21 November 2014

Semuc Champey, Guatemala - #AtoZtravel

Semuc Champey - one of the most peaceful and naturally beautiful spots in this dear world that I've seen with my own eyes...

Where and what is Semuc Champey?
Semuc Champey is a natural 300 metre limestone bridge that crosses a series of stepped pools and waterfalls close to the Maya town Lanquín in Central East Guatemala. In the Maya language Semuc Champey means 'sacred water', a name which it most definitely lives up to!

On top of the bridge is a series of stepped, turquoise pools - which are a favourite swimming spot for those in the know.

view of Semuc Champey, Guatemala from above
view of Semuc Champey, Guatemala from above - 2009

How do you get to Semuc Champey?
Ahhh... I'm glad you asked, because if you want to see this gorgeous wonder and bathe within the liquid turquoise you need to have time and be determined! Semuc Champey is also famous for being notoriously hard to get to.

I visited this amazing spot back in 2009 during my back packing adventure in Central America, and at that time the only way to get there was by hitching a ride in the back of a pickup truck from Lanquín. Hubby and I negotiated our price and climbed aboard for what was one of the bumpiest rides I have experienced - 1.5 hours on a non-sealed road full of pot holes. We held on for dear life.

the local town in Semuc Champey (from the back of a pickup truck)
the local town in Semuc Champey (from the back of a pickup truck)

Where do you stay in Semuc Champey?
We stayed in Hostal El Portal de Champey, which was the only accommodation at the time when we were visiting. However it was lush - imagine lots of small, private bungalows dotted all over a some rolling hills, alongside a river. We hired a bungalow, complete with hammock and cat (a added bonus we later discovered) for a few days and relaxed...

our bungalow in Semuc Champey, Guatemala
our bungalow in Semuc Champey, Guatemala

local cat that would leap into my lap whenever I was in the hammock :)
local cat that would leap into my lap whenever I was in the hammock :)

Why is Semuc Champey so amazing?
Firstly the isolation - there's no tour buses, gift shop, restaurant or cafe. Just a single man selling tickets. On our first day at Semuc Champey we checked the tatty, ancient-looking visitors book to see that only two other people had been there that day, and twelve the day before.

swimming at Semuc Champey, Guatemala - 2009
swimming at Semuc Champey, Guatemala - 2009 

Secondly the swimming and nature. It's very rare to be somewhere so beautiful that's not teaming with noisy tourists, and be able to soak up the beauty alone. For half a day it was just us and two others - and the schools of small fish nibbling at our feet as we floated on our backs and squinted up at the sun.

This November I'm blogging every day in a A to Z travel challenge, where I'll share some of the amazing but more obscure places I've travelled to in the world as I make my way through the alphabet. 

If you'd like to join me on this travel blogging challenge please do. I'd love to hear about some of your favourite travel destinations. Tweet using #AtoZtravel and I'll retweet you, or just share your posts in my comment feed. Enjoy and Happy #AtoZtravel November!

Also - I'm entered in the travel category of the 2015 UK Blog Awards. If you enjoy reading somewhere... beyond the sea then I would love you to vote for me. It's pretty easy - just click on this link. Happy travels!

19 November 2014

Reykjavik, Iceland - #AtoZtravel

Reykjavík (pronounced rei-ca-vik) is the capital of Iceland and the world's most northern capital of a sovereign state. This means that during the peak of summer it's light almost all of the time, and in winter there are very few daylight hours.

From what I've read, summer is most definitely the favourite season of the local population, however a few years ago I was drawn to Iceland in the winter time - so I could overload in the Christmas lights, thermal pools and twilight skies.

From the moment I got on the plane I knew it was going to be a great trip...

Iceland Air aeroplane seat headrest
Iceland Air aeroplane seat headrest

As well as having a great sense of humour Icelanders also have very warm hearts. Tjörnin lake in the centre of the city, aka 'The Pond' was mostly frozen while I was visiting in December - apart from this small section where hot water was being pumped onto the ice to keep the ducks warm...

Tjörnin lake - Reykjavik, Iceland
Tjörnin lake - Reykjavik, Iceland - December 2012

One of the bonuses of living in Iceland and Reykjavik? Free energy. Yep, that's right. More than 25% of Iceland’s electricity is produced from geothermal energy and almost all homes in Iceland get their heating from hot water out of the ground.

Iceland is the world’s largest green energy producer per capita...

Iceland's famous Blue Lagoon - a geothermal spa just outside of Reykjavik
Iceland's famous Blue Lagoon - a geothermal spa just outside of Reykjavik

Did we go for a soak in the Blue Lagoon? Why of course we did.

Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrímskirkja (the church of Iceland)
Reykjavik from the top of Hallgrímskirkja (the church of Iceland)

Hallgrímskirkja (the church of Iceland)
Hallgrímskirkja (the church of Iceland)

Eating in Reykjavik was certainly interesting too - two of the specialities being smoked lamb and smoked puffin. Lamb certainly seemed popular and sheep heads featured in several restaurant images...

Eating out in Reykjavik, Iceland

My favourite part? The beautiful candle-lit Christmas lights that glowed in all the windows as the sun set in late afternoon. Just gorgeous...

Christmas lights - Reykjavik, Iceland
Christmas lights - Reykjavik, Iceland

And the amazing twilight sunsets as well. This photo was taken at about 4pm. I just love the colours!


This November I'm blogging every day in a A to Z travel challenge, where I'll share some of the amazing but more obscure places I've travelled to in the world as I make my way through the alphabet. 

If you'd like to join me on this travel blogging challenge please do. I'd love to hear about some of your favourite travel destinations. Tweet using #AtoZtravel and I'll retweet you, or just share your posts in my comment feed. Enjoy and Happy #AtoZtravel November!
Also - I'm entered in the travel category of the 2015 UK Blog Awards. If you enjoy reading somewhere... beyond the sea then I would love you to vote for me. It's pretty easy - just click on this link. Happy travels!

18 November 2014

Queenstown, New Zealand - #AtoZtravel

This post celebrates the breathtaking scenery and adventurous spirit of my country of birth - New Zealand.

Alas Queenstown, also known as the 'Adventure Capital of New Zealand' is the place to visit if you want to experience some Lord of the Rings vistas, and then challenge yourself to an adrenaline pumping, spine tingling, daring extreme sport such as bungy jumping, paragliding, jet-boating, mountain biking, white water rafting or sky diving - just because!

Queenstown - the adventure capital of New Zealand
Queenstown - the adventure capital of New Zealand

Or, if you're a bit more like me and slightly risk adverse there is also some fantastic wine tasting to be enjoyed in the Queenstown area - with many wineries having stunning mountain and water views.

lake road nearby Queenstown, New Zealand
lake road nearby Queenstown, New Zealand
{image via hqwallbase}

The ultimate Queenstown challenge? Doing a bungy jump of course!

bungy jumping in Queenstown New Zealand
bungy jumping in Queenstown New Zealand

This November I'm blogging every day in a A to Z travel challenge, where I'll share some of the amazing but more obscure places I've travelled to in the world as I make my way through the alphabet. 

If you'd like to join me on this travel blogging challenge please do. I'd love to hear about some of your favourite travel destinations. Tweet using #AtoZtravel and I'll retweet you, or just share your posts in my comment feed. Enjoy and Happy #AtoZtravel November!
Also - I'm entered in the travel category of the 2015 UK Blog Awards. If you enjoy reading somewhere... beyond the sea then I would love you to vote for me. It's pretty easy - just click on this link. Happy travels!

17 November 2014

Palenque, Mexico - #AtoZtravel

Palenque was a Maya city in southern Mexico that flourished during the 7th century. These days the main industry here is tourism - as on average 1000 people visit the Palenque ruins every day.

Palenque, Mexico - 2009
Palenque ruins, Mexico - 2009

The Palenque ruins date back to 226 BC to around 799 AD. After this date, and during Palenque's decline, the city was absorbed back into the jungle (crazy huh?).

Today the Palenque ruins site is about 2.5 km² (1 sq mi) - but it is estimated that less than 10% of the total area has been excavated, and more than one thousand structures are still covered by jungle...

Palenque, Mexico - 2009
sheltering from the burning sun - Palenque ruins, Mexico - 2009

The amazing thing about Palenque - and all Mayan sites in Central America is that everything you see was built without metal tools, pack animals or the wheel. Truly amazing! We visited towards the end of the year and it was still blistering hot at that time - I don't envy the the lives of the slaves that built these structures.

Another thing worth pointing out is that Palenque was not originally grey stone to look at - but painted red with blue and yellow details. I can only imagine how intimidating Palenque would have been to see during the peak of it's power.

hubby and I (5 years prior to marriage) in Palenque, Mexico
hubby and I (5 years prior to marriage) in Palenque, Mexico

Slightly less important, but close to my heart - I had the best tacos of my life in Palenque from a street vendor. Delicious!

tacos - Palenque, Mexico
tacos - Palenque, Mexico

This November I'm blogging every day in a A to Z travel challenge, where I'll share some of the amazing but more obscure places I've travelled to in the world as I make my way through the alphabet. 

If you'd like to join me on this travel blogging challenge please do. I'd love to hear about some of your favourite travel destinations. Tweet using #AtoZtravel and I'll retweet you, or just share your posts in my comment feed. Enjoy and Happy #AtoZtravel November!

Also - I'm entered in the travel category of the 2015 UK Blog Awards. If you enjoy reading somewhere... beyond the sea then I would love you to vote for me. It's pretty easy - just click on this link. Happy travels!

16 November 2014

Ometepe, Nicaragua - #AtoZtravel

Ometepe or Isla de Ometepe is a island formed by two volcanoes in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, and one of the best places to overload in nature (in my opinion) in Central America.

The name Ometepe come from the Nahuatl (Aztec) words ome and tepetl meaning two mountains...

on our way to Isla de Ometepe via ferry - Nicaragua 2009
on our way to Isla de Ometepe via ferry - Nicaragua 2009

In Nicaragua, like all countries in Central America religion plays a big part in people's lives - and it's not usual to board a bus that has been decorated with Jesus stickers...

inside a old American school bus - Nicaragua, 2009
inside a old American school bus - Nicaragua, 2009

On arrival in Ometepe we quickly hitched a ride on the back of a truck transporting bananas out of the port town towards one of the large nature reserves - Charco Verde, where we had heard there were a few backpacker lodgings.

following a truck laden with bananas - Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009
following a truck laden with bananas - Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009

The nature on Isla de Ometepe is pretty spectacular and much cheaper to enjoy than in neighbouring Costa Rica. Entrance to the nature reserve at the time we were there cost about US$1.50 and we were alone to enjoy everything. In comparison we would later would pay US$20 in Costa Rica to see and hear nothing apart from a whole lot of noisy tourists.

Some of what we saw...

Anhinga birds silhouetted on tree branches - Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009
Anhinga birds silhouetted on tree branches - Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009

Volcano Concepción (1610 m)  Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009
a dalmatian dog enjoys the view of Volcano Concepción (1610 m) 
Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009

a toad that camped outside our hut every evening - on our first night I almost stood on him! Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009
a toad that camped outside our hut every evening - on our first night I almost stood on him!
Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009

a red insect that we saw a lot of. Any ideas what this is? Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009
a red insect that we saw a lot of. Any ideas what this is?
Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009

cheeky monkey - really didn't want me to take his photo. Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009
cheeky monkey - really didn't want me to take his photo.
Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009

spiky leaves - Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009
spiky leaves - Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009

One of the other things that really stood out to me about Ometepe is that the shores of this island were constantly being beaten by rough surf. I've never seen a lake before with surf like the ocean. It was really crazy (to me anyway).

hammock time - enjoying the breeze on Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009
hammock time - enjoying the breeze on Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009

beach - Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009
beach - Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009

We did get lovely sunsets as well...

sunset - Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009
sunset - Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009

When we needed to stretch our legs there was some great hiking as well. Check out the volcanic rocks and view!

hiking through the centre of Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009
hiking through the centre of Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009

view of Volcano Concepción from summit of Volcano Maderas Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009
view of Volcano Concepción from summit of Volcano Maderas
Isla de Ometepe - Nicaragua 2009

This November I'm blogging every day in a A to Z travel challenge, where I'll share some of the amazing but more obscure places I've travelled to in the world as I make my way through the alphabet. 

If you'd like to join me on this travel blogging challenge please do. I'd love to hear about some of your favourite travel destinations. Tweet using #AtoZtravel and I'll retweet you, or just share your posts in my comment feed. Enjoy and Happy #AtoZtravel November!

Vote for somewhere... beyond the sea in the 2015 UK blog awards

Also - I'm entered in the travel category of the 2015 UK Blog Awards. If you enjoy reading somewhere... beyond the sea then I would love you to vote for me. It's pretty easy - just click on this link. Happy travels!
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