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Choosing a Tour in Turkey’s Cappadocia Region

Joining a tour is a better option than looking around the valley on your own, which can be a hit-and-miss experience; tours are a foolproof way to visit all the sites within a short period of time. There is a wide variety of activities and destinations around the region, so you can pick a tour based on your preferences. Most tour companies sell similar itineraries, which include site visits as well as activities like cooking classes and belly dance courses.

[pullquote align=right]Tours are a foolproof way to visit all the sites within a short period of time.[/pullquote]The most popular activities are horseback treks (from €40, 2 hours); Jeep tours of the valleys (from €65); ATV adventures (from €35, 2 hours); Turkish Nights with belly dancers and folkloric dancing (€40-50, with or without dinner); Whirling Dervish evening shows at Saruhan or Dervish House (€25) and the wildly popular sunrise hot-air balloon flights (€175-250, discount for cash).

Rocky hills jut up out of the grassy landscape.
Beautiful Ihlara Valley in Capadoccia. Photo © jahmaica/123rf.

There are three standard full-day tours (from €50, 9:30am-5:30pm) sold by most travel agencies in town. Essentially, operators combine forces to sell seats on 16-seater minivans with one English-speaking guide as the host. When one minivan sells out, they work to fill another. Best taken during summer and highly recommended, the Green Tour transports you from a panoramic look out near Göreme to the underground city of Derinkuyu before hiking in the lush green Ihlara Valley, with lunch by the valley’s stream in Belisırma village. The day south of Göreme concludes by visiting rock-carved Selime Monastery, where local operators will boast that Star Wars was filmed; it wasn’t—the scenes were filmed in similar terrain in Tunisia. Typically the final stop is a view of the Pigeon Valley and visit to a labyrinthine onyx shop, which can be a nuisance for those who aren’t excited about shopping.

The Red Tour covers locations north of Göreme, including the Göreme Open-Air Museum, Çavuşin church, Avanos, and the mushroom rock formations of Paşabağları, Devrent Valley, and Ürgüp. A pottery-making stop is usually thrown in to promote local commerce.

The rock-cut landscape of the Goreme Open Air Museum.
The Göreme Open Air Museum. Photo © Göran Domeij/123rf.

Taking you off the normal tourist trail, the Blue Tour usually features the churches, villages, and landscape around Mustafapaşa and Soğanlı Valley. Itineraries differ slightly, and other alternative tours are available as companies try to offer something unique, but you can be sure the tour will have less than 15 people. If you don’t want to make shopping stops on tour, there are agencies that avoid doing this.

Turkish Heritage Travel (Yavuz Sk. 1, Göreme, 0384/271-2687) is one outfit that avoids shopping stops on their tours. As one of Cappadocia’s tour specialists, they offer a wide range of custom, recreational, or outdoors tours, all led by highly experienced multilingual guides who are locals with endless knowledge of the area’s lesser-known attractions. Check out their comprehensive range of tours, activities, and prices on the website.

Yama Tours (Müze Cd. 2, Göreme, 0384/271-2508) is conveniently located in the heart of Göreme. In addition to the typical Green (South Cappadocia), Red (North Cappadocia), and Blue (Soğanlı Tour) Tours, Yama also offers a day tour to Hacıbektaş, where the Sufi mystic Hacı Bektaş Veli is honored with a tomb and a museum. From Göreme, Yama makes it possible to venture to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Hattuşaş (1 day) or Mount Nemrut (3 nights). The Mount Nemrut tour includes a tour of the city of Şanlıurfa, birthplace of the prophet Abraham.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Istanbul & the Turkish Coast.

Planning Your Time in Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey

View down a pedestrian street in Ciego de Avila.
El Búlevar, Ciego de Ávila. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Running through the center of the provinces, the Carretera Central connects Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey cities with Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The cities are also major stops on the main east-west railway. The paved and less-trafficked Circuito Norte highway parallels the north coast at an average distance of five kilometers inland. Feeder roads connect it with the Carretera Central.

[pullquote align=”right”]Two days is barely sufficient for relaxing on Cayo Coco and neighboring Cayo Guillermo…[/pullquote]The 400 or so cays of the Jardines del Rey are separated from one another by narrow channels and from the coast by shallow lagoons. Pedraplenes (causeways) link Cayo Coco, Cayo Romano, and Cayo Sabinal to the mainland. Two days is barely sufficient for relaxing on Cayo Coco and neighboring Cayo Guillermo (connected by another pedraplén), the most developed of the keys, with more than a dozen all-inclusive resort hotels. If all you want is to relax with a rum cocktail on fine white sand, with breaks for water sports, then this could be for you. You can rent cars for forays farther afield.

Gateway to these two cays is Morón, a small-scale town that boasts the excellent Museo Caonabo and the Museo de Azúcar, where a steam-train ride is offered. Anglers can cast for game fish in nearby Lago La Redonda. Morón is served by trains, with direct connection to both Havana and Ciego de Ávila, the provincial capital.

[pullquote align=right]You could easily justify three days in this colonial city, which boasts several historic plazas.[/pullquote]More interesting by far is Camagüey. You could easily justify three days in this colonial city, which boasts several historic plazas. Camagüey is a gateway to Playa Santa Lucía. This second-rate beach resort appeals mostly to budget-minded Canadians and Europeans, with second-rate hotels and a desultory nightlife. Sure, the diving is exceptional, but that’s about it (even the beach pales in comparison to Cayo Coco). The hinterland is physically unappealing, although a worthwhile excursion is to Cayo Sabinal, with spectacular beaches and waters touted for future development. At Rancho King, you can watch a rodeo and even play cowboy for half a day.

A bronze statue of Major General Ignacio Agramonte in Camaguey's Parque Agramonte.
Monumento Major General Ignacio Agramonte in Parque Agramonte. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Opportunities abound for bird-watchers, not least at Finca La Belén, a wilderness area southeast of Camagüey city. Set amid scenic terrain, it provides a rare opportunity for hiking and is served by a delightful hotel.

Divers, anglers, and yachters should set their sights on the Parque Nacional Jardines de la Reina. This necklace of cays off the southern coast is accessed solely from the funky fishing village of Júcaro, south of Ciego de Ávila. Visitation is controlled exclusively through a single agency, based in Júcaro.

Travel map of Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey Provinces, Cuba
Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey Provinces

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Cuba.

Unique Beaches on Kaua‘i’s North Shore

Kaua‘i’s North Shore offers plenty of variety in beaches: privacy, exploration, lounging, swimming, snorkeling, and surfing. Here are some favorites to get you started.

SeaLodge Beach

Seclusion, white sand, shade, and a pristine cove of crystal clear water compose SeaLodge Beach, offering everything a beach lover could want. Accessed by a shaded hike through the trees and then a short walk along the rocky coast, the beach provides good snorkeling when the ocean is calm. There’s no lifeguard or amenities here, so it’s important to be careful in the water. Located near the SeaLodge condos at the end of Kamehameha Road in Princeville, parking is in the unmarked stalls toward the top of the parking lot. The trailhead is in front of building A and marked with a sign. Here is an amazing panoramic view worth taking a minute to indulge in and snapping a few photos.

View of Kaua‘i coastline.
Above sealodge beach in Kaua‘i. Photo © Steven Heap/123rf.

[pullquote align=right]When the surf is small, snorkelers will usually see a gorgeous variety of fish and some green sea turtles.[/pullquote]Take the dirt trail down past the small stream on the way to the ocean. Once you reach the ocean keep to your left, where you can walk along the black rocks or on the narrow trail a little up on the dirt. After a minute or so you will see SeaLodge Beach, nestled in its own cove and backed by a vertical cliff. The back of the beach is lined with trees that provide enough shade that you can spend a few hours at the beach. It’s quite an amazing beach and worth the effort. The trail isn’t super strenuous, but it is rather steep and tiresome on the way up.

Queen’s Bath

Queen’s Bath is a tide pool on the edge of a cliff looming above the ocean. Nature has created an extremely unique and picturesque combination that is at its best when the waves are small, but big enough to wash fresh water into the pool. This spot is dangerous. There’s a plaque at the base of the trail with a safety warning stating that as of 2011, 28 people have died here, which speaks for itself. On very calm days, the pool is crystal clear and swimmable, but on any rough day in winter it’s risky. There’s a five-minute walk from the bottom of the trail to the pool that puts visitors at the edge of the cliff, and the pool itself isn’t far from the edge and waves either. The hike down is intriguing in itself and offers several sights along the way, including a river, a couple of waterfalls, and a pool that usually has a few fish resting in it.

Bathers in a natural pool at the edge of the ocean in Kauai.
Enjoying Queen’s Bath on a calm day. Photo © Brian, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

To get here, turn right on Punahele Road and take the second right onto Kapiolani Loop. The parking lot is on the left-hand corner bordered by a green cement wall. The trailhead is easy to find, marked with both a warning sign and another one giving notice of the shearwater breeding grounds. About 10-15 minutes down the dirt trail it veers to the left at a waterfall pouring right into the ocean. Go left past the warning signs and almost right on the edge of the cliff is the pond. During winter (September through April), the pool is pretty much unusable due to the large surf.

Hideaways Beach

Hideaways is a great beach for snorkeling, as is its sibling beach on the far side of the rocky point on the right. When the surf is small, snorkelers will usually see a gorgeous variety of fish and some green sea turtles. As at many other north shore beaches, false kamani trees provide shade, enabling beach goers to spend some quality time here without turning into lobsters right away. The trail leading down consists of steps for the first half before turning into a dirt path that can be muddy and slippery if it has rained. So although it’s not a really strenuous hike, it takes a little agility to get down there and can be slightly tough for kids.

Check ocean conditions before going to this beach. When the waves are big in Hanalei Bay, they will probably be washing far up the beach at Hideaways. To get here, take the trail that starts shortly before the St. Regis Princeville Resort gate house and next to the Pu‘u Poa tennis courts. To reach the other side of the beach, either swim to the right from Hideaways (when conditions allow, of course) or walk the paved trail from the Pali Ke Kua condominiums.

Pu‘u Poa Beach

Directly below the St. Regis Princeville Resort is the easily accessible and popular Pu‘u Poa Beach. Swimming and snorkeling are both good here when ocean conditions allow. The white-sand beach reaches toward the mouth of the Hanalei River to the left, and the sandy bottom is enclosed by a narrow reef. When surf is up, experienced and elite surfers catch some of the biggest waves the north side musters up in the winter. For hotel guests, access is by the hotel pool area. There’s a small parking area for visitors, by the hotel entrance, where the cement path begins.

Travel map of North Shore of Kaua‘i, Hawaii
North Shore of Kaua‘i

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Australia’s Aboriginal History and Heritage

A beautifully lit open-air pavilion amongst the trees at Flames of the Forest.
Enjoy some traditional dances, which all tell stories, while having dinner at Flames of the Forest near Port Douglas. Photo courtesy of Flames of the Forest.

When you’re rushing to see what the country has to offer, looking around The Rocks in Sydney and going through the museums, it is easy to forget that this is only the modern history of Australia. There is another history to explore that reaches far back into the past—the indigenous people of Australia are reportedly one of the oldest cultures in the world. Apart from the beautiful art, many visitors do not get any closer to learning about the Aboriginal peoples and their culture and tradition. Here are a few tips to experience a little more of Australia’s true history.

  • Australian Aboriginal art is the longest continuing art tradition in the world and an economic mainstay of the Aboriginal community. Galleries offer the typical dot paintings and other pieces of art. It is a souvenir that is truly unique to Australia, so go ahead and buy a piece, but try to go to galleries that are owned and run by Aboriginal people to ensure your money heads off into the right direction. Try the Janbal Gallery in Mossman, which is excellent and independently run by Aboriginal people.
  • The knowledge of the flora and fauna of this country is what made the Aboriginal people so successful as a long-standing culture (until the Europeans came along, at any rate), and learning about the plants and animals goes a long way to understanding a little more about the culture. At Cooya Beach just north of Port Douglas, you can go walkabout with two local Kubirri Warra guides with The Bama Way and learn how to spear fish on the mudflats and mangroves; you’ll also learn about the wildlife, their people, and their culture and heritage.
  • If you are going to Kuranda by Skyrail, then make sure you stop off for the Djabugay Aboriginal Guided Tour, on which you go for a brief walk through the dense rainforest while your local guide points out specific plants and roots, telling you about their significance, healing properties, and other uses, all the while entertaining you with local stories and legends.
  • The Dreamtime Legend Walk at Mossman Gorge starts with a traditional smoking ceremony and takes a small group to sacred sites on Kuku Yalanji land, where you see traditional huts and hear dreamtime stories.
  • To enjoy some of the traditional dances, which all tell stories, have dinner at Flames of the Forest near Port Douglas, a thoroughly enchanting experience under the stars in the rainforest, with fire and pretty lights illuminating the tented venue and the forest and river behind it, creating a magical setting, a perfect setting for dances and music.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef.

14-Day Road Trip: The Greater Yellowstone Loop

With Yellowstone National Park at its heart, this generous two-week itinerary starts and ends in Bozeman, Montana, never exceeding 200 miles of travel in a single day. See and experience this breathtaking region without getting stuck behind the wheel.

Day 1: Bozeman

Start your trip in Bozeman, equal parts college town and mountain town. Fit in a trip to the Museum of the Rockies to see where dinosaur guru Jack Horner does much of his work. Throw in a hike up the M or Drinking Horse Mountain, just northeast of town, and end with a shopping stroll on historic Main Street. Enjoy a game of pool, a local brew, and an excellent meal at the popular Montana Ale Works. Bed down for the night practically across the street at the Magpie Guest House.

A striking sunset with darkening clouds on a violet sky in Bozeman, Montana.
Sunset in Bozeman, Montana. Photo © Jesse Newland, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Day 2: Bozeman to Red Lodge (about 174 miles)

Start your morning with a quick jaunt up Peet’s Hill, then walk a few blocks for breakfast at the Western Café. Head east toward Red Lodge, a much smaller but equally historic ski town. Along the way, stop in Livingston to peruse art galleries, look for celebrities, or even fish or raft the Yellowstone. Continue on to Big Timber for a late lunch at the Grand Hotel. Arrive in Red Lodge in time for a quick meal at the Red Box Car and a downy bed at the historic Pollard Hotel.

Day 3: Red Lodge

After a leisurely breakfast, stroll by the shops up and down Broadway, and check out the critters at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. Later, grab some picnic supplies at Café Regis and head out on a scenic hike in the Beartooths, perhaps the Basin Creek Lakes Trail. Back in town, enjoy a sumptuous meal at Bridge Creek Backcountry Kitchen and Wine Bar.

Day 4: Red Lodge to Cody (about 114 miles)

Experience two of the most breathtaking drives in the region. Pack a picnic lunch and head up and over the Beartooth Highway (U.S. 212), and be sure to make plenty of stops along the way. Look for mountain goats at the summit. Consider an alpine hike: The Clay Butte Fire Lookout Tower, only a mile from the highway, puts you above 11,000 feet; the eight-mile scenic loop around Beartooth Lake offers level terrain with spectacular scenery. Stop in Cooke City if you need a shot of civilization (or espresso), or continue to the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (Hwy. 296) south to Cody. Arrive in time for a fantastic dinner at Geyser Brewing Company and a cozy room at the Chamberlin Inn.

Travel map of Cody, Wyoming and Vicinity
Cody and Vicinity

Day 5: Cody

After breakfast, head out on the hour-long Cody Trolley Tour, which can include tickets to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Spend most of the day exploring its five museums. Before dinner at the celebrated Irma Hotel, grab a cocktail and step outside to watch the Cody Gunfighters. After dinner, head over to the Cody Nite Rodeo for a two-hour action-packed show with local cowboys and cowgirls.

A rider being bucked off the back of a horse at the Cody Nite Rodeo.
At the Cody Nite Rodeo in Cody, Wyoming. Photo © CGP Grey, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Day 6: Cody to Tower Junction (about 111 miles)

On your way out of town, stop by Old Trail Town and the Museum of the West. Then head farther west on the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway toward the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Stop for a bite at Buffalo Bill Cody’s historic Pahaska Tepee resort. Once inside the park, check out the phenomenal Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the wildlife-rich Hayden Valley on your way to Tower Junction and the classic Roosevelt Lodge. Arrive in time to ride horseback (or travel by covered wagon) to the Old West Cookout Dinner. Then retire to your rustic cabin under the stars.

Day 7: Tower Junction to Paradise Valley (about 59 miles)

Early birds will delight in a sunrise drive through the famed Lamar Valley for amazing opportunities to spot wildlife, including wolves and bears. Consider a hike up to Trout Lake or maybe meander along the trout waters of Slough Creek. Turn around and head back north to Mammoth Hot Springs, where you can amble around the colorful geothermal features. For lunch, try the mini trout tacos at the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room and Terrace Grill, just below the geothermal terraces. On your way out of the park, perhaps you’ll want to soak in the Boiling River between Mammoth and Gardiner, or just wait until you arrive at Chico Hot Springs Resort to enjoy the naturally heated waters. After a gourmet dinner, settle in to Chico for the night and listen for Percy, the resident ghost.

Terraced rock at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone.
Travertine Terraces in Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs. Photo © pngstudio/123rf.

Day 8: Paradise Valley to Lake, Wyoming (about 91 miles)

Backtrack through the park’s northern entrance. River rats should take a morning raft trip on the Yellowstone River through Yankee Jim Canyon. Inside the park, head to Norris for another education in geology and supervolcanology. Then head to Canyon—check out the canyon or the falls from another angle, or even on a trail like Uncle Tom’s Trail, which will take you to the spectacular Lower Falls. Wind up your day with a cocktail on the porch and a relaxing dinner at the idyllic Lake Hotel.

Travel map of Jackson Hole, Cody, and the Wind Rivers in Wyoming
Jackson Hole, Cody, and the Wind Rivers

Day 9: Lake to Jackson (about 95 miles)

After a morning stroll at water’s edge, head down to West Thumb Geyser Basin, an incredible selection of geothermal features. From there, continue south to Grand Teton National Park. You’ll pass this way again in two days, so don’t feel pressured to stop at every scenic turnout. Grab lunch along the way and try a hike along the gentle Lakeshore Trail at Colter Bay. Continue down to Jackson and settle in at the Anvil Motel. Walk just a few blocks for dinner at the Snake River Grill, and perhaps a nightcap at the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.

Day 10: Jackson Hole

Hit the local favorite—The Bunnery—for a hearty breakfast. White-water enthusiasts will have no shortage of options on the Snake River. Mountain bikers and hikers can hit the alpine slopes at either Snow King in town or off the fabulous gondola at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, or consider horseback riding. If you have the energy in the afternoon, visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art before grabbing a margarita and some Mexican fare at Pica’s. Wednesday and Saturday nights you can catch the Jackson Rodeo.

Day 11: Jackson to Old Faithful (about 98 miles)

After breakfast, head north toward Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Stop at Jenny Lake for a hike to Hidden Falls or Inspiration Point, a boat ride, or just a picnic. Continue north through Grand Teton, checking out the sights you missed on the way down. Once in Yellowstone, drive north and west to Old Faithful and stay at the Old Faithful Inn for the night. There are great trails along the way, including an easy jaunt to Lone Star Geyser. Explore the area before settling in for dinner and a bed at the inn. If you can keep your eyes open, Old Faithful eruptions in the moonlight are pretty unforgettable.

Travel map of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park

Day 12: Old Faithful to West Yellowstone (about 32 miles)

After a leisurely morning, head north and then west to the town of West Yellowstone. Enjoy this small but dense section of the park on your way out. Don’t miss the opportunity to swim in the thermally heated waters of the Firehole River. In West Yellowstone, check out the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center and the adjacent Yellowstone IMAX Theatre. Grab a bison burger at Buckaroo Bill’s Ice Cream or a gourmet meal at Bar N Ranch before calling it a night in a cozy safari tent at Yellowstone Under Canvas.

Day 13: West Yellowstone to Big Sky (about 51 miles)

Head over to the Freeheel & Wheel to rent a bike and then hit the famous Rendezvous Trails, where Olympic Nordic skiers have trained. After lunch, continue north through the scenic Gallatin Canyon toward Big Sky Resort. There are countless hiking trails and fishing spots along the way. Plan on spending the night at Big Sky Resort; head to dinner in the dining room at the nearby Lone Mountain Ranch.

Day 14: Big Sky to Bozeman (about 44 miles)

Start your day with a short hike to scenic Ousel Falls and then jump in a Geyser Whitewater raft to white-knuckle it down the Gallatin River canyon. Then head back to Bozeman to enjoy the mountain vistas and toast your trip over a bison steak or burger at Ted’s Montana Grill or a rustic Italian meal at Blackbird Kitchen.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Montana & Wyoming.

Learn About Cuba’s Climate and Landscape

Travel map of Cuba.
Cuba (full map)

Cuba lies at the western end of the Greater Antilles group of Caribbean islands, which began to heave from the sea about 150 million years ago.

Cuba is by far the largest of the Caribbean islands at 110,860 square kilometers. It is only slightly smaller than the state of Louisiana and half the size of the United Kingdom. It sits just south of the Tropic of Cancer at the eastern perimeter of the Gulf of Mexico, 150 kilometers south of Key West, Florida, 140 kilometers north of Jamaica, and 210 kilometers east of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. It is separated from Hispaniola to the east by the 77-kilometer-wide Windward Passage.

[pullquote align=”right”]Cuba lies within the tropics, though its climate—generally hot and moist—is more properly semi- or subtropical.[/pullquote]Cuba is actually an archipelago with some 4,000-plus islands and cays dominated by the main island (104,945 square kilometers), which is 1,250 kilometers long—from Cabo de San Antonio in the west to Punta Maisí in the east—and between 31 and 193 kilometers wide. Plains cover almost two-thirds of the island. Cuba is the least mountainous of the Greater Antilles, with a median elevation of less than 100 meters above sea level.

Slung beneath the mainland’s underbelly is Isla de la Juventud (2,200 square kilometers), the westernmost of a chain of smaller islands—the Archipiélago de los Canarreos—that extends eastward for 110 kilometers across the Golfo de Batabanó. Farther east, beneath east-central Cuba, is a shoal of tiny coral cays—the Archipiélago de los Jardines de la Reina—poking up a mere four or five meters from the sapphire sea. The central north coast is rimmed by a necklace of coral jewels—the Jardines del Rey—limned by Cuba’s most beautiful beaches.


Cuba’s Climate

Cuba lies within the tropics, though its climate—generally hot and moist—is more properly semi- or subtropical. There are only two seasons: wet (May to November) and dry (December to April), with regional variations.

Travel map showing Rainfall in Cuba.
Rainfall in Cuba

The island is influenced by the warm Gulf Stream currents and by the North Atlantic high-pressure zone that lies northeast of Cuba and gives rise to the near-constant brisa, the local name for the trade winds that caress Cuba year-round. Despite its more southerly latitude, Havana, wrote Ernest Hemingway, “is cooler than most northern cities in [July and August], because the northern trades get up about ten o’clock in the morning and blow until about five o’clock the next morning.” Summer months, however, can be insufferably hot and humid.

Cuba lies within the hurricane belt. August through October is hurricane season, but freak tropical storms can hit Cuba in other months, too. Most hurricanes that strike Cuba originate in the western Caribbean during October and move north over the island. Cuba has been struck by several hurricanes in recent years. In fact, 2008 was one of the worst years in history, with three direct hits in two months. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck Santiago de Cuba, killing 11 people—the worst hurricane in decades.

The country has a highly developed disaster preparedness and exemplary civil defense network for evacuations.


Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Cuba.

Wildlife You Can Find in Florida

Mammals

Florida is home to two unique and endangered mammal species, the Florida panther and the tiny Key deer. Both have come quite close to extinction in recent decades. Preservation efforts have been effective in keeping the species around, but the numbers of both animals are still drastically limited. Somewhat more common in Florida are bobcats, which are smaller than panthers and can be seen in hardwood swamps and hammocks. The two mammals you’re almost certain to see while in Florida are armadillos and opossums. Sadly, both animals are often the victims of roadkill.

Sea Life

With the majority of the state nestled against either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, it’s none too surprising that Florida is a great place for spotting sea creatures. Pods of bottlenose dolphins are easy to spot from shore. Out on the sea, it’s possible to see pilot whales. Offshore snorkelers find an abundance of coral reefs and the attendant schools of colorful tropical fish that live in and around them.

An adorable manatee staring deeply and warmly into your very soul.
Manatees. We’re obsessed. Photo © burdephotography/123rf.

Most iconic of all of Florida’s water creatures is the West Indian manatee. These gentle “sea cows” feast on the mangrove leaves, algae, and turtle grass that are common throughout Florida’s waterways. The state’s warm waters are the manatees’ preferred place for wintering and mating. Crystal River, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, is a fantastic place to see manatees in the winter, as it has one of the greatest concentrations of the creatures. The rivers of South Florida are also home to a large number of manatees.

Birds

Florida is one of the best places in the United States for bird-watching. Numerous native species like kites, osprey, spoonbill herons, scrub jays, and even bald eagles call Florida home throughout the year. Scores of northern species make their winter homes here. The state’s nature preserves are ideal for bird-watching in the winter. Perhaps the best year-round spot is the J. N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.

Alligators and Other Lizards

Florida’s most famous reptile is the alligator. The Everglades are thick with them. Even lakeside residences in urban Miami, Orlando, and Tampa have been the sites of alligator encounters. These animals are incredibly dangerous, so you should use all due caution in or near any freshwater area in Florida. Venomous snakes are also common throughout the state, including native species like the diamondback rattler and foreign breeds that have been “liberated” into the swamps and forests. These dangerous species are far outnumbered by the ranks of nonvenomous snakes, though, and king snakes and black snakes are quite prevalent.

The most common reptiles in Florida are lizards and geckos, which can be seen skittering about during the day, sunning themselves, and chasing down food. They seldom grow to any great size. Most are less than six inches long. Salamanders are also bountiful, especially in South Florida.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Florida Road Trip.

Volunteering in Panama at APROVACA’s Orchid Nursery

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Close up photo of a lavender colored orchid with one darker petal taken in Panama.
A purple orchid photographed in Panama. Photo © Brian Gratwicke, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

APROVACA is small grassroots association “dedicated to the conservation of native Panamanian orchid species in danger of extinction.” In addition to running an orchid nursery (with more than 100 native species of orchid) and conservation center, APROVACA also has a program to reintroduce orchids to the wild.

[pullquote align=right]Volunteers with botanical or gardening knowledge and/or computer skills, such as HTML and social media marketing, are especially needed.[/pullquote]Volunteers are expected to work about 30 hours per week and responsibilities include: taking care of orchids and other plants; helping maintain the gardens; designing projects of orchid conservation and ecotourism; promoting APROVACA as a tourist spot; updating, improving, and promoting their website; seeking out fundraising opportunities; taking photographs; or working in their café and hostel. Volunteers with botanical or gardening knowledge and/or computer skills, such as HTML and social media marketing, are especially needed.

Wooden patio furtniture in the shade at the APROVACA hostel grounds.
Volunteers can stay at the APROVACA hostel. Photo courtesy of APROVACA.

APROVACA is about two hours by car from Panama City, in the town of El Valle de Anton, which is located in the crater of an extinct volcano. At nearly 2,000 feet (600 m) above sea level, El Valle has a temperate climate.

Volunteers have plenty of activities to choose from in their free time, such as hiking and horseback riding, visiting an artisan market, or searching for the endangered golden frog.

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APROVACA

Valle de Anton, Panama
tel. 507/983-6472
http://aprovaca.com/

Application Process: To apply, send an email with your résumé and a cover letter. Volunteers must be age 18 or older.

Cost: None. Accommodations and a weekday lunch are provided.

Placement Length: There is a minimum placement of one month.

Language Requirements: Basic (i.e., “good”) Spanish skills are required.

Housing: Volunteers are given a bunk in the organization’s hostel, which also offers hot showers, wireless Internet, and a fully equipped kitchen.

Operating Since: 2001

Number of Volunteers: unavailable

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Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.

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Cruising the Great Barrier Reef

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is a place that is overflowing with superlatives, and then breaks a few more records: Rated as one of the seven wonders of the natural world, it stretches for 2,300 kilometers along the Queensland coast, from Bundaberg to the Torres Strait, and comprises around 2,800 individual reefs, continental islands, reef islands, and sand cays—it would be impossible to cover them all in a single trip, or even a single lifetime.

[pullquote align=right]…if you want to try to see a few dozen islands and cays, even if only from the distance, then cruising is really the best option.[/pullquote]Due to time constraints many travelers choose one or two islands and enjoy those to the fullest. But if you want to try to see a few dozen islands and cays, even if only from the distance, then cruising is really the best option. And it doesn’t have to be a gigantic hotel-on-the-sea. In the Great Barrier Reef, cruising can be as individual as you are.

Organized Cruises of the Great Barrier Reef

There are organized cruises, usually on larger sailing or motor yachts, with often a dozen or more other people on board, and with set itineraries and scheduled stops and activities. You can book a cruise of two or three or more days in most of the towns along the coast—for example, with Whitsundays Sailing Adventures in Airlie Beach. With departures every few days, you are bound to find something that suits you. On these cruises you usually have the option to learn to dive or snorkel (they show you the best grounds, reefs, and beaches), and you get fed in regular intervals and don’t have to think at all. Just sit back and go with the flow, and you’ll meet a few like-minded people from around the world on your trip as well.

The selection of half-day to full-day cruises is amazing, with companies such as Ocean Freedom. Usual departure times are around 7:30am to 8am. Go to reefs and islands to snorkel, dive (or learn to do so), swim, and explore. Most of these trips come with lunch, drinks, even open bars, and have all the equipment you’ll need on board. They often stop at a purpose-built pontoon for a few hours, where you can be as active or lazy as you wish to be. There are plenty of activities for kids and they don’t get stuck on a boat for days on end.

A sailboat sits in beautiful turquoise water in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Sailing in the Great Barrier Reef. Photo © Michael James/123rf.

Bareboating and Private Charters

One of the most serene ways to cruise some of the islands is by bareboating—hiring a yacht and sailing it yourself. You will need to have sufficient experience and a large enough group to choose that option. Hiring a boat from an operator such as SailFree, you can anchor in secluded bays, camp on some of the designated islands, snorkel wherever takes your fancy, and make your own agenda.

If that sounds lovely, but alas, you cannot sail a boat by yourself, hire a sailing boat with a crew. Charter companies such as ISail Whitsundays allow you to choose from a variety of yachts that come with a crew. Obviously it’s not quite as private, but the crew does this for a living, and you can interact with them as much or as little as you wish.

Ferries

If time and budget are issues, one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get out onto the water for a “cruise” is to hop on an island ferry. Take Cruise Whitsundays, a commuter ferry that has a daily schedule and at least once an hour sets off from Shute Harbour near Airlie Beach to sail to Hamilton Island and some other islands along the way. There are direct ferries, and others take in two or three islands along the way.

You can buy an island hopper ticket for the day and spend the day on the water, taking in the views and hopping on and off at various stops. It is a cheap, fun, and enjoyable way to see the Whitsundays on a budget.

Travel map of Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef.

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge & Lighthouse on Kaua‘i

A picture-perfect view makes the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and Lighthouse (end of Kilauea Rd., 808/828-1413, 10am-4pm daily) a must-see. The beautiful inlet is speckled with white birds—a treat for dedicated bird watchers.

[pullquote align=right]The visitors center holds a wealth of information about bird and plant life, the history of the lighthouse, and Hawaiian history.[/pullquote]Permanent and migrating seabirds spend their time here, including the frigate bird, boasting an eight-foot wingspan, the red-footed booby, the nene, wedgetail shearwaters, and red- and white-tailed tropic birds. Sea turtles, dolphins, and Hawaiian monk seals can all be seen from the cliffs. The waters here are also part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, and whales can be seen here during winter and spring.

A classic lighthouse at the end of Kilauea Point.
The Kilauea Lighthouse is a designated National Historical Landmark. Photo © Petr Zurek/123rf.

Stroll on the narrow peninsula to reach the Kilauea Lighthouse, a designated National Historical Landmark and visitors center. Originally boasting the world’s largest “clamshell lens,” which could send a beam of light 20 miles out to sea, it was replaced in 1976 with a small high-intensity beacon. The visitors center holds a wealth of information about bird and plant life, the history of the lighthouse, and Hawaiian history.

To get here, turn into Kilauea at the Shell gas station near mile marker 23, then down Kilauea Road. Drive straight to the end to the lighthouse, where entrance is free for 16 and under, and all others cost $5 per person.

Travel map of North Shore of Kaua‘i, Hawaii
North Shore of Kaua‘i

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

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