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It’s been a few years since I stumbled across a photo of a shimmering emerald green lake on Instagram with a rugged mountain backdrop in the background. The mountains were mirrored crystal clear in the smooth surface of the water, on which a lonely old wooden boat was floating. This photo completely flashed me and it didn’t take long until I found out where this magical place was: it was the Pragser Wildsee (in Italian Lago di Braies) in the middle of South Tyrol, more precisely in the Dolomites. What might have been an insider tip years ago has long since ceased to exist: along with the Three Peaks, the Braies Lake is the most popular spot in the entire Dolomite region . Has it lost some of its magic as a result? Yes, perhaps. It took me three tries to really take him into my heart. Lake Braies: Instagram hype in the heart of the Dolomites The Pragser Wildsee is located in the middle of the Dolomites at the end of the Pragser Valley at an altitude of almost 1500m. It was created by a mudslide, from which a dam was formed. The lake is approx. 1200m long and measures approx. 400m at its widest point, the deepest point is approx. 36m. The 2810m high Seekofel on the opposite bank of the lake is responsible for the striking mountain backdrop that has made the lake so famous. It is hard to believe that another 1300 meters of altitude separate you from the lakeshore to the mountain peak that is enthroned in front of you. Viewed from the Seekofel, the Braies Lake probably looks like a greenish-blue shimmering pearl with bustling ants on it. Maybe that’s why it is also called the ‘Pearl of the Dolomites’. My 1st visit: So this is the famous Lago di Braies? A few more years passed from the time I discovered the photo of Lake Braies on Instagram until I felt the bottom of the lake under my feet for the first time. The Dolomites were too far off the beaten track for me, too little time … you probably know the Struggle. But in summer 2018 the time had finally come and I was able to include a visit to Lago di Braies on the way back from Venice. It was late afternoon when I got there and what followed was … disillusionment. The parking lot was super full, on the lakeshore crowds of people and prams clogged the paths, no crystal-clear reflecting water and the boats on the lake looked as if they were in a war battle. Idyll? Nothing. The attempt to take at least a few nice photos of or on the jetty of the boathouse was stopped very quickly. It is forbidden to stay in the boathouse if you do not want to rent a boat. Drone flying is also prohibited. I withdraw to the edge of the lake to escape the hustle and bustle and let my disappointment sink in. It’s nice, no question about it, but I didn’t expect any of that. You can see the photos of my first visit here. My 2nd visit: Lake Braies in winter Since I’m not someone who gives up quickly or who doesn’t miss second chances, I drive back to Lake Braies only a few months later in winter. I’m curious how the lake looks in the snowy mountain scenery. Since it has not been very cold in the past few weeks, to be honest, I am not assuming the scenario that then presents itself to me: the lake is completely frozen over and completely covered with snow. What somehow still has its charm in reality (after all, you can walk far out onto the lake), unfortunately, does not work at all in photos. And again – disappointment. All good things come in threes: It’s a wrap! Well then, I’m not giving up. In the summer of 2019 I will return to South Tyrol and, with full intent, to Lago di Braies again. And this time I’m better prepared. It is 5:30 in the morning when we park our car (in the parking lot that is not empty to our horror) and walk to the lakeshore with our camera and drone in our luggage. With us there are only two handfuls of other people at the lake and we all have the same goal: beautiful photos. Correspondingly, we treat each other with respect, nobody gets in each other’s way. For the first time, Lake Braies lies in front of me, as I had imagined it to be over the years: infinitely calm, the water shimmers in all nuances from deep dark blue to emerald green and the brown wooden boats are lined up along the boathouse like a pearl necklace. The mountain scenery of the Seekofel is reflected in the smooth water surface and there is no breeze blowing that could destroy this photo idyll. Now he has me, the Pragser Wildsee. At last. Getting the photo opportunities that I have in my head is no easy task in the end. But more on that below, there I will give you detailed instructions on which obstacles you have to reckon with and what you have to pay attention to. Tips for Lake Braies – parking & renting a boat But first of all, very quick and dirty, a few tips and information worth knowing for your visit to Lake Braies. Here we go. Directions & parking at Lake Braies Lago die Braies is located in the Braies Valley, a side valley of the Puster Valley and part of the Fanes-Sennes-Braies Nature Park. If you simply enter ‘Pragser Wildsee’ in your navigation system, it should lead you there very precisely. Parking at Lake Braies is just as uncomplicated, there are a total of 3 large parking spaces for cars, buses, campers and motorcycles. The parking spaces are different distances from the lake, the front parking lot is the most expensive. From here it is only 2 minutes to the lake. Since I used the front parking lot (the hotel parking lot) on all of my visits, I can only tell you the fees. In the main time from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., these are € 6 for the first three hours (as of 2019). Here you can see an overview: Note: From 07/10/19 to 09/10/19 there was a traffic block to Lake Braies, how this will be handled in the coming years remains to be seen. The road to the lake is closed to motorized traffic between 10:00 and 15:00. The lake can only be approached by public buses, on foot or by bike. From the Monguelfo train station there is a specially arranged shuttle bus to Lake Braies every 30 minutes (price € 3 per person and trip). This drastic measure shows how hopeless the lake is now. On peak days, over 10,000 visitors were counted every day (!), An almost unimaginable number. The traffic block clearly serves to protect the environment, because as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Dolomites, a natural treasure such as Lake Braies must be protected. If you reach the Braies Valley before 10 a.m., you can easily drive in by car, park by the lake and of course drive out again. You do n’t have to wait until after 3 p.m. to leave the Braies Valley . A boat tour over the Lago di Braies – the boat rental We all know the wonderful pictures of the people in the nostalgic wooden boats on the lake. It looks nice and yes, it’s really fun to paddle across the lake in a boat like this. But you better not take too long, because the prices for the boats are steep. You pay 18 € for 30 minutes – 28 € for 60 minutes . When borrowing you pay 28 € – should you be back after 30 minutes, you will be reimbursed 10 €. I don’t know why this is done. The boat rental is open from June to September from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Personally, I have never seen a queue for the boats. The fluctuation is high due to the high rental fee, ie boats come back every minute and are lent again. This means that you never have to wait more than a few minutes. The best time to visit The cynic in me says: at night. In the winter. When there is a blizzard. At minus 15 degrees. Then you are guaranteed to be alone. Ha! Realistically, the following answer is probably the best: It depends on what you want to do. Taking photos? Then very early in the morning before the boat rental opens and before the first public bus arrives at 8:30 a.m. Do you want to go boating and take a few photos with your smartphone? Then the time is irrelevant. In general, the following applies: if it is important to you to escape the crowds a little, then use the off-peak times. Before 9/10 a.m., after 5 p.m. And preferably not on the weekend. And of course, Lake Braies is much more crowded in summer than at other times of the year.
In our article in pictures about the Lofoten we have already introduced you to the archipelago in the north of Norway and have already shown you one or the other place that you definitely shouldn’t miss in the Lofoten. However, we haven’t revealed much about the individual places yet and we noticed for ourselves when we were in Lofoten that the search for sights is actually a bit difficult. We assume that you want to travel to Lofoten because you are enthusiastic about extraordinary landscapes and have a great desire to take pictures, right? Great, because there are hardly any long party nights here. The only thing that dances here at night are the northern lights in the sky 😉 Nevertheless, the Lofoten Islands are a real adventure – provided, of course, you are in the mood for a lot of landscape and nocturnal northern light hunts. So: What do you absolutely have to see in Lofoten , where are the best photo spots and which highlights should definitely not be missed? We’ll tell you! At the end of the article we clearly marked all the sights on a map. Here we go! Haukland Beach: Caribbean feeling in Norway The beach of Haukland is the most famous beach in Lofoten and should therefore of course not be missing. It is very spacious, with light sand and blue water, so that even in winter it brings us to a dream Caribbean beachremembered. Haukland Beach is a popular spot for photographers and we saw it in all sorts of conditions in just one week in Lofoten: From wild and quick-tempered in a snowstorm (so wild that our tripod blew us away) to extremely calm and gentle Immersed in sunset light (you can really take pictures of sunsets here!). Haukland itself is a tiny little place, in which there are a handful of houses, unfortunately we could not see whether they were inhabited or uninhabited – the highlight here is really the beach. Lofoten attractions: Uttakleiv You will find Uttakleiv just a few meters from Haukland Beach. Once you have driven through a tunnel to the other side of the mountain, you will reach the centuries-old settlement in which only a few people live. Uttakleiv beach is ideal for photography and, like Haukland, is very wild on some days and quite tame on others. Well worth going by there more often! Instead of taking the car through the tunnel, you can also hike around the mountain. The hiking route from Haukland to Uttakleiv is approx. 8km long and easy to do even for the inexperienced. You can read more about the hike from Lisa and Alex . Unstad beach A very special photo opportunity awaits you at Unstad Beach, because large parts of the beach are covered by large, dark rocks. We were on Unstad Beach on a day when it was extremely stormy, which is why some crazy people actually plunged into the waves to surf at 1 ° C, beaming with joy. Damn freaks. We tried to get the best out of it with trembling hands and a wobbly tripod and are very proud of our camera equipment that it weathered the worst snowstorm of all time. The highlight of Lofoten: Northern lights on Flakstad Beach Flakstad beach is surrounded on all sides by towering mountains and therefore always looks quite impressive, no matter from which direction you look at it. This gives off a real postcard motif during the day, but becomes particularly exciting in the dark: When it comes to how to photograph the northern lights “correctly”, the composition of the image also plays an important role. Just taking photos in the sky is a little boring, you also need a reference point on the picture: a building, a tree or mountains. And that is why Flakstad Beach is so popular with aurora photographers due to the impressive mountain backdrop. In the early evening hours there are easily 15-20 people spread over the beach – so completely overcrowded! 😉 Reine in Lofoten: The famous postcard motif The town of Reine is THE postcard motif of Lofoten. The small fishing village is located in the very south of the archipelago on the island of Moskenesøya and is surrounded by towering mountains. Be sure to come to Reine at sunrise! Then the snow-capped mountains are bathed in soft pink light and you can enjoy a sight that you will not soon forget. Unfortunately, we had a bit of bad luck with the weather, because it was always so overcast at sunrise in Reine that we unfortunately didn’t get any pink mountain photos. Instead, we took pictures of the backdrop once in a rather icy cold and once in bright sunshine. Like night and day, isn’t it? If you are traveling to Lofoten in summer, then you should combine your visit to Reine with a hike on the Reinehaben. From up there you have a breathtaking view! In winter, the hike is unfortunately not entirely safe, as the risk of slipping is very high due to the steep incline towards the summit. Lofoten attractions: Sakrisøy and Hamnøy The two villages are only a few kilometers from Reine and can be easily combined with a visit there. The same applies here: photos, photos, photos. In the two fishing villages you will find the so-called rorbuer, the typical Norwegian fisherman’s houses, optionally in yellow or red. Fortunately, for the perfect Lofoten experience, you can even rent the rorbuer as accommodation. AirBnB has a lot of them Sunset in Henningsvær Henningsvær is a small fishing village on an offshore mini archipelago in the southeast of Lofoten and somehow we didn’t even have it on our radar. To be honest, we only drove by because we still had time and it was on the way anyway. But as it is: the best usually comes unexpectedly. We went to Henningsvær by accident and it was just wonderful. Kvalvika Beach: Dream beach with a view The beach of Kvalvika is by far the loneliest beach in Lofoten. It cannot be reached by car, but only via a hike lasting several hours. You have to decide whether you want to hike directly to the beach or whether you want to catch a glimpse of it from above from the mountains. We decided on variant 2 and undertook an icy snow hike over the mountain Ryten in order to be able to enjoy this fantastic view. The route over the Ryten is said to be the most beautiful hike in Lofoten (if you believe our landlady, whose AirBnB we lived in for a week). The view over the mountain and fjord landscape is awesome and the view of the turquoise-blue Kvalvika Beach anyway – a real adventure! Excursion tips for Lofoten: Sea Eagle and Trollfjord Tour If you want to do something “real” in addition to sightseeing in the Lofoten Islands, then we can particularly recommend a Sea Eagle Safari , preferably one that leads through the famous Trollfjord. The Trollfjord is the narrowest fjord in Lofoten, the steep mountains rise up on all sides, which looks really impressive. The Sea Eagle Safaris are mostly offered from Reine, Henningsvær or Svolvær. A whale watching tour in the North Sea is also great: We would have loved to have done one, the only problem is that we couldn’t find a tour that starts in Lofoten. Google claims so, but all tours de facto take place from the village of Andenes, which is very high up in the northwest of the islands in the North Sea on the island of Vesteralen and not in Lofoten. However, if you want to spend a few days up there anyway, then definitely go on a whale safari! More information is available here. In general, the following applies to the Lofoten Islands: You have to be curious to find the best sights, photo spots and highlights! The Lofoten are an unbelievable piece of earth and almost every curve hides a new landscape panorama that you will probably not find anywhere else in the world in this form. Mountains, sea, stones, frozen lakes, colorful wooden fishermen’s houses, Caribbean blue dream beaches , green northern lights – the Lofotenare the dream of every landscape photographer for a reason. We found it particularly exciting to deviate from the usual route: The European road E 10 leads over Lofoten and many of the sights and spots mentioned can be found along the E 10. Please do not imagine that you can explore and really get to know the Lofoten Islands by driving from spot to spot, because the opposite is the case. Get off the E 10, go to places you’ve never heard of and keep your eyes open! A highlight can be hidden behind every curve and the landscape in Lofoten changes with the season, with the weather and even with the time. Some places look very different today than they did yesterday, the best example of this is provided by Reine in the pictures above. We have often experienced that we just jumped out of the car somewhere on the way because we discovered something interesting, for example a tiny lighthouse, a lonely house by the lake, mountains reflecting pink in the water during sunset or a fox that tampering with a stockfish farm. And within 10-20 minutes, more and more photographers gathered there because they also found the subject exciting. That means: Be curious, look where others are taking photos and find your own spots and sights. Because the Lofoten itself is the attraction and there is a lot to discover.
We no longer need to discuss that the Lofoten is an absolute dream landscape, we have already provided enough evidence in the form of images . The beaches in Lofoten in particular, with their contrast of mountain landscapes, lush green meadows and turquoise-blue water, create a picture that captivates every photographer for hours. The wonderful Haukland Beach, Uttakleiv and the stony Unstad Beach are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful places . The absolute highlight of every trip to Lofoten However, it is hidden between pointed mountains and cannot be reached by car or boat, but only on foot through a not very easy hike: the Bay of Kvalvika. There you will find Kvalvika Beach, which could just as well be a dream beach somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean if you neglect the mountains around it. The hike to the bay or beach of Kvalvika is one of the most beautiful hikes in Lofoten and works in every season. We had a lot of worries in advance whether it would even be possible in winter because we couldn’t find any information explicitly about the weather conditions in winter anywhere. How steep is it, how great is the risk of slipping? Can you see the trail markings when there is snow? Are there deep water holes or lakes that can be fatal if they are covered in snow? Because we didn’t really know what the conditions would be, our pants were pretty full and we were very careful on our way – ultimately, relatively unfounded. There were some tricky spots, but no problem with the right shoes and clothing. If you are planning a hike to the Bay of Kvalvika, you have to decide between two options in advance: Do you really want to hike to Kvalvika Beach and experience the beach live or do you want to enjoy a fantastic view of the bay and the turquoise blue water from above? Both variants, i.e. the view from above plus the hike to the beach, can be combined with each other, but only in summer when the days are very long. There is not enough time for a day trip in winter, so unfortunately you have to make a decision. You should also be in good physical condition for this. We decided to look from above – so our hike led us to Mount Ryten. We will now explain in more detail what the possible hiking routes to Kvalvika Beach look like, what to expect and what to look out for. The bay of Kvalvika: location and how to get there Kvalvika Beach is located on the island of Moskenesøya near the village of Fredvang. You can reach Fredvang relatively easily via the E10 after following the signs and passing two bridges. Two different parking spaces serve as starting points for the hikes, be it high on the Ryten or directly to Kvalvika Beach. Version A shows you the starting point for the hike to Ryten , version B shows you the starting point for the hike to Kvalvika Beach . With a view: the hike over the mountain Ryten (version A) You will find the parking lot as the starting point for your hike on the Ryten if you follow the signs to “Yttersand”. At some point you will pass a dilapidated house that Frankenstein must have built himself. Follow the street until you see a white house with a double garage on the right, where you can park (next to the garage of course). A few meters further on, a gravel path leads into the mountains on the left side of the road, you have come to the right place. It doesn’t take long for the climb to begin and it’s a steep uphill climb. For the hike you need sturdy and waterproof footwear, waterproof pants and warm, waterproof gloves with which you can grip. After a while you will reach a small plain with a mirror-smooth, small mountain lake. Keep to the right and follow the red path markings on the stones . It is now pretty steep uphill, the path is becoming increasingly slippery and you have to climb properly. Be careful where you step on the whole route, under the snow and moss there can be unpredictably deep water and mud holes (small all-clear: even if you sink to your knees, you can get yourself pulled out of the mud together). The view from up here over the mountains and the fjord landscapes is amazing, we always took a little time and just stood there and was amazed. At some point you will reach another mountain lake on your left. At this point there is also the possibility to descend to Kvalvika Beach, the path is signposted and you can already see the bay. If you continue to follow the red trail markings, from here it goes steeply up to the Ryten. At this point the conditions actually got really hairy for the first time on the track. We did our best and climbed as high as possible, but at some point it got so slippery on the steep slope with all the snow and ice that we didn’t dare move a meter further. The danger of falling was too great and we had to break off a few meters before the summit. So we quickly took a few pictures at what felt like – 30 ° C, the incredible view down to the icy, Enjoyed the Caribbean blue Kvalvika Beach and will be back quickly. We were very happy when we had secure ground under our feet again at the level of the mountain lake. The route on the Ryten is about 5km long oneway , you need about 2-3 hours for it . You should plan a (relaxed) full day for the entire route. On the way back you can follow the signs and descend to Kvalvika Beach. Please note, however, that you a) need to be in good physical condition and b) the day must be long enough for it. In winter, when you only have a few hours of daylight in the north, there is not enough time. Then you have to tackle the two hikes separately! As a separate hiking route to Kvalvika Beach, however, there is another route, for which you should also plan a full day. Hike to Kvalvika Beach (Version B) You can see the starting point for the direct hike (B) marked on the map above. You can also easily reach the parking lot via Fredvang. The route is shorter than up on the Ryten, but no less strenuous or challenging. Anyone who thinks that they just have to quickly get over a hill and then stand on the beach is pretty wrong. A particular challenge is crossing the rocky outcrop that splits Kvalvika beach into two individual beaches: There you climb over the rocks on steel chains in a rather adventurous way to get to the other side (luckily this is not a must, you don’t have to both See sides of the beach). On the way back you don’t have to take the same route, you can also choose a different route. In this case, however, note Since we couldn’t do the hike directly to the beach ourselves due to lack of time, here are a few helpful articles and experience reports explicitly about the hike directly to the bay of Kvalvika: Day tour to Kvalvika beach Overnight hike Route not to be copied By the way, there is something very special to discover on Kvalvika Beach itself: a small ‘hobbit house’. Not so long ago, a couple of surfers lived here for 9 months, completely isolated from the rest of the world. The small cave is still completely preserved and equipped and can be used by anyone who wants to stay overnight and live in it. There are a few impressions here . We really enjoyed the hike up to the Ryten and the solitude of nature up there. The cold was bearable thanks to continuous movement and the right clothing. We needed a total of about 5 hours for the hike, including photo stops (which worked well with the 6 hours of daylight in Lofoten at the beginning of February, but in the end we actually had to hurry a little to avoid getting into the dark). The hike was sometimes quite strenuous and even if we swore a lot during the time, whose stupid idea it was again, we didn’t even have mini muscle soreness the next day 😉 It’s worth it!
I usually know pretty much what to write about in a blog article. I come up with a title, think about what could be of interest to you on this topic and try to give as much information and experience as possible along the way. The article about Swedish Lapland will be a little different. Or rather, it is actually wrong to call it an article about Swedish Lapland, because we were only there for one day. And collecting valuable information about a place in just 24 hours – that is not possible. So I argued with myself for a while whether I should write about Swedish Lapland at all … added value and such. But hey, this is my internetwork here, if not here then where. And for this reason I will very well write about Swedish Lapland, because the impressions have to go somewhere. The first time on the ice made a lasting impression on me. You expect a lot of information and specific travel tips about what you can do in Swedish Lapland and why you absolutely have to go there? Sorry, nothing. You have to google it again. But if you are in the mood for a little disorderly narration and icy pictures and always wanted to know whether sled dogs actually stop to poop – a warm welcome! Stopover in Kiruna (Sweden): arrival in the ice How we ended up in Swedish Lapland in the first place is relatively simple to explain: We wanted to go to Lofoten in Norwayand the little town of Kiruna in Sweden looked like a useful starting point for us (cheap flights, cheap rental car). We had never heard of the place before, the airport looked tiny and accordingly we expected it to be completely wasted. So we were really pissed off when we actually sat in the tourist bomber heading for Swedish Lapland. With us on the plane: only Germans, perfectly equipped from top to bottom with professional functional clothing, because it is definitely minus twelve degrees. And Asians, loads of Asians. Those who take photos in the dark with their smartphone with flash. Immediately after landing, still on the airplane stairs on the way down. I like. The romantic illusion of having landed in a lonely winter wonderland has suddenly burst. Wikipedia tells us that the people in Kiruna in Swedish Lapland actually live primarily from tourism and that the whole city is built on an iron ore mine that is in danger of collapsing and will therefore have to be completely relocated in the next few decades. It will be fun for everyone. What exactly the tourists are doing here, however, only becomes semi-clear to us. We hear about the famous Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi , which is only 20km away … but come here especially for that? Really now? We can’t really make friends with Kiruna on our first evening, but we don’t have to, we’re just passing through. Swedish Lapland: About clinking waterfalls and lonely houses in the forest The next morning, at breakfast in what is probably the worst hotel in all of Kiruna, we discover one thing that we find very nice: polar bread . Tastes very tasty and is therefore chosen on the spot as the main food for the next 8 days. We pick up our rental car, we are sad that it doesn’t have such funny giant headlights on the front like apparently all other cars in Swedish Lapland and first drive it to buy tons of polar bread and Ost (a kind of cream cheese in tubes) in the supermarket. There are almost 200km ahead of us through the freezing cold north of Sweden on the way to Norway. The E10, which will later become a winding panoramic road in Lofoten, leads straight through the snow-covered landscape of Swedish Lapland. It leads us past trees and bushes, of which only the tips can be seen due to the meter-high snow, past small wooden houses buried under the roof in snow, past completely frozen rivers, from which the water is only dark in a few places flashes out. Again and again the white wasteland of trees and bushes is interrupted by huge snow-covered areas without any undergrowth – we can only guess that there must be huge lakes underneath. We stop at a completely frozen waterfall and have a spontaneous photo session at the roadside at about -18 ° C – the falling ice-blue water on the dark stones just looks too crazy. By the way, behind all the ice you could hear a loud rustling and clinking, In search of the reindeer Out of sheer amazement at frozen waterfalls and snow-covered houses, we also missed our first reindeer right away – it was actually quite chilled by the roadside. But because we thought that we would surely see hundreds of reindeer lying around the roadside, chilling (after all, we’re in Swedish Lapland, aren’t we), we didn’t stop for the time being. Unfortunately, that was a stupid decision. I don’t know what reindeer do all day and where they like to be, at least after that we haven’t seen a single reindeer. No longer on our way through northern Sweden, not on the Norwegian mainland, not in Lofoten. In the first days I kept my eyes open and carefully scanned every gray-looking rock, But at some point the certainty came: it won’t work here anymore. I would be lying if I said that the hope of a new reindeer sighting in Lapland did not contribute to our decision to leave Lofoten a day earlier than planned. Christian often just rolls his eyes, but unfortunately, when it comes to looking at animals, I can’t be stopped. You have to stop in the middle of the streets for reindeer, geese and foxes or sometimes to the I am unfortunately not to be stopped. You have to stop in the middle of the streets for reindeer, geese and foxes or even to the I am unfortunately not to be stopped. You have to stop in the middle of the streets for reindeer, geese and foxes or even to theFlamingos being flown to the Caribbean . I can’t do anything. And what can I say: It was worth it! On the way back to Kiruna a reindeer had made itself comfortable at the roadside and willingly let me take a picture (don’t worry, it wasn’t the same place as the week before. So I assume it was a different reindeer was and he was fine). Reindeer photos in Sweden: Check! With the dog sled through the night Since we traveled back to Kiruna a day earlier than planned, we still had a little time on site and decided to do a bit of touristic stuff: go dog sledding! In view of the prices of around 110 € per person, we gritted our teeth a lot, but booked it under Once in a lifetime and that’s it. Our guide picks us up in Kiruna at the agreed meeting point and drives us out into the wasteland of Swedish Lapland. When we arrive at the property with the dogs, we are greeted by loud barks and excited yelps. Funnily enough, the dogs are hard to hold and practically throw themselves into their harness. We are the only guests that evening and so we get a very private dog sled ride. The dogs pull our sledge through the powdered sugar landscape of Lapland at a very good pace and the barking from the beginning soon gives way to a steady panting. Our guide tells us that at the moment, at around -15 ° C, it is actually way too warm for the dogs and he is right: It doesn’t take long for individual dogs to cool down a little sideways in the snow during the race throw or snout a load of it. Our goal is a small tipi in the forest, there we take a break That was the cute part. The only half as cute part of a dog sledding tour (and the ugly truth) is that running around stimulates the dogs’ digestion. Nuff said. Wrap the scarf around your nose as tightly as you can. You will most likely not hit anything (well, that might also depend a little on the speed), but just the smell … manager manager. Call me naive, but I wasn’t aware of that before. Therefore, my 5 ULTIMATE tips for the PERFECT dog sledding tour are (if I had written my own article about the tour, that would have been my clickbaiting headline): Sit back on the slide as far back as possible Pull the scarf under the eyes. Wrap double. More scarf = less odor penetration Don’t look Not breathing You have to really like dogs You can imagine: Nobody paid us for the dog sledding tour, otherwise I wouldn’t write about flying shit here. Nevertheless I can recommend the tours of Huskytours in Kiruna , nobody can do anything for the digestion of the dogs. And digestion is always there, on every dog sledding tour. By the way, we didn’t see the northern lights on our evening sled tour, unfortunately the sky was too cloudy for that. In contrast to this article, you can find much nicer impressions of a dog sledding tour in daylight and lots of useful information about Swedish Lapland at Paradisefound.de. But as I said: Providing information was not my aim this time either. For once, I wanted to tell a little story and show a few pictures of an impressive landscape that for most of us in our latitudes is barely tangible with the mere imagination. The eternal white, the sun that never really comes out north of the Arctic Circle between December and January and makes the day linger in a blue haze, the months of shivering cold.
It must have been sometime in the 90s when I saw a report on television about an airport on a tiny island in the Caribbean where planes land only a few meters above the heads of the bathers. Of course, as a teenager, I didn’t remember the name of the island or the beach, but it must have been burned into my subconscious somewhere: I have to go there. There is no other way I can explain it to myself that I actually started googling at the end of 2015 and in mid-2016 I was on a plane to St. Maarten that was supposed to take us straight to this adventure to Maho Beach. The story is similar to that of the flamingos in Aruba – what must, must! Maho Beach – St. Maarten – Saint Martin – Wtf …? Most holidaymakers end up on St. Maarten by chance because the route of their cruise ship takes them there. But how is that actually called right now … St. Maarten – Sint Maarten – Saint Martin – St. Martin … or what? Yes. Both Sint Maarten and Saint Martin (each also known by the abbreviation St.) are correct names for the really small Caribbean island that used to be part of the Dutch Antilles. The different naming results from the fact that it is on St. Maarten / St. Martin gives a Dutch and a French part. Since the capital Philipsburg is a free trade zone, it is a popular port of call for cruise ships and thousands of cruise guests are “tipped” onto the island almost every day. The main attraction of St. Maarten is without a doubt Maho Beach, And we wouldn’t be us if we were too this nonsenseuhhh … not have already done this adventure . In contrast to the day tourists, we took a total of 4 days for St. Maarten and were able to explore the island quite well. Now there are the full load of pictures, at the end of the article there are a few practical tips about Maho Beach. Rush hour on Maho Beach Yes, there is such a thing. There is air traffic all day at Maho Beach, but the large planes from overseas and the USA usually arrive between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The flight schedule looks different every day of the week, so it’s best to inform you in advance which aircraft will land when on ‘your’ day. We used this overview of arrivals and departures , because the machines taking off can also be interesting if you want to head towards the fence. What it’s all about? The machines usually start with the butt towards the beach and are very close to the fence due to the limited space. The planes have to give a lot of material to take off, because the runway is very short and abruptly bounded by hills, which is why the planes have to come up very quickly. In reality this means that it is damn hot, warm and windy in the jet of such a turbine. The fence surfing at Maho Beach is quite popular , although highly visible warning signs are attached everywhere. Fortunately, there have been no major accidents to date, but we were able to experience firsthand that the situation can quickly get out of control. Somehow we positioned ourselves incorrectly when launching a larger Insel Air machine. We thought that we were pretty much on the edge and not in the middle of the jet of the turbines and suddenly a full gun went off. EVERYTHING has flown around our ears including ourselves! For about 5-10 seconds I wasn’t sure if this would survive because I was just stuck in the middle of a goddamn sandstorm. The final losses to report were: a contact lens and a hair tie. Buuhuu. So don’t make nonsense! I’m pretty sure we were on the edge of the spectacle and don’t want to know how the people who were in the middle of it were doing. But it’s also a fact: Maho Beach is fun. We couldn’t get enough of it and were there for at least 2 hours every day. On the beach itself it looks rather bad for reasons lying around (although this is quite possible on the edge if the background noise doesn’t bother you). You can also sit comfortably in the two bars on Maho Beach every now and then. The Sunset Beach Bar is good for planespotting, the prices for food and drinks are also okay (not cheap, but okay). Here you will also find the famous surfboard , on which the arrival times of the machines are dailyto be written out. Cheaper drinks are available in the bar on the other side of the beach, but from there the view of the arriving planes is a little worse. PS: Happy Hour starts at 4 p.m. in the Sunset Beach Bar. Bottom up! Practical tips for Maho Beach: arrival and parking In general, getting to Maho Beach is very straightforward. St. Maarten is so small that the beach is basically just a stone’s throw away, no matter where you are from. Arrival from the airport Maho Beach is located directly on the runway of Princess Juliana Airport (SXM), so you could theoretically walk to the beach in about 20 minutes (the road meanders and makes a few detours). Alternatively, you can take a taxi and be in max. 5 minutes to the beach. It’s stupid with luggage, of course, but if you can put it somewhere or have a stopover of several hours in St. Maarten, take the opportunity. Arrival from the port of Philipsburg Most holidaymakers arrive here by cruise ship. In Philipsburg you can either rent a car and jet off on your own or take a taxi to Maho Beach. The taxi prices on St. Maarten are regulated and are posted. A taxi ride to Maho Beach costs $ 20 , shared taxis are cheaper. You can find all information at Taxi St. Maarten. A drive from Philipsburg to Maho Beach takes about 30 minutes. Note that on St. Maarten in and around Philipsburg and Simpson Bay there is usually a traffic jam in the afternoon and you will need longer on the way back to the port. Drive off in time! If you want to rent a car and explore the island, we recommend booking in advance . St. Maarten is very small and the number of rental cars is limited. Spontaneously on site you will either not get a car or only completely overpriced. We always book with cheaper rental cars * Parking at Maho Beach This is also simple: There is a parking lot directly at Maho Beach with normal prices (we think we remember about $ 5). If you are a guest in the Sunset Beach Bar, the parking costs will be charged. Alternatively, you can look for a free parking space a few meters further on the fence around the runway, but there is rarely anything free there.
Admittedly, when we look at the pictures of our kayak tour through the Everglades, we get a little queasy. In some photos we are extremely close to the alligators and the terrifying thing is – we didn’t even notice it along the way. Because one thing is clear: When you are in a kayak on the rivers of the Everglades, you are no longer in your own habitat, but in that of the alligators and pythons. Man has little to report here. And you can be sure: Whenever you discover an animal in the Everglades – be it an alligator, a fish or a wild bird somewhere between the trees or the arms of the mangroves – at that moment the pairs of eyes of at least 20 other animals are on you and you have no clue of it. And that is exactly the reason why we decided on a kayak tour on our road trip through Florida , which of course couldn’t miss the Everglades: We wanted to experience the animals in their natural habitat. It was clear to us from the start that we would not do an airboat tour. The airboats are so extremely loud that they completely scare off even the last water flea. Firstly, this is pretty uncool for the animals, and secondly, you will hardly see an alligator. It is not without reason that airboat tour operators often combine airboat tours with alligator shows such as “Alligator Wrestling” to ensure that visitors see alligators in the first place and thus reduce their disappointment. Our opinion: it doesn’t work at all! So we were looking for an environmentally friendly alternative and came across kayak tours through the Everglades. That sounded like a blatant adventure and we didn’t think about it for long: we’ll do it! Everglades Kayak Tour: Start on the Turner River The day we want to explore the Everglades starts early. We got bogged down with planning the trip and that’s why we start in the morning in the east of Florida in Homestead, which is actually a bit too far away as a starting point for a full day in the Everglades. So we drive in the wee hours of the morning armed with coffee on the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades National Park all the way west to Everglades City. This is where our agreed meeting point for our kayak tour is: At 9 a.m. we meet Ryan and Ozz from the Everglades Kayak Company , who will take us on a private tour through the Everglades today. After a brief briefing on the situation, our guide Ozz drives us to the Turner River, where our adventure begins starts. By the way, there is a small sight to be admired along the way: the smallest post office in the USA in Ochopee! As we drove by, we almost missed it, it’s just a small white wooden house on the roadside. There is exactly one person in it, because there is no more space. It remains to be seen whether there are really many locals who drop their mail here or whether it is more of a tourist attraction. Kayak through the wilderness of the Everglades After a short drive of about 15 minutes we arrive at the starting point on the Turner River. The Turner River is located in the middle of Big Cypress National Preserve, the area in the Everglades where you can find most of the animal and plant species. You can even find wild pumas (yes, real pumas!) Here, which are pointed out by warning signs everywhere along the Tamiami Trail (a little hint: the Americans will explain to you that there are panthers here. For us, panthers are the black ones Big cats, in America panthers are the brown big cats we know as pumas. A certain species lives in the Everglades, namely the Florida panther. As we understand it, it is a puma. So don’t look out for big black cats, but for brown ones, they are harder to spot After we have carried the kayaks to the water with our guide Ozz, there is a small paddling and safety introduction. For both of us, who last sat in such a vehicle during a school trip in middle school, it is immediately clear how it works. We carry our kayaks into the water and off we go. Ozz is a pretty big guy, by the way, and tells us that he grew up here and is constantly camping wildly in the Everglades (the area around Thousand Islands is said to be amazing!) – we feel in good hands with him and we are sure that he is if in doubt, knows what to do We paddle slowly over the Turner River and let the impressions work on us. The deeper we go into the Everglades, the quieter it gets. At some point you can only hear the quiet beating of our paddles and the chirping of birds. We haven’t discovered any alligators yet and it actually takes a while to get there. To our left, a large alligator lies calmly in the sun and eyes us critically. Of course, we can’t keep the recommended minimum distance of 3 meters on the narrow river and so the pump is quite a problem when we have to pass the huge alligator. Ozz explains that typically 15-20 alligators have been seen at this point, but the water is so shallow that most of them have retreated into deeper waters. At the time of our tour at the beginning of April, the Turner River has very little water because it has hardly rained in the last few months – and so it doesn’t take long before we run aground with the kayaks. That means: get out! Into the knee-deep, muddy water in which alligators, pythons and all kinds of critters lurk. We’re really fed up and our guide Ozz doesn’t seem so relaxed either. In the end everything goes well and we are safely back in our kayaks. Alligators, pythons and … alligator fish? The deeper we go into the Everglades, the more water the Turner River carries. The paddling is slowly becoming more relaxed, the river is wider and we can marvel at all sorts of animals. Almost every tree has some giant bird that we have never seen anywhere before, watching both us and the fish in the river. We see more and more alligators at the edges of the river and you really have to look carefully not to miss them. The reptiles know exactly how to move in order to remain undetected. We experience a brief moment of shock when one of the alligators suddenly descends only 3-4m away from us and swims towards us … old Swede! Ozz had previously explained to us that the alligators are usually afraid of the big colorful kayaks and swim away if we get too close – this alligator saw it differently! We watched to get away and couldn’t spot the alligator either, but our GoPro took this photo: Do you see him? He’s right next to the kayak! Another creepy discovery during the tour were pretty big fearless fish with really nasty teeth. They just didn’t want to make room for us in the water and that we wanted to pass them with the kayak didn’t interest them. They couldn’t even be pushed aside with a paddle! They look a bit like alligators with their teeth and Ozz also gave us their name, which we of course forgot. Google says it was alligator pike, you can take a look at it… .ieks! On the way back we also saw pythons and that was the moment when Christian really worked up a sweat. He can’t with snakes at all, especially not when they sneak up swimming through the water. It’s really hard to see the pythons in the water, only now and then a part of their body or their head flashed out of the water a few centimeters from our kayaks … that was pretty scary. For about 10-15 years there has been a real python plague in the Everglades due to introduced giant tiger pythons and it is very likely that you will encounter one of these giant snakes in the wild during a kayak tour through the Everglades. For this reason, Ozz decided that he would no longer drive with us to the other side of the Turner River: There the river becomes really narrow and meanders between mangrove tunnels. Sometimes it is so narrow that you have to get the paddles into the kayak and paddle a little by hand – due to the low water it would have been much too dangerous. Getting stuck in mangroves between alligators and pythons is certainly no fun and so we were almost a little glad that our adventure came to an end here. On the way back Christian almost capsized because suddenly a fish jumped out of the water directly over his kayak and he was extremely scared! That seems to exist in the Everglades too: fish that jump out of the water almost three feet high … whatever for 😉 Information about the kayak tour through the Everglades A kayak tour through the Everglades is organized relatively simply. We did our tour with Everglades Kayak Company . A 3-hour tour costs around € 100 per person , full-day tours around € 190 per person. A competent guide leads you through the waters, most tours take place on the Turner River. Arrival and overnight in the Everglades The kayak tours all start in the west of the Everglades, so it makes sense to spend the night there too. The village of Everglades City is well suited , as it is also the starting point for kayak tours. There’s not much else to see in Everglades City, but the accommodations are cheap and you’ll be right in the middle of the action. We got a bit bogged down with planning and only had to travel for almost 2 hours by car from Miami in the morning, which was suboptimal. Equipment for the kayak tour Depending on how long you are on the road, you should pack food and drinks. Before you start the tour, it is best to go to a toilet again, because there are none on the way. You have to pack your cell phones and cameras waterproof, because the paddles keep getting water and mud into the kayaks. And if you should capsize … not good (for many reasons …). Otherwise absolutely vital: Because of the mosquitoes in the Everglades, you should definitely wear long clothes and use mosquito spray! But no car, please, you can’t impress the mosquitoes in Florida with that. In Florida there is mosquito repellent from OFF! to buy, alternatively you can order one from Nobite here, which works very well. We found our kayak tour through the Everglades awesome and we are totally happy that we did this adventurehave dared. If you’re not in the mood for the overcrowded and polluting airboat tours, then this is definitely the best way to get to know the untouched nature of the Everglades. It is important to be accompanied by a local and competent guide in order to make the whole thing as safe as possible. After the tour we heard that the alligators can capsize such a kayak, our guides have repeatedly emphasized that they have never experienced an unprovoked attack by an alligator. The fact that the kayak tours through the Everglades are generally even made with children speaks for us that they cannot be excessively dangerous. So from us a clear GO! 🙂
The swimming pigs in the Bahamas are such a thing that an outsider can hardly understand. I heard for the first time about 9 years ago (long before they got hit by the Expedia advertising) that somewhere on a lonely island in the middle of the Caribbean, a group of pigs were happy and contented and had a lovely long day Do nothing but eat, lie in the sun and swim in the turquoise-blue, crystal-clear water on a dream beach . So not only are these pigs living my personal dream, you can also confidently state that overall it’s a pretty weird thing. Anyone who knows us knows that we are into exactly such adventures : Because of a few pink birds to theFlying to Flamingo Beach in Aruba ? Check. Going to St. Maarten to Maho Beach because of the supposedly most dangerous beach in the world? You already guessed it: The swimming pigs in the Bahamas were mandatory . It took 9 long years until we could finally afford this fun and we can already tell you: It was worth every penny. Visiting Pig Island in the Bahamas Out Islands is one of the most impressive things we have experienced so far. Not even because of the pigs themselves, but rather because we have never, never, never seen such incredibly blue, crystal clear water as there in the middle of nowhere. The cute pigs were just the icing on the cake. Our heart beats for the Caribbean anyway , but THAT tops everything we’ve seen so far. In this article you will find out exactly where the pigs live and how you can get there. Where in the Bahamas do the swimming pigs live? The swimming pigs live on an uninhabited island called Big Major Cay in the Out Islands of the Bahamas. Big Major Cay belongs to the group of Exuma Cays , which consists of a total of around 360 individual islands. Only a fraction of it is inhabited, the main island being Great Exuma . A manageable 1400 people live in Exuma’s capital George Town. The uninhabited pig island Big Major Cay with the famous Pig Beach is located approx. 110km northwest of Great Exuma and can only be reached by boat (more on this below). Did you swim …? Joking aside, nobody really knows that. Rumor has it that the great-great-great-grandfathers and grandmothers of today’s pigs were abandoned by a group of pirates on Pig Island and then forgotten, another theory is that they were survivors of a shipwreck. Evil tongues claim that the pigs were brought there by resourceful business people as a tourist attraction. The truth is probably somewhere in between: at the end of the nineties, two men allegedly brought the pigs to the island in order to be able to take care of themselves after the apocalypse that was announced for the turn of the millennium. No apocalypse, pigs still there. They are still looked after by their owners today, read here . What do the pigs eat? Well, they are pigs … so the answer is everything. And with pleasure! The pigs are totally greedy, but have an eye on what you are offering them. The pigs are well looked after and fed by the tourists and locals, there are a few troughs with food and water for them on the beach. You can guess what they leave in the troughs: Carrots. So don’t bring them vegetables! The pigs, for example, really like apples and bread and literally pounce on them. Our tip: Get 2-3 packs of toast where it is cheap. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the Bahamas. As everywhere in the Caribbean, food in supermarkets is very expensive and cereal products in particular are not available at all or only for a lot of money. In fact, we have already bought the bread in the supermarket in the USA because we knew that it would later become a problem on Exuma. The tour operators usually have a little bread with them to feed them, but it is not enough. Bring your own bread! And don’t think you can kid the pigs. They see exactly when you have nothing to eat and are gone immediately. No food – no pig selfie 😉 How to get to Pig Beach on Big Major Cay That is the question that most of you are most interested in. We ourselves were busy planning the trip to Pig Beach for ages, because the information about it, especially on German websites, is really more than scant. A trip to see the swimming pigs still seems like a very exotic adventure and it is not easy to plan. The short version: You have to get on a plane that will take you to a bus that will take you to a boat that will take you to the pigs. So we make every effort to present all options as compactly and comprehensively as possible. If you have any questions or need help afterwards, write to us in the comments! Travel from Exuma to the swimming pigs As already mentioned, Pig Island or Big Major Cay, the correct name for Pig Island, belongs to the Exuma Islands. The easiest way to get to Pig Beach is from the main island of the Exumas, Great Exuma. Great Exuma with the capital George Town is regularly served by several airlines, for example Bahamasair or Silver Airways . These fly from many airports in Florida (the easiest is from Miami) or from Nassau (Bahamas). Nassau is generally the hub in the Bahamas, so no matter where you are from, you will rarely find a direct flight to George Town on Exuma, but will likely change in Nassau. We did it like this: We combined our road trip through Florida with a trip to the Bahamas. We found a cheap flight to Great Exuma (George Town) on our desired date from Fort Lauderdale with Bahamasair. We stayed on Exuma for 2 days (3 nights). We booked the return flight to Miami so that we had a 3-day stopover in Nassau. Which option is best for you is best tested at Skyscanner * or momondo *by. We advise you to stay on Exuma for at least (!) 2 days. Not only is the island incredibly beautiful and, in our opinion, spared from mass tourism – you also need a little flexibility when planning. In the Bahamas everything runs a little slower and more chilled than here. We had booked our tour to the pigs in advance (more about the possible providers in a moment) and two days beforehand it was canceled due to too few participants. Not funny if you fly to Exuma especially because of the pigs and only have a time window of 2 days! So we panicked a lot and quickly organized a new tour with very rudimentary WiFi while we were out. In the end everything worked out, but that can also be different! In such a case it helps Another alternative is: Take the ferry from Nassau to George Town on Exuma. Bahamas Ferries have regular connections. But watch out for the sometimes very long travel times! Depending on the ferry you are on the way for over 12 hours (and overnight), there are also not daily connections. Unfortunately, this option did not work for us due to lack of time. Here you will find accommodations on Great Exuma * . Warning: There is no cheap here. Exuma has about 2-3 high rise hotel complexes and with the comparatively cheaper accommodations you have to reckon with Caribbean standards. We stayed at the Two Turtles Inn * . Arrival from Nassau The journey from Nassau to the swimming pigs is rather unusual because the distance from Nassau is further than from Exuma – but it is possible. There are a few providers who offer a day trip by speedboat to the swimming pigs. But be careful – the prices are steep. For a day trip from Nassau you should expect around $ 400-500 . Providers who offer day trips from Nassau: Harbor safaris Coastline Adventures: We were traveling with this provider, but from Exuma. You will receive offers and prices on request by email, the booking is also made by email. Here are the options and prices , option C is the day tour from Nassau. Staniel Cay Vacations We find a day trip to the pigs from Nassau not ideal . The reason for this is that on this trip it is often only possible to visit the pigs. Because of the long distance you are on the road for a very long time, you head for Big Major Cay without detours from the north and then you go back again. If you are touring from Exuma, you are from the south. In this way you can drive the entire breathtaking nature of the Exuma Cays, see the most incredible blue water that you can only imagine and besides the pigs have some other interesting stops such as Iguana Island, diving in the famous Thunderball Grotto or visiting one Sandbank on the program. Arrival from Staniel Cay Staniel Cay is the closest inhabited island to Big Major Cay. It has a small airport, which is mainly served by the airlines Flamingo Air and Watermaker’s Air . So that we understand each other correctly: 8-seater machines land here, and not necessarily every day. Nevertheless: You can’t get any closer to Pig Beach. When you arrive at Staniel Cay, locals will offer you private tours to the pigs, prices of around $ 200 will be charged. It’s too expensive for Staniel Cay to be right around the corner from Pig Beach. We heard that you can go to the tourist office on Staniel Cay and ask friendly questions there … usually someone there knows someone who knows someone who can take you to Pig Beach for around $ 50-100 per person . The accommodations on Staniel Cay * can be counted on one hand, so the prices are accordingly. Have a look at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club . Theoretically, a One Day Trip with Flamingo Air can also be done without an overnight stay, but the planning was far too uncertain for us, so we finally decided on the classic, a tour to the pigs from Exuma. These tour operators will take you to the Bahamas pigs As already mentioned, the swimming pigs can only be reached by boat. Either coming from the north from Nassau or from the south from Great Exuma. Day Tours to Pig Beach from Nassau: As mentioned above, we are aware of Harbor Safaris (approx. 400 $) and Coastline Adventures (approx. 500 $) , which go to the swimming pigs from Nassau (Coastline’s offer from Nassau is hidden here under Option C ). Staniel Cay Vacations also offers a combo package ( around $ 500 ). Day or half day tours from Exuma to Pig Beach: Coastline Adventures : A full day tour including Pig Island, Thunderball Grotto, Iguana Island, Nurse Sharks on Compass Cay, lunch on a small island, preparation of a conch salad on a sandbank. Price: Approx. $ 220 plus landing fee at Compass Cay and lunch. We were traveling with this provider. Booking by email, you can see the price-performance overview here . Four C’s Adventures: You can book directly online with this provider. There are half-day and full-day tours ($ 110 and $ 180, respectively). The program is basically the same as with all providers, but Four C’s Adventures is slightly cheaper than the rest. However, we did see the boats and they are bigger than the ones from Coastline. That means you are traveling in a larger group and have less storage space on the boat (which would have been a problem especially for us with drones). Robert’s Island Adventures: We booked here first because they had very good reviews on Tripadvisor. The tour was canceled at short notice because there weren’t enough participants for the day. We don’t know how well-known and heavily booked their tours are, but due to this uncertainty we would recommend that you book elsewhere if you have a tight schedule. Booking by mail, price about $ 185 for the full day tour. Island Routes: Book directly on the website, but you pay almost $ 190 for the half-day tour . Not recommendable! Exuma Sunrise Tour: We hadn’t discovered this provider at the time during our research, but the price of just $ 100 for a full day tour sounds fantastic! The pick-up from your accommodation is unfortunately not included (and that can quickly cost money on Exuma, as taxis and rental cars are extremely expensive, there is no public transport). Make sure to calculate beforehand whether it’s really worth it. A note: if you live in a resort, do not book a tour to the pigs through the resort! We heard the resorts offer tours for $ 300-400, which is way too expensive! The Sandals Emerald Bay even brings tourists to a fake pig island , which is closer to Great Exuma than the real pig island. Yes, there are pigs there too, but they were brought there specially. The original Pig Beach is on Big Major Cay, don’t be fooled. If, for whatever reason, you should be forced to book through your resort, ask beforehand exactly with which provider the tour is taking place and where you will be going. Swimming with the sows: off on an adventure! Before we continue to fill you with information, there is now finally a load of pictures of the pigs. Oink! We started in Great Exuma by speedboat and Pig Island is the first stop on the full day tour. Unfortunately, the weather was really poor at the beginning and we even had to wear rain jackets on the boat. Little by little it got better and when the sun came out, we finally got to see for the first time in which incredible paradise we actually ended up! When we finally headed for Pig Island after what felt like an endless 2 hours and the first pigs are already paddling towards us, a murmur goes through our group. Suddenly everyone is in a good mood, you only see smiling people and nobody can be kept on board. Our guides give us bread for the pigs and off we go! They are totally greedy and like to be petted for food. We found it pretty funny that they stand in front of you with their mouths open and expect you to throw something into it – an image for the gods! By the way, there are pigs who are very calm and patient and those who demand their food and jump up on you. That’s really cute – if it’s not that big 200kg pig that is walking around there. Pig hooves on bare skin also hurt – you better give them your bread! Most likely, you won’t be the only boat anchored at Pig Beach. We were previously worried that the Bahamas pigs have become such a tourist magnet that you will trample yourself to death there – that was not the case. Although several boats were there at the same time, it went quite well and everyone had their time with the animals. What bothered us, however, was that staying with the pigs only lasted about 30 minutes. We found it too short and would have liked to have stayed longer. On the other hand, you have to remain realistic and the reality is that there is no other way in terms of time. Big Major Cay is in the middle of nowhere (paradise, no doubt, but nowhere) and the drive to get there just takes a long time. Therefore, the times of stay are unfortunately limited, also at the other spots that you still visit. Cost of the trip to Pig Island Since the journey depends on where you come from, how long you want to stay and which route you choose is very individual, we can only give you a brief overview of what the adventure with the swimming pigs cost us. For the flights from Fort Lauderdale to Exuma and back to Miami via Nassau (with a 3 day stopover in Nassau) we paid around $ 440 per person . The Swimming Pig Tour with Coastline Adventures was approximately $ 220 per person . There is also a landing fee of $ 10 per person at Compass Cay. You have to pay this as soon as you disembark. Lunch during the excursion was $ 25 per person (and we are sure that this “restaurant” has no other guests apart from the daily tourists on the pig tours 😉) Total cost of the tour: Approx. $ 255 per person. Three nights at the Two Turtles Inn in George Town * on Exuma cost $ 210 per person . For food and drinks (self-catering) we spent about $ 40 per person during the 3 days (the Bahamas are extremely expensive!). As there is no public transport on Exuma, you have to take a taxi to and from the airport . The cost of this is a flat rate of $ 50 per trip. So we actually would have had another $ 100 taxi fare, but since we found someone who knows someone who knows someone … we only paid a total of $ 60 instead . So the total cost of a trip to the swimming pigs for us was just under $ 1000 per person. Ouch. We can only advise you: close your eyes and go through! It doesn’t get much cheaper than that. We took the cheapest findable lodging on Exuma, didn’t eat out, didn’t rent a car, and only drank tap water. However, the price includes the complete sightseeing flight, which also gave us three more days in Nassau. Rules of conduct for handling the animals At the beginning of March 2017, just a few weeks before our trip to the swimming pigs, a horror report briefly went through the media: Approx. a third of the pigs on Big Major Cay have died.And it’s true: Originally there was a group of around 20 pigs on Pig Island, now there are only around 13-14 animals (we didn’t count them exactly). Sand in the stomachs of the pigs could be identified as the cause of death, so fortunately tourists are not directly involved in the death of the pigs through incorrect behavior. However, we have seen some people who did really stupid things, e.g. harassing the pigs for photos or feeding them beer (the pigs are thirsty and need fresh water, so they learned to drink from bottles. Give them water, but please no beer, cola or similar!) No beer, soft drinks or other alcoholic beverages for the pigs. Drinking water only! Please do not sit or ride on animals’ backs (yes, really. People do that …) If you ran out of bread: went stupid. We have seen people hide sand in the palm of their hands under small bits of bread so it looks like more. The pigs are smart and can quickly see through the trick, but they accidentally eat small amounts of sand. Do not throw the feed in the sand or the water, but directly into the pigs’ mouths. Even pigs don’t feel like swallowing salt water and sand. Ideally, you put the pigs’ feed in the troughs instead of feeding them by hand. When the animals go under the little hut to their troughs, don’t bother them. This is their resting place. You can sit next to it, but otherwise leave them satisfied. Do not stroke or continue to feed. Finally, one more thing that generally caught our attention negatively and that bothered us: Although so many pigs had died just a few weeks before, none of the local tour operators felt it was their duty to behave inappropriately during the visit to the Pig Beach tourist to prevent. On the beach itself there is a sign that the animals should not be ridden, hand-fed and not fed with alcohol – but nobody paid any attention to that. Don’t get me wrong, the people mostly behaved and the tourists themselves alerted each other when someone went too far (probably because everyone heard about the death of the pigs and was therefore naturally sensitized to the subject). Nevertheless, we also see tour operators as having an absolute duty here. At no point did we get any information from our provider Coastline Adventures on how to behave towards the pigs. We also see a need for clarification and action elsewhere: Many of the providers have Starfish Bay on their program for a day trip . What at first sounds pretty awesome (I mean, starfish galore, how awesome is that?), Has a bitter aftertaste on closer inspection: starfish … wasn’t there something? You shouldn’t even get them out of the water, should you? We didn’t go to Starfish Bay with Coastline Adventures, but one of the employees found a starfish during the trip and gave it to us to photograph. These photos were taken: At that moment we did not really know how to assess the situation because we had never really dealt with the topic of starfish before. And we were simply flabbergasted by this huge, colorful, beautiful starfish that suddenly made the rounds over the boat. We asked how long the star can survive without water and were told that up to 24 hours would not be a problem. Starfish are exposed to the tides in the Bahamas and occasionally get stranded at low tide, which is why they are used to periods without water. That sounded conclusive to us. In the meantime we have done a little more research and are pretty sure that we have been told nonsense.
Summer, sun, beach and sea – we love it! Anyone who has looked around here on our blog will have already noticed that we are huge beach fans and cannot get enough of white dream beaches and turquoise blue water. What looks and feels so great in real life, unfortunately, often looks rather unspectacular and sometimes even really boring in photos. To be honest, taking beautiful photos on the beach is not an easy task, because there is not much variation. Water, sand and strangers constantly running into the picture – these are the ingredients for a typical beach photo that nobody wants to look at after their vacation. With a lot of luck, the photo may even be deserted, but unfortunately a picture like this, usually shot head-on towards the sea, is still not particularly exciting. And somehow every beach photo looks so identical that it is hard to remember at home which beach it was taken from. Does that sound familiar to you? Touché. Until not so long ago we also took a lot of photos of wonderful beaches, which all looked pretty much like this: Super nice, but … ..Gäääähn. Know one, know all. That is why in this article we show you 9 tips & tricks on how you can immediately take better and more exciting photos on the beach without having to invest huge amounts of money in new equipment. Grab your smartphone or camera and get started right away! Pay attention to the horizon line Right at the beginning we would like to mention two points that we have already discussed in our tips for better travel photos . We have a photo for you of a really great beach that just doesn’t look good despite the wonderful colors and the brilliant white sand. Right? Boring beach photo with a crooked horizon Something seems totally wrong … but what … do you think of it? Right, the horizon is completely crooked. It’s just a small thing, but a straight horizon gives rise to the effect of a photo. If the horizon is only slightly crooked, it can easily be straightened in post-processing. With really very crooked photos like this one, however, you would have to cut too much away during editing and the photo would be unusable. Therefore: Just make sure to keep the horizon straight when taking pictures and you will immediately have a photo that looks a lot better. If you can’t do it well on your own, then every camera and smartphone has the option of showing grid lines in the display, which you can use for orientation. It definitely works. Image composition and the rule of thirds Rule of thirds represented by fictitious lines. The house is placed on the intersection of the lines at the bottom right. The rule of thirds If you have already faded in the grid lines, we will tell you what it is all about. The grid lines are actually there to better implement another rule in photography: the rule of thirds. The picture is fictitiously divided into nine boxes. The rule of thirds says that our eyes perceive a picture as particularly harmonious if it can be divided horizontally or vertically into three equal parts. The horizon is placed either on the lower or the upper horizontal line, depending on which area of the photo is to be emphasized more. In the case of an endless white beach, for example, the beach should be in focus and take up the lower 2/3 of the picture, but if you have a particularly blue sky with white fleecy clouds, then give the sky more space in the photo. This rule is practically the basic rule for every image composition. The composition of the picture In the next step you can now think about the composition of the picture. What else can you do so that your beach photos don’t look so boring? Our tip: bring objects and people into the game! Keep an eye out for interesting things – is there a tree somewhere? A lighthouse, a lifeguard station, a sand castle, a rock? Then use these things and place them left or right in the lower third of the picture. Beach photo with the rule of thirds applied and a straight horizon. Better right? Is there anything that could result in interesting color contrasts in the picture? Are there lines in the picture that can guide the viewer’s gaze? Are there things that are suitable as an exciting foreground or as a natural frame in the picture? Just try it out and take a lot of photos. Little by little you will get the glimpse of how you can pimp your beach photos in this very simple way. The tree protrudes into the picture from the lower left third and loosens up the otherwise boring scene The rocky coast offers an exciting color contrast to the blue sea and leads the viewer’s gaze into the picture from the bottom right Pay attention to clean equipment Actually, of course. It’s hard to believe, but unfortunately the practice often looks different and you often take pictures with dirty equipment without being noticed. Especially on the beach it happened really fast and then you snap forever with a dirty lens (or worse: a dirty sensor!). Then at home the bad adult comes because all the photos are for the bin. There are several dangers lurking on the beach: sand that scratches the lens and crawls into every crack in the lens, greasy sunscreen and salty water splash from the sea. If you are only traveling with your smartphone, then simply clean the lens every now and then with a clean cloth, that’s enough. It gets a little more complicated with a real camera: Try to avoid changing lenses on the beach. Especially with a system camera like our Sony Alpha 6000 *, this can turn out really bad, because once the sensor is exposed, a small scratch from a grain of sand is enough to ruin the whole camera. Otherwise, you should handle the camera with care. Use a lens hood to protect the lens and put the camera in a sand-free storage area after use. In case you don’t believe us that this is important: We wrecked our beloved Samsung NX3000 on our last vacation in the Bahamas. For 2 years we carelessly tossed her around in the sand and in sandy beach bags and now she has made an exit. On her gravestone it says: SIG (sand in the gears). God bless them. By the way, we simply use this cleaning set * for cleaning (the bellows is for cleaning the sensor; since we do not expose the sensor on the beach, it always stays at home). A simple paper handkerchief loses fibers when cleaning, which then adhere to the lens, so it is only suitable to a limited extent. Work with the sun instead of against it What’s the best thing about the beach? Exactly, the sun! What many people don’t know: Unfortunately, bright sun is not that great for taking photos. The light is very hard at lunchtime, it casts large shadows on people’s faces, as well as the reflection of the sand and water. Under these circumstances, it is hardly possible to produce usable beach photos. If you want to take pictures with the sun and use it to your advantage for beautiful beach photos, here’s what you can do: The right time to take photos … … is in the morning or in the evening. It doesn’t have to be sunrise at 5 a.m. or sunset at 10 p.m. (you are on vacation after all!), But avoid the times between around 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. At this time the sun is too high and casts strong shadows. Your best friend is the golden hour . Taking photos with the light Look for an image section where you don’t have to take photos against the sun, but where the light comes from behind. So turn away from the sun. But watch out for the shadows! Normally with this constellation you have at least your own shadow in the picture, which you now have to get out of the picture again. Or you just make a virtue out of necessity and play with it 😉 Can’t avoid the shadow? Then make it a motive! Take pictures against the light In this situation, the following is likely to happen: Your camera will either focus on the light area in the picture (the sun) and the picture will be insanely dark, or it will focus on the dark area and the rest of the picture will be way too bright Use yourselves and either play with silhouettes on purpose or you try to brighten the too dark area in the picture with the flash. Huh? Flashing in broad daylight? Yes, you read that right. This works out. The bad news: Most cameras and smartphones have such a weak flash that you won’t get very far with this method. We therefore advise you: play with silhouettes. Beautiful photos can be created especially during sunset. Important: always position the object directly in front of the sun, Silhouette at sunrise on Miami Beach Change of perspective for exciting vacation photos Try NOT to take photos at eye level. Hold the camera at stomach height, bend down on your knees or point it up. There are exciting things to discover, especially on the ground, which are ideal as a foreground in the photo – seashells, a few stones, a piece of driftwood, your own feet…. Waves, for example, look much more dramatic when they are recorded from further down. Seashells as the foreground in the picture. The photo was taken on Sanibel Island in Florida Don’t forget the details Keep your eyes peeled for the details. You will not only get beautiful vacation memory photos if you take a long shot of the beach in its simple beauty, but above all if you also include the details. On such a beach there are great things to discover that ultimately create the “beach feeling” and that are therefore worth not only in memory, but also photographically. Take a look around what there is to discover. Perhaps a crab is wandering across the sand somewhere, someone has forgotten their coconut, you have just bought a bright red melon that looks amazing against the blue sea or a fisherman is getting ready with his boat on the water. There are countless motifs, you just have to keep your eyes open a little. Little cancer on the beach in Aruba A fisherman on the beach in the Bahamas. G. MAN! A coconut in the shade of a tree If nothing really happens on the beach, there is one thing you can do that always works: Hold your drink in the camera! No fun, a delicious cocktail with the beach scenery in the background is a motif that is guaranteed to put you in a good mood and you will remember the moment for years to come. In order to make the photo at least artistically valuable, pay attention to a nice depth of field. In our 10 tips for beginners for better travel photos , we have already touched on what this so-called bokeh is all about and how you can achieve it . Basically, a bright lens is important (an aperture of 2.8 or less should be), but meanwhile some smartphones can conjure up this blurring effect , e.g. the iPhone 7 Plus or the two Huawei models P10 and Mate 9. You don’t have any of them , there are also apps that can create the effect in post-production, e.g. the app ‘Bokeh Lens’ (iPhone) or ‘After Focus’ (Android). The difference to a real bokeh is of course visible, but it is enough for a snapshot. Drink a Bahama Mama in the Bahamas: Check! Use cool photography gadgets This is for those of you who not only sizzle in the sun, but occasionally swing into the water. We use three gadgets for our recordings on the beach and in the water, which we think are very cool and do not want to be without. An underwater camera : The classic is certainly a GoPro camera (we have a GoPro Hero 4 * ourselves), but we are of the opinion that there are also much cheaper alternatives for the beginning, such as this Action Cam *, which can also take useful underwater recordings conjure up. Try it out, go snorkeling with it, swim to secret caves and grottos and take photos there – and if it’s totally your thing, then invest in a GoPro. Clip-on lenses for smartphones *: With these little miracles you can conjure up interesting and funny photo effects for extremely little money. The lenses are simply clamped in front of the smartphone’s camera and you already have a super wide-angle shot or a frog’s-eye view. Super wide angle in particular is really useful on the beach because you simply get a lot more of it on the picture. Cumbersome fiddling with the panorama function of your camera is a thing of the past. A camera dome : Have you ever seen footage where half of the image is underwater and the other half in the air? We absolutely wanted to take pictures like this, but despite a lot of patience / skill we couldn’t manage it with our GoPro. Frustrating. As we have now found out, it can’t work at all, you need a special gadget called a camera dome. So we have now ordered this dome for the GoPro * and the first impression in the bathtub is great. We are really excited about his first mission! Stingrays in the Caribbean, recorded in video mode with the GoPro Hero 4 Try long exposures There is no better motif than water to take your first steps with long exposure. You have probably already seen pictures of waterfalls or rivers where the water looks soft – sometimes really cotton wool – has it? That works with long exposure. We don’t like it in this form because it looks very unnatural, but if used discreetly you can achieve great results with long exposures. How is that going now? You have to set the shutter speed on your camera manually. The program for this is a semi-automatic program and is called aperture automatic or time priority , you can find it on the setting wheel of your camera under the letter S.(Eselsbrücke: S as in “Shutter speed”, ie shutter speed). There you will find values such as 1/640, 1/60, 1/5, 0.4 ″, 1 ″, 5 ″, etc. These manual setting options are now also available on many smartphones. In order to be able to work with long shutter speeds, you need a tripod . We use this inexpensive and lightweight travel tripod * or look for a natural tripod like a railing or a rock if we don’t have it with us. The main thing is that the camera is stable. You can use a flexible mini tripod * for your smartphone . Caution: Long exposure makes your image significantly brighter, so it only works in the twilight in the morning or in the evening if you do not want to use additional equipment such as ND filters (these filters darken your lens so that you can work with long exposures even in daylight But this is for advanced photographers and not for the beginning). To get started, start with a shutter speed of about 1/5 second, your camera adjusts the aperture accordingly. Take a look at the picture in the display: Does the exposure fit or is the picture much too bright or too dark? What happens if you choose a slower shutter speed, e.g. 0.5 seconds (the camera refers to this as 1/2 or 0.5 ″)? Is the picture way too bright? Then go for a test in the completely manual mode, in which you can also set the aperture manually (the camera has done that for you so far). The aperture are the numbers that the camera designates as f 5.6, f 11, f 18, etc. The higher the number, the more closed the aperture and the less light penetrates the lens . If your picture is too bright due to a long shutter speed, you have to close the aperture. If you have now closed the aperture as much as possible, i.e. selected the largest possible number, and the image is still much too bright, you have to choose a shorter shutter speed. Just try a little around until it fits. Sometimes it doesn’t work – that’s because it’s too bright outside. Without an ND filter to darken, there is not much you can do at this point. The two sample pictures were taken in very dim light in Lofoten . In the picture below you can see a normal shot of the beach in automatic mode, the picture above shows the same scene with a long exposure without additional filters (with a filter you could and would have had to expose much longer to get the water really smooth unfortunately it looks more blurred than “smooth”). Both images are completely unprocessed as they come out of the camera. Do you see the difference and the potential of a long exposure? So: try it out! Long exposure on the beach in Lofoten. 0.5 sec. Shutter speed, f 25, 28mm, ISO 200 The same scene photographed in automatic mode. 1/160 sec. Shutter speed, f 4, 28mm, ISO 250 Get into the picture with you! No bikini figure? Can’t be, you’re wearing a bikini (or swimming trunks, hopefully) and have a figure = bikini figure. It’s that simple. So off in front of the camera. There is nothing more stupid than vacations where you hardly end up with a photo in which you can be seen yourself. Beach photos in particular live from the people in the picture and you can do a lot with the magical backdrop. For every figure problem there is a good pose or a photography angle from which it just works, we promise! (Big bum: sit down and take pictures from behind / above, upper body pictures in the water; Big belly, but great legs: Instagram hot dog leg photos, photos from behind. Just to name a few examples) Very important: Dare to do something! You don’t have to spend hours shooting with your Instagram husband, but a bit of poses and photo-effective accessories such as a large sun hat *, a stylish beach towel * or the like. make a lot. If that’s too stupid for you, then just ask your companion to snap photos every now and then throughout the day. Preferably unnoticed by you, because these are the most natural and beautiful shots 🙂
Actually, Jamaica was not on the plan for this year. But sometimes life plays its own game and suddenly all plans are thrown overboard, turned straight through the mixer and in the end something comes out that nobody would have expected. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s just a brown, unsavory broth. In the case of Jamaica, the former definitely applies: Jamaica is not brown, but black, white, blue and above all one thing: green! The decision to fly to Jamaica was made just a few weeks before departure – and so in mid-August, with an outside temperature of 20 degrees in Germany, I got on the plane with a backpack for the first time and found myself almost 11 hours later at 35 degrees and 80% humidity in the hustle and bustle from Montego Bay again. I had neither the time nor the nerves to explore the island’s sights beforehand and I only booked the first two nights – but hey, it was not my first time in the Caribbean after Aruba , St. Maarten and the Bahamas I was also given active support in the form of my sister who lives in Jamaica … will be fine 😉 I was on the island for a total of two weeks, experienced scorching hot sunny days and scorching tropical rainy days, on which it poured out of buckets as you can not imagine (Hurricane Harvey luckily spared Jamaica, but its foothills were still a to feel little, I imagine). Before there will be articles on the highlights of the island and tips for individual travel in Jamaica here on the blog in the next few weeks, I would like to tell you in the old tradition On the day of my arrival, I started straight to Negril …. Mainly away from Montego Bay, because here you really don’t find much more than a series of relatively self-contained hotel complexes. Negril is also one of the tourist centers of Jamaica, but with the famous 7 Mile Beach there was of course a highlight that I, as a fan of white dream beaches, couldn’t miss 😉 Since Negril is located in the far west of Jamaica, the sunsets are there really magical. For the most beautiful sunset (and cliff jumping, if you dare) make a little detour to Rick’s Cafe! After Negril, my sister and I went back to the north of Jamaica, but again this time without a stop in Mobay – the destination was Ocho Rios. With the Irie Blue Hole, a highlight awaits that is still something of an insider tip. Grab a taxi that will take you to the Blue Hole and a local guide who will take you through the waterfalls and cascades, which is significantly cheaper than a fully organized tour from a tour operator Beware: it will get wet! If you want to take photos, be sure to take a waterproof camera with you. I saw some Americans wiggling through the waterfalls with their big SLR cameras – not a good idea…. I had my GoPro Hero 4 * with me and stowed towels and other stuff in a waterproof backpack *, that worked well. If you are into action and like to jump around in waterfalls and water holes, I can also warmly recommend the YS Falls. Since they are a little hidden inland and you need 2 hours to get there, whether from Negril or Montego Bay, they are not overcrowded with tourists. You can stay there the whole day to your heart’s content and take turns sizzling in the sun, going swimming, plunging from ropes into the waterfalls or floating over the breathtaking scenery on a zipline. Incidentally, between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, in the village of Falmouth, you will find another highlight that can only be marveled at four times in the whole world: in the Luminous Lagoon and the Glistening Waters live microorganisms that are set in motion in the Darkness glow blue. The phenomenon is extremely difficult to capture with the camera, so unfortunately I only have this crappy photo for you … but I think you can imagine how crazy it really is. After Ocho Rios, I went to the east of Jamaica, Portland and the region around Port Antonio should be my home for the next few days. Port Antonio is often mentioned in the usual travel guides as another tourist center, but I can tell you one thing: it has little to do with the tourist strongholds of Montego Bay or Negril. Here you finally experience the “real”, original Jamaica. The large hotel complexes give way to small guesthouses, there are no more fast food chains, but jerk chicken is grilled openly in the street in smoky bins, the prices are reasonable and as a woman you finally don’t get “Company for tonight” every 2 minutes, but can talk to people normally (if you can handle Patwah. Most important phrases: ” ALLRIGHT!”and “YEAH MAN!” ) Why did I end up in Portland in the first place? As mentioned briefly at the beginning, my sister lives in Jamaica, more precisely in Portland. I spent most of the time there in the hinterland in the foothills of the Blue Mountains – without internet and without running water. And shall I tell you something? Wasn’t bad at all. (This is reality, my host. Thank you for letting me show the photo 😉) The main attraction of Portland, which attracts many tourists for a day trip here – rafting on the Rio Grande – I left out due to cost reasons. Fortunately, there are a few other great things to discover here that are cheaper. Take the Blue Lagoon, for example: this is where warm salt water and cold fresh water mix – swimming in it feels pretty crazy. We rented a kayak at the Blue Lagoon and are now out to sea (which, thanks to an approaching storm, we ended up prematurely). If you’re looking for a nice public beach in Portland, be sure to visit Winnifred Beach (or Winifred, nobody knows). There you will meet a lot of locals, only a handful of tourists and in the evening there is also a little partying here. In general you always find something in Jamaica that I have never encountered in any other Caribbean island: rivers, rivers, rivers. Since these logically have to end somewhere, this is often the case on a beach … and so one comes across this picturesque picture again and again in Jamaica, in which a river or waterfall, sometimes smaller, sometimes larger, flows directly into the sea on a white sandy beach (Incidentally also on Winnifred Beach). I came across the prettiest river-into-sea-on-dream beach picture quite unexpectedly on a beach called Frenchman’s Cove. I was honestly wondering why a beach should cost US $ 10 entry and I was pretty grumpy, but please take a look at the pictures … the blast, right? The following photos were all taken at Frenchman’s Cove Beach: I don’t want to lose any more words at this point, just let the pictures speak for themselves 🙂