Going to Boston was not something I hadn’t really planned on doing in the middle of summer. I was going for a Travel Conference and knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to see the sites around or near the venue. So I got online and found that Grayline had a New England Coast Day Trip from Boston that left at a few hours after I arrived. I was coming in on a Red-Eye flight, and knew I wouldn’t have a lot of energy to walk the Freedom Trail, but didn’t want to waste the time sleeping in a hotel lobby somewhere. The bus seemed like a perfect mix of relaxation, and effective use of time.
Arriving in Boston
The flight there was TERRIBLE! The guy next to me wouldn’t quit fidgeting, moving, coughing, and was one of those people that puts their elbows out as far as they can to have more space. So I didn’t sleep that well on the flight out and was even more grateful I was going to have a relaxing morning on my New England Coast Day Trip from Boston.
Getting to the Boston airport, was truly a beautiful approach into the city with the Boston Bay below and the city surrounded by water. I knew it was a port city but didn’t realize just how much the city revolves around the water. From the nights by the Charles River Esplanade to the massive ponds, lakes and reflecting pools dotting the city – it is a photographer’s dream.
Meeting Our Grayline Bus Pilot
This was my first time taking a Grayline Bus for a tour along the New England Coast. The only other tour I have taken where a bus was involved was when I was touring Jordan. I still remember how badly I had to battle motion sickness on that trip, I made sure I picked a seat near the front of the bus.
Our driver for the day, was a quiet, focused, and friendly former 747 retired pilot, who was also in the Air Force back in the day. I can’t recall his name right now but will call him Paul the Pilot.
Paul towered above me about 6’1″, to my 5’4″ frame. He wore glasses, had a wide mouth, and a kindly Grandpa like face. He had squinty eyes, grey hair, and was constantly looking at his watch, with the timeliness of departures, and schedules just as you would expect from someone with his background.
Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
After all passengers were accounted for Paul introduced himself and we were on the road to tour the New England Coast. On the way to Hampton Beach, we passed by New Hampshire Harbor, where the movie, The Perfect Storm, was based. The Perfect Storm follows the true story of men who were from Massachusetts that had been out fishing for Swordfish. They had gone out to check the Swordfish lines, pulled in their catch, and were heading back to shore when the low-pressure system started to encroach on their fishing grounds. A hurricane came racing up the coast catching many people off guard, and because their ice machine broke down, they were not able to seek a safe harbor; otherwise, they would lose their catch and all the money with it. Unfortunately, the men never made it back to land.
Our first official stop was the Sand Art Competition at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. The sand art competition is in its 19th year, where master sculptors from around the world come together to create masterpieces. It started out as a commissioned piece for celebrating the newly minted coin of New Hampshire and has since turned into a visual spectacle every year.
It isn’t just sand art that you can enjoy though, there are plenty of activities at Hampton Beach. You can visit the arcade, try saltwater taffy, fry bread, and plenty of delicious seafood for even the pickiest palate. You can also volunteer to pick up trash, catch a show on the beach, or visit the Discovery Ocean Center (open 12-7).
You can swim in the ocean here, but I would highly recommend using a wet suit, because of how cold the water is. This area can also be quite dangerous with the strong rip tides, so be sure to watch the flag warnings. There are also a lot of sea lions in the area, which also attract Great White sharks for feeding. So be aware, and be safe should you choose to take a dip in the ocean.
Nubble Lighthouse in York Maine
With Maines rocky shoreline, and the economy relying heavily on the imports, it was very important to its citizens to have a lighthouse. After a passionate petition to the government, they were granted $15,000 to complete the lighthouse. The Nubble Lighthouse was completed July 1, 1879, and has since become a symbol of both unity and community.
The Lighthouse was initially manned by the US coastguard and their families. After the lighthouse became automated, the last keeper of the lighthouse left in 1987. After which the lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places to help preserve it. The only time you can walk to the lighthouse is when it is low tide, otherwise, you would have to get there by a small boat.
The lighthouse is very unique in that instead of the traditional yellow light, the light is red. The red helps to cut through the fog at night that tends to commonly roll into Maine, with even the slightest change in temperature. The light rotates every 2 seconds day and night.
If you get a chance to visit the gift shop, be sure to say hello Prince of New England, Bill Thompson. This 93-year-old gem paints pictures of the lighthouse and sells them for $10-$15 apiece to help upkeep and maintain the lighthouse.
Each painting has a story behind it, and The Prince of New England makes sure you know what the story is prior to letting you purchase the painting. He showed me one painting that depicted a seagull named Charlie. Charlie would follow the postmaster from his truck to the gift shop every day. He would wait until the postmaster was finished and then follow him back out to his car. One day the postmaster forgot to roll up his window before going into the gift shop, and when he came back out – Charlie was sitting in the front seat. The postmaster said, ‘ok, well, let’s go Charlie’ and they drove to the next stop.
The Prince of New England concluded his story about Charlie then grabbed my hand. He explained how he was grateful he met me because I have a light in my eyes that he said made his day.
These are the type of connections that really make traveling worthwhile to me. When you can meet a random stranger, who has a kind soul, and words don’t necessarily need to be said – but you understand them, and they understand you. This is why I agree wholeheartedly in calling Mr. Bill Thompson the Prince of New England.
I was reluctant to leave the Nubble Lighthouse but was excited for our next stop on our New England Coast Day Trip to Kennebunkport Maine. This was once a bustling harbor in the 1890s. It offered a safe place for shipbuilders to build new ships with deep water access to the ocean during high tide. A bridge in the middle of town was once a drawbridge used to let the ships pass from Kennebunkport to the lower town of Kennebunk. Be sure you don’t call it Kennebunk, as the locals are very proud to call it Kennebunkport and feel the towns are very different (especially the people in them).
The shipbuilders would typically haul coal, pine, and cotton to locations around the world. If you want to learn more about the shipping industry of days past, I would suggest visiting the Kennebunkport historical society and the Brick store museum. There are so many hidden gems like the White House and the public library, just wandering through town is the best way to see Kennebunkport.
The White House is one of the most unique buildings in Kennebunkport (or at least I think so). It is the same home that has been in this area for the last 130 years. The last known Perkins relative to live in the home kept all the clothing, furniture, and mementos in the home and gifted the home with all the contents to the Kennebunkport Historical Society. However, she required that all items within the home, stay in the home permanently.
So when you visit, be sure to go on a tour of the home (the last tour is at 3 pm) – you will feel that you have been transported back 130 years when you enter the home. While I missed the last tour by 15 minutes the lady at the gift shop told me all about the home, the town and why the house was so important. I really want to go back and do a proper tour of the house, because it sounds fascinating that even the clothes from when her, and her siblings were small children are still eerily preserved.
As I walked along the streets, I couldn’t believe how incredible each corner of the town was for photos. I guess you could say it is one of the most Instagrammable towns I have ever been to. The cottages lining the streets looked like houses that could be in a Christmas Storybook, the yards were perfectly manicured, and the people were incredibly friendly.
I let myself get lost in the city and found a great little Public Library. I took a few pictures of the outside, then started to talk to some people decorating the patio. They were locals and explained the history of the building. It was built in 1813 as a bank originally, then turned into a customs office for the ship cargo that would come into town.
It was then turned into a free public library. If you go up into the Children’s area, you will see some impressionistic paintings by Louis T Graves from the 1930s that show popular children’s stories scenes depicted. These paintings are still incredibly vivid and have never been retouched.
What to Eat in Kennebunkport
The seafood here is incredible, and I would definitely plan on getting some sort of clam and lobster. The Lobster in Maine is some of the best, because of the cold waters off their coastline – it causes the Lobster to be very sweet to the taste and not as rubbery.
Our guide highly recommended the Pilot House. This family-owned and run restaurant is just behind the CITI gas station as you are coming into town. It is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it but is right by where you catch the whale watching tours. The Lobster dinners, Lobster rolls, and other meals are VERY reasonably priced from $8.99 to $18.99. I did look at some of the other places in town and the meals were far more expensive for the same kind of food. The Lobster is locally caught by those from Kennebunkport, so it is less of an impact on the marine ecosystems.
The locals come to this place to grab a beer, a bite to eat, and to watch a game. The waiters and waitresses make you feel as if you are part of the family when you walk in the door, even some giving you a side hug as you leave. I know this is weird, but if you go into the bathroom, they have a huge frame full of different types of knots that are used on a ship.
Spirit of Massachusetts
If you are able to stay into the early evening, then I suggest stopping by one of the most unique bars I have been to – the Spirit of Massachusetts. This 125 foot Schooner was first introduced in 1984 and has both food and drink available, along with a series of different events and shows they regularly put on.
Ice Cream and Blue Berries
A huge surprise to me was that Blueberries are a big deal in Maine because of the sweetness. In fact, Dreyers Ice Cream gets its supply of blueberries from Maine. So while in town, finish off your visit with a sweet treat from Aunt Marie’s Ice Cream. This little shop is tucked away into a corner behind all the shops on the main stretch of road, and there were about 15-20 locals consistently coming through at any given point. (Address: 10 Ocean Ave Kennebunkport Maine 04046)
Patten’s Berry Farm with the Princess of New England
Our bus driver also claims that there is a Princess of New England Coast as well. When you head back to Boston, there is a small fruit and flower stand on the side of the road called Patten’s Berry Farm.
Mrs. Patten, 92 years old, has been tending the family farm, canning and selling the products at the fruit stand since she was a girl. If you stop, you will see just how much care she puts into making every flower pot perfect, each can of fruit is perfectly positioned, and large blueberry and apple pies are placed near the register.
Making our way further along the New England Coast – we stopped briefly across the way from Walker Point. The temperature had changed, and of course, the fog rolled so apologizes for the poor photo. This is the summer residence of former US President George Bush.
Their family bought this area 120 years ago and has morphed into a place of refuge for the Bushs. When we drove by this place, we were able to see that there were three secret service cars near the entrance. There was also an American Flag on the building as well. Paul the Pilot (our guide), told us this is how you can tell that the Bushs were at Walker Point that day.
Back to Boston
After a long, but wonderful, day of our New England Coast Day Trip from Boston, Paul the Pilot gave us an opportunity to take a snooze on the way back into Boston. I zonked out quickly and enjoyed the downtime to refresh before a hectic week at the conference.
Paul dropped us off at key points within the city, close to our respective hotels, where the bus was able to fit. I was reluctant to leave because he was so kind and it had been such a relaxing day. For the cost, I think the trip was well worth it. The pick-up and drop-off were seamless, the time at each stop was perfect, and we were able to get back to Boston at a reasonable time around 7-8pm. Just in time for me to meet up with friends attending the conference, for dinner. So if you are in the Boston area, and are looking for a New England Coast Tour Day Trip from Boston. I cannot recommend utilizing this company and service enough. This was not a sponsored trip in any way, I genuinely enjoyed my time on my New England Coast Tour with Grayline.
“You have to howl!” Sheri screamed up at me as I summited my first climbing route in Joshua Tree National Park. This would make a lasting impression on me for the rest of my life, to throw caution to the wind and celebrate the accomplishments we have in life, out loud and proud. I could write a book about Sheri, following her adventures of van life from San Diego to San Pedro, and making her home in Lake Atitlan. The story I want to tell you about though is one of true compassion, connecting cultures, and empowering the women in San Pedro La Laguna with Sheri’s Company – She Rides Dragons.
Sheri Keller and She Rides Dragons
Sheri is a wanderer at heart, but somehow San Pedro and the people in this town stole her heart and she chose to stay. Once there, it wasn’t long before she started making friends. One of her closest friends is Dora, a Spanish teacher, and seamstress who has a smile that will light up the whole room when she allows you to see it.
After several months exploring San Pedro and the other small villages in Lake Atitlan, Sheri discovered the Mayan textiles and an idea began to form. After a lot of trial and error, and drawing on her resources in San Diego, she was able to set up a clothing company called She Rides Dragons. I will explain that name a little later.
Sheri is a Yoga teacher, juggler and all-out fabulous performer that brings magic with her wherever she goes, which fits in perfectly with the backpacking town of San Pedro. So naturally making yoga bags, and other clothing items with Mayan adorned symbols was the next step along her incredible journey.
Collaborating For A Cause
Little did I know, that after following Sheri’s journey of fulfilling her dreams – she had started to follow me as I pursued my dreams of being a travel writer, photographer, and videographer – She would ask me to be a brand ambassador for her company, She Rides Dragons.
I was just starting out but flabbergasted that this woman that I had held in my mind as a goddess of adventure was asking me to collaborate with her for a cause. I, of course, agreed, right after I pulled my jaw back up off the floor and re-attached it to my face.
I received one of her clothing items, a full-length ritual robe, exquisitely hand-crafted and designed with more attention to detail than some of the best brands I have seen. Colors are perfectly matched, the fabric is thick, heavy, and you can almost feel the magic of Lake Atitlan flowing out it.
I immediately messaged her when I received it and thanked her profusely. “Sheri I cannot believe how well made this is!” I was nearly bubbling over with excitement, she replied in her usual cool-as-a-cat way “I know, the women here do such a great job. I hope we can continue to make these because the money is so vital for these families”. This piqued my interest, as my first love has always been humanitarian work and travel for a cause.
Sheri explained that the culture in Lake Atitlan is one of strong patriarchal power. The men often drink, and work is often hard to find, with very little pay. For this reason, she specifically buys the fabric for her company from local women and hires local women as seamstresses to make the clothing and bags, weave the ‘tehido’ that become the tassels on those bags, and as translators to assist with different Mayan languages, of which there are many. Some of the Mayan women Sheri works with speak little or no Spanish and having a translator has been crucial in learning about the different textiles, peoples, and towns around Guatemala. The money that the women make goes straight into their pockets, not their husbands, and they decide how it gets spent.
The women put a lot of their income toward their children and putting food on the table. Many of the women have to weave and sew by the light of the fires they burn near their homes as they cannot afford electricity. If a guest comes, they will feed the guest before they feed the children. The families in Lake Atitlan are not beggars, they work for what they have…sometimes to their own detriment.
Sheri has a gift for observational power and has often found families in need of help. With connections all around the lake, she is constantly on the phone, in her ‘magic makers’ circle – trying to help the families and animals that need it the most. I think she tries to fix the major issues in San Pedro and Lake Atitlan because of how much love she has for this place. Her home has been a haven, an animal rescue, a place of creativity and love – and the people in the city all know her as a giving wonderful human being with boundless love and charity. It is hard for her to walk down the streets without people coming and thanking her for one thing or another.
Yet if you point these things out to her, she will often dismiss it as ‘oh its nothing’, or ‘it isn’t as much as I want to do here’.
Meet Dora – A Seamstress and Spanish Teacher extraordinaire
Dora was born and raised in San Pedro La Laguna. She is Sheri’s friend, a seamstress for She Rides Dragons and so much more. Sheri and Dora met at a Spanish school in San Pedro where Dora taught Spanish. It wasn’t until months later that Sheri discovered Dora was also a seamstress and the two of them began working together on She Rides Dragons.
Dora is so proud that she is able to provide food for her family, can afford electricity, has her own stove, and lives in a very good part of San Pedro. She is able to do much of this because of her work with She Rides Dragons, where she receives pay directly for her work.
Her greatest pride and joy though, is being able to provide a good education for her boys so they can have the best life possible. The best way to ensure survival in Lake Atitlan for the children is to provide education, otherwise, they will be forced to work in the cornfields and coffee farms on the steep slopes of the mountains and volcanoes that surround Lake Atitlan.
Dora is now trying to pass on the love, by getting her Aunt involved. Her sweet Aunt Maria only speaks Mayan and lives high up on the mountain. The home she lived in before her current one was no better than a shanty house with a roof. While she still cannot afford electricity at this time, she was able to afford cinder block floors, walls and a decent roof over her head with a real door. There is a small wood-burning stove on the balcony that she makes tortillas from every morning at 3 am to sell to the local shops so that her daughter can go to school.
There are 36 different dialects of the Mayan language that have survived in this area, and luckily Dora was able to translate from Mayan into Spanish and Sheri then translated into English for me. So trying to communicate in 3 different languages, and get the meaning across was quite comical but we made it work.
Maria, weaves all the tassels for the yoga bags by hand for Sheri. There are many different types of loom weaving that happen and the tradition is passed down over many generations. There are some loom weaving classes in the San Pedro area for tourists, but these women are the real heroes of this story.
Where Does the Fabric Come From?
The fabric for She Rides Dragons comes from all over Guatemala. Fortunately for Sheri, there are fabric markets that offer up incredible inventories so that she doesn’t have to travel to each town when she wants that town’s specific style of weaving or embroidery. There are also traveling saleswomen who visit San Pedro La Laguna. These women make their living by selling second-hand fabrics that their hometowns. The fabric markets, as well, mostly offer second-hand fabrics with a much smaller inventory of new fabrics. When the Mayan fabrics and clothing, huipils (blouses) and Cortes (dresses), are new they are so colorful and bright that you have shield your eyes from their glare when the sunlight touches them.
In order to get the best quality fabric, Sheri takes a 30-minute boat ride across Lake Atitlan – sometimes with waves so bad that people drop on their knees and start to pray (not joking) – to another town called Panajachel (Pa-na-ha-chel). Then it is a long hike up a hill to the fabric market. The market takes place twice a week at the fire station. Sheri has been coming here for four years and has developed a familiar relationship with one of the families that sell fabrics such that when she arrives they know exactly how much fabric Sheri needs, the kind she likes, and it is already, awaiting her inspection.
Sheri sifts through the fabric, sorting, swapping, matching, inspecting for frayed ends or imperfect patterns. After about an hour or so of choosing fabric, then it is a call to her partner, John to check on fabric funds. It is difficult to get cash in San Pedro, they do have an ATM, but can be spotty at best on if it is broken or not.
After some negotiating with the women for the amount of fabric she buys, the fabric is then loaded into large bags for transport back across the lake. I bought a few pieces myself while there because how can you resist the Mayan symbols of Dogs and Dragons!
Grabbing a Tuk-Tuk, we headed back to the dock to take a launcha (boat) back across the lake to San Pedro.
Sewing the Clothing
We hauled the bags back up the hill in San Pedro, grabbed another Tuk-Tuk, and went to Dora’s house to deliver the fabric. Sheri instructs Dora in Spanish once we arrive on the ideas she has for each set of fabric pieces she picked out. Dora makes notes, and patterns are pulled out and set near each pile of fabric.
After a long day, and the afternoon rains coming in we finally get to rest and eat some food. We head back to Sheri’s House. Yet the day doesn’t end there for Sheri, she isn’t one that can sit still for long – despite sometimes needing to. So she gets on the phone with Dora again, to see if she can arrange for another woman who sells huipils – the traditional blouses worn by the Mayan women in Guatemala – to meet with us the next day.
A Long Journey
The next day we head back to Dora’s House to meet with another inspirational woman, Rosa. It is a long journey for Rosa to meet with Sheri. She comes from a small town called Chajul (Cha-hool) that is about twelves hours away by bus. This is how Rosa makes her living, traveling around Guatemala and selling fabrics from her hometown of Chajul. The fabrics are gorgeous and coveted by many women all over Guatemala for their soft feel and durability. Sheri met Rosa 3 years ago when Rosa was traveling though San Pedro and selling fabrics at the Sunday market in San Pedro. Since that time they have developed a beautiful working relationship and Sheri is one of Rosa’s best customers, which is why she is willing to travel all the way from her home to see us.
Rosa arrives at Dora’s house with two large bags full of fabric, Cortes, and huipils. After greetings, how-are-yous, and some water to drink, Sheri, Dora, and Rosa begin looking through the bags. Sheri picks out the fabrics she thinks would be a perfect match for the Yoga bags. Carefully choosing symbols that she thinks would resonate with her ideal customers. After paying her for the items, Rosa takes the remaining fabrics and clothing to Panajachel to sell what she can at the fabric market. Then it is another long journey home, all to help feed her children and keep them from having to work on the farms.
Creating The Clothing Infused With Magic
There are many reports from those who visit Lake Atitlan that there is some kind of magical pull there. They have ‘odd’ dreams, and tend to live more on the wild side of life – yet the local community is very conservative and Catholic.
It sounds a little odd, and I didn’t believe it at first – but waking up the morning after I arrived and seeing the incredible Lake, it made me wonder if it was true. Lake Atitlan was made after a Super Volcano erupted, then imploded creating a caldera for the lake to be born. The lake itself is 1115 feet (389 meters) deep, and 11.2 mi × 5.0 mi (18 km × 8 km) surface.
The Sierra de Los Cuchumatanes mountain range surrounds this lake with the highest mountain, Atitlan Volcano, reaching an elevation of 12,588 feet (3,837 m). The name Atitlan is a Mayan word that means “the place where the rainbow gets its colors.” There are two other volcanoes that are also part of this range, Toliman volcano, and San Pedro Volcano.
There is so much Mayan folklore and stories that the local Mayans still believe about this place it is hard not to believe it yourself when you are there. The local mythology considers Lake Atitlan to be the birthplace of all creation.
So not only is the clothing and yoga bags that Sheri makes selectively handcrafted, it is done so in a place and by the people that have lived in this area since 300 BC. I really hate describing a place as ‘magical’ because I feel it is often overused – but there are two places I have been so far that I can truly use this with – one is Scotland, and the other is now Lake Atitlan.
A Force For Change
There aren’t many people I have met in my life that have inspired me as much as Sheri and the women of Lake Atitlan who help her. They have a hard life, compared to the rest of the world.
I asked Sheri why she named her company ‘She Rides Dragons’ and she explained the strength of Dragons and their ties to Magic. I think it is more than that though, she is a strong, beautiful woman who is tackling the problems in San Pedro that are much bigger than what one person should handle on their own. She is helping to empower Mayan women to create change in their hearts, their homes, and provides food for the table their children eat at. The children also get to have an education, giving them a chance at a better future than poverty and starvation. If this wasn’t enough, she also rescues dogs and cats in the area – pooling resources to help treat for worms, feeds them, bathes then and raises money to help neuter them. She is known for her healing abilities, yet has seen many animals not make it because of lack of education in the community.
This isn’t about a clothing company, it is about women in Lake Atitlan trying to ride these giant problems – dragon-sized problems. These problems are unruly, difficult beasts that tend to bury most people in depression and anxiety of the acutest kind. Yet Sheri has collected a group of people, women, and literally a whole community to help fight them and she is succeeding at it – even if she doesn’t always give herself credit for doing so.
How Can You Contribute?
Take a look at She Rides Dragons, buy some of the clothing she offers. Now that you know the attention to detail, the love poured into the clothing, and the magical place these items come from – it will be an item that will hold more meaning for you than any other piece in your closet.
If there isn’t anything, in particular, you would like to buy you can also donate to her cause. Her dream is to be able to hire 8 women, to change their lives, and so their children’s lives can change and it will balloon from there. If you would like to donate for Maria the weaver to get electricity, send the donation via PayPal to SheRidesDragons@gmail.com – and make a note for something, in particular, you would like to donate to.
If you would like to help with funding or volunteering at an animal hospital or donate to help with education on how to care for animals and recognize diseases – email SheRidesDragons@gmail.com and she can get you in touch with the right people there.
Also, if you are interested in learning Spanish, Dora is an excellent Spanish teacher and does online classes starting at $10 an hour. Please contact send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will connect you to her. I started taking lessons from her and think she is an absolutely incredible Spanish teacher. It is difficult but immersive and I’m learning quickly.
Sweat dripped down my forehead, my mouth was slightly dry and I turned to my diving buddy Jen, “Do you still get nervous before you go diving?”. We were Scuba Diving off of Singer Island and West Palm Beach in Florida with Pura Vida Divers in June. She gave a knowing smile, and replied, “It has only been within the last year that I haven’t been nervous before a dive. It took diving on a regular basis to get to this point. You will become more confidant in your diving and things won’t seem as scary because you will know what to do”.
Our dive masters, one a tall hulk of a former Navy man who briefed us on diving in the Trench. A drop in open water with depths of 50 – 60 feet (15 – 18 meters), and a moderate current. He was a bit on the camera shy end, but detailed us in an efficient and well dictated manner. The two things I remembered, ‘Stay in the trench’ and ‘if you get lost, go to the right’.
A Feeling Of Unease
We got our gear ready, flippers on, mask on, regulators checked, and waited for the call to giant walk into the deep blue. I was sitting by the end of the boat, so would be the first one to follow the Dive Master. Then just as is characteristic of military fashion, we were ushered quickly to the end of the boat, looking like penguins with massive flippers flopping awkwardly to the walk off point. I grabbed my mask and took that giant step into the ocean.
I turned and my diving partner was caught on something, the current was sweeping me and the dive master further and further from the boat. I waited til she was in the water, then we signaled to go down. This was the first moment that I felt the unease of this dive. I have a natural ability when it comes to predicting bad events, I wouldn’t say I’m a psychic, but know when things aren’t quite going to go well. I can’t really explain it, but I would soon find out why I felt this way.
Diving into the Trench off Singer Island Florida
The visibility was about 40-50 feet near the top, a strong current was sweeping us all towards the dive master. We followed the bouy down behind him, and Jen and I corrected our distance from each other. It was hard to see the dive master below, as it takes me a bit longer to descend than others due to my Asthma. I tend to get nervous and hold my breath a bit more than I should.
Practicing some of my own self-calming measures, I exhaled the fear, and dropped more easily down next to Jen. We slowly neared the bottom and that is when I was surrounded by an aquatic forest of barrel coral and fishy friends.
Avoiding the Current
I never want to be the person that sits and ruins coral because I’m not as adept at keeping my bouyancy as I should be. So I tried to hover a bit higher than the rest of the group so as to not bump into anyone, or ruin the coral. This wasn’t quite working out though, the current was quite strong and I remembered the instructor telling us to stay low.
I was so grateful I had brought my photo stick so that I could gently push away from coral with minimal impact should I have drifted too close.
Soft Bottom Surrounded by Color
I was enamored by all the fish hiding in the nooks and crannies here. Since I was in the front of the group and slowly drifted breathing slowly with minimal movements of my arms the fish became curious. Swimming right up to my camera, until the bubbles from my regulator scared them away. I would periodically check back to see Jen, just as enamored as I was at the abundance of healthy coral here.
It made my heart sad that there weren’t more places in the world that the coral was this healthy. Committing to show the Culture Trekking Community what healthy Coral should look like & the abundance of life that can come from responsible tourism.
The bottom of the trench is white sand, with a few coral bits here and there. It was created when an oil company decided to drill a trench for a pipeline they were going to place here. Luckily that was stopped by environmental activists that got wind of it, and now I was reaping the benefits of this beautiful area. The reef was covered with both soft and hard corals. I didn’t see any moray eels rumored to be living there but I’m still not great at spotting them. They said that there is an abundance of green, spotted purplemouth, and goldentail eels said to hide out often in the nooks and crannies here.
Losing Time and Our Group:
After getting lost in my own thoughts, and capturing as much of this wonderful area as I could – I turned around and didn’t see anyone else but me and Jen. I signaled behind us, and she agreed to take the lead to try and find our group.
We made our way back along the trench where we had entered, still not seeing anyone. The current had really picked up, and visibility had dropped by about 10 feet. We tried to turn to the left and the current was so strong, even for an advanced diver like Jen to swim against (and she is an extremely experienced diver). I knew I wouldn’t be able to last the day if I wasted all my energy trying to fight the current. So I tapped Jen and signaled to go to the right.
Riding the Current
We drifted for about 4-5 minutes, and didn’t see anyone. So Jen stopped us, checked both of our air, and just enjoyed the rest of the dive. We both had our inflatable bright orange signaling devices, and decided to get some footage and pictures and enjoy the rest of the air that was in our tank in this watery wonderland.
Ending the First Dive off Singer Island
We surfaced around 800 psi, doing a safety stop along the way. The captain saw our signal, and picked us up promptly. The rest of the group looked like they were just out of our visibility range, only 30-40 feet away from us. It made me feel better we hadn’t drifted into the middle of nowhere like it felt that we had.
We waited for the other members of the group to pop up one by one. The Dive Master surfacing last, with only a few members here and there that had drifted a bit too far.
We all felt a little disjointed because of how strong the current had become within the last few minutes. It scattered us like the sand on the beach, but luckily we all had enough training to know not to fight the current, stay with our dive buddy and enjoy the time.
Dive Interval with Pura Vida Divers
The dive interval was relaxing and seamless. Our captain took us to an area, where we could snorkel around and orange slices and chips were passed around.
Cannonballs off the back of the boat were a must, and music played for the people on board to enjoy while waiting the appropriate time for our next dive.
There was a hose to wash off the salt from the ocean, a fresh water bucket I dunked my camera into, and a toilet in the hull of the boat for those who needed it.
Dive Dive Dive! A Briefing On 4th Street
Watching the second dive master draw out the little animals we might see while diving along 4th street, my smile just grew and grew til my cheeks hurt in celebratory anticipation.
I was going to see a Sea Turtle in real life! You can’t come to Singer Island or West Palm Beach without running into some Sea Turtles. There were also rumored to be a few moray eels lurking about, a few sharks, and our dive master even said there was a hammerhead shark hanging around in the area too.
Riding the High:
Jen and I made an agreement to get off the boat closer together this time, and to stick right with the Dive Master no matter what. So we took the leap to see what underwater creature lottery we were about to win. Riding the high of seeing all the healthy coral on the last dive, I followed the Dive master right down. We were immediately greeted with a Sea Turtle swimming away from us.
While slightly disappointed it was swimming away from us, I was hopeful I would see one again. The dive master pointed out the sea anemone, and the tiny spider lobsters. Apparently there was a Lemon shark behind me, but I missed it because I had just spotted a moray eel. I know….not as exciting as a Lemon shark, but it was the first creature I had found on my own without needing aid.
There is a certain ‘eye’ you have to develop when you are underwater, as these creatures have evolved to camouflage and hide from predators. We are one of their greatest threats, so it takes a lot of practice to have the ‘underwater eye’ as I call it. Although, missing the Lemon Shark and even the Massive Leatherback Turtle tucked underneath the rock, was very disappointing. I’m sure that the more I go scuba diving, the more I will be able to spot these creatures, and recognize them by name.
Seeing Sea Turtles
Swimming a head a little, the Sea Turtle came back! It swam right in front of me, looking around the barrel coral. It even stuck its snout inside of one, looking for anything scrumptious that would have gotten stuck inside. It made me so happy to see this wonderful, yet endangered creature that has survived since the age of the dinosaurs swimming right in front of me like I was part of the turtle family.
There were only one or two of us who saw the turtle foraging for food. It was an incredibly intimate moment with this creature that I have grown to love over the years. This beautiful loggerhead turtle was in this environment of wonder and beauty. It made me so happy to see that there was no plastic wrapped around its neck, no straws shoved into the nostrils, no propeller scars on its back. Maybe the small steps we are making in saving these creatures was starting to pay off? I know it is just one turtle, but I never discount the power of hope from seeing one of these incredible turtles survive.
Baby Shark….Oh Wait….WHAT!?!
A frantic banging noise on the dive masters tank made me turn quickly as the turtle swam away. I turned and saw a nurse shark laying on the sand about 50 feet away. The characteristic shark was snuggled into its sandy bed, disturbed by the noise, it lazily swam away into a more private location.
HOW IS THIS REAL LIFE!?!?! I felt like crying! A Shark, an Eel, a Sea Turtle, and not just that, the shark left and we were graced by four more sea turtles! There was coral all around, colorful fish, too many to really focus in any one spot. My heart felt as if it was going to burst from joy. All the fear, all the worry, all of the effort to get my Scuba Diving license and here I was – witnessing animals in a way that I thought I would only see on a TV screen.
It is like Robin Williams said in Good Will Hunting, you can see all the photos of the Sistine Chapel in a book – but you won’t know how it feels, smells or the memories it will create by seeing the real thing. This is exactly how I felt when I spent my afternoon among my aquatic mammal friends.
Thank You Florida & Pura Vida Divers
The Coral along 4th Street and the Trench is (reportedly) better than what you would find in the Maldives and the Caribbean. Not many people know about these areas, and it is very well protected from over tourism. The amount of education given to the public on how to protect the beaches, turtles, and marine life in these areas is definitely creating a positive impact.
Working with Pura Vida Divers to promote West Palm Beach and Singer Island Scuba Diving, was a pleasure and an honor beyond belief. They were kind, informative, and friendly – they certainly pushed my comfort zone with the current that we faced; yet I feel these moments have to happen in order for you to grow as a diver. Not only are they informative and efficient at what they do, they also are only the second dive shop in Florida to earn the PADI Green Star Award.
From our dive center to the boat, we demonstrate a dedication to conservation across a wide range of business functions, including: recycling, our 100% AWARE Program, conservation leadership, paperless programs, use of sustainable materials, conservation fundraisers, and many other proactive actions.
– from the Pura Vida Divers Website
Other Areas Available to Dive Near Singer Island & West Palm Beach
Cable Crossing 16 to 22 feet deep (4 to 6 meters) great for snorkeling, it is a shallow reef with Manta rays, sea turtles and nurse sharks visiting throughout the year.
Jolly Jacks 87 feet (26 meters) deep there is a wide variety of tropical fish and plenty of sea turtles, moray eels, Lobsters and rays.
Spearman’s Barge 70 feet deep (21 meters), Turtles take up refuge here including hawksbill and loggerhead turtles with the elusive green moray eels.
Double Ledges 70 to 90 feet depth (21 to 27 meters) double reef. This is a perfect drift diving spot, with game fish, turtles and soft corals.
Governor’s Riverwalk Shasha Boekanier shipwreck (since 2002) the site is 184 feet (56 meters) freighter and a bonus of 2 more ships are located in this same area houses tropical fish, coral and algae. Gilbert Reef is also considered a part of the Governer’s Riverwalk as well.
Juno Ledge 65 to 90 feet depth (19 to27 meters) with fabulous cave formations as well as a wide variety sharks, Goliath groupers and large moray eels
West Palm Beach
Amarilys was purposefully sunk to be part of Palm Beach artificial reef program. Lying in 70 – 90 feet (21 – 27 meters) of water. Now covered in coral it is home to jacks, snapper, cobia, snook, and sailfish.
Bath & Tennis is a colorful site at a depth of 50 – 65 feet (15 – 20 meters). Schools of fish and lobsters inhabit the broken edges and stretches of ridges.
Breaker’s Shallow located 3 miles (5 km) south from the Palm Beach Inlet 30 – 35 feet (9 – 11 meters). This site in known for vertical wall rises from 30 to 20 (9 to 6 meters).
Cable Crossing 20 – 30 foot depth (6 – 9 meters). There is a plethora of mini caves and sea life and is perfect for beginner divers & Snorklers
Eidsvag & Owens – these sunken wrecks from 1985 became artificial reefs covered by algae, small sponges, tiny gorgonians. You can swim through ship holes here as well. The Eidsvag & Owens are 150-foot (45 meters) and 125 foot (38 meters) freighters at a depth of 80 – 90 feet (24 – 27 meters).
Flower Gardens at a depth of 50 – 70 feet (15 – 21 meters) this beautiful area has large amounts of sea life, sponges, corals and schools of grunts
Paul’s Reef a fabulous drift dive with a depth of 45 – 55 feet (14 – 17 meters). This ledge is covered in gorgonians, sponges, and coral home to many kinds of tropical fish. This is also a great night dive for parrot fish, turtles, and sharks that sleep near this area.
Princess Anne is considered one of the best dive sites in the United States. This vessel sunk in 1993 in 80-100 feet (24-30 meters) now crawling with schools of jacks, barracuda, and shark. It is a great opportunity for multi-level dives.
Technical Aspects of Diving Near West Palm Beach & Singer Island
There are more places to dive than just the Florida keys. Did you know that Scuba diving magazine actually rated Singer Island higher than the Florida Keys on 8/9 categories.
Best Time to Dive: The best time to dive off of Singer Island and West Palm Beach would be during the Turtle Nesting season, which runs from late May to the end of July depending on the season.
Visibility: Can be anywhere from 60 to 100 feet depending on the current and time of year
Current: Diving off of Singer Island, is considered to be the drift capital of the world. With the average current running about 1 knot that runs parallel to the reef lines.
Average Temperatures Year Round: Between 21°C and 27°C. (70° F and 82° F). The coldest month is typically January, and the warmest month is in July.
If you have ever seen The Labryinth, you know what fantastical worlds can be made up by the human mind – Goblin Valley State Park looks like it should have been part of that movie. The unique sandstone formations within the depressed valley in southern Utah are a perfect playground for young, old, and the whole family.
There are so many hoodoo’s, or mushroom shaped formations, it is hard not to feel like a child again exploring all the twists and turns. The best part is, you can take your pups with you to run a muck and get all the energy out.
Getting to Goblin Valley
There are a couple of options to get there. You can fly into Salt Lake City International Airport, explore Salt Lake City the first few nights, then take a three and half hour ride down to Southern Utah to explore Goblin Valley, Kodachrome Basin, and Moab. If you live in the States you can also fly into Grand Junction Colorado, explore that cute rural town, then Moab, and on to Goblin Valley. No matter which way you care to venture, it is going to be a gorgeous ride with open fields full of purple wild flowers in April, or Sunflowers in the Fall. You really can’t go wrong with a road trip in Utah.
What To Do In Goblin Valley
Explore the Hoodoo’s
There are so many shapes within the Hoodoo/Goblin Valley that it is hard to not have your imagination run wild. It can also be a little spooky, because of how well the rocks block sound, you can turn a corner and run into someone.
The shapes, curves, corners spur different stories in my head when I’m there. My Dad and I used to lay on the trampoline on the weekends together, looking at the different shapes of clouds, assigning an animal or a person and making up different stories to accompany those mental images. Letting those stories of goblins, ghouls and miscreants creep along the lining of your conscious curiosity makes you feel like you are a child again.
Be Careful When You Explore
Respect the Rocks in Goblin Valley
Living in Utah, with five National Parks, and a plethora of State Parks is such an incredible blessing. Growing up here though, visiting Goblin Valley State Park is a bit of a right of passage. The love the locals have for the rocks, parks, and natural space is a bit like caring for a family member in a way. So if you visit Goblin Valley, please do not deface our beautiful area that bring so much joy and families closer together.
The reason I mention this, is due to a fairly destruction of one of the Hoodoo’s that had been there for thousands of years, and was an iconic part of the park. A Scout leader, who has now been charged criminally for destruction of State land, and removed from the National Scouting league; decided to climb atop the teetering rock and video tape it. The rock toppled off it’s precarious perch, and made the national news because of how iconic it was.
Heat of the Day
Another thing I would like to warn you about in this valley is the heat. What many visitors don’t realize is Red Rock of Southern Utah absorbs heat and reflects it. So although Goblin Valley State Park may appear a balmy 90F (32.2C), when you get into the Valley or your on your hike exposed to the sun it can feel like your standing in a dry sauna with temperatures sometimes reaching up to 109F (42.8C).
It is also unique in that you typically need to pack in your own water. There are a few watering stations available at nearby camping areas, but they are a little cumbersome to get to once your in the park itself.
Little Wild Horse Canyon Hike
While not directly in Goblin Valley, this is still part of the San Rafael Swell. With some of the narrowest slot canyons in Utah, it is a great place for scrambling, and perfect introduction route for learning how to do canyoneering.
The hike begins in a parking lot, winds your way through paths toward the canyon; but spits you out into the dry river wash that you follow towards the canyon.
While we didn’t do any canyoneering due to our dogs coming along with us; it was quite comical to see them try to navigate and get past each other at different junctures.
You feel like a real explorer when walking down these canyons, and the walls are so perfectly sculpted with varying shades of red, orange and white rock it almost looks as if a butter knife had carved out the canyon. In the early spring and fall there can be standing water and small pools of water, but they are typically only ankle deep.
There are a couple of ways to do this hike, one where you just hike in to as far as you feel comfortable, and then back out. Option two is to do the full 8 mile loop with some canyoneering down bells canyon.
Please be careful during rainstorms as some of the areas along this hiking route are prone to flash flooding and people have been known to get trapped.
People have compared this lair to that of the Labyrinth as well. Where ghouls, trolls and other creatures of the dark gather at night to wreck havoc on the campers in the area. If they are caught outside the lair, this is when they turn into the knobby rocks and how Goblin Valley was made.
The hike is moderately strenuous, you do have to scramble at some points, and getting down into the lair is quite precarious. The views from the lair are quite beautiful though, with unobstructed views of the desert landscape – serene and quite with only the crows cawing. The afternoon is the best time to go so you aren’t in full sunlight on the way up.
Dark Sky Park Experience At Goblin Valley
Not only is this a great place to explore in the spring and fall, it is also considered one of the remaining dark sky parks in the world. Being from Utah, I forget how fortunate I am to experience things like this. There isn’t a night where you wouldn’t at be able to see a plethora of stars visually dancing above you. Shooting stars to make your wish, and dreams come true are quite common as well.
The sunsets are almost as pretty as when the galaxy rises, with your eyes feasting on a spectrum of colors from dusk until dawn. I suggest planning your trip to when the moon will be either a sliver, or absent as this is when you can truly see the universe in all it’s grandeur.
My favorite thing was to sit on the floor of the Goblin Valley, snuggling with my dogs, taking photos of the sunset with the hoodoos giving a perfect silhouette. Then as the sun was tucked behind the mountains for the night, the start slowly emerged….we stayed there until we all started shivering and then headed back to camp – where there were even more wonderful photo opportunities with nearby crackling fires.
It truly was a perfect way to end the night, feeling small but happy enveloped into a perfect slumber knowing that we just witnessed something not many people in this age of technology truly get to appreciate anymore.
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Where to Stay Near Goblin Valley State Park
There is plenty of BLM Land near Goblin Valley that you can set up a remote camp site. I would definitely recommend four wheel drive, as well as some sturdy tent stakes. The wind in the area can get quite strong, and I’ve had the lovely experience of chasing a tent across the desert landscape in the past.
Diving has become a huge passion of mine, and I am slowly working my way to becoming a Master Diver (keyword slowly). After knowing it is an activity that I will be doing for the rest of my life, I decided to get a little input from fellow divers and travel experts around the world who have contributed to this article on what we all feel are the Top Diving Locations Around the World. Within each section, you will find information on the Dive site, visibility, certifications required, how to get there, where to stay and other helpful tidbits to craft your own Diving Bucketlist.
Don’t forget your travel insurance, I don’t travel without it now. I typically use World Nomads as you can specifically craft the insurance coverage for your extreme sports activities and your budget. If you have a dive site you would love to add, be sure to add it in the comments below.
Mexico: Cabo (Lands End)
Cabo San Lucas conjures up images of partying, sloppy drunk teens escaping from their parents….or at least it did for me in the beginning. When taking my cruise there this last December I couldn’t have been more wrong about what kind of adventures Cabo San Lucas Holds. There are plenty of areas to dive here, and with the mass amount of tourism, the companies cater to you and have really nice equipment.
The dive itself is some of the most unique along the Mexico/South American Coastline. There are underwater sand falls, shipwrecks, seals, eels, Mobula Rays, Hammer Head Sharks and a healthy array of colorful fish and puffer fish. If you decide to dive in December, the whales will be migrating and are truly worth every minute observing their breaching and feeding frenzy.
Visibility here depends on the season, during the summer you can have 30-90 feet of visibility and the winter can drop to 20-40 feet. While water temperatures can range from 64-86 degrees Fahrenheit. Depths near Cabo Arch can be anywhere from 10-90 feet, while diving sites at Lands End are 1000+.
This was my first real ocean dive, as diving in Utah (the middle of the desert) is a little difficult to get that ocean experience in. I would recommend that you have good control of your buoyancy, and take a guided tour so that you can see the best parts without getting hit by tour boats going to Cabo Arch. I recommend using Cabo Adventures as there are plenty of staff on hand to cater to the most advanced divers and the newest divers. We had a mix of open water, and master divers on our boat; so they took us all out and split us up into appropriate groups where each of us had a wonderful time. They also do snorkeling adventures, dolphin encounters and a whole lot more. Plus they are really good looking…sorry not sorry…lol.
To get here take a flight to the Los Cabos International Airport, from there it is a 34-minute drive to Cabo San Lucas. I would suggest taking the bus though it is $5.50 for two people and takes around 1 1/2 hours to get to the Center (Puerto Paraiso Mall) of Cabo. If you opt for a cab or shuttle, you are going to pay a lot more. I think you can get a group shuttle for around $15 pp or take a taxi for $50 -$100 so the bus is a big savings if you are watching your budget.
Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking
USA: Florida – Devils Den
While cave diving wasn’t really on my list of ‘best places to dive’, this particular dive was so unique I just had to include it. Devil’s Den is so appropriately named as you descend down into a cavern from the humid Florida air into a prehistoric cave of wonder.
While it appears warm in the video below, the water itself is 72 degrees F/22.2 degrees year round. I didn’t think I needed a full wet suit, as it was still winter in Utah and temps there were around 32 degrees so I just took my shorty wetsuit. While I was a little chilled when entering the waters, by the end of the dive, I really wish I had my full wetsuit (some people were in dry suits). Visibility is excellent, but there is silt on the bottom as the cave is fed by natural springs so try to not disturb the bottom. If you are there on a weekend, or holiday expect to have loads of divers training here.
The cave is an excellent place for practicing night dives, cave diving, and fantastic for beginners. There are areas that are more dangerous than others but the private owners have blocked those areas off, and the caves are easy to maneuver around in. They have also put different items around the caves, so it makes it really creepy and fun to explore. Be aware of the creepy fish and giant catfish lurking in the corners.
You can either stay in Williston, Gainsville or swing over to St Petersburg Florida where there are the perfect west coast white sand beaches, plenty of street art, the Dali museum and yummy places to eat.
Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking
Richelieu Rock – Similan Islands
Richelieu Rock is the most popular dive location in the
Similan Islands. The name of the dive site is based on the fact that the dive
site is a rock formation in the middle of the ocean. It is stated that the site
was discovered when during a low tide Jacques-Yves Cousteau and a local
fisherman boat bumped into the top of the rock formation.
The dive site itself is famous due to the traffic that
occurs at Richelieu Rock. The rock is covered in anemone and has over four
variety of anemone fish. There are numerous other reef fish at the location.
The large attraction however is the whale sharks and manta rays that frequently
cruise around the location. A dive tour at the site will typically encompass a
trip around the rock formation, and then if you are lucky, you will see a manta
ray or whale shark cruising by on the outside area.
An added bonus is that the whale sharks are juvenile, so
while smaller than normal, the whale sharks are far more curious and will check
out the divers and the bubbles from respirators thinking that the bubbles may
be plankton. Ultimately making Richelieu Rock a great location to dive with
The dive is easy to complete, with only an open water certification required. The depths can go upward of 30m, but companies typically stay at the top of the rock formation and no further than 15m. Visibility is clear at site, however there can sometimes be strong currents. There are two main ways to get to Richelieu Rock, and the Similan Islands, and that is through liveaboard out of Phuket, or through a dive company that does day trips out to the island. I recommend using Sunrise Divers, they are located in the Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand area and can help arrange a liveaboard or a day trip out.
While I haven’t personally been diving here, in planning my trip to China in the next year – I found this hidden gem! It is the 1,400 old ruined city submerged underwater for over 50 years! Talk about the Asia version of the Atlantic City. Qiandao Lake, also known as Thousand Island Lake, is a sprawling body of fresh water, covering 573 sq. km. It was flooded to create a reservoir where hydroelectricity could be used but displaced nearly 290,000 people in doing so.
After reading about all the specs on the dive I discovered, I personally need a little more experience before attempting it. The visibility is very poor in the lake and gets quite dark very quickly. Some of the diving accounts I read, said that you need to have excellent bouyancy control, excellent navigation epxerience (because it is that easy to lose your dive partner), night dive certification, and advanced open water certification.
There is a lot of silt in the area as it is in a lake, so that is why buoyancy is so important here. Diving itself is apparently a newer sport for those in China so there are limited companies willing or able to do this dive. The company I found that does do tours of this site is Big Blue Scuba that schedules tours here our of Shanghai. I personally plan on staying in Shanghai and then letting the tour drive the 6 hours of winding rural roads to get to the site so I don’t get lost.
I don’t know how long the ruins will last, but despite the visibility and needing excellent diving skills – just watch the video and you will understand why this one needs to be on your bucket list. For more information on this dive, be sure to visit Underwater Photography Guide.
Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking
Hanga Roa, Easter Island
One of the most unique dives anybody can do is located in Hanga Roa Harbor. Hanga Roa is the capital of Easter Island, and this amazing and easy dive is called the Moai Dive. And as the name implies, this is the only place on earth where you can meet an Easter Island stone head statue underwater!
This moai is submerged in roughly 28 feet of water, and it is only a few minutes ride from Hanga Roa harbor to reach the dive site. An open water certification is required to do this dive or to visit any of the Easter Island dive sites.
Easter Island is one of the most remote places on earth, and its far distance to the nearest island and the lack of natural stream on the island contributes to the extremely clear surrounding waters. The coral reefs here are relatively young, and some of the 150 species of relatively small fish and other creatures are endemic to Easter Island.
On a typical day, the visibility can range to over 200 feet, with no obstructions in sight. Even better – during the whale migration season, you can sometimes hear some of the whales singing in the distance!
I highly recommend Mike Rapu Diving Center. It is one of the few trusted PADI establishments on the island.
There are only two ways to get to Easter Island: a four hour-flight from Tahiti or a nearly six-hour flight from Santiago de Chile. Either way, it demonstrates how remote this island is.
Contributed by Halef from the RTW Guys
Negril in Jamaica, an iconic destination for scuba divers who want to explore the wonders of the Caribbean underwater universe. This spot features vivid marine world, thriving coral reefs, a range of unique undersea sights, colorful fish, sharks, sea turtles and much more. You will enjoy in a warm crystal clear water with an average depth of 30 ft and maximal depth of 70 ft.
For your diving experience, Sandals Luxury Resorts offers several dive courses. With a 3-hour PADI diving program, you will be able to dive in the same day as the program. There’s also PADI’s e-learning system (8-hour course) which helps you to complete it at your own pace. Furthermore, the program does not require any prior certification or dive experience. I recommend staying at Sandals Negril offers from two-story suites to the Millionaire Suites, some with private pool, balcony, patio or swim-up pool, etc. Which to choose depends on your preferences and budget.
To get here there is a daily flight from Miami to Montego Bay. Once in Montego Bay take an included transfer to Sandals Negril. It’s a 60 minutes ride.
contributed by Leo from Safari Nomad
Gordon Rocks the Galapagos Island
The Galapagos is world famous for its incredible wildlife and the underwater world is no exception. One of the best tours in the Galapagos is to visit Gordon Rocks, a dive site near the island of Santa Cruz.
Gordon Rocks is one of the best places in the world to find Hammerhead sharks and the Oceanic Sunfish. You can also see Galapagos sharks, white tip reef sharks, giant sea turtles, stingrays, moray eels, Galapagos eels, Barracudas and various colorful reef fish.
The average depth of the dive is between 60-80 feet. Gordon Rocks is considered an intermediate to advanced dive site as the current can be strong at times. In order to dive, you will need to have your open water certification and a minimum of 25 logged dives.
I recommend diving in Santa Cruz with Scuba Iguana. They are one of the oldest diving companies on the island and have an excellent reputation for being safe and environmentally responsible.
Scuba Iguana is located in Santa Cruz’ main town, Puerto Ayora. A good hotel to stay in is Hotel Ikala, located just a few minutes from the dive shop. This new hotel was built with a focus on sustainability and is surrounded by beautiful trees and gardens, giving it a natural and fresh ambiance.
Contributed by Lora from Explore with Lora
Green Island, Lvdao Township, Taiwan
They say Green Island is the best diving spot in all Taiwan due to its incredible visibility of 40 meters or even more. When we got into the water, I knew people were right. The visibility was fantastic, the more than 200 types of corals are colorful and flourishing. You have a wide range of beautiful fishes in all shapes and sizes. I have never seen that many clown fishes on that little space.
Max depth is around 20meters. Visibility is incredible, around 40 meters. You need at least an Open Water. However, the dive centers also offer explorer dives with 5 meters depth and taking photos. Absolutely interesting for beginners, since the corals and fishes are colorful, and you can even see turtles.
The company we went with was “BLUE SAFARI DIVING CENTER 藍莎潛水中心”. I asked specifically for a dive instructor that speaks English, to take away any language barrier. They organized one for me. It was a 1 on 1 dive, so only me and the instructor. The briefing was on the point, we went through all signs again, to make sure we can both understand each other under water. He then asked what i want to do. I could do a drift dive, see specific fishes. I told him I am interested i seeing Turtles. We succeeded and saw two precious, beautiful turtles.
We stayed at “Hostel Green520 綠島民宿‧綠野仙蹤鄉村童話-海島民宿” (< that is the full name apparently). The host is a young guy from the island, and it feels like you are staying wth a friend. He knows everything on the small island. He also picks you up on the harbor, and you exchange your WhatsApp with him. During our stay, he sent as a few messages, for instance when it was raining he’d send us a message to stay safe because it’s slippery. And then if we want to go for a drink tonight. Seriously, it was like staying with a friend!
You can only take a ferry from Taitung harbor. The ferry takes around 1 hour, and it can be bumpy. There are also airplanes, but they are always sold out, taking the ferry is much easier.
The Gili Islands is a great place to go diving. There’s a small shipwreck, some underwater statues, and turtles the size of dinner tables! It’s a trip you can take around all 3 Gili Islands. The water is beautiful and crystal clear so you can see tons all around you. You don’t have to be certified as they have introductory dives that will take you up to 12 meters on your first dive. You can check out Shark Point to see reef sharks, eels and rays, or head to Turtle Heaven where you can swim with several large turtles.
Gili Air Divers on the island of Gili Air is a PADI certified company that we recommend. They are very professional and emphasize safety. You can easily find them after your boat docks, on the strip of vendors.
We always recommend staying on the island of Gili Air, as it is more of a relaxing vibe as opposed to the more party islands. It has a great tropical island vibe with lots of live music and great food on the beach every night. We had a great experience staying at “Villa Karang Hotel and Spa”, with pools, a spa, great air-conditioned rooms, and right across from the beach.
Gili Air is a boat ride away from Bali, Indonesia, and it is very easy to find a boat to take you there. You can check online to purchase your tickets in advance as well.
Monad Shoal is the only dive site in the world where you are likely to spot Thresher Sharks daily. Normally the Thresher Sharks live and hunt at 50+ meters of depth. The sunken island works as a cleaning station as the sharks swim up there early in the morning to get their skin washed by tiny fish called Cleaning Wrasse. That´s when divers can observe them.
The dive goes down to the underwater sandbank of Monad Shoal. From there, you dive down along the wall to about 30 meters of depth. Once you spot the Thresher Sharks you will sit down by the wall and observe them calmly. Visibility is normally 10-15 meters.
As the dive is 30 meters deep you need minimum Advanced Open Water to do the dive, though some companies will take experienced Open Water divers. You need to stay at Malapascua island to do the dive. I did it with Jayky, a great instructor and divemaster at Dive Society. Unlikely most of the dive centers, this is not on the main beach, hence you get a better price and the experience was nevertheless unforgettable.
We traveled budget, so we stayed at a basic, budget bungalow with no name in the inland dirt tracks of the island. We found it by talking to some locals when we arrived.
To get to Malapascua you need to get a bangka (traditional Philippine pirogue) from Maya Port on Cebu island. You can take a bus from Cebu city to Maya. It is also possible to go from Leyte island by private bangka, but that will be much more expensive.
Contributed by Linn from Brainy Backpackers
SMS Cöln – Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands
The SMS Cöln is one of the wrecks within Scapa Flow. She is the most intact cruiser in the Flow and sits on her starboard side at 36 metres. The shallowest point is at 22metres. The stern and armoured control tower are still intact. The visibility averages about 10metres. This is a cold water dive in deeper water so PADI advanced open water with wreck and dry suit experience are needed to make it a pleasant experience.
There are a number of companies who operate out of the nearest town of Stromness. I would recommend Andy Cuthbertson who runs Jean Elaine through Scapa Flow Charters. If you want support or training then Scapa Scuba have courses, training and equipment available and can take you out the wrecks in the flow. This is especially useful if you are a single diver or buddy pair. All the charter boats usually take larger groups and book up months in advance.
All of the companies include accommodation in their packages. They use small self catering cottages or the Stromness Hotel.
Diving in Scapa Flow is from the small town of Stromness. This can be reached from mainland Scotland using Northlink Ferries which run from Thurso near John O’Groats (three hours drive north of Inverness). The ferry takes just under 2 hours. You can also fly to Kirkwall and then drive the 40minutes to Stromness in a hire car.
Out of all the places I’ve dived and snorkeled around the world, there’s honestly nothing that has come to close what I experienced at the Batu Balong dive site in Indonesia! I had just finished an incredible four-day sailing trip from Lombok to Labuan Bajo, and visited the Komodo National Park (which I’d highly recommend doing as well)!
I was traveling with a few friends, and we all decided to book a one-day diving trip with Uber Scuba in Labuan Bajo. We visited a few different dive sites, but this one spot called Batu Balong was easily the best! From the minute you jump in the water, you are quite literally surrounded by thousands of fish in every direction, and the colorful coral is the most vibrant I’ve ever seen! The max depth is around 25 meters, with visibility being good to excellent year round. Honestly a perfect place for any open water certified diver.
We saw turtles and sharks on the dive, and it was just such an amazing experience! Labuan Bajo is on the island of Flores in Indonesia, which you can find cheap fllights to on a few different airlines. I’d recommend staying at the Ayana Komodo Resort too, because it’s easily the best property on the island!!
Malaysia: Perhentian Kecil, part of the Perhentian Islands
One of the places that surprised me the most in Malaysia was Perhentian Kecil, part of the Perhentian Islands. I have visited out of season, when the island was almost deserted, with probably only around 10 tourists in total. There was not much to do except for diving, snorkelling, and enjoying coconut smoothies on the beach.
Diving in the Perhentian Islands is a magical experience because of the amazing underwater eco system that developed around old sunken ships and buoys. There are several spots where you can dive in Perhentian Islands, which you can pick in a day tour from one of the diving centres on the island.
One of the most popular dives is at the “Sugar Wreck”, a 90 meters long cargo ship which sank in 2000. There are over 20 different diving spots around, where you can observe the marine life, such as tuna, sword fish, pufferfish, black tip reef sharks, sting rays and turtles. The corals are so beautiful as well, but remember, don’t touch them.
To reach the Perhentian Islands you need to catch a speed boat from Kuala Besut, the closest town on the mainland. I chose to stay at Maya’s Chalet, in a hut right on the Coral Bay beach.
Contributed by Joanna from The World In My Pocket
Mary’s Place, Roatán, Honduras
Just off the coast of mainland Honduras lie the Bay Islands, Roatán being the largest of the group. These Caribbean islands are set atop a 1,000-kilometer Mesoamerican barrier reef, and most of the dive sites are just a few minutes boats ride from shore.
There are hundreds of spectacular sites to choose from and Mary’s Place is one of the best. Known for its sheer vertical cracks caused by ancient volcanic activity, this site is best suited for experienced divers. With a maximum depth of 36 meters (120 feet), divers must have an advanced certification and a good handle on buoyancy. Like many dive sites in the Bay Islands, Mary’s Place is known for excellent visibility and healthy corals.
Roatán Divers is one of the most reputable dive shops on the island. They’re very professional and well located. Plus, they have a focus on environmental responsibility, which is why we chose to dive with them. I recommend staying at Ibagari Boutique Hotel which has beautifully-designed rooms that you’ll love to relax in after a day of diving,
To get there from the city of La Ceiba, ferries depart for the Bay Islands twice daily – once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Thailand: Koh Tao
If you enjoy diving, you will love diving in Koh Tao, Thailand. This is probably the number one destination in Thailand for divers. Koh Tao is a paradise island that is home to some of the most awesome dive sights. One of the best dive sites being Sail rock. Here you get the opportunity to dive with large schools of Barracuda, other amazing fish and stunning coral.
This amazing dive actually takes you down through a
rock, crazy. The dive can take you to a maximum of 18-metres deep, from the
bottom you can exit the rock and ascend back to the surface. However, these
depths are for advanced divers. A good depth for beginners is 5-metres.
You will be required to have your PADI certificate if
you want to dive to the deeper depths of Sail
Rock. If you are new to diving, you can enjoy a fun dive to a few metres
How to get to Sail Rock?Your Koh Tao dive school will take you on a 1 and half hour journey via boat to the dive site.
Which dive school to choose?I would highly recommend crystal dive school which are a team of dive experts that ensure you will have an amazing dive if you choose them. Also, if you choose to a PADI certification, you should choose CrystalDive. They are known for delivering high quality and safe courses. This amazing dive company also offers accommodation within their dive school. This is a very popular option for travellers.
The best place to stay when planning to dive here is at the P.D Beach resort, which I would highly recommend.
Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef is renowned for being one of the best dive locations in the world. At 2,300 km long, comprising thousands of reefs and hundreds of islands, it’s home to countless species of fish and coral, plus sharks, turtles and dolphins.
You can dive the Great Barrier Reef all along Australia’s east coast, but one of the most popular places to go is the small resort town of Port Douglas, just north of Cairns. Port Douglas is pretty much a dedicated beach and dive town, offering easy access to the Agincourt Reef System, part of the Ribbon Reef and one of the most popular and accessible dive areas. Agincourt Reef offers 45 different dive sites, mostly drift and wall diving, with coral gardens and shallow dive sites that are great for novice and intermediate divers. You can even do introductory dives, so everyone from complete beginners to experts is catered for.
As well as a fantastic range of coral fish, you’re likely to spot lionfish, barracudas, dogtooth tuna, reef sharks and blue spotted stingray. Depth at the various Agincourt sites ranges from 12-40 metres, and on a good day visibility can be up to 30 metres; the average is usually about 20 metres.
The dive company I recommed is ABC Scuba Diving or Blue Dive, I truly had a great time with them and felt cared for every step of the way.
There are loads of places to stay in Port Douglas, ranging from backpackers’ hostels to serviced apartments to expensive beach resorts with pools. We stayed in Coral Beach Lodge which was centrally located and quite affordable.
The Silfra fissure sits along the mid-Atlantic ridge, a location where the earth’s plates diverge, here Iceland is being slowly ripped in two but the resulting freshwater dive in the middle of the country is bound to blow your booties off. Silfra is unique in the world, the only place in the world where you can (feasibly) dive between the earth’s tectonic plates! Running from a shallow 1m down to 40+ meters Silfra is a somewhat technical dive that you’ll need your drysuit diver certification for but with 100+m visibility its well worth the trouble.
Staying in Reykjavik is the best option for people wanting to dive the fissure, we loved the FossHotel Reykjavik. The city is vibrant, interesting & worth exploring best of all when it comes time to go diving every tour operator out there offers hotel pickup! Arctic Adventures offers daily snorkels and dives at the fissure complete with a tour of Thingvellir national park & hot cocoa & cookies when you get out of the perpetually cool (2*c or 35F) water.
Palancar Gardens off the coast of Isla Cozumel in Mexico is one of the best wall dive sites in the world. As Palancar is part of the National Park it is well protected and has huge healthy coral formations, multiple (optional) swim-throughs, and a wall that drops down to 130 ft. This dive site really will blow your mind. Expect to see turtles, green moray eels, eagle rays (only during the season), and nurse sharks (all year round).
The depth of this dive is between 30- 80 feet and it is a great reef to dive for all experience levels. Beginners can stay to the side and above the reef and more experienced divers can go deeper and do the swim-throughs. The average visibility diving in Cozumel is 100ft all year round. You will need an open water certificate to dive here. Although it is possible to do this dive on a discover scuba dive as it is often used as a first dive site.
The dive company I recommend in Cozumel is Scuba Tony. I did my advanced certificate with them and I would never dive with anyone else over there. The dive masters are awesome and their equipment and boats are in top condition.
If you are going to Cozumel to dive you are better to stay further south so you are closer to the better dive sites. Most hotels have a dock where the boats can pick you up from. If you stay further north most dive companies will not pick you up. I recommend staying at the Fiesta as it is in an ideal location and has great facilities.
Getting to Cozumel is easy as the Island has its own airport with many international direct flights. Alternatively, you can fly into Cancun and then take a connecting flight to the Island, or take a taxi or ADO bus to Playa del Carmen. From Playa you will need to take the 40-minute ferry over to Cozumel.
Contributed by Claire from Claire’s Itchy Feet
Jeju Island – South Korea
The exotic Jeju Island is a stunning and extremely popular holiday destination among Korean and foreign tourists. The island is often referred to as the Hawaii of Korea. Not only is it stunning, but it also has so much to offer, from great hikes to amazing beaches, yummy food, and great water activities like kayaking, snorkeling, diving and many more.
All around the island, there are many different diving spots and schools. But the creme de la creme diving spot is around the Seongsan Ilchulbong (sunrise peak). This natural phenomenon is a volcanic crater created more than a hundred thousand years back as a result of volcanic eruptions. This site is now a protected UNESCO heritage site.
The warm water around the peak attracted a wide array of tropical marine life and soft corals, which are absolutely stunning. Diving in Jeju Island and the rest of South Korea is mostly a summer activity as the rest of the year the water will be too cold for divers and instructors. On top of that during autumn and winter, the currents around the island are rather strong and dangerous for inexperienced divers.
The recommended school to dive with is Seongsan Diving Resort as offers diving packages to both unlicensed and licensed divers, making this the best location for beginner and advanced divers. I recommend you rent a car and drive in Jeju, but the school is also accessible using public transportation. When visiting Jeju Island, stay in Jeju City and use this as a base to explore the island.
Contributed by Marie from Be Marie Korea
Philippines: Apo Reef
33 Km off the coast of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro Province, Philippines, you’ll find the Apo Reef. This is the largest coral reef in the Philippines, while in the world is only second to the Australian Great Barrier Reef.
The reef develops on two connecting sections divided by a channel with a white sandy bottom of 30 mt maximum depth. The variety of the flora and fauna in the protected area of the Apo Reef Natural Park is surprising and overwhelming. As you start going down inside the channel, you are instantly surrounded by clouds of snappers and will get to see jacks, barracudas trevallies, squirrel and parrotfishes, triggerfishes, gobies, groupies, reef sharks and the list of the 385 species found in the area goes on.
It is easy to spot turtles (even the rare green turtle) and dolphins, and overall you will meet large schools of fishes. Within one dive-trip from Sablayan, you will normally arrange three dives, and you need the Advanced Open Water Certificate to dive Apo Reef. The visibility in Apo Reef is just incredible and makes for a breath-taking experience. The most visited site of the reef is South Corner.
The Mariposa diving centre on the Tiny Pandan Island is run by a mix of Philipino and European experts and has been organizing day-trips and overnights at Apo Reef for more than 20 years. The centre provides training up to dive-master and is part of the Pandan Island Resort, which offers hut-like accommodation for every budget on a semi-private island and delicious, rich buffet meals. This is your best option to stay at while you visit Apo Reef, as they can take you to the reef with a 90 minutes boat trip.
To get to Pandan Island from Manila by plane to San Jose and by public bus/jeepney to Sablayan where a tricycle can take you exactly to ‘Punta in front of Ludi ‘s place’. From there a Bangka will cross the 300 mt of sea waters to Pandan Island.-from Manila by land and ferry: take a bus to Batangas and the Montenegro Lines ferry to Abra. From Abra, get on a bus to Sablayan, then follows the directions as per the previous point.
The Belize Barrier Reef makes up one-third of the MesoAmerican Reef (the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef), stretching 190 miles along the Central American country’s coastline. Protected since 1996 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the reef is the #1 tourist attraction in Belize, with Scuba diving attracting nearly 50% of the country’s annual visitors.
Thankfully removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2018, the reef’s diverse array of walls, pinnacles, holes, and reef flats are home to an exceptional array of aquatic life (including 70 hard coral species, 35 soft coral species, 500 species of fish, and hundreds of invertebrates). During our two dives (at depths ranging from 15 to 60+ feet), we had exceptional visibility and saw a Nurse Shark, Moray Eel, several Spotted Rays, a Sea Turtle, Pufferfish, Lobsters, and thousands of colorful fish.
Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort caters to Scuba divers and offers a variety of daily snorkeling and diving tours. Located less than a mile from the Garifuna culture of Hopkins Village, this excellent eco-resort also boasts beautiful lodge-style rooms with hot tubs on the private patio as well as a restaurant serving up fresh seafood daily.
Domestic flights from Belize International Airport to Dangriga are available on Maya Air or Tropic Air. The staff at Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort can arrange this flight for you, as well as an airport transfer to the resort.
Contributed by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel
Tiputa Pass, French Polynesian Islands
The Tiputa Pass is considered one of the worlds best dive sites, in particular to see pelagics. Diving in Rangiroa you’re likely to see manta rays, leopard rays, grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, black tip reef sharks, lemon sharks and even great hammerhead sharks. If you’re an advanced diver, you can head depths of 30m or more and see tiger sharks. There are many options, but it is common to do a drift dive through the pass, either on the incoming or outgoing tide.
The pass is popular with experienced divers due to the strong current, however open water level divers are allowed to dive it. I recommend diving with Top Dive, who are very safety conscious, which is particularly important considering the remote location. The visibility is generally very good.
Va’a i Te Moana is a lovely family run pension a short walk from the Tiputa Pass. Double rooms start from £141.50 (19000 CFP) including breakfast. I highly recommend staying here not only because of a convenient location but also it is also very beautiful.
Kia Oras, is another option, it is a luxury resort with over water bungalows and beach villas. Top Dive have a dive shop on the property, so it’s great if you’re planning on doing lots of dives. A beach bungalow with hot tub starts from £331 (44 460 CFP).
To get to Tiputa, I would suggest flying to Pape’ete, Tahiti, and then take a flight to Rangiroa. The airport is in the center of the small island, with most of the hotels and accommodations being on the southern end of the island; I would suggest staying on the Northern end of the island as this is where Tiputa Pass is.
How Do You Choose?
With all of these great dives, it is going to be hard to choose just ONE to commit to for your next trip. I would suggest taking a cruise and hitting several, or find friends to stay with and do them all throughout your lifetime. Go with the dive that speaks to your heart, that you have the certifications for and let fate take you on an underwater journey that not many are brave enough to take.
To all my fellow divers, I salute you – happy bubble blowing!
Discover the Legends of Moab Not only is Moab a great place for Jeep Safari’s, hiking, climbing, river rafting and pretty much anything you can think of to do outdoors. The Legends of Moab & its history are something everyone should know, so that travel becomes not just a grand adventure, but a meaningful and educational grand adventure. Here are some of the Legends and History of Moab that I have recently learned about:
History of Dead Horse Point & its Legends:
This is 5200 acres of beautiful deserts, steep cliffs, and sunsets that will knock your socks off. I didn’t realize this was a State Park actually, so be sure to stop by the visitors center and pay the entrance fee.
Where does the name Deadhorse Point come from?
The name Dead Horse Point comes from the story, that in the 1800’s this area was used to herd wild Mustangs. When you walk or drive along the Road you come to an area where, it is said, that a herd of ‘unwanted’ Mustangs was herded into this small area next to the 2000 ft cliff and eventually died from thirst due to the brutality of Drovers during that time.
The truth is, that yes the area was often used as a place to herd mustangs because of the natural corrals that were created by the surrounding cliffs. The story has changed over time but really was just that because it was so often used as a herding location, the unforgiving nature of the desert in Summertime caused many horses to die from exposure or thirst. It seems to depend on where you get your information from, which of these perspectives is true…..I will let you decide.
Interesting facts about Dead Horse Point:
Beyond the Legend, a rather depressing one at that, this place is an iconic photography location for weddings, landscape photography, and filmmaking. You would have seen Dead Horse Point featured in the final shot of the film ‘Thelma & Louise‘.
If you come at sunset, you can get stunning photos of the red rock and play of light and dark on the cliffs and surrounding area. Sunrise is the best time to get the clearest photos of the picturesque Colorado River winding around the canyons. It is also an ideal place for those who love Mountain Biking, Rock Climbing or hiking.
Your hike will begin just at the Visitor’s Center and is 1.5 to 2 miles long with an easy trail, well marked, slight elevation gain. We frequently stopped and took photographs, enjoying the views, to complete the trail it took us 45-minutes, even with all the photography breaks. We took the walk back to the Dead Horse Point Visitors Center, which took about 25 minutes & was accompanied by a spectacularly colorful sunset.
Legends of Moab within Indian writings:
Along Potash Road in Moab, you will find Indian writing and Petroglyphs. These unique and historical drawings are so ancient, that the drawings are typically dated by what is depicted (500 AD for bow and arrows, 1500 AD if horses are seen).
I stood in wonder at how archaic these writings are, what their meaning was to the people of that time period & if we will really ever know why exactly they chose to make the effort of carving them into the stone.
How were the Petroglyphs Discovered?
Archeologists discovered the petroglyphs prior to construction of Potash Road. There are many other Indian Petroglyphs throughout Moab, to view more of them visit Discovermoab.com where a map will be provided & tips on how to find them.
Johnny Depp filmed a portion of Lone Ranger along Potash Road, so if you see the film keep a look out for it.
Dinosaur tracks in Moab:
To see the toe prints of the dinosaurs and more of the Indian Petroglyphs, follow this map and bring your binoculars! One of the few places you can likely see something like this, so don’t miss it!
Legends of Moab and the Fisher Towers:
Located 16 miles South of Moab, with a rather bumpy dirt road that approaches it, is the Fisher Towers. These sandstone giants (of up to 1,000 feet) each have different names, with the largest tower being called the Titan Tower, with the popular climbing route called Sundevil Chimney.
There is not just one tower, but several towers each with distinct names. One of the more famous towers, is the corkscrew tower (part of the Ancient Arts formation), due to its draw for Rock Climbers along the Stolen Chimney route.
These unique natural wonders are 245 MILLION years old! Named after a miner who lived in the area in the 1800’s. Would you rather have a natural wonder or a celestial star named after you? I like to imagine that he was a great cook of fish stew, told wicked campfire stories, and never gave up his dream of finding copper in those sandstone mountains.
Legends of Moab in the Miners Town
In the 1800’s there was a mining town near here. The Mining community consisted of only 75-80 families. The mining, tragically, didn’t last for very long and most of the families moved to other towns for better work. Some of the mines actually still survive today, although most are too dangerous to explore now.
Hiking in Zermatt is one of the greatest gifts you could give yourself. Take a journey with me through one of the most beautiful countries I have seen, in Zermatt Switzerland. Start your day off with a big breakfast and a heaping dose of patience with yourself. Zermatt Switzerland is 5,310 feet (1,620m) above sea level. At that altitude you will get winded no matter how ‘fit’ you are because the air will be thinner.
Altitude sickness has nothing to do with your gender or fitness level, but it can lead to severe health complications if it is not addressed properly. Please review symptoms of altitude sickness so if it begins to happen to you, you will be able to address it properly. So if you feel out of breath, take frequent breaks and give your body time to catch up to the oxygen requirements. If you are an asthmatic (like me), be sure to bring your inhalers 🙂
As I was only able to do 2 hikes while I was there, I felt these were the best ones for me due to the fact I was suffering from altitude sickness. (I almost ended up in the hospital because I did not give my body the time it needed).
Gorner Gorge Hike
My favorite hike was over to Gorner Gorge. This is a 15-minute walk from town along the gorgeous river walk along, go past the Forest Fun park and to a small cabin where you pay a fee to pass to Gorner gorge. (If you are a little more adventurous and avid hiker, I would also suggest hiking Jungfrau Mountain in nearby Bern. )
Make sure you bring cash with you, as they do not have credit card machines (or bathrooms) at the cabin.
After paying the fee at the cabin, you walk down a flight of stairs and are met with an intricately detailed rock formation. This rock wall mesmerized me into a trance of contemplation, reflection and pure wonderment of how nature can form something so beautiful. I was unaware that this small portion of this elevated footpath was just the beginning of a stunning journey through the beauty of nature.
If you have a fear of heights, this may not be the path for you as the footpath is made of wooden planks & posts bolted into the mountainside.
There are also two different ladders that are quite steep, those with bad knees or hips may not be able to climb these without some assistance (there are about 14 steps per ladder). Even if you are not able to make it up to the biggest of the waterfalls, just contemplating life as you watch the water flow down the twists and turns of this gorge will be worth the effort. My mind wandered frequently of how I would be able to get a Kayak down the canyon, and if I attempted it, what would be the statistical probability of my demise, lol.
The twists and turns appear as though the wind carved out the gorge like a knife through soft butter. Sharp angles along the narrow canyon reflected a serene blue of the water. A stream flowed beneath in a soothing Zen-like way. The gorge makes you wish you could hook up a tent on the side of the cliff face and spend the night there. Continuing along the path, I pondered how they were able to get the footpath posts into the walls. I found myself internally thanking the men and woman who made it possible to witness this natural wonder.
Waterfalls in Zermatt
I climbed the two ladders up to the higher viewpoint and continued to explore the cliffs and gulley’s surrounding me. The view of Zermatt from the top took my breath away completely. There was the waterfall and on the other side a stunning view of Zermatt Switzerland.
Beyond Gorner Gorge
There are other hiking options that could take an entire day for you to explore. To get to these other options, just continue up the stairs to the top of the gorge. I chose to just sit in the peacefulness of the mountain and enjoy the view.
Other options for hiking are listed on the sign below. Each hike is shown with their respective times and directions, which is easily found along the trail.
Before attempting to ski in a place like this, know that these slopes are steep with sheer and treacherous drop-offs. Many of the Olympic Ski Teams come to train before their Olympic Trials. Make sure that you are in tip top shape and able to deftly navigate while on your ski’s. Not being able to control your aim, speed or cutting would likely result in a tragic end. Even the locals have a deep respect for the Mountains that surround them, and all they offer and impose.
On the way there the air conditioning inside the plane stopped working, we ended up sweating off about 10 lbs on our way there in 96 degree weather. Luckily the flight from Salt Lake City to Grand Junction was a direct 1 hr 30 min flight. We arrived at the airport, and the walk from the gate to the rental car desk literally took about 7 minutes; yes, it was a very small airport.
There were about 4 different rental car companies available & all were located inside the airport. We then made our way to our hotel, Courtyard by Marriott in Grand Junction. This hotel was the best one in town (at least to me it was.) There are cheaper options like Motel 6 or Travel lodge, but you have to be careful in small towns – cleanliness isn’t always an international standard. If hotels aren’t your thing there are plenty of camping sites available as well.
The hotel was clean, and more importantly, air conditioned! I really appreciated that the hotel staff made the effort to keep the AC running in the room I was staying in, as many hotels in small towns tend to not do this to save on costs. There was a TV, shower, coffee, hairdryer, amazing bed and fluffy pillows, and all the other usual amenities at a higher end hotel you would expect. Breakfast was included in the cost of the hotel and it was actually VERY good.
There were plenty of options in the morning for everyone, including vegetarian and healthy options. They also have a bar on the main floor that typically opens around 5pm and has a variety of choices. Coming in that night, it was actually quite crowded, and seemed to be the meeting place for the business men coming into town (hubba hubba).
Take A Walk Down Main Street
After we checked in at the Hotel,we decided to stroll down Main Street. There were so many locally owned shops, which was SO NICE! I’m a huge supporter of Mom & Pop shops. There was one store, Willowcreek, that was my favorite. It is a tea shop that has a plethora of homemade teas! They also host a Tea Bar of sorts, where you can walk up and mix up your own concoction of tea to take home with you! How cool is that?!?! The shop smelled so good I could have stayed in there all day smelling things & drinking tea like the Scottish woman I am. After tickling the nostrils with the delightful smells, we continued wandering down the street with the most amazing art pieces greeting us every few yards.
I think all of the street art and the subsequent artistically inspired shops were the most surprising thing about Grand Junction. I have been through a lot of small towns in my life, I expected to see sagebrush blowing across empty roads. But the roads were far from empty, especially after the sun went down. Locals come out in force with the most unique bikes and their pets to enjoy the cool evenings and grab a late night treat.
With all the bike shops along main street and scattered throughout town, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the off-road bike this particular lady had. I talked to her for awhile about how she just took this bike up a mountainside during a big rainstorm and was able to slide all the way down the mountain without a problem. She described how she was covered in mud from head to toe and by the end of the trip both her & her husband looked as if they had been mud wrestling. She rides her contraption to work everyday and says she has actually put more miles on this bike than she has her own car! I feel like she would fit in really well in Amsterdam, lol. After any bike ride, there is nothing more perfect than GELATO! Make a stop at the classic ice cream shop, Gelato Junction. They pretty much make their own specialty ice cream right in the store. One of the most famous ice cream flavors in the whole town is right in this shop, called Palisade Peach. Why is this the most famous flavor? Because Palisade city is right around the corner, and in this ice cream you can actually see the small pieces of peach within the Gelato! I have one patient that told me he actually eats 3 boxes of Palisade peaches every 2 months during the summertime. Still not convinced it’s the best in town? Just ask the local wildlife, they go crazy for it 😉
Try out the Grand Junction Off-Road Racing! There are several different events to choose from all throughout the year. To see a full list of Racing and Biking tours check out Epic Rides.
Challenge your road biking abilities by biking the Colorado National Monument from one entrance to another.
There are also OHV, ATV or dirt bike trails readily available throughout the Grand Junction area. You have your choice of over 1.2 million acres to choose from surrounding Grand Junction, all of which are deemed Public Lands. For some really great summertime mountain biking, head over to the Powderhorn Mountain Resort; you will find plenty to choose from in the way of trails.
Grand Junction has 250 days of sunshine a year! That much sunshine could rival Las Vegas, which means that golfing is an integral part of the town. There are several different golf courses to choose from, and you can literally play year round.
Rockslide Restaurant & Brewery: This restaurant was opened by three friends in 1994 who wanted Grand Junction to experience the magic of a microbrewing company. This festive Restaurant has over 20 years of brewing experience, friendly staff, and is definitely the place to grab a drink after a stressful day at work or wind down after a great day of exploring nearby trails. Don’t forget to take a gander at their Happy Hour while your there. They host some of the best salads, burgers, pizza and of course brew in town 🙂 Check out their Menu to see if it can tickle your interest.
MX Resturante on Main Street (located on the Upper floor of the building) They have several options for all the picky palates out there. I ended up having 3 different tacos and chips and salsa with guacamole. My stomach is very finicky and I was nervous about eating here, but the Lime Shrimp taco & the Chicken tacos with pickled onions were to DIE for. MX Menu is varied and delicious with excellent service ta boot. If I still haven’t convinced you of the options available for your dining pleasure, take a look at this classic diner, Main Street Cafe! It was closed when we went by. It is located in down town Grand Junction, and looks absolutely ADORABLE!
Wine Country and Vineyards
Want to reward your taste buds with an excellent glass of local wine? Try these wineries out! In talking to several locals, it seems vineyards in the area are becoming ever more popular. If you cannot afford a tour of Napa Valley wines in California, this would be an excellent choice. St Kathryn Cellars:known for their lavender wine. Red Fox Winery: specializes in wines, ciders, and fruit wines — Bourbon Barrel Merlot Two Rivers Winery:Two Rivers Merlot Maison la Belle Vie Winery: Vin de Peche is the perfect Palisade dessert Hermosa Vineyards: Gewurztraminer, Reisling, and Cab Franc Rose.
Where to Watch & Listen
If you have a chance, travel along the riverfront in Grand Junction where they have recently built an Amphitheater, Las Colonias Amphitheater. Here, you will find some excellent booty shaking concerts in this former wrecking yard turned jam session arena. Residents here are quite happy about this amphitheater; they feel it is breathing life back into the city, allowing the culture to change for the better. So make sure to check out Las Colinas Amphitheater concert schedule prior to going, and check out this little piece of Grand Junction history while listening to some great tunes.
Where to Hike!
Because of my work responsibilities while in Grand Junction I was not able to grace the trails of Grand Junction. When I go back, I will definitely be trying some of these trails out, especially this one, the Rattlesnake Arch Trail. Here are the other top 10 rated trails in the Grand Junction area.
Moab is actually only a 1 hr and 15 min drive away from Grand Junction, so for a fun side trip, make sure you rent a car and extend the trip to visit Moab.
In the end, I have to admit that I was completely wrong about this place and cannot wait to go back. I never knew that so many wonderful adventures could exist in such a (comparatively) small town.
So if you like being outdoors, finding unique adventures, meeting new people, appreciate street art, statues and all around fun, make sure to visit Grand Junction Colorado. Like me, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much this city has to offer! I personally cannot wait to go back and explore.
The first time I decided to try and hike Zion National Park was with a friend from school. We were taking Organic Chemistry & just had to get away from the crazy studying that was required. We loaded up the car and headed down in June…..and it was a scorcher. I had to try twice to get all the way up to Angel’s Landing, but found plenty of alternatives to hike until I was ready to climb it all the way. So here are my tips on hiking in Zion National Park.
My First Attempt At Zion National Park
I was riddled with excitement to hike Angel’s Landing, felt like I would be part of the ‘in’ crowd & get to the top and take that one iconic picture that was all over Instagram. Well it was around noon, and it was so hot — I think it was around 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.8 C) that day. We ended up meeting these guys on the trail that were from Switzerland, as I was huffing and puffing, trying to keep up with everyone. My friend was so patient with me, and all I could think about were these self-deprecating thoughts swimming around in my head.
How I wasn’t good enough, how I was so fat that I couldn’t do what I loved and so on and so forth. Well I ended up getting really dizzy and my heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest, I was not sweating very much, and I didn’t even want to drink any of the warm water that we had brought along with us. I told my friend I wasn’t going to make it, she was so sweet and said she didn’t mind at all because she was getting really hot as well & glad I said something.
We ended up going to the Narrows, a wonderful hike up a riverbed, complete with swimming holes, beautiful scenery & MUCH cooler environment for me to adapt to. I was glad my friend was able to go on one hike that we both enjoyed. We ended up having a lot more fun on this hike than the other, only because it wasn’t miserably hot.
If you plan on visiting Zion’s National Park in June, July or even August you need to start this hike very very early in the morning. Get a Bandana wet so that you have something to keep yourself cool. Bring Gatorade or an electrolyte drink with you. There are several tourists every year that don’t prepare well for the hiking & heat, and end up getting hospitalized for heat exhaustion or heat stroke. There is always one tourist, or someone in a youth group we hear about, that dies from heat every year, so don’t let that be you or someone you care about. Come PREPARED! Don’t be afraid to turn around, your pride is not worth as much as your life.
That is the great thing about Zion, if one hike doesn’t work then you have plenty of options around for every type of traveler, physical condition, hiker preference etc…
There are shuttles that can take you to each trail head and each trail head is clearly marked. Those who are in wheelchairs or have bad knees can wander around the trail head, there are plenty of little trails everywhere for each level of physical health. Be sure to check out the opening hours and times of the shuttles should you need to use them.
In some areas you have to actually swim with your pack overhead to not get your camera wet. Make sure that you have a Protective Water Proof Case. I would also recommend a walking stick because this is a river bed that is very rocky. Bring water shoes, wear your swimming suit. You can turn around at any point on the trail, you can hike for one hour, 10 hours, 16 hours, or 1-2 days depending on your physical capabilities. Make sure you are properly prepared to Hike the Narrows if you decide to go, do not think you know more than mother nature.
When we left, we had some great memories, but I was still pretty bummed and embarrassed about having to turn around on the Angel’s Landing trail. So I made up my mind to not let the trail beat me, and I was determined to go back and tackle it one more time. I started to do some conditioning and training for hiking Angels Landing, which meant A LOT of STAIRS and a bunch of lunges & calf raises.
It was about 2 years later when I got the chance to tackle the trail again. I went alone this time and just knew that I was going to make it to the top, come hell or high water……or in this case snow.
It was October, and Utah weather is VERY unpredictable. There is actually a joke here, that if you don’t like the rainy weather, you just cross the street for sunshine.
The storm clouds were coming in, and I stopped at a little unique looking hotel called, Zion Lodge, on the way to Zions. This looks like a great place to stay (if you have the money). The weather didn’t look like it was going to dump any rain, maybe snow, but no lightning or thunder — so I ventured on. (Check out the Safety Tips on Hiking in a Storm) It was the off season, so I was able to drive right up to where the hike started pretty much and just took my keys, small backpack and some water and started up the trail.
I had my rucksack, my music, my two feet and a heart that knew I was going to conquer. I started on the trail, which was well marked and easy to follow (even for a directionally challenged person).
I was so proud of myself I made it to these switch backs, there were plenty of them to make the hike super doable.
Hiking tip: switchbacks often scary for new hikers, but they are actually a really good way to conserve your energy, so you don’t wear out before you get to the top. Switch backs prevent you from having to climb straight up with a rope.
For my climbing readers: If you want to climb up to Angel’s Landing, there are a few routes, but you have to have permits, are physically capable of doing it, and that the routes are open. There are about 8 different routes with various degrees of difficulty, but please note that these are typically Trad routes. If you don’t know what that means, then please don’t attempt it.
Once you get past the switchbacks, then you see your first ascent with the legendary chained path. Once you start up this path, especially during the high season, its basically the point of no return (you will see why later). Basically, they are there for you if you should slip, get dizzy from the altitude, or have a fear of heights.
Hiking tip: When hiking on steep surfaces where chains are available, a good rule of thumb is to always keep one hand on the chain at all times. Be patient with those in front of you (and sometimes those behind you). If the people behind you are getting pushy, I usually just try and fart or pretend like I farted & they back off rather quickly, lol — I know, I know – I have no shame, medical professional…. come on.
The path is pretty well worn, but the great thing about sandstone is that it doesn’t typically get slippery from all the foot traffic until it gets wet. So make sure you have good shoes to take with you. I like my Merrell hiking shoes because they have these magical rubber soles that stick to any kind of rock and I have never had a problem with them. If you have weak ankles, then I suggest High top’s on your hiking shoes for support. Once you get past the chains you come to this gut turning sight, a narrow path with sheer drop off’s on each side of the trail. This is why I told you, the prior chained area was a point of no return. At this point, I got a good song on, screamed along with the song inside my head, and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other while I white-knuckled the chain.
There is a reward at the end though….beautiful views with breathtakingly stunning 360 view of Zion’s National Park in all its glory! You can see why it is called Angel’s Landing once you stand in this place. I feel like I took 1,000 photos up here, for more of a reason than just to plaster them on Facebook or Instagram….it was a triumph of fear, self-doubt, and self-deprecating thoughts of my failed attempt at doing this so long ago.
Celebrate Your Victories, Learn From Defeat
I was a little reluctant to share this experience because I was worried people would judge me for finding this hike to be so challenging. I have been finding more and more that I am my own worst critic, and I think we all are. Why do we let ourselves be defeated by our own thoughts?
Why do we limit our experiences because we are afraid society might think, ‘oh she is so stupid for even attempting this at her [insert comment on physical shape or age]’? Who cares if you look the part of an experienced hiker? Who cares if you are huffing and puffing to the top! Are you taking the photos for your Instagram followers, for yourself, or your posterity? If you stuck with me to the end of this post, you are likely one of the few that take photos for your posterity, for your own memories, for your video or photo journal — as a consistent reminder to yourself that you CAN do it, and you can succeed at anything you LET yourself succeed at.
Celebrate your victories, learn from your defeats, but don’t ever give up….find your courage and say, “I WILL NOT LET YOU DEFEAT ME!” Even if we are saying that to our own critical selves. Thank you for taking this hike with me. Honor the best that is within you, make peace with the parts you have labeled as weaknesses, and never ever give up on yourself.
Where is your next hiking trip?
What is the hardest hiking trip you have ever done?