Uccellina Park In Tuscany

My wife and I were staying in a Tuscan villa near Grosseto, and our property owners told us that in the whereabouts there was one of the most unique Italian national reservations, the Uccellina nature park in Maremma. Both my wife and I are hiking and nature lovers, so we could not let this one pass.

We went on a self guided hike that presented very little challenges. Our GPS signaled that along our path we were to climb on the highest elevation of the Maremma region in Tuscany, Poggio Lecci at 417 meters. Our guide book advised to hike that hill to enjoy the best views in the southern part of Tuscany!

Uccellina Park beach

We started our walk from Pratini at around 9:30 AM, since we had 5 walking hours ahead of us and did not want to get caught on our way up during the hottest time of the day. 300 meters into our hike we started climbing up the most difficult section of the trail, the one that takes up to the ridge. Although fatiguing, the higher we climbed the wider and more beautiful the view over the park.

With the increasing elevation the vegetation started to become more sparse, until we reached the summit of Poggio Lecci at 417 meters of altitude. The last stretch was less demanding on our legs, and once there, we stopped for a while to enjoy the wonderful 360-degree views and eat our sandwiches. From here we were able to see the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago: Montecristo, Giglio, Elba, and the peaks of Corsica, which gave us the amazing feeling of being part of something so grand.

After the lunch break, we reached the Abbey of St. Rabano. The original heart of the monastery dates back to the Eleventh century and was a Benedectine-monks settlement of great importance in the Middle Ages. It was sad to see that these ruins are not at all in good shape, even though the restoration process started in the Seventies. Nevertheless, you can discern all the various sections of the structure, and the place holds a magic fascination similar to castles in fairy tales.

Uccellina Park abbey

The return route runs along the western flank of the hill, until you reach the so-called Road of Olives. The route is flanked all along by lush vegetation. I could recognize holms, oaks, rosemary bushes and wild strawberry plants. We took a detour towards the beach, where we took off our rigid hiking shoes and deeply enjoyed a refreshing foot bath. We continued along the beach, rich of trees and branches carried by the sea, white-washed by salty waves, resembling sculptures shaped by the wind. We continued until Marina di Alberese, which we reached at about 4:30 PM.

This was just one of 6 possible routes, but I have to say it’s the one I enjoyed the most. We loved the Uccellina Park in the Tuscan Maremma so much that we return there whenever we are traveling to central Italy. It is such a wild and untouched land that it is capable of bringing you back to your adventurous childhood dreams.

Matt loves Tuscany so much that he works as a travel adviser about the region and the best vacation Tuscany villas to rent. You can find great villa deals on Twitter @ThriftyTuscany and Facebook page on Tuscany.

Iguazu National Park in Argentina

By Laura Elise

I was never impressed by waterfalls until I visited Iguazu, which I think says something considering I grew up a few hours from Niagara Falls. Iguazu Falls is a complex of 275 waterfalls pouring through the subtropical jungles of Argentina and Brazil. It stretches 1.7 miles across and at its highest plunges 270 feet to the river below. The area surrounding the waterfalls is protected by two national parks: Parque Nacional do Iguaçu in Brazil and Parque Nacional Iguazu in Argentina.

Although I was lucky enough to visit both this past February, I preferred Argentina’s National Park. Although it’s difficult to get “off the beaten path” in either park, there is little reason to want to, as the waterfalls are the main attraction. The area became a National Park in 1934 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

The park is connected by walkways and a mini-train, which takes you to the far end of the park. This is where the largest fall, Devil’s Throat, is located. This horseshoe waterfall plunges dramatically, sending plums of mist high into the air. The view point is reached by metal walkway suspended over the deceivingly tranquil Iguazu River.

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu National Park contains two main walking circuits, called the Upper and Lower Circuit. They correspondingly take you to the best view points to see the falls from the top and bottom of the waterfalls. In 2012, it cost 130 pesos to enter the park (about $30 USD, although you must pay with local currency). Although a boat ride to the foot of the falls costs extra, there are additional activities, such as visiting San Martin Island or hiking the Macuco Trail, which takes about three hours. To see the full panoramic view of the falls, you need to visit the Brazilian side of the falls, which charges an additional entrance fee.

Visitors are allowed to bring food and drink inside the park, a nice option since everything inside the park is a bit pricy. There are also a few drinking fountains where you can refill your water bottle — a rarity in Latin America. And although you’re required to stick to the main paths, you’re still likely to see wildlife. When I was there I saw iguanas, butterflies, coatis (raccoon-type mammals), and many types of birds. The subtropical vegetation contains over 2,000 species of vascular plants, and is extremely lush close to the falls thanks to the constant spray.

This area was originally occupied by the Caingangues Indians and then the Guaranies. The latter gave Iguazu its name, which means “Big Water.” Spaniards arrived to the region in the 1540s.

Laura lives in Peru and writes for SA Luxury Expeditions, a travel company that specializes in South America tours. Due to Iguazu’s remote location, she recommends combining Iguazu tours with a visit to Rio de Janeiro or Buenos Aires. Follow her on twitter @SA_Expeditions. Photo belongs to author.

Nine Great Olympic National Park Hikes

One of the largest parks in the continental United States, the Olympic National Park consists of over 900,000 acres of pristine wilderness, and has more than 2,000,000 visitors every year from around the world visiting its wilderness beaches, temperate rainforests, old growth forests and alpine peaks. The park is also an International Biosphere reserve and World Heritage Site due to its unique composition. The Olympic National Park can be thought of as consisting of four different sections – the Pacific coastal areas, the western Olympics that contain the Hoh Rain Forest and Quinault Rain Forest (the only rain forests in the continental U.S.), the northern Olympics that lie along the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Lake Crescent, and the eastern, drier section of the park that contains typical western U.S. old growth forest.

Mount Olympus

Coastal Hikes

coastal hikes at Olympic National Park

Cape Alava Loop: Wilderness beach hiking is one of the rare treats you can do in the Olympic National Park, and the Cape Alava Loop gives you this in spades. The 8.8 mile loop starts in the coastal forest but quickly emerges on the sandy and rocky beaches of the Washington coast, affording hikers with tidepools, sea caves, rocky monoliths, and the wonderful sounds and smells of the ocean. The Cape Alava Loop can be completed in a day, but camp for the night for an unmatched sunset and morning.

Shi Shi Beach and the Point of the Arches: Considered one of the most beautiful beach trails in the region, this area was one of the last to be added to the Olympic National Park in 1976. The trail begins in the coastal rain forest, winding through Sitka spruce and rain-soaked bogs before winding down a steep bluff to Shi Shi Beach. The amazing beauty of this wilderness beach is evident as the trail heads toward Point of the Arches, a long stretch of beach crowded with sea stacks and rock arches. The round-trip takes you 8 miles, with a total elevation change of only 200 feet.

Western Olympics and the Hoh River Area

Olympic rainforest

Hoh River: Possibly the busiest location in the Olympic National Park, the Hoh attracts busloads of tourists from Seattle and around the world each summer, and with good reason. Hike the easy trail to Five Mile Island to witness some of the most amazing scenery in the world – the path winds through old growth rainforest on this 10.6 mile round-trip, and the sheer volume of birds and flora is mind-boggling. Though crowded, the Hoh River is one area you can’t miss.

Pete’s Creek: This steep and rough hike thankfully ends with a wonderful payoff – the top of Colonel Bob Peak, at 4500 ft towering above the rainforest-filled valleys below, and offering stunning views of Mount Olympus, Mount Rainier, and Lake Quinault. The 8 mile round-trip hike gains almost 3300 ft in elevation, stepping over rocky creeks, crossing avalanche slopes, and straddling basalt cliffs. But it’s worth it.

Northern Olympics and the Sol Duc Area

Olympic Sol Duc

Elwha River: The Elwha River is the most important river in one of the largest tracts of old growth forest left in America, and the Elwha River hike takes you through the heart of the area. The Elwha River trail thankfully bypasses the Grand Canyon of the Elwha (which is as steep as it sounds) and continues on for nearly 5 miles through the Olympic interior, affording the wonderful sights of wildflower clogged slopes and fern and moss speckled rocks throughout the hike.

Grand Ridge: One of the highest and most scenic hikes in the Olympics, Grand Ridge is either a short and awesome 5-mile round-trip hike, or a brutal 15 mile out and back haul that few can make. Thankfully the 2.5-mile jaunt to Elk Mountain reaches the highest point on Grand Ridge, and gives hikers a seemingly never-ending view of the glacier-covered Olympic Mountains – at a height of 6600 feet above sea level, you can see from the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Mount Olympus.

Spruce Railroad Trail: An easy 8-mile round-trip along the shores of Lake Crescent, the Spruce Railroad Trail is also one of the few trails in the Olympic National Park to allow mountain bikes. The breathtaking views of Lake Crescent are incredible – the lake is 9 miles long and over 600 feet deep, and the waters are amazingly clear. On a nice day you can see nearly 50 feet into the depths of the lake.

Eastern Olympics and the Hood Canal Area

Olympic Quilcene trail

Big Quilcene Trail: One of the great trails on the dry side of the Olympic Peninsula, the Big Quilcene Trail is a somewhat steep 10.6 mile round-trip that climbs about 3500 through the steep valleys and peaks of the Buckhorn Wilderness. The trail ends at Marmot Pass, affording survivors with amazing views from the 6,000 foot elevation. The Big Quilcene Trail is one of the best hikes in the Olympics, with wonderful old growth forest, a crystal-clear river, alpine meadows, and the amazing views from Marmot Pass at the end.

Upper Dungeness River: One of the most beautiful (and easiest) wilderness trails in the Olympics, the Upper Dungeness River Trail never gets too far from the river, always allowing peeks at its crystal-clear water. The trail ends at Camp Handy, situated in a lovely meadow surrounded by old growth Douglas Firs. This is a perfect trail for the young and the new to hiking.

Randall Pinkston is the founder and editor of Neotravel.com Travel, a travel deals aggregator based in Seattle, USA – you can also find them on Facebook and on twitter @neotravel. When not traveling, Randall is most likely thinking about where to travel next.

Creative commons images courtesy of: Jason Pratt, anselm, Brett Holt, smithfischer, lorenzolambertino

Hawk Hill Golden Gate National Recreation Area

If you are looking for a beautiful and unique view of the Golden Gate Bridge, you definitely want to head to Hawk Hill in Golden Gate National Recreation Area. When driving north, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and take the Alexander Avenue exit which is immediately after the Golden gate Bridge Vista Point turnout where you park to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. After exiting, turn left and go under the highway. You will then make a right onto Conzelman Road. It’s a fairly steep road and the turn is the first right hand turn yo can make.

There are number of pullouts and parking stops along the road which all offer spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Hawk Hill is at the very of the hill (approximately a mile up). You’ll go around a small roundabout as you make your way to Hawk Hill and you have reached it when the two-way road turns into a one-way road. Here are a few photos taken from Hawk Hill.

Hawk Hill Golden Gate

Hawk Hill wildflowers

Hawk Hill California poppies

Hawk Hill Alcatraz

Golden Gate Bridge Hawk Hill

Daintree National Park Rainforest: Six Animals You May Encounter

If you are looking to see some unusual animals on your next adventure to Australia, you should seriously consider adding time for a trip to Heritage Daintree National Park to your itinerary. Comprising the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest in Australia, the World Heritage Daintree National Park Rainforest is an ancient wonderland of flora and fauna.

Australia is known for its unique wildlife and Daintree National Park doesn’t disappoint. Known for its rare and diverse wildlife, the Daintree Rainforest contains 30% of all frog, reptile and marsupial species, 65% of all bat and butterflies, and roughly 18% of all bird species found in Australia.

Some of its more interesting inhabitants include:

The Cassowary


Creating a striking figure against dense rainforest foliage, the Cassowary, Australia’s heaviest flightless bird, looks as if it just walked out of a nearby spaceship. Standing tall, with a pointed head, vivid blue neck and drooping red wattles, the Cassowary helps to disperse rainforest seeds while it feeds on small fruit, plants and a range of unfortunate invertebrates.

The Lace Monitor

lace monitor

These chunky, wild looking lizards are adept at running, swimming, burrowing and scaling trees, and are clad in camouflage-like skin. A type of navy seal reptile, the lace monitor is known to aggressively launch into bird nests for a hearty feast, while feeding on insects, reptiles and small animals during its more passive moments.

The Musky Rat-Kangaroo

musky rat kangaroo

Drawn towards the creeks and rivers of the rainforest, theses small, dark, hairy marsupials have five toes on their hind foot and move with a type of ‘bunny hop’. Generally a solitary creature, the friendless musky rat-kangaroo hops it way towards the fruits of rainforest trees and small marsupials. It also hangs it hat amongst a bed of dried leaves and ferns at night.

The Osprey


The majestic looking Osprey is a diurnal fish eater that dwells typically near the ocean, but also near any body of water with the potential for a good meal. Possessing unique, avian, fish hunting characteristics, the Osprey has a reversible outer toe, fit for grabbing slippery fish. It also has a short tail, long narrow wings, and five feather-like fingers to give it an atypical airborne appearance.

The Red Eyed Tree Frog

red eyed green tree frog

More seldom seen than its relative the Green Tree Frog, the Red Eyed Tree Frog, true to its name, has bright red eyes and a glowing green back, giving it an appearance of ‘otherworldliness’. This nocturnal creature roams the dark forests feasting on moths and other insects. Able to create exceptionally loud noises, these vampiric looking amphibians create a ‘waa-aa…waa-aa’ sound, followed by a soft trill.

Tawny Frogmouth Owl

tawny frogmouth owl

This nocturnal ‘weak footed’ creature is actually more related to the nightjar than the owl, and can be found in less dense parts of the rainforest. Its plumage is silver-grey, and is streaked and mottled with black and auburn. Creating a deep, soft and continuous ‘oom oom’ sound, this rather clumsy clawed inhabitant is known to fly into car headlights when in pursuit of a good insect.

This post is courtesy of Thala Beach Lodge which is a Port Douglas Eco Resort offering accommodation in close proximity to Daintree National Park.

Purple Sand Beach

I really enjoy finding unique beaches. A prime example is sea glass beach in Fort Bragg. I managed to stumble across another one this weekend when I traveled to Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur California.

I actually have been to Pfeiffer Beach before (with direction on how to get there), but didn’t realize that it had a little secret — it’s one of the few purple sand beaches in the world. I missed this because the main part of beach doesn’t have much purple sand (if you look closely, you can see little bits here and there, but if you weren’t specifically looking for it, you wouldn’t notice it — at least I didn’t on my first visit).

To really see the purple sand, you need to walk beyond the main beach area toward the north. The father up the beach you head in this direction, the more purple sand that can be seen. The easiest place to spy the purple sand is at the base of the hills, but there will be certain areas of the beach that also have purple sand patterns woven into the mix. For those who go to the beach expecting that the entire beach will be purple, they will be disappointed. The vast majority of the beach is white sand like any other beach. There are, however, areas where purple sand mixes with the white sand (usually with black sand as well) to make some wonderful patterns:

purple sand

What is amazing is that each time a wave comes up the beach and washes over the purple sand, the pattern changes making it like a constantly changing giant sand painting:

purple sand beach

Due to the numerous rock outcroppings just off shore, you can see California Coastal National Monument from Pfeiffer Beach as well:

Pfeiffer beach

The purple sand is the result of manganese garnet deposits which are found in the hills surrounding the beach. For anyone that enjoys seeing the unexpected and interesting phenomenon at the beach, scheduling a day to explore the purple sands at Pfeiffer Beach is definitely worth taking the time to do.

Navajo Arch Devils Garden Arches National Park

When you take the side trail off the main Devils Garden trail to hike to Partition Arch at Arches National Park, this side trail splits. A left takes you to Partition Arch while continuing straight will take you to Navajo Arch.

It’s really not much of an effort to visit both and it’s certainly worth doing. Although not very far apart, they give two completely different views of Arches that are each beautiful in their own way.

Much like the trail to Partition Arch, as you hike toward Navajo Arch you will reach a wall which you walk along. The main difference is that this one happens to be filled with hundreds of interesting, weather-worn holes.

Navajo Arch trail

As you reach Navajo Arch, the first thing you notice is a small pine growing directly under the arch:

Navajo Arch pine

Due to the arch’s thickness and surrounding trees, Navajo Arch has a lot more shade than other arches in Arches giving it a completely different feel:

Navajo Arch

Navajo Arch Arches National Park

It’s possible to walk completely through the Navajo Arch into a shady, sandy cove area that gives a completely different perspective of the arch:

Navajo Arch backside

This happens to be one of my favorite arches at Arches National Park simply because the feel of it is so different from many of the others arches there. It’s almost like a little oasis under the hot desert sun. Again, Navajo Arch is not one to skip if you decide to hike the entire Devils Garden trail.

Best National Parks To See Solar Eclipse 2012

The sun and moon (rather than the stars) will align to give a great opportunity for those living in the West to view a solar eclipse on May 20, 2012 at a large number of National Parks. Even better, the 20th falls on Sunday which should allow even more people to get out and witness this exciting event.

Approximately 30 national parks are located in areas where a “ring of fire” solar eclipse can be seen with six of these National Parks offering a near perfect centering of the moon during thesolar eclipse. There are another 125 National Parks where the eclipse can be seen, but where it will only be “merely wonderful” according to the National Park Service.

full solar eclipse

For those who want to get the absolute best view of the solar eclipse, there are six National Parks where the moon will be centered and cover 96% of the sun. These include:

  • Canyon de Chelly National Monument
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Petroglyph National Monument
  • Redwoods National Park (the best views will be on the beach away from the tree cover)
  • Zion National Park

For example, those who plan to watch the solar eclipse from Petroglyph National Monument will have the opportunity to see the moon centered while covering 96.5% of the sun. The solar eclipse “annularity” will last for four minutes and 26 seconds beginning at 7:33 PM MDT, and the eclipse will end when the sun sets behind the horizon at approximately 8:30 PM. Even when the moon is centered, there won’t be total darkness as this will not be a full eclipse of the sun, and bright ring of light will still shine outward surrounding the moon.

National Parks Where Solar Eclipse with Moon Centered Can Be Seen

Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Petroglyph National Monument
Redwoods National Park
Zion National Park

National Parks Where Solar Eclipse Can Be Seen

Visitors to these National Parks will see a solar eclipse, but the moon will be slightly off-center during the period that its shadow falls across the sun.

Aztec Ruins National Monument
Bandelier National Monument
Bryce Canyon National Park
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Capitol Reef National Park
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
El Malpais National Monument
El Morrow National Monument
Fort Union National Monument
Grand Canyon National Park
Great Basin National Park
Hovenweep National Monument
Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site
Lava Beds National Monument
Mesa Verde National Park
Natural Bridges National Monument
Navajo National Monument
Oregon Caves National Monument
Pecos National Historical Park
Petrified Forest National Park
Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area
Wupatki National Monument
Yucca House National Monument

National Parks Where Partial Solar Eclipse Can Be Seen

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
Chamizal National Monument
Effigy Mounds National Monument
Fort Larned National Historic Site
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Harry S. Truman National Historic Site
Isle Royale National Park
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area
Mississippi River National Recreation Area
Nicodemus National Historic Site
Pipestone National Monument
St. Croix River National Scenic River
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Voyageurs National Park
Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

May 20th should be a wonderful opportunity to witness this rare event in some of the most beautiful places in the US.

(Photo courtesy of Badruddeen)

My Hike in Con Dao National Park in Vietnam

By Julie Bowman

Last summer, I had the pleasure of visiting Con Dao National Park in Vietnam. The picturesque scenery was like something out of a fairy tale. I have travelled to many places in the world, and nothing has made an impression on my memory quite like this magical island with its many rich colours and lush expanse that a large faceless city just cannot do.

The first thing that caught my attention was how verdant and green everything appeared. I’m from an urban community, so perhaps I’m just not used to it, but the lush foliage all around during the hiking we did on the first day was almost overwhelming. I could also tell a difference in the air quality compared to where I come from. The aura was natural and inspiring, an essence of pure utopia. First impressions really do make an impact as I have not forgotten my initial perceptions of Con Dao.

I chose to access the islands by plane. While you can opt to travel by boat, I spoke to a couple staying at my hotel that chose this option, and they said that they lost two days waiting on the boat due to high wind conditions. While this could have been a unique circumstance, it is something that could have been avoided by flying.

Con Dao is composed of 16 islands, and travelers to this remote destination can expect to have a jam-packed itinerary, because there is never a dull moment. I had always dreamed of scuba diving as a child. Pictures flooded my mind of what to expect, but nothing could have prepared me for the majestic beauty of the sea that I beheld when I went diving in Con Dao. The aqua waters were beautiful, smooth and tranquil during the entire length of the dive. I could hardly take my eyes off of the coral reefs. While I had seen pictures in the brochures I had studied prior to arrival, the printed images could not capture the vast beauty of the real thing. Con Dao was the perfect location to fulfil my lifelong scuba diving dream.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of my visit to Con Dao was seemingly the most mundane — driving around the main island. My friends and I travelled on motor bikes during our visit, which was another first for me. The scenery that opened up in front of our eyes at every bend never ceased to amaze us.

My week-long trip to Con Dao was an experience I know I will never forget. While there are many places I have visited that I would never return to, I sincerely hope the opportunity to return to Con Dao one day presents itself.

Con Son bay

The photo shows the magnificent Con Son bay on the Con Dao Islands, which only hints at the amazing national park that lies just beyond those waters. I took several boat rides around the islands after I’d completed my main trek around the national parkland, and it was a completely different experience; so serene and peaceful compared to the hot sticky trek. The area as a whole is fairly unknown, especially outside of Vietnam, so it’s great to be able to visit and be literally the only Westerner here!

I did actually meet a couple from the USA on my trip and they said they were loving the whole ambience too, although to be fair, they hadn’t yet tried the trekking element of their trip yet! The photo doesn’t convey just how hot and humid the islands can be so it’s so important to dress appropriately and also carry lots of water with you. And the guidebooks also won’t tell you that there’s a fair amount of mosquitoes and midges around too, so make sure you’re armed with some insect repellent spray etc. But most of all just enjoy it as Vietnam is getting incredibly popular now so hurry before everyone cottons on to this great destination!

Julie has travelled to many countries across the world and has a particular passion for Asian culture, history and people and her most recent independent trip was to Vietnam where she relished immersing herself into the local culture and trying the local foods.