Swimming With Whale Sharks In Mexico (They’re HUGE!)

Whale Sharks in Mexico

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico

Isla Holbox, Mexico

Swimming with whale sharks is an underwater adventure I’ve wanted to try for years. I finally took the plunge, and swam alongside these gentle giants in Mexico!

I’ve swam with regular sharks before — the kind that occasionally dine on humans. But swimming with whale sharks is a totally different experience.

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean, growing up to 40 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. However you don’t have to worry about them eating you with their very tiny teeth.

Which is why you should try swimming with them in Mexico!

Isla Holbox Boat Trip

Sailing Around Isla Holbox

Whale Shark Snorkeling

Anna Snorkeling with a Whale Shark

Whale Sharks Won’t Eat You

Whale sharks are filter-feeders, sucking up microscopic plankton and baby fish with their giant mouths. This makes them similar to whales, although technically they are from the shark family.

They can’t eat humans — which is why swimming with them has become so popular in places like Mexico, the Philippines, and South Africa.

Whale sharks can live up to 70 years old. They move slow enough that we can keep up with them underwater, but barely. You have to swim really fast with fins to stay beside one.

The only real danger is swimming under one. After feeding they sometimes descend without warning… imagine being trapped under a sinking dump truck!

Whale Shark Boats

Tour Boats Waiting for Snorkeling

Sailing The Gulf Of Mexico

My girlfriend Anna (AnnaEverywhere.com) and I booked our whale shark tour with Willy’s Tours in Isla Holbox.

Setting off from the dock at 8am, we sped over the Gulf of Mexico for the next 2 hours. Stopping briefly for photos of a pod of playful dolphins!

The boat was covered, which was nice, because that tropical Mexican sun is hot! Eventually we saw other boats gathering in the distance… this was a good sign.

Whale Shark Tours

Swimming with Whale Sharks

Waiting Our Turn

Unfortunately there was only one whale shark that day. But that’s still better than none, which sometimes happens early or late in the season. So a group of 6 boats took turns sending customers into the water.

We sat on the edge with our snorkel gear on, waiting for the signal to jump in. Once you’re in the water, the goal is to kick hard and fast to keep up with the shark. Because if you hesitate, you might miss it.

They swim effortlessly, but are much faster than they look.

You aren’t allowed to touch the whale sharks because it stresses them out, and may cause them to dive deep, ending the experience for everyone. Only 2 people go into the water at a time, along with your guide.

Whale Sharks Underwater

Huge 30 Foot Whale Shark

Swimming With Whale Sharks

Swimming next to a 30 foot long sea creature, the size of a small bus, was a wild experience. It’s a bit intimidating to be honest… they’re huge! It looks like they could swallow you whole…

But the world’s largest fish won’t try to eat you.

It’s just slurping up tasty plankton and expelling excess seawater through its gills. The white-spotted shark kept her eye on us, but didn’t seem to mind our presence.

Normally whale sharks live much deeper in the ocean — only coming up to eat about 46 pounds of those microscopic organisms each day.

How an animal this big can live on something so small is a mystery to me…

Flamingos at Isla Holbox

A Flamboyance of Flamingos!

Sea Turtle Swimming

Snorkeling with Sea Turtles

Flamingos & Sea Turtles Too!

After swimming with the whale shark 3 times, for a few minutes each, it was time to leave it alone and motor off to the next part of the trip.

Our guide prepared fresh ceviche as we sped back to Holbox, on our way to a reef. There we snorkeled for about 30 minutes with sea turtles, manta rays, and a bunch of fish. Including a few barracudas!

We then sailed into a protected bird sanctuary to watch flamingos and other sea birds hanging out in the shallow water, before heading back to the dock.

Snorkeling with Whale Sharks

Great Day on the Water!

Sustainable Tourism

Is swimming with whale sharks ethical? Personally, I believe responsible and sustainable tourism can help these animals survive.

Sharks of all kinds are being wiped out by overfishing. But conservation & awareness projects to save them are often funded by tour permit fees. Without tours, these programs don’t get much funding.

Yet we also need to be careful, and not wreck the animal’s habitat due to unchecked tourism either. There’s no easy answer.

When To Visit

Whale Shark season on the Yucatan Peninsula is from June to September. This is when the sharks migrate to waters around Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy, and Isla Holbox to feed.

But the best months are July & August, when populations are highest.

Sunny days are better than cloudy days too, but not just because you’ll get better photos. The plankton whale sharks feed on only comes up to the surface when the sun is out, so if it’s cloudy, they stay below.

Holbox Dock

Boat Dock in Isla Holbox

Holbox Beach

White Sand Beaches in Holbox

Getting To Holbox

Most tourists base themselves in Cancun. However, if you have the time, I recommend visiting the beautiful sleepy island of Isla Holbox. Voted a top travel destination by the New York Times.

To get to Holbox, you take a ferry from the fishing town of Chiquila, which is a 2 hour drive from Cancun (3 hours from Playa del Carmen). A bus is also possible, but takes a lot longer with all the stops. Hiring a taxi/shuttle can cost $60 – $100+ USD.

Best Places To Stay

We based ourselves from Isla Holbox at hotel Cielito Lindo, 2 blocks from the beach. I enjoy using AirBnB, but there are great hotels and hostels on Holbox too. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels.

Budget

Los Arcos

Mid-Range

Cielito Lindo

Swimming with whale sharks in Mexico was a pretty unique experience, there are only a few places in the world where you can do this.

Witnessing these gentle giants up close really helps you appreciate how small humans are, and how diverse the ocean is. ★

Traveling To Mexico Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Watch Video: Swimming With Whale Sharks


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(Click to watch Swimming With Whale Sharks – Mexico on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Isla Holbox, Mexico
Total Cost: $1100 Pesos ($70 USD)
Official Website: Willy’s Tours Holbox
Useful Notes: The whale shark tour lasts from 8am – 3pm. Normal sunscreen isn’t allowed (to protect the sharks), so make sure to pack some natural stuff if you don’t want to get burned. The sea can be choppy, resulting in seasickness for some people.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Yucatan
Suggested Reading: The Maya: Ancient Peoples & Places

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico
Whale Shark Snorkeling

READ NEXT: Exploring Mexico’s Secret River

Have any questions about swimming with whale sharks in Mexico? Would you do it? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

The Unbelievable Pink Lakes Of Las Coloradas In Mexico

Las Coloradas Mexico

Pink Lakes of Las Coloradas

Las Coloradas, Mexico

Hidden away on the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a magical place full of color. These stunning cotton-candy pink lakes filled with salt are called Las Coloradas.

Las Coloradas means “the red” in Spanish. It’s the name of a tiny Mexican fishing village with a population of 1000. Nearby, a series of brightly colored pink lakes cover the landscape on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.

The region is part of the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, a protected wetlands area home to animals like flamingos, crocodiles, sea turtles, jaguars, and all kinds of sea birds. The reserve covers some 150,000 acres.

I rented a car and drove up from Playa del Carmen with my girlfriend Anna (AnnaEverywhere.com) to check out the biosphere reserve, but it’s these strange pink lakes that really steal the show!

Las Coloradas Water

Enjoying the Hot & Salty Water

Las Coloradas Drone Shot

Pink Lakes from the Sky

Mayan Salt Production

Fishing isn’t the only industry here, salt is big business in Las Coloradas. It has been for thousands of years, when the ancient Maya used this area to produce highly valuable salt. How do they do it?

Salty ocean water from the mangroves nearby floods onto hard flat salt plains, creating shallow lagoons. The sun then slowly evaporates this water, leaving fresh sea salt behind.

Salt was extremely important to the Maya for both nutritional needs as well as food preservation. It was mined here in the northern Yucatan then shipped by canoe to other parts of the Mayan empire.

Las Coloradas Salt Factory

Mountains of Salt

Las Coloradas Salt Production

Traditional Salt Production

Why Are The Lakes Pink?

While this “solar salt” production process is a natural one, the large pink lakes of Las Coloradas we see today were constructed by a company who produces salt on a much larger scale (500,000 tons per year).

The vibrant pink color of these lakes is due to red-colored algae, plankton, and brine shrimp that thrive in the salty environment. As the water evaporates, these organisms become more concentrated, glimmering pink in the bright Mexican sunlight.

Want to hear a cool fact? The reason flamingos are pink is because they eat these pink creatures. Normally their feathers are white, however they change color after eating this stuff!

You can often find pink flamingos hanging out in the pink lakes.

Las Coloradas Pink Lakes

Real Flamingos Live here Too

Las Coloradas Mexico

Floating in the Salty Water

Visiting Las Coloradas

The amazing pink lakes of Las Coloradas are located off the beaten track a bit. Getting here requires a 3 hour drive from Cancun or Playa del Carmen — 2 hours from Valladolid. So you can do it as a very long day trip, or even better, spend 2 days in the area as there’s plenty to do.

Las Coloradas (the village) has no real accommodation options, but they do have a restaurant. Most travelers stay in the nearby town of Rio Lagartos 30 minutes away. Popular mangrove and flamingo boat tours are based in Rio Lagartos, which usually stop at the pink lakes too.

There is a local bus from Cancun to Rio Lagartos, but because of different stops/changes it can take 7 hours. Renting a car like we did is much easier.

The pink water is incredibly salty, so while safe to get in, it can sting a bit — especially if you have cuts. However it’s more for the photo op than anything else, because the lakes are only about a foot deep!

Las Coloradas Mexico

Brilliant Pink Colors in the Sun

Mexico's Pink Lake

Swimming in the Pink Lake

Beautiful Mexican Beaches

The road to Las Coloradas stretches along the coastline, with a few places to turn off and explore the white-sand beaches, dunes, and brilliant turquoise water.

The beach is a favorite stop for sea turtles, so be careful where you step! The turtles bury their eggs on the beach at night.

Road tripping up to Las Coloradas is a wonderful way to spend a sunny day in Mexico. The pink lakes show off their best colors in the sunshine. Remember to pack plenty of water & sunscreen too.

Some of the roads are very narrow, so watch out for the large trucks making deliveries from the salt factory. They can hog the whole road. ★

Watch Video: Pink Lakes Of Las Coloradas

(Click to watch Las Coloradas Pink Lakes – Mexico on YouTube)

Amazing pink lakes of Las Coloradas in Mexico

READ NEXT: Driving The Scottish Highlands

Have you ever seen pink lakes like this before? Any favorite spots in Mexico? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Driving The Scottish Highlands: Mountains, Lochs, and Glens

Scotland Highlands

Highlands, Scotland

The Scottish Highlands are just as beautiful as you’ve imagined. An incredible road trip destination that features rocky peaks and sweeping glens shrouded in mist.

The Scottish Highlands have been on my bucket list for years. After recently returning from a wonderful 4 day journey through the region of Lochaber and the West Highlands, I wanted to share my favorite highlights and tips to help you plan your own adventure.

Why should you visit the Highlands of Scotland?

Well, if you’re a fan of hiking majestic mountain ranges, floating mist-covered lochs, or exploring ancient forests, then you’ll love the Highlands.

They provide intrepid travelers with fantastic travel photography opportunities and a hearty dose of Scottish charm.

The Scottish Highlands are a playground for hikers, bikers, kayakers, and anyone who loves outdoor adventures. The area of Lochaber around Fort William is considered the outdoor adventure capital of the United Kingdom!

Highland Cow Scotland

Scottish Highlands Mountain

Exploring The Scottish Highlands

My Scottish Highlands road trip began in Glasgow after taking the train from Edinburgh. Driving up to Fort William from Glasgow along route A82 on my way to the Isle of Skye in early July.

The landscape was exceptionally green after weeks of rain.

Weather in Scotland is often cold, windy, and rainy — however don’t let that dissuade you, these conditions also produce some very dramatic scenery.

There’s tumultuous history here too… dark tales of epic clan battles and murderous plots. Mythical legends of lake monsters, fairies, and goblins.

In the Highlands, you never know what hidden treasures you’ll uncover while venturing off into the Scottish countryside. I certainly found plenty! The landscape can be harsh and unforgiving, but totally worth a trip.

Route A82 Scotland

Drover's Inn Scotland

Loch Lomond

My first stop on the drive from Glasgow into the Highlands was the town of Balloch on the banks of Loch Lomond. The area is part of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

It was raining pretty heavily, so we didn’t stick around too long, but I did walk aboard the Maid Of The Loch, a fantastic 60 year old paddle steamship currently undergoing renovation.

Further up the road, make sure to pop into the 300 year old (and some say haunted) Drovers Inn for traditional Scottish food or a dram of whisky (unless you’re driving of course).

This quirky historic stone lodge sits directly in front of a steep mountain waterfall. Stepping inside the building feels like stepping back in time…

Glen Etive Scotland

Foxglove Flowers Highlands

Driving Glen Etive

A winding single track lane passing into the narrow valley of Glen Etive will have any driving enthusiast grinning from ear to ear. It’s a wonderful little side trip off the beaten track when driving through the Scottish Highlands.

You’ve probably already seen Glen Etive before, but didn’t know it. The landscape was a filming location for the popular James Bond movie “Skyfall”, where James takes his iconic Aston Martin DB5 out for a drive.

The icy cold Etive River passes beside the road, and for the more adventurous, it’s a great place to go cliff jumping. Hiking or kayaking (with your own gear) around Loch Etive at the end of the road is another option.

Wild camping is popular in the glen, but PLEASE remember to leave no trace. It would be a shame to ruin such a beautiful landscape with trash from disrespectful campers…

Hiking in the Highlands

Wire Bridge Highlands

Hiking The Highlands

If you’re a hiker, the Scottish Highlands have trails for all levels. Lochaber is home to Ben Nevis, the United Kingdom’s highest mountain at 4,416 feet (1,346 meters). Munro bagging is a popular activity — summiting mountains over 3,000 feet.

For those who enjoy long distance treks, the West Highland Way stretches some 96 miles through the best of the Highlands and takes most hikers 5-7 days. You can carry everything with you, or hire a company to transport the bulk of your gear to guesthouses ahead of your arrival.

Countless shorter day hikes can be found in the area too.

One of my favorites was Steall Falls and Nevis Gorge, where the trail follows a mountain river funneling into a narrow rocky gorge. It ends in a huge meadow, with Scotland’s 2nd highest waterfall dropping over 300 feet from the high mountains beyond.

Glencoe Mountains Scotland

Scottish Highlands House

Glen Coe

Widely considered one of the most beautiful areas of the United Kingdom, the spectacular valley of Glen Coe has a haunted past as the site of a 17th-century massacre which saw 38 members of the MacDonald Clan hunted to death in the snow.

Another 40 women & children died of exposure when their homes were burned to the ground.

Yet the landscape is equally as haunting as its past. Driving around the towering peaks of the “Three Sisters” under foreboding clouds & drizzling rain, you can feel the weight of sadness on this place.

Pull off on the side of the road for photos, or spend an afternoon hiking a few of the trails. Further on is the village of Glencoe, where you can find lodges, cafes, or restaurants to help break up the drive.

Train in Scottish Highlands

Hogwart's Express Scotland

Jacobite Steam Train

Remember the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter? Well, that train really exists! The Jacobite Steam Train has been called the most scenic train journey in the world, and for good reason.

Starting in Fort William, this 84 mile journey takes passengers deep into the Highlands, ending at the small fishing village of Mallaig. Along the way it travels across old stone bridges, through misty mountain passes, and past deep freshwater lochs.

Tickets sell out fast, but if you’re driving nearby, you should stop at the lookout over Glenfinnan Viaduct, where the train passes around 11am and 3pm for wonderful photo opportunities!

Loch Ness Scotland

Urquhart Castle Highlands

Monster Spotting At Loch Ness

Loch Ness is a deep, cold, and very murky lake in the heart of the Scottish Highlands near the town of Inverness. For years locals and tourists have reported witnessing a large unidentified creature with a long neck swimming through the water.

A popular activity is sailing across Loch Ness to the ancient ruins of Urquart Castle, searching for the Loch Ness Monster (aka Nessie) along the way. I hit up Loch Ness while driving back from Skye to catch a train to Glasgow at the end of my journey.

Some people believe Nessie is a plesiosaur, a dinosaur who’s survived to modern times by living isolated from the sea within the loch.

What do you think? Is the Loch Ness Monster real?

Mountain Biking Highlands

Mountain Biking Nevis Range

Under the shadow of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, lies the Nevis Range mountain bike trails. They have trails for all levels, from relaxing forrest routes to white-knuckle World Cup downhill tracks.

You can rent all sorts of different bikes and protective gear from £25 – £60 per day, and either cycle uphill through the cross country trails on your own, or ride the gondola lift up to the world-class downhill trails.

I spent the morning riding the “Witches Trails”, a fun mix of single track and wider trails that wind through the trees, with the occasional wooden boardwalk or ramp. A low mist had the forrest looking particularly eerie.

Scotland is home to quite a few professional mountain bikers, including Danny Macaskill, the star of an epic short YouTube film called “The Ridge” shot on the Isle of Skye. It will make your heart race!

Eilean Donan Castle Scotland

Episcopal Church Highlands

Ancient Castles & Cathedrals

It goes without saying that Scotland is overflowing with its share of magnificent castles. There are literally hundreds of them, both ruined and active residences.

Scotland’s castles were built as military fortifications, and there are plenty of epic battle stories or sensational legends to learn about once you visit them.

I had the chance to visit a few, like the incredibly picturesque Eilean Donan, the MacLeod family stronghold of Dunvegan in Skye, and the ruins of Urquhart Castle along Loch Ness.

If you’re a fan of old stone churches too, make sure to stop by Glenfinnan Church, St. Andrews, and St. Johns of Ballachulish as you drive through the Highlands.

Hotels in Scotland Highlands

The Old Pines Hotel

Best Places To Stay

The unofficial capital of the Highlands is the town of Fort William. During the summer high season, hotels and B&B’s can sell out fast so it’s very important to book your accommodation in advance!

We stayed at the beautiful Old Pines Hotel outside of Fort William in the village of Spean Bridge. But I’m a big fan of AirBnB too. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels.

Camping

Wild camping is allowed all over the Scottish Highlands, as long as you follow Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code. Remember to leave no trace! There are a few “bothys” too — wilderness cabins free for hikers to use.

Scottish Highlands Tips & Advice

Once you visit the Scottish Highlands, the area will remain etched in your memory long after you’ve returned home. Here are a few tips to consider before you arrive, to ensure you have a great trip.

Everyone thinks of Scotland and the UK as expensive places to visit. While that may have been the case a few years ago, right now the exchange rate is excellent if you’re American (thanks Brexit!).

Scotland is often wet. April – June are usually the driest and most sunny months of the year. But make sure to pack waterproof gear because weather can, and does, change very quickly year-round.

While the drive from Glasgow to Fort William only takes about 2.5 hours, you’ll want to set aside more time to explore the many hidden glens and fun hikes nearby! I’d recommend at least 3 days in the Highlands, if not more.

Don’t be afraid of the food! Yes it’s greasy, heavy, and often made of animal guts, but consider what they had to work with. I recommend trying some Haggis, Blood Sausage, and of course a Full Scottish Breakfast. ★

Watch Video: Scottish Highland Adventures

(Click to watch Highland Adventures – Scotland on YouTube)

READ NEXT: Isle Of Skye Road Trip

Have any questions about traveling in the Scottish Highlands? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

I’m Going To Afghanistan

Hiking in Afghanistan

I’m Going Trekking in Afghanistan

Afghanistan

After a year of extensive planning, I’m heading into the mountains of Afghanistan. And you can follow along.

I’m back from Afghanistan! Will be writing about my experience shortly… please subscribe for updates.

No, this isn’t a joke. And no, I haven’t lost my mind.

Do you have a travel bucket list? Yeah, so do I. A big one. And for the past 2 years, there’s been one country peering down at me from the very top.

Afghanistan.

Well I’m finally off to explore some incredibly remote & mountainous tribal areas of Afghanistan for the next few weeks. Hiking and camping through one of the most isolated locations on Earth.

Completely off the grid. No cell phone. No wifi.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it?

That’s because all most of us ever hear about Afghanistan is doom & gloom from the evening news. But there’s another side to the country, one that doesn’t get shared enough. A beautiful, hospitable, and adventurous side.

This is the Afghanistan I’m off to find, and report back on.

The other Afghanistan…

Are You Crazy?!

I’ve never been more excited to visit a new country then I am right now… but honestly I’m a bit nervous too. Even though I think I’m immune to sensational news coverage, and know that the area I’ll be traveling in is relatively safe — Afghanistan is still considered a war zone.

What you may not realize is that Afghanistan does get some tourism. Not very much, but people do travel there. And they come back with amazing stories about both the people and the landscapes.

I’ve hired a trustworthy local guide to help me navigate through the wilderness and communicate with the people I meet on this journey. I want to learn about their lives, their customs, their hardships, their joys.

And then share what I’ve learned with you.

Where In Afghanistan?

I’ve decided to keep my exact location in Afghanistan semi-private from the online world for safety sake. Not that I think I’m in any real danger where I’ll be, but it’s good to play it safe anyways — just in case.

There are no Taliban or ISIS in the immediate region I’m traveling in. However the Taliban has been moving closer, which is one of the reasons I decided to embark on this trip sooner rather than later. It very well might not be possible next year. I didn’t want to take that chance.

When I return in September, I promise to share everything with you.

Follow Along!

I’m carrying a Delorme InReach Explorer Satellite Communicator as I trek through the mountains of Afghanistan for the next few weeks.

This amazing technology helps keep me safe in case of an emergency, while also giving me the ability to share my adventure with you from one of the most remote locations on Earth!

I will be attempting to send text-message style satellite updates/stories to my Expert Vagabond Facebook Page on a regular basis.

So go check it out if want to see what I’m up to in Afghanistan.

There is a small chance the military will take away my GPS device, so don’t freak out if you don’t see any messages. I’ll just have to report back once I return from the trip.

Watch Video: I’m Going To Afghanistan…

(Click to watch I’m Going To Afghanistan on YouTube)

Blog comments are closed — but feel free to join the discussion on my Facebook Page!

Isle Of Skye Road Trip: Scotland’s Land Of Fairies

Isle of Skye Scotland

Isle of Skye Road Trip

Isle of Skye, Scotland

The Isle of Skye’s dramatic landscapes are some of the most scenic in Scotland. The best way to experience its epic mountains, waterfalls, and sea cliffs is on a road trip.

When most people think of visiting Scotland, Edinburgh and Loch Ness are the first spots that come to mind. While both are nice, I think a road trip up through the Highlands to the Isle of Skye is far better.

The scenery on Skye is rugged, breathtaking, and raw.

Free to explore at your own pace, you’ll be stopping around each bend of Skye’s notoriously narrow and winding country roads for one incredible photo opportunity after another!

I recently road-tripped around the Isle of Skye in Scotland to experience one of the United Kingdom’s most adventurous and scenic travel destinations for myself. It didn’t disappoint.

In this travel guide I’ll help you get the most from an Isle of Skye adventure.

Exploring The Isle Of Skye

If photography and exploring mountain landscapes is your thing, then you’ll love road tripping around the Isle of Skye. The area is steeped in myth and legend — a place where giants and fairies roam. Bloody clan battles were fought here, and ancient castles still stand.

You’ll feel like you’ve been transported into an epic fantasy novel.

The island is split up into a series of peninsulas. For the purposes of this guide, I’ll cover the Trotternish Peninsula in the East, the Waternish Peninsula to the West, and the Black Cuillin Hills region of the South.

Shimmering lochs (lakes) dominate the Waternish Peninsula, while jagged volcanic formations left over from landslides form the Trotternish Ridge. Wind-swept Red & Black Cuillin mountains rise to meet the clouds in the South.

Landscapes on Skye are some of the most impressive in all of Britain.

Isle of Skye Scotland

Sligachan Bridge

Planning Your Road Trip

How Long Does It Take?

You can drive around the island in half a day without stopping. But because there’s so much to see, I recommend spending at least 2 full days on the Isle of Skye. Plus you should schedule an additional half day to drive up from Fort William, and another half day to get back.

Combine your Skye road trip with a few days in the Highlands near Fort William, plus a full day in Edinburgh or Glasgow, and you’ve got yourself a wonderful week-long vacation in Scotland.

This is if you don’t plan on any really big hikes or other longer excursions.

When Should You Go?

You’re bound to get some rain whenever you go, but the best season for traveling to the Isle of Skye is summer. There’s a slightly better chance for dry weather between April and mid-June.

However summer is also high-season. The roads will be more crowded, and accommodation is more difficult to find.

Gas/Petrol

The island is small. You should be able to fit a 2 day road trip in on a single tank of gas starting from Fort William. However there are 4 different gas stations on the Isle of Skye just in case you need to fill up.

Food/Groceries

In the main towns you’ll find plenty of cozy pubs and cafes, with a few dedicated restaurants too. However most of the towns are spread out from each other. So make sure to stock up on sandwiches and snacks at a local grocery store each morning. Sausage rolls are a big deal in Scotland, and while not exactly healthy, they are perfect for road trips.

There is a wonderful pub & traditional Scottish restaurant at the Sligachan Hotel called Seumas Bar if you’re craving some neeps & tatties. Or my personal favorite, haggis! Mmmmm. Sheep guts…

Internet/Mobile Phone

Mobile internet on the Isle of Skye is pretty bad. In Broadford and Portree you’ll have 3G, but outside the major towns there’s a good chance you won’t have a signal at all. Vodafone and O2 seem to have the best coverage.

Isle of Skye Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle

Getting To Skye

The most common way to get to the Isle of Skye is to fly into Glasgow, rent a car, and drive up through the highlands from there. It takes 5-6 hours. I flew into Edinburgh, took a train to Glasgow, and then started driving. Fort William is a great place to stop for a night in the highlands to help break up the drive.

Mallaig Ferry

From Fort William, drive 1 hour West on route A830 to the small fishing town of Mallaig and catch the 30 minute long Skye Ferry to Armadale.

Skye Bridge

From Fort William, head North on routes A82 and A87 to the Skye Bridge, a trip that takes about 1.75 hours non-stop. But you will certainly want to stop with so much to see on the route. Like the incredible Eilean Donan Castle.

To mix it up a bit, I recommend trying them both. I started my road trip riding the Mallaig ferry over and finished it driving back on the Skye Bridge.

Car Rental

Cars are super reasonable, starting around $26 USD per day for an economy rental out of Glasgow Airport. The car we used for our Isle of Skye road trip was from Arnold Clark Rental.

Renting a car on the Isle of Skye itself is a bit more expensive with fewer choices, but possible through Skye Car Hire or HM Hire.

The big benefit to waiting to rent your car on Skye is that it allows you to take the famous Jacobite Steam Train (aka the Harry Potter train) from Fort William to Mallaig, voted the most scenic train ride in the world.

Isle of Skye Scotland

The Fairy Pools

Isle of Skye Scotland

Black Cuillin Moutnains

Southern Skye Highlights

Sligachan Bridge

Sligachan is a small village located at the base of the Black Cuillin mountains. It’s been a hub for climbers and travelers to Skye since 1830, forming a major crossroads to other parts of the island.

The old stone bridge at Sligachan is probably the most photographed spot on Skye. Legend has it the cold waters beneath the bridge grant eternal beauty to whoever dips their face in for 7 seconds…

Fairy Pools

The Fairy Pools are a long series of small waterfalls and beautiful crystal blue pools cascading down from the Black Cuillin range. Hiking from the car park takes 30-40 minutes depending on high up you decide to venture.

If you want to go for a swim, feel free to jump in! The icy cold water might just take your breath away — but so will the views.

Black Cuillins

A series of 36 imposing peaks huddled together at the southern end of Skye, the Black Cuillins have been a hiking and climbing mecca for 150 years. Dark rocky formations that seemingly rise straight out of the sea. A narrow 12km ridgeline scramble called the Black Cuillin Traverse can be tackled in 2 days with equipment.

We decided to take the Bella Jane Ferry from Elgol to the base of the mountains and spent a morning hiking around Loch Coruisk. When the weather is clear, you can hike to the summit of Sgurr na Stri for the best view in the United Kingdom.

Isle of Skye Scotland

The Quiraing

Isle of Skye Scotland

Old Man of Storr

Trotternish Highlights

Old Man Of Storr

You can’t visit the Isle of Skye without hiking up to the Old Man of Storr. Large pinnacles of rock that rise from the ground, this location has been used as a backdrop for many movies, including the sci-fi thriller Prometheus. Legends say the rocks are fingers of a dead giant.

A muddy trail leads up to the rocks and takes about 45 minutes (one way) from the parking area below. The Old Man is often covered in clouds, but it’s not too far from Portree, so you can always come back later in the day and try again when it’s clear.

The Quiraing

Definitely my favorite location on the Isle of Skye, the Quiraing is an other-worldly landscape where huge landslides have created a series of strange cliffs, jagged pinnacles, and plateaus. Trails criss-cross the area, and it’s a great spot for hiking.

A steep winding road leads up to the top of the plateau, with excellent views of the coast below. On a clear day, you’ll see the Islands of Raasay and Rona too. Take a stroll along the steep cliffs, but be careful, it’s a long way down!

Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls

Located off the A855 coastal road, there is a viewpoint on the edge of the cliffs here called Kilt Rock. The massive Kilt Rock Cliffs sort of resemble a Scottish kilt, hence the name. Mealt Falls is a long waterfall that cascades off the cliffs into the ocean below. You need to lean your head out to get a good photo (or bring a drone!).

Isle of Skye Scotland

Dunvegan Castle

Isle of Skye Scotland

Neist Point Lighthouse

Waternish Highlights

The Fairy Glen

A strange and magical place, the Fairy Glen is hidden away off the main road near the village of Uig. It’s a miniature green valley with odd, perfectly conical hills, gnarled dwarf forests and packs of grazing sheep. Whoever named this place couldn’t have picked a better one.

Hiking the maze of trails, you’ll find a new wonder around every bend. Like white stones arranged in concentric circles on the valley floor. A lone rock tower rises above it all, with excellent views of the enchanted landscape below. If fairies do exist, this is their kingdom for sure!

Neist Point Lighthouse

Located on the most Westerly point of Skye, Neist Point is a finger of land stretching out into the sea with a powerful 480,000 candlepower lighthouse on the tip. Massive cliffs ring the coast here, and it’s a wonderful photography spot, especially around sunset.

A walking path takes you all the way to the lighthouse if you want some exercise. It gets very windy on these cliffs, and there have been cases of tourists falling to their deaths. So be very careful near the edges.

Dunvegan Castle

A magnificent castle perched on the edge of a lock, Dunvegan has been the ancestral home to the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for over 800 years. Still owned by the MacLeods, it’s pretty cool that you can walk through their home, and it’s full of old heirlooms and paintings.

One of the treasures on display is the mystical Fairy Flag, a sacred banner with miraculous powers. Supposedly given to the clan by the queen of fairies, legend says when unfurled during battle, the MacLeods would always defeat their enemies.

Talisker Distillery

The Talisker Distillery has been on the island since 1831. Scotland is famous for its whisky around the world. The flavor of a whisky changes depending on where in Scotland it was distilled, and whiskies like Talisker brewed on the islands have a strong, peaty taste.

This is my personal favorite type of whisky, and it seems writer Robert Louis Stevenson agreed. In one of his poems, he says “The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Islay, or Glenlivet.”

Isle of Skye Scotland

Camping on the Isle of Skye

Accommodation

The Isle of Skye is a small island, so it doesn’t have a ton of accommodation options. During the summer high season, hotels and B&B’s can all be sold out. Skye is one travel destination where it’s very important to book your accommodation months in advance!

Hotels

Portree is the capital of Skye, and a perfect place to base yourself in the middle of the island. I stayed at a wonderful place called the Royal Hotel.

Bed & Breakfasts

If you prefer staying in B&B’s, there’s plenty of those too. here’s a list of great Bed & Breakfasts located around the Isle of Skye.

Backpacker Hostels

Portree SYHA
Broadford SYHA

Camping

Here is a good list of official campsites on the Isle of Skye. Wild camping is allowed, as long as you follow Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code. There are a few “bothys” too — wilderness cabins free for hikers to use.

We spent one night camping on the coast at Camas Malag, and another night at the Rubha Hunish bothy on the edge of a massive coastal cliff.

Isle of Skye Scotland

The Fairy Glen

Hiking & Cycling

Accompanying me on my road trip around the Isle of Skye was Scott from Wilderness Scotland. Working as a guide in the Highlands for years, he showed some of his favorite spots. If you’re looking for a bit of adventure during your trip, check out their Isle of Skye tours.

Hiking

Whether you’re into short walks or long-distance hikes, Skye has it all. The Skye Trail is a 128km route that covers incredible mountain & coastal scenery. It takes about 7 days to complete.

Cycling

Road cycling tours are very popular on Skye due to the island’s paved winding roads and amazing scenery. A support vehicle can take your gear to the next town where it’s waiting when you arrive to spend the night.

Waterfall Scotland

Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls

Isle Of Skye Driving Tips

Google driving times are not what they seem, due to all the scenic stops, it can take 2-3 times as long as you think. Remember to park frequently and explore areas on foot, you never know what you’ll find!

The weather changes quickly on the Isle of Skye. So just because the famous “Old Man Of Storr” happens to be covered in clouds at 9am doesn’t mean that will be the case an hour or two later.

For the same reason, it’s wise to keep some waterproof gear (jacket, pants) in a backpack with you at all times when you’re outside of the car.

The roads here are narrow, often without shoulders, and most backroads are single lane. If you’re not used to driving these, it can be nerve-wracking. We saw at least 2 rental cars off the road in a ditch.

The single lane tracks have special passing areas every 400 meters or so. Proper etiquette is the car closest to the turnoff pulls over and lets the oncoming vehicle(s) pass. ★

Watch Video: Scotland’s Isle Of Skye

(Click to watch The Land Of Fairies – Isle Of Skye on YouTube)

READ NEXT: Hanging From A Helicopter Over NYC

Have any questions about traveling the Isle of Skye? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Hanging Out Of A Helicopter Over Manhattan

Helicopter Flights NYC

Open Door Helicopter Flights in New York

New York, New York

One of the best ways to see New York City is by air, and this scenic helicopter flight company lets you dangle your feet over famous Manhattan landmarks for amazing photos!

I’m a complete helicopter fanatic. Sometimes I think if I hadn’t become a travel blogger, I’d have become a professional helicopter pilot by now.

Soaring free above the clouds, hovering only hundreds of feet over mountains or buildings, able to take off and land almost anywhere.

Helicopters are incredible machines. While expensive, I try to hitch a ride in one whenever I can for a truly unique photography experience.

Plus, helicopters are just so much damn fun!

FlyNYON Helicopter

Eurocopter TwinStar AS355

Manhattan Helicopter Flight

Flying Over Manhattan Skyline

Scenic NYC Helicopter Flight

After all the times I’ve visited New York City over the years, I’ve never taken a scenic helicopter flight over Manhattan. It was Instagram that finally convinced me to take the plunge and splurge on an aerial photography helicopter adventure.

I started seeing these crazy “shoe selfies” showing up in my feed on popular accounts. Photographers were taking photos of their shoes floating over the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, and Central Park.

A company called FlyNYON are the ones who make these epic Instagram shots possible with their crazy open-door scenic helicopter flights over some of Manhattan’s most famous landmarks.

Open Door Helicopter Tour

What a Crazy Helicopter Ride!

Shoe Selfie Photo

New York City Shoe Selfie!

Open-Door Photography Flight

Here’s the thing about aerial photography. For the best possible shots, you don’t want a window in front of your lens. So flying in a helicopter without doors is the perfect way to capture incredibly clear, crisp images from the air.

Anna and I began our adventure from Blade Lounge Heliport in midtown Manhattan, where the FlyNYON team briefed us on safety and asked where we wanted to go.

There were 4 of us going up, and we discussed which landmarks we should visit during our 15 minute helicopter flight. They also fitted us with full-body harnesses.

Flying a helicopter over New York without doors means you need to be strapped into a harness for safety. Your camera gear is also attached so it doesn’t fall on people below or get sucked up into the rotor.

You literally have your feet dangling outside the door on the skids!

Inside the Helicopter

Pilot Christi Rocking the Controls

Empire State Building

Empire State Building from the Sky

FlyNYON Helicopter Experience

Our badass pilot Christi brought us out to her sleek black Eurocopter TwinStar AS355 “Angry Bird” to be strapped in. Engines were powered up and off we flew into the sky!

We then soared past some of New York’s most iconic landmarks like Governor’s Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, Battery Park, One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, and Central Park.

Earlier, Christi was yanking on my photography gear, making sure nothing would come apart once we were flying. I thought she’d been a bit rough…

Until I actually felt the force of those blades whipping around directly over my head 1000 feet in the air. It was like a mini-tornado!

Helicopter Photo Tour

Difficult Tail Rotor Shot

Central Park NYC

Flying Over Central Park

Incredible Aerial Adventure

At first it’s a bit unnerving to be sitting on the edge of a chopper thousands of feet in the air. But you slowly get more comfortable as the flight goes on.

Eventually I trusted the harness enough to lean out and feel the power of the wind as adrenaline coursed through my veins, shooting photos of the helicopter’s tail rotter.

When the helicopter banks sideways in a turn, you’re looking straight down at the tops of New York City’s massive skyscrapers, the only thing keeping you from plummeting to your death is those straps!

If you find yourself in New York, and want to have the experience of a lifetime, make sure to book an epic open-door ariel photography helicopter flight with FlyNYON. You won’t regret it. ★

Watch Video: Helicopter Over New York City

(Click to watch Helicopter Over New York City on YouTube)

READ NEXT: How To Visit Cuba For Americans

Would you fly in a helicopter without doors like this? Afraid of heights? Let me know in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Horseback Riding & Tobacco Farms In Viñales

Vinales Cuba

Viñales, Cuba

Riding through endless fields of green tobacco and fertile red soil in Viñales, we passed local farmers harvesting the leaves that would become Cuba’s world famous cigars.

Viñales is a small town located on the Western tip of Cuba. Set in a beautiful lush valley with funky looking hills and limestone caves, people have been growing tobacco in the area for over 200 years.

In Havana we hired Jose and his sweet red 1957 Ford Victoria to drive the four of us 3 hours out to Viñales, passing only a handful of other classic cars and a bunch of horse-drawn carriages on Cuba’s poorly maintained highways.

Vinales National Park

Vinales Cars

Welcome To Viñales

Viñales feels stuck in time. The main street is lined with small single story wooden homes with faded paint. Locals pass by riding old bicycles, horses, or driving colorful vintage American cars.

While there are some hotels in town, most travelers stay with locals in casas particulares, which are like guest bedrooms in other people’s homes.

Our host was Lay, a welcoming lady who turned her home into a guesthouse with two double rooms. This is how many Cubans make extra income beyond their communist government regulated salary of about $30 USD per month.

The town has plenty of small restaurants and bars with live music, but it doesn’t feel overcrowded. In fact, Viñales is rumored to be Fidel Castro’s favorite part of Cuba!

Horseback Riding Vinales Cuba

Vinales Cigars

Viñales National Park

Viñales Valley was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 due to its dramatic landscape of karst limestone domes called mogotes, traditional agricultural methods of farming, and rich cultural history.

The valley was formed underwater, rising from the sea millions of years ago. Ancient ocean fossils can still be found in the caves that dot the landscape.

The New York Times called Viñales one of the top places to visit in 2016.

But aside from being a beautiful travel destination, Viñales is known for the quality of its tobacco. I’m not a “smoker” per se, but I do enjoy the occasional cigar at the end of a big trek or for special occasions.

So I was excited to learn how Cuba’s world-famous cigars are actually made.

Tobacco Farm Cuba

Vinales Livestock

Home Of Cuban Cigars

Why are Cuban cigars so special? Well, many people believe Cuba is the birthplace of cigars. Christopher Columbus encountered native Cubans smoking cylindrical bundles of twisted tobacco leaves in 1492.

The practice was eventually exported to Europe, and by the 19th century, smoking cigars became a popular pastime for wealthy men — who formed special cigar clubs called divans.

Cuba’s time-honored tobacco growing and production techniques were exported to places like the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Then came the United States trade embargo, making Cuban cigars illegal — and increasing their value even more.

The fertile land and favorable climate of Viñales make for perfect cigar tobacco growing conditions. Most residents here are in the tobacco farming business.

Farmhouse in Vinales

Vinales Tobacco Farm Tour

Tobacco Farm Experience

We hired a guide and some horses to take a tour of Viñales National Park, learning about the traditional techniques used here for hundreds of years. No machines are used, which means crops are picked by hand and fields are plowed with oxen.

Passing through farms with pigs, chickens, and turkeys, we rode along green tobacco fields where local workers were harvesting the last of the season’s prized leaves. Tobacco grows fast, ready for harvest after 2-3 months.

The leaves are then hung in special curing barns, where they dry for about a month, turning a toasty brown color. The Cuban government buys 90% of the tobacco, while locals are allowed to keep 10% for themselves.

To prepare Cuban cigars, the center vein of the leaf is removed, where 98% of the nicotine resides. Next, leaves are sprayed with a special mixture of ingredients like pineapple, lemon, honey, cinnamon, vanilla, and rum for the fermentation process.

Three different types of leaves are used to roll the final cigar — filler (inside), binder (holding it together), and the wrapper (visually appealing outer layer).

Tobacco Barn Cuba

Vinales Cuba Cowboys

Adventures In Viñales

Visiting tobacco farms isn’t the only thing to do in Viñales though. As part of the farm tour, we also explored one of the many limestone caves in the area. Rock climbing these unique limestone formations is a popular activity too.

Aside from guided horseback riding, you can also rent a bicycle, ATV, or motorcycle and explore the valley on your own. There’s a popular cave called Cueva del Indio where you can ride a boat on the underground river that flows through the cave.

We heard stories about a nice little beach about an hour North of Viñales called Cayo Jutías, but didn’t have time to visit.

Vinales Ox Cart

Tips For Visiting

Viñales is located about 3-4 hours West of Havana. There are regular Viazul Busses that run twice a day for about $15 USD per person. But you often need to buy your ticket a day in advance.

Or you can do what we did, and rent a vintage taxi with room for 4 people for about $60-$70 depending on your bargaining skills.

While walking the outskirts of Viñales, you might be waved over to learn about the cigar making process at some random farm. It’s a fun experience, just understand that at the end your host will ask you to buy a bundle of 15-20 cigars for about $1 each.

Cuban cigars can cost $10-$20 each in the USA… so it’s a pretty good deal!

“If I cannot smoke in heaven, then I shall not go.” ~ Mark Twain

Watch Video: Viñales Farm Adventure

(Click to watch Viñales Farm Adventure – Cuba on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Viñales, Cuba
Accommodation: Casa Lay (email: layvinales@nauta.cu)
Horseback Farm Tour: 35 CUC ($35 USD)
Useful Notes: Our tobacco farm tour was done on horseback, but they also have ox carts or bikes available. It lasts about 4 hours, with an option for a short cave excursion for a few CUC more. In addition to cigars, you can also purchase cuban coffee at the end.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Cuba
Suggested Reading: The Other Side Of Paradise

READ NEXT: How To Visit Cuba For Americans

Are you planning to visit Cuba? Have you ever smoked a cigar?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Lofoten Islands Photography: Arctic Winter Wonderland

Lofoten Islands Photography

Lofoten, Norway

Norway’s remote Lofoten Islands provide the perfect setting for incredible photography opportunities, with soft winter light and majestic mountain landscapes rising from the sea.

The Lofoten Islands are located above the arctic circle in Northwest Norway. Made up of deep fjords, craggy peaks, sandy beaches, and cute red fishing cabins, the islands are a wonderful location for landscape photography.

Especially in February, with the pleasing effects of low winter light.

I rented a car and spent 10 days driving around the Lofoten Islands with my camera, hunting the Northern lights, tracking down hidden beaches, and hiking through deep snow to capture inspiring images of this amazing section of Norwegian wilderness.

With very little daylight and seemingly endless sunrises & sunsets, winter in Lofoten is the perfect time to visit for photography. Frequent aurora sightings and white snow-capped peaks are just icing on the cake.

Below you’ll find travel photography from my adventures in Norway’s Lofoten Islands, along with a short video I produced along the way.

I hope my Lofoten Island photography inspires you to visit for yourself!

Hamnoy Lofoten Islands

Hamnøy Island

This is probably the most iconic photography location in Lofoten. Hamnoy is a small island and village near the spectacular fjord of Reinefjord, just outside the town of Reine. Red wooden cabins hug a rocky coastline, with huge mountains rising from the background. I actually stayed in these cabins too! They are called Eliassen Rorbuer. This shot was taken from a nearby bridge after a fresh layer of morning snow covered the landscape.

Lofoten Islands Nusfjord

Lofoten Road Trip

The Lofoten Islands are connected by a series of bridges and tunnels along a main road called the E10. Splintering off it are many side roads for you to explore. Like this one, Route FV807, which winds through an impressive mountain pass on the way to the fishing village of Nusfjord. Winter driving in Lofoten can be tricky, with snowy roads and quickly changing weather conditions. All rental cars come equipped with studded snow tires.

Lofoten Northern Lights

Northern Lights

One of the biggest reasons to visit Lofoten in the winter for photography is the magical northern lights which occur between September – March. With its extreme northern latitude and long nights, conditions are good for nature’s amazing light show. However catching a glimpse of the lights is not certain. Clear skies and strong aurora activity are needed. I lucked out with two decent nights of northern lights while traveling around Lofoten.

Lofoten Islands Fishing

Norwegian Fishing Boats

Fishing has been a fixture in the Lofoten Islands for over 1000 years. The unusually warm waters lure millions of arctic cod to spawn here between February – April. Most of the population is involved in the cod fishing business in some capacity. Every morning I watched fishing boats heading out to work, or men hanging the “stockfish” on wooden racks to dry in the open air.

Lofoten Islands Sakrisoy

Sakrisoy Rorbuer

More renovated fishing cabins in Lofoten that you can stay in, these yellow wooden buildings are part of Sakrisoy Rorbuer. I was shocked at just how many of these landscapes look fake, like they were created specifically for perfect postcard photos. Here the snowy Lofotenveggen Mountains tower behind the small yellow cabins, a shallow crystal blue bay in front. It’s a colorful mosaic which continually changes with the passing of the seasons.

Lofoten Islands Rambergstranda

Rambergstranda Beach

The rusty red color is achieved with paint mixed with cod liver oil. Plenty of that around these parts! When it’s not so snowbound, this is a landscape of waving grass and sky-blue water, and temperatures hit 20 degrees C, but on days like this, everything’s locked down with the cold and if you’re taking photos, you’d better have your gloves handy.

Lofoten Islands Surfing

Arctic Surfing Unstad

Because it’s on the Gulf Stream, Lofoten’s climate is relatively mild despite its latitude above the Arctic Circle, plus the insulating properties of modern wetsuits are astonishing. (If you’re in the water and you’re feeling cold, you’re doing it wrong.) These waters attract surfers of all skill levels from around the globe – and I decided to jump in and give it a try with the guys at Unstad Arctic Surfing. What a crazy experience!

Lofoten Islands Mountains

Lofoten Mountains

Stand on the beach anywhere in the Lofoten Islands, and most of the landscape towers above you, up to a thousand meters above sea level. Inhabitable land is the exception, not the rule – and only possible on infrequent strips of terrain between the sea and the colossal mountains that form the bulk of the island chain. In places, the mountains rise near-vertically from the sea. It’s a stunning backdrop for everything you do there.

Lofoten Islands Photography

Hiking Kvalvika Beach

This beach, in a remote corner of Moskenesøya, is only accessible on foot – park your car, take the easy trail over a nearby pass between the mountains, and after an hour you’re in one of the most beautiful places in the whole archipelago. During warmer months, Kvalvika Beach a great place to camp, complete with driftwood and a mountain stream – but even when the snow lays thick, it’s well worth a visit. Just expect the hike to take a bit longer.

Lofoten Village

Å, Norway

No, it’s not a misprint – it’s a one-letter word pronounced “Aw” that in Old Norse means “small river.” This tiny but popular village is at the southern tip of the Lofoten peninsula, and people come from miles around to have their photo taken next to the town sign – and, occasionally, to steal the sign, a constant irritation for the town’s 150 residents.

Lofoten Islands Hiking

Ryten Mountain Lookout

It may look forbidding, but Ryten (543m) is a surprisingly easy mountain to climb, thanks to low, steadily rising slopes – just give yourself three or four hours to do it. And if you’re visiting Lofoten, you absolutely should do it. The view from Ryten is unparalleled, giving you a view of Kvalvika Beach and the surrounding mountains that will punch the breath right out of you. More care must be taken in the winter when crampons & ice axe are recommended.

Lofoten Islands Sunsets

Endless Sunsets

Lofoten is north of the Arctic Circle – and that means a lot of things. It means the Polar Night, where the sun spends a full day below the horizon. It means the Midnight Sun, where the sun stays up for more than 24 hours. It means spectacular variation in day length, contracting or lengthening an hour every week between these two extremes. And best of all, it means incredible sunrises and sunsets that last for hours (yes, hours), turning the land and sea every color imaginable. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Stockfish Lofoten

Lofoten Stockfish

The tradition of drying unsalted fish (mainly cod) on huge wooden racks goes back at least a thousand years, and it’s still a big part of the Lofoten economy – and a spectacular sight, when the racks are full. If you want to understand the history of this ancient practice, head to Å’s comprehensive stockfish museum. Depending on how fresh the fish are, you may be in for a smelly surprise if you get to close to them!

Lofoten Islands Bridge

Fredvang Bridges

Opened in 1988, these sinuous structures connect the fishing village of Fredvang with its craggy neighbor, Flakstadøya by road. They perfectly match the curves of the surrounding lowland islands – and the effect is a little eerie, as if you’re getting a peek at what’s underneath all the islands if you stripped all the rock and earth away. Driving across is fun, there are pull-overs every few hundred meters because the bridges aren’t wide enough for two lanes.

Winter Fishing Huts

Rorbuer Cabins

The signature architecture of the Lofoten islands, rorbuer (singular rorbu) are well-suited to their environment. These tough wooden huts were originally built to protect fishermen as they assembled the year’s stockfish catch. These days, many have been converted (or rebuilt from scratch) into beautiful, primary-colored tourist accommodation – they can be a bit pricey, so it pays to do your homework about what’s available.

Lofoten Islands Photography

If you are looking for spectacular nature, deep silence, northern lights, diverse adventures, wild weather, breathtaking sea and mountain views, you can’t do much better than visiting Norway’s Lofoten Islands in the winter to capture some amazing travel photography. ★

Watch Video: Lofoten Islands Road Trip

(Click to watch Lofoten Islands Road Trip – Norway on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Lofoten, Norway [Map] Useful Notes: Lofoten Islands photography is particularly good in the winter from January to March due to the low, soft colorful light. However the main tourist season is in the summer. Renting a car is the best way to get around the islands.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Norway
Suggested Reading: Lofoten Islands Photography Guides

READ NEXT: How To Travel To Cuba

Have you ever heard of the Lofoten Islands before?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Climbing The Ancient Mayan Ruins Of Coba

Coba Ruins Mexico

Coba, Mexico

From the top of Coba’s ancient pyramid, the jungle looks like a living green carpet. The Mayan Ruins of Coba are one of my favorite archaeological sites in Mexico’s Yucatan.

Archaeologists believe the Mayan ruins of Coba were an incredibly important city for the Maya people. However due to its remote location, the site is not as popular with tourists as other ruins in Mexico.

But there are many reasons to visit the city of white roads.

Because Coba doesn’t see as much tourism as places like Chichen Itza or Tulum, so you can actually still climb some of the structures for a totally different and unique perspective.

Coba Ruins Church

Coba Ruins Bike

Coba Ruins Trees

Exploring Mayan Ruins Of Coba

Coba’s claim to fame is the largest network of stone causeways in the ancient Mayan world, called sacbes (white roads). Over 50 of these roads have been discovered at the site, with 16 of them open to the public.

The raised stone pathways connect clusters of residential areas to the main pyramid area of Nohoch Mul and small lakes used as a water supply nearby. There are three ways to explore the ruins along these roads.

You can walk, hire a bici taxi, or my personal favorite, rent a bicycle.

Mysteriously no one really knows how the Maya transported goods along these roads. While scientists believe the Maya knew about the existence of the wheel, there’s no evidence they actually used them.

One of my favorite reasons to visit Coba is that it isn’t as excavated as other sites, so you feel like you’re wandering through a forest, with many structures still covered in trees.

Nohoch Mul Coba

Coba Ruins Pyramid

Coba Ruins Pyramid

Climbing The Pyramid

The largest pyramid at Coba is called Ixmoja, part of the Nohoch Mul group of buildings. The pyramid is 42 meters (138 feet) tall and was the heart of the city. Unlike other Maya sites, you can still climb this one, if you dare!

The 120 stone steps are much steeper than they look…

This is why there’s a thick rope in the middle for safety. But the view from the top is totally worth the climb. A light breeze cools you off from the summit while gazing at the lush jungle landscape stretching out in all directions.

Plus, there aren’t many places where you can climb a Mayan pyramid anymore. As a site gets more popular and tourism increases, authorities eventually restrict climbing to preserve structures and reduce accidents.

Be careful climbing down the pyramid, it’s more difficult than going up!

Coba Structures Mexico

Coba Trails

Painting Complex Coba

History Of Coba

Coba is estimated to have had a population of over 50,000 at its peak. There are many tall stone carved monuments at the complex, called stelae. Some stelae here depict women, suggesting the city had many female rulers.

There are two well-preserved ball courts on the site too, used for playing ōllamaliztli, a traditional Mayan ballgame.

Specific rules differ depending on the time period, but basically players attempted to bounce a heavy rubber ball through stone rings using their hips.

Sometimes the captain of the losing team was ritually sacrificed.

The Mayan City of Coba was first inhabited around 100 AD and was eventually abandoned when the Spanish conquered the peninsula around 1550 AD. However the city was once the most powerful in the region, controlling farmland, trading routes, and important water sources.

Coba Cenote Mexico

Coba Cenote Swimming

Swimming In Cenotes

Speaking of water sources, no visit to Coba would be complete without taking a dip in the refreshing limestone cenotes nearby. Cenotes are underground sinkholes filled with fresh water, found all over the Yucatan.

There are 3 cenotes just a 10 minute drive away from the ruins.

Cenote Choo-Ha is a shallow water cenote with crystal blue water and many stalagmites hanging from the ceiling. My personal favorite of the three.

Cenote Tamcach-Ha is a deep underground cavern with two fun jumping platforms at 5 & 10 meters (15 & 30 feet) high. Cenote Multun-Ha is a bit further away in the jungle and boasts a large wooden deck.

The entrance fee for each cenote is 55 pesos ($3 USD). They are a wonderful way to cool off after a hot day exploring the Mayan ruins of Coba!

Motorcycle Road Trip Coba

Motorcycle Road Trip Coba

Tips For Visiting Coba

The ruins of Coba are about 44 kilometers (28 miles) from Tulum, or 109 kilometers (68 miles) from Playa del Carmen. For the budget minded, you can get to the site via ADO Bus from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum. Colectivos (public taxi vans) are also an option, however you’ll have to change vans in Tulum.

Renting a car is the most flexible and allows you to visit cenotes.

Or, if you’re a fan of motorcycles, you can rent a Harley Davidson in Playa del Carmen like I did with my friends Evelina from Earth Wanderess & Jeremy from The World Or Bust. The road is an easy and smooth ride.

At the ruins you can hire a guide to explain the history, or just wander on your own. Renting an old bicycle for 45 pesos and riding around enables you to see the most in the shortest period of time.

Whatever you decide, remember to bring sunscreen & water because it can get hot! Plus sturdy shoes if you plan to climb the main pyramid. ★

Traveling To Mexico Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Watch Video: Mayan Ruins Of Coba

(Click to watch Mayan Ruins Of Coba – Mexico on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Coba, Mexico
Total Cost: 65 pesos ($4 USD) entry fee
Motorcycle Rental: Harley Adventures
Useful Notes: It gets hot during the day at Coba, so visiting early morning or late afternoon is best. Less people too. You can explore on foot but I highly recommend renting a bicycle. The complex is very large!
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Yucatan
Suggested Reading: The Maya: Ancient Peoples & Places

READ NEXT: Things To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Have any questions about the Mayan ruins of Coba? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail: PART 4

Arctic Circle Trail Hiking

Sisimiut, Greenland

Carefully trying to pick my way across a marsh, I sink into a deep pocket of mud up to my shins. This wet terrain is a regular hazard on the Arctic Circle Trail.

DAY 9: Innajuattoq to Nerumaq

Hiking Distance 18 km (11 miles) | 7 hours

The Greenlandic morning is dark & wet with heavy fog at 8am when I begin packing my gear for the next leg of the Arctic Circle Trail. Luckily most of the day will be hiking downhill out of the mountains.

Stuffing dry kindling from my failed fire attempt under a rock for the next hiker to use, I gradually make my way into a valley lined with small lakes and cotton grass blowing in the wind.

Eventually the fog clears and I spot reindeer grazing in the hills beside me. Then another arctic hare. There are so many wild animals roaming Greenland!

Nerumaq hut is not far away, and I stop to take a short nap due to lack of sleep the night before. Today will be a long day on the trail and I’ll need all the energy I can get.

Moving quite fast now, at this pace I should finish by tomorrow evening. My backpack is exponentially lighter having eaten most of the food I began with.

Arctic Circle Trail Landscape

Arctic Circle Trail Trees

Willow Tree Forest

The Arctic Circle Trail threads through a patch of dwarf willow trees, the tallest are only about 6 feet high. It’s the largest forest I’ve seen since arriving in Greenland last week. Trees don’t grow well in the arctic tundra.

More and more rivers snake their way down from the mountains across my path, some with small waterfalls. Most are easily crossed by rock-hopping.

The trail becomes wet & swampy again. The weather worsens.

In fact now it’s raining. I still haven’t found the next hut. Fog moves in and the sky darkens. While I’d love a dry place to sleep tonight, it looks like I’ll have to pitch camp in the rain.

I curl into my sleeping bag and snack on dried fish — washing it down with the last of my potent Greenlandic schnapps in an attempt to stay warm.

Arctic Circle Trail Hike

Arctic Circle Trail Cabin

Arctic Circle Trail Sled

DAY 10: Kangerluarsuk Tulleq to Sisimiut

Hiking Distance 22 km (14 miles) | 8 hours

The next morning I prepare for what will hopefully be the final day of trekking. Right away my feet are sucked deep into bog mud, up to my shins. Not a good way to start!

Climbing a hill I soon discover the Tulleq hut I’d been searching for the night before. Ahhhhh! Only 10 more minutes and I would have enjoyed a solid roof over my head.

The trail rises back into the mountains through a high rocky valley, with views of snow covered peaks on either side. I find the remains of dog sledding equipment scattered about.

Hiking through boulder fields alongside a small river, crossing it a few times before coming to a wide open valley called Nasaasaaq. Jagged mountains can been seen in the distance.

Nasaasaaq Arctic Circle Trail

Arctic Circle Trail Musk Ox

Musk Ox Surprise

Trekking down into this beautiful valley, I spy something large, shaggy, and brown moving across the trail. It’s a musk ox!

The musk ox is Greenland’s largest land mammal weighing up to 400 kilos (880 lbs). These huge shaggy creatures are related to goats, but look more like buffalo to me.

I watched a group of them from a distance earlier that week, but this bull was only 50 yards away — blocking the path ahead. The Greenlandic name for them, Umimmak, means “the long-bearded one”.

Musk oxen are an important source of meat and wool for native Greenlanders. You have to be careful not to get too close or they can charge.

Eventually this one smelled me & ran up a mountain. I don’t blame it.

After passing an out-of-place ski lift, I round a corner to find the Arctic Ocean. Perched on the edge is the colorful fishing town of Sisimiut.

Sisimiut Sled Dogs

Sisimiut Greenland

Fishing Boats

Fishing Town Of Sisimiut

Success! I made it! I hike into town past hundreds of barking sled dogs feeling on top of the world. My feet ache. My body is exhausted. Yet I can’t stop smiling.

Trekking for 10 days across the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland’s wilderness was a rewarding adventure travel experience.

I’d lived off the land eating berries & mushrooms, saw all kinds of cool wildlife, camped under the stars, and spent time alone with my thoughts surrounded by nature. It was my personal version of into the wild.

To celebrate the end of my long journey I checked into a fancy hotel, boots still caked in mud. Jumping into a hot shower for 20 minutes with a cold beer. Followed by a delicious musk ox steak dinner with Greenlandic coffee.

Damn it felt good to be back in civilization!

The next 4 days were spent walking around Sisimiut, hanging out with other hikers & a group of theater actors from Norway & Denmark. We danced to Greenlandic hip hop & learned about Inuit culture.

Hiking the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland and reconnecting with nature in the wilderness has been the highlight of my travel year so far. ★

Watch Video: Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail

(Click to watch Hiking the Arctic Circle Trail – Greenland on YouTube)

READ NEXT: Complete Travel Gear Guide

Have you ever wanted to travel to Greenland?