Carmen Green Photography: Blog https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog en-us (C) Carmen Green Photography carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) Fri, 01 Oct 2021 13:40:00 GMT Fri, 01 Oct 2021 13:40:00 GMT https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/img/s/v-12/u771639997-o745115576-50.jpg Carmen Green Photography: Blog https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog 120 120 Visiting the island of Langkawi, Malaysia https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2021/9/visiting-the-island-of-langkawi-malaysia

Langkawi is a lovely archipelago comprising 99 small islands in the Malacca Strait, approximately 30km off the coast of mainland Malaysia. While rather small in size (only about 478.5 km²) there is plenty to see and do and it's small size makes it ideal to easily travel around and explore everything that this beautiful place has to offer.

Langkawi cable car & skybridge 

One of the main attractions in Langkawi, and a place that you have to go to before you leave, is the Langkawi Sky Bridge. Take a ride up on the cable car starting from Oriental Village and witness amazing panoramic views of the archipelago from the top of Langkawi's second highest peak. The cable car ride takes about 15 minutes allowing you plenty of time to observe lush rainforest, mountains, islands and the Andaman sea. There are many photo opportunities with a stop about midway up before you arrive at the very top and access the sky bridge; a 125m long curved pedestrian bridge above Mount Mat Cinchang, and considered to be one of the world’s longest curved suspension bridges. If you are feeling brave, step onto the glass floor and look straight down into the vast valley below.

View looking south-east from Langkawi skybridgeView looking south-east from Langkawi skybridge Looking down onto the Langkawi skybridgeLooking down onto the Langkawi skybridge

Don't forget to stop by the Seven Wells Waterfall before you leave; it is just a few minutes up the road from the skybridge car park. Park at the bottom and follow the short trail up to the waterfall. Look out for cheeky macaques on the way. They seem to be everywhere in Langkawi, particularly where there are people and potential food to steal. It is advisable to keep all food hidden and bags closed as they are very intelligent and will easily snatch food from you when your back is turned.
Seven Wells WaterfallSeven Wells Waterfall Mother and baby long-tailed macaque, LangkawiMother and baby long-tailed macaque, Langkawi

Kilim Geoforest Park

Visit the Kilim Geoforest Park, an impressive 100km² expanse of lush mangrove forest and impressive limestone rock formations with numerous islands, beaches and caves. Here, the easiest way to explore is to take a boat trip through the beautiful mangroves, stopping off at a number of view points on route. The first stop off is at Kelawar Cave where you can observe stalactites, stalagmites and a large colony of bats roosting within the caves. It is thought that three different species of fruit eating bats roost here. Bringing your own torch is recommended otherwise you can rent one there as it does get quite dark within the cave, although take care not to disturb the sleeping bats! Next you can watch the birds of prey being fed and get some fantastic close up views of the white-bellied sea eagles and brahminy kites swooping down for fish; they are very impressive birds. After sailing along the coastline, you can then stop off at a secluded beach within the Geoforest Park to relax and unwind before heading back via Crocodile Cave, so named due to the rocks resembling a crocodile, not because there are any crocodiles there. It is a natural tunnel that has formed within the limestone that the small tour boats are able to navigate through. On the way back, there is also an option to stop at the floating fish farm for lunch. I do not eat seafood myself, however, this is the ideal lunch spot for seafood lovers and is a good place to stop off for refreshment, use the facilities and sit and enjoy the beautiful landscapes.
Kilim Geoforest ParkKilim Geoforest Park Kilim Geoforest ParkKilim Geoforest Park


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Gunung Raya

At 881m above sea level, Gunung Raya is the highest point on the island of Langkawi. If you are feeling fit, then you can hike up to it. Alternatively, it is possible to drive up to the top. The steps up to the peak start at the Thousand Memories Eagle Stairs just off of Jalan Padang Gaong Road and leads up through lush rainforest. Stop and catch a breath while keeping an eye out for birds and monkeys moving through the trees. Once at the top, enjoy breath-taking panoramic views all across the island. There was once a cafe at the top of the mountain, however, this is now closed so ensure to bring sufficient food and water on your hike as there is nowhere on route to get refreshment.

View from Gunung Raya, the highest point in LangkawiView from Gunung Raya, the highest point in Langkawi
Island hopping

There are so many islands surrounding Langkawi and the best way to get around and explore is by boat. Therefore, island hopping is a very popular activity in Langkawi with multiple tour operators offering trips to the various islands within the archipelago. Trips start from the jetty at the southern tip of the island at Pantai Tengah where the majority of the surrounding islands are just a short boat ride away. The island Pulau Dayang Bunting is one of the main islands to visit. It is the second largest island within the archipelago and is said to resemble the silhouette of a reclined pregnant lady from afar. Here you can follow a short trail to the Lake of Pregnant Maiden where you can relax, swim and get refreshments. Next you will be taken to another island where you will have some time to relax on the pristine beaches and take a swim in the ocean. Keep an eye out for those pesky macaques though who are always in search for an easy meal! During the boat trip there is also another opportunity to watch feeding of the majestic white-bellied sea eagles and brahminy kites as they soar overhead and dive down to the water.

Pulau Dayang islandPulau Dayang island

Wildlife

Despite being quite a small island, being so close to mainland Malaysia, there is an abundance of wildlife to see. The birdwatching in particular is amazing and you will see so many colourful and exotic birds wherever you go. In order to see even more birds, we went on a trip with the local tour group Junglewalla. If you aren't familiar with the birds in the area, it is definitely well worth booking a trip with an expert. Our guide was so knowledgeable, superb at spotting birds and knew exactly where to go on the island to find them. We visited a number of different habitats including rainforest, plantations, scrub and wetlands and saw a total of 37 species in just a 4 hour tour. We got some amazing views of all species; particular highlights include crested goshawk, mountain hawk-eagle and a great hornbill landing in a tree right in front of us.

It's not all about the birds on Langkawi though. The island is also rich in insect life with lots of colourful butterflies, plus two species of monkey: the long-tailed macaque and the less common dusky leaf monkey (above).

Great hornbill, Gunung RayaGreat hornbill, Gunung Raya Dusky leaf monkey, Gunung RayaDusky leaf monkey, Gunung Raya Peacock pansy butterflyPeacock pansy butterfly

As you can see, despite the small size of the island, there is plenty to see and do here. We spent just five days on the island which was enough to do everything we wanted but we could easily spend a week or two here to have even more time enjoying the lovely, relaxing atmosphere, beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife! 


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) archipelago asia ayer birds birdwatching boat bridge cable car dataran geoforest geopark gunang hangat hornbill island Kilim lang Langkawi macaque Malaysia monkeys nature park photography raya relax sky travel trip views village wildlife https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2021/9/visiting-the-island-of-langkawi-malaysia Tue, 28 Sep 2021 12:29:23 GMT
A day trip into Bosnia from Dubrovnik https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2021/1/a-day-trip-into-bosnia-from-dubrovnik

A great thing about the location of Dubrovnik is that it is so close to several other countries, namely Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina. While you're visiting Dubrovnik, I would certainly recommend a day trip into Bosnia. From where we stayed in Soline, the Ivanica Border Crossing was only a 15 minute drive away. Just don't forget to bring your passport and, if you are hiring a vehicle, make sure the rental car company are aware that you will be entering another country so that you will have all the documentation that you will need at the border crossing (there will be an additional fee for this). While I had read previously that there can be long waits at the border crossing, when we arrived late morning, we went through fairly quickly (under 10 minutes). Alternatively, if you do not have a hire car, it is possible to take the bus from Dubrovnik into Bosnia and there are regular buses that will take you into Mostar, the main place to visit in Bosnia & Herzegovina. 

Mostar

An approximately 2 hour drive from the border crossing, passing by mountains and pleasant countryside, Mostar is a lovely city full of history and most famously known for the iconic UNESCO-designated Old Bridge (Stari Most) that straddles the River Neretva. It was built in 1566 during the Ottoman occupation until it's destruction during the war in Bosnia & Herzegovina in 1993. However, it has since been reconstructed exactly as it was and is probably the most population attraction in Mostar. Walk across and all around the bridge to admire it from different angles. Head down in the afternoon and stand at the bottom of this bridge and watch locals diving off of the bridge into the river below, an old tradition at this city. They create quite a crowd and a lot of noise as they build themselves up for their 24 metre drop down.

River Neretva and Karađoz Bey Mosque, MostarRiver Neretva and Karađoz Bey Mosque, Mostar Stari Most (Old Bridge) at MostarStari Most (Old Bridge) at Mostar
Given the history of the city of Mostar, and the very recent war here, there are several museums that you can visit including the War Photo Exhibition, Museum of War and Genocide Victims and Old Bridge Museum. The latter is located at the eastern end of the bridge, where you can go up and get a bird's-eye view of the bridge. There are also several mosques in close proximity that you can visit. A short walk away from the main hustle and bustle at Stari Most is the Crooked bridge, a smaller version of the Old Bridge that crosses the small Radobolja River. This bridge was built as a test model prior to the construction of the more famous Old Bridge.

The city of Mostar is definitely growing in popularity, probably due to the fact that it is so close to Dubrovnik, therefore, expect to see quite a lot of tour groups also visiting. Consequently though, there are plenty of places to stay, eat and shop. The Old Bazaar is the go to place if you enjoy shopping and you can buy a range of items including colourful fabrics, clothing, bags and jewellery at bargain prices, just prepare to haggle a little!


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Blagaj

After visiting Mostar, take a short drive down to the pretty little village of Blagaj, approximately 12km to the south-east of Mostar. At this village, you can view the famous tekija, or monastery, built while the country was under Ottoman rule. It is situated at the base of a cliff face over the Buna river. There is a small car park in the village and the Dervish monastery is just a short walk from here. Daily prayers and services are still undertaken here but it is also open to visitors for a small admission fee if you wish to take a look around yourself. Bear in mind that you would need to remove shoes before entering and ensure that you are suitably covered up. Outside, there a multiple shops and restaurants in the area so take a break and admire the beautiful scenery here before continuing your day in Bosnia and returning back to Dubrovnik.

Blagaj Tekija: Bosnia's Beautiful Monastery Under A CliffBlagaj Tekija: Bosnia's Beautiful Monastery Under A Cliff

Kravice Waterfalls

On your way back to Croatia, it is well worth taking a different route back and stopping by the spectacular Kravice waterfalls, just under an hours drive from Mostar. Situated amongst lush green vegetation with multiple cascades, this has to be one of the most scenic waterfalls I have ever seen. It is approximately 25 metres in height with 20 different falls and multiple viewpoints to admire its natural beauty from all angles. Park at the top and follow the trail down to the base of the falls. Be prepared to get a little damp here as there is a lot of spray right down the bottom. Then work you way back up to the top where I think you get the best overall view of this paradise amongst the forest. It is also possible to swim in the pools here, should you wish and you could easily spend several hours here. Visiting during the spring time is best (we went in June) when the leaves have all just appeared on the trees and there is a good amount of water cascading down the falls. Also, we visited late afternoon when most other tourists had been and gone so we could enjoy lovely unobstructed views of the waterfalls.

Kravice waterfallsKravice waterfalls
Finally, before returning back to Dubrovnik, end your day trip by watching the beautiful sunset over Svitavsko Lake, part of a complex of marshes and wetlands within Hutovo Blato Nature Reserve. This is said to be a haven for birds and I only wish that we had enough hours of the day left to explore this reserve during the day. Will definitely have to return to Bosnia in the future as there is this and so much more still to explore!

Kravice waterfallsKravice waterfalls Nature Park Hutovo Blato, Capljina at sunsetNature Park Hutovo Blato, Capljina at sunset


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) attractions birds Blagaj blato border Bosnia Bridge city Croatia crossing dervish Dubrovnik Herzegovina Hutovo Ivanica Kravice medieval monastery Most Mostar nature Neretva Old Ottoman photography reserve River road scenery Stari sunset travel trip Waterfalls https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2021/1/a-day-trip-into-bosnia-from-dubrovnik Sat, 30 Jan 2021 14:37:31 GMT
Wildlife in and around Dubai https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/9/wildlife-in-and-around-dubai

Think Dubai is all huge buildings, shopping and elaborate displays of wealth with no wildlife in sight? Think again. There are actually plenty of opportunities to observe a great deal of wildlife if you know where to look. It also provides you with a chance to escape the rest of the tourists that are only visiting the main attractions. 

Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary

Speak to anyone and I bet the majority of tourists aren’t even aware that, just a 10 minute drive from the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa, huge numbers of wetland birds, particularly flamingos, flock to this nature reserve during the winter months. It is a spectacular sight to see; a sea of pink with high rise buildings in the background. Just off of the main road into Downtown Dubai, there are two hides where you can look out at these birds: Mangrove Hide and Ras Al Khor Flamingo viewing deck. They are both visitor friendly and have displays providing information on the sanctuary and the birds and other wildlife that inhabit it. You can view flamingos from both hides although we found that the main Flamingo viewing deck provides a slightly closer view of larger groups of these birds. A number of other wetland birds can also be found at Ras Al Khor including great white egret, purple heron, black-winged stilt and curlew as well as birds of prey circling above on the lookout for food.

Flamingos at Ras al Khor wildlife sanctuary, DubaiFlamingos at Ras al Khor wildlife sanctuary, Dubai


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Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve

Since the majority of the UAE consists of desert and the city of Dubai is largely built on this habitat, why not give the desert a visit. Approximately a 45 minute drive from the city, you can visit the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve to see a range of desert wildlife. You need to be with an official guide when you visit the reserve. We went with Platinum Heritage who were excellent and our guide was very knowledgeable, friendly and respectful of the environment. We chose a morning tour which comprised a wildlife safari across the desert and included a short stop at a beautiful man-made lake, created to provide additional habitat to attract birds, before being taken to the stunning and luxurious Al Maha Desert Resort for a delicious breakfast looking out over the desert. All safaris around the reserve are within a very comfortable Range Rover, well-suited for driving over the sand. The vehicles all stick to designated tracks within the protected area so as not disturb and destroy the habitats and you are not allowed to leave the vehicle except at designated spots, also reducing impacts to the environment. You will receive a headscarf at the beginning of the trip which you can keep afterwards. There are several other tour options for you to choose from including night time safaris where you have a chance to observe the unique nocturnal animals that emerge after darkness once temperatures are a bit cooler.

The highlight of the trip for me, without doubt, was the Arabian Oryx and this was the species that I had most wanted to see in the UAE. Almost hunted to extinction in the 1960s, massive conservation efforts through captive breeding and reintroduction programmes have since saved this species and there are now good numbers in the wild which are protected by law and no longer threatened with extinction. With those great big horns, these are extremely impressive animals and we encountered several herds during our safari including one group that walked straight out in front of our vehicle. In addition, we also spotted multiple sand and mountain gazelles and a number of birds can be seen around the lake and Al Maha Desert Resort where there is more vegetation.

Arabian oryx at Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, UAEArabian oryx at Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, UAE

So if you are planning a trip to Dubai and want to get away from the busy city to see some amazing wildlife, you really do not have to travel far. I highly recommend popping across to Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary and an excursion to the desert for a unique and unforgettable wildlife experience.


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) Al animals arabian birding birds birdwatching breeding captive city conservation desert Dubai escapism flamingo flamingos gazelles heritage Khor lake nature oryx photography pink platinum range Ras rover safari travel trip UAE wildlife https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/9/wildlife-in-and-around-dubai Thu, 03 Sep 2020 14:09:22 GMT
Visiting Hong Kong - other places to visit if you have more time https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/5/visiting-hong-kong---other-places-to-visit-if-you-have-more-time

If you are able to spend more than just a few days in Hong Kong then there are plenty of other things that you can see and do in addition to the main attractions mentioned in my previous blog post.

Hiking

Although well known for its city, the majority of Hong Kong is actually mountains and forests and therefore offers plenty of opportunities for hiking. One of my favourite trails is the Dragon's Back hiking trail in Shek O. It is very scenic and popular with both tourists and locals. It ascends up through lush green forests and leads you to various viewpoints including the Summit of Shek O peak where you can enjoy stunning panoramic views over Shek O beach and the outlying islands. The trail begins at Shek O Road near To Tei Wan Village. It is moderately difficult with some steep ascents and took us a little over two hours to complete, including time to stop for photographs and admire the views. Bear in mind that there is nowhere to purchase food or water once you start the hike so make sure you bring plenty with you. It can get very hot along the trail in the summer months and a lot of the route is quite exposed with little to no shade.

Dragon's back hiking trail (Shek O)Dragon's back hiking trail (Shek O)
Of course there are plenty of other country parks and green spaces in Hong Kong where you can hike. Lion's Rock in Lion Rock Country Park for example is another fantastic hiking destination and offers stunning views across the city from this iconic natural formation resembling a lion. To get to the trailhead, get off at Wong Tai Sin MTR station and walk past the Fat Jong Temple before entering the Lion Rock Country Park. It's a relatively short hike (a couple of hours) up to the peak just below 500m high where you can enjoy beautiful panoramic views from the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. Other popular hiking trails include Po Toi Country Trail (just off the coast of Stanley, see below), Lantau Trail on Lantau Island (a great place to watch the sunset or sunrise) and Tai Mo Shan in the New Territories (a former volcano and Hong Kong's highest peak where you can observe great views over Kowloon reservoirs and Tsuen Wan).

View from the Dragon's back hiking trail (Shek O) towards StanleyView from the Dragon's back hiking trail (Shek O) towards Stanley View from the Dragon's back hiking trail over Shek OView from the Dragon's back hiking trail over Shek O
Markets

If you love to shop and grab a bargain, Mong Kok is the place to go. Here you will find one of the most famous and popular street markets in Hong Kong: Ladies Market. Located on Tung Choi Street just down the road from Mong Kok MTR station, it is a great place to shop for clothes, shoes, bags and  jewellery (although much, if not all, of the items for sale here are fakes). Don’t let that put you off though as the quality is actually pretty good. Since most of the prices here are not fixed, you are welcome to haggle to bring the price down and get yourself the best deal. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, even just visiting here is an interesting experience. As well as the market, there is a large shopping centre if you prefer a less stressful shopping experience.

Another great place to visit for shopping is Stanley Market, a great place to buy souvenirs for a good price. Situated along the waterfront, Stanley Market has a slightly more relaxed atmosphere than Ladies Market and more aimed towards tourists. While it is a relatively small market taking less than an hour to explore, Stanley itself is a lovely seaside town to visit and you could easily spend an afternoon here. There are nice beaches as well as plenty of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. Take a stroll down Blake Pier past Murray House (an iconic landmark built during colonial times) and look out across great views of the beaches and offshore islands. Here you can also catch a ferry to the nearby island of Po Toi. The ferry operates on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays and it takes about 30 minutes to get across.


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Island hopping

Since Hong Kong mostly consists of islands (263 islands in total), you shouldn’t leave until you’ve explored at least some of them. With the exception of Lantau Island that is mentioned in my previous blog post (with the Big Buddha and Po Lin monastery being the major attractions), other islands that are well worth a visit include Lamma Island and Cheng Chau. Lamma Island is particularly popular with tourists and has plenty of hiking trails, temples, restaurants and beaches to visit and you can see several caves that were dug out by the Japanese during the war and used to store munitions. Ferries to these destinations are fairly frequent and you can hop on at Pier 4 in Central, Hong Kong Island. Alternatively, if you don’t fancy wandering around any of the islands or have limited time, you can also just take a boat ride around the islands.

Cheung ChauCheung Chau Hong Kong islandsHong Kong islands
Just 10km south-west of Hong Kong Island, Cheng Chau is smaller in size but becoming increasingly popular. Being a historic fishing village, the waterfront is bustling with fishing boats and market stalls and is a great place to visit if you enjoy seafood. There are a number of walking trails that you can follow that lead you to small temples, numerous rock formations, beautiful beaches and view points. The island is known for pirates and one of the main attractions here is the Cheung Po Tsai Cave where this famous Chinese pirate stored his treasure. Another of his hideouts was at Reclining Rock just south of the cave. Cheung Chau is a lovely, peaceful island and a great place to go if you want to escape the busy city.

Global Geopark

Located in the north-east and east New Territories, make sure to visit the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark to view the fascinating natural rock formations and learn about the geology of Hong Kong and past volcanic eruptions which led to the creation of these unique landforms. Start off by visiting the Volcano Discovery Centre along the waterfront in Sai Kung where you can join boat tours that will take you to visit the various geosites in the region. The most popular area that you must see if you go is High Island where you can observe the amazing hexagonal volcanic columns along the coast as well as other unusual rock formations. Sharp Island is also worth a visit and is covered by rocks formed from magma from the volcanic eruption over 140 million years ago. 

Wildlife

Hong Kong Wetland Park

Red-whiskered bulbul, Black River Gorges National Park, MauritiusRed-whiskered bulbul, Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius Spotted Narrow-mouthed Frog in Hong Kong Wetland ParkSpotted Narrow-mouthed Frog in Hong Kong Wetland Park
If you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a day in the search for wildlife then Hong Kong Wetland Park is the place to go. Located in Tin Shui Wai, New Territories, it is easily accessible by public transport with a bus stop and train station located just outside the entrance. There are numerous bird hides dotted around the park where you sit, relax and observe the wetland birds. A total of 273 species of bird have been recorded here to date. It is best visited in the winter when large numbers of overwintering birds are present however there is still plenty of wildlife to see all year round. In the damp areas below the boardwalks you will see numerous small crabs, frogs and mudskippers at the water's edge while butterflies and dragonflies whizz around above. Watch out for the huge orb weaver spiders overhead; these spiders spin huge golden webs high up across the paths and the females of the species are very large and hard to miss.

MudskippersMudskippers Golden Orb Weaver spiderGolden Orb Weaver spider
Macaque monkeys

Macaque monkeys are common at Kam Sham Country Park and both Rhesus and long-tailed macaque species can be found here. These are very well-adapted to living in this habitat and numbers continue to increase with approximately 2000 individuals currently living in Hong Kong. While fun to watch them in the wild, they can sometimes be overly friendly around people. This is because people feed them which making the monkeys aggressive and unafraid of humans, frequently attempting to grab bags in the hope of snatching some food. It is now against the law to feed these monkeys and you can be fined if you are caught doing so. Therefore, when you visit, be sure not to bring any food with you or keep it well out of sight and enjoy watching the macaques natural behaviours.

Macaque at Kam Shan Country Park, Hong KongMacaque at Kam Shan Country Park, Hong Kong
Dolphin watching 

Surrounded by so much water, of course Hong Kong is a great place to see dolphins, and not just any dolphins, but the resident pink dolphins! Known as the Chinese white or Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, these animals start off grey and spotty when younger and gradually become shades of pink when they grow older. Join a boat tour to witness these amazing cetaceans in the wild. We went with Hong Kong Dolphinwatch who provided us with an unforgettable experience of these beautiful animals. The guide collected us from Tsim Sha Tsui before taking us to Tung Chung to begin our boat trip. It lasted for about 3 hours, sufficient time for us to get fantastic sightings of these wonderful pink dolphins. Tours tend to run every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and you can join anytime of the year as the dolphins can be sighted all year round. Dolphins are generally seen on pretty much every trip, however, if you are unfortunate enough not to see them, you are able to book onto another trip free of charge.

Indopacific humpback dolphinsIndopacific humpback dolphins
As you can see, despite the small size of Hong Kong, you can easily find something for everyone. Whether you enjoy hiking, shopping, sightseeing or wildlife watching, you will find great places to visit during your trip to Hong Kong. Have a fantastic time!


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) asia back bird birds birdwatching boat cetaceans chau cheung city country dolphins Dragon's formations geopark Global hike hiking hong hopping island islands kam Kok kong Kung ladies lamma landscape Lion's macaque market markets Mong monkeys nature O park photography pink rock Sai sham Shek Stanley trail travel trip walking wetland wildlife https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/5/visiting-hong-kong---other-places-to-visit-if-you-have-more-time Sat, 23 May 2020 14:32:52 GMT
Visiting Hong Kong - the main sights and activities https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/4/visiting-hong-kong---the-main-sights-and-activities

Travelling around Hong Kong is extremely convenient. With an excellent public transport system, there is no need to consider hiring a car but instead, choose from a variety of local transport options including bus, tram, train (MTR) and taxi. The MTR is particularly convenient and comfortable (all carriages are air conditioned), rapidly covering great distances across Hong Kong. Whichever form of transport you use, it's very useful to have an Octopus card if you are planning on spending a bit of time travelling in Hong Kong. Very similar to the Oyster card in London, you can quickly and efficiently scan your card while using public transport (and can also be used in shops). With most of the main sights being relatively close together, you can really see a lot in a short space of time!

Victoria Peak looking down over Hong KongVictoria Peak looking down over Hong Kong

Victoria Peak

The top sight to see while you are visiting Hong Kong has got to be Victoria Peak. At 552m above sea level, it is the highest point on Hong Kong island and, on the Sky Terrace, you can enjoy fantastic 360 degree panoramic views of Hong Kong, Kowloon Bay, Victoria Harbour and the surrounding islands. While you can get to the Peak via taxi or bus, the best way to travel to the top is by the Peak Tram; one of the oldest funicular railways in the world, providing visitors with a fun ride to the top while offering excellent views. 

I would recommend heading up Victoria Peak in the late afternoon to enjoy both day and night time views. Look out over the iconic buildings of Hong Kong such as the International Commerce Centre (ICC), International Finance Centre (IFC), HSBC building, Central Plaza and the Bank of China Tower. While you're up there, there a number of shops and restaurants to go to as well as a small Madame Tussauds. Here you will find many familiar famous faces alongside big stars from Hong Kong and China. Outside, you will also find various walking trails where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city and immerse yourself in tropical forest surrounded by wildlife while enjoying views of Hong Kong at different view points.

Victoria Peak looking down over Hong Kong at nightVictoria Peak looking down over Hong Kong at night


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Lantau Island - the Big Buddha

Head over to Tung Chung and grab a cable car up to Ngong Ping to see one of the most popular attractions in Hong Kong. Alternatively, you can get the bus over if you're not a fan of heights or, you can even hike it if you have more time and are fit and able. The cable car will take you up over lush green mountains giving great views of the islands, Hong Kong airport and Tung Chung Bay. At the top you will arrive at the lovely little village of Ngong Ping where there are a number of shops, restaurants and cafes. After a short 10 minute walk, you will reach the monasteries and, the main attraction, the Tian Tan Buddha statue (the big Buddha). Situated at the top of 268 steps, it sits at about 34 metres high and is said to look down upon the people of Hong Kong. It is free to visit but there is a charge if you would like to go inside to see the exhibits (tickets for this can be purchased at the bottom of the steps so make sure you get them before you make it all the way up to the top)! When you reach the top, you can wander all the way around the Buddha and enjoy fantastic panoramic views of the island and South China Sea.

Big Buddha, Lantau IslandBig Buddha, Lantau Island
At the bottom of the Buddha, you can visit the Po Lin Monastery, one of Hong Kong's most important places of worship for Buddhism. Here you can observe elaborate decorations and various statues of the Buddha, light incense and pay your respects or leave offerings to the Buddha. The Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas is quite impressive and exactly what its name suggests. During your visit, you may also see a number of monks within the grounds who regularly attend this working temple.
Lantau IslandLantau Island Monastery, Lantau IslandMonastery, Lantau Island
Victoria Harbour & the Star Ferry

Heading down to Victoria Harbour and taking the star ferry between Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui really is a must when you visit Hong Kong. This old ferry line has been running since 1888 and, while being very popular with tourists, it is still used as a means of transport for commuters travelling between the mainland and Hong Kong Island. It offers great views of Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong Island and its widely recognised buildings. From Wan Chai after just an approximately 10 minute crossing, you will arrive at Tsim Sha Tsui where you can walk the Avenue of Stars along the waterfront, very similar to the Hollywood walk of fame in Los Angeles, but for Chinese stars. Celebrities featured here include famous martial artists and movie stars such as: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. While you're over this side of the water, it is worth popping into the Hong Kong Space Museum if you have the time. Also, if you go on a Wednesday, there is free entry into the museum. It is very interesting and informative with numerous interactive displays and there are also a couple of exhibition halls and a planetarium in addition to the main museum.

Victoria Harbour, Hong KongVictoria Harbour, Hong Kong
Wait around until the evening to watch the city light up before witnessing the spectacular Symphony of Lights display. This light show has taken place every night at 8pm since 2004 and been named the world's largest permanent light and sound show by the Guinness World Records with 42 buildings participating in the show. I highly recommend doing this while enjoying a beer at the INK taproom where you can enjoy the light, refreshing locally brewed beer: Gweilo.

On the other side of the harbour at Wan Chai, you can visit the Wan Chai street market selling a range of items such as clothes and jewellery, electronics, fruit and veg and fresh seafood. Visiting the street markets certainly makes for a much more interesting experience than shopping at a mall. While the majority of products tend to be fake rather than the real deal, you will find that the quality is often pretty good, at least for those prices. For example, we found football shirts being sold for about a £1 each! However, Wan Chai is just a short walk from Causeway Bay which is another great place for shopping and has several malls if you don't fancy shopping in the market.

Victoria Harbour, Hong KongVictoria Harbour, Hong Kong
These places are probably the minimum that you should visit if you are staying in Hong Kong for a few days. However, if you are able to stay for longer, despite the small size of the place, there are plenty of other things to do here and you will certainly find something for everyone so you would be sure to have a fantastic stay here. Keep an eye out for my next blog post which will provide further details and ideas of other things you can see and do in Hong Kong.


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) Asia avenue Bay beer big bronze buddha buddhism buddhist buildings card Chai city ferry Gweilo Harbour Hong iconic Island islands kong Kowloon landscape Lantau Lights Madame market monasteries monks MTR museum Ngong octopus of peak photography Ping Sha space star stars statue street Symphony tan Tian tram travel trip Tsim Tsui Tussauds Victoria viewpoint Wan https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/4/visiting-hong-kong---the-main-sights-and-activities Sat, 25 Apr 2020 17:57:51 GMT
Visiting Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park, Madagascar https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/3/zombitse-vohibasia-national-park

If you're travelling on the RN7 between Isalo National Park and Toliara, do make sure you make time to stop at Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park. It is a small park and only takes about an hour or so to get around but is well worth the visit and a great way to break up the journey. Being located on the RN7, it is also very accessible; just pull over on the side of the road by the sign and a guide will greet you and show you around. However, most visitors don't actually realise that it's there and drive on by, missing the fantastic flora and fauna here.

Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park is composed of three separate areas and split into two halves either side of the road. It represents a transition between the great limestone massifs of Isalo Natinonal Park and the dry spiny forest to the south. Compared to some of the other more well-known national parks in the country, it is fairly quiet and we hardly saw any other tourists during our visit.

Verreaux's sifaka at Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park, MadagascarVerreaux's sifaka at Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park, Madagascar Oustalets's chameleon, MadagascarOustalets's chameleon, Madagascar
This national park is probably one of the best places to see the Verreaux's sifaka or white lemur and several groups live here. Having visited this place twice now, I was lucky enough to see these lemurs both times. They appear quite chilled and used to human presence, happily going about their daily business of leaping through trees, munching on leaves and sleeping on branches. In addition, a number of nocturnal lemur species can be found at Zombitse, such as the Hubbard's sportive lemur. Although nocturnal, it can frequently be seen resting within tree hollows during the daytime.

Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park separated into two halves by the RN7Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park separated into two halves by the RN7 Hubbard's sportive lemur, Zombitse-Vohibasia National ParkHubbard's sportive lemur, Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park


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You are also likely to encounter a range of other wildlife during your visit here. It is a brilliant place for birdwatching as nearly half of the country's endemic birds can be found here and you can observe some rarities here including Appert's greenbul (which can only be found in this place and nowhere else in the word), Coquerel's coua, white-browed owl, black parrot and blue vanga . If you are planning on coming here for the birds though, make sure you head out early (between 6am and 9am is best) to give yourself the best chance of seeing the birds when they are most active, before it gets too hot. If you are planning an early start, there is accommodation nearby; Zombitse Ecolodge is just 7km down the road and the only place to stay in the vicinity of the park.

Look out for the huge Oustalet's chameleon, one of the largest species of chameleon in the world, but also very tricky to see due to their impressive camouflage. There are also numerous standing's day gecko dotted around the park; the park sign seems to be a favoured location so look out for these colourful lizards as you walk past. The flora is also fascinating and there are some massive baobab trees, some of which are around 600 years old.

Standing's day gecko at zombitse-vohibasia national park, MadagascarStanding's day gecko at zombitse-vohibasia national park, Madagascar


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) Africa apperts baobab birds birdwatcher birdwatching chameleon chameleons day endemic fauna flora forest gecko greenbul holiday Hubbard lemur lemurs madagascar National nature Oustalets Park photography primate rare reptiles RN7. road sifaka southern spiny sportive standings tips travel trip Verreaux's Visiting wildlife Zombitse-Vohibasia https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/3/zombitse-vohibasia-national-park Fri, 20 Mar 2020 13:38:53 GMT
South-west Madagascar - Toliara and its surroundings including the spiny forest https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/3/the-spiny-forest-of-madagascar---toliara-and-ifaty

If you are in search of sun, sea and sand during your Madagascar road trip, make sure you make some time to head down to the south-west of the country where the RN7 comes to an end. Here you will find beautiful palm-fringed beaches, small fishing villages as well as the unique desert habitat known as the spiny forest that has formed as a result of heat and drought, creating a dry, dense jungle of spines, thorns and trees with swollen trunks, adapted to survive in this extreme environment.

Arboretum d'Antsokay

Probably the top attraction in the area, this botanical garden was established by a Swiss botanist in 1980 and is a great place to visit and learn about the spiny forest of Madagascar and its flora and fauna. It contains a collection of approximately 900 species of plant native to the area, of which most are endemic (about 95%). The grounds are very well-maintained and you have the option to wander around by yourself or take a guided tour. I would recommend a guided tour to make the most of your visit here. The guides are very knowledgeable and speak good English; they will introduce you to many species of plant found in the spiny forest such as baobabs, succulents, EuphorbiaPachypodium and the botanical family Didiereaceae (octopus trees) which can only be found in this region of Madagascar. We learnt about the various plants special adaptations and medicinal properties as well as which plants to avoid due to their toxins. In amongst the thickets you can spot a number of animals including green-capped coua dashing through the undergrowth, warty chameleons camouflaged within the scrub, Madagascar cockroaches, snakes and the iguana-like Merrem's Madagascar swift basking in the sun. There is also a small museum collection at the end where you can see rocks, fossils and even a full size elephant bird egg, reconstructed from many small egg fragments found in the local area. Just outside the arboretum is a small gift shop with locally-produced crafts as well as a nice little restaurant.

Reniala Reserve, Ifaty, MadagascarReniala Reserve, Ifaty, Madagascar Warty chameleon at  Arboretum d'Antsokay, Tulear, MadagascarWarty chameleon at Arboretum d'Antsokay, Tulear, Madagascar

The arboretum also run regular night walks where you can observe a number of nocturnal species associated with the spiny forest. Chat to a member of staff in the ticket office in advance to check the times and meeting point for these (we met outside the restaurant there since the ticket office closes in the evening). On the night walk, we hadn't even entered the arboretum yet when we saw our first brown mouse lemur darting through the trees above the entrance, and that was shortly after our guide said that they are quite rare and we probably wouldn't see one so we felt very lucky! This was followed by a variety of other wildlife including warty chameleons perched in the bushes, numerous fat-headed geckos and Madagascar cockroaches.

Spiny forest at night, MadagascarSpiny forest at night, Madagascar Mouse lemur in the spiny forest of MadagascarMouse lemur in the spiny forest of Madagascar


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Ifaty

Head about 27km north of Toliara to reach the small resort of Ifaty, a great place for snorkelling and bird watching. Reserve Reniala, a small protected area of spiny forest just a 10 minute drive from the centre of the town, is the ideal place in the area for birdwatchers to go, particularly if you are hoping to tick some rare endemics off your list. The sub-desert mesite and long-tailed ground-roller are the most sought after species in the spiny forest, being found nowhere else in the world but here. Other species you are likely to see here include crested drongo, Madagascar bee-eater, souimanga sunbird, red-capped coua, Archibold’s newtonia, Thamnornis warbler, Madagascar hoopoe and various vangas. It's best to visit first thing in the morning when birds are most active (and before it becomes too hot). Just make sure you arrange with a guide the day before to ensure the reserve is open when you arrive and someone is available to take you around. There are also tortoises near the Reniala Reserve; Village des Tortues helps protect and conserve the endangered endemic spider and radiated tortoises. Here you can take a guided tour and learn all about these rare species and their conservation, worth a visit if you are in the area.

Radiated tortoises at Village des Tortues, Ifaty, MadagascarRadiated tortoises at Village des Tortues, Ifaty, Madagascar Sub-desert mesite at Reniala Reserve, Ifaty, MadagascarSub-desert mesite at Reniala Reserve, Ifaty, Madagascar

Water activities

With a long stretch of coastline at Toliara, there are plenty of opportunities to undertake activities in and around the sea. In particular, from Ifaty you can go out snorkeling and scuba diving at the large coral reef just off the coast. This reef stretches a huge distance of over 450km along the south-west coast of the country and is the fifth largest coral reef in the world.

This region is also particularly good for whale watching during their migration through the Mozambique channel. Plan your visit between mid-June to September to observe this amazing natural spectacle. We enjoyed fantastic views of humpback whales slapping their pectoral fins, lobtailing and were even lucky enough to watch one breach right in front of our boat! As if that wasn't enough excitement, we even spotted a brief glimpse of Risso's dolphins passing by.

The sunsets are also very beautiful off the coast of southern Madagascar so be sure to stick around to watch the sun set over the Mozambique channel.

Sunset at TulearSunset at Tulear Humpback whales off the coast of Ifaty, MadagascarHumpback whales off the coast of Ifaty, Madagascar
Ifaty beachIfaty beach Malagasy sunset with local fishermenMalagasy sunset with local fishermen

Mangroves

Head south of Ifaty to observe yet another interesting and unique habitat; the mangroves. These habitats are predominantly found in tropical regions of the world and are able to survive in highly saline conditions, being located in the coastal intertidal zone. This ecosystem plays a very important role; they protect shorelines from waves, currents and storms and minimise the effects of erosion by stabilising coastlines as well as having the ability to store huge amounts of carbon. In addition, these trees and shrubs provide a habitat for many species and here you will have another opportunity to observe a range of wildlife including wetland birds, crabs and the unusual mudskippers. These fish have evolved the ability to survive both in the water and on land with well-developed pectoral fins that act as legs for moving or skipping on land and even means that they are able to climb onto low branches of trees. Visit the Honko Community-Based Mangrove Reserve, just 15km north of Toliara and take a wander along the boardwalk with a knowledgeable guide and learn all about this fascinating habitat while helping the local community and contributing to mangrove conservation projects.
MudskippersMudskippers

With plenty of restaurants, hotels and activities about, south-west Madagascar is well set up for tourists. We stayed in a lovely Air BnB villa - Villa Claire, located just 15km south of Toliara at the end of a dirt track so you will need a 4x4 to get to it. However, it is well worth the journey; the stunning villa is clean and spacious with a large infinity pool, fantastic grounds comprising many plants typical of the spiny forest as well as direct access to the beach. Also, the hosts are very friendly and helpful and have a very cute cat and dog who are just as friendly. I would highly recommend staying here! 

I hope you have a very relaxing stay in southern Madagascar!


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) activities arboretum beach bird birdwatching conservation d'Antsokay desert ecosystem end endemic Forest ground-roller habitat humpback Ifaty long-tailed Madagascar mangroves mesite mudskippers nature of photography rare relax Reniala Reserve RN7 road sand snorkelling southern south-west Spiny sub-desert sun Toliara tortoise trip unique watching water whale wildlife https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/3/the-spiny-forest-of-madagascar---toliara-and-ifaty Mon, 09 Mar 2020 11:11:41 GMT
Visiting Isalo National Park, Madagascar https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/2/visiting-isalo-national-park-madagascar

Not only does Madagascar have fantastic wildlife, it also has some spectacular landscapes. The rugged massif of Isalo National Park is particularly stunning and has scenery rivalling that of south-west USA. This geological formation dating back to Jurassic times consists of rugged mountains and canyons that are constantly being eroded by the wind and rain. Although principally visited for its scenery, this National Park is also home to 3 species of lemur as well as various endemic birds, reptiles and flora. There are few hotels in the area; I would highly recommend staying at Isalo Rock Lodge. Although slightly more pricey than the majority of hotels in Madagascar, it is very good value compared to other similar luxury hotels in other countries of the world and it is well worth the money. Set within the beautiful sandstone of Isalo, you can enjoy fantastic, unobstructed views of the mountains from your own room. In addition, there are several short walking trails that you can do from the hotel which lead you to a natural pool as well as great view points where you can watch the sunset.

Isalo National ParkIsalo National Park

Isalo National Park

The park office can be found in the village of Ranohira. We had a little bit of trouble finding it at first since it is not well signposted. If you are travelling south along the RN7 towards Isalo, just after you enter Ranohira, the road will bend to the left; keep going straight instead of following the road left and you will see the Zebu Grill restaurant (a nice place to stop for lunch with a mix of Malagasy and international dishes). If you continue on past the restaurant then past the police station, you will find the park office on the right hand side of the road. Here you can book your tour and guide for visiting the National Park.

It is recommended to begin your hike in the morning (we started at 7:30am) since due to the high temperatures, so that the majority of your walk is complete before the hottest part of the day. The trail head is quite far from the park office in Ranohira so you can either drive up to it yourself or hire a driver from the park office to take you. Alternatively, it is possible to walk this, however, it is not recommended as it is quite far with not a lot to see and you are better off spending more time in the National Park instead. There are a number of tours that you can choose from, varying in length and difficulty. We chose a 6 hour tour to allow us to spend a full day observing the natural beauty of Isalo National Park. Our route led us up the rocks, across plains before walking along the ridge at the edge of the park that looks out at across vast arid landscapes before beginning our descent down into the canyon, all the while enjoying incredible views. At about midday we reached the campsite to have a Malagasy lunch of grilled zebu, rice, vegetables and locally grown fruit (pineapple and bananas), all the while being constantly distracted by the wildlife that surrounded us. The hike after lunch consisted of a short walk through a canyon, along a stream towards the Piscine Naturelle, a beautiful natural pool formed in amongst a little oasis. Here you can take a swim and cool off and relax after your hike before leaving the National Park.

Ridge at Isalo National ParkRidge at Isalo National Park Down through the canyons at Isalo National ParkDown through the canyons at Isalo National Park


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Our guide was excellent and very knowledgeable on the park's history, local traditions and cultures as well as the flora and fauna. It is a very cultural place and local tribes consider it to be sacred, using the rock faces and canyons as traditional burial sites and you may see several tombs during your visit. Your guide should also make you aware of the beliefs and 'fady' (cultural taboos) of the tribes to ensure tourists do not unintentionally cause offence while visiting the park; for example, it is fady to point using your fingers. Instead you should gesture with your whole hand.

Ring-tailed lemur at Isalo National ParkRing-tailed lemur at Isalo National Park Ring-tailed lemurs at Isalo National Park, MadagascarRing-tailed lemurs at Isalo National Park, Madagascar

Wildlife

There is much wildlife to be seen at Isalo National Park. The campsite is particularly good for seeing the cheeky ring-tailed lemurs who appear quite tame and used to humans. You are not supposed to feed these animals and must be very careful with your food as they can be very sneaky and will steal food at any opportunity if you are not paying attention! We were also lucky enough to see a Verreaux's sifaka (otherwise known as the white or dancing lemur) in the trees above the camp. In addition, you will encounter a number of endemic plants that are adapted for living in this hot, dry environment such as the elephant's foot plant Pachypodium, palms, aloes and desert rose. A number of birds can also be observed at the National Park including Madagascar cuckoo-roller, Madagascar hoopoe, Madagascar buttonquail and Madagascar scops owl. However, the highlight for many birdwatchers is the locally endemic Benson's rock thrush (below); this subspecies can only be found in Isalo National Park.

Benson's rock thrush at Isalo National Park, MadagascarBenson's rock thrush at Isalo National Park, Madagascar

Window of Isalo

End your day at Isalo National Park by visiting the window of Isalo (La Fenêtre de l'Isalo) at sunset. This place is surprisingly busy (not sure where all these tourists appear from?!) so make sure to get there early to get a good spot to watch the sun set through the natural rock formation. Taking photos can be a little tricky, however, due to the number of people jostling to get the perfect shot of the sunset. I personally found the front of the rock and the surrounding scenery much prettier with the gorgeous sunset glow on the rocks and fewer people in the way. If you don't get chance to visit the window of Isalo or don't manage to get good views of the sunset here, not to worry as wherever you are in Isalo National Park, you are bound to witness stunning sunsets and are sure to have a fantastic time visiting this amazing place!

Window of IsaloWindow of Isalo Sunset glow at Isalo National Park, MadadgascarSunset glow at Isalo National Park, Madadgascar
La Fenêtre de l'Isalo, MadagascarLa Fenêtre de l'Isalo, Madagascar


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) Africa Benson's bird birding birdwatching de Fenêtre hiking isalo La lemur lemurs l'Isalo Madagascar malagasy massif National nature of Park photography Ranohira ring-tailed rock sandstone sifaka sunset thrush tours travel Verreaux wildlife window zebu https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2020/2/visiting-isalo-national-park-madagascar Mon, 03 Feb 2020 19:47:14 GMT
Visiting Anja Community Reserve, Ambalavao, Madagascar https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/12/visiting-anja-community-reserve-ambalavao-madagascar

No trip to Madagascar is complete without seeing the cheeky ring-tailed lemurs, and Anja Community Reserve is probably one of the best places in the country to see them. It is a small reserve just off of the RN7, south of the town of Ambalavao, with several circuits to choose from ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours. The reserve is run by local people who recognise that wildlife is important to them and without such special wildlife, there would be no tourists bringing money into the already poor country. Great efforts have been made to conserve species here and promote a more sustainable living through ecotourism. Now, the reserve possesses an abundance of wildlife and is currently home to about 400 ring-tailed lemurs. In fact, there are now so many lemurs here that they are hoping to plant more even trees to expand the reserve further!
Ring-tailed lemurs at Anja community reserveRing-tailed lemurs at Anja community reserve Anja Community Reserve, MadagascarAnja Community Reserve, Madagascar

When we visited, we encountered several groups of ring-tailed lemurs including a large group of mums with their babies, some of which were carrying twins. The lemurs here are so used to people visiting Anja, so it is a great opportunity to get up close to them and take some good photos. Although bear in mind that you are not allowed to feed them here, so keep hold of your snacks (they will steal food from you, given the chance)! In addition to the ring-tailed lemurs, you are also bound to see a number of other species including birds, snakes and chameleons. Our guide and spotter pointed out several chameleons, such as this beautiful Oustalet's chameleon below, as well as striped Madagascar garter snake, grey-headed lovebirds and the impressively colourful rainbow milkweed grasshopper.


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Oustalets chameleon, Anja Community Reserve, MadagascarOustalets chameleon, Anja Community Reserve, Madagascar Rainbow milkweed grasshopper, Anja Community Reserve, MadagascarRainbow milkweed grasshopper, Anja Community Reserve, Madagascar

However, Anja is not just about the wildlife, the landscapes here are absolutely stunning and during your hike you will have the chance to take in amazing panoramic views of the region. To make the hike even more interesting, there is a bit of scrabbling over rocks involved (including abseiling down a steep rock face) but it is well worth it for the fantastic views. You will also see numerous tombs within the mountains that have been used by local Betsileo tribes over hundreds of years as part of the local tradition.
Mother and baby ring-tailed lemurs at Anja Community Reserve, MadagascarMother and baby ring-tailed lemurs at Anja Community Reserve, Madagascar
The nearest town of Ambalavao has a good selection of hotels to stay in. I would highly recommend the nearby Betsileo Country Lodge, a small hotel with cosy little bungalows offering stunning views across the mountains and rice fields. It is just a 5 minute drive from Anja Community Reserve. They also serve great food here, all of which is locally sourced, making it a good lunch-stop if you are only passing by.

Do not forget to pop into Anja Community Reserve while on your travels around Madagascar. It is really worthwhile, not only for the fantastic encounters with wild ring-tailed lemurs and beautiful scenery, but you would really be helping out the local community who are passionate about the country's wildlife and are keen to conserve and protect it for future generations to enjoy. It is a great example of how humans and nature can happily co-exist.

Anja Community Reserve, MadagascarAnja Community Reserve, Madagascar


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) Ambalavao Anja Betsileo birds chameleon community hiking holiday landscape lemur Madagascar mountains nature panoramic photography primate project Reserve ring-tailed RN7 road travel trip view wildlife https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/12/visiting-anja-community-reserve-ambalavao-madagascar Fri, 06 Dec 2019 18:46:33 GMT
Visiting Ranomafana and Ranomafana National Park https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/10/visiting-ranomafana-and-ranomafana-national-park

If you are travelling south from Tana down the RN7, you have to stop at Ranomafana National Park, a popular stop on most Madagascar itineraries.  There are two roads in from the RN7: the tarmac RN45 road just north of Fianarantsoa or the RN25 which is mostly a dirt track. They are of a similar distance and while the RN25 is the more scenic route that passes by small villages, I don't think that this is the route the majority of tourists take; the locals watched in awe as we drove by and the road is extremely bumpy, taking far longer to travel across. It took us several hours for us to travel about 20km to reach Ranomafana. Also, bear in mind that there is a man in a little hut at the entrance of the road who stops vehicles passing through, takes down their registration number and asks for money. This is not an official guide from the National Park and if he tries to stop you, just pretend you don't understand him or wave at him and keep driving. In Madagascar, you should not stop your car for anyone unless it's a policeman.

Ranomafana National ParkRanomafana National Park
The town of Ranomafana was originally popular due to its thermal baths (the name Ranomafana iterally means 'hot water') but nowadays the main attraction is the National Park. Created in 1991 to protect two species of bamboo lemur in particular (the golden bamboo and greater bamboo lemur, the latter only just discovered by Dr Patricia Wright in 1986), the park covers a large area (approximately 400km2) and comprises mountains covered in both primary and secondary rainforest with various streams and waterfalls leading down to the Namorona River. Ranomafana National Park is fantastic for all wildlife, not just bamboo lemurs, with an additional 10 species of lemur found there, over 100 species of bird as well as chameleons, leaf-tailed geckos, giraffe-necked weevils, frogs and a diversity of plants such as orchids, palms, ferns and bamboo. On a typical hike, you are likely to see three to five species of lemur. We totalled six species of lemur over two days; not bad out of the 12 species that can be found there! As for accommodation, Setam Lodge is a great place to stay; it has stunning views of the rainforest and is the closest hotel to the National Park entrance (only a 15 minute walk) whereas most hotels in the area are a short drive away. Ensure to book in advance though as this hotel is very popular.


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Grey bamboo lemur, Ranomafana National Park, MadagascarGrey bamboo lemur, Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar Madagascar paradise flycatcherMadagascar paradise flycatcher
The park entrance can be found off of the main RN25 road about 6km from the town. Guides tend to wait at the entrance along the road and escort you into the ticket office. There are some photos and general information here as well as toilets and a small gift shop which sells locally produced crafts. There are multiple trails to choose from ranging from an hour or two to a full days hike. We went for a modest 6 hour hike which covered a good amount of the rainforest with plenty of wildlife-watching opportunities. All guides also come with a spotter who's job is to go on ahead to find the animals and direct the guide towards them. Not long after entering the rainforest we saw red-fronted brown lemurs and then a group of golden bamboo lemurs shortly after (one of the key species at this National Park). These were snuggled up at the top of a tree peering down at us. Then, just a few minutes away from this sleepy group, we stumbled upon a group of active and very cute grey bamboo lemurs who were playfully jumping through the trees and feeding upon bamboo. We were also really lucky to see a couple of black and white ruffed lemurs later on in the day, a species that I had not seen in Madagascar previously but was fortunate to see on two occasions on this trip! Other species we encountered within the park included a range of birds: Madagascar magpie robin, Nelicourvi weaver, souimanga sunbird, red-tailed vanga, Madagascar paradise flycatcher and common sunbird asity as well as satanic leaf-tailed geckos and chameleons. We ended the day's hike at the top of the National Park where there is a great lookout point with benches where you can sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery before heading back down the steps, across the river and outside the park.

Nose-horned Chameleon in Ranomafana National Park, MadagascarNose-horned Chameleon in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar Milne-Edward's sifaka, Ranomafana National Park, MadagascarMilne-Edward's sifaka, Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar
When we visited the following day, we were fortunate to bump into our guide from the first day. Although he already had tourists that day, he explained to our new guide all the species we had already seen and the route that we had taken the previous day which therefore meant we were taken on an entirely different and slightly more challenging route. Our guide and spotter were very good that day and determined to find as many new species for us as possible. We had only been within the rainforest for about 10 minutes and already they had pointed out a group of Milne-Edward's sifaka feeding and leaping through the trees where we got really great views. This was followed by a number of new bird species such as Madagascar blue vanga, Tylas vanga and Madagascar cuckooshrike. We even heard calls from the attractive pitta-like ground roller. However this species was very elusive and we were unable to locate it. Then, we realised that we hadn't seen our spotter for well over an hour and realised that this was because he was trying really hard to locate red-bellied lemurs, a species that is fairly difficult to find as they spend a lot of the day sleeping high up in the trees and are therefore hard to spot. However, we were successful! Just as we were heading back down to the entrance, our spotter called us over and pointed high up into the trees where we saw three red-bellied lemurs asleep on a branch. A really good end to our time in the National Park!

Satanic leaf-tailed gecko, Ranomafana National ParkSatanic leaf-tailed gecko, Ranomafana National Park Peacock day gecko, Ranomafana National ParkPeacock day gecko, Ranomafana National Park
If you have some more time in the area, there are several other things to do aside from hiking in the National Park. Just outside the park entrance is the research station Centre ValBio which is run by the Stony Brook University in New York. If you are particularly interested in their biodiversity research, you are able to take a tour around the building or attend one of the evening lectures that take place regularly throughout the week.

You can also carry out night walks along the roadside either with a guide from the National Park, or by yourselves if you remember to bring bright enough torches. As with all National Parks in the country, you are not permitted to enter at night, hence why all night walks are carried out along the road. Nevertheless you will still have the opportunity to see a variety of nocturnal species such as frogs, chameleons, insects and even a mouse lemur if you are lucky.

Within the town of Ranomafana itself, there isn't too much to do other than visit the thermal baths. This is located over the small suspension bridge that crosses the Namorona River, just past Hotel Thermal Ranomafana. The place was quite crowded when we went and is particularly popular with the locals and other Malagasy (mostly from the capital) on their travels and you will find that actually, few tourists visit and even fewer enter the hot springs. This didn't stop my partner though who went straight into the pool for a refreshing soak and was the only vazaha (Malagasy for white person/ foreigner) in the pool at the time.  If you have some spare time and want to relax a little after hiking in the rainforest, this is the ideal place to go, even if you just want to have a wander along the river or sit down on a bench and take in the views.

The town of RanomafanaThe town of Ranomafana

If you are travelling around Madagascar, Ranomafana National Park really is the one place that you have to visit; you cannot leave the country without going! I cannot emphasise enough how amazing this wildlife haven is and you'll only understand once you have visited for yourself. Try to set aside at least 3 nights for visiting. I hope you have a fantastic time and enjoy wonderful wildlife encounters like we did!


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) bamboo bath biodiversity bird birds Centre chameleons Fianarantsoa geckos hiking lemur Lodge Madagascar Namorona National natural nature Park photography rainforest Ranomafana river RN7 road Setam thermal travel trip Valbio walking watching wildlife https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/10/visiting-ranomafana-and-ranomafana-national-park Tue, 22 Oct 2019 18:37:40 GMT
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Madagascar https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/10/andasibe-mantadia-national-park-madagascar

Situated only about 150km to the east of the capital of Antananarivo (Tana), Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is one of the most visited National Parks in Madagascar. The drive takes 3 to 4 hours form Tana, depending traffic, meaning that a visit can be carried out as a day trip from Tana although it is recommended that you spend at least 2 or 3 nights here to fully enjoy the amazing wildlife that Andasibe-Mantadia has to offer. The main attraction at this National Park is the indri and this is the main reason I wanted to visit. Known locally as the babakoto, the critically endangered indri is the largest lemur in the world and a frequent sight at Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. The National Park itself covers an area of approximately 154km² and consists primarily of two main areas: the smaller and more accessible Analamazoatra Special Reserve and the significantly largely Mantadia National Park. In addition, there are several other smaller reserves within the area including Réserve de Torotorofotsy and the locally run Parc Mitsinjo which are also worth visiting if you have the time.

The nearby town of Andasibe is quite small with few amenities but interesting to wander through. You'll pass various stalls selling a variety of items such as rice, beans, meat, beer and electronics. Later in the day, farmers herd their zebu through the village back to their pens and we even stopped to watch part of a football match between two local teams. Take note that there are no ATMs here so ensure to withdraw any money you will need for your stay in advance. If you are looking to go shopping for gifts, there are several little stalls selling crafts made by the local women. They sell the exact same products as the gift shop at the park office but at about half the price and I suspect the profits also go directly to the local people. There are numerous hotels to choose from in the area, all very accessible to the parks. I highly recommend staying at the relatively new Mantadia Lodge. Located at the top of a hill, the hotel offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding rainforests and its proximity to the National Park means that you will can wake up to the sounds of indris calling in the distance.

Diademed sifaka, Analamazoatra Special Reserve, Andasibe-Mantadia, MadagascarDiademed sifaka, Analamazoatra Special Reserve, Andasibe-Mantadia, Madagascar Indri, Analamazoatra Special Reserve, Andasibe-Mantadia, MadagascarIndri, Analamazoatra Special Reserve, Andasibe-Mantadia, Madagascar

Analamazoatra Special Reserve

The park office for most of the reserves in the area can be found approximately halfway between the RN2 and Andasibe. There is also a decent information centre providing background information on the national park and its wildlife, particularly the indris as well as general information on Madagascar. You can choose from a small range of trails depending on what you want to see and the amount of time you would like to spend there. It is advised to head out in the morning (between 7 and 11am) to get the best sightings of the indris.

Not long after embarking on the trail we could already hear indris calling in the distance. Shortly after, we stumbled upon a couple of common brown lemurs, including one mother with her baby. There was an abundance of other wildlife including the birds: Madagascar bulbuls, magpie robins and the stunning paradise flycatcher as well as lesser vasa parrot, blue coua and common newtonia. Lined day geckos could often be found on the endemic Pandanus plants that are common in these rainforests and a group of colourful Diademed sifakas lept through the trees right past us. Then, after about an hour of walking, we finally encountered our first indris. After seeing so many photos and videos of this lemur, they were actually a lot smaller in real life than I imagined, not much bigger than a sifaka. This group of indris stayed with us for quite a while, leaping elegantly between the tree trunks and feeding. We were even lucky enough to have them call right in front of us! It was amazing; the volume of that call is just unreal! After only about 30 seconds the calling suddenly stopped and they resumed feeding. Despite being renowned for these booming calls, each group only actually does this for about 4 to 5 minutes a day.

Indri, Analamazoatra Special Reserve, Andasibe-Mantadia, MadagascarIndri, Analamazoatra Special Reserve, Andasibe-Mantadia, Madagascar
Towards the end of our hike, our guide also spotted the elusive mossy leaf-tailed gecko on one of the tree branches. This species is so well camouflaged, there is no way that we would have seen this without a guide! We were also fortunate to find a couple of funky looking giraffe-necked weevils, so named because of its elongated neck, much like that of a giraffe. After only a couple of hours at Analamazaotra Special Reserve, you will be sure to have a decent species list and fantastic encounters with the wildlife who inhabit this park. For me though, the indris were, without doubt, the highlight of the day, and in fact the entire trip.

Mossy leaf-tailed gecko, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, MadagascarMossy leaf-tailed gecko, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Madagascar Giraffe-necked weevil, MadagascarGiraffe-necked weevil, Madagascar


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Mantadia

This National Park is located a good 1.5 hour drive away, depending on which trail head you start at and can only be reached via a bumpy dirt road so a 4x4 is essential. Bear in mind that you will still need to go to the main park office first in order to pay the park entrance fee and pick up your guide. Ideally you will need your own vehicle to transport you to the park, otherwise it may be possible to arrange transport with the park office. Although Mantadia National Park is slightly less accessible than the other parks in the region with trickier terrain to traverse, it definitely worth visiting in order to observe pristine primary rainforest that is home to additional species that have more specific habitat requirements and cannot be found in secondary rainforest. In addition, there are significantly fewer visitors to this park which improves your wildlife encounters. Even on the way up to the trail head, we observed an indri who was just chilling in a tree by the side of the road.

The highlight of the day here though was seeing black and white ruffed lemurs which can only be found in the Mantadia section of the national park. Having heard previously that they are difficult to locate in the forest since they have a large home range, we were pleasantly surprised to find two feeding high up in the trees above us. Other new species that we observed at Mantadia National Park included blue vanga, red front coua, Madagascar buzzard and our first snake of the trip: Liophidium rhodogaster. We also got to see another highly camouflaged mossy leaf-tailed gecko (although we still need a guide to point out this elusive species)!

Black and white ruffed lemur at Mantadia National ParkBlack and white ruffed lemur at Mantadia National Park Madagascar wagtail at Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, MadagascarMadagascar wagtail at Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Madagascar

Night walks

Do not leave the rainforest without going on a night walk. While you are not allowed to enter any of the national parks in Madagascar at night, you can see plenty of wild nocturnal animals outside of these protected areas. Parc Mitsinjo for example offer night walks, otherwise you can carry out your own night walk along the roadside. We brought our own high-powered headtorches so drove down to Mikalo Hotel and walked a couple of hundred metres down the road in search of nocturnal wildlife. We were in luck - we saw several pairs of bright eyes staring back us belonging to two Eastern woolly lemurs; one was just by the side of the road and another slightly further back in the rainforest. In addition, we spotted several chameleons, colourful frogs and numerous Madagascar nightjars and bats flying overheard.

Fork-nosed chameleon at Andasibe-Mantadia National ParkFork-nosed chameleon at Andasibe-Mantadia National Park
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is a fantastic patch of rainforest and home to a huge diversity of wildlife. Being so close to Tana, there really is no reason why you shouldn't visit. The amazing indris alone makes the drive over there worthwhile. I don't think many things would beat having a group of them calling right in front of you!


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) Andasibe-Mantadia babakoto birds chameleon endemic gecko hiking holiday indri insect largest lemur Madagascar Malagasy National nature night Park photography rainforest reptiles road sifaka snake travel trip walk wildlife https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/10/andasibe-mantadia-national-park-madagascar Mon, 07 Oct 2019 18:18:06 GMT
Things to do within an hour's drive of Dubrovnik https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/8/things-to-do-just-within-an-hours-drive-of-dubrovnik

Aside from the obvious main attraction of the Old Town, Dubrovnik, there are plenty of other worthwhile destinations to visit if you have enough time, all of which are within an hour's drive of Dubrovnik.

Ston & Mali Ston

View of Ston looking down from the city wallsView of Ston looking down from the city walls View of Ston looking down from the city wallsView of Ston looking down from the city walls
Take a scenic coastal drive to the small towns of Ston and Mali Ston located south of the Pelješac peninsula and just under an hour away from Dubrovnik (approx. 50km). Less known than Dubrovnik with far fewer tourists, this area is famous for three main things: oysters, salt and the impressive medieval city walls extending up to 5.5km in length making it the longest defensive fortress system in Europe that was built to defend the city and its salt pans. Park your car at the town of Ston where you can also visit a number of shops and choose from a selection of cafes and restaurants to dine in before making your way to the city walls. Here you can go up and walk along the whole length of the city walls to Mali Ston. From here you can either turn around and walk back along the walls or take the quicker option; descend and walk back along the main road. From the top of the walls you can observe amazing views of the mountains, salt pans and bay of Mali Ston with its stunning clear blue waters. Make sure to wear appropriate footwear for the climb (there are many steps) and bring plenty of water with you as it can get very hot and there is little to no shelter. Listen out for nightingales singing in the trees surrounding the wall and keep an eye out for huge violet carpenter bees and butterflies including the spectacular swallowtail foraging on the wildflowers. Being less touristy than the nearby Dubrovnik, we barely saw any other people on our walk. Our visit to Ston was a real highlight of our trip to Croatia.

Beautiful clear, blue water at Mali Ston, CroatiaBeautiful clear, blue water at Mali Ston, Croatia


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Cavtat

Only a half hour drive from Dubrovnik lies the harbour and coastal town of Cavtat. Like Dubrovnik, it is quite touristy with multiple restaurants, bars and hotels but is a lot quieter and peaceful. Take a leisurely stroll along the promenade with a ice cream, relax on the beaches, rent a kayak or visit the museums. This is a great place to visit if you just want to relax, unwind and soak up the scenery.

Promenade, Cavtat, CroatiaPromenade, Cavtat, Croatia Cavtat, CroatiaCavtat, Croatia

Konavle region

Visit this agricultural region to the south of Dubrovnik, just before the border with Montenegro to enjoy beautiful scenery and delicious food. We didn't spend much time here other than driving through on route to Montenegro. However, we did stop at a small restaurant, which was recommended in our guide book and was, without doubt, the best meal of the holiday! Konoba Koraceva Kuca is a small, family-run restaurant specialising in traditional Dalmatian cuisine. It is situated just off of the main road in the village of Gruda with an outdoor terrace that gives stunning views of the fields, vineyards and mountains of Bosnia. Make sure to book a table in advance and sit outside to enjoy the sunset over these mountains. The staff were very friendly and attentive, even offering customers to take a tour of their kitchen to show how their meats are slow-cooked. In addition, they serve a delicious aperitif; a homemade, pomegranate liqueur which we enjoyed so much that they even brought us a second helping!

 

Trsteno Arboretum

Fountain at Trsteno ArboretumFountain at Trsteno Arboretum King's Landing gardens, Trsteno ArboretumKing's Landing gardens, Trsteno Arboretum

The botanical gardens form another famous Game of Thrones filming location (King's Landing gardens where Lady Olenna speaks with Sansa about Joffrey, but more on the various GoT filming locations in a later blog post). It's not a huge place so only an hour or so is really needed here and is best done in combination with another trip out; I don't think it would be worthwhile to visit on its own unless you really love botanical gardens (we visited on our way back from Ston). The gardens contain a diversity of plants from all over the world including a huge 500 year old plane tree. Another highlight of the arboretum is an 18th century fountain overlooked by a statue of Neptune flanked by two nymphs. Also, from the arboretum you can take a wander down to the coast where you can find the GoT filming location for where Bronn and Jaime train.
 

Day trips to Bosnia & Montenegro

Since Dubrovnik is so close to the borders with Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro, why not take a day trip to both of these countries and add some more stamps to your passports. Like Croatia, both countries have beautifully stunning landscapes, culture and history with many attractions to visit that are quite near to the border. As we hired a car for the week, we took a short road trip to Mostar and Kravice Waterfalls in Bosnia on one day and a road trip to Kotor, Montenegro, on another day. Just make sure you inform your rental car company so that you are covered under their insurance when you leave the Croatian border. There will be separate blog posts with further details on visiting each of these countries shortly.


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) Arboretum Bosnia city Croatia driving Dubrovnik Europe filming fort fortress Game locations Mali Montenegro of pans road salt Ston Thrones travel trip Trsteno walls https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/8/things-to-do-just-within-an-hours-drive-of-dubrovnik Sat, 10 Aug 2019 18:14:30 GMT
A day in Dubrovnik Old Town, Croatia https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/6/a-day-in-dubrovnik-croatia

An old medieval town in southern Croatia, situated between tall mountains and the Adriatic Sea and well known for its distinctive Old Town, Dubrovnik is a stunning place filled with history, culture and stunning views. We stayed just outside of Dubrovnik, in the small village of Soline where we were able to enjoy beautiful views of the Adriatic sea while escaping the hustle and bustle of Dubrovnik Old Town. When visiting the Old Town, make sure to check the cruise timetable in advance and pick a day when there are few/ no cruise ships in the harbour; the Old Town is a surprisingly small place with many narrow streets and can get extremely crowded with tourists over the summer months. Therefore, plan ahead in order to make the most of it and avoid the crowds.

Dubrovnik Old TownDubrovnik Old Town

A real must when visiting Dubrovnik is walking the city walls. Do not leave this place until you have done so! When I was reading up on the city prior to visiting, everywhere stated that the city walls is the number one attraction in Dubrovnik, and they were not wrong. These walls are well preserved, encircling the entirety of the Old Town and include a number of fortresses/ towers. The main entrance is at Pile Gate but you can also get in at Ploče Gate and the Maritime Museum. The whole route is approximately 2km long with various scenic stops and photo opportunities. It takes about 1.5 hours to walk, depending on how often you stop. When visiting, it is recommended to either go early in the day to beat the crowds and avoid the heat (it is very exposed with little shelter and the sun can get extremely hot during the summer months). Alternatively, you can visit later in the day, as we did, when it is cooler and most tourists, particularly those from cruise ships are leaving. As the sun starts to drop, it also gives the Old Town a beautiful pre-sunset glow, enhancing the colours of those iconic orange roofs. It is also much easier to take good photos at this time of day, without worrying too much about overexposed photos due to the bright sunlight.

Dubrovnik Old Town and the island of Lokrum looking down from the city wallsDubrovnik Old Town and the island of Lokrum looking down from the city walls


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There is so much else to see and do in the Old Town. Walk the Stradun, the main street through the Old Town stretching from Pile Gate to the port, and stop off at sights such as Rectors Palace, Sponza Palace, Dominican Monastery and St Blaise Church. Also, not forgetting that Dubrovnik is one of the major filming locations for the successful Game of Thrones series, make sure to visit the various locations that are featured. I will post a blog shortly with a complete Game of Thrones tour of King's Landing so look out for that. Rectors Palace, Jesuit Stairs and Pile Gate are among the main locations where iconic scenes such as Cersei's walk of atonement were filmed. There are also many stores selling official HBO merchandise throughout the Old Town (however, you can probably find most of these gifts online for half the price).
Narrow street in Dubrovnik Old TownNarrow street in Dubrovnik Old Town Bell tower in Dubrovnik Old TownBell tower in Dubrovnik Old Town

Stradun, Dubrovnik Old TownStradun, Dubrovnik Old Town

You will be spoilt for choice for places to eat and drink in the Old Town. We went to Mea Culpa, a pizzeria tucked away down a short alley, not far from the Stradun. The pizzas here were delicious, however, just to warn you it might be worth sharing a pizza as they are very big! If you do struggle though (as I did), the waiter will kindly put the rest in a box to takeaway. Then, if you have room for dessert, grab an ice cream from Dolce Vita - Croatian ice cream is similar to soft Italian gelato and everywhere we went there was a huge selection of flavours. At the end of the day, pop into D'Vino Wine Bar to try a drop of Croatia's finest wines. They have a large menu for you to peruse but, if you are unsure of what to order, just tell a friendly member of staff the wines you like and they would be happy to recommend one for you. Tastings are available all day and they can also provide tours, although we did not have time to do so on this occasion.

End the day by watching sunset up Mount Srd and enjoy stunning panoramic views of the Old Town, island of Lokrum and the rest of the Dalmatia coastline. There is a cable car that runs from the Old Town up to the top, however, it was not running during our stay there. Alternatively you can drive or walk up (the walk takes approximately 45 minutes and worth doing if you have the time). Take care if you are driving; it is a one way road most of the way with few passing points and can get very busy with impatient taxi drivers. There is also a restaurant and war museum at the top so can you spend a bit of time up here while admiring the views.

Dubrovnik Old Town and the island of Lokrum looking down from Mount SrdDubrovnik Old Town and the island of Lokrum looking down from Mount Srd I hope you enjoy your stay in Dubrovnik as much as we did!


 


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) Adriatic city Croatia culture Dalmatia Dubrovnik Europe fort fortresses Game Gate history medieval Mount Of Old Palace Pile Ploce Rectors sea Sponza Srd Stradun Thrones Town travel walls https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/6/a-day-in-dubrovnik-croatia Thu, 20 Jun 2019 17:12:42 GMT
Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/5/manuel-antonio-national-park-costa-rica

Located just outside the town of Quepos, Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest and one of the most-visited national parks in the whole country. With its stunning white sand beaches, beautiful forest and abundance of wildlife (with 109 species of mammal and 184 species of bird), it is not hard to see why it is so popular. This national park is probably one of the best places to go if you want to see sloths (and let's face it, who doesn't?). Almost as soon as we had we arrived and gotten out of our car, a friendly local called us over to point out a three-toed sloth within a tree outside of the park. The first of many sloths that day!

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa RicaManuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
The main tip for visiting Manuel Antonio is to arrive early to beat the crowds. Being such a popular destination, it soon fills up and the beaches in particular can become very crowded. Therefore, try to arrive in the morning to make the most of the peace and quiet within the park. If you're driving in, there are several options for parking. If you get there early enough there is some parking directly outside of the park, otherwise, you can park quite cheaply at the side of the road by the beach, just down the road from the park. Also, there are no shops of cafes inside the park so make sure that you bring sufficient food and drink for the day.

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa RicaManuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica


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Despite its small size, there is still plenty to see and do here and you could easily spend a whole day wandering along the many trails through the forest and relaxing on one of several beaches. The trails vary in length and difficulty from nice, flat trails suitable for all ages to steeper inclines that take you to some high up lookout points. The Miradores Trail in particular leads you up a series of inclines and steps to some fantastic view points including one that looks out at Punta Serrucho, a narrow strip of jagged coastline jutting out into the ocean (above).

White-headed Capuchin Monkey, Costa RicaWhite-headed Capuchin Monkey, Costa Rica Three-toed sloth at Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica,Three-toed sloth at Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica,
There is so much wildlife to be seen in such a small space. In addition to the many sloths that we saw, the highlights would probably have to be the cheeky White-headed Capuchin Monkeys that were in abundance around the beaches. They are not shy of humans so keep a close eye on your food and drinks! Other animals around the beach included Raccoons as well as Iguanas. Deeper within the forest, away from the busy beaches, White-nosed Coatis scurry through the undergrowth and we even saw a Central American Squirrel Monkey climbing through the trees. Also, look and listen out for the noisy Mantled Howler Monkeys who's loud howls can be heard throughout the forest. To increase your chances of seeing wildlife, you are able to hire an experienced guide at the main entrance of the park. However, as there is so much wildlife around, you're bound to see loads anyway, especially as most people within the National Park are very friendly and will point creatures out to you as you walk around. Although a guide would be useful if you were interested in spotting less obvious species such as insects, amphibians and reptiles.

Raccoon at Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica,Raccoon at Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica, White-headed Capuchin Monkey, Costa RicaWhite-headed Capuchin Monkey, Costa Rica
If you want to go somewhere to relax and spot a huge amount of wildlife without going very far, then Manuel Antonio National Park is the place to go. Despite being significantly busier than all of the other places we visited in Costa Rica, it is certainly well worth a visit, particularly if you are hoping to tick seeing a wild sloth off of your bucket list.


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) animals Antonio beach beaches birds capuchin coati Costa hiking Manuel Miradores monkey National nature park photography quepos raccoon reserve Rica sloth squirrel trail travel travelling walking wildlife https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/5/manuel-antonio-national-park-costa-rica Thu, 30 May 2019 16:49:32 GMT
Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/4/monteverde-cloud-forest-costa-rica  

Monteverde is a spectacular place to visit while you're travelling in Costa Rica. Home to the impressive cloud forests formed by dense, low-hanging clouds, there are eight different biological reserves to explore with an abundance of flora and fauna. Located over 1,400 metres above sea level, it is a long drive along bumpy, narrow roads but it is definitely worth it when you get to the top!

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve

At Monteverde, the main attraction is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve. Here you can either choose a guided tour available in both Spanish and English or explore the forest by yourself. We chose the latter. There a number of trails that you can follow around the reserve of varying distances and difficulties and cross a large suspension bridge leading you into the clouds as well as a number of viewpoints and waterfalls. Keep an eye out for colourful birds darting through the trees. I think a highlight for me was the Black Guan, an arboreal, turkey-like bird that is endemic to the cloud forests of Costa Rica and Panama. However, we also saw many other birds including Collared Redstart, Black-faced Solitaire and Sooty Thrush as well as the very cute Central American Agouti and White-nosed Coati.

Monteverde Cloud ForestMonteverde Cloud Forest Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve suspension bridgeMonteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve suspension bridge Monteverde Cloud ForestMonteverde Cloud Forest

After visiting the cloud forest preserve, make sure you stop by the hummingbird garden just outside the entrance. It is a little bit hidden out of the way and we almost missed it, but I am so glad that we didn't. The numbers and species of hummingbird that the feeders attract are incredible and it was amazing to sit amongst them. I could have easily spent hours there watching these colourful little birds whizz around going about their business.

Hummingbirds feedingHummingbirds feeding


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Night tours

Much of the wildlife that can be found at Monteverde scarcely makes an appearance during the daytime. Therefore, make sure to take a night tour while you are staying in Monteverde to observe all the weird and wonderful animals that inhabit this unique environment. We booked a tour with a local guide called Michael Leiton-Bello of Monteverde Nature Tracks. He was fantastic at spotting wildlife and knows exactly where to look. I recommend booking a private tour with him; it is well worth the money and means that you can go around at your own pace and focus on the wildlife that specifically interests you. He came to collect us from our hotel before taking us to the Monteverde Wildlife Refuge. On route, he told us he had heard from a friend that a sloth had been spotted not too far from where we were; he took us straight there where we observed amazing views of our first ever two-toed sloth.

Two-toed slothTwo-toed sloth

At the reserve, we saw so much more than we ever expected to be able to: Violet Sabrewing, Mottled Owl, Side-striped Palm Pitviper, Brilliant Forest Frog, Orange-bellied Trogon, Emerald Toucanet, Orange-kneed Tarantula, Giant-banded Anole, Stick Insects and even a 9-banded armadillo scurrying off into the night. Also, Michael was very skilled at photography and used our iPhones to capture brilliant photos through his telescope of all this stunning wildlife. Be prepared for a lot of walking - we spent the entire time moving about the forest trying to see as much wildlife as we possibly could within the few hours we had. The night tour at Monteverde was one of the many highlights of our trip and perfect for getting great encounters with animals you wouldn't normally get chance to see.

Violet sabrewingViolet sabrewing Mottled owlMottled owl Side-striped palm pitviperSide-striped palm pitviper Orange-bellied trogonOrange-bellied trogon

Zip lining

Monteverde is also the perfect place for adventure lovers and thrill seekers. With a multitude of zip lines running through the forest, there are plenty of opportunities to explore this unique habitat from a different angle - high above the canopy. There are many companies who run zip lining tours, we chose to go with 100% Aventura who gave an excellent tour. Our canopy tour consisted of 12 zip lines across the forest of varying heights and distances (including the longest zip line in Latin America extending about 1 mile long) that offer a completely different view of the cloud forests.

Sunset over Monteverde, Costa RicaSunset over Monteverde, Costa Rica

Monteverde is a really spectacular place, home to one of the rarest habitats on the planet and a great diversity of plants and animals. Make sure to add it to your itinerary!


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) animal birds birdwatching brid bridge Cloud Costa Forest guide hiking hummingbird jungle mist Monteverde natural nature night photography plants rain refuge Rica scenery sloth tour Tracks travel tropical wild wildlife ziplining https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/4/monteverde-cloud-forest-costa-rica Sat, 27 Apr 2019 18:53:08 GMT
Things to do while visiting Arenal & La Fortuna, Costa Rica https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/4/things-to-do-while-visiting-arenal-costa-rica

I know most of my blog posts have been about our travels in the States, therefore, I thought it would be good to share my experiences from our other travels around the world, starting with our trip to Costa Rica in 2017. Costa Rica seems to be rapidly growing in popularity with tourists and its not hard to see why. With beautiful mountains, rainforests and beaches, diverse and abundant flora and fauna, friendly locals, lovely weather, great food and the fact that the country is almost entirely powered by renewable energy, why wouldn't you want to travel here? And one place in particular that you really must visit while in Costa Rica is Arenal Volcano National Park, just outside the town of La Fortuna.

Arenal Volcano National Park

While visiting Arenal, the main attraction of course is Arenal Volcano. In fact, it is pretty hard to miss this huge, towering volcano. Being a perfectly symmetrical cone shape, it is extremely popular with sightseers and photographers, despite the fact that its top is quite often obscured by clouds. The large expanse of water that is Lake Arenal resides at the base of the volcano and actually generates about 12% of the country's hydroelectric energy. From the lake you will also see large wind farms at the tops of the mountains, generating even more renewable energy.

Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa RicaArenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica


Start off at the Arenal Volcano National Park visitor centre where you can choose from several short hiking trails. These trails will take you through rainforest where you will pass enormous trees, beautiful orchids and an abundance of colourful birds. Also, make sure to go just down the road to the Arenal 1968 Lava Trails. This offers spectacular views of the volcano and follows the original lava flow from the huge eruption that took place here in 1968. This hike is really worth doing and leads you across lava rocks and boulders right up to the base of the volcano. We also encountered fewer people along this hiking trail than on the other trails we walked around Arenal and the more open habitats contain a different diversity of wildlife compared to that within the forest.


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La Fortuna Waterfall

This impressive, 200ft high waterfall is situated just outside La Fortuna and is a must-see during your stay. As its quite a popular destination, it may be worth arriving a little earlier in the day to beat the crowds and enjoy unspoilt views of the waterfall. There are various viewpoints to observe from; start from the top before descending just over 500 steps to reach the bottom of the waterfall. Here there are also opportunities to jump into the Fortuna River for a quick swim. Don't miss out on the orchid garden comprising a collection of up to 200 species that are native to Costa Rica. This is part of an important conservation project to raise awareness of the negative effects of deforestation and habitat loss on these beautiful flowers and highlights the important relationships these plants have with their pollinators.

La Fortuna waterfall, Costa RicaLa Fortuna waterfall, Costa Rica

Thermal Hot springs

Don't forget to stop at some thermal hot springs, naturally heated by bubbling underground lava from the nearby volcano. There are several places that you can visit including free, natural hot springs that any local could guide you to. We chose to go to Eco Thermales Fortuna which turned out to be a really good choice as it was lovely and quiet when we visited, with only a few other people there. Here there are several pools of varying temperatures between 37°C to 41°C as well as a cooler pool and waterfall, all surrounded by lush green vegetation. There is also a bar that serves delicious cocktails and sun loungers to relax on. All in all, we found our experience here very relaxing and a great way to unwind following a day of hiking around Arenal.

Wildlife

Social Flycatcher at Arenal National Park, Costa RicaSocial Flycatcher at Arenal National Park, Costa Rica Summer tanager at Arenal National Park, Costa RicaSummer tanager at Arenal National Park, Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano National Park is home to a great abundance of wildlife. In particular, there are some stunning birds such as the Social Flycatcher and Summer Tanager (shown above) as well as Montezuma Oropendola, Keel-billed Toucan, Crested Guam, White-fronted Parrot, Golden-hooded Tanager, Blue Dacnis and a variety of hummingbird and woodpecker species. Some of these birds we also observed around our hotel grounds (we stayed at Hotel Arenal Manoa). This hotel was fantastic and offered superb views of the volcano from our room and had lovely grounds including a lake that is home to some impressive Spectacled Caiman. When you look up closely at the palm trees surrounding the lake you will see several iguanas basking in the sun. Despite their large size, they can easily be missed as they perch motionlessly in the trees. Variegated squirrels scurry about in search for food while numerous small birds dart about. Turkey vultures soar overhead and, if you're lucky, you will see the striking Crested Caracara swoop over. It is a wildlife lover's paradise!


 

Costa Rica, in particular Arenal, is a beautiful place and somewhere that I highly recommend you visit. If you are like me and love wildlife and amazing scenery, you will certainly enjoy your stay here and will be desperate to return back again!


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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) america Arenal birds birdwatching Central Costa Fortuna hiking holiday hotspring La National nature Park photography rainforest Rica thermal travel tropical volcano walking waterfall wildlife https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/4/things-to-do-while-visiting-arenal-costa-rica Sat, 06 Apr 2019 12:11:38 GMT
Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway - Los Angeles to San Francisco https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/2/driving-along-the-pacific-coast-highway---los-angeles-to-san-francisco

The Pacific Coast Highway is, without doubt, one of the most scenic drives I have ever been on. We began our drive at Los Angeles (although the road officially begins in San Diego) and followed the route right to the end, finishing in San Francisco. It stretches approximately 600miles along the stunning Californian coastline and passes towering mountains, beautiful beaches and dense, green forests. While we completed this drive in two days, it would be possible to do it in a single day. However, I would highly recommend spending more time to fully enjoy and experience all the fantastic sights the route has to offer. I would certainly love to return again one day, perhaps doing the route in reverse and spending more time at each of the places along the way, some of which are detailed below.

Santa Barbara

While Santa Barbara was only a quick lunch stop for us, you could easily spend much more time in this scenic coastal city. Referred to as the America Riviera, this small city lies between the Pacific Coast and the Santa Ynez Mountains, offering stunning views. There is something for everyone here: hiking trails, water sports, beaches, culture and a buzzing nightlife.

Pismo Beach

If you love watching the sun go down, make sure you time your trip well so that you can spend one evening watching the sunset at Pismo Beach. With stunning colours in the sky, impressive cloud formations and majestic brown pelicans soaring over the ocean like the Pterodactyls of Jurassic Park, it was probably one of the most beautiful and unforgettable sunsets I have ever seen.

Located roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Pismo Beach is the only stretch of coastline in central California where vehicles are permitted. Enter through the main entrance at Oceano Beach then feel free to explore the beach by car. You are also able to hire ATVs and dune buggys or go horse riding for a different experience. The beach is fairly flat and easy to drive on so a 4x4 isn't essential but may be preferable. Find a peaceful spot then sit back, relax and watch as the sun goes down.
Pismo Beach, CaliforniaPismo Beach, California Sunset and waders at Pismo Beach CaliforniaSunset and waders at Pismo Beach California
Pismo Beach CaliforniaPismo Beach California

Morro Bay

A coastal city known for Morro Rock, a large volcanic mound at the end of Morro Bay beach, is a place not to be missed on your drive along the Pacific Coast Highway. It is particularly good for birdwatching; it is an important stopover point for a number of waterbirds during the winter and Morro Rock itself supports breeding peregrine falcon which we were fortunate enough to see perching on the rocks. In addition, we saw various waterfowl, namely brown pelican, snowy egret, cormorants, western gull and Heermann's gull. A small group of adorable sea otters were also floating about in the harbour and are frequently seen from Coleman Drive.

San Simeon

Located at the top of a hill approximately 1,600ft above sea level lies the 20th Century mansion of Hearst Castle. It is a National Historic Landmark and California Historical Landmark and there are a range of tours available for visitors to attend. The "Grand Room Tour" is recommended for first-time visitors and gives a good overview of Hearst Castle. Unfortunately we didn't have time to take a look around the estate but just drove to the top of the hill to take a quick look at the buildings and the view before continuing our journey.

Just 5 miles down the road from Hearst Castle, be sure to make a stop at the elephant seal vista point to observe the colony of Northern elephant seals that live there. The viewing area is open all year round and gives you great views of these impressive animals. The huge males in particular are unmistakable with their large noses, giving the seals their name. They are the largest seals in the northern hemisphere and second largest species in the world (after the Southern elephant seal). They tend to come ashore twice a year; during the winter months to give birth to their pups and mate then again in late spring to early summer to moult and develop new fur. Numbers peak in October and November and the rest of their year is spent at sea in search of food.

Group of Elephant Seals along the Pacific Coast Highway, CaliforniaGroup of Elephant Seals along the Pacific Coast Highway, California

Big Sur

A long and beautiful stretch of undeveloped coastline, this section of the Pacific Coast Highway is considered one of the most scenic routes in America and a highly-ranked destination. Along this narrow, twisting road you will find plenty of photo opportunities; multiple laybys along the way allow you to stop and jump out pretty much whenever you want. A popular stop is Hurricane Point view where you can get great views of the Bixby Creek Bridge (pictured below).
Pacific Coast Highway, CaliforniaPacific Coast Highway, California

Whether you are travelling from San Diego to San Francisco or San Francisco to San Diego, you will surely have an amazing and forgettable journey along the Pacific Coast Highway and return home with an abundance of stunning photos. I am sure that, like us, you will be wanting to return again one day!

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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) America Barbara Bay Beach Big California Castle driving Hearst Morro Pacific Coast Highway photography Pismo points road Santa scenery Sur trip USA view wildlife https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/2/driving-along-the-pacific-coast-highway---los-angeles-to-san-francisco Wed, 06 Feb 2019 18:28:44 GMT
San Francisco - other things to do if you have more time https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/1/san-francisco---other-things-to-do-if-you-have-more-time  

There is so much to see and do in San Francisco. Obviously make sure you go to the main highlights when you visit: Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island Pier 39 (as detailed in an earlier blog post). However, if you do have a bit more time to spend in this city, there are plenty of other things to keep you busy.

Cable Cars

While you are visiting San Francisco, you have to take a ride on the famous cable cars. These are the last manually-operated cable cars in the world and are a fun way to travel and explore the city. Rarely used by locals these days, you will find the vast majority of passengers are tourists. Three lines are currently operating: one runs along California Street while the other two routes both start at Union Square and head towards Fisherman's Wharf, passing the famous Lombard Street (see below) and offering great views of the city. While we were able to jump straight onto the cable car at Union Square, there was a huge queue coming back from Fisherman's Wharf so be prepared to wait. Then, once you're on, make sure you hold on tight!

Muir Woods

Escape from the bustling city of San Francisco and pay a visit to Muir Woods National Monument,  just a short trip across the Golden Gate Bridge and out of the city. Here you can walk amongst the tall, old-growth Coast Redwood Sequoia sempervirens trees that range from 400 to 800 years in age and reach heights of up to 250 feet tall. Named after the conservationist John Muir, the forest boasts a great diversity of flora and fauna including black-tailed deer, garter snake, sonoma chipmunks, northern spotted owls and winter wren, to name just a few. There are many walking trails throughout the forest suitable for all ages and abilities with multiple bridges that lead you across the Redwood Creek which flows through the wood and is home to Coho salmon and steelhead trout, both of which are keystone species in many Pacific ecosystems.

Whale watching in the Bay

Whether you're completely new to whale watching or have been numerous times before, you will not be disappointed if you go for a boat trip in San Francisco Bay. Humpback whale sightings are frequent throughout the year, occurring more and more regularly in the Bay and San Francisco Whale Tours offer exciting boat trips to go to see them. The guides are excellent at spotting the whales and really knowledgeable and informative, providing tourists not only with information about the wildlife but also facts on San Francisco itself including the Golden Gate Bridge as well as Alcatraz Island (more information on visiting Alcatraz can be found in an earlier blog post). When the guides are not taking tourists out into the Bay, they also carry out important research to understand whale behaviour in the Bay and work on various conservation projects. 

Also, if you go on this trip and do not see any whales, then you will be invited back free of charge until you do see a whale. We were very unfortunate when we went on this boat trip in 2015 - we must have picked the worst possible day for whale watching; with strong winds and very rough water, it was almost impossible to see anything at all. In fact, it was the first day that year that there had been no whale sightings! Although we didn't manage to make it back out again in 2015, I emailed the tour company prior to our 2018 trip and they were more than happy to let us join again for free. The weather was considerably better on this occasion and we were lucky enough to see two humpbacks in close proximity and stayed near the boat for quite a long time.

As if seeing these impressive animals wasn't enough, we also saw harbour seals, California sea lions and glimpses of the elusive harbour porpoises briefly appearing at the waters surface to take a breath of air. An abundance of seabirds also passed by the boat. Species included: brown pelican, Brandt's cormorant, common murres and elegant terns and a full species species list is written up on a whiteboard at the end of the trip. It really was an amazing and worthwhile experience and I highly recommend going to seeing these incredible animals!

Lombard Street -"the crookedest street in the world"

Stop off at Lombard Street and admire this unusual steep road comprising eight hairpin bends. It is said that the road has been designed in this way because the hill would otherwise be too steep for vehicles (despite many other streets in the vicinity being of a similar gradient). We started at the top of the street where you can observe nice views of the city and the Bay before zigzagging down to the bottom, watching the cars slowly wind their way around each bend. While only a short visit is needed here, it is certainly worth passing by.

Mrs Doubtfire's house

Finally, if like my partner you are a fan of the film Mrs Doubtfire, make sure you pay a visit to the house that features in the film. The address is: 2640 Steiner Street, CA 94115-1142. Bear in mind though that people do actually live there so try not to linger too long. However, we noticed we were not the only visitors to this house so residents must be used to plenty of visitors.

 

I really hope you enjoy your time in San Francisco and have chance to visit all the fantastic sights it has to offer! :)

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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) America Bay boat cable California car Doubtfire forest Francisco Humpback Lombard Mrs Muir San seabird Square Street travel trip Union USA watching whale Whales woodland Woods https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2019/1/san-francisco---other-things-to-do-if-you-have-more-time Fri, 11 Jan 2019 18:14:57 GMT
San Francisco - the main highlights https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/9/san-francisco---the-main-highlights

Our final stop on this years USA road trip as well as our road trip back in 2015 was San Francisco, home of the famous Golden Gate Bridge. There is a lot to see and do in this city but I have listed the main highlights below; the places that you really do not want to miss if you are visiting San Francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge

You cannot visit San Francisco without stopping to admire one of the most internationally recognised symbols of California and the USA. This impressive suspension bridge, opened in 1937, was the tallest and longest bridge at the time and spans the Golden Gate, a one mile wide strait connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

Golden Gate Bridge, San FranciscoGolden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
There are various viewpoints that enable you to observe the Golden Gate Bridge at all angles. My favourite spot (where the photo above was taken) is at Battery Spencer; where you can take in spectacular panoramic views of the bridge with the city of San Francisco in the background. Another good location is just to the north of the bridge, near the lonely soldier statue. Make sure you drive, walk or cycle across it to see the bridge from another perspective. At the end of the day, head down to Torpedo Wharf to watch the city of San Francisco glow as the sun sets behind the bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge, San FranciscoGolden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, San FranciscoGolden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
 

Alcatraz

A must stop for anyone visiting San Francisco. The only way of visiting this intriguing island is through Alcatraz Cruises. Head over to Pier 33 to catch the boat across to this island of wonder, history and infamy. Ensure you book tickets well in advance; the first time we visited San Francisco, we thought purchasing tickets a week in advance would be fine, but we were wrong. All tickets had already sold out and we unfortunately had to miss out. However, we did not make the same mistake this time round and instead purchased our tickets several months in advance.

We got a day tour ticket to Alcatraz which includes a return ferry trip to the island and audio tour. Other tour options are also available on the website - you can even book a night tour if you're feeling brave! Once on the island, you are free to explore and stay as long as you like; I would recommend staying for at least 3 hours to take everything in. As if it wasn't exciting enough just to explore this former military fortification and prison that held notorious criminals such as Al Capone (Scarface), George "Machine Gun" Kelly and Robert Stroud (the Birdman), but the visit was further enhanced by their award-winning cellhouse audio tour. Simply grab a device, plug in the headphones and follow the audio guide, exploring the cellhouse at your own pace. It will guide you all around the prison, stopping at various points of interest along the way while you listen to stories of life inside which is narrated by both former inmates and correctional officers. It was fascinating to hear all about life on Alcatraz Island as well as the various escape attempts including the Battle of Alcatraz and the famous escape in June 1962 which was later made into a Clint Eastwood film. To this day, it is still unknown as to whether or not this escape attempt was a success since these prisoners were never seen again.

After exploring the cellhouse, there are various other landmarks on the island to view including the water tower, warden's house, lighthouse and guard tower. In addition, we also learnt about the importance of the island in the American Indian rights movement. Take notice of the abundance of nesting birds on the island including gulls, cormorants, night herons and egrets, as Alcatraz Island is now designated as a National Park and bird sanctuary.

Alcatraz warden's house, San FranciscoAlcatraz warden's house, San Francisco

Pier 39

Make sure to stop by Pier 39 after your trip to Alcatraz for great food, shopping, entertainment and, most importantly, the famous California sea lions that took up residence on this pier in 1990 and have not left since. I personally could have spent all day watching these strange animals; while many of them were asleep, others were gracefully leaping in and out of the water, often clambering all over each other to find a space on the floating rafts. They really have no concept of personal space! They also make such a racket that you can hear them from the shore.

From the pier you will also get great views of the bay, Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island State Park and Alcatraz. Just down the road from Pier 39, you can visit Fisherman's Wharf, another popular tourist destination with a huge choice of eateries. Stop by Boudin Bakery Cafe to try their delicious chilli bowl; hot chilli con carne topped with grated cheese and served within a sourdough bread bowl. Alternatively they serve clam chowder and soup within these bread bowls. Don't forget to actually eat the bread bowl once you have finished your meal within; we saw so many people just throw away their bread bowl when they had finished, but this is actually one of the best parts of the meal!

California sea lions, Pier 39, San FranciscoCalifornia sea lions, Pier 39, San Francisco  

Whatever you are doing during your stay in San Francisco, do not leave until you have visited all of these places at the very least. If you have a bit more time in this city, there is also plenty more to do and I will be writing another blog post shortly on a number of other things you can see and do in this great place so keep an eye out for that. Otherwise, have a fantastic trip and I hope you enjoy San Francisco as much as we did! 

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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) 39 Alcatraz America blog bridge California city Francisco gate golden lions Pier San sea States travel USA https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/9/san-francisco---the-main-highlights Sat, 22 Sep 2018 11:39:53 GMT
Yosemite National Park, California https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/8/yosemite-national-park One of the most highly ranked National Parks in the States, make sure to add Yosemite National Park to your USA itinerary. With spectacular granite cliffs, great waterfalls and giant Sequoia trees, you will soon understand why it is so highly rated.

An important tip when visiting Yosemite is to make sure that you arrive early. Not only so that you can have a full day to make the most of this beautiful National Park, but also because it can get very busy, particularly during the summer months. We made the mistake of going on Memorial Day, however, fortunately we managed to arrive there early enough to beat the queue into the park and get a parking space. Although there is a car park near the visitor centre, this fills up very quickly and you will see many cars circling round and round waiting for a space. You may get lucky, but it is best to get there early. Alternatively, you can park a little further away (there are car parks all along the road towards the visitor centre) and get the free shuttle bus that runs throughout Yosemite Valley and stops at all the main viewpoints, lodgings and stores.

Tioga  Lake, Yosemite National ParkTioga Lake, Yosemite National ParkSnowy mountains surrounding Ellery Lake, Yosemite National Park

Bear in mind that if you are travelling in from the east of Yosemite, the main road to get to the National Park, Tioga Pass, tends to be closed during the winter due to snowfall. There is no set date for when it opens again; it is usually late Spring but can vary depending on the time it takes to clear snow off the roads. Therefore, it is advised that you check this website prior to your trip to avoid disappointment. From Lee Vining (the start of Tioga Pass), it takes about 2 hours to get to the Yosemite Valley visitor centre. While this may sound like a long drive, the time will fly by as you gaze out across snowy mountains, beautiful clear blue lakes, alpine meadows and dense pine forests. If you have the time, there are so many lovely places to stop at on route to Yosemite Valley such as Ellery Lake (above), Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows.

There are a number of places to stay at in Yosemite, however, these tend to get booked up quickly and are expensive due to the high demand. Therefore, we decided to stay in Mammoth Lakes before spending the day driving right across Yosemite, stopping at all the major sights then exiting at the western side of the park at Yosemite Forks and spending the night in Chowchilla.

 

The Tunnel View

No trip to Yosemite would be complete without stopping at one of the most iconic and probably most photographed viewpoint in the whole of the National Park. This spot provides an excellent overview of the park's towering granite cliffs including the Half Dome and El Capitan, cascading waterfalls and lush green pine forests.

Tunnel View, Yosemite National ParkTunnel View, Yosemite National ParkThe famous tunnel view, Yosemite National Park, California

Waterfalls

Yosemite National Park is home to thousands of waterfalls. One of the main ones you have to see is Yosemite Falls (left). Comprising three separate waterfalls (Upper Yosemite Fall, Middle Cascades and Lower Yosemite Fall) and at a height of 2,425 ft, this is one of the highest waterfalls in North America! A short walking trail (approximately one mile loop) leads you from the shuttle bus stop right to the base of the waterfall. You can also hike to the top of this waterfall where I expect you would be rewarded with fantastic views. However, unfortunately we did not have enough time to do this.

Another spectacular waterfall to see is the Bridalveil Falls (right), so named due to the way the water falls; resembling a bride's veil blowing in the wind. This is one of the first ones that you will see as you enter Yosemite Valley and is only a short hike from the car park.

Yosemite FallsYosemite FallsYosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California   Bridalveil falls, Yosemite National ParkBridalveil falls, Yosemite National Park

Glacier Point

Despite the hour long drive from the visitor centre, it is well worth the journey up to Glacier Point. At a much higher vantage point than the Tunnel View, it offers an amazing panoramic view of the National Park and is also probably the best location to see the famous half dome. In addition, there are toilets at the top as well as a gift shop and cafe where you can buy much needed refreshments before descending back down the winding road. Bear in mind that due to heavy snowfall over the winter, the road up to Glacier Point is only open during the summer months.

Glacier Point, Yosemite National ParkGlacier Point, Yosemite National ParkGlacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California

Wildlife

You are bound to encounter an abundance of wildlife while visiting Yosemite. Turkey vultures and ravens can be spotted circling high over the park for much of the day while numerous squirrels scurry in and around the visitor centre, mule deer creep through the forests and yellow-bellied marmots that burrow under piles of granite rock. Also, keep an eye out for bears! We were extremely fortunate to see a Black bear while on the trail back from Yosemite Falls. It was surprisingly very close to the paths, probably within 20ft of the many visitors that were passing by that day and completely oblivious to this large mammal. Despite seeing so many signs warning of bears in the park, we still cannot believe that we were lucky enough to see one of these fascinating animals.

Yellow-bellied marmot, Yosemite National ParkYellow-bellied marmot, Yosemite National ParkYellow-bellied marmot, Yosemite National Park

   Mule deer, Red Rock State Park in SedonaMule deer, Red Rock State Park in SedonaCurious mule deer peeking through the trees

It isn't hard to see why people rave about Yosemite National Park so much. As long you carefully plan out your trip, you'll be rewarded with stunning scenery, fantastic hiking trails and unforgettable wildlife encounters. There is so much to see and do here - we will definitely be returning one day!

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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) America bear California capitan cascades cliffs deer dome el granite half lakes landscape mountains National nature Park pass photography scenery Sequoia States Tioga travel tree USA waterfalls wildlife Yosemite https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/8/yosemite-national-park Thu, 16 Aug 2018 18:09:44 GMT
A day in Death Valley National Park, California https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/8/death-valley-california Renowned for being the hottest, driest and lowest place in northern America, Death Valley National Park is another must-stop destination for all USA road trips.

Located in eastern California, a couple of hours drive from Las Vegas, this National Park is a land of extremes that offers beautiful viewpoints and unique landscapes that include towering mountain peaks, pristine sandy dunes and vast salt flats. Also, for any Star Wars fans out there, Death Valley has featured in this film franchise on numerous occasions.

A day in Death Valley

Start the day off in Furnace Creek where you will find the visitor centre that provides an informative overview of Death Valley National Park. Bear in mind that Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells (approximately 30 minutes drive from Furnace Creek) are the few places within the park where you can buy food, water and fuel (this is considerably more expensive than outside of the park so it is advised that you fill up before you go) and both places have several options for accommodation.

Dante's View

A great way to start exploring Death Valley is to drive up to Dante's View, one of the most photographic spots there. Along the crest of the Black Mountains, this viewpoint provides an excellent panoramic view of the whole National Park. Also, at a height of almost 1,700m, it is much cooler here than in the rest of the National Park making it worth the drive up there. Despite the barren landscape, a number of plants and animals call Death Valley their home and Dante's View was dotted with several flowering plants that have adapted to survive in a land of such extremes.

Dante's ViewDante's ViewA panoramic viewpoint offering a brilliant overview of Death Valley National Park

 

Badwater Basin

Next, head back down towards Furnace Creek and take the turning for Badwater Basin. At an elevation of 282ft below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in northern America. Here, you can wander right out into the salt flats that was once a shallow lake during the Pleistocene epoch. Make sure to apply plenty of suncream and bring lots of water and sunglasses as there is no shade and the white salt flats are very bright to look at.

Badwater Basin, Death Valley National ParkBadwater Basin, Death Valley National ParkThe lowest point in North America - 282ft below sea level

 

Devil's Golf Course

On route to Badwater Basin, make sure to stop at the Devil's Golf Course, so named because only a devil could play golf on such a surface. It really is a hostile environment, created from jagged salt formations but is truly unique. Take care when walking along this uneven terrain as the rocks are very sharp.

Devil's Golf CourseDevil's Golf CourseSo named because only the devil could play golf on such a surface Devil's Golf CourseDevil's Golf CourseSo named because only the devil could play golf on such a surface

 

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Before you leave Death Valley, don't forget to visit Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes; beautiful rippled dunes that seem to have randomly appeared in the middle of the otherwise rocky, mountainous landscape. These dunes are constantly being sculpted by the winds; footprints soon disappear and no two visits there will look the same. There are no marked trails as a consequence so you are free to explore as much or as little as you want. It was here that the scene showing C3P0 and R2D2 lost in the sand dunes of Tatooine was filmed.

  Mesquite Sand DunesMesquite Sand Dunes Mesquite Sand DunesMesquite Sand DunesMesquite Sand Dunes

These are the major highlights of the National Park, however, there are many other places that you can stop off at if you have the time including: Zabriskie Point, Racetrack Playa, Scotty's Castle and Artists Drive (another Star Wars filming location). There is plenty to do in a day here but ideally, in order to fully explore this amazing National Park, you should spend several days at Death Valley if you have the time (and don't mind the heat too much)!

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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) Badwater Basin California Course Dante's Death desert Devil's dry Dunes Golf hot low Mesquite National Park Sand Valley View https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/8/death-valley-california Fri, 10 Aug 2018 18:14:44 GMT
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/8/horseshoe-bend-arizona

Whether you have been visiting the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon or other attraction in northern Arizona, make sure to stop by the Horseshoe Bend. Just 4 miles outside of Page within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, downstream from Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, this viewpoint offers breathtaking views of the famous, horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River. This meander, entrenched within a steep-sided canyon, formed millions of years ago and, although appears to be a permanent landscape, the Horseshoe Bend is constantly changing, undergoing the processes of erosion and decomposition.

 

Horseshoe Bend, ArizonaHorseshoe Bend, ArizonaMeander of the Colorado River

 

The Horseshoe Bend is just a short (under a mile) walk from the car park. A steep cliff looking down onto the Colorado River offers you this incredible view. As expected, it can get quite crowded with tourists all posing for memorable photos. We arrived in the late afternoon and it was very busy, although I would expect this place to get even busier leading up to sunset. Despite the crowds, there was never a shortage of excellent locations to photograph this view and pose for our own photos. While everyone is hoping for the classic shot looking straight on at the bend, it is possible to walk right around and view the horseshoe from all angles.

 

Horseshoe Bend, ArizonaHorseshoe Bend, Arizona Horseshoe Bend, ArizonaHorseshoe Bend, Arizona

 

With no railings on the cliff edge, take care when taking your photos. There are plenty signs warning visitors to keep back from the edge as these rocks can crumble at any moment and it is a 1000ft drop! Just standing a few metres from the edge of the cliff sent my heart racing but there were numerous daredevils peering right over the cliff to capture the optimum photos. Also, bear in mind that there is no shade between the car park and viewpoint so bringing plenty of water, sun cream etc is essential.

 

This sure is a stunning and memorable destination and not a place to be missed off your Arizona itinerary. I hope you enjoy your visit to the Horseshoe Bend as much as we did and take plenty of photos, you won't be short of photo opportunities!

 

Horseshoe Bend, ArizonaHorseshoe Bend, ArizonaMeander of the Colorado River

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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) Area Arizona Bend Canyon Colorado famous Glen Horseshoe meander National Page Recreation River rocks watercourse https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/8/horseshoe-bend-arizona Wed, 01 Aug 2018 17:18:00 GMT
Antelope Canyon https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/7/antelope-canyon

The next stop on our USA road trip was Antelope Canyon, just outside of Page, Arizona; a beautiful and unique natural slot canyon formed by the erosion of Navajo sandstone.

This place can get really busy and tends to be full of tourists so it is worth booking online several months in advance of your trip to avoid disappointment. This place is really not somewhere that would want to miss out on and can only be visited with a tour guide.

Once you get there, you will be placed into a tour group with a guide (all of which are Navajo Indians) and escorted down into the canyon. As it is so busy, the rules once you are within the canyon are quite strict. For example, you are not allowed to bring any tripods, selfie sticks or large bags. In addition, you are also not allowed to take photographs on the stairways. However, once you get down there, you are welcome to take as many photos as you like and believe me, there are many, many photo opportunities! The guides will also help take photos of you with your loved ones in the canyon and there are various photo hotspots throughout the tour.

In order to enable visitors to get the most out of the experience and capture decent photos in these challenging light conditions, the tour guides are well trained on photography (as well as knowledgeable on the canyon itself) to ensure your camera performs at its best. Don't worry if you only have a phone camera, the guides will help you set up your phone so that it can capture the true beauty of antelope canyon. For example, on iPhones, they suggest that you use the filter either vivid or vivid warm. This helps enhance the orange glow of the rocks which the phone camera could otherwise overexpose.

Antelope CanyonAntelope Canyon

Hope you enjoy your visit to Antelope Canyon as much as we did!

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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) America American Antelope Arizona canyon formation geology landscape natural nature Navajo Page photography road rock rocks sandstone tour travel trip USA https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/7/antelope-canyon Sun, 15 Jul 2018 15:04:33 GMT
Visiting Monument Valley https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/7/visiting-monument-valley

Monument Valley was without doubt the highlight of our trip to America. Despite having seen so many photos of it previously and its appearance in multiple films, none of this had prepared us for our visit to this spectacular place.

Firstly, I highly recommended staying at the Navajo owned View Hotel which has been carefully designed so that it blends into its surrounding environment and therefore does not ruin the stunning scenery. While it may be a little pricey, when you stay there, you will soon realise that it is worth every penny. Being the first and only hotel within the whole park, it offers incredible balcony views (as its name suggests) overlooking Monument Valley Tribal Park. Also, staying on site means that you will be able to experience a whole day at Monument Valley, from sunrise to sunset.

Monument ValleyMonument ValleyView from the balcony of the View Hotel

Before you enter Monument Valley, there is an open terrace looking out over the park as well as a visitor centre with several exhibits detailing the history of the park and local area as well as a whole section on Navajo Code Talkers and the role they played during the Second World War. Since Windtalkers is one of my favourite films, it was really interesting to learn about the real Code Talkers and how the code based upon the native Navajo language was used to help win the war. Even now, it is the only spoken military code that has never been broken.

The majority of the park is open to the general public and visitors can either follow a number of hiking trails, join a guided jeep tour or, if you have your own vehicle, you can drive around yourself. The drive consists of approximately 14 miles of dirt track that can get very bumpy in places so a 4x4 is recommended. Alternatively, you can book a tour with a certified Navajo guide who will take you down private roads leading deeper into the Tribal Park. Either way, you will be able to be able to stop at various viewpoints along the way and see all the major monuments including the Three Sisters, John Ford's Point and the Mittens.

Monument ValleyMonument Valley Monument ValleyMonument Valley

If you are fortunate enough to stay at the View Hotel, you really have to get up for sunrise. Hotel staff will inform you of the sunrise time when you check in so that you don't miss the most beautiful time of the day. Due to our long day of travelling to Monument Valley, we arrived at night and therefore, we actually didn't see these distinctive rock formations until sunrise the next day. Words cannot describe the amazing view that was before us as we pulled back the curtains and peaked out over the park for the very first time. Looking out across the hotel, you will notice that you will not be the only ones up at this time of day. It it well worth the early start!

Sunrise at Monument ValleySunrise at Monument Valley Sunrise at Monument ValleySunrise at Monument Valley

Finally, don't forget to stop at Forrest Gump point either on your way to or from Monument Valley. It is a 20 minute drive from the park entrance to this iconic viewpoint showing the road leading up towards Monument Valley and features in the film Forrest Gump. 

Forrest Gump pointForrest Gump pointForrest Gump point

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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) America butte code formations Forrest geology Gump Hotel landscape Monument Navajo Park photography road rock sandstone sunrise talkers travel Tribal trip USA Utah Valley View viewpoint https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/7/visiting-monument-valley Mon, 02 Jul 2018 17:26:38 GMT
The road from Phoenix to Monument Valley https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/6/the-road-from-phoenix-to-monument-valley

Our second day in south-western USA comprised quite a long journey from Phoenix up to Monument Valley - a distance of approximately 315 miles and taking about 5 hours to drive.

No road trip is complete without a decent breakfast and we found this at Matt's Big Breakfast in downtown Phoenix. While it may not look all that much from the outside and you could easily drive past and miss it, once you are inside, you can see why the streets outside are so quiet - because everybody is in here! If you come here, you can be sure to be given a good hearty breakfast made with great-tasting ingredients and all this food goes perfectly with unlimited coffee refills to set you up for the day.

Driving out of Phoenix heading northwards, you can notice the sudden transition from miles and miles of rocky mountains dotted with Saguaro cacti to dry scrub land completely devoid of these large cacti and instead dominated by tussocky grasses and low-growing bushes. Before you know it, you'll be entering Coconino National Forest which holds a great diversity of habitats ranging from dry, rocky deserts to mountainous pine forests.

We couldn't complete this journey without stopping at the beautiful town of Sedona to admire the famous red rocks; they were a spectacular sight! We visited the Red Rock State Park, a 286 acre nature reserve offering many hiking trails with fantastic views of the surrounding red rocks including the well-known Cathedral rock. These rock formations have formed over millions of years, beginning at a time when an ancient sea existed in the area before drying out and depositing a mixture of sediments forming layers that eventually settled into hard rock. Even now, these rocks are constantly changing, undergoing the processes of natural weathering and erosion.

Red Rock State Park, SedonaRed Rock State Park, SedonaThe amazing red rocks of Sedona Red Rock State Park, SedonaRed Rock State Park, SedonaThe amazing red rocks of Sedona

The Sedona Red Rock State Park predominantly comprises desert habitat and scrub. In addition, there is a small creek that flows through the park providing another habitat and attracting additional plant and animal species. In this area you can hear a number of different birds singing in the trees and may be lucky enough to spot the curious Mule Deer peeking at you through the bushes, unmistakable with their oversized ears. There were also many signs indicating the presence of rattlesnakes in the park and, despite being constantly on the lookout, we were unsuccessful in finding these elusive creatures. We did however come across several Sonoran Whipsnakes in addition to the many lizards that were darting across the trails.

Mule deer, Red Rock State Park in SedonaMule deer, Red Rock State Park in SedonaCurious mule deer peeking through the trees

Leaving Sedona, our route also took us through Flagstaff, a popular base point for tourists visiting the nearby attractions including the Grand Canyon National Park, Sedona, Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona Snowbowl and the historic route 66. The city is fairly touristy and therefore has a selection of hotels and restaurants to choose from if you do decide to stay here, and is just under a 3 hour drive away from Monument Valley.

There is so much to see and do in Sedona and the surrounding area, I only wish we could have spent more time there! If you do get the opportunity to visit, I highly recommend spending at least a few full days there in order to fully appreciate it's beauty.

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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) america arizona cactus Cathedral coconino deer desert forest formation geology hiking landscape monument mule national natural nature park phoenix red road rock rocks saguaro scenery scrubland sedona Sonoran state trail travel trip usa valley walk walking whipsnake https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/6/the-road-from-phoenix-to-monument-valley Fri, 15 Jun 2018 18:13:33 GMT
A day in Phoenix, Arizona https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/6/a-day-in-phoenix-arizona

Following our most recent USA road trip, I thought this would be a good opportunity to create a series of blog posts documenting our experiences there and hopefully provide some useful tips and ideas for anyone else planning a trip to the States, particularly if they have a limited amount of time, as we did, and don't mind doing a lot of driving. Obviously the blog posts will feature many of my photos.

First stop - Phoenix, AZ

I'd never really given Phoenix much thought previously, however this turned out to be one of my favourite American cities. Unlike most cities in the world, there were very few high-rise buildings, a lot of open space and it was relatively quiet. The fact that it is almost entirely surrounded by rocky mountains and scattered with large Saguaro cacti made the place even more interesting. While there isn't a great deal to do there (a few days is probably sufficient), it is a great stopover point with several worthwhile places to visit.

Desert Botanical Gardens

We started the day visiting the Desert Botanical Gardens - a 140 acre botanical garden featuring a series of trails where you can encounter a range of  plants and animals native to the deserts of south-western USA. It's an important conservation and research centre involved in educating the public on desert plants and their environments in order to conserve and protect nature for future generations to enjoy.

Saguaro cactus, PhoenixSaguaro cactus, Phoenix

Although I could definitely have spent all day there, we only had time to spend a few hours there. However, this did not stop us from spotting a large number of desert inhabitants - highlights include: Gambel's Quail, Anna's Hummingbird, Desert Spiny Lizard, Gila Woodpecker and the very cute Round-tailed Ground Squirrel which we frequently saw running about, climbing the vegetation and emerging from their burrows that are dotted around the gardens. The habitats are certainly unique, dominated by a range of cacti species that provide a home and resources for many of the animals we encountered. For example, many of the Saguaro cacti have holes that are created by woodpeckers for nesting and are subsequently used by animals such as Elf Owls and bats.

Young round-tailed ground squirrels emerging from their burrowYoung round-tailed ground squirrels emerging from their burrow Desert spiny lizard, Desert Botanical Gardens, PhoenixDesert spiny lizard, Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix

Musical Instrument Museum

Our next stop was the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), the largest museum of its kind in the world. A must stop for all musicians and anyone generally interested in music. Here, there displays of musical instruments from all over the world, exhibits of well-known musicians and there is even a room filled with musical instruments that you can have a go at playing. My favourite section was the artist gallery where you can see and hear instruments played by world-famous musicians such as Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Johnny Cash, Taylor Swift and Maroon 5. The room also has one of the enormous drums featured during the 2008 Beijing opening ceremony.

Dobbins Lookout

We ended the day by driving up to the summit of South Mountain Park which offers spectacular panoramic views of Phoenix. It's approximately a 15 minute drive from the ranger station at the park entrance. Alternatively, there are several hiking trails up to the summit if you have more time to spend there. Don't get there too late as it is quite a popular destination with limited parking. Watching the sunset and the city of Phoenix begin to light up was the perfect end to the day.

Sunset over Phoenix at Dobbins LookoutSunset over Phoenix at Dobbins LookoutSunset over Phoenix at Dobbins Lookout

Phoenix is really a great place and well worth a visit. Enjoy your trip there!

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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) america animals arizona botanical city desert dobbins gardens instrument lookout museum musical phoenix photography road states sunset travel trip usa https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/6/a-day-in-phoenix-arizona Sat, 09 Jun 2018 16:55:23 GMT
Welcome to Carmen Green Photography! https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/1/welcome-to-carmen-green-photography Welcome to Carmen Green Photography!

As well as photography, I love to travel so here you can find my travel blog where I will share my photos and travel tips with you. All images have been taken by myself and are available to purchase as prints, canvases and photo products (just send me a message if you are interested). I also have a range of photo products available to buy from my Etsy Shop: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/CarmenGreenPhotos 

I am always working on new material so keep an eye out for new content.

Don't forget to like my Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/CarmenGreenPhotography/ and follow me on Instagram: www.instagram.com/carmen_green_photography/

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carmen@carmengreenphotography.co.uk (Carmen Green Photography) advice blog blogger blogging camera canvases Etsy global landscape nature photo photography photos prints tips travel wanderlust wildlife world https://www.carmengreenphotography.co.uk/blog/2018/1/welcome-to-carmen-green-photography Wed, 24 Jan 2018 16:04:51 GMT