Most people associate the Caribbean dream come true with the small southern Caribbean island of Aruba: palm trees, crystal clear turquoise blue water and white dream beaches wherever the eye can see. And that’s also true, because Aruba has the most beautiful beach in the entire Caribbean , thanks to the breathtaking underwater world every dive here becomes an adventure and you can even swim with flamingos . If that’s not enough, it should be said: Aruba can do even more! What many do not know: Aruba’s north side offers the most stark contrast to the dream beaches on the south side that you can imagine. The absolute highlight on Aruba’s north coast is without a doubt the Natural Pool, a round rock formation directly on the sea, into which the waves slosh into it again and again, creating a natural pool. What at first sounds quite unspectacular is one of the main attractions of Aruba, for which many day tourists (e.g. who come to Aruba on the cruise ships) often skip the wonderful beaches. The tours to the Natural Pool are often fully booked days in advance, so a little planning doesn’t hurt. In this article we will show you what you can expect from your Natural Pool adventure on Aruba, what you should pay attention to and – most importantly – how you can explore the Natural Pool completely free of charge. Off Road in Aruba: The Arikok National Park The Natural Pool (also called ‘Conchi’ by the locals) is located in the middle of the Arikok National Park, a very barren nature reserve that takes up almost 20% of the area of Aruba . We have already hinted at it: Who so far has only taken pictures of Aruba’s beautiful sandy beach eshas seen, who can hardly imagine that the island is otherwise characterized by barren, dusty dry landscape, in which little more than grows than man-high cacti and aloe plants (the symbol of Aruba, next to the Divi-Divi trees, of course). This is due to the simple fact that Aruba has no inland water and in the southern Caribbean, as one of the islands ‘under the wind’, hardly ever gets rain, you won’t find a hurricane season in Aruba. It is warm and sunny all year round, so the flora and fauna look accordingly. At this point just a few pictures: The further you go to the north side, the more bizarre and rocky the landscape becomes (and the more dangerous the native animal species become, for example you come across more and more wild, very (!!) dangerous donkeys, as can be seen in the picture). In the area of the Arikok National Park at the latest, paved roads are becoming increasingly rare: You are on the road off-road, Google Maps can often no longer help and some of the routes cannot be covered with a normal rental car. Natural Pool Aruba: The Best Aruba Adventure The way to the Natural Pool is not that simple, especially if you want to go out on your own: Since the Natural Pool cannot be reached via a paved road, Google Maps will unfortunately lead you astray. It took us two attempts to find the Natural Pool. On the first day we turned around again because, thanks to the lack of a GPS signal in the Arikok National Park, we weren’t sure whether we were on the right path and were afraid of getting lost (we had already been on the road for over half an hour with far too little water and slowly lost orientation in the barren landscape). It is therefore all the more important to start the Natural Pool adventure halfway prepared – because the journey is part of the goal! This is how you get to the Natural Pool You can basically reach the Natural Pool in Aruba in 3 ways: By guided tour, with your own 4×4 or off-road with a rental car and a short hike. By guided tour to the Natural Pool This is the tourist variant 😉 For those of you who have little time in Aruba, a guided tour to the Natural Pool is ideal. You will be brought as close as possible to the Natural Pool in an off-road vehicle, the last section (possibly 200m) you have to cover on foot. The cost of a natural pool tour is around $ 90 per person , the tours last about 4 hours and you will be accompanied by local guides who also take good care of their sheep at the natural pool. Here you can book various Natural Pool tours (remember to book in good time, as the tours are often booked out a few days in advance. Only a limited number of people can be brought to the Natural Pool): On your own to the Natural Pool If you don’t want to pay $ 90 and are not afraid to pave your way through the Arikok National Park with a real off-road vehicle, then this is your alternative. Rent a jeep in Aruba – and by that we mean a jeep, a real off-road vehicle, not an SUV, not a fake off-road vehicle, but a real off-road vehicle. Everything else will not work. You have to drive over large stones, rocks, deep holes and unpaved, sandy soil. The way to the Natural Pool through the Arikok National Park cannot be covered with a normal vehicle. So don’t even try, off-road driving is usually excluded in rental vehicle contracts in Aruba, so that tourists don’t make nonsense with their Fiat Puntos. And no, there is no other way than off road through Arikok National Park. There is just one way. Tip: Since Google Maps won’t show you the way on site, get directions beforehand. You can find very good and precise directions here: Directions to the Natural Pool . It’s best to print them out! Without these clues you will not find the way. Off road walk to the natural pool If you don’t want to rent an off-road vehicle or if you don’t feel comfortable driving it, there is a third way to get to the Natural Pool, which, however, requires a little stamina. You drive with your normal rental car into the Arikok National Park, the roads on this way are just so that you can drive them carefully (!). Enter Rancho Daimari as your destination on Google Maps . Please not Natural Pool Aruba , this is the wrong way! (namely the one that can only be driven on by off-road vehicle!). There is a small parking lot above the Rancho Daimari, here you park your car, pack your belongings and off you go. You have to first go down and past the ranch, then always follow the trampled path (by the way, we didn’t have to pay an entrance fee for the national park anywhere. We wouldn’t have known where … to give the donkeys? Put a note between the cacti? It was far and wide not a soul to be seen). Go towards the coast and keep to the right. It is best to just follow the coastline to the east, then nothing can go wrong. Along the way you will come across a few smaller beaches in addition to the bizarre landscape – we strongly recommend that you do NOT go swimming here ! The current on this side of Aruba is extremely dangerous, but you can see that from the waves with a little common sense. After a 1.5 to 2 km walk (approx. 45 minutes ) you will reach the Natural Pool. It took us two attempts to find this way to the Natural Pool. The first time we stopped because we weren’t sure whether we were right at all, as Google is more likely to cause confusion here, as I said, and GPS does not work. After checking again at home, when we were sure that we had actually already been on the right track and that we only had to go a little further, we tried again the next day and this time found the Natural Pool. In the Natural Pool itself, the current should not be underestimated. The right side is more or less open, the current sometimes pulls you properly towards the open sea. Sometimes such violent waves slosh into the pool from the left side that you get pretty doused and lose your grip. But don’t worry – at the Natural Pool there is always at least one ranger on site (plus the guides for the guided tours) who takes care and can help immediately if problems arise. Incidentally, there is another smaller pool above the main pool, which can be reached with a little climbing. The water here is warmer and calmer. Natural Pool Aruba: This is what you need for your adventure What you should definitely take with you are a pair of sturdy bathing shoes . The rocks in the Natural Pool are quite slippery and sharp-edged, you won’t get far with flip flops (not least because the current will tear them off your feet and then you can only wave wistfully afterwards). The Natural Pool is no fun even barefoot, Christian can tell you a thing or two about it … What you don’t expect at all in the Natural Pool (and even many locals don’t know that): fish! Colorful, funny fish! Take your snorkeling equipment with you, it’s worth it! If you want to experience the natural pool on a hike like us, then think of sturdy shoes . The 2km walk is not a flip flop walk. Extra trekking shoes are not necessary, but sneakers or other sturdy footwear should be. I went on the adventure -as usual- semi well prepared in my Birkenstock and in my summer dress. Already went. With the Birkenstock you can also go into the water wonderfully (= sturdy bathing shoes), they have patiently endured all kinds of tortures for several years. Otherwise: towel, enough to drink, sunscreen, something to eat (you will be on the road for around 3-4 hours in total, regardless of whether you book a guided tour or explore the natural pool on your own). And please no Mimimi, because it wobbles in the jeep or you have to walk over stupid stones (we say that because we have had a few critical words on site from American tourists who have already been driven as close as possible in the jeep. of the ‘comfort’ of the excursion): The way to the natural pool is part of the experience and the natural pool is also not a whirlpool in which we can all sit nicely together.
Whether the pigs in the Bahamas , the flamingos in Aruba or the alligators in the Everglades – somehow we get into animal adventures again and again on our travels . Well, of course it doesn’t happen by accident 😉 And so it wasn’t a coincidence that we planned a rather big dangling for one thing during our Florida road trip: We wanted to swim with the manatees . The big gray manatees are something of a symbol of Florida and, if you know where, can be found practically anywhere in Florida’s waters. Swimming with them is only officially allowed in one place in Florida , the Crystal River. Without anticipating too much – we can already tell you that swimming with manatees is one of the kind of experiences that you won’t forget in a hurry. Touching the gentle giants or having the fattest smooch of all time pressed right in the face by a manatee is impressive (and tickles!). Our bucket list, which we don’t actually have, definitely got a big, fat hook that day. Manatees in Florida There are only four species of manatees left in the world. Curiously, their respective areas of distribution are very far apart; the so-called manatees live in Florida and on the Gulf of Mexico. You can see the manatees all over Florida’s waters, they do well in both salt and fresh water. There is one simple reason why you will probably not run into manatees by chance in Florida: They like it warm. The funny manatees look a bit chubby to us and we automatically assume that they have a thick layer of fat that protects them from the cold, but that’s not the case. All pure muscles (and heavy bones 😉). And so, unfortunately, the manatees freeze pretty quickly, which forces them to stay in warm waters. Where in Florida do you find the manatees? Manatees can be found in Florida wherever the water is cozy and warm. This is particularly the case inland in northern Florida, where numerous river springs arise. Above all the Homosassa Springs and the Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, where the water is constant all year round at 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Especially in winter, when the water outside the springs and in the sea becomes cool, the manatees are drawn to the warm springs. From November to March is peak season Manatee and they abound throughout Florida by the hundreds around the hot spots in the water. Especially the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a real manatee paradise! Here you can watch the peaceful manatees in their natural environment all day long. A good overview of the places in Florida where you can watch manatees can be found here: Top manatee spots See wild manatees in Florida As great as it is to watch the manatees in their natural habitat, one thing is forbidden everywhere in Florida: Diving, snorkeling and swimming with the manatees. So you can’t just jump into the water with the animals if you feel like it. The manatees belong to the endangered species and enjoy special protection in Florida, be it through the swimming ban or specially separated protection zones into which the animals can retreat. Because although the manatees have hardly any natural enemies in Florida due to their size, there is one thing that really worries them: the human being with his motorboats. We saw many manatees with scars on their backs from cuts from the screws of the boats. Unfortunately, the animals are just too cozy and leisurely on the move, to be able to avoid the fast motor boats. Therefore, especially around Crystal River, near the warm springs, some protection zones have been set up, which are not allowed to be entered by boat, kayak or swimming. You should stick to this, disregarding such a protection zone or the swimming ban can result in severe penalties. Crystal River: Swim with the Manatees However, there is one place in Florida where swimming with the manatees is officially allowed : Kings Bay in Crystal River. Hundreds, if not thousands, of manatees cavort here in the winter months, as the Three Sisters Springs nearby feed the bay with warm water. The warmer the surrounding waters with rising outside temperatures in summer, the less the manatees will stay in the bay. The huge animals (whose closest relatives are whales and elephants) have to eat around 15% of their body weight every day – as herbivores that feed primarily on seaweed, this is of course no easy task. The manatees leave the hot springs as soon as possible each year and move on to other bodies of water where they can find better care. There are two ways to swim with the Manatees in Crystal River: Either you try it on your own or you join a guided tour. A snorkeling tour with the manatees In order to be able to experience the manatees, we decided on a guided tour. There are a number of companies in Citrus County and Crystal River that offer boat tours to the Manatees. We have chosen River Ventures , the best-known provider . We really wanted to do a tour very early in the morning at 6 or 7 a.m. , because at this time the water is a bit cooler and the manatees cavort around the warm springs – so the probability of meeting manatees is greater. Unfortunately, apart from River Ventures, no other provider offers such an early tour. So once again we tortured ourselves out of bed at an inhumanly early hour and drove to the River Ventures visitor center very early in the morning. There, over hot coffee, there was a brief introduction to the manatees, some information about the tour and tips on how to handle the manatees correctly. The most important information: Those who move the least in the water will have the most fun! An information that should give us one of the best experiences later 😉 After the short lecture, we squeeze into our sexy wetsuits in no time and off we go by bus to Kings Bay. We take the boat out on the water, each of us is provided with a funny swimming noodle and a snorkel set. It takes a while before we discover the first typical “swirl” that a manatee makes when swimming. As a layman, a swirl like this can hardly be distinguished from a fish on the surface, but our guides have an eye for it, of course. Manatees only have to come up every few minutes to breathe and otherwise spend most of their time eating or sleeping at the bottom of the water. But since they are very curious by nature, they do not necessarily dive down again after taking a breath when they notice that it is,for example So we hurry to get into the water when we spot the first manatee, some of the group paddle afterwards and we are in the cold water for a while looking for manatees – without success. The game repeats itself a couple of times, we go back on board, drive to another spot in the bay where a manatee makes itself felt, go into the water – the manatee is long gone by the time we are in the water. In the end, our guides decide to simply stay at the current location for a while, where two or three manatees can be seen from the boat. The manatee kiss I remember what I learned during the introduction: whoever does the least action in the water is the most interesting for the manatees. So I bob around pretty motionless, because I have already learned that swimming behind is not successful. Suddenly, only 1-2 meters away from me, a large gray back is visible on the surface of the water and my pulse suddenly skyrockets. I force myself to stay calm, not to kick, and tell myself not to be frightened if the manatee suddenly appears in front of my face. Then I put my face halfway under the surface of the water so that I can just see what is happening above, but also have the underwater world in view. At this moment the time has come: A manatee appears right in front of my face, nuzzling my goggles with its bulging snout that is as big as my entire head. A manatee smooch! Gnihi. The moment is over so quickly that I have no time to frighten myself, so I just stroke the manatee for a moment as it swims by before it dips again. Nothing better could have happened to me. But be careful, you shouldn’t be too fooled about a manatee kiss: The animals just see pretty badly and just check who we are and whether you can eat our diving goggles. This has been going on in the Crystal River for decades. Learning effect on the side of the manatees = 0, let me tell you … A guided tour with River Ventures costs around $ 65 per person , as with all providers. The big advantage: River Ventures offers a tour early in the morning and runs with comparatively small groups. Hence a clear recommendation from us. On your own: by kayak to the manatees If you don’t want to do a guided tour, there is a cheaper alternative: You can rent kayaks for around $ 45 (per kayak) all around Kings Bay and Crystal River . If you already know your way around Kings Bay, that’s great. But since we had no clue and, for example, did not know where the springs are, we would have been pretty lost on our own and probably wouldn’t have seen a single manatee. That is why we, as a first-time offender, decided to take a guided tour. Rules of conduct for swimming with the manatees To make your adventure with the Manatees a complete success, there are a few things to consider. Be calm in the water. Don’t pedal wildly, just snorkel quietly. A swimming noodle is great, with it you can bob around relatively motionless in the water Don’t swim after the manatees if you spot one. In most cases, they’re faster anyway … just don’t do it. It stresses the animals Stay on the surface and certainly not dive after the manatees When the manatees are on the ground, they sleep or eat. In both cases: do not disturb! Should you see a manatee with a cub, that is great luck. Enjoys it! A manatee comes to you and nuzzles you – don’t panic. They have bad eyesight and look for something to eat. Don’t worry, they can’t hurt you Whoever is the calmest will have the most fun! Tips for the Manatee snorkeling tour The best season for spotting manatees is winter , between November and March . Then the waters in Florida are quite cold and the manatees are drawn to the warm springs. It is advisable to book a tour early in the morning as the chances of seeing manatees are much greater in the morning. It is therefore advisable to spend the night in Crystal River on site, then you will not have such a stress in the morning. The Plantation on Crystal River * is said to be very beautiful . During our excursion the following was provided: Coffee and cocoa Snorkeling equipment Swimming noodles Wetsuits Anti-fog spray for diving goggles Indispensable, so bring your own: Towels (1 per person) Water and maybe something to eat (the tour takes about 3 hours) A GoPro Hero * or other underwater action cam * Waterproof case for your smartphone * or waterproof case for your camera * Swimming with the Manatees in Florida was an unforgettable experience. We hesitated beforehand whether we should really take such a long detour to the north, as our time in Florida was very limited. But it was absolutely worth it! We can only recommend each of you to get to know this part of Florida and with it the cute manatees!
Hand on heart: have you ever heard of Exuma? No? Never mind, neither did we until a few years ago. If you are not a huge fan of the Caribbean and are not committed to discovering the most beautiful dream beaches in the world or visiting the swimming pigs of the Bahamas , then you don’t have to deal with Exuma. But if you love buttery soft, white sandy beaches and turquoise blue water as much as we do, then you should be careful now: The Exuma Islands in the Bahamas are the weirdest thing we have seen in recent years! Really now. Exuma is paradise. PARADISE. We have never – never! – seen something like that. And if IIf I write something like that, I don’t really know how to explain what the Exuma Cays are. Nobody believes us anyway. Let’s try it this way: The Exumas are an island chain of the Bahamas consisting of around 360 individual islands. Most of them are completely untouched. The island chain extends southeast of the main island of the Bahamas, New Providence and Nassau. The Exuma Cays belong to the so-called Out Islands of the Bahamas and are visited by significantly fewer tourists than Nassau. That is a huge mistake! It is to be hoped, however, that this will not change anytime soon, because tourist crowds like Nassau have to cope with them would destroy this paradise within a very short time. Characteristic of Exuma is the relatively shallow water that stretches for hundreds of kilometers across the entire chain of islands, which means that the entire area of the Exuma Cays is bathed in a brilliant turquoise blue. This view of the bright blue water is seldom broken by places where the sea is a little deeper and the water shimmers dark blue. In between, the often nameless islets with their white beaches line up, many of them are completely uninhabited or are owned by some celebrity. Exuma Cays: By boat through paradise How did we end up here of all places, one of the most remote places in the world? The answer is simple: Exuma is home to the famous swimming pigs of the Bahamas. As frivolous as it is: Without the rationally simply incomprehensible wish to experience the swimming bristle beasts once in a lifetime, we would probably never have come to Exuma (yes, we are these tourists who only came to Exuma because of the swimming pigs and the Incidentally, only a blank shake of the head from the locals). Fortunately, when we make such decisions, our mind often has a break from broadcasting, and so it happened that we found ourselves poorer by 1000 €, armed with toast and a GoPro on a speedboat, which in a monkey tooth with us through the bluest sea of all time Exuma Cays raced – pigs, here we come! In the first part of our report about our tour to the Bahamas pigs we already reported in great detail how exactly you get to Exuma and what possibilities there are to book such a tour. You can read everything here: Since the pigs on Big Major Cay are not the only highlight on an ocean safari through the Exuma Islands, we have split the report about our adventure for reasons of space. In part 1 we reported about the swimming pigs that we had finally reached after what seemed like an infinitely long 2 hour boat trip. Feeding, petting and playing with them was really an absolute highlight. The pigs were the first stop on our tour – here you can find out how it went afterwards and what else we experienced in Exuma. Adventure on Exuma: petting sharks on Compass Cay After leaving Pig Island and the pigs behind us a bit wistfully, we were of the opinion that after this absolute highlight of the tour, there probably wasn’t much more to come. So we could hardly believe our eyes and ears when our boat set course for a small island called Compass Cay and our guide announced that we would now swim with sharks and stroke them. Pet sharks ?! Wtf ?! I’ll give a shit! 20 seconds later I was in the water petting sharks. Mr. Even though I knew in theory that the Nurse Sharks that live here on Compass Cay are completely harmless, the pump went really well in the water at first. In the first few seconds no shark was seen, but it wasn’t long before the first shark appeared out of nowhere. At that moment, by the way, it was already too late for the instinct to flee spontaneously, because the shark didn’t need 3 seconds to get to us. Ready to be eaten, I gave in to my fate – and stroked my first shark (or rather the shark stroked me by eagerly swimming around me. I preferred to hold still first). At Compass Cay, the island’s owner has built a boardwalk into the shallow water. The nurse sharks that live there are used to the tourists and even voluntarily swim to the jetty at high tide to be petted and fed. The sharks are not fenced in, but can move freely. But since they are well taken care of, they do not seem to have any increased interest in staying anywhere other than Compass Cay. If you want some peace and quiet, just dive down and lie down on the ocean floor under the jetty. The largest of them are up to 4 meters long including their tail fin and can frighten you at first just because of their size. But we get used to it quickly and swim and snorkel for a while with the sharks (which, by the way, look like wet, By boat through paradise: Conch on the sandbank After everyone was collected happy and euphoric by our guide at the port of Compass Cay and directed to the boat, we went on to the next item on the program: Prepare conch salad on a sandbank. Aha. Now we’re supposed to cook our lunch here ourselves in the middle of the sand, which our guide caught earlier during a short stopover in the sea … or what does it look like? And what is that anyway … Conch? Do I have to kill it myself? The snobby tourist in us wrinkles our noses a bit, but as we slowly head towards the sandbank with our boat, we immediately get huge, bright eyes. What’s going on here…?? OMFG! As soon as we set foot on land, we immediately sink into the softest, finest white sand we have ever experienced. The bright turquoise blue sea nestles gently around the white sandbank, interrupted again and again by new, small sandbanks. Holy shit. Unfortunately, we don’t notice much of the preparation of the conch salad, but we are very grateful when our guide brings us a portion of it – in true Caribbean style in a white plastic bowl. Delicious! To clarify: Conch (read: “Konk”) looks to us laypeople like a fairly large mussel, but is a sea snail. The conch is known in German as the “Great Fechterschnecke” and is native to the entire Caribbean, the Bahamas, southern Florida and Bermuda. The conch seems to be something like the national dish in the Bahamas, we encounter it afterwards as conch fritters, as conch burger, conch something … everything is with conch. The shells of the snails look beautiful when cleaned and are sold to tourists as souvenirs for little money (normal is around $ 5 each). But be careful: Since it is a formerly living animal, you are not allowed to import the conch housing into every country. If you want to enter the USA on your way back from the Bahamas, the import is for example prohibited, to our knowledge max. 3 housing per person to be brought. We then learned that the conch is under species protection due to overfishing and we thought about what we should advise you now. The result: we can’t advise you. The conch is so ubiquitous in the Caribbean and it is perfectly normal for the people to eat it. In our experience, in the Caribbean you don’t need anyone with environmental protection, ecological responsibility, overfishing, species protection or anything else – you are not that far there and you cannot be at all. These are First World Problems and the Caribbean is not one of them. Most of the people live from fishing and tourism, not infrequently from hand to mouth. It goes without saying that you don’t give a lecture on such topics to someone like that. If someone offers you conch, try it. And to come back to the sandbar: By the way, here we saw the next shark in the wild. He swam very close to the anchored boats in the shallow water … and as far as we could see it was not a safe nurse shark this time. You have never seen us jump out of the water so fast! This is only possible on Exuma: snorkeling in James Bond’s Thunderball Grotto After we have stayed on the sandbank for a while, we continue to the next highlight of our tour, which is just around the corner: The Thunderball Grotto . In 1965, parts of the famous James Bond film ‘Thunderball’ were filmed in this grotto, since then it has been known as the Thunderball Grotto. For laypeople, snorkeling is only possible in the afternoon at low tide, because only then can you find the entrance to the grotto. Inside the grotto you can expect a breathtaking backdrop and a colorful underwater world. Unfortunately, we only managed to take stupid photos and due to the coming flood we only had a limited amount of time in the grotto … but a little imagination doesn’t hurt either 😉 By the way, you don’t have to lug the snorkeling equipment with you, you will usually get it as part of the tour. After the snorkeling adventure in the grotto, we finally head for an inhabited island of the Exumas for late lunch. By the way, we didn’t know at that moment exactly which island we were on, because nobody told us that. Our credit card statement says it was Deshamon’s Restaurant on Great Guana Cay . Aha! According to Google Maps, this is not possible at all, because Great Guana Cay is completely different. Well then – no idea where we were. The food from the buffet was okay, but the $ 50 for 2 people was expensive, as is typical of the Bahamas. The islet itself looked very nice at first sight and there was even an asphalt road … we really would like to know where we were. The Bahamas iguanas are a very special species because their skin is slightly reddish. So the photos are not a Photoshop Fail, the iguana’s skin is actually red. Incidentally, so is our skin. We applied the lotion diligently, but still burned ourselves a lot during the day. Yeah We are therefore very happy that the day is slowly coming to an end in the late afternoon. Tired and exhausted from all the impressions, we finally set off at full speed on our way back to Great Exuma, the main island of the Exuma Cays, where we stay for 3 nights at the Two Turtles Inn * in George Town. On the boat we treat ourselves to two, three, four Bahama Mamas (THE cocktail of the Bahamas, you have to try it!), Which are again served in true Caribbean style from plastic canisters in plastic cups. Bottom up! This is how you can book the tour through the Exuma Cays In the first part of our report, which is only about the highlight of the tour, the swimming pigs , we have already listed all the providers we know with whom you can do a full-day tour through the Exuma Islands. Here is the overview again: Coastline Adventures (price-performance overview here ) Four C’s Adventures Exuma Water Sports Robert’s Island Adventures Island Routes Exuma Sunrise Tour We were traveling with Coastline Adventures. The individual program items are basically the same for all providers: You always visit the pigs on Big Major Cay, the sharks on Compass Cay, and go snorkeling in the Thunderball Grotto. The rest varies a bit, depending on the direction from which you are heading to the Exumas and how much time you have. Which spot you go to in which order doesn’t follow a fixed plan, but the weather. Your guides on the boat communicate by radio with people on site and decide what the route looks like that day. You will definitely have a lot of fun! Exuma is a blast! Before and after our trip to the Bahamas, we often heard “Oh, Bahamas… that’s pretty boring, isn’t it? There is nothing but two or three beaches … and they are not that beautiful either ”. Hm … no ?! That might be the impression you get when you head for New Providence or Nassau on the cruise ship. However, if you think you have seen the Bahamas because you have seen Nassau, you are unfortunately wrong. Not just a little, but miles. The Exumas are a completely different world that we have never experienced anywhere else! And they are one of the few places in the Caribbean that has been spared from cruise tourism. You can feel that clearly. If you are looking for peace and seclusion and want to get to know the real Caribbean feeling, you have to come to Exuma.
The small island of Aruba in the very south of the Caribbean has a lot to offer. Anyone who knows me a little knows that I unexpectedly fell head over heels in love with ‘One happy island’. To be honest, I originally only came to Aruba because of Flamingo Beach (yes, totally plemplem …) and otherwise I hardly informed myself and preferred to be surprised. And that has definitely succeeded: Aruba completely knocked me out of my socks with its fantastic beaches and a landscape that couldn’t be more contrasting! I already showed you that Aruba can do more than just beaches and real adventure with the Natural Pool , today the second trick follows:Snuba Diving in Aruba ! Snu … what ?! Doesn’t that mean scuba diving and is it just normal diving? No not really. Here comes the explanation: What is snuba diving? Snuba Diving is a word creation from the two terms Scuba Diving (diving) and Snorkeling (snorkeling). And that’s exactly what Snuba Diving is: a mix of both disciplines. I don’t know about you, but I think snorkeling is only moderately exciting. In the sea, water constantly sloshes into the snorkel, the glasses fog up every few seconds, there is water in there anyway and … and oh, it just sucks. At least a little. Not to snorkel in the Caribbean is of course not an option. So I started looking for ways to get to see as much as possible of the colorful underwater world of Aruba without a diving license – and I came across Snuba Diving. How exactly does Snuba Diving work? The principle is very simple: Instead of heavy diving equipment and oxygen bottles on your back, Snuba Diving has an approx. 20 m long hose that regulates the air supply. The oxygen source remains on top of the boat and you can dive down about 20m with the hose in your mouth. Without a diving license, without heavy equipment . The air is usually enough for a dive of about 30 minutes. Snuba Diving in Aruba: Diving on the SS Antilla Aruba is known as one of the most beautiful diving areas in the world: In addition to the colorful Caribbean underwater world, there are also some shipwrecks to discover, the waters around Aruba are a true cemetery for ships among divers. The SS Antilla is a former German cargo ship, built in 1939 and sunk again in 1940 by a fire that it started. It is located about 700m off the coast of Aruba at the level of Arashi Beach at a depth of almost 20m – so just right to explore it by snuba diving. The SS Antilla is now considered one of the most beautiful wrecks in the Caribbean, even though it broke in the middle. To get it straight: the dive to the wreck of the SS Antilla was more than impressive! This is how you book your diving adventure Of course, you cannot do a Snuba Diving tour on your own. There are plenty of excursions tailored to the tastes of American tourists on Aruba, and a snorkeling tour on the SS Antilla * is one of the most popular tours in Aruba. As part of this tour, you can also book the Snuba Diving package. You will take a catamaran from Palm Beach (where all tours start at Palm Pier) out to the Caribbean Sea up to the height of the SS Antilla shipwreck. I strongly recommend booking in advance!Only a small group of people can be supervised at Snuba Diving per tour, places are limited to approx. 6 people. You can of course also book the snorkeling tour spontaneously, but the places for snuba diving are probably already occupied too soon. Aruba Arriba! Course of the Snuba Diving Tour As already mentioned: The contents of the snorkeling and diving tour are clearly tailored to American tourists. This not only includes sandwiches on board, but also a cocktail called Aruba Arriba, which is touted as the national drink. So far we were of the opinion that the island’s own Balashi beer was Aruba’s pride and joy, but be it – the Aruba Arriba tastes good! The Americans on the boat see it the same way and it doesn’t take long before the pack of party-mad Americans, some with flippers on their feet, are doing a round of line dance on the catamaran (Yes. OMFG. I will probably never get rid of this picture … ) That this is actually about snorkeling seems to have moved into the background somehow. With 1-2 Aruba Arriba in mind, we willingly let our Snuba Diving instructor Angelo strap on the equipment and show us a few tricks, for example how to get water that has run underwater out of the diving goggles. As a novice diver, I have to get used to breathing evenly with a mouthpiece, and in the first few moments underwater I feel panicked. But Angelo manages to get me on the right track and slowly we are sinking deeper and deeper. Aruba’s underwater world: Colorful Caribbean fish and a sunken shipwreck What awaits us down there just below the surface of the Caribbean Sea beats what we have seen so far while snorkeling in Aruba: Lots of colorful fish up close, corals, better-not-to-touch sea urchins and a lot of stuff , of which we still do not even begin to know what it is. Our teacher Angelo shows us what we can touch and what we should rather keep our hands off and watches us newbies very carefully so that we don’t accidentally make nonsense. He also heroically uses a GoPro the whole time, thanks to which we can now delight you with wonderful underwater shots of our snuba diving excursion. I hope you are as enthusiastic about these impressions as I am. For me, snuba diving in Aruba was my first time diving and it completely flashed me! So much so that since then I have definitely wanted to get a diving license in order to be able to discover a lot more of this crazy part of the world that has remained largely hidden from me so far. Until then, I’ll definitely be back for a new Snuba Diving adventure right away!
The chances that you’ve never heard of Exuma before are relatively high. Exuma … where is that please? And what is that? And why should you care? I’ll tell you: Exuma should be on your bucket list immediately (!) If you are looking for incredible underwater worlds , the clearest turquoise sea and the most incredible dream beaches in the world. The Exuma Cays are a chain of islands in the Bahamas, still relatively unknown as a travel destination in Germany and they have so far been completely spared from cruise tourism in the Caribbean . And the most important thing: they are hard to beat in terms of beauty. The main island is Great Exuma with the capital George Town, which has just about 1400 inhabitants. It is incredibly difficult to find good information about Exuma, which is why we ended up sitting completely unprepared on our plane to George Town. Ultimately, we asked the locals on site on Great Exuma what you can do here and what you should definitely see. The result is a lot of great tips, including a few real insider tips that are guaranteed not to be found in any travel guide. So if you are planning a Bahamas vacation in the near future and also want to visit Exuma, then you should definitely read on now. I’ll show you 10 highlights and sights on Exuma that you shouldn’t miss. Here we go! I have to pack my equipment for the Bahamas My camera: Sony Alpha 6500 * Two lenses: an all-round lens from Sigma * (perfect for traveling and affordable, it is connected to the Sony 6 series together with an adapter * ) and a 30mm fixed focal length from Sigma * GoPro underwater camera * and a matching dome for half-half recordings * Waterproof sunscreen without microplastics with a mineral filter * (for the sake of the environment and the sea) DJI Spark drone * Nobite mosquito spray * (the best!) Exuma: home of the swimming pigs The reason why Exuma has come into the focus of most people in the first place couldn’t be cuter: The swimming pigs of the Bahamas . The bristle beasts have become the main attraction of the Bahamas in recent years. Fortunately, it really has to be said, the island on which the pigs live is so remote that the day cruise tourists who land in Nassau hardly have the opportunity to integrate a trip to the pigs into their limited stay . If that were different, the pigs would probably already be completely overrun by tourists and dead. There is no way around the Exumas to see the swimming pigs. You can find out everything about how to get here and the tours offered here . Snorkeling in the Thunderball Grotto The Thunderball Grotto is located near Staniel Cay and is so named because scenes from the famous James Bond film ‘Thunderball’ were first filmed here in 1965. In the grotto there is an insane underwater world with tons of colorful fish to discover. To get there, you either have to rent a boat or take a guided tour of the Exuma Cays . In general, an Exuma Ocean Safari as offered from Great Exuma is a very good opportunity to get to know the most beautiful part of Exuma: the sea. In such a tour, in most cases not only the swimming pigs and the Thunderbal Grotto, but also the next two highlights are integrated: Swim with sharks at Compass Cay Swim with sharks? Yes, you read that right! A group of Nurse Sharks lives on Compass Cay. Nurse sharks are completely harmless to humans (even if it is very difficult to believe). The sharks at Compass Cay are so used to the visitors that they voluntarily allow themselves to be petted and at high tide even swim on the jetty built into the water to dust off food. You can snorkel with the sharks and pet them without fear at Compass Cay. We would have loved to have packed one and taken one with us, they were so friendly 😉 Pet iguanas on Iguana Island I don’t know whether the small iguana island in the Exumas is actually called Iguana Island. I suspect that it has no name at all, because not all of the approx. 360 cays of the Exumas have a name at all, as most of them are actually uninhabited. Not so Iguana Island – hundreds of iguanas live here! If you are afraid of lizards, this highlight on Exuma is sure to be pure horror. The iguanas come out of the bushes as soon as a boat approaches the beach. As soon as you have solid ground under your feet, you will immediately get on your skin. Those who have salad with them are well advised 😉 You can read more about visiting Iguana Island and our ocean safari through the Exuma Cays here . Swim with sea turtles at Hoopers Bay Attention, now comes a real insider tip that you will probably not find in any travel guide in the world: The best place on Exuma (and maybe even in the whole of the Bahamas) to meet sea turtles is Hoopers Bay. Hoopers Bay is located on the main island of the Exumas, Great Exuma. You will probably have your hotel on this island anyway, just like we did (we stayed at the Two Turtles Inn *), so a visit to Hoopers Bay is an absolute must! With a length of approx. 60 km, Great Exuma is much larger than you initially think and so when we arrived we were actually quite overwhelmed at first what we should do here. Since we really wanted to see sea turtles or even swim with them, we asked the locals if there was a beach on Great Exuma where the Sea Turtles frolic more often than elsewhere. The answer: Hoopers Bay. And the kicker is: you can even feed them! Get some frozen fish at the supermarket in George Town and you’ll have the time of your life! 🙂 (but watch out for your fingers, the turtles are sometimes a bit clumsy). Stocking Island: starfish and stingrays Just a few hundred meters from Great Exuma is Stocking Island, a small island at the height of George Town. You can reach Stocking Island by ferry, once an hour Elvis’ Water Taxi will bring you there and back for about $ 15 per person . The crossing takes less than 15 minutes (depending on how many friends of the driver want to be dropped off somewhere in between). On Stocking Island you will find wonderful beaches, absolute tranquility and with Chat ‘N’ Chill a beach bar like from a Caribbean picture book. The prices in Chat ‘N Chill are not cheap, as is typical of the Bahamas, but the cocktails were surprisingly really, really tasty! 9 $ for it …. free. YOLO 😉 The Chat ‘N Chill has a few special pets, by the way: Tame stingrays. There are always several rays romping about on the beach, they swim bravely to the shore and even let themselves be petted. The reason is, of course, the food again: The Chat ‘N Chill piles up the empty bowls of the conch (conches …?) In the water and so there is always a small snack to get for the rays. If you should find fishy scraps somewhere, you can carefully place them on the palm of your hand and feed the rays with them. You will also encounter the rays while swimming and snorkeling in the water – but here I would recommend keeping a respectful distance. They are still stingrays and even if they look peaceful, an accidental sting of their sting can kill a human. There are also giant red starfish on Stocking Island, and there is even an entire starfish beach. We found one of the fine specimens washed up on the beach and quickly took a few snapshots before we brought it back into the deep water. Even when snorkeling you will see starfish lying in the seagrass on the bottom again and again. Do us a favor: Even if it is unclear how much it really damages the stars if they are touched or even taken out of the water – please don’t do it. Dive briefly down and touch the star is probably not a problem, but it is better not to take it out of the water. We did get the information from locals that the starfish can survive on land for up to 24 hours and that touching them is not a problem either, but I don’t know if that’s really true. Tropic of Cancer Beach on Little Exuma If you still have time and rent a car, a detour to Little Exuma is a must. Little Exuma is the little sister island of Great Exuma and is connected to it by a bridge. The Tropic of Cancer Beach is one of the most beautiful and at the same time lonely beaches in the world. The sand is so bright that your eyes will water and it is very likely that you are completely alone on the beach. The approach to the beach is quite bumpy and complicated as it is unfortunately not signposted. If you feel like watching a video (unfortunately not mine) and can live with the fact that your eyes are about to get wet, shiny eyes – please be very: Since we have seen it with our own eyes: nothing has been edited on this video. The water throughout the Exumas glows just as blue as in this video. To be honest, it looks even more intense in real life … believe me, the Bahamas, and Exuma in particular, is completely crazy. Jolly Hall Beach Jolly Hall Beach is admittedly nothing special. It’s basically just another brilliant white stand with turquoise blue water on Exuma’s main island, Great Exuma. Why I still count it among the best spots in Great Exuma is for the simple reason that it is George Town’s “house beach”. If you live in George Town, for example like we did at the Two Turtles Inn *, Jolly Hall Beach is the closest beach that you can reach without a rental car. Don’t worry, Jolly Hall Beach isn’t ugly, it’s just a perfectly normal, super beautiful white Caribbean beach without special features such as sea turtles, dolphins, tame rays or starfish (which doesn’t mean you won’t run into them there!). National dish Conch: eat like a local If there’s one thing in the Bahamas, and Exuma in particular, that you absolutely shouldn’t miss, it’s Conch (read: Konk ). The conch looks like a clam, but it is quite a large marine snail. The conch seems to be something like the national dish of the Bahamas, because it is available in all possible preparation forms and felt on every corner: conch salad, conch fritters, conch burger, conch with conch … We tried conch salad and conch burger and both was extremely tasty! By the way, you don’t have to go to a real restaurant for this, you won’t find that on Exuma anyway. Just order a dish with conch at any hut you come across on the way. Street food, like everywhere else in the world, is the better choice in the Bahamas anyway 🙂 Incidentally, the lobster at Santanna’s Bar & Grill on Little Exuma should also be divine . The Conch Burger and Pig Roast (… .no, not the pigs from Big Major Cay ) every Sunday in Chat ‘N’ Chill on Stocking Island are legendary! Cocoplum Beach Cocoplum Beach is located in the very north of Great Exuma and is particularly known for one thing: As the sea level falls at low tide, more and more sandbars become visible. Not only does it look beautiful, it is also great for finding sand dollars. Sand Dollars … what’s that again? Short answer: Sand dollars are a type of sea urchin. They are very flat and you can touch them safely. If you want to take a sand dollar home with you as a souvenir, look out for the bright, almost white, skeletal dollars. These are the dead sand dollars, they are often difficult to spot in the white sand. The dark, gray sand dollars are alive and should of course not be collected and taken away. You see, there is an incredible amount to discover on the Exuma Cays. If you’ve thought that there’s not much more you can do in the Bahamas than lying around on the beach, then hopefully I’ve taught you better. One thing is clear: the real sights and highlights of Exuma are not on land, but in the water. For me, the Exumas are not just a few individual islands or a chain of islands, but somehow Exuma is everything – the islands, the bright blue crystal-clear sea, the underwater world, the sandbanks, the animals, the people, the tranquility, the seclusion, the Satisfaction and the deep connection to their homeland that every single native lives and exudes. The Exuma Cays as part of the Bahamas are something very special and, for me personally, one of the most incredible places in the world.
If you come to Jamaica, you usually have pictures of Caribbean sandy beaches, cool drinks and chilled reggae music in your head. So far right – but did you know that there are real mountains in Jamaica and that the Blue Mountains in the east of the island are an absolute hiking paradise? The Blue Mountains stretch from the state of Portland down to the capital, Kingston. At the highest point, Blue Mountain Peak, you can experience one of the most breathtaking sunrises in the Caribbean. In May 2017 I finally managed to make this long-cherished wish come true – experience the sunrise in the Blue Mountains. One would think that as a local resident you would certainly be able to enjoy such experiences all the time, but even as a quasi-local you need two things for a hike to the Blue Mountain Peak: time and good planning. No sooner said than done: Together with two friends we wanted to climb the highest point in Jamaica. The hike to Blue Mountain Peak was meticulously planned and prepared in advance – at least by me, because I was the only German in the group. I gathered all the information I could get to make the trip as nice and cheap as possible. The Blue Mountains in Jamaica The Blue Mountain Peak is the highest peak in Jamaica with a height of 2256m and the sixth highest point in the Caribbean. The summit is located in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015. One of the world’s most famous and most expensive types of coffee, Blue Mountain Coffee, comes from precisely this region. Despite the tropical climate, temperatures in the Blue Mountains can drop sharply overnight from around 1500 meters above sea level. As is well known, the temperature at the summit is more often around 0 ° C at night. The ascent to the Blue Mountain Peak is usually organized so that you arrive at the summit at sunrise. Why? Because that’s a pretty cool experience. The last place to stay overnight before climbing the peak is called the Portland Gap and lies at an altitude of about 2030m. If you think of camping in the mountains – close! That is forbidden here. Hiking in the Blue Mountains Now that the facts were clarified, the hike, for which we had planned a whole weekend, could actually begin. Since we all agreed that it would be a good idea to organize the excursion cheaply, we decided to use public transport to get to the last point accessible by car. Since 75% of the group consisted of local Jamaicans, the route was quickly clarified: we chose the capital Kingston as the meeting point , as there are the most transport options and the best-developed roads to the Blue Mountains. Via the Peak Trail from Portland Gap to Blue Mountain Peak We initially wanted to go from Kingston Halfway Tree to Papine. From the Square in Papine it should go on to Mavis Bank and from there the last mobile stage to Whitfields Hall / Abbey Green . The last stage was (and is certainly still) only accessible by off-road vehicle, without all-wheel drive you don’t get very far in this area. From Abbey Green you should then walk towards Portland Gap begin (approx. 3.7km). We planned to arrive there in the evening to get a few more hours of sleep before the ascent to the summit – which, as already mentioned, is most beautiful when you arrive shortly before sunrise, which is why we planned to leave Portland Gap around 2:00 a.m. to the Blue Mountain Peak . So much for the planning. Once in the capital, Kingston, the first challenge was to find an ATM that would accept my Visa card. Basically this is not a problem. That day, however, it was one, and we had to go to a total of five different banks until a machine took pity on it and threw out some money. Experience has shown that in many countries it makes sense to always have some cash with you. Jamaica is one of those countries. And if I may allow myself the comment at this point: Do something good for the Jamaican economy and pay with the local currency, the Jamaican dollar. Although it is possible to pay in US dollars in many places, the prices are stated in JMD everywhere (except at tourist hotspots). Machetes, flip flops and the need for food The next surprise was when we met our friends at the Halfway Tree (Kingston transportation center). One of the two actually appeared in flip flops, despite multiple warnings (0 ° C at the summit … you remember) and the other had two machetes in his luggage. I would like to advise against both at this point if you are not native Jamaicans or have roamed through tropical jungle forests from childhood. I, or rather my husband in particular, were packed with groceries, hammocks, sleeping bags and extra blankets . Since we had already lost some valuable time looking for a functioning ATM, we had to hurry and get to Papine as quickly as possible get. If you don’t know your way around the Halfway Tree, ask the nice taxi drivers here. These will lead you to a side street where at least 3-5 taxis are always waiting for passengers to drive towards Papine. When you arrive in Papine am Square , you have the last chance to buy groceries at reasonable prices or to have a bite to eat again somewhere. So if you haven’t packed supplies for the hike, you should look around in a supermarket here again, because Mavis Bankis pretty small. Small buses and taxis run regularly in the square towards Mavis Bank, so it is actually no problem to travel from there by public transport for a low price. Actually. However, it seems that from an unspecified time onwards every afternoon (almost at rush hour) the buses are so overcrowded that it is quite difficult to get a seat without a relationship with the driver. Let alone four places. So we couldn’t help but take a taxi to Mavis Bank – which stopped halfway. But that wasn’t really a problem, because after only about an hour (not worth mentioning by Jamaican standards) the journey continued again. In Mavis Bank arrived, it began slowly to dawn. And then at the latest it dawned on me that my beautifully laid out plan would definitely not work. By now we should have finished the first 4km of our hike and have dinner at the Portland Gap ranger station . Fortunately we met a nice fellow traveler from Switzerland, who told us about a camping possibility. So the plan was quickly reorganized by the group and we decided to go to Whitfield Hallto drive, spend the night there and only start hiking to Portland Gap the next day. So we chartered an off-road vehicle and the driver brought us safely to the destination of the Swiss fellow traveler in the darkness of the jungle. The place we arrived at is close to the Abbey Green coffee farm and the last passable point on the trail to Blue Mountain Peak. At this point I would advise you to write down the driver’s phone number, as you will be driving back to Mavis Bank in the foreseeable future. Portland Gap: Spend the night in the Blue Mountains After a brief, very uncomfortable conversation with the owner of the property, in whose garden we had planned to hang our hammocks until the next morning, we changed our plans again. Get out of here, this person was spooky and we wanted to go straight to Ranger Station Portland Gap. Why not walk a 4km long, unknown trail in the darkest darkness? That shouldn’t be a problem for three Bush-approved Rasta men in sandals and a well-prepared, stubborn German woman. Ha! It wasn’t. To be honest – I really underestimated the first 500 vertical meters of the ascent, which were hidden in the small 4km. Quite overtired but also gleefully we stumbled through the gates of the Portland Gap Ranger Station . Even if it was shortly before 10 p.m., it shouldn’t be a problem to find someone in charge. Actually. There was light and some noise in the ranger station, but no ranger. Nevertheless, a construction worker received us, who kindly gave us the key to one of the not quite finished wooden houses and explained that the ranger was at a party. At this point I should perhaps mention again that you can finally buy food in Papine – but there are still bars in Jamaica even behind the last mountain. Tired and satisfied, we stretched our hammocks in the rustic room. Now the time for the triumph of my German diligence had come: there was enough food for a midnight dinner and with the two extra blankets, the flip-flops also got a little warm again. Almost two hours later we (not) continued fresh and lively to the last stage of the hike to Blue Mountain Peak. It was already 2:30 in the morning and it felt like you had to hurry so as not to miss the magical moment of sunrise. So three out of four members of our group set off without stopping at the single tap (the rest of the way). Or to notice that the flip-flop Rasta was the only one with presence of mind to fill his bottle with water, Since we were on our way to Portland Gap overnight had already used our flashlights, the juice in the batteries was of course limited for the last 6km of the again nightly ascent. You are slowly realizing it: planning is everything. But no matter, you just have to walk a little slower through the dense darkness of the jungle – which is not a problem if you are in a hurry and have hardly slept anyway. Fortunately, the flashlights only gave up shortly before dawn when we were already close to our destination. The particularly exciting thing about this excursion was really not knowing exactly where the journey was going the entire way there. If you neither know nor see an environment and just walk towards it without any visual clues, an extraordinary feeling arises (of helplessness …?). It requires a special level of concentration and willpower, which we find difficult to generate in times of extensive signage. Fortunately, someone at the summit told me that I had now reached the summit – without a sign I would hardly have recognized it at first (just kidding). Here we go: At sunrise on the Blue Mountain Peak Arrived at the highest point of the beautiful island of Jamaica, the sun was not long in coming. It almost looked as if the fiery red ball would rise in front of you at eye level. Pleading as if to salute the sun, one saw all the quivering summiteers stretch their numb fingers (and toes) for the first rays of sunshine. Slowly the warm light pushed over the mountain peaks and the whole beauty of the Blue Mountains finally revealed itself. The whole cursing about the exhausting night hike, the disorganization and the mishaps was suddenly forgotten. We spent a couple of hours on the summit because it is a really unique place. The climate is different from the rest of the island and the views are indescribable. There is a tall metal frame that was built as an additional lookout. From there you overlook four federal states of the island and can also look down to the sea. It is breathtaking to watch how the sunbeams suck in the morning dew and it condenses into clouds around you. Speaking of clouds – the weather on Blue Mountain Peak is just as changeable as anywhere in the mountains. As beautiful as the morning was, around noon thick rain clouds came in and we decided to start the descent quickly before we got wet. A second highlight was definitely the way back to the ranger station. Only now in daylight could the mountains be seen in their full size and splendor. Just like the changing vegetation, which grew steadily from the barren, low bushes at the summit the further you descended. A little deeper, outside the border of the national park, coffee fields of the famous Blue Mountain Coffee line the path as well as majestic eucalyptus trees. By the way, on the way down you can easily buy coffee beans from the local coffee farmers. Just ask when you meet someone … they will definitely help you. Tips for hiking in the Blue Mountains I have already given you a few tips on the way, but you are sure to have many more questions about planning your hike to Blue Mountain Peak. Here we go: Does it cost anything to stay at Portland Gap? And how can I imagine the Ranger Station? Yes, staying in the cabins costs something. The Ranger Station was still under construction in the summer of 2017, but already has outside toilets, washing areas, etc. More detailed information on prices and availability can be found here: Portland Gap Cabins (you have to call or write an email to book) Is there an entrance fee for the national park? Yes there is a fee. However, this is fluctuating, the current fees can be found on the website of the national park. The people there are friendly and accommodating. Since we didn’t meet the ranger until after the descent, we didn’t pay until afterwards. Where else can you stay in the Blue Mountains? While tempting to some, wild camping is not permitted. At an altitude of approx. 1500m there are some guest houses, e.g. Whitfield Hall . Can I do the Blue Mountain Peak Trail without a guide or Jamaican company without getting lost? The Blue Mountain Peak Trail is a well-developed hiking trail that cannot be missed once you are on it. However, the same applies here: Hiking is always safer in a group. The trail should not be left under any circumstances, for the purpose of shortening or the like. and remember that the ascent is in the night. Are there any other hiking routes to the summit? There are countless ways up into the Blue Mountains, but only one really developed hiking trail. The Blue Mountain Trail can be extended as desired, ie you can start the hike before Abbey Green, for example. If you want to roam freely and on untrodden paths, then a local guide is essential. Are there guided tours of the Blue Mountain Peak? Yes there is. As always from large and small providers. If you have little time available, it can be worthwhile to have the trip organized. However, if you have planned some time in the Blue Mountains region, it is worth considering booking a guide who can also show you hidden corners off the main route. You should definitely bring this with you on a hike to the summit of the Blue Mountains: A refillable water bottle. I like to use this here , because you can hug them together unfilled so beautiful and well stowed Torch and spare batteries, preferably a good headlamp . And a second flashlight, trust me Cash, preferably JMD, not US dollars Enough groceries and snacks Warm clothes, before sunrise it is very cold at this altitude Not necessary, but useful: A light rain jacket * (the weather in the mountains is unpredictable) Headgear, the sun is sizzling Because the sun sizzles at this altitude: sun protection for the skin Mosquito spray (my recommendation: buy Nobite * in advance in Germany or ‘Off’ on site. Autan will not impress the Caribbean mosquitoes) Selfie stick (last joke on the side) or a real camera. Worth it! Katrin, the main author of this blog, uses the Sony Alpha 6600 * . More about Katrin’s camera equipment while traveling.
There are places in this world that everyone has probably heard of before. Places that should be so special and beautiful that it can hardly be described. Those that you have to visit because otherwise you would regret never having seen them on your deathbed. Highway 1 along the California coast is one such place. Even if we always say that we don’t have a bucket list , but just let ourselves drift – the Pacific Coast Highway (or California State Route 1, Cabrillo Highway … Highway 1 has many names) was somehow one of our secret places to see before We Die . Two years ago I would never have thought (and probably neither did Christian) that we would see this place at some point in life, it seemed unreachable. And now we can put a big fat hook on it. We did it. We were in California and did a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway! But what exactly makes Highway 1 so special, aren’t there twelve million scenic roads in the world? Yes, there is. But they are not California State Route 1, which connects two of the largest metropolises in the world with San Francisco and Los Angeles. They probably also do not lead through the most varied of climatic zones and landscapes, through untouched nature, past wild animals that you otherwise only see in zoos, and through a mega-agglomeration that is second to none. In this post we will recapitulate a little and take you along our route from San Francisco to Los Angeles, in the hope of being able to pass on a bit of the fascination of Highway 1. We’ll tell you the highlights, practical (survival) tips and how your schedule should or could look like. Sights and highlights along Highway 1 San Francisco and the Silicon Valley As I said, we drove from north to south along Highway 1 along the west coast and in our opinion that is the better way. Why? 1. Is the northern section the more scenic. So you are right in the middle of it right at the beginning and can indulge your being flashed extensively. If you start in the south, you might even be a little disappointed and can’t understand what’s so great about Highway 1. 2. If you drive around on the outer lane of the road, i.e. directly along the cliffs. The view during the entire journey is incredible. If you start in San Francisco, then you have probably already seen the city and we would strongly recommend that to you. Don’t miss out on San Francisco! The city has a very special vibe, just like the entire Silicon Valley around Santa Cruz, Palo Alto and Stanford University south of San Francisco. So if you are in a similarly freaky mood and are attracted to Silicon Valley , then like to drive through these very unspectacular places or take a look at the Apple Campus in Cupertino. From here the world is ruled, maybe you can feel it 😉 Monterey and Monterey Aquarium The next stop is Monterey. Only a small town in itself, but with the Monterey Bay Aquarium you can see one of the largest aquariums in the world. The famous whale watching tours also start from here . The best time for whale watching in Monterey Bay is the winter months between December and April. It is best to book a tour in advance, there are many different providers. Also from Monterey you can reach the famous 17 Mile Drive , a unfortunately chargeable road that takes you 17 miles through the beautiful region around Pebble Beach. Since we were here in September and also don’t particularly like aquariums / zoos, there wasn’t much to do for us in Monterey, so we skipped it and only went back on California State Route 1 south of Monterey. And this is where the landscape really gets down to business: After you have reached the beautiful village of Carmel-by-the-Sea(believe us, you don’t want to eat or stay the night here, it’s one of the most expensive cities in California), the streets suddenly become more curvy, steep cliffs and cliffs open up in front of you, the wind whips your nose, you can Not only see the rough Pacific, but also smell and hear it. All of the pictures you’ve seen of Highway 1 so far have probably been taken here, on the stretch between Carmel-by-the-Sea and San Simeon. Tip: From here there is no longer any possibility of catering until San Simeon. Buy provisions for the trip and fill up with fuel. Bixby Bridge The first real highlight of the route is the Bixby (Creek) Bridge. Even before that, there are always bays and vista points from which you can watch the hustle and bustle of the Pacific along the rocky coast, but at this bay there is a very special photo opportunity with the Bixby Bridge. The reinforced concrete arch bridge was built in 1932 and looks really impressive with its massive, approx. 80m high pillars. To make matters worse, there is also a wonderful little beach under the bridge that you definitely cannot reach. Boo Big Sur and Pfeiffer Beach You are already at the height of the Bixby Creek Bridge in the Big Sur region, but the “real” Big Sur is yet to come. The landscape changes slowly after the Bixby Bridge, Highway 1 no longer runs directly along the coast and before you know it you find yourself in a scenario that you would expect from Yosemite National Park. The road meanders through a dense forest of meter-high coniferous trees and we are slowly beginning to understand why this region has to fight so much with fires almost every summer. Even when we drive through Big Sur, it is September, it has been burning for months. You don’t notice much of it on Highway 1 itself, the road is open. But the entire Big Sur State Park is closed, so hiking is not possible. The famous Pfeiffer Beach can unfortunately only be reached via such a hike. Keep that in mind when you plan, in the summer months you may not be able to do / see a lot due to the fires raging in the hinterland and the state parks. If Big Sur State Park is open and you are planning a hike, there are a few places to stay * here , but they are quite expensive. There is also a small gas station (also very expensive, please do not refuel here if it is not absolutely necessary) and the Nepenthe restaurant , which we did not test ourselves, but which my doctor (!) Recommended to me very enthusiastically when I did her told about the upcoming trip. McWay Falls / Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park This is by far the craziest picture that nature conjures up along California State Route 1. A waterfall falling onto a sandy beach and the whole scenario is surrounded by turquoise blue water and dark cliffs? All right, keep dreaming … Seeing this place was very, very high on my wish list. Since this picture first haunted any of my feeds (probably Instagram), I’ve started researching exactly where this crazy place is. Now such a picture is in our own Instagram feed . Bam. Unfortunately, the beach is closed to the public, it is inaccessible and can only be gazed wistfully from above. There are also some hiking trails through Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park itself, but they were also closed due to the fires. Normally you can get a little closer to the waterfall along the Waterfall Overlook Trail. Watch elephant seals (Elephant Seal Vista Point) In San Francisco you may have already seen the sea lions at Pier 39 , here you can see elephant seals. They’re a size bigger, louder and smell a little stronger. Sounds fun? Yes! If you mark the Elephant Seal Vista Point on Google, you will not miss the right place. It is just before San Simeon and you can easily park there. The elephant seals don’t mind that so many people look at them, but don’t get down to them. The beach belongs to the elephant seals.
What first comes to mind when you think of Jamaica? Bob Marley, reggae, rum and white dream beaches? Bingo … not that wrong at all. Jamaica has a lot more to offer than just that. You can really experience everything here – from a relaxed beach holiday to an absolute adventure holiday where you have action every day. Jamaica is green, full of primeval forest, jungle, waterfalls and pretty awesome food that every foodie gets their money’s worth. Now it is that Jamaica is one of the Caribbean islands that is pretty much taken up by American package tourism. So you can find a lot of luxury resorts here and it is sometimes not easy to find out which highlights and sights you really have to experience in Jamaica due to the oversupply of tourist entertainment. And above all: which of them can you explore on your own and how? Since I was backpacking Jamaica for two weeks with my local sister (she has been living on the island for several years), you should be curious which sights I or we can definitely recommend to you without reservation. First of all, there are basically three corners of Jamaica that you should have on your screen: Negril, Montego Bay / Ocho Rios and Port Antonio . These areas are well developed for tourism and there are either one or the other highlight to discover on site or they are a good starting point for excursions. What exactly you can experience where, you will find out if you read on (if you just want a little Jamaica inspiration first, then take a look at my 40 most beautiful pictures from Jamaica ). With this there are some tips for you at hand, for example, the prices and the organization of the transport to the different places. Here we go! Pack my equipment for Jamaica & definitely My camera: Sony Alpha 6500 * Two lenses: an all-round lens from Sigma * (perfect for traveling and affordable, it is connected to the Sony 6 series together with an adapter * ) and a 30mm fixed focal length from Sigma * GoPro underwater camera * and a matching dome for half-half recordings * Waterproof and waterproof trekking sandals * for waterfall action Waterproof sunscreen without microplastics with a mineral filter * (for the sake of the environment and the sea) Nobite mosquito spray * (the best!) Attractions in and around Negril While planning your Jamaica vacation you have probably already come across Negril. Negril is located on the west coast of Jamaica and is next to Montego Bay the largest tourist area on the island. The inclined individual tourist may now turn up their noses, but I can assure you that everyone will get their money’s worth in Negril, whether backpackers with a small budget or luxury vacationers with a larger budget. Seven Mile Beach In Negril, you definitely won’t be able to avoid THE beach in Jamaica, the famous Seven Mile Beach. With its seven miles, the beach is the longest continuous beach on the island and from luxury hotels to small guesthouses right on the beach, everyone of you is guaranteed to find an accommodation that they like. I lived in a small hut in the Yellow Bird Sea * right on the beach, almost with my feet out of bed in the sand (almost 😉). The whole complex is really magical if you don’t care for luxury hotels. At Seven Mile Beach you can plant your beach towel wherever you want, because most of the beach is open to the public – which is unfortunately absolutely not common in Jamaica, as I should learn later. If you don’t want to just sizzle in the sun all day, there is enough to do here: snorkeling, glass bottom boating and lots of other excursions. There is also an abundance of delicious food and colorful beach bars. My tip: Pay a little attention to the prices in Negril. It is quite expensive right on the beach, if you want to eat cheaper, then go to the street that is behind the beach and the hotels. Or just ask a Jamaican where you can find good food at a reasonable price (don’t worry, you don’t have to actively talk to anyone about it … they’ll talk to you every 2 minutes anyway. So just in case you need anything – coconut, cola, sugar cane, one) Trip somewhere, something to smoke – they will organize it for you: p). The sunsets on Seven Mile Beach are legendary, by the way, don’t miss it! Cliff jumping at Rick’s Café The world famous Rick’s Café in Negril should be on every Jamaica bucket list. The prices are a little higher, as is the case at well-known spots. But you can also watch the cliff divers for hours, who plunge into the Caribbean Sea from a height of over 20 meters, or you can try it yourself if you don’t have your pants full. The sunsets are of course also legendary here (and priced into the cocktails 😉). How to get to Rick’s Café : From Negril, it’s best to take a taxi or a private driver. This is the cheapest, but be sure to ask about the price beforehand. You can find more information about Rick’s Café here . St. Elizabeth: YS Falls I already indicated it: Jamaica is the land of waterfalls. There are countless inland waters on the island, which, unlike on other Caribbean islands such as the Bahamas or Aruba, ensure blooming flora and fauna. The YS Falls are among the most beautiful waterfalls on the island, but unfortunately they are a bit inconvenient inland. On the one hand, this has the advantage that it is not nearly as crowded as, for example, Dunn’s River Falls, where hordes of cruise tourists are literally dispatched every day, and on the other hand, the cost of a trip to the YS Falls is quite high. But you can also spend the whole day bobbing around to your heart’s content and the whole area is also ideal for children. From calm bathing to ziplining to daring jumping around in the waterfalls, everything is possible here. We have organized a private driver for our excursion to the YS Falls, who took us from Falmouth (which is between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios in the north of Jamaica) to the waterfalls in the southwest. We paid 120 USD for the complete trip for two. Honestly, it didn’t work out that well, because our driver drove stoned like a madman (near-death experience!) And in the end we had a lot of stress with him because of the money. Hence my recommendation: There are also organized bus trips to the YS Falls . From Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril, it is no problem to find a tour to the YS Falls. Since the drive from Negril is the most relaxed and shortest due to the road conditions, I would recommend that you drive from Negril. I can only guess how high the costs are. I talked to other tourists who paid around USD 100 per person for an organized day tour to the YS Falls from Negril . The journey takes about 2.5 hours (one way). In addition there is the entrance price of approx . You can find more information about the YS Falls here . Mayfield Falls And waterfalls again. The Mayfield Falls are also best reached from Negril on an organized day tour , so I’ll list them here as well. They are less inland and a little closer to Negril than the YS Falls. I haven’t visited Mayfied Falls myself, but my sister knows it and loved it too. The cascades of the falls are lower than the YS Falls, overall, Mayfield Falls is a quieter and less action-packed experience than the YS Falls. Whether or not you have to see both waterfalls depends on your personal schedule and budget. Montego Bay and Ocho Rios Area The next corner of Jamaica that should definitely be on your list is the Montego Bay and Ocho Rios area. The tourist center of the island is located here, so the range of things to do is accordingly large. The city of Montego Bay itself is a bit “difficult” … there are actually only large hotel complexes, most of which are designed in such a way that they completely obstruct the beach and the view of it. I have looked in vain for public beaches and a view of the Caribbean blue sea. Outside of the hotel complexes, there is not much to discover for tourists in Mobay and it is probably not completely harmless, which is why we decided not to stay in Montego Bay directly, but in Ocho Rios and Falmouth to explore the area. In Ocho Rios we stayed in the Reggae Hostel * (highly recommended!), In Falmouth (which is between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios) in the G&R Guesthouse * (the guesthouse itself was ok, unfortunately the owner was our crazy driver who took us to the YS Falls, which we had quite a bit of trouble with, so only a limited recommendation for accommodation). Falmouth: Luminous Lagoon Glistening Waters If you’ve been wondering what the hell to do in this dump called Falmouth, here’s the answer: marvel at one of the world’s weirdest natural spectacles. In the lagoon near Falmouth, river water from the adjacent Martha Brae River and sea water meet, and tiny microorganisms live in this adventurous mix. When set in motion, they glow blue in the dark. Yes, blue … read that right. So you go swimming and it just glows blue around you. Unfortunately, my camera was a bit overwhelmed, so I only have this bad photo for you, but just watch this short video. Crazy Shit, right? As far as I know, this phenomenon can only be seen in four places around the world, so if I were you I would definitely not miss the Luminous Lagoon in Jamaica. The boat tour into the lagoon is unfortunately quite short, it only takes 40-45 minutes . All tour providers charge the same price for this, namely 25 USD (if you book the whole thing including transport from Mobay or Ocho Rios, it will of course cost more). I found this to be too expensive for the short tour, but in Jamaica as a tourist you are unfortunately milked pretty much everywhere, thanks to the big wallets of the Americans. >>> Here you can book a tour to the Luminous Lagoon from Montego Bay * The Glistening Waters Hotel * is right in Falmouth on the lagoon . In my opinion it is too expensive for the facilities and location, but just take a look and decide for yourself. Note: The water in the Luminous Lagoon is brackish, which means that when you swim, your feet come into contact with warm mud on the bottom. If you are uncomfortable with that, then it is better not to go into the water. Rafting on the Martha Brae River If you’ve ever been to Falmouth and would like to do something else here, you can go rafting on the Martha Brae River. Attention: The adventure level of rafting here is more like a “coffee trip”, it is much more a leisurely paddle on a bamboo raft through the jungle. This is wonderful too, but you should be aware beforehand that rafting in Jamaica is not what we mean by rafting. >>> Book the rafting tour on the Martha Brae River here * Dunn’s River Falls There it is … THE highlight of Jamaica. The famous Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios are the most famous waterfalls in Jamaica and the place that probably receives the most tourists. I can neither give a clear recommendation nor a recommendation here – you just have to consider whether you want to accept mass tourism in order to be able to remove the Dunn’s River Falls from your bucket list. My tip for Dunn’s River Falls: arrive as early as possible to avoid the tourist crowds on the cruise ships. The best and cheapest way to get there is from Ocho Rios with a private driver or taxi, which also gives you the flexibility to be there very early.The entrance fee is 25 USD , more information can be found here. If you don’t have the opportunity to organize the visit yourself, you can also book a guided tour in advance: Guided tour with pick-up e.g. in Negril * Guided tour with pick-up at various cruise ports * We actually saved the Dunn’s River Falls, but for the sake of completeness they shouldn’t be missing here. Insider tip Irie Blue Hole I admit it – the Blue Hole is no longer such a real insider tip. It’s only a few kilometers up the hill above Ocho Rios, but it wasn’t overcrowded and therefore a clear recommendation for me. The Blue Hole is basically a nice little place with waterfalls and bright blue natural pools, in which you can happily jump around. You’d think there are tons of them in Jamaica, but the Blue Hole was kind of special. How to get to the Blue Hole : Grab a public taxi (Route Taxi) in Ocho Rios, preferably at the central bus station, the ride to the Blue Hole costs around 2 USD per person. If someone of you wants significantly more, then it is not a public taxi and / or someone tries to rip you off. There’s no need to book an organized tour if you’re already in Ocho Rios! The Blue Hole itself costs around 15 USD entry , you can either move around there independently or you can take a guide. The guide is free (but is happy about a tip, we gave him another 15 USD) and will definitely help you to make funny water jumping pictures and videos. My recommendations for water activities in Jamaica: A waterproof phone case * A GoPro * (the GoPro Hero 5, for example, is already waterproof and no longer needs an extra housing) A waterproof backpack * (these things are worth gold!) Small microfiber towel, quick drying * Stable, waterproof shoes * Other tourist fun: ziplining, bobsledding and swimming with dolphins Since Ocho Rios is the tourist center of Jamaica, all sorts of fun nonsense is really provided here, from ziplining to feeding hummingbirds to bobsledding in the Jamaican rainforest. It is best to have a look at Rainforest Adventures , there you can book all kinds of things and there are, for example, packages together with the Dunn’s River Falls. Personally, I found this type of fun to be moderately exciting and too expensive, so I didn’t do any of it. Swimming with dolphins in Dolphin Cove is also very popular in Ocho Rios . For the sake of completeness I want to list this attraction here, but I definitely reject the whole thing. Even if it all looks kind of nice and animal-friendly in the pictures, because the dolphins are not cooped up in a pool, but swim in the sea – you should be aware that they cannot move freely here either, but rather that they are from The area delimited to the open sea is too small. Whether you want to support something like this is up to you. I don’t. Attractions in and around Port Antonio (Portland) The third region, which is mentioned in the popular Jamaica travel guides as another tourist spot of the island, is the city of Port Antonio in the state of Portland in the east of Jamaica and the region around Port Antonio. If you’ve been to Negril, Mobay and Ocho Rios so far, then you’ve probably noticed the full broadside of Caribbean package tourism: Huge hotel complexes, private beaches shielded by high walls and fences, someone everywhere wants to sell you something, the tourist spots are full of pale Americans who trudge awkwardly through waterfalls and somehow everything feels a bit too expensive. Doesn’t that sound so awesome? Well … then off to Portland with you! The world is still halfway okay here, because comparatively few tourists end up here. Package tourists in particular are almost only found as day-trippers and that made the whole region feel much more pleasant, relaxed and original for me. Here you can find Jamaica just as you imagine it: almost only black people on the streets, chicken that is grilled in smoking bins everywhere in the open, loud music on every corner, cars that have stopped by 20 times TÜV had come and colorful stalls with everything your heart desires (well, mostly fruit or sweat towels. How … you don’t have a sweat towel yet …? You’re on Jamaica – you need a rug !!) The Blue Mountains What you will definitely need a sweat for is for a hike through the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains are a mountain region in the east of Jamaica, the foothills of which stretch down to the capital Kingston. The highest mountain is the Blue Mountain Peak with a height of over 2000m. The famous Blue Mountain Coffee, one of the most expensive types of coffee in the world, is grown on the lower slopes. The hike to the summit of the Blue Mountains takes you over an approx. 7 mile long trail and is traditionally completed at night in the dark. Why? Because the sunrise on the highest point of Jamaica above the roofs of the jungle is indescribable. When the sky is clear, you can allegedly even see as far as Cuba. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to hike up Blue Mountain Peak, but my sister did it some time ago. Here you can read her report on the hike to Blue Mountain Peak . Rafting on the Rio Grande A rafting tour on the bamboo raft over the Rio Grande in Portland is just as easy as rafting on the Martha Brae River, which I have already written about above. The difference at this point is the landscape that surrounds you: the Rio Grande is more expansive, larger and in some places a little faster, while at the Martha Brae River you sometimes sail through turquoise-green water and feel like you’re in the rainforest. The tour over the Rio Grande also takes longer overall, depending on where you are coming from you should plan half a day to a full day for this excursion. The rafting tour costs around 100 USD if you look for a guide on site. If you book a tour with a round trip to your hotel, it will be more expensive. I would like to recommend a provider to you, but none of the many providers has made it onto the Internet. As I said, the clocks tick a little slower in Portland 🙂 Hence my tip: If you want to raft on the Rio Grande, talk to someone somewhere about it (your host in the hotel, someone on the beach, someone you are with someone else Excursion or similar) We will definitely help you! Finally dream beaches: Frenchman’s Cove Beach, San San Beach and Winnifred Beach I have to admit that I missed one thing in Jamaica compared to other Caribbean islands such as Aruba , St. Maarten or the Bahamas : beaches. No joke. Gleaming white dream beachesWith butter-soft sand, crystal clear water that lets you look down to the ground, colorful fish … The Caribbean – where are you? It’s hard to believe, but such beaches are more of a rarity than the standard in Jamaica. Why is that? Well, the hottest beaches are occupied by huge hotel complexes. As a non-hotel guest you can neither use it nor catch a glimpse of it. Not only for individual tourists like me, but especially for the locals, that’s pretty stupid. Jamaica is the first Caribbean island on which I have experienced this in this form – on many other islands the privatization of beaches by the government is explicitly NOT permitted. Not so in Jamaica, the public beaches are really rare there. Accordingly, I found the most beautiful beaches in Portland, away from the tourist crowds. You should definitely not miss Winnifred Beach. It is completely public, free of charge (there is someone at the entrance who you can give a few dollars to, which will keep the beach clean) and can be reached cheaply by route taxi (public taxi) from Port Antonio. There you will finally find turquoise blue sea and white sandy beach, just as you would expect on a Caribbean island. Frenchman’s Cove is not free, but absolutely worth the money . It is basically a small, park-like complex with a beach and an attached hotel. For about 10 USD you have access to what is in my opinion the most beautiful beach in Jamaica with the most beautiful green jungle river ever flowing into the sea and you can use free wifi to your heart’s content. A dream, seriously. Please look at the pictures … Arrival: By route taxi from Port Antonio. Frenchman’s Cove is on the same stretch as Winnifred Beach. Very close to Winnifred Beach and Frenchman’s Cove Beach is a third beach that you should also check out: San San Beach . The entrance fee is about 5 USD and you can also get there by public taxi (same route as Winnifred and Frenchman’s). But there is a trick how you can save yourself the 5 USD … Keyword Blue Lagoon 😉 The blue lagoon Do you know the movie “The Blue Lagoon” from 1980 with Brooke Shields? Yes? Alright … The film was set right here, in the blue lagoon of Port Antonio, Jamaica. I think that’s enough to explain why this place should be seen. Personally, the lagoon fascinated and scared me in equal measure: the water is really beautiful turquoise, but it changes color. Sometimes the water is clear, sometimes you can’t see 50cm far. Sometimes it’s cold, sometimes it’s warm. Why? Because salty sea water and warm fresh water from underground springs mix in the lagoon. Nobody knows exactly how deep the lagoon really is, rumor has it that it is about 65 meters at the deepest point. This also means that nobody really knows which critters live in here and where. What fresh water concentration is still okay for a barracuda or other predatory fish, for example, ie how far does it penetrate into the lagoon and does it even do so? In any case, the locals have respect for what could be in the lagoon. So did I. How can you best explore the lagoon? There are three options: by boat with a guide (approx. 30 USD), by rafting on the bamboo raft with a guide (approx. 70 USD) or by kayak without a guide (approx. 30 USD). We chose the kayak for reasons of cost and adventure . While the boat or raft is limited in time, you can paddle around with the kayak as long as you want. Ha! We also went kayak out to sea and drove to a remote island called Monkey Island . Don’t worry, you won’t meet monkeys there, mostly not even other people. And to come back to the above-mentioned San San Beach : Ahem …. even there you can easily get there by kayak from the lagoon. Ka-ching! Saved $ 5 and seen so many cool things in one fell swoop. The blue lagoon was really one of the highlights in Jamaica for me. Monkey Island – a deserted island near the blue lagoon Reach Falls Waterfalls, waterfalls, waterfalls … ..if you haven’t made it to some yet, but Portland is perhaps the last stop on your Jamaica trip, then with the Reach Falls you have the opportunity to experience the impressive nature of Jamaica again. Reach Falls is a long way east of Port Antonio and it will take a moment to get there by public taxi. But the Reach Falls are an oasis of calm, hardly any tourists come here anymore. At around 10 USD they are also comparatively cheap. My tip: If you have to decide, visit the Irie Blue Hole or the YS Falls. There is more to discover there 🙂 And what about Kingston? – Impressions and highlights from two weeks in Jamaica on your own Did you notice something? This list is missing a place that is otherwise never missing on the popular Jamaica bucket lists: Kingston, the capital of Jamaica. The simple reason for this is that I was not in Kingston, on the advice of my sister, who, as I said, lives in Jamaica and whose judgment I trust. From a tourist point of view, except for the Bob Marley Museum and the neighboring city of Spanish Town, Kingston is not necessarily worth seeing and, moreover, should be enjoyed with caution. Crime is not without it and as a white man, preferably with a fat camera in hand in Kingston… .joa. You can do it, but you can also leave it alone. For Kingston and Spanish Town I would definitely recommend that you only do the whole thing in the company of a local guide. Unfortunately, I have not found any tours that can be booked in advance on the internet, that seems to be a more complicated matter. The Bob Marley Museum, on the other hand, is of course specially prepared for tourists. Theoretically, the entrance fee is only 25 USD but don’t forget that you have to get away somehow. If you now need a rental car or the like. thinks …. naaa. You don’t want to drive a car in Jamaica. Trust me. The same applies here: Including transport costs, you are back at around 100 USD for a visit to the museum. I have selected a provider for you who will pick you up from anywhere on the island as part of an organized tour and bring you to Kingston and the Bob Marley Museum: And how is my impression of Jamaica? What is it like to travel there as an individual tourist who would like to see more of the island than the hotel’s own beach? How do you get by when you want to see and do a lot in Jamaica, but don’t have an endless budget? In one word: COM-PLI-DECORATED. But the good news: it works. You only have to know how. For this reason, there will be a detailed article bulging with my travel tips for Jamaica on your own in the next few weeks – in the hope that this will contribute a little to the fact that more people dare to go beyond a package tour to Jamaica. Because it is so worthwhile to explore this wonderful Caribbean island 🙂
The fact that I’m a summer girl should n’t be dismissed out of hand due to my unmistakable love for the Caribbean and the dream beaches of this world. Lately, surprisingly, I find myself repeatedly finding myself enthusiastic about the absolute contrast program, namely a thick, fat winter with a lot of snow. And that although I don’t even do winter sports (strap things under my feet and I … not a good combination). I don’t know exactly how it happened and why, but somehow I ended up in Norway in the Lofoten Islands to take pictures of the northern lights in deep winter , I froze my ass off at -25 ° C in Swedish Lapland and Iceland’s south coast in winter rattled off in storms and ice. So it seemed like a pretty good idea to go to the snowy Allgäu for a long weekend in winter. One of the most famous places in the Allgäu is Oberstaufen. Yes … the cosmopolitan city of Oberstaufen. New York, Rio, Oberstaufen. You all know the song, right? Joking aside – Oberstaufen is actually a well-known holiday destination in the Allgäu, and not without reason. Why Oberstaufen is also ideal for a short weekend break for non-winter sports enthusiasts and how you can find the perfect mix of rest, relaxation and activities – I will give you a few tips in this article. Oberstaufen in winter: activities & highlights Oberstaufen (not to be confused with Oberstdorf, which is not that far away and is known for the annual ski jumping) is a small place in the Oberallgäu on the border with the Alps. The first really thick snowfalls there are mostly from mid / end of December, but I was really lucky and landed in an absolute winter wonderland with meter-high snow at the beginning of December. Wellness, wellness, wellness First things first: relaxation. If there is one thing in abundance in Oberstaufen, it is fantastic wellness hotels. And not those that are somehow so stiff and “over” that you never really feel at home, but rather rustic, family-run but still modern hotels. None of them are really cheap, but believe me – after several hours outside in the cold, simply being able to warm up in absolute peace in the sauna or a heated whirlpool is worth gold. Even if I’m usually more into action, wellness and relaxation are absolutely part of a short trip in winter for me. I even heard that there should be people who go on real wellness vacations 😉 Oberstaufen is perfect for this, especially in winter the white backdrop in the middle of the mountains is soothing. Personally, with all my love for sitting in hot whirlpools until my fingers are wrinkled, I still have to have a bit of action in my daily routine. Just go out, explore the area, see something. Admittedly, there is not that much time left for a long weekend. Fortunately, Oberstaufen itself has a few pretty nice highlights to offer, so that you can experience a lot right in the village or nearby. A snowshoe hike at night My absolute recommendation is a snowshoe hike, preferably when it gets dark. For the winter sports dyslexics among you who, like me, don’t like slippery equipment strapped under your feet: snowshoes are ok. Nothing can happen there. The best thing to do is ask in your hotel about snowshoes to rent or a guided hike, some hotels also offer snowshoe hikes free of charge for their guests. You hike to one of the surrounding mountains or a hill, from where you have a fantastic view of Oberstaufen, which is illuminated at night. Beautiful, isn’t it? Buchenegger waterfalls The Buchenegger waterfalls are only a few kilometers outside of the city center of Oberstaufen. The best way is to drive to the ‘Berghütte Alpe Ober-Hündle’, from there it is about 2km on foot to the Buchenegger waterfalls. Depending on the weather, the path is cleared even further and you can drive to the ‘Buchenegg waterfall car park’ . When there is snow, the path is a bit tricky to go, as it goes downhill into a gorge, just follow the signs. Once you have reached the waterfalls below, you have a wonderful picture – unfortunately only for the camera in winter, but you can also swim here in summer. Oberstaufen from above: Take the mountain railway to the winter paradise Oberstaufen is located in a valley and is surrounded by mountains and even as a non-winter sports enthusiast you will get your money’s worth here. There are a total of three railways that also take you up (and back down) as a pedestrian: the Hochgratbahn, the Imbergbahn and the Hündlebahn. Once at the top, just enjoy the view of Oberstaufen, breathe in the clear, cold air, and get yourself a hot mulled wine. If you feel like it and the weather cooperates, you can also go hiking in the winter wonderland. At the beginning of December the onset of winter came as a relative surprise for Oberstaufen, so that when I was there only the Imbergbahn was already open. The view didn’t mean it well to me that day either, but the unbelievable masses of snow on top of the mountain ridge were really adventure enough. You can find out the exact opening times of the Oberstaufen mountain railways here . Travel, accommodation, excursions & Co .: Further tips for Oberstaufen Last but not least: How do you actually get to Oberstaufen? The easiest way is with your own car, but it also works by train, as Oberstaufen has a train station and is well connected. As I said, Oberstaufen is located in the Allgäu, in the very south of Germany on the border with Austria and Switzerland. For a short trip over the weekend the arrival time should of course not be too long, ie how useful the Allgäu is for you as a travel destination depends of course on where you come from. My “rule” for short trips is always that the arrival and departure should take less than 5 hours, otherwise it will be too stressful. My absolute hotel recommendation for Oberstaufen: The Haubers Nature Resort * . I was invited by the Hauber family to Oberstaufen for a long weekend and it was honestly one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in so far. If you want to find out more about the hotel, take a look at my report on Haubers Alpenresort . Oberstaufen certainly also has many other great accommodations, you can find an overview here * . I would recommend you to look for a place to stay on the outskirts of Oberstaufen, as it is easier to walk out into nature from there. Excursions to the surrounding area: Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenzollern Castle Ok ok … that’s not Oberstaufen right now. But if you’re ever in the corner and still have a little time and air, then be sure to check out one of these two absolute highlights. Neuschwanstein Castle is THE German fairy tale castle and you can reach it after just 1.5 hours from Oberstaufen. A stone’s throw, right? Plan your arrival at Neuschwanstein Castle so that you arrive by 9:30 a.m. at the latest. Why? Around 10:30 am, the sun slowly disappears behind the mountain and the castle is first partially, then at some point completely in the shade. Of course, that doesn’t detract from the beauty, but this lighting situation is a little difficult for photos. So if you want good photos, be there in time. My tip for light photo equipment when traveling Would you like to take great photos on the go without having to carry too much with you? It doesn’t take much for that! The heart of my equipment are: My camera: Sony Alpha 6500 * An all-round lens from Sigma 17-70mm * (connected via adapter * ) A 30mm prime lens with 1.4 aperture from Sigma * (this prime lens will revolutionize your pictures, I promise!) A light, stable travel tripod * (for long exposures and if you want to take photos of yourself) By the way, the best photo spot for Neuschwanstein Castle is the Marienbrücke. This is above the castle and you have the typical unobstructed view of the castle from there. The way there is signposted and takes about 30 minutes on foot (be careful, it’s uphill). Since the Marienbrücke is well known as a vantage point, it gets relatively crowded there late at night. So: be there early 😉 I saved myself a guided tour through Neuschwanstein Castle, because the queue around 12 noon was unfortunately very long. Here you can find all information about Neuschwanstein Castle . Hohenzollern Castle is now not necessarily in direct reach of Oberstaufen (2.5 hours drive away), but if you are on the way to or from Stuttgart on your arrival or departure, then you should think about a detour to Hohenzollern Castle. You have the magnificent view of Hohenzollern Castle, which you know from many photos, from the 900m high Zeller Horn. The Zeller Horn can only be reached on foot, it is best to park in the parking lot at Zollersteighof. From there it is about 1.5 km not too steep a walk. My tip: bring a telephoto lens. You can see it in my poor pictures … you won’t get very far without a telephoto lens. The Hohenzollern Castle is certainly 1.5 km as the crow flies from the Zeller Horn. If you’re after the famous photo in which the castle peeks out of a cloud or fog blanket and you cannot see the landscape below – these photos can only be taken in an inversion weather situation. Such an inversion weather situation tends to be found in the morning and it always takes a good deal of luck. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky and the castle sank in the hazy weather, but it doesn’t matter, I Depp didn’t have a telephoto lens with me anyway. Otherwise, my weekend in Oberstaufen was wonderful and took me to the very beautiful white winter wonderland that I long for every winter in the emotional pre-Christmas period. Well done, Allgäu! 🙂
Traveling to the Maldives once in a lifetime and vacationing there is probably a dream of many people. The gleaming white beaches with buttery soft sand, the crystal clear turquoise sea with an incredible underwater world and the possibility of sleeping in a private water bungalow in the middle of the Indian Ocean – that is typical Maldives and absolutely unique in the world. For me, too, the Maldives were a dream for a long time, which was soooo high on my bucket list, but unfortunately also seemed completely unreachable. But what can I say – suddenly it came true thanks to an invitation to the VARU by Atmosphere Resort (usually I leave it at this point with a little hint for you readers about the invitation, but in this case I just want to say thank you . A big fat thank you from the bottom of my heart, because a lifelong dream has really been fulfilled here. And I still have a little pee in my eyes because of it. Thank you!) The selection of resorts in the Maldives is almost endless and hard to overlook. The Maldives consist of over 1100 islands, most of which are uninhabited, some are exclusively locally inhabited islands and some are used for tourist purposes. The islands are so small that there is usually only one resort on each of the tourist islands, but some are large enough that 2-3 resorts can share one island. The decision which hotel or resort should be for your Maldives vacation is not easy and very individual, because they are all luxurious after all – right? In this article I would therefore like to simply show you my personal impressions of the VARU by Atmosphere, so that you can get an overview of what to expect on site. Whether you are ultimately convinced of the resort’s concept is entirely up to you. Let’s go! VARU by Atmosphere: The ‘all-round carefree’ island paradise in the Indian Ocean The VARU by Atmosphere just opened its doors in October 2019 in the North Malé Atoll and is currently one of the newest luxury resorts in the Maldives. If you have concerns that a few things may not go completely smoothly because of this (and that is absolutely justified, after all, you don’t pay for such a Maldives vacation from your postage) – I can take that worry away from you. The VARU is already the fifth luxury resort of Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts , the boys and girls on site know what they’re doing. The journey from the international airport of Malé (the main island of the Maldives) is super fast, in only about 40 minutes you can reach the island by speedboat. The arrival and departure is of course included in the price and you will be picked up at the gate immediately upon arrival so that nothing goes wrong. ‘Varu’ is Dhivehi (the language of the Maldives) and means something like a life in abundance, strength, resilience and authenticity. The motto of the VARU by Atmosphere is ‘Naturally Maldivian’ and exactly this naturalness and authenticity can be found all over the island – from the modern but natural architecture to the stunning hospitality of the employees. Carefree all round – what does that mean exactly? The VARU by Atmosphere is a 5-star premium all inclusive resort. A real all-inclusive concept awaits you here, ie everything is really included – all meals, drinks and even excursions. And no, there is not only food twice a day that is worse than in any factory canteen and a cocktail is by definition not a mixture of beer and wine (as experienced in Turkey, also in a 5-star all-inclusive hotel … My worst vacation ever, ever, ever!). You have an honest and high-quality all-inclusive concept that leaves absolutely nothing to be desired and with which you do not have to worry about the amount of your bill in the end. Promised! How does that look in detail? Read more please… 😉 Private pool goals in the water villas and beach bungalows The VARU has a total of 108 private villas, 69 of which are overwater villas, which are lined up on the typical long wooden walkways and offer direct access to the turquoise blue sea, as well as 39 beach villas, some with direct access to the white sandy beach. I was lucky enough to be able to live in one of the water villas and I tell you … it is just as wonderful as you always imagine it in your dreams. When I enter my water villa, I can hardly believe my eyes, because the icing on the cake is a small private pool in the villa. Not that you would need something like that, because the crystal clear blue sea right in front of the door is already overwhelming … but hey, have you ever been naked in your private pool with a cocktail in your hand at night? 😀 question for a friend. Joking aside – at this point I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves: Both the overwater bungalows and the beach villas are equipped with modern interiors made from natural materials such as wood and stone. The water villas have a fully glazed front so that you can even look out over the blue ocean from the bathroom, while the beach bungalows not only have a normal but also an outdoor shower (mandatory, right?). By the way: I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had an exaggerated fear of accidentally taking something out of the minibar in the hotel that would cost me about twelve thousand euros without knowing it. In the VARU, the minibar is refilled twice a day and everything is included (including snacks and wine!). That fact alone made me pretty happy – cheers! Culinary happy Since we have already arrived at the culinary part, let’s continue right there: The VARU by Atmosphere has a total of 4 restaurants. In the main restaurant LIME & CHILI breakfast, lunch and dinner are served with a mix of buffet and live cooking stations. The selection is really huge and varied, you will find new dishes from all over the world every day. My challenge was to eat myself completely through the buffet during my time on the island – and unfortunately I failed miserably. The selection was just too big (or my stomach too small, who knows). By the way, my personal highlight was the BAY ROUGE aka the pool bar, because this is where you get the good stuff. As mentioned, the all inclusive concept also includes a large selection of spirits and the guys at the pool bar really know how to turn these into delicious cocktails. As someone who has a little passion for cocktails, in normal life I sometimes pay 15 € for a really good drink without batting an eyelid and I also like to experiment at home … and I can assure you, the cocktails are fantastic (Which on some days led to the fact that I was already toddled by the pool at 11 a.m. with a drink in hand and unfortunately the condition did not return to normal during the day. Ahem.) In the afternoon, the pool bar also serves snacks such as salads and club sandwiches and in the evening a DJ plays live music with a sundowner. Definitely a place where you can endure.