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6 Wild & Beautiful Places in Europe You MUST See!

By Darley Newman
January 27, 2022
WildEurope_Cappadocia
Chip Ward
There's more to Europe than winding city streets, vibrant cafés, and beautiful museums! The continent abounds with rugged mountains, pristine lakes, and secluded beaches to gallop—including some of the world's premiere parks and wildlife habitats.

Ready to take a walk on the wild side? Keep reading to discover six of Europe's most unforgettable natural wonders—and how you can experience them on a budget.

Connemara, Ireland

Step back in time with rugged nature, authentic culture, and awesome views along Ireland's wild western coast.

On Europe's edge, as far west in Ireland as you can travel, Connemara is a weathered, mythical and wild region, where travelers can immerse themselves in nature and Irish culture, history, and traditions.

SEE EUROPE'S WILDEST PLACES!

What to Do

Rent a car for your own Irish road trip. Start in colorful, bustling Galway City, then drive west along the north shore of Galway Bay. Road signs in Gaelic, one-pub towns, and Blue Flag beaches are just some of the signals that you've hit Ireland's wild west. Explore the impressive and winding Sky Road, which you can drive or cycle for quintessentially Irish vistas of offshore islands and the Twelve Bens mountains. Stretch your legs in Connemara National Park, where hiking a few of the steeper trails of the Twelve Bens will earn you bragging rights and unfettered views of scenic mountain expanses and distant islands. Next, make a stop at legendary Kylemore Abbey, located northeast of Clifden on a private lake. Meander through the Victorian gardens before feasting on scones, made with the Benedictine nuns' special recipe, and hot tea. For a special treat, time your visit to coincide with a choral performance in the abbey's church.

Where to Stay

Clifden, about an hour's drive from Galway City, offers a variety of homey B&B's and guesthouses. Check out the family-friendly Clifden Station House, located right in town. Walking paths are situated right outside delightful Dolphin Beach House on the Lower Sky Road.

Iceland Highlands

Nature to the extreme in the "Land of Fire and Ice."

Just south of the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic, Iceland captivates travelers with intense adventure opportunities along striking black sand beaches and vibrant green moss-covered lava fields. You can snowmobile on glaciers, saddle up for a wild horse drive with local farmers, or hike alongside sputtering geysers. 

What to Do

Head into Iceland's Southern Highlands to hike the popular Laugavegur trail, where hot springs, black arctic deserts, towering glaciers, and red-and-yellow-colored mountains reward the intrepid traveler. Sign up for a guided tour or go it alone on this 34-mile route that connects two nature reserves, Landmannalaugar and Thorsmork (Icelandic: órsmörk). During the summer season, buses depart daily from Reykjavik to the trailhead. The Laugavegur trail normally takes three to five days, but the difficulty of this trail depends on the weather, which can range from T-shirt temps to whiteouts—in summer. Feeling even more adventurous? Hike past Thorsmork to the small village of Skógar to view one of Iceland's mightiest waterfalls. Another alternative that I love is to saddle up and travel the way Icelanders have for centuries on the small but strong Icelandic horse. Whatever you choose, pack your bathing suit, because settling into a warm geothermal pool at the end of the day is a must here in the far north.

Where to Stay

Campsites with access to toilets and showers, and basic mountain huts with toilets, kitchens, and sometimes showers are located in intervals along Laugavegur trail. Travelers should book huts well in advance and pack a sleeping bag and their own food for the journey. At the Volcano Huts in the Thorsmork Nature Reserve, there is a restaurant and bar.

Doñana Park, Spain

A bird-watcher's paradise with exclusive, wild Atlantic beaches.

Located at the tail end of Europe along Southern Spain's coast, Doñana National Park is one of Europe's best-known conservation areas. In a special spot where the Guadalquivir River delta meets the sea, this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve welcomes a limited number of travelers to enjoy a European safari complete with beaches, pine forests, flamingos, and the endangered Iberian lynx. 

What to Do

Once a favorite hunting reserve of Spanish kings, Doñana National Park is one of Europe's largest parks, encompassing beaches, marshland, lagoons, pine forests, and massive sand dunes. A haven for wildlife, the park is on an important migratory route for birds traveling from Africa to Europe. From the principal visitor center at El Acebuche, close to Matalascañas, travelers may easily hike along several boardwalks through the wetlands to observe flamingo, red-crested pochard, azure-winged magpie, or the glorious hoopoe. More in-depth guided tours via 4WD vehicles depart from the El Acebuche visitors center and take travelers through a variety of ecosystems, including one of the last undeveloped bastions of beach in southern Spain and through an area of dunes so large you may feel like you're lost in the desert. In marshes, scrubland, grassland, and pine forests, keep a lookout for wild boar, fallow deer, and the rare Retuerta horse. While much of the park is restricted to guided tours in order to protect the fragile environment, travelers may also trek along footpaths at the visitor center at La Rocina and also at El Palacio del Acebrón. Housed in an old palace, this visitors center showcases special exhibits on the park's history and natural environment.

Where to Stay

The nearby resort area of Matalascanas has a variety of accommodations. Funky El Rocío's Hotel Toruño is a must-pick for flamingo and heron watchers. Be careful if you're attempting to book in late May or early June, as prices soar and rooms are scarce during the popular Romería del Rocío, an annual pilgrimage.

Scottish Highlands

Where romance, castles, and whiskey combine for a surprisingly family-friendly escape.

If your vision of "Wild Europe" involves romance, head to Scotland's Highlands, where endless heather-covered moors undulate under misty skies and men and women with thick brogues share a laugh between drams of whiskey.

What to Do

Explore the southern edge of Cairngorms National Park, Britain's largest national park, using Blair Castle as your jumping-off point. The traditional seat of the Dukes of Atholl, this classic, stark white castle set amid the lush green rolling hills has hosted a variety of important guests throughout history, including Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Victoria. Tour this 13th-century castle, which boasts the last remaining private army in Europe. Next, enjoy the outdoors as the Scots do through country sports. Saunter along rugged tracks on sturdy Highland ponies or fish for salmon or wild brown trout along a peaceful Scottish hill loch or rushing river. Modern adventurers may also choose to travel by mountain bike or Land Rover. Just down the road, Scotland's smallest traditional distillery, Edradour, beckons adult guests for a tour and tasting to soothe muscles and warm up after a day outdoors.

Where to Stay

Stay on the estate and historic grounds and choose from a variety of family- and group-friendly accommodations, including Woodland or Highland Lodges, with impressive views of the surrounding hills. Close to the castle in the small village of Blair Atholl, the Atholl Arms Hotel offers wallet-friendly rates in a charming B&B setting.

Cappadocia, Turkey

Bizarre geological formations, centuries-old underground
cities, traditional villages, and delicious cuisine.

Hiking from village to village amid Cappadocia's enigmatic, pastel rock formations called "Fairy Chimneys" is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. These rock formations, also known as hoodoos, have fueled visitors' imaginations and local legends for centuries.

What to Do

Set off by yourself to hike one of the many trails through Cappadocia's valleys or take a guided tour by foot, bus, or horseback. The trails run from village to village past vineyards and apricot groves along the old Silk Road, with many villages carved out of the area's volcanic rock centuries ago. Keep a lookout for rock-carved churches and the entrances to centuries-old underground cities where early Christians sought refuge from aggressors. Step inside to cool off and get stunned by well-preserved, ornate Byzantine frescoes. For a special treat, take a hot air balloon ride to enjoy Cappadocia's surreal landscapes at dawn.

Where to Stay

Kirkit Pension, in Avanos (a historic pottery center with thriving local markets), is a boutique, family-owned, and budget-friendly cave hotel that delights travelers with tasty, locally sourced meals and live Turkish music.

Carpathia, Romania

Legendary—and spooky!—castles, gourmet cheese, untamed mountain peaks, and traditional villages.

Stretching across Central and Eastern Europe, the Carpathian Mountains encompass some of the wildest terrain in Europe, with dense forests, picturesque castles, alpine meadows, cavernous gorges, curious rock formations, and traditional Romanian villages. This part of Europe is truly for those with a keen sense of adventure and love of history. 

What to Do

Take a hike! In Piatra Craiului National Park, that is, home to a variety of caves, gorges and the longest and tallest limestone ridge in Romania. Keep a lookout for brown bears, wolves, and lynxes. Stop in unique villages, where the locals hold fast to a traditional way of life. Visit imposing Bran Castle, also known as "Dracula's Castle" after Bram Stoker's famous (fictional) vampire, and take in the legends surrounding this centuries-old fortress. Continue your hike in the Bucegi Mountains, where shepherds make Branza de Burduf cheese, which gets its distinctive taste from aging in fir tree bark.

Where to Stay

Budget-friendly pensions, campsites, and chalets are located throughout Piatra Caaiului National Park, including in the villages of Pestera and Magura. Pensiunea Pepino in Magura, in a beautiful location complete with its own private garden, serves up delicious, home-cooked Romanian cuisine right inside the park.  

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Adventure

Coast-to-Coast by Word of Mouth!

In our modern world, we’re more connected by technology than ever before, but I can’t help but feel that we’re actually growing further apart. Travel is all about connection—that sense of belonging. So I decided to seek out travel advice from the people I met on a solo road trip across the U.S. We start on the California Coast. You ready? See the photos from my coast to coast road trip!  Days 1–3: Los Angeles, CA to Yuma, AZ The scenic Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) just south of Los Angeles couldn’t have been a more inspiring start to my trip. Travel is a funny thing: No matter how seasoned you are, there’s nothing more encouraging than meeting an impossibly earnest person with a contagious spirit in the face of a long, unknown path ahead. Warm, lovely Allie Rose, working at a strawberry stand in Long Beach, reminded me why I decided to take this journey in the first place: I needed to look up from scrolling through my iPhone, put down my guidebook with its carefully dog-eared corners, and appreciate fleeting moments and enlightening people. I call them the “darlings” of the road, placed there seemingly on purpose. I bought two pints of ripe red strawberries from Allie for $4 before taking in the scene at Tamarack State Beach. So many cars were pulling over that I thought there must be a festival. Nope! The pre-sunset tides were so ideal that droves of surfers were racing to catch the perfect wave. I’m a surfer poseur, so after snapping shots of them suited up and expertly skimming the water, I sat on the beach and ate the fresh, sweet strawberries while looking out over the Pacific Ocean, at times seeing nothing but the heads of agile surfers bobbing up and down in the distance. As I dipped 24 miles south on the PCH, picturesque vignettes of the ocean kept appearing over my right shoulder, one after the other. I reached La Jolla Cove—famous for its hundreds of seals—just in time to catch the sunset. Daybreak at San Diego’s Sunset Cliffs Natural Park came dressed in a mellow haze of light fog—peaceful weather ideal for yoga at dawn. I was soon back on the road, on Route 5, in search of a dish true to the area. A local truck driver’s recommendation? Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill. Less than five bucks bought me a hearty mahi mahi taco and a fresh-outta-the-sea flavor I’ll spend my whole life trying to find again. Turning onto I-8, I traced the Mexican border, weaving close to it, then skirting away when the highway leaned north. Coming from the coast, the ocean vistas twisted into a mountainous desert landscape, which transformed into hills seemingly made of tiny pebbles. The roadside flatlined into desert followed by fields. Just shy of Yuma, Arizona, the almost Moroccan-looking Algodones Dunes came into view, the sand’s curves resembling perfectly whipped chocolate meringue, the peaks folding into valleys again and again. Ten miles west of Yuma, I motored to Felicity, California, dubbed the Center of the World. The strange compound’s pyramid holds the “official” center-of-the-world plaque. A sun dial made of a bronze replica of God’s arm juts out from the ground, as does an original spiral staircase from the Eiffel Tower. I felt that pleasant disorientation that road tripping is all about. At Yuma Territorial Prison Museum, I met Louie, the kind of guy who refuses to take his sunglasses off for a portrait but will let you see into his big, open heart. As I left, he said, “Good luck on your trip. Don’t take any bullsh*t from anybody. If people try and tell you bullsh*t, just ignore them and go on your way. Keep holding true to your instincts.” Days 4–6: Tucson, AZ to El Paso, TX Green chiles and desert peaks: Check and double-check! The southwest, by way of southern Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas, offered me spicy eats, cool drinks—and a pickup line that's so good you might want to write it down. After cruising past the unmistakable desert silhouette of Picacho Peak on I-10, I discovered my new favorite drink: kombucha on tap—literally pourable probiotics!—at “plant-based” (a.k.a. organic, locally sourced, and vegan-friendly) Food for Ascension Café in Tucson. While exploring the city center, I crossed paths more than once with a curious kid along East Congress Street. When we finally spoke. I thought I had just heard our generation’s latest pickup line (“You on Instagram?”), but it turned out he was a local filmmaker likely just interested in my heavy-duty camera and what I was shooting. A self-proclaimed Chuck Taylor sneaker enthusiast, José suggested I head to Fourth Avenue, a stretch of road saturated with hyper-local establishments and colorful characters, not technically downtown and not quite into University of Arizona territory. Fourth Avenue feels like it’s growing by the minute yet manages to maintain a humble, familiar energy—a nostalgia, even: the rare up-and-coming area that’s not trying too hard to be hip. Afterward, I hopped back on the road to Las Cruces, New Mexico, specifically the village of Mesilla. I’d gotten word that La Posta de Mesilla dishes out the “best green chiles in town,” so I pulled up a chair and ate next to a group of friendly folks who recommended I take Route 28 to El Paso. Reason being: It runs south through a string of pecan farms, with trees reaching out from either side of the road to form a gorgeous natural leafy archway that continues for miles and miles. Around the West Texas border, I noticed my “I’s” turning into “we’s.” My rented Prius (I’d named her Penn) and I had been through a lot: unexpectedly rugged terrain, shameless karaoke-worthy playlists, and eerie green skies in El Paso, where I feared flash floods and tornadoes that never appeared. Yes, I had formed a bond with an inanimate object. Penn was officially the Rocinante to my Don Quixote. My noble steed. Days 7–9: Marfa, TX to Lockhart, TX Take one nail-biting traffic stop and mix in wild animals and a barbeque joint, and you've got my first taste of the Lone Star State. Border police, if you're reading this, I vow never to mess with Texas again. Three hours southeast of El Paso, the artsy celebrity haunt Marfa, Texas, appeared like a mirage. I stumbled on the Food Shark Truck, where hipsters in combat boots, families, and in-the-know seniors were grabbing falafel sandwiches (“marfalafels”) and tacos. On advice from Laura in El Paso, I cruised to Big Bend Brewing Co. in Alpine, Texas, where I admired amber-hued ales and met hard-scrabble Randy. When I asked about his hat, he said, “A hat? This is a lid, kid. I was born with this thing on.” En route to San Antonio, I had my first—and only—run-in with the law. I had innocently taken a long-cut around Brackettville to avoid stirring up my fear of wind turbines (it’s a real thing called anemomenophobia!), which is a no-no: The route is often used by shady types to avoid the border patrol checkpoint on I-90. Two cops swiftly pulled me over. I told a very serious-looking officer about my windmill phobia, and they sent me on my way—after searching my car. The trouble was worth the beauty I saw next: five antelope with prominent spiral horns. After a stop at Pearl in San Antonio for some souvenir jewelry, this leg of my trip ended on a high note: Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. I eagerly dug into my pile of smokehouse meat served on butcher paper. Days 10–11: Austin, TX to Houston, TX I didn't have to look too hard to find exactly what keeps Austin weird (hint: peacocks and two-stepping play a major role) before heading east to Houston and eventually leaving my inner cowgirl behind. Next on the map? Austin. And the close wildlife encounters were just beginning: Back in Marfa, I received a true Keep Austin Weird–style suggestion to visit Mayfield Park, a “peacock park” that is not a zoo. The pretty beasts unfurled their plumage as I snapped them mid-mating dance. Later that night, I got my ultimate Texas experience at the Broken Spoke in Austin, a dance hall dubbed the “best honky-tonk in Texas,” where locals pay $12 to two-step to live music, sip beers, eat barbecued brisket and potato salad, and watch newcomers try their best to fit in. Soon after I arrived, an older amiable fellow in a cowboy hat, Levi’s, and leather boots named Polo, who says he comes every Saturday, introduced himself. He knew right away that I was a newbie—not because I was green to the scene, but because he seems to have met everyone who comes through the Spoke’s door. I was honored when he asked me to dance. That night, a legend was in the house: Dressed in a flashy red shirt studded with rhinestones, Broken Spoke founder James M. White made his way through the crowd, which treated him with deference and respect, as though he were a beloved local politician. A soothing punctuation mark to my Texas travelogue was a sunrise visit to artist James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace: a grass, concrete, stone, and steel structure with a rectangular window to the sky designed to function as a mind-bending play on color when the sun rises and sets. As I lay on the ground, I watched the colors of the sky change as the pavilion’s artificial light glowed around it, tricking the mind into thinking the sky is a different color than it is. You could call it an immersive, highbrow version of the “blue or white dress” debate. Visits are always free. Before I headed to Louisiana, I grabbed a bite in Houston at Local Foods, where Nina shared with me her favorite New Orleans staples from her days at Tulane, despite the long, long line of people waiting behind me: “When you are downtown, make sure to look at the antique shops on Royal Street and see some live music on Frenchman. New Orleans is my favorite city in the world... so far.” Days 12–13: New Orleans, LA to Tallahassee, FL A little-known beignet joint, a stroll down Frenchman Street, and a conversation with a New Orleanian who tried to beat me at my own game were all highlights of my journey through the Deep South. Swinging low from Baton Rouge to N’awlins and back up again to Slidell via I-10, I found myself deep in southern Louisiana. If you’ve been to NOLA, you probably know Cafe Du Monde’s beignets. Instead, on the advice of a photographer couple, I went north, toward Lake Ponchartrain, to Morning Call Coffee Stand, which serves beignets off the beaten track—and has fewer tourists waiting to steal your table. There, I met Robbie, exactly the kind of server you’d expect to find at a 24/7 coffee stand going on its 145th year of service in the south. Even though I only wanted to try one hand-rolled beignet, Robbie informed me, with an infectious grin and persuasive shrug, that I could get three for the same price. When I asked to take his portait, he said yes—but only if he could also take mine. Pretty clever, and a first on this trip! My beignets appeared on a white plate, plump and golden, a sugar shaker at the ready. After giving them a powdery coat, I bit into the first one. Bliss. Sugar State bliss. Days 14–15: Savannah, GA to Charleston, SC Is it over already? After two weeks of unique sights, good food, and unbeatable chats with locals, I pumped the brakes to settle into Georgia's slow southern pace, eventually winging my way up to South Carolina for one last sunset. Dusk in Savannah. As the sun melted like hot butter on the horizon, over the rooftop of my hotel, I plotted out my journey to the Olde Pink House for dinner the next day—the restaurant has a stellar reputation for shrimp and grits, specifically its “southern sushi,” smoked shrimp and grits rolled in coconut-crusted nori. Since my hotel was nearby, I stopped by to scout it out. While doing so, I met Jasmine, an effervescent young hostess who asked me if I would take her portrait—but quickly caught herself: “Tomorrow! Can you come back tomorrow? I’ll wear pink.” My second day in town, I hopscotched among Savannah’s 22 lush, grassy squares to iconic Forsyth Park, draped in the Spanish moss that's inseparable from the idea of Savannah as a city. After capturing the scene on camera and doing some serious people-watching and music- listening—musicians constantly play in the park—I meandered along the river, stopping at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen for a candy-dipped apple crisscrossed with ribbons of chocolate. One last state loomed large as I zoomed up I-17. Folly Beach, South Carolina, grabbed my attention with its classic Atlantic Coast vibe: locals eating ice cream, playing volleyball, and dipping their toes in the surf. I bellied up to the Folly Beach Crab Shack, ordered crab balls with rémoulade for less than 10 bucks, and set out for a marina between the beach and Charleston: the best place to watch the sun set, Bonnie at the crab shack shared. As the horizon shifted from orange to pink to navy, I let my mind drift back to the start of my trip, my thoughts running backward across the country, up and down the south’s peaks and valleys, past its ocean vistas, along the open road, accompanied by my camera, now filled with freeze-framed natural beauty and the faces of new friends.

Adventure

How to Do the Riviera Maya on a Budget

At first glance, this part of Mexico's Yucatán coast feels familiar, a sort of hybrid of Puerto Rico, Miami, and Hawaii with all the resort-lined streets and tropical palm trees. The 30-minute drive from Cancún International Airport along Boulevard Kukulcan, named after an ancient Mayan serpent god, winds its way through the city suburbs, across Nichupte Bay, and snakes along the barrier islands into Cancún's Resort Zone, where tourists spend all their time on the beach sipping margaritas and admiring the scenery. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of vacation—hey, everybody needs a break and a fancy umbrella drink once in a while!—but there's so much more to Cancún and the Riviera Maya than meets the eye. This part of Mexico, once stereotyped as a spring break party spot, is now a major family destination for not only Americans, but people from Europe, Asia, South America, Central America, and all over Mexico. Here's our guide to getting a taste of the region's history, culture, and cuisine on a budget—plus some tips on where you should splurge on a few only-in-Mexico once-in-a-lifetime experiences. TAKE A TOUR OF THE AFFORDABLE RIVIERA MAYA CANCÚN Where to Stay If you don't want an all-inclusive resort, stay at the Krystal Grand Punta Cancún, which offers rooms right on the beach at the tip of the 7-shaped barrier island from $139 per night. This resort-style hotel is a great base for exploring the area, and puts you right in the middle of all the Resort Zone action, within walking distance of restaurants, bars, and nightlife. Take it easy in one of the first-come, first-served cabanas by the beach, or lounge by the resort's enormous pool. Take a Day Trip to Isla Mujeres It wasn't until we arrived in Isla Mujeres that I finally felt like I was in Mexico. There's just a different vibe there—you'll hear more Spanish being spoken than English and everything just seems more legit. Take a 20-minute ride on the UltraMar Ferry from Embarcadero Pier, Playa Tortugas Pier, or Playa Caracol Pier in the Hotel Zone to Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women. Ferries cost roughly $19 per person for a round-trip ticket. Take a taxi to the downtown part of Isla Mujeres and go for an afternoon stroll around town, shop at the little stores along the streets, chat with friendly locals, and admire the colorful murals that decorate the streets, often representing the area's appreciation for the ocean, wildlife, and Mayan history. If you're feeling adventurous, stop by the Garrafon Natural Reef Park, where you can do everything from snorkeling and kayaking to hiking and zip-lining. The park is also home to an impressive sculpture garden and ruins of an ancient Mayan temple dedicated to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility, at Punta Sur. Stop by Dolphin Discovery for the chance to swim with these majestic creatures. Tickets to Garrafon Natural Reef Park start at $89 per adult and $59 per child ages 5-11 for a full day of activities. Dolphin Encounters at Dolphin Discovery start at $109 for adults and $89 for children ages 6-12. Check the website to see a variety of packages, including tickets to both parks from $129 for adults and $99 for children ages 6-12. Swim With the Whale Sharks If ever there was a time to splurge on a special bucket list activity, this is it. Solo Buceo's half-day Whale Shark Snorkel Tour leaves Solo Buceo Pier in the Resort Zone at 6:45 a.m. and takes you to Azul, a special spot two hours off the coast of Cancún where whale sharks are known to congregate between March and September (though the peak season for seeing whale sharks is during July and August). All you need to bring is biodegradable sunscreen, a towel, your swimsuit, and a waterproof camera or a waterproof cover for your smartphone, and Solo Buceo provides the rest—snorkel gear including a mask, fins, and life jacket, and a sack lunch for the ride back. Now, repeat after me: "I will take Dramamine before I get on the boat even if I don't feel like I need it." Trust me, it's better to be safe than sorry, and you'll be out on the boat until 2 p.m. When you get to Azul, keep those cameras out—hundreds of whale sharks, each measuring up to 40 feet long, are feeding on tiny plankton floating in the shallow surface waters, opening their giant toothless mouths to the krill and gliding effortlessly through the water. You, on the other hand, will have to swim as fast as you possibly can to keep up with these blissfully calm creatures (who are not interested in eating you no matter how big their shark fins are), all while wearing snorkel gear, fins, and a bulky life preserver because you are in very, very deep water. I have to admit this was the craziest and most terrifying thing I have ever done—I wasn't afraid of the sharks themselves, just the fact that we were in incredibly deep water with who knows what other types of sharks!—but our guide was wonderful and even offered to hold my hand in the water when we first jumped in to meet the whale sharks. Referring to them as "whales" also helps, by the way. In the end, each person gets to jump in three times, and it was something I would definitely do again in a heartbeat. From $175 per person. Get Your Fill of Mayan History If you're renting a car, I would strongly suggest making the 2.5-hour pilgrimage along Mexico Highway 180D out to see Chichen Itza, one of the most impressive and complex set of ruins on earth. Leave plenty of time to explore at your own pace. If you're short on time or not planning to leave the Resort Zone, stop by the Museo Maya de Cancún (the Cancun Maya Museum) along Boulevard Kukulcan, for a look at the San Miguelito ruins, and a chance to learn more about the ancient people who first settled in this part of Mexico—all for less than $5 per person. PLAYA DEL CARMEN Where to Stay Located about an hour's drive south of Cancún International Airport is Playa del Carmen, a beach town paradise on the Mexican mainland just across the water from Cozumel. Stay at the Occidental Royal Club Grand Xcaret Resort. Enjoy all-inclusive perks like day- and nighttime entertainment, unlimited meals, snacks, and drinks at 11 on-site restaurants, 10 bars (including one disco!). Chill by one of the resort's five swimming pools or on the beach and get active with family-friendly activities like mini-golf, archery, tennis, ping-pong, dance classes, and shuffleboard. From $135 per person per night. Take a Day Trip to Cozumel For a fun day trip, hop a 45-minute ferry from downtown Playa del Carmen and spend some time wandering the colorful streets of Cozumel (ferry tickets are $11 for adults and $6.50 for kids each way). The ferry leaves you at Cozumel's Punta Langosta Cruise Ship Pier, and from there it's just a short walk downtown to area shopping and dining, or a quick cab ride away from a wide variety of unique aquatic activities you won't find at home like swimming with dolphins at Chankanaab National Marine Park, or exploring the depths with Atlantis Submarines Cozumel. Visit Beautiful Beachside Ruins at Tulum Tulum, the only Mayan city built on the coast, was originally an important seaport, supposedly a place where Mayan royalty came to get away from it all, and of course that tradition lives on, as Tulum continues to be a major tourist destination today. The Tulum ruins are made of limestone and feature an impressive wall that surrounds the site on three sides. Don't miss the chance to explore El Castillo, one of the oldest and best preserved structures on the site, and take a peek at the Temple of the Frescoes to see murals that depict the Mayan worlds of the living and the dead and representations of the gods. Meet Mexico's Wildlife While you're in the area, don't miss a trip to Xcaret, an eco-archaeological park where you can enjoy gorgeous 360-degree panoramic views of the Caribbean from the top of the rotating scenic tower, learn more about the history of Mexico at Hacienda Henequenera, visit historic sites like the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel, the Chapel of Guadalupe, and a traditional Mexican Cemetery, as well as a number of Mayan archaeological sites and a replica of an ancient village. Sail down Paradise River on one of Xcaret's rafts, to get a better look at the deep jungles and underground rivers within the park. Adults should stop by the Vino de Mexico Wine Cellar, an underground cellar in Xcaret's main plaza featuring more than 180 Mexican wine labels and more than 400 years of history surrounding Mexico's wine industry. Don't miss cultural performances like the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular and Voladores de Papantla. Kids will love Jaguar Island, the Coral Reef Aquarium, and the chance to see other area wildlife up close. General admission to Xcaret starts at $89 per person when ordered online, general admission from $99 per person at the gate, packages that include lunch and beverages are an additional $27 per person.

Adventure

10 Car-Free Fall Foliage Trips of the Northeast

1. SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS  What to fall for: No matter what time of year you visit this historic hamlet on the harbor 16 miles north of Boston, the town will cast its spell. Yet when the leaves form a crimson canopy, the pumpkins come out, and Halloween takes hold, there is a haunting chill in the air that well serves the stories of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Soak up the bewitching colors of the season as you explore the Walking Heritage Trail, hunch over the graves of hanged victims, and ride the Tales & Tombstones Trolley (one hour, from $15 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-14, $14 for seniors over 60). Grab a bite at the newly opened Opus restaurant or locavore gastropub Naumkeag Ordinary before visiting Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables, situated conveniently across the street from your accommodations at the Morning Glory Bed & Breakfast, a charming 1808 Georgian Federal house with a rooftop patio (from $170). Peak Season: Mid-October How to get there: From Boston, take the Newburyport/Rockport commuter rail or the Salem Ferry (roundtrip, from $45 for adults, $41 for seniors over 65, $35 for children ages 3-11). The Morning Glory B&B offers free transportation to and from the port and train stations. SEE BEAUTIFUL PHOTOS OF FALL FOLIAGE! 2. BURLINGTON, VERMONT  What to fall for: Without knowing Burlington recently joined a tiny coterie of American cities to be 100% run on renewable energy, you can sense a "green" ethos while walking through the streets that goes beyond being pedestrian-friendly, accessible by train, and the Green Mountain State. You may be here for other hues, like orange, burgundy, and gold, but Burlington's celebration of the environment—found on plates at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill, in pint glasses at Burlington Hearth, and in guestrooms at newcomer Hotel Vermont (from $199)—makes for a more rewarding getaway. Take one of Hotel Vermont's complimentary bikes out for a scenic ride around Lake Champlain or use their suggested guided itinerary for an off the beaten path farm-to-foliage-to-table excursion on two wheels. Peak Season: Mid-October How to get there: Visit Amtrak.com to book your trip. 3. HUDSON VALLEY, NEW YORK  What to fall for: Affordable all-inclusive getaways in luxurious remote destinations don't come along often enough for car-free travelers, which is why this package from Metro-North and the Mohonk Mountain House belongs on your bucket list. Daily meals, transportation, and on-site activities-—including yoga, guided hikes, and tennis-—are part of the deal (worth a splurge from $297 per person per night for all-inclusive amenities) at this 145-year-old Victorian castle nestled on Lake Mohonk. At some point mid-stride in the Shawangunk Mountains, stop a moment to look down at the resort's red rooftops blending in with fall's dramatic backdrop. Peak Season: Mid-late October How to get there: Ride Metro-North from New York City to Poughkeepsie Station. Book your stay two weeks in advance and connect with the hotel for pick-up and drop-off via their free shuttle. 4. PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND  What to fall for: State capitals like Providence are a rare breed. Here, half way between New York City and Boston, the vibe is anything but business and politics. After a long workweek, this has become a place to forget all that. With a sizzling art scene, hip hotels, and James Beard-nominated restaurants opening up, Providence is the Northeast's new cool kid on the block. Wake up to a cup of Bolt Coffee at The Dean Hotel (from $99 for a single room or from $149 for a suite), a former brothel-turned-hotel with elegant rooms, a cocktail lounge, karaoke bar, beer, bratwurst and pretzel hall, and a locally sourced aesthetic. From The Dean, go for a 13-minute stroll past City Hall, across the river-—where WaterFire is celebrating its 20th year-—and over to the Rhode Island School of Design. From there, head up a few paces to Prospect Terrace Park for sweeping views of the city's blazing skyline. Walk east through Brown's beautiful campus, up Thayer Street, and head over to brunch at the Duck & Bunny. Wind down the day at Roger Williams Park Zoo's annual Jack O Lantern Spectacular (happening Oct 1st thru Nov 1st, featuring 5,000 creatively carved pumpkins), then settle in to a creatively carved meal at Birch. Peak Season: Late October How to get there: Take Amtrak's Acela or Northeast Regional trains. Peter Pan Bus and Megabus also service Providence. 5. BRETTON WOODS, NEW HAMPSHIRE  What to fall for: When the mountains start calling this season, bring the flannels and flasks to the Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Center at Crawford Notch—the oldest, continually maintained hiking trail in the country. Breakfast and dinner are included in your stay, as are the naturalist programs, L.L. Bean gear, waterfalls, and breathtaking summits with panoramic views accessible right outside your door. With non-member rates from $81/pp, this is one of the best budget-friendly glamping adventures in the northeast. Peak Season: Early October How to get there: Through fall, AMC's Hiker Shuttle offers transportation to various major approach routes. The AMC shuttle also picks up in Gorham, NH. If coming from Boston, take Concord Coach Lines to Lincoln, NH, where Shuttle Connection offers van service to the Highland Center. 6. CATSKILLS, NEW YORK  What to fall for: The getaway starts before you even leave home. Where you're going you'll need one bag of groceries (don't forget the s'mores!) in addition to the usual overnight necessities. Tucked away on 70 acres in the Catskill Mountains, this upstate retreat has everything else you'll need, like peace and quiet, your own yurt, your own woods, and your own private planetarium. By day, sitting on your deck at Harmony Hill (from $125 for a yurt, $195 for a mountain chalet), looking out at the leafy spectrum of amber, citrus, and fuschia, you'll get your foliage fix all right. By night, the stars will light up the sky along with your campfire, chopped wood included. Near the yurt—a 314-square-foot heated sanctuary with a bathroom, kitchen, king size bed, four windows, and a dome skylight—there are hiking trails and meadows, and an 11-circuit labyrinth. The charcoal grill may come in handy, but it's advised to let owners Jana Batey and Chris Rosenthal arrange for dinner to be delivered to your picnic table ($50 per person with wine) from neighboring Stone & Thistle Farm. Peak Season: Mid-late October How to get there: Take the Adirondack Trailways bus to Delhi, NY. Call ahead for Harmony Hill to pick you up at the station. 7. ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, MAINE  What to fall for: For a taste of the wild outdoors without leaving civilization, plan a trip to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. You'll want to linger in your waterfront room at The West Street Hotel (from $129), but this place in the tippy-top corner of the country seems like it was made just for autumn. Acadia National Park will turn you into a morning person; set out onto 45 miles of car-free Carriage Trails with an Acadia Bike ($23 for a day rentals), paddle around the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman Bay with Coastal Kayaking Tours ($49 for half day rentals), and hike some of the 125 miles of trails offering panoramic views of the spectacular season. Peak Season: Mid-October How to get there: Take the Bar Harbor Shuttle ($45 per person, one way) from Bangor, ME. Visit http://exploreacadia.com for more car-free travel options to the area. 8. WASHINGTON, D.C.  What to fall for: DC makes it easy to get over summer. Especially when you're standing atop the recently reopened Washington Monument or at Arlington National Cemetery's Arlington House above the city and its government buildings that never looked so radiant. Whether roaming the capital's free attractions—be it the U.S. National Arboretum, Botanic Garden, Smithsonian's National Zoo, National Mall, Rock Creek Park, or Tidal Basin, or rolling through various neighborhoods like Georgetown and Adams Morgan on the $1 DC Circulator—you'll be thinking this is better than cherry blossoms or the 4th of July. Enjoy free bikes at Hotel Monaco (from $139) or free breakfast at American Guest House (from $184), and make sure to tap into a few autumnal events, including FotoWeekDC (Nov. 7-15) and Taste of DC (Oct. 10-11), while in town. Before turning in—or riding the rails home—be one of the first to have a nightcap at Union Social, a train station themed bar expected to open this fall in the NoMa district.     Peak Season: Mid-late October How to get there: The capital is easily accessible via plane, train, and bus. 9. SOUTHPORT, CONNECTICUT  What to fall for: The journey by train is part of the allure of this Connecticut coast escape. The trip begins without fuss, no traffic jams or getting lost, and carries you into a quaint town tinged with orange leaves and a fair amount of fun for such a small zipcode. Fairfield Restaurant Week (Oct 11-17, from $10 for lunch, $30 for dinner) is on the docket, as is a complimentary welcome bottle of champagne at Delamar Southport, which also includes breakfast for two at on-site Artisan Restaurant (from $289, weekends). After gallery hopping, a hike and picnic in the newly revitalized Southport Park, and a stroll along pristine beaches, walk over to restaurant week participant Gray Goose Café for a delicious organic meal, the only kind of refueling you'll need all weekend. Peak Season: Mid-late October thru early November. How to get there: Take Metro North's New Haven Line to Southport Station. Call the hotel directly to book the package and arrange for transfers to and from the station. 10. NEW HOPE, PENNSYLVANIA  What to fall for: It's been called a hidden gem and Pennsylvania's best kept secret, but for whatever reason Bucks County still ends up being one of those places you say you're going to visit some day but never do. In the heart of town, drop your bags at Olivia's Bridge Street Inn (from $199) and skip over to South Main Street to pick up the Delaware Canal towpath. In a setting like this, you'll feel as though you've never seen the real foliage before. If you only have a short time to explore the canal and take in the sights, rent two wheels at New Hope Cyclery ($10 per hour, lock and helmet included; $25 for a half-day or $35 for a full day rental) or enjoy a two and a half hour "Fall Foliage Train" tour on the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad ($48.95 for adults, $46.95 for children ages 2-11, $8.95 for children under 2) that whooshes across Bucks County on weekends Oct 3rd thru Nov 1st; hop on an enlightening hour rail excursion (from $19.95) in an Open Air Car. Slow things down at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve ($6 for adults, $4 for students with a valid ID and seniors over 65, $3 for children ages 3-14), home to 800 native PA species, for a relaxing guided walk included in admission. Toast to finally making it to Bucks County over a riverfront feast at The Landing or Martine's. Peak Season: October How to get there: The Transbridge Bus (Doyleston/Frenchtown/Flemington line) goes from Penn Station to New Hope, but it might be better to get off at the Lambertville stop and walk across the bridge (approximately 10 minutes) into town.

Adventure

Travel 101: The Best of Florida

Florida is a big, beautiful place with something for every style of traveler. Here, we've narrowed the list a bit, with options that will please everyone in your family. THE SPACE COAST Just about an hour’s drive from Orlando, the Cape Canaveral area is one of Florida’s jewels. Cruising the “Space Coast” between Titusville and Melbourne is a thrilling way to delve into America’s past (this was, after all, the center of the national space program in the 1960s) and enjoy some of the state’s finest natural wonders, too. The Kennedy Space Center is the must-see here for its great displays devoted to the space program. But you may find yourself just as drawn to beaches and wildlife refuges, and that’s just fine. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to egrets, herons, manatees, and even feral hogs. Canaveral National Seashore is a cool place to see loggerhead turtles in their natural habitat. Cocoa Beach is a surfer's paradise—where else can you shop 24/7 at Ron Jon's Surf Shop? You can also pick up the perfect Cuban sandwich in Cocoa. In Melbourne, you can sign up for open-water scuba lessons if you’re feeling adventurous, or just relax at a local eatery with a plate of fried chicken atop buttermilk pancakes. ORLANDO’S FOOD SCENE Sure, we all know that Miami is a mecca for foodies. But Orlando has its own food scene that even some of its biggest fans are surprised to learn about. Devotees of the “big three” theme parks (Universal, Disney, and SeaWorld) may know that the fish & chips at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are magical, and that Walt Disney World and Epcot offer fine dining choices, but when it comes to culinary arts, Orlando is not such a small world after all. The Rusty Spoon has garnered much praise for its creative use of fresh local ingredients sourced from Florida farmers, including butter-poached wild clams and slow-braised Jamison farm lamb collar. International Drive has an array of choices like Ethiopian, Indian, and Japanese fare, and a new Shake Shack (the chain that started as a NYC hot dog cart) has arrived, too. And we enjoy partaking of food trucks like Arepas El Cacao. THE WILD SIDE You’ve no doubt heard that Everglades National Park is a famous Florida park, with miles of fascinating and beautiful waterways and wildlife like alligators. But Florida is also home to lesser known parks and preserves such as Honeymoon Island, a state park with four miles of white beaches and two miles of nature trails where you may spot osprey, bald eagles, and terns. Once known as Hog Island, the decidedly romantic park got a lift when beach cottages were built in the 1930s and the name was changed to more accurately describe its allure. The cottages are gone, but more than a million visitors enjoy the day trip to swim, surf, kayak, and search for seashells along the shore. (You can stay in the nearby towns of Dunedin and Clearwater Beach.) THE KEYS Sunset Celebration at Key West’s Mallory Square is one of those bucket-list items every visitor must experience, preferably with a margarita from one of the nearby stands in hand. Key West is known for its party scene, but just around the corner from raucous Duval Street you’ll find the quieter Bahama Village neighborhood. Tour the “Little White House,” where Harry Truman stayed on vacation when he was president, and the Hemingway Home and Museum and check out the many cats said to have descended directly from Papa’s semi-famous six-toed cat. Just up Route 1, you’ll marvel at Seven Mile Bridge, which runs between mile markers 40 and 47, and Key Largo, where you can rent a bungalow and enjoy a slice of, what else, key lime pie. THE GULF COAST Though Florida is justly renowned for its Atlantic beaches, the western shores of the state are beautiful in their own right and are home to one of North America’s finest seafood scenes, deserving equal footing with Maine’s lobsters, Maryland’s crabs, and Baja’s fish tacos. The marina in the village of Dunedin, for instance, offers locally caught cobia and mangrove snapper that are prepared and turned into tasty fish tacos. In Clearwater Beach, you can watch fishermen on the Pier (and try it yourself) and grab yourself some smoked mullet, salmon, mahi mahi, and mackerel at Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish in nearby South Pasadena. Just across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (which looks like a giant sailboat), check out Skyway Fishing Pier State Park, the world’s longest fishing pier, where the pelicans will entertain you with their antics. A BEACH FOR EVERY PERSONALITY It’s no secret that we’re fans of Siesta Key, just off the coast of Sarasota. The white sands of Crescent Beach are dazzlingly bright, composed of pure quartz that has made its way from the Appalachian Mountains down Florida’s rivers to settle here along the coast. (The Guinness Book of World Records says Hyams Beach in Australia has whiter sand, but we’re not entirely convinced.) Say “Florida” to most travelers and not only Siesta Key but an array of other white-sand beaches spring to mind. We’ve sometimes wondered if the state has a beach for every type of beachgoer. Turns out we were onto something: VISIT FLORIDA has published a Beach Finder app that allows you to adjust your interests and preferences to find the perfect Florida beach for you! ALL THAT HISTORY Along with beaches, fun in the sun, seafood, and America’s space program, Florida also boasts heaps of history. The city of St. Augustine, for instance, celebrated its 450th anniversary in 2015. (Yes, the city was founded more than 50 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.) A trip to St. Augustine lets you travel back to the days of the Colonial Quarter and scenic Castillo de San Marcos, get your pirate on at Pat Croce’s St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, and take a “Frightseeing” ghost tour of America’s oldest city. Discover Florida. With 825 miles of beaches and the world’s best theme parks, there are endless ways find fun every day in Florida. Starting planning your vacation today at VISITFLORIDA.com.

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