are distinctive amongst caves.

Entrance to Longhorn Caverns
Longhorn Cavern State ParkJ. Stephen Conn / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

The Human History Interwoven with Nature

Longhorn Cavern’s history, for better or worse, has been closely intertwined with human history and has played an important role in several defining moments in Texas and U.S. history.  The first humans to use the caverns were Comanche Indians, possibly for shelter and for making tools out of the flint that was in ready abundance in the area.  The Native Americans were driven out during the 1860’s during the Civil War, when the caves were then used by the Confederate Army to secretly manufacture gunpowder.

longhorncavern45
Longhorn Caverns Historymlhradio / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Once the Civil War concluded, the Indians and Old West outlaws utilized Longhorn Caverns as shelter. The most well known bandit to seek shelter at the caves was probably Sam Bass, the infamous train robber and bandit who executed the single biggest robbery of the Union Pacific Railroad, escaping with $60,000 in spoils.

The caverns utility as a “secret” location continued during the Prohibition era of the 1920’s when the chambers were used as a speakeasy nightclub.  In 1931, the caverns and surrounding ranch land were re-civilized when they were purchased by the State of Texas to form a state park.  Improvements to the cave and park were completed by the Civilian Conservation Corp, a nationally funded project created by President Franklin Roosevelt to provide employment to families suffering from the Great Depression and complete needed infrastructure projects around the country.  Since 1932, the caverns have been open to the public, and in 1971 the park was dedicated as a National Natural Landmark.

Unique Tours and One-of-a-Kind Concerts

Visitors to the caves can participate in a number of tours to enjoy the caverns and their cool, comfortable year round 68 degree temperatures.  The Daily Tour is offered several times a day ($12.99 for adults and $8.99 for children over 2) and provides visitors with a guided, 1 ½ long tour of the major chambers along the paved path within the cave.

Specialty tours are also available but must be reserved in advance.  The Wild Caves Tour gives people the chance to explore the caves in a way that was previously only available to professional spelunkers.  Participants can climb and crawl through passageways and areas off limits to other tours.  The Photography Tour gives photographers the chance to bring in their equipment and adequate time to set up shots for fabulous photographs.  Geology buffs will appreciate the Geology Tour lead by the onsite geologist, who will go in depth about the natural geologic formations.  Visitors who want to be titillated by the ghost stories will enjoy the Paranormal Tour.  Listen to the ghost stories, or if you are a ghost hunter, bring your paranormal equipment to attempt to record signs of paranormal activity that others have successfully captured.

Concerts are also held periodically, and reservations are a must as they typically sell out in advance.  Make sure to check the calendar of events or call ahead to find out if a concert is taking place during your visit.  The acoustics of the cave chambers are remarkable and lucky concert goers will be treated to a live performance unlike anything they have heard before.

Guest blog post courtesy of Teri Freitag/The Highland Lakes of Burnet County. Connect with the author on Facebook and Twitter.

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Overview 
If you’re looking for the ultimate hike at some point in your life then you could do a lot worse than attempt the Appalachian Trail. Giving it its full title of The Appalachian National Scenic Trail may be more apt due to the fact that it stretches for a huge distance and commands some of the most spectacular views on the East Coast of the United States, perhaps even the world. Most people (maybe for the sake of saving time) call it by its shortened name, the A.T.

The Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian TrailNicholas_T / Foter.com / CC BY

History and Information 
The idea of the Appalachian Trail was first formed in the mind of one Benton MacKaye in the early 1920s. A forester by trade, MacKaye’s dream was at first shunned by many but it gained publicity and popularity as the twenties wore on and became the main project of what was then known as the Palisades Interstate Park Trail Conference; as early as the fall of 1923 the first part of the trail was opened. Since that time there have been many extensions and re-routes meaning that there has never been a completely accurate measured length; most estimate that the entire trail is somewhere around 2,200 miles but it really depends on who you believe!

The Route 
The A.T. passes a staggering number of highways, rivers and side trails through its meandering 2,000+ miles. The official route starts at the base of Springer Mountain in Georgia before passing through an amazing twelve states before reaching the end at Mount Katahdin in Maine in the north-easternmost corner of the country. Due to its immense size and the fact that it passes through almost a quarter of the United States, it is maintained by several organisations; most notably the Appalachian Trail Conservancy which is voluntary and has been in existence since the early days of the trail.

Shady Valley
Mount KatahdinNietnagel / Nature Photos / CC BY-NC-SA

Hiking the trail 
You would be mistaken for thinking that anyone would be crazy enough to hike the trail in one fell swoop. There are a few hundred people who have the time, inclination and the energy to attempt the full length of the trail in one season. Thru-hikers – as they’re known – tend to start the trail in the spring with the aim to finish before the cooler weather returns in the early Fall. Maintaining a steady pace over such a distance is essential if you want to successfully complete a thru-hike. The majority of people, however, tend to hike the trail over the course of many years. Not everyone can take the strain and a lot more certainly can’t take the time off work!

Hiking the Appalachian Trail
Hiking the Appalachian TrailJeffrey Stylos / Foter.com / CC BY

Nature 
As you are generally hiking across the wilderness for the majority of the trail, you are no doubt going to encounter some dangers along the way – especially if you’re a thru-hiker – so you need to be prepared. A first aid kit isn’t going to get you very far if you come into contact with a black bear, but thankfully sightings and encounters are very few and far between. Snakes, however are a danger so be sure to keep your ears and eyes peeled.

There are countless spectacular sights along the route including a stunning view of the Delaware River from Mount Tammany and the beautiful Rangeley Lakes in Maine (close to the start or the end depending on which direction you decide to hike).

Summary 
The Appalachian Trail is certainly one of the wonders of the modern world. From the idea of one man less than 100 years ago it has become one of the most popular and celebrated hikes in the world and offers a wide range of challenges to both walkers and nature lovers alike. Three million plus hikers have Benton MacKaye to thank for this original plan and the hundreds of workers and volunteers that have made the trail into what it is today.

Ben Gallivan is a travel writer for Appalachian Outdoors, stockists of trail gear from big names including Life Is Good
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Alaska Whale Watching

Alaska Whale Watching

Alaska Whale Watching

May 302013

The expansive wilderness of Alaska has inspired brave adventurers, frontiersmen, poets, artists and authors for hundreds of years. In a world overcome with technology, the defiant 49th state remains largely untouched by the modern day, both on land and in the water.  While Alaska’s terrain is dominated by grizzly bears, wolves, caribou and eagles, the seas surrounding the massive state belong to the whales.

Whale watching has proven to be a huge tourist draw for Alaska as several species migrate through the waters off its coastline or seek refuge in the area.  With the density of whales in the region, sightings can be all but guaranteed during peak migration periods. Along with whales, visitors to Alaska are likely to catch glimpses of other wildlife such as harbor seals, ice seals, fur seals and countless species of seabirds.

Alaska Cruise / Whale Watching (croped)
Alaska Whale WatchingMaxChu / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

When to Visit

As a general rule, whale watching season in Alaska runs from May through September. The first whales to make it to Alaska are grey whales.  Pods begin arriving in April, with number increasing significantly in May and June. Beluga whales can also be spotted starting in the spring, and follow a much looser migration pattern through the summer and early autumn months.

Things begin to kick into high gear in June and July.  This is when a group of approximately 500 humpback whales arrive off the coast of Alaska each year.  Often weighing in excess of 35,000 kg and reaching lengths of 15+ metres, humpback whales are among the largest animals on Earth.  Despite their size, these enormous creatures navigate effortlessly through the water and often give spectators quite a show by leaping out of the water and crashing back down below the depths of the ocean.

Blue whales are probably the most elusive of all the whale species off the coast of Alaska.  They are usually found during July and August, though they rarely swim close to the shoreline as they prefer more open waters.

Minke whales along with orcas and various species of dolphins and porpoises often appear as added bonuses to late summer and early autumn whale watching tours. Fin whales, bowhead whales, bairds whales and even sperm whales have also been spotted off Alaskan waters, but to not appear with the same regularity as blue, grey and humpback whales.

Where to go

Each species of whale have their own favourite spots along the coast. One of the more popular locations for whale watching in Alaska is Seward. Many whale watching tours depart from Seward and make their way to Kenai Fjords National Park.  These areas are well known to contain many orcas, humpback whales, blue whales and fin whales during the summer months.  The fjords also offer stunning natural scenery for landscape and wildlife photography enthusiasts. If Seward proves to be too difficult to get too, multiple tours also part from the larger city of Homer, Alaska.

Nearby Prince William Sound is also home to numerous humpback whales, blue whales, dolphins and porpoises in the summer and arguably has even more scenery than Kenai Fjords. Further south from Kenai and Prince William Sound is the isolated Glacier Bay National Park.  Only accessible by sea and air, this area is frequented by grey and humpback whales in the summer.

Cruise Options

If you book a summer cruise to Alaska, you have a good chance at spotting whales. However, dedicated whale watching tours offer a better chance to see these amazing creatures up close and personal.  Whale watching tours come in many forms.  Daily excursions from places like Seward and Whittier are perfect if you are in Alaska over the summer and are short on time.  While sightings can never be guaranteed, there is a good chance to spot grey and humpback whales on small day-long cruises.  Smaller boats have the ability to get closer to whales than larger boats, so look for ships that carry less than 100 passengers.

Dedicated multi-day whale watching cruises are the best option for true wildlife enthusiasts. These cruises can be a little pricey, but the opportunity to visit multiple locations and observe several species of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the wild is well worth it.  Many longer cruises also combine wildlife hikes and excursions on land with whale watching, allowing passengers to truly soak in the breadth of the great Alaskan wilderness. Two to five day cruises depart from Alaska regularly and can be booked well in advance.

One final option is to book a cruise from Seattle or British Columbia to Alaska.  This journey takes several days and must be booked in advance. If this option sounds attractive to you, book cruises departing around June for a chance to follow migrating whales up the coastline towards the cooler waters of Alaska.

Post contributed by Korah Morrison, working for College-Paper.org – the best student’s helper. Get 20% discount with –blog20- promo code.
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Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

May 292013

Overview:
The Yosemite National Park spans across the counties of Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera, and reaches across the Sierra Nevada mountain chain. It is internationally famed for its natural splendour, as it is home to a series of granite cliffs, waterfalls and all manner of flora and fauna.

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Parkchensiyuan / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Yosemite’s geology is defined by its granitic and ancient rocks, with its overall shape formed 10 million years ago after the Sierra Nevada was tilted. It is said that over 1 million years ago an accumulation of snow and ice moved down the river valleys, eventually forming the U-shaped valley which now provides stunning vistas of the rest of Yosemite. The National Park is now characterised by the mountains, riverbeds and canyons which vein throughout it.

Although Yosemite Valley is by far the most popular location in the park, it only accounts for 1% of the overall area. To be sure, there is a plethora of other areas in Yosemite National Park that are just as delightful, such as the Dana Meadows and the Pacific Crest Trail.

Merced River, Little Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park
Merced River, Little Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National ParkSteveD. / Foter.com / CC BY

In 1984, Yosemite National Park was deemed a World Heritage Site, ensuring that its entirety is preserved from outside intervention. Wildlife such as deer, marmots and bears call Yosemite home, as do a large variety of reptiles, amphibians and birds.

People:
The Paiute and Sierra Miwok civilisations inhabited Yosemite Valley for nearly 3,000 years, until American settlers began exploring the greater area. US Army Major Jim Savage led his battalion into Yosemite Valley in pursuit of the Ahwahneechees, a civilisation of Native Americans living in the area at the time; this became known as the Mariposa Wars.

The Ahwahneechees were eventually captured in battle and their camp was burned down. The US Army settled them on a reservation, and later eventually let some resettle in Yosemite again. However, the Ahwahneechees became violent again and were later eradicated altogether.

An “Indian Village of Ahwahnee” was reconstructed behind the Yosemite Museum for visitors to observe.

Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park (#70)
Yosemite National ParkChristopher Chan / Travel Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

In 1855, the first group of tourists visited Yosemite, including the entrepreneur James Mason Hutchings. Hutchings and his companions were the first people to heavily publicise Yosemite, encouraging newspapers and magazines to write about the valley. One of the original tourists was the artist Thomas Ayres, who eventually held an exhibition in New York City, further promoting tourism for Yosemite.

Where it is today:
Yosemite National Park is now one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, and can be explored in a variety of ways.
There is a variety of hiking trails which can be embarked upon, where the park’s beauty is unavoidable. You will also be able to drive through some parts of the national park, which provides a good opportunity for visitors to observe the park’s night sky. Tioga Road in particular is a popular driving route in Yosemite, which is usually open between May and November.
Rock climbing is a popular and crucial aspect of Yosemite, and classes can be taken to learn the basics of rock climbing if you are new to the sport.
Winter activities such as downhill skiing are also available during the cold period, although many roads in the park are usually closed down during this time.

Our knowledge:
Yosemite National Park covers an astonishing 761,268 acres, with every inch of space filled with a variety of wildlife and plant life.
The area has a rich and difficult history, with native tribes having been chased out by American settlers in the 1800s. Since then, Yosemite has gone on to become one of the world’s most visited  landmarks, with over 3.7 million people visiting it every year.

Post contributed by Amy Labbadia – a travel writer for the luxury tour operator Wanderforth, specialising in holidays to the USA
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St Lucia

St Lucia is an island found in the Caribbean, famed for it’s diverse typography, stunning beaches and of course the friendly caribbean culture, attracting and welcoming visitors to the island every year.

Despite St Lucia featuring a host of activities, attractions and natural beauty spots including a zipline tour of its rainforest and the world’s only drive in volcano, one of the most poignant and renowned landmarks of the island remain the Pitons.

The Pitons

The Pitons of St Lucia gracefully protrude from the south west coast of the island in a region known as Val Des Pitons, an area which borders the quaint southern villages of Labourie and Soufriere.

The Gros and Petit Pitons - St. Lucia
The Gros and Petit Pitons – St. Luciawhl.travel / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The Gros Piton is the largest of the two and is located south of the slightly smaller and aptly named Petit Piton. The Gros Piton stands around 786m tall, with the tip of the Petit Piton reaching a height just 47m below. The ocean bed adjacent to the Pitons is a sheer drop travelling as deep as the the Pitons themselves. The two volcanic spires are one St Lucia’s most photographed beauty spots as their imposing beauty can be visualised from any aspect of the western coast.

Pitons of St Lucia
Pitons of St Luciamrtopp / Travel Photos / CC BY-NC

The Pitons are recognized for their natural beauty and importance to the island by the UNESCO World Heritage Found, which protect the land in which they are situated ensuring that over development will not occur.

The Birth of the Pitons

The Pitons for all their beauty are actually ‘Volcanic Plugs’, a name which slightly downplays their brilliance. They are part of a collapsed stratovolcano which overlies a tectonic plate within an area known as the Soufriere Volcanic Centre. The movement of this plate led to the birth and collapse of the volcanos. The rocky masses that make up the Pitons are the remnants of lava which plugged two volcanos before their collapse.

The sheer expanse of the stratovolcano is hard to contemplate, as at 7km in diameter the depression caused by the volcanos collapse nearly covers the whole of Soufriere. The centre of this depression is where the active Sulphur Springs are found.

Living on the Pitons

As well as the marvelous residences of the Sugar Beach Resort, nestled between the Pitons, the two landmasses also provide a habitat for a varied and somewhat endangered wildlife. Over 148 species of plant life have been found on Gros Piton, closely followed by 97 species on Petit Piton. From all of these flourishing specimens eight are very rare types of tree. The Gros Piton is also home to around 27 bird species of which five of are endemic.

Living on the Pitons of St Lucia
Living on the Pitons of St Lucia“Cowboy” Ben Alman / Water Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

From the small 617 km² landmass of St Lucia, it is obvious then that the mere 29 km2 that form the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Pitons play a vital role in St Lucia’s ecosystem.

Hiking the Pitons

One of the most fulfilling attractions of the island, is hiking to the top of the Pitons. It is hard work but the exhilaration is rewarded with awe inspiring views and photographs to cherish for a lifetime. On average you can expect to spend a long two to three hours attacking the relentless ascent of the Gros Piton, so only the fittest need apply!

Hiking on the Pitons of St Lucia
Hiking on the Pitons of St Luciatiny_tear / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The majestic Pitons dominate the the skyline of St Lucia,creating aesthetics that define the country; featuring on the countries flag, naming the national ‘Piton’ beer and being painted on just about all tourist memorabilia. It is no wonder then that this year the St Lucian tourist board have been invited to enter the Pitons into the ‘8th Wonder of the World Award’ held by VirtualTourist.com.

This article has been written by Sugar Beach Residences Caribbean Property

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Victoria Falls, Africa
December 42009

Victoria Falls, Africa

Background:

Ask someone what the biggest waterfall in the world is called and a lot of the time, they’ll answer ‘Niagara Falls’. While it’s certainly large, Angel Falls is in fact the highest, and Victoria Falls is the longest; stretching over 1700 meters.

Located between Zambia and Zimbabwe in Southern Africa, Victoria Falls is the world’s largest curtain of water, with an incredible 546 million cubic meters of water falling down its 328 foot drop every minute during flood season. This waterfall lies on the course of the Zambezi river; an epic interruption in its constant flow.

Victoria Falls’ beauty is unparalleled by the fact that there is another cliff edge facing the curtain of water, but one which is dry; giving visitors the ideal spot with which to view this natural wonder. However, the spray from such a huge amount of water travels for miles and anyone coming close to the falls is likely to get wet! Many tourists choose to hike around the falls, take the train over the Victoria Falls Bridge to look down into the gorge below, and also fly over it for spectacular views.

For the nearby Mukuni Village, Victoria Falls has brought a great deal of industry as visitors like to see their annual Lwiindi Festival (held each July) and also visit the Mosi O Tunya National Park when they visit. This wonder is certainly not short of things to do and ways to see it and the area makes a great week-long holiday in itself.

Formation:

Victoria Falls formed in much the same way that every other waterfall on earth begins its life. The fast flowing water that ran along the Zambezi river gradually started to erode the soft stone that lay on its bed, so that it fell away and the river ran into a decent. Over many thousands of years this erosion becomes more necessary and far more extreme, until the water flow became so steep that it began to fall in a curtain. As this became more pronounced, the spray of the water when it hit the plunge pool below causes the cliff side to start eroding inwards, making this curtain of water in turn more pronounced. While the falls were only discovered around 105 years ago by explorer David Livingstone in 1855, they are estimated to be an incredible 150 million years old (at least!).

The Victoria Falls gorges, on the other hand, have been forming very gradually over the past 100,000 years; a process which has been caused by the erosion of the water in the Zambezi river. This fast flowing water coming from Victoria falls has caused a series of zig-zagging gorges which look spectacular from the air.

How to Get There:

Victoria Falls is accessible either via Victoria Falls Airport in Zimbabwe or Livingstone Airport in Zambia. From there, trains, buses and taxis are readily available to take you to your individual accommodation.

See one of the many tourist boards for information on the hikes and walks that go around the Victoria Falls basin.

Where to Stay:

If you are willing to stay in self catering accommodation during your stay at Victoria Falls then you can find rooms for as little as $65 per night, although when staying in a foreign country this is not always the most desirable option.

For a luxury stay, try the Stanley and Livingstone hotel where rooms start at $200 and go up to $274 USD per night. This hotel has Victorian style decor and overlooks a waterhole where various species come to drink (buffalo and elephants to name two). The Royal Livingstone is another beautiful luxury hotel located inside the Mosi O Tunya National Park.

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Paricutin Volcano, Mexico
December 42009

Paricutin Volcano, Mexico

Background:

Also known as Parķutin volcano, this natural structure earned its status as one of the seven wonders of the natural world due to the speed at which it formed itself. Over just nine years it grew to the height of 3170 meters and farmers who lived and worked in the nearby area at the start of its growth said that they could see the difference in its formation from going to bed at night and waking up in the morning.

Paricutin volcano is located in Michoacan state, Mexico, where it began to form in 1943. It’s this recent formation that makes it totally unique from other volcanoes on earth, as it is the only one to have been seen from it’s very beginning by human eyes. It has remained dormant since 1952 when it stopped erupting after its initial formation. It has claimed three lives, but only due to lightening strikes during the eruption.

Although Michoacan, Mexico is an area that lies on volcanic land, it still came as a shock to the farmer Dionisio Pulido who owned the fields that Paricutin Volcano was formed in. It would be hard for any person to be shocked when the ground beneath them begins to part and grow several feet into the air! Obviously today his land can no longer be used for farming purposes, but it is a strong tourist draw instead, with many tourists and volcanic enthusiasts coming to see this very young natural wonder.

Formation:

Dionisio Pulido was tending to his crops in the fields that he owned on February 20th, 1943 when he saw that the ground in front of him had opened into a fissure. Without time to investigate he said that there was thunder, followed by the ground being raised by almost 8 feet into the air. It was then that he fled, obviously aware that something significant was happening below his fields.

What was happening was the formation of one of the world’s youngest volcanoes. Over the next two days the volcano grew an incredible 150 feet and then continued to erupt frequently over the next eight years. It was forming along what is known as the ‘Mexican Volcanic Belt'; an area of high volcanic activity stretching 700 miles across the south of the country. Perhaps for this reason it shouldn’t have come as such a shock to Dionisio, but the fact that only one other volcano had formed since the mid 18th century, this occurrence was agreed by scientists and geologists to be extremely rare.

The formation of Paracutin and other volcanoes in this area has, in turn, made the farming soil far more fertile and even though volcanoes may be dangerous, Michoacan is more populated than it has ever been before.

How to Get There:

Uruapan airport is the closest airport to the Paricutin volcano to its western side, but General Francisco J. Mujica International airport is not far away either and is on the east of the volcano. You can fly to either of these from most major European and American airports and from there may wish to take a train or taxi closer to the volcano and further into the state of Michoacan.

The easiest way to visit the volcano itself is to hike, as the area is highly populated and there are no major highways leading to it. The terrain here can be steep, but it is grassy and fertile so specialist gear is not necessarily needed.

Where to Stay:

Uruapan is the nearest city to Paricutin volcano, so this is likely to be the best area to find accommodation. Prices start at as little as $65 to $94 USD per night at three-star Hotel Mi Solar, or up to $111 in Mansion del Cupatitzio. Hotel Concordia is perhaps the cheapest in the area with rooms starting at just $40 per night.

There are two wonderful luxury hotels right near Paricutin volcano itself, however, and these are five star Mision del Sol Resort and Spa (starting at $303 per night) and five star Villa Montana hotel and spa (starting at $262 per night).

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Aurora Borealis
December 42009

Aurora Borealis

Background:

The seven wonders of the natural world do not all have to be on the ground, or even be physical structures that can be touched and the Aurora Borealis is the perfect example of that.

These lights that occur mainly in the northern hemisphere of planet Earth (hence their alternative name ‘the northern lights’) but also occasionally in the southern hemisphere too are such an unusual display of nature that they remained a scientific phenomenon until very recently. They can appear as flowing, moving waves of light (known as Quity Arces), thin strips of light (Diffuse Patches) or sheets of glowing light (Raide Arces) and they glow green, blue, red and yellow.

The aurora occurs solely in the sky and mainly in areas closest to the northern closest to the northern magnetic pole (currently located in Canada). They appear most during September and October, and then again in March and April although they do not appear every night and many people’s expeditions to see them prove unfruitful. Perhaps it is their elusiveness and unpredictability that makes them such an appealing one of the seven wonders of the natural world, but their natural beauty is, of course, the main attraction.

The northern hemisphere is a hostile, arctic environment. Despite this, many keen photographers take trips out there in an effort to capture the lights on film. Many also take video cameras to capture a time lapse recording of the lights, as they move slowly but in beautiful patterns.

Formation:

The aurora has most likely been around for many thousands of millions of years, even before the most basic life forms began, yet we still have the knowledge of how they are created. It wasn’t until around 1741 that the link between the magnetic poles and the northern lights was discovered, and up until 2008 the mysteries behind their formation have been slowly unraveling.

Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis (southern lights) are formed when particles from the sun – also known as ‘solar wind’ – hit the earth’s atmosphere. They are charged highly with energy which is lost when they collide with other atoms, or when they emit a photon of light; a process which results in the lights that we see. Solar wind particles always occur in parallel with the earth’s magnetic field, which is why we often see them as ribbons or waves of light moving in a certain direction.

Their individual color depends entirely on the make up of the emission that the solar wind molecule gives off. Green and maroon colored aurora occur when the molecules emit oxygen, whereas blue lights occur when nitrogen is given off. Red lights can indicate either oxygen or nitrogen.

How to Get There:

The Aurora Borealis is not just found in one city or even country in the world, so it is up to you to choose where you would like to see them. Reykjavik in Iceland is a wonderful place to see the northern lights, as are many areas of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Each of these countries have main airports which are easily flown to, although if you are aiming for the magnetic pole then you will need to consult an arctic expert for advice on the necessary hiking gear, tents and/or vehicles to get you there.

Where to Stay:

For anyone who isn’t a professional arctic explorer or at least vaguely familiar with what’s required of this type of trip, it’s best to stay in one of the hotels in a more populated and interesting place in the northern hemisphere such as Reykjavik in Iceland, Lulea in Sweden or Rovaniemi in Finland.

The advantage with staying in a place that’s more populated and metropolitan than somewhere nearer the north pole is that there are other things to visit during the daytime when the Aurora cannot be seen. Also, you will be able to stay comfortably in these places for days on end, making your chance of seeing the northern lights higher.

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Mount Everest, Himalayas
December 42009

Mount Everest, Himalayas

Background:

Neighboring countries Nepal and Tibet are separated in a very unique way; 8850 meters up on the mountain ridge of Mount Everest in the Himalayas, Asia.

Mount Everest gained its name in 1856, when the Royal Geographic Society decided to name is after British surveyor-general of India, Sir George Everest. It wasn’t until 1953 that the first successful hike right to Mount Everest’s summit was achieved, and it was done by the late New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary who died in 2008.

Sir Edmund Hillary was the person to have recorded Mount Everest’s height for the very first time, although that figure differs greatly from the height that Everest stands at today. This is because Everest still lies on the tectonic plates that were once responsible for its formation and as they are still active, Mount Everest gets pushed up by 4mm and towards the Northeast by 3 to 6mm every year. That’s an average height increase of 22.4cm since Sir Edmund Hillary first recorded it in 1953.

The higher levels of Mount Everest are certainly not a tourist attraction, considering the mountain has so far cost 210 explorers their lives. There are, however, certain climbing and walking routes along the mid to lower levels of Mount Everest where tourists can try their hand at hiking a great deal of the way up. It’s advised that anyone who is going to attempt this has training and buys professional equipment for the job and the conditions are cold and the oxygen thin.

Formation:

Mount Everest was formed approximately between 30 and 50 million years ago by plate tectonics (the movement of the tectonic plates which hold the earth together miles below its crust).

When two tectonic plates move together, but come too close into contact and experience too much friction, there can either be an earthquake (to disperse the immense energy), or the displacement of earth materials around it. In the case of Mount Everest, the earth was pushed upwards from under the Tethys sea when the Indian subcontinental plate and the Eurasian plate collided, forming a mountain shape which simply never smoothed out again. Since Mount Everest has been shown to increase in height by 4mm per year, we can assume that one significant plate tectonics event formed the mountain, but over those millions of years it has grown significantly taller than it was originally.

During the various glacial ages that the world has seen over the past 50 million years (the latest being 20,000 years ago), Mount Everest’s pyramidal shape was sculpted by the erosion of glaciers that moved slowly across it. In fact, there are glaciers still present in the Himalayas today which continue to alter the shape of this ever moving, ever changing, awe inspiring natural structure.

How to Get There:

The nearest airport to Mount Everest is the Tribvhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal. From there you can travel nearer to Mount Everest by train or buses that leave from the airport several times per day.

If you’ve sorted out how to get to the Himalayas and find yourself at the foot of Mount Everest with no way of seeing it from its summit, then you could explore the possibility of flying over it instead. There are various tour operators in the area who will take your over Mount Everest and the surrounding Himalaya mountains for around $150 (USD) per person.

Where to Stay:

There are many hotels in and around the Himalayas, but if you’re going to visit this area of Asia then you may as well do it properly, and stay in a hotel that exhibits a proper view of this famous mountain.

This hotel is known as ‘Hotel Everest View’ and you can certainly imagine why. You can fly easily from the main airport in Brazil to the smaller airstrip in Syangboche, very near to where the hotel is located. It sits within the Sagarmatha National Park, some 12,729 up! From here you can see Mount Everest very clearly, through the gap between the two slightly smaller mountains that sit aside it.

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Harbor of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Background:

On the North Eastern coast of Brazil lies the state of Rio de Janeiro, which has a capital city of the very same name. This city is well known for a number of things, including the stunning mountains that surround it, great carnivals and of course the statue of Christ the Redeemer that overlooks the city below. Rio de Janeiro’s most famous feature, however, has to be its harbor, which formed entirely naturally and was colonized in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers.

The harbor of Rio de Janeiro is in fact a bay which spans an immense 88 miles in length. As a result the majority of the city of Rio de Janeiro is spread across it, giving hotels, shopping malls, office blocks, music venues and even housing some incredible views. Perhaps one of the best views is of Sugarloaf Mountain; a 1299 foot tall peak on the Guanabara Bay peninsula.

‘Rio de Janeiro’ means ‘River of January’ in Portuguese; the name given to the area by the 16th century explorers when they thought they were sailing into a wide-mouthed river, rather than Guanabara bay (they bay that precedes and leads on to the harbor at Rio de Janeiro).

Formation:

The harbor at Rio de Janeiro as we know it today was colonized in the 16th century, and modernized in the 20th century. Yet the actual structure of the bay has been around for millions of years, gradually being eroded by the waves that came through Guanabara bay and hit the land behind it.

It was the Atlantic Ocean that surrounds this area of Brazil that was responsible for this erosion; a process which earned the harbor of Rio de Janeiro its prestige. The erosion occurred in such a way that if you look at the bay from different angles, it can look like a river mouth, or even a lake. Evidence of the harsh sea conditions that caused this kind of formation can still be seen today from October until March, which is the state of Rio de Janeiro’s rainy season.

Unfortunately the formation of the harbor at Rio de Janeiro is coming to a close, as the Guanabara bay peninsula which forms its western ‘arm’ is being sluiced using pipes so that this metropolitan city can expand. Where this expansion and development will lead we cannot be sure, but one thing’s for certain; the shape of Rio de Janeiro’s harbor is changing fast.

How to Get There:

Luckily for visitors to the Harbor of Rio de Janeiro most major airports fly directly the Rio de Janeiro itself, and because it is such a well populated and metropolitan city there are many places to stay as soon as you step off the plane.

The airport (GIG), also known as Galãeo International Airport, is Brazil’s largest airport, located on Governador Island. Once you step off the plane it is just 12.5 miles to Rio de Janeiro’s central city area, so you can travel by bus, taxi or rented vehicle (motorbike or car) from there to your chosen accommodation.

Where to Stay:

Rio de Janeiro is a largely metropolitan city, so there are plenty of hotels (budget, mid range and luxury) to choose from there.

Prices start from as little as $47 per night, although for this price you will be looking at a very budget style hotel or hostel. The Martinique Copa Hotel (three stars) is a great mid-range hotel, which has rooms at a much lower rate than many that are similar ($194 per night).

Perhaps the very best luxury hotel in Rio de Janeiro is five star Copacabana Place complete with gym and swimming pool. Rooms are at an average price of $566 per night.

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Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Background:

Lying just a few miles off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is the Great Barrier Reef; the only living thing visible from space and one of the seven wonders of the natural world.

Its total area comprises approximately 133,000 square miles and within that live thousands of different species of marine life. To be more specific, there are around 1500 species of fish, 4000 species of mollusk and 400 different types of coral (both hard and soft). As well as this there are marine animals such as the severely endangered sea-cow (also known as the dudong or manatee) and the large green turtle, which face extinction if the Great Barrier Reef’s climate isn’t protected.

Measures are being taken to preserve the Great Barrier Reef and it has been named as a UNESCO world heritage site as well as one of CEDAM International’s seven wonders of the underwater world too. Whether the efforts of the organizations will prevent damage to the reefs and the endangered species that rely on it we cannot be sure. Global warming and the disposal of effluents are largely to blame.

The Great Barrier Reef has become a huge tourist draw for those who wish to see the world’s largest coral reef, with many opportunities for diving, snorkeling and seeing the reef from the air.

Formation:

Amoebas and fish may be born and die within a matter of months, but life within the Great Barrier Reef has been going through cycles for many, many millions of years.

It’s estimated that the actual corals that we see today started growing just off the coast of Queensland are around 18,000 years old. However, in order to grow they first needed a basis upon which to attach. This ‘base’ is in fact the skeletons of the corals that came before them and subsequently died due to a huge change in environment such as temperature, sea level or both. These corals that came before the Great Barrier Reef that we know today had been growing on and off for the previous 24 million years, upon limestone rocks that were formed 41 million years prior to that.

One of the most beautiful things about the Great Barrier Reef is the fact reefs before it have come under such harsh conditions that they have died, yet in turn supported their successors. We can see fish, marine life, marine plants and corals live and die each day at the Great Barrier Reef, but we know that this is all part of a continuous cycle. Where it will lead, who knows!

How to Get There:

The Great Barrier Reef has its very own airport (Great Barrier Reef Airport, also known as Hamilton Island Airport) so you can fly there directly, or catch a connecting flight from New York, Paris, Bangkok or from your nearest airport. This brings you to one of the closest islands to the Great Barrier Reef itself and you can take various boats to the area of the ocean where the corals lie.

Depending on how you wish to explore the barrier reef, you may want to research the different types of excursions available. A cruise boat will let you see the reef from above the water, or you could choose a small luxury yacht so you can get a closer look, or a standard boat but one which lets you dive or snorkel.

Where to Stay:

Your best choice for visiting the Great Barrier Reef is probably to stay in a hotel on Hamilton Island, so that you are near both the wonder and the airport. There is regular transport between Hamilton Island and Queensland mainland so you can take day trips there too.

Unfortunately, however, if you are looking for a budget stay then you may wish to stay in Queensland as rooms at Hamilton Island generally start at around $300 (USD). For a mid-range stay, you may wish to try Palm Bungalows, where rooms start at around $270 a night. Or perhaps five-star Beach Club where rooms start at $523.

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Grand Canyon, USA
December 42009

Grand Canyon, USA

Background:

Located in Arizona, US, the Grand Canyon is the one of the world’s deepest gorges, with cliff edges measuring up to a mile in depth. While it is not the deepest on the planet, the Grand Canyon is recognized mainly for its extreme beauty and the fact that all 227 miles of it is consistently awe-inspiring.

Before 1540 when Europeans immigrated to the Grand Canyon, this site was used as a habitat for Native Americans and later as a pilgrimage site for the Pueblo peoples. When Theodore Roosevelt became President of America he worked hard to preserve the area as he appreciated its great beauty, and also enjoyed hunting there. Today, the Grand Canyon lies within the Grand Canyon National Park, which in itself is considered a natural wonder of the world. This park is used to conserve the area that it comprises, allowing tourists to visit and explore it safely, without damaging any of the natural structures.

The Grand Canyon has also been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, which (along with the fact that it is a national park) has helped to protect it from various proposals, such as the damming of the Colorado River that runs within it.

While from the cliff tops the Grand Canyon may look like a dry and arid region, the same cannot be said for the land one mile below. In the deep valleys of this gorge there are rivers, rapids and even perfect conditions for white-water rafting; which many visitors to the area enjoy.

Formation:

Some 40 million years ago, the Colorado River was formed. It grew gradually, being fed by various tributaries, to form a basin. After 23 million years this river grew to a point where it began to erode the land that it ran through, boring deep into the earth below.

Over the next 17 million years this erosion continued to the point where a gorge was formed, bringing with it such natural structures as caves and canyons. This time line brings us to the present day, where the grand canyon is one of the most spectacular natural structures on the planet, and one which continues to be formed all the time.

All those millions of years ago it was unlikely that the Grand Canyon would’ve been occupied by humans for a very long period of time. Indeed, ancient artifacts have been unearthed there, but these date back just 12, 000 years; not a very long time in Canyon’s long history. Humans evolved 200, 000 years ago so we know that they most definitely did live within the Canyons caves, but whether earlier species of the homo genus lived here too (e.g. homo erectus, Neanderthals or homo habilis) we cannot be entirely sure.

How to Get There:

The Grand Canyon has been preserved by the Grand Canyon national park that it exists within and as a result this has made it possible for tourists to come and visit the area safely, without causing any damage to it. It can be found in the state of Arizona, which has a number of sights to see in it besides the Canyon, so a trip here can span a fortnight, rather than just a couple of days to see the Grand Canyon.

To get there by air you can fly to any of the three airports that are nearby. The Grand Canyon actually has its own airport (The Grand Canyon Airport) although if you are staying in a hotel near Phoenix or are planning to see the rest of Arizona first then you can also fly to Phoenix Sky Harbor or Flagstaff Pulliam Airport. From here you can rent a car or take a bus to the Southern rim of the Grand Canyon. There are also a number of tour operators offering coach excursions in and around the Grand Canyon National Park, so even if you fly to the southern rim you won’t miss out on its northern side.

Where to Stay:

If you are a couple staying in the southern rim then you might enjoy Maswick Lodge which was renovated in 2006 and lies within walking distance of the Grand Canyon’s rim. Alternatively you could try the Holiday Inn Express for a budget stay suitable for individuals, couples and families. Perhaps the best hotel near the Canyon’s southern rim is the Red Feather Lodge.

At the northern rim you could try one of the many comping grounds there, or if you are a group of young people then try the Phantom Ranch (dormitories separated by gender). For a standard lodge or hotel stay then you should get in contact with the Grand Canyon Lodge, who offer a range of single, double and family rooms.

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