The Most-Breathtaking Balkan Peninsula Cities

A large swath of Europe’s landscape is occupied by the Balkan Peninsula, one of the continent’s oldest and largest settlements. Natural wonders and historic landmarks dot the territory, merging with unique culture, making it a popular destination with people from around the globe. From untainted beaches to towering mountains, luxurious resorts to ancient buildings, tempting dishes to homemade brews–the Balkans will draw you in, surprise you, excite you, and ante up abounding and unforgettable hospitality. From Albania to Macedonia and breathtaking Serbia, a journey across the Balkans offers a unique angle on Europe.

9. Bitola | Macedonia

Bitola is the second largest city in Macedonia yet the atmosphere feels so much more small-town than anything large. Sophisticated and charming, central Bitola is an easy place to get around, the food is fresh, uncomplicated, and tasty, and the locals have an easy, friendly way about them. Bitola has a handful of attractions to engage you easily for a few days. Sirok Sokak Street is the main artery, a lively backdrop of bars, restaurants, and shops lining the pedestrian-only, broad lane. Café culture is full-blown, creating endless opportunity for people-watching. Macedonian’s, along with the rest of the Balkans, love chatting over coffee, showcasing a social and relaxed way of life. Historical sites also abound, from fetching mosques to the imminent Clock Tower visible from all across the center of the city. The 15th century enclosed Bazaar, imposing Church of Sveti Dimitrij, and views from Bitola’s towering position at the base of Pelister Peak, the city is filled with appeal.

8. Belgrade | Serbia

Belgrade is Serbia’s most celebrated capital where layers of history, abundant cultural points, and a party almost each and every night has given the city an appealing reputation. Proud, outspoken, and adventurous, Belgrade is one of Europe’s most lively capitals, and though it’s more gritty than pretty, the rolling city hills showcase immense charm. Slowly, things are changing from good to better with plenty of gentrification happening citywide, seamlessly pairing with Hapsburg leftovers, art nouveau mastery, and socialist quarters, all dramatically contrasting with relics from the Ottoman empire. In Belgrade, the renowned Danube meets the Sava River where parkland unfolds alongside chaotic urban sprawl. A new world is evolving while keeping the old within its clutches. Quirky sidewalk kiosks, magnificent coffeehouses, and restaurants passed through generations flank Knez Mihailova, a vibrant pedestrian avenue lined by historic buildings leading to Kalemegdan Citadel, the city’s crown jewel.

7. Kotor | Montenegro

Magic seems to carve through every crevice of Kotor, Montenegro on the stunning Adriatic Coast. Enfolded in the Bay of Kotor’s south side, the city is enveloped by panoramic mountain scenery. Charm and authenticity are more than evident here, even with swaths of people spilling into the city during the later summer months, flocking to Kotor’s medieval and divine Old Town. Tucked between Kotor’s unpredictable bay and lofty mountains, the town of Kotor is ideally at one with its comely backdrop. History here began in the 9th century, evident in old buildings wedged together in one perfect assembly. At night, Kotor’s walls are spectacularly illuminated, seemingly protecting the treasures within–labyrinthine lanes of marble, small family-run shops, drool-worthy restaurants, and animated bars set around clandestine colonnades. Marina’s are crowded with the yachts of the super elite in warm weather but there’s no real downside–decent swimming conditions are lacking–any true history, romance, or architectural enthusiasts will have a hard time finding the heart to leave.

6. Split | Croatia

Croatia’s second biggest city, Split is one of the most profound of all European cities showcasing abounding ancient ruins. Traditionally one of the main ports for visiting the Dalmatian Islands, it’s become more of a destination than merely a gateway. Split has blossomed, and beautifully so, offering very much to fill the curious mind. Planning in the city has been fruitful with plenty of new, elegant hotels and trendy restaurants and with Krka National Park and the Mosor Mountains close by, the list of possible endeavors is plentiful. As the Riva (seafront) gets an old look updated by marble, the journey into Split is even more impressive and the atmosphere along the old walls immeasurable. Authentic Dalmatian life is at its best here, and always lively, it perfectly balances tradition with vicissitude. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Diocletian’s Palace is one of the most dramatic of Roman testaments and more than enough to wow even those who have “seen it all.”

5. Ohrid | Republic of Macedonia

Ohrid is one of those must-see places, a traveling cliche but a truth nonetheless. If in Macedonia, it is the place to go. Sitting on the sidelines of dramatic Lake Ohrid, Europe’s deepest, oldest, and most endearing lakes, it’s one of the Balkans’ most prominent summer resorts. Glorious Ohrid is Macedonia’s crowning jewel, stunning historic churches lining a rolling hill in the ethereal Old Quarter topped by ancient St. Jovan Kaneo, and with close by Gali_ica National Park and the not-so-distant and fairly isolated beaches on the lake’s east side, there’s not much to complain about. Most of Macedonia seems to make their way to the lake between mid-July and mid-August. From that point, nightlife is utterly chaotic and prices skyrocket–best to visit outside of the festive season. May and June, or late summer and early Fall are excellent, and far more quiet, times to visit.

4. Plovdiv | Bulgaria

Plovdiv is an explorer’s utopia–smaller than Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia but just as interesting. Delve into the ancient Philippopolis amphitheater–this Roman relic is a 2nd century marvel, only stumbled upon in 1968. Plovdiv is considered one of the oldest cities in Europe to have been constantly inhabited–the enormity of this fact is hard to swallow until a walk through the gorgeous amphitheater. The center is entirely charming, with cloisters of houses each topped with unique roof lines and architectural details so pleasing to observe and with just the perfect amount of eye-catching steeples for a small town. Cobblestone streets wind through Plovdiv, diverting to beatnik cafes, high caliber museums, and art galleries, captivating until the sun sets and another kind of entertainment comes alive. The nightlife in Plovdiv is excellent with a good choice of lively bars and clubs catering to the university town that also boasts some of the best Bulgarian, Thracian, Byzantine, and Roman antiquities in Europe.

3. Prizren | Kosovo

Prizren is Kosovo’s cultural capital and a top choice to strike out and explore one of the world’s most newly formed nations. Under the Ottoman Empire, Kosovo was thriving, and today, architectural details remain from the Ottoman period. Scenic Prizren is a shining star with plenty of infectious post-independence elation and eagerness. In August, Dokufest sees the city come entirely alive and fill up with film-industry people from around the world. The international short film and documentary festival takes over the town with parties, exhibitions, and screenings. When on route from Albania to Pristina, the enchanting mosque and church-laden old town deserves a few hours of your time. The old town is one of the most impressively preserved in the Balkans, with a horde of buildings dating back to the 14th century. Check out an art exhibit in the old Pristzen hammam, explore the remains of the Serbian Quarter, see a panoramic view of Prizren from Roman-era city castle, and don’t miss the Shadervan, the city’s old stone piazza and social gathering point.

2. Bled | Slovenia

Lake Bled steals the show in Slovenia with seemingly glowing aquamarine water, waterfront homes nestled along the riverbanks, and a 17th century castle smack dab in the middle of it all on its very own island. Idyllic it is, scenic and relaxing, and on almost every postcard you’ll find in the country. Blue skies seem to crack open above the lake, shining down on calm waters and illuminating all that’s naturally perfect in the surrounding area. Walk the two-kilometer path encircling Lake Bled and you’ll what it means to take the “perfect walk.” If romance is in the cards, Lake Bled is a great choice but it’s also an exciting destination for canyoneering, cycling, hiking, and boating so bring your adventurous side along. As with any fantastic lake, Bled is swarming with tourists come summer–they come from far and wide. A fall or spring visit is just as picturesque and although the water temperature isn’t quite as soothing all of Lake Bled’s finest points stay strong.

1. Tirana | Albania

A possibly unforeseen addition to the list, Tirana makes the cut as a quirky and vibrant portal into Albania and a city with some of Europe’s most beautiful beaches. One of the most unusual capitals on the continent, Albania’s isolation from the rest of the globe for more than 50 years has created a city unlike any other. Spirited and dynamic, Tirana is Albania’s thumping heart, this diminutive part of the country has high aspirations that have coalesced into an animated scene of unabashed fun and bold consumerism. Since its communist period, Tirana has undergone an evolution of massive proportions, with a transformed city center and bold, vibrantly painted buildings, pedestrian-only boulevards, and public piazzas. Sweeping avenues are flanked with Ottoman empire relics and pieces of its communist and Italian past, from flagrant socialist murals to exquisite cupolas while traffic congests the streets in a stifling way, meeting headlong with pedestrians in a kind of controlled chaos that’s dazzling to watch.

Lonely Planet’s 10 Most Accessible Vacation Destinations for 2016

The world’s population is rapidly aging and this is having an impact on global business and tourism as companies are slowly starting to realize that accessibility is not just an issue that must be addressed for those with a disability. It’s a real issue that many grey nomads are putting some extra thought into before booking their next vacation. Lonely Planet agrees that with an aging baby boomer population that isn’t willing to slow down when it comes to travel, accessibility is becoming paramount. With this in mind they’ve put together this list of the most accessible vacation destinations for 2016:

10. Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Snowbirds love to head south in the winter, and mexico is a popular winter destination for many including those over the age of 65. Playa del Carmen is only an hour away from Cancun airport but it’s a far cry from the lively Spring Break destination city. Accessible hotels are available and the beach is also easy to navigate with the help of special beach wheelchairs and even special equipment to help you snorkel, even if you can’t swim.

wheelchair accessible beach

9. Barcelona, Spain

The tourism agencies of Spain and especially the Catalonia region have been pushing the importance of accessible tourism for quite some time now. As a result, 80 per cent of metro stations and 100 per cent of public buses are wheelchair accessible. And unlike many old historic cities, the old town of Barcelona is cobblestone free reducing the risks of trip and falls and making it easier for those with walkers and wheelchairs.

Plaza Barcelona, Spain

8. Galápagos and Amazonia, Ecuador

After watching these nature-centric destinations on programs like Planet Earth, they may not seem like an option for those with mobility issues, however they’re a lot closer in reach thanks to Lenín Moreno, a paraplegic who was the vice president of Ecuador from 2006-2013. Moreno’s work is responsible for the inroads in accessibility in this largely inaccessible continent.

blue footed booby

7. Sicily, Italy

When one thinks of Italy, images of cobblestone streets and elevated countryside usually come to mind -not exactly the picture of accessibility. But Lonely Planet says Sicily is breaking new ground on this front and is home to a tactile museum and Europe’s only sensorial botanic garden. Two Guinness world records have also been set here by people with disabilities; the first paraplegic to dive to 59m and first blind woman to dive to 41m.

Sicily, Italy Cathedral of Palermo

6. Manchester, England

Although Manchester is indeed an old city, much of the central business district was rebuilt in the late 1900s. The result is a city with wide, smooth pavements and many shopfronts, bars and restaurants that are completely step free. Perfect for those with reduced mobility. The city’s public transit is also wheelchair friendly and offers service to just about anywhere you’d want to get to in the city.

Manchester street sign

5. Melbourne, Australia

The city of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia has been called the ‘best in the world’ for a lot of things, but it can now add ‘most accessible’ to that list as well. The city’s highly accessible public transit has received global praise and the compact central city core helps earn the city’s status as one of the most accessible cities in the world. Lonely Planet even has a guidebook dedicated to the subject titled ‘Accessible Melbourne.’

Tooykrub / Shutterstock.com
Tooykrub / Shutterstock.com

4. Ljubljana, Slovenia

The capital city of Slovenia is relatively flat, a fact that many aging travelers will appreciate. It’s also equipped with highly accessible public transit which features audio and video stop announcements on buses (because there’s nothing worse than missing your stop!) The main attraction of the city is the 16th century Ljubljana Castle, and while you wouldn’t expect anything built in the 16th century to be accessible, the castle is actually wheelchair accessible.

Ljubljana Castle, Slovenia

3. Singapore

Singapore is arguably the most accessible city in Asia and one of the most overall accessible in the whole world. You’ll find stepless access to most buildings and an endless supply of curb cuts to make sure there are no barriers for those in wheelchairs.  The city’s mass rail transit (MRT) and buses are also designed for the visually and motor impaired, making this city one were there are essentially no limitations.

Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com
Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com

2. San Diego, USA

Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (which just celebrated its 25th anniversary) most of the United States is very accessible, but Lonely Planet picked San Diego, California as a standout in its class. The city is easy to get around with a fairly flat grid system and public transit is easy with a fully accessible tram system. The most notable feature is the miles long beachfront promenade which offers beach wheelchairs to those who need them.

Greta Gabaglio / Shutterstock.com
Greta Gabaglio / Shutterstock.com

1. Vienna, Austria

Like Manchester but perhaps even richer in history, Vienna is a historic city that’s been refurbished to meet modern day demands. Unlike many old European cities, its cobblestones have been removed as have many curbs and central shops, cafes and restaurants are wheelchair friendly. One of the city’s most notable attractions, the Schloss Schönbrunn is fully accessible making it a must-see for everyone, no matter your age.

Schloss Schönbrunn Vienna

5 Gems That Make Slovenia the Adventure Capital of Eastern Europe

Tucked away in between the more often visited Croatia and Italy is a small Eastern European country known as Slovenia that is rapidly gaining popularity and for good reason. It may be a small country, but it has no shortage of dramatic landscapes, historical towns, delicious cuisine and inviting people. As a country with such unique and bountiful natural wonders, Slovenia is becoming known as the country for adventure activities. Since it is still somewhat of a mystery, the crowds are minimal, the prices are still reasonable and due to its size, one could easily pack in a multitude of activities in a few days. But, Slovenia won’t be unknown for long; it is already thought of as one of the best countries to visit for adventure seekers. Spend a week in Slovenia and you will for sure be coming back time and time again!

5. Lake Bled

After Slovenia’s capital, Lake Bled is the most visited destination; the image of the church in the middle of the Lake is iconic and picturesque. The town of Bled itself is small and lacking in dramatic architecture (although a visit to the Cream Cake is a necessity), but the lake and the lifestyle are what far exceeds people’s expectations. The lake is motor-free, but it is a haven for canoers and kayakers. There are spots all around the lake where you can rent a canoe and paddle to the island, on a small like such as this it’s a quick trip there and back. At one end of the lake, during the summer months, is a fun toboggan race track; grab a few friends and race to the end! For true extreme sport seekers, 3glav Adventures is best. They rent bikes, offer horseback riding, lead diving expeditions of Lake Bled, offer rafting and kayak trips and, if you can stomach it, provide paragliding and skydiving experiences where, from the plane, you can see all of Slovenia. There is something for everyone at Lake Bled; from relaxing and eating, to swimming, hiking and skydiving, it is hard leaving this quaint Slovenian lake, especially during the summer months.

Lake Bled, Slovenia

4. Triglav National Park

Located in the north-west of Slovenia, in the Julian Alps, Triglav National Park is the only National Park in Slovenia. The park was named after the highest mountain in Slovenia, Triglav, the summit of this mountain reaches 2864 m. The park offers many beginner day hikes and guided tours for those who would rather not venture off on their own. For the more advanced hikers, there are three possible ascent routes to the summit of Triglav; The Prag Route is the most popular but requires climbing experience as the use of equipment and an alpine axe are compulsory. Adventure companies offer day trips (and multiday trips) into the park; canyoning, hiking and kayaking are just some of the activities this National Park provides. If you wish to visit on your own, camping in the park is allowed, however, only at designated camping areas. The landscapes and natural sights in this park are unique and beautiful, and there are information centers and signs all over for your information and exploration.

Triglav National Park, Slovenia

3. Karst

The Karst: the land between the Trieste Bay and the Vipavska Valley, and also the name for the more than eight thousand known caves and potholes covering nearly half the area of Slovenia. The rock formations created by the constantly moving underground waters are an interesting and picturesque landscape; a variety of underground springs and lakes, caves and dry sinkholes are available for exploration in Slovenia. The Postojna Cave is the most visited cave in Europe and is a maze of 20 kilometers of underground chambers; expert guides will lead you through the cave, beginning aboard a cave train, where you can marvel at the unique geology and interesting caverns and rock formations. There are other popular caves, such as the Škocjan Cave, protected by UNESCO, the Križna jama Cave, home to fascinating underground lakes, and the Divje jezero Lake, among many others; so grab an expert guide and head out to explore these natural mysteries – it is a beauty found nowhere else on earth!

Karst, Slovenia

2. Soca Valley

The Soca Valley: a natural, breathtaking beauty and a paradise for adventure lovers and active lifestyle lovers. It is pretty special when you can be face deep in white water, rafting down the river, and the only thing on your mind is the amazing scenery around you, but such is the case in Soca Valley. There are so many things to do here that it would be near impossible to pick just one. White Water Rafting down the sparkling emerald colored waters of the Soca River is a thrilling experience; experienced rafters and beginners come away from this with grins plastered on their faces and stories to tell. If water isn’t your thing, you can do zip lining across the canyons, or hiking in the valley; the views are nearly indescribable and are always worth it –be sure to visit Tolminka Gorge, a gorge with stunning colors. If none of those activities inspire you to head to the region, mountain biking, skydiving, bungee jumping, bouldering, paragliding, horseback riding… pretty much any activity you desire is available here. And in a part of the country with such incredible beauty, there is no reason not to visit!

Soca Valley, Slovenia

1. Piran

If what you are looking for is a charming medieval seaside town with dramatic coastal views, bright sand, and jagged cliffs, then Piran is your Slovenian destination. Water sports are popular here; cliff jumping, stand up paddleboarding, fishing, boating, diving and snorkeling are just some of the fun activities offered on the Adriatic coast. While Slovenia’s coastline is just 46 km long, it certainly is not lacking in beauty and quality of attractions. And Piran is a great town if you are looking for some reprieve after a week of adventure activities; the cuisine is Italian influenced with plenty of fresh seafood, and the streets and architecture are unique and beautiful. Visitors often miss the Slovenian coast, opting instead for the mountains or the capital, but Piran can hold its own and should not be missed.

Piran, Slovenia

12 Amazing Caves You Have to Visit

Caves are eerie and mysterious. The splendor of a cave is uniquely individual and each cave offers a story. Some caves are famous, while others are only now coming into discovery. Under the earth, separate eco systems covet vaulted chambers, underground rivers and sacred surprises.  Adventurers can explore diverse caves with a dark history or witness glowworms lighting the chambers. One of the few places left to pioneer are the caves of the world; discoveries are abundant in current day explorations. Some of these caves will leave you in awe, majestic in their own way. Beneath our feet remains another world of intricate, hidden gems. No one really knows how many caves there are in the world, but the ones that are known call to even the most timid. If you have never visited a cave, the time is now. The amazing journey of caves begins here with our favorite 12 caves you have to visit.

12. Carlsbad Caverns -New Mexico, USA

Considered one of the most famous caves in the United States is Carlsbad Caverns. It is one of the oldest cave systems in the world. These legendary caves are located 27 miles from the city of Carlsbad in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico. It is estimated that over 225 million years ago, Carlsbad Caverns was once a sea. Discovered by a little boy, Jim White, he would use his homemade wire ladder to explore the caverns. Take a guided or self-guided tour of the expansive caverns and enjoy the many chambers and rooms this cave has to offer. The appropriately named ‘Big Cave’ is the biggest cavern, with the some of the most colorful rock formations ever, while ‘Left Hand Tunnel’ will take you to amazing cave pools and fossils. Located deep within the Carlsbad Caverns is a mesmerizing place called the ‘King’s Palace’, a series of four chambers opening to a peculiar rippled rock formation known quaintly as the Queen’s Draperies. Carlsbad Caverns National Park entertains over 300,000 visitors a year. The reason Carlsbad is so famous? It hosts over 119 chambers of caves under the quiet of the desert terrain.

Carlsbad Caverns

11. Puerto Princesa Underground River -Palawan, Philippines

Be first in line to view the world’s longest underground river and navigate through a fascinating blend of bat habitat and amazing geology in the Puerto Princesa caves. Take a short jungle walk and see the different species of animals along the way.Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park has one of the most impressive cave systems, featuring intact old-growth forests, spectacular limestone landscapes, distinctive wildlife, and pristine beauty. It is located outside of the Philippine Archipelago on the coast of Palawan. The highlight of this river system is that it directly ends flowing into the sea. This mysterious cave site is a full ‘mountain-to-sea’ ecosystem, with a global phenomenon called tidal influence distinguishing these caves from any other famous caverns. Inside the caves, eye-catching rock formations create distinct forms like mushrooms, horses, a half face of Jesus, and fish. It is the first national park created and maintained by a local government unit, as a symbol of commitment by the Filipino people to hold onto their natural heritage. The Filipino people serve the park to keep it protected at all times. In 2012, this captivating underground river was officially established as one of the great new 7 wonders of nature.

r.nagy / Shutterstock.com
r.nagy / Shutterstock.com

10. Blue Grotto Caves -Capri, Italy

The Blue Grotto Caves of Italy are an absolute must-see for any visitor. This cave is situated on the northwest corner of Capri Island and draws a surplus of interested crowds to its iridescent blue waters constantly. This is no surprise as the experience is best described as surreal. In ancient times, people believed the Blue Grotto held magical healing powers and would frequent the caves to prolong their youth. The mystical water color can be compared to a blue sapphire or topaz gem. As your boat enters the cave, you must lay down flat to be sure you make it through the low ceiling opening. The best time to visit the Blue Grotto caves is in the late afternoon when the sun will shine directly on the outside of the cave. The brilliant turquoise water presents many different splendid ocean views. Inside the main cave, there is another chamber called the blue cathedral which extends into many smaller chambers. Anything submerged underwater will take on a strange discoloration, almost making objects reflect a silver iridescence. This cave offers a feeling of zen and purity; it is easy to see why the ancient Romans used the grotto as a healing pool and fountain of youth.

Blue Grotto Caves

9. Škocjan Caves -Trieste, Slovenia

The Skocjan Caves look like something out of the “Lord of the Rings” movies with vast underground gorges and halls. They are a network of 11 caves with swallow holes and natural bridges. The Skocjan Caves Regional Park is located on the main Karst plateau about 15 km from Italy. Karst formation caves are very distinct to Slovenia, with few in the world like this it’s only here that you can marvel at the world’s largest underground wetlands. The Skocjan Caves are actually an underground canyon with a river carving the rocks along the way; the water noise is a bit fear-inducing when the guards shut off their lights. Early explorers only had a small flame to use to navigate through this enormous cave system. The old carved stairs used by the explorers still exist for an eye-opener to see just how hard it was for these brave pioneers. This massive environment is surrounded on the outside by an ecosystem rich in diversity of plant life and animals. There are thousands of other caves in this area to explore when you are finished in the daunting Skocjan Caves.

Škocjan Caves

8. Barton Creek Cave -Belize

Outside of San Ignacio, Belize is an exciting remote cave once used by the ancient Mayans for ceremonial and burial purposes. Barton Creek cave visits involve spending an hour paddling canoes down an ancient Mayan waterway leading inside the mountain caverns. Meander along the route and you will get to see skulls and true artifacts as you move in between the stalactites and stalagmites. This cave offers high ceilings and cathedral chambers making it a beautiful setting in which to photograph. It is as if you were transformed into another time. The energy of the Mayan history is felt deeply in this underground cave; the remains of human sacrifices and pottery shards are an important link to the historic Mayan culture. On the way to the caves, which is about a 45 minute drive, you will pass through a traditional Mennonite village in Upper Barton Creek. Across the way is a clear, running creek abundant with native wildlife, such as howler monkeys. You will hear them, and maybe even see them as they rest in the deep mountain forests. This cave is uniquely historical and hidden deep in the rainforest jungle of Belize.

Barton Creek Cave

7. Onondaga Cave -Missouri, USA

Missouri is often referred to as “The Cave State” because it boasts over 6,000 cave formations within the state. Onondaga cave is one of the coolest caves in Missouri with its active flowstones, where water is busy building the formations. Stalagmites and dripping stalactites help make this cave a national natural landmark. The crevices which make up the Onondaga cave are the direct result of time laden, old river streams running constantly underground. Without realizing it, you are basically walking on water over roaring rivers invisible to the eye, covered by mounds of soil and rock beds. Karst is terrain based on soluble bedrock layers and is an integral part of many of Missouri’s caves. It is characterized by deep hollows, springs, sinkholes, eroded rolling hills and natural bridges. Missouri caves all are notably Karst. Karst was originally a name from Slovenia, typical for their own cave formations. The park itself offers beauty on the surface with Vilander Bluff Natural Area providing a panoramic scene of the Meramec River. The lovely Meramec River is formed by the many springs, both underground and above.

Onondaga Cave

6. Fantastic Cave Pit -Georgia, USA

The largest cave in America is the Fantastic Cave Pit in Georgia. It has a mind-blowing depth of 586 feet. To give you an idea of just how huge this cave is, it can hold the Washington Monument, and is twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. Throw a stone and it takes 8 full seconds to reach the bottom. Fantastic is known as one of the two Ellison caves in Georgia’s Walker Country; the other one is called Incredible and measures 440 feet deep. The only way to see Fantastic Cave Pit is to rappel down, passing by the layers upon layers of rocks known to be millions of years old. The steep vertical pitch is frightening and exhilarating all at the same time as you take this twelve mile long adventure into pitch black. The amazing cave is not for the weak of heart or those with a height phobia, as this cave will test you on every level. Fantastic is a striking natural cave created by the limestone massif. This pit is only for experienced climbers, and even the most experienced of them have been challenged resulting in injury and even death. If you are into extreme spelunking, with caution, this is the cave for you.

Photo by: Second Globe
Photo by: Second Globe

5. Lascaux Caves -Motignac, France

This is not a spelunking cave; this is an amazing archaeological find in the world today. The Lascaux caves hold detailed drawings from over 17,000 years ago. It was in 1940 in Dordogne France, in the little community of Montignac, four boys and their dog found a long forgotten cave full of archaeological revelation. The Lascaux cave has been called the “Sistine Chapel of Prehistory.” The iconic workmanship and art techniques of animals, enigmatic signs, and human representations have brought millions of people to see for themselves. In fact, after its discovery the public swiftly piled into the prehistoric cave, almost completely demolishing the paintings. Today, to keep the paintings protected, tours only provide Paleolithic facsimiles and life-size replicas. This cave raises new questions about our understanding of our prehistoric ancestors. Rumors of a second cave of pre-historic artwork in Dordogne are being taken seriously after a 51 year old family secret was revealed to authorities. A woman in her 70’s revealed her now-deceased husband came across a cave in 1962 with prehistoric frescos, but he quickly covered the entrance so he wouldn’t be bothered. If authentic, this could shed even more light on our prehistoric past. The jury is still out on this one.

Photo by: Scoop Whoop
Photo by: Scoop Whoop

4. Fingal’s Cave -Staffa, Scotland

Located on the island of Staffa, a complete volcanic island is Fingal’s Cave. The calling card of this striking cave are the spectacular basalt columns. The entire cave is of different sized colonnades, nature’s gift to us. Even the cliffs of Staffa carry the basalt columns as walls around the edges. The series are equally spaced into prismatic columns and result in an extraordinary pattern. The columns have three to eight sides, with six being the most common. The cavern has a large arched entrance over the sea, but boats cannot enter here. There is a walkway overland that is led by a row of fractured columns into the cave allowing you to walk deep inside the 227-foot cavern. It is an odd scene to take in, with every column absolutely chiseled and exact; you would want to explore the reasons behind this strange perfection. Fingal’s Cave makes an impact immediately on the wandering explorers visiting this unique place. It is a solemn reminder of all the unbelievable, unimaginable wonders that exists in our world. It is baffling, extraordinary and causes our spirit to stir. This is a far-reaching experience and for cave-lovers, it should be on the bucket list.

Fingal’s Cave

3. Cave of the Swallows -Aquismon, Mexico

Cave of the Swallows (Sotano’ de las Golodrinas) is one of the deepest freefall caves in the world. It is a sinkhole cave that gets wider as you get closer to the bottom. The bottom is comparable to three football fields deep or 1,214 feet to be exact. If you were to jump in, it would take you twelve seconds to hit the bottom. During rainy season several waterfalls take the plunge directly over the edge and into the cave. Certain temperatures and even dampness can cause the cave to actually form clouds in the upper part. This enormous pit is home to hundreds upon hundreds of birds (hence the name). The dance begins promptly at sunrise, with little grey spots circling way below. The spots get bigger and bigger until thousands of white-collared swifts rise up from the cave. In a primeval ritual, the spiraling birds can almost be hypnotic. Even a more elegant bird lives in the Cave of the Swallows, beautiful green parakeets also do their ritualistic dance. The first know effort to explore the sinkhole was done by Texas cave explorers in 1966. It wasn’t until 1969; they knew just how deep this cave actually was. Times have changed, and extreme sports activity, including spelunking, keeps enthusiasts rappelling their way into the mysterious land of birds.

Photo by: Xtreme Spots
Photo by: Xtreme Spots

2. Glowworm Cave -Waitomo, New Zealand

This cave could be considered something right out of a fairy-tale scene; thousands of tiny glowworms illuminate the cavern like a starry night sky, except it is all a show done underground. Standing somewhere in the deep limestone shaft you will be left speechless. Glowworms are native to New Zealand and typically found in a variety of habitats especially caves. They use the bio-luminescence of their web silk and mucus to capture their prey. In Glowworm Cave, you can expect to see millions of glowworms, all about the size of a mosquito. Floating on a guided boat slowly and gently through this new land, gives you a new perspective on reality; there is magic still to be found. There is a true gem left to explore. This cave gives a whole new meaning to magic. Only 5 minutes from the Waitomo Glowworm Caves is Aranui Cave. It has a natural entrance and is the most delicate, tiniest cave of Waitomo’s three caves. Inside, you’ll find an alluring collections of flowstones, stalagmites, and decorative formations. Visit both caves for an easy 2 for 1 experience. These star bright little creatures offer an opportunity to find the magic of a fairy-tale in real life.

Photo by: Huff Post/Reddit
Photo by: Huff Post/Reddit

1. Cave of Crystals -Chihuahua, Mexico

Nothing quite compares to Cueva de los Cristales, or Cave of Crystals. In 2000, a pair of brothers discovered the limestone cavern almost 1,000 feet below ground in the Naica mine. Massive crystals were discovered, prompting scientists to wonder how they grew so big. It takes approximately 20 minutes to get to the cave entrance via a winding mine shaft where you descend into darkness and humidity. By the time you reach the entrance, no doubt you’ll be glistening with sweat. Then you see them…enormous pillars of light, some several feet thick. In fact, there is every shape of crystal possible, and a mystical experience begins. Imagine a crystal so big you could sit your whole family on it; or a few dozen tiny slivers of crystals being born out of a main one, resembling a hair brush. This is essentially the Cave of Crystals. This cave requires special equipment for exploration, as the magma can make the environment a dangerous one for those exposed for more than 10 minutes. It’s a worthwhile trip however as the crystals are said to be more than 500,000 years old. This cave is the number one cave to see because of the absolute grandeur of life happening within.

Photo by: Nat Geo
Photo by: Nat Geo

The 10 Best Winter Sports and Where to Find Them

Depending on your perspective, wintertime is either a time to sit at home and hibernate or it’s the time to kick into high gear and really participate in some high action, fun and exhilarating sports. The fact is that participating in sports is one of the best things you can do as a tourist when you’re traveling the world and the wintertime shouldn’t stop you from doing it. It’s for the people who love winter, sports and traveling that we present this list of the 10 Best Winter Sports and Where to Find Them. Some of these sports are meant to provide you with relaxation and fun for the whole family, while others are meant to challenge you to be at your very best, because no matter what your goal is when you’re participating in sports one thing is for sure, you can visit some of the most beautiful places in the world and create memories that will last forever once you’ve had the chance to visit some of these jewels of winter sports. Here’s the list…

10. Snowshoeing

Have you ever had to walk outside after a winter blizzard only to notice that your feet are buried in the snow and you’re practically waist deep and unable move? Alright, we’re exaggerating a little bit here, but that very challenge we humans have faced probably contributed to the invention of snowshoeing. A snowshoe is like a big giant tennis racket that’s tied to the bottom of your foot and spreads your weight evenly across the snow, allowing you to move through treacherous terrain in the wintertime without falling into the white powder.

It can be a truly exhilarating aerobic exercise, and definitely is a fun sport to participate in during the dead of winter. Krvavec, Slovenia offers its famous Igloo Village as one of the great places in the world to participate in snowshoeing. It offers a huge stretch of Alpine landscaping that remains completely untouched. The whole village is basically a network of tunnels that connect you to hotels, bars and restaurants as well, which makes for an all-around tourist’s paradise for avid winter athletes.

Michal Szymanski / Shutterstock.com
Michal Szymanski / Shutterstock.com

9. Dog Sledding

Dogs are awesome. They’re friendly, cuddly and man’s best friend, but they can also be quite fierce and reliable when called for, especially when it comes to battling through winter weather. Of course the little beagle that you have at home isn’t really going to protect you or get you anywhere in the middle of the wilderness in the wintertime, but a pack of Huskies would certainly do the trick.

The bottom line is if you want an exhilarating experience that you’ll never forget, you should definitely try dogsledding. A pack of dogs chained to a sled running through trails can really get the speed going and your adrenaline rushing. The best place in the world for it is in Greenland through Greenland Explored. This place offers you the real deal; a chance to go dogsledding with Inuit guides. You can go on a day trip or a trip that lasts several days with the guide, the dogs and an in-depth tour that gives you loads of information and fun facts about what you’re seeing. It’s really a once in a lifetime winter sport experience.

Dogsledding

8. Ice Fishing

There really is nothing like going fishing when you want to relax, especially in the summertime with a cold beer in your hand, assuming of course that you’re not drinking and boating at the exact same time. However, there is something to be said for fishing in the wintertime. Ice fishing can be fun too, especially if you’re a kid and your dad’s really into it and asks you to skip school to go with him on a trip, (like a certain writer at EH once did).

Now as much as the cool kids don’t exactly skip school to go ice fishing, it really is a thrilling spin on a hobby normally reserved for summertime. One of the best places in the world that you can go and do it is Cold Lake in Alberta. You’ll have the opportunity to catch fish there weighing upwards of 18 pounds! Cold Lake is located right on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada. You can fish for walleye, pike and whitefish. What most of what you manage to nab out of the water may not weigh 18 pounds, catching a 10-pound fish is not uncommon.

sandrexim / Shutterstock.com
sandrexim / Shutterstock.com

7. Snow Sculpture Competitions

No matter what your experience level participating in winter events and sports may be, there’s a good chance we can probably all agree that snow sculptures and the concept of them is just amazing. If you can say that you have an appreciation for that kind of art, then you’ll be absolutely blown away by the sights you can see at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in China. The festival includes the world’s biggest ice sculptures and is considered the biggest event of its kind on the planet.

To see sculptors from all over the world challenge themselves mentally in terms of the cool designs and amazing images they can conjure up through their art and also challenge themselves physically in terms of being able to put together so many amazing pieces in perfect detail is just incredible to witness. If building ice sculptures was a sport, these artisans would be the top athletes in the world. One visit there will inspire you to try it yourself without a doubt. The festival celebrated its 30th anniversary last year and it seems to only get bigger and brighter every year.

The Curious Travelers / Shutterstock.com
The Curious Travelers / Shutterstock.com

6. Tobogganing

Remember back in the day when you were a kid and you would slide down a really big hill close to your home on a sled in the dead of winter and never want it to end? Well the sad fact of life is that what goes up must come down, so eventually the incredible speed, the wind blowing through your hair and the fun of being a little bit scared and exhilarated all at the same time had come to a halt. The good news is that while there is no such thing as a never-ending downhill slope, you can get pretty close to one if you go to the Wildkogel Sledding Arena in Bramberg, Austria.

This tobogganing haven is located in the western part of Austria and it’s probably the biggest tobogganing hill in the world. It takes approximately 30 to 50 minutes to go all the way down the course. The entire course is floodlit until 10 PM every night and it’s open from mid December through March. With a course this long it’ll feel like an eternity of tobogganing fun (almost).

Tobogganing

5. Snow Tubing

Not to be confused with tobogganing of course, snow tubing is a little bit different. For one, you can spin around in circles while you’re going down which makes it way more fun. Secondly, you can go downhill after midnight thanks to Midnight Madness. At least that’s the case if you’re at Mad River Mountain in Ohio. No doubt there are many places that offer big-time slopes you can go down on a tube from Japan to Germany and everywhere in between, but there aren’t too many places that offer it after midnight.

This is obviously an especially cool experience for adults, because after all school is in session during the wintertime and the little ones should really be in bed by then. But seriously, if you want to go snow tubing you can go for three hours for just $25 and the website offers you an opportunity to bring along your fellow snow tubers in a group and save a little bit more money. The slope itself is pretty awesome, but it’s the experience of flying down it in the middle of the night that’s most exciting and totally worth every penny you spend.

Snow Tubing

4. Luge

When your city plays host to the 2010 Winter Olympics there’s a good chance you might be some world-class facilities left behind for tourists to use, which bodes well for winter sports athletes of all levels, particularly those that would like to try the luge. If you’ve never heard of the sport, it involves going down a big giant twisting tube of ice on a sled with nothing except a helmet and a skintight suit to protect you. You also wear shoes that can dig into the ice but who’s worried about that when you’re sliding down feet first at what feels like 200 miles an hour?

Of course no sports manager in their right frame of mind would let you slide down the ice at 200 mph on your first go around, but you can indeed try the luge in Whistler, British Columbia Canada. If you wanted you could do the riskier version of the sport as well and try the skeleton. It’s the exact same thing as the luge only you are going down headfirst instead of feet first, getting you even closer to an exhilarating, near death experience. We’re exaggerating a bit here as it doesn’t have to be that intense but if you try the luge in British Columbia, even at a recreational level you’ll have a great time.

Perspectives - Jeff Smith / Shutterstock.com
Perspectives – Jeff Smith / Shutterstock.com

3. Snowmobiling

Yellowstone National Park in Montana is one of the best places in the world to go snowmobiling. The western part of it averages 143 inches of snow per year, which means that as long as the season calls for cold weather, you are guaranteed to be able to go there, get on your snowmobile and ride through incredible, scenic terrains on fresh white powder. People first started riding the modern-day snowmobile in Yellowstone National Park back in the early 1960s, and ever since then it’s been a popular thing to do in Montana.

In this day and age the tenders of the park have focused more on managing the large amount of snowmobiles that come into the park every year and there are restrictions in place to keep things safe when it comes to speed and other aspects of snowmobiling. That said, the scenery you get to witness as you ride in the wide open spaces make it way too exciting to pass up and one of the best places in the world to check out when it comes to snowmobiling.

Snowmobiling

2. Cross Country Skiing

If you don’t like the idea of skiing down a slope at 100 miles an hour, you can still enjoy the exhilarating parts of the sport by trying the cross-country version. Comparing cross-country skiing to downhill skiing or snowboarding is like comparing a walk or jog in the park to a downright sprint. You can go through trails with up and down hills that challenge you, but move at your own pace and get your arms going as well. It’s basically like walking on skis.

Even if you don’t know a lot about sports it’s probably no secret that Norway is the best place to go for cross-country skiing. Norwegians don’t excel at the sport in the Winter Olympics by accident. Fortunately you don’t have to be an Olympian to excel at the activity recreationally and have a great time. In the fall and winter, you can get a great view of the Northern Lights, and there are several different paths and areas in the country where you can give it a shot. Stabbursdalen National Park is probably one of the more infamous cross-country skiing spots in the nation.

Cross Country Skiing

1. Skiing/Snowboarding

Other than ice hockey, perhaps the only other sport completely synonymous with the winter is skiing, and of course for the cool kids who are into the more extreme version, there’s snowboarding and ski-blading too. Ski blades are simply shorter versions of skis designed for speed and acrobatics. No matter what floats your boat in terms of winter sports, the point is you can use skiing to enjoy racing downhill, participate in the cross-country variety, or even jump out of a helicopter right onto a mountain if you really wanted to.

Whistler, British Columbia would no doubt be one of the top places in the world to go and try any one of those skiing related activities. As mentioned earlier, the city hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, so to say that you have access to world-class slopes there is an understatement. If you’re feeling like traveling elsewhere however just to get a little outside of the domestic North American locations, you could always make a trip to Switzerland and check out The Swiss Alps. The town of Zermatt is worth a look if you’re the type of person that wants to party while you enjoy the fresh powder.

Snowboarding