How to Find the Best Hotel in Ao Nang Beach Krabi in Thailand

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Photo: https://pixabay.com/photos/sunset-ao-nang-beach-krabi-thailand-489427/

Choosing a place to lay your head is an important decision when going off for a vacation in Ao Nang Beach. There are different factors that you ought to carefully think about when picking the best hotel for this trip. Everybody has different preferences. While others enjoy a hotel offering a bed, shower, TV and continental breakfast, others would want luxurious spas and some bit of pampering. Others still, would prefer something totally different.

Avoid any hiccups that could ruin your stay in Ao Nang Beach by thinking through the following points and get your “where to stay in Krabi” question answered.

1. Proximity to Attraction Sites

How close is the hotel to the tourist attraction sites? This is the first question you need to ask yourself when looking for a hotel. Some of the attraction sites include limestone islands, cliffs, caves, shrines, mangrove forests, railway beaches and kayaks. Hotels located near the beach guarantees you easy access to these sites. Since the sites are located in different places, decide what scenery you want to be close to and look for the nearest hotel.

2. Transport Modes

The Ao Nang Beach Krabi is long stretched with sand and has cliffs at its ends. This means that boats are the common mode of transport. There are also smooth roads for visitors travelling by vans. If you wish to travel by sea, choose hotels that have tour offices offering longboat tours to take you around and show you the depths of the beach. For some of these hotel boat rides are pick-up and drop-off. Look for a hotel with such a service.

3. Parking

The beach has plenty of bars, street vendors and restaurants for hangouts, you will probably need your car to go in some of these places. You may also want to take a slow and relaxing drive in one of the afternoons. If you have a car or planning to rent one, check the hotel’s parking options, costs and conditions. Confirm if it is on a first-come-first-serve basis or if the parking is guaranteed. If the hotel does not offer parking services, confirm the availability of parking nearby and the costs attached thereof.

4. Amenities

What are your exact vacation needs and does the hotel have sufficient amenities that would meet your needs? Check for facilities like gyms, bar, minibar, onsite restaurant, pools among other facilities. Is there a staircase or an elevator? Are you expected to carry your bags or bellhops are present? Is the bathroom shared or en suite? This will help you avoid hostile surprises.

5. Room size

The size of the hotel room to choose will be determined by the relationship and number of people you are with for the vacation. Some hotels have accommodation for families. Others offer single rooms suitable for solo trips. There is also a couple’s accommodation appropriate for honeymooners or a friends’ vacation. Some AoNang Beach hotel rooms have a balcony thus offering an excellent view spot for the fascinating sunsets at the Ao Nang Beach. Sunset lovers will obviously enjoy this.

6. Prices

The weight of your pocket will greatly determine the price of the hotel you settle in. Price is affected by factors like location of the hotel, the size of your room, amenities available, parking options, your period of stay in the hotel, and the type of trip you have undertaken. Some hotels charge for Wi-Fi connectivity and hence higher pricing of the hotel, whereas others do not offer the Wi-Fi at all. If you are working on a cut budget, consider staying a bit far from the beach where you can get affordable hotels. If you have a generous budget, you can get a luxurious hotel just along the beach.

This eclectic choice of things to think about when looking for the best hotel in Ao Nang Beach will be helpful to every vacationer. Make your Krabi family holiday thrilling!

 

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Highlights of Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

SNAEFELLSNES PENINSULA: With so much of astonishing and infinite beauty everywhere, this must be Iceland. And Snaefellsnes Peninsula gives you a small taste of almost everything in Iceland. Therefore it’s called “Iceland in miniature”.

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Driving by beautiful sceneries of Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

The magnificent mountain range that you’ll pass by going towards Snaefellsnes is just an appetizer for this journey. A trip around the peninsula allows its visitors to enjoy dotted coastal lines, snaky rivers, tall falls, mesmerising lava fields covered with moss, silhouetted volcanic craters and hills against the skyline, bird cliffs, picturesque old churches, and staggering mountains…all in one region. The whole bus trip was absolutely stunning with changing scenes and jaw-dropping landscapes. 

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Driving by beautiful sceneries of Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Natural beauty is the main attraction of this region. And the geology of the Snaefellsnes area is very diverse. Magnificent lava formations are widespread here. The lava fields and the vegetation covering the lava is very sensitive and damage to moss on fields of block lava may take generations to heal. That’s why walking on them is not permissible. Some of the lava fields are from the more than 3 million years old that forms the bottom layer. Resting on them are layers of rocks which were formed beneath glaciers during the Ice Age (less than 3 million years old). And for the top most part of these lava fields is younger than 11,000 years old. 

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This was our second excursion in Iceland, after the Golden Circle, Kerid Volcano, and Blue Lagoon tour. We were picked up from the Tour Bus Stop-12 in Reykjavik by Bustravel Iceland a little after 9am and were dropped off at the same place around 8pm. It was a minivan and our guide/driver was a very knowledgeable, funny, and accommodating gentleman in this trip. We paid $100 per person for this excursion and meals were not included. But the good part is that you don’t need to tip the driver or the guide. 

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Bird cliffs in Arnarstapi in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

TIME of TRAVEL: It was during my kids’ summer break (end of July to be specific) when we flew to Iceland and my sister flew in from the East Coast. We were in Iceland for 5 nights. Although we were prepared for rain and sun with waterproof jackets, hats, rain boots, and hoodies, it barely rained during our stay. But it does get chilly and windy in some places. So, being prepared doesn’t hurt, especially if you are traveling with children like me. 

EATING and SHOPPING: For lunch, we didn’t really stop at a proper lunch venue. We were taken to a small village and stopped in front of a departmental store selling hot food, like hotdogs and basic things. There was a cart on the opposite side of the street where we got our gyro-like sandwiches. 

PLACES I’VE VISITED: The best way to explore Snaefellsnes Peninsula is to drive around and take your own time to visit all the major sites and other places. But we did it with a tour guide. And following places are the ones we got to visit:

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Staggering beauty of Iceland

  1. SNAEFELLSJOKULL NATIONAL PARK: Located on the tip of the Snaefellsjokull Peninsula in western Iceland, this is one experience no tourists should miss. 
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Driving by beautiful sceneries of Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Mt. Snaefellsjokull dominates the landscape of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It’s a mystical place where lava fields reach out to the blue sea, craters dot the landscapes, and the cliffs mark the extreme edge of the country. 

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Driving by beautiful sceneries of Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

2. GEROUBERG: This was our first stop…out in nowhere. This is a site of an interesting rock formation of long and hexagonal shaped stone basalt columns. This is one of those wonders of nature and leaves you in awe when you look at the stone pillars. Nothing much to do here really, we spent about 10 minutes taking pictures and then off to our second spot.

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GEROUBERG Basalt columns in Iceland

3. HELGAFELLSSVEIT FALLS: Probably not as famous as the other falls in this region but Helgafellssveit has definitely a beautiful surroundings of a magnificent river and hillsides. This picturesque and calm place deserves more tourists for its splendid beauty. 

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HELGAFELLSSVEIT FALLS and the surrounding view in Iceland

4. MT. KIRKJUFELL & KIRKJUFELLFOSS: After lunch, we came to this iconic falls of Iceland. On the northern shore of the Snaefellsnes peninsula, Kirkjufellfoss, is the impressive 463 meter high Kirkjufell, or Church Mountain. With its prominence view from different angles, no wonder this dramatic landmark is the most photographed mountain in Iceland. It stands tall over the nearby fishing village Grundarfjörður. 

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Kirkjufellfoss in Iceland

 

The falls, Kirkjufellfoss, is very decoratively situated a short distance from the mountain, Kirkjufell…making it a picture perfect destination for its guests. With the mountain in the backdrop, Kirkjufellfoss is an incredible site to visit and hike. Yes, do hike the ramp beside the falls for the perfect view and a great photo opportunity. This picture alone inspired me to go to Iceland at the very beginning, and I’m sure it’s true for many tourists. 

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Kirkjufellfoss with Kirkjufell mountain in Iceland

5. SAXHOLL: It is a beautifully formed crater that erupted 3-4000 years ago. The crater rises 109 meters above sea level. The remnants of quarrying can be seen on one side of the crater. The summit at the top of the crater gives you a gorgeous view of the surrounding valley and landscape, which can be accessed by hiking up some steps. 

Going up the stairs to Saxholl Crater in Iceland

Going up the stairs to Saxholl Crater in Iceland

6. BLACK LAVA PEARL BEACH: Djúpalónssandur or the Black Lava Pearl Beach is one of the major destinations of Snaefellsnes. It looks like a wonderland right out of any hobbit books.  It’s not just the beach that’s beautiful about this place. The walk to the beach, called The Path of the Bull, was the highlight for me. With interesting rock formation, walking through this path was a thrill. 

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Going towards Black Lava Pearl Beach in Iceland

 

This black beach with small pebbles, stunning black rocks, and cliffs in the distance is a photographer’s or hiker’s or nature-lover’s paradise. Tourists are told to be very careful here with the sneaky waves that can carry people out in the sea. Use caution when chasing the waves here. 

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Black Lava Pearl Beach in Iceland

After the black beach, we stopped by the Snaefellsnes park’s visitor center. It has a small museum and information on the geological history and uniqueness. 

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Black Lava Pearl Beach in Iceland

7. ARNARSTAPI: Our last stop of the day was the jaw-dropping tiny village on the southern side of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Arnarstapi. This used to be a busy fishing hub once upon a time, but now a must-see site of Iceland. This is one of the magical places in this region where sea, lava rock formations, mountains, and cliffs meet with a vast natural beauty. And yes, this was one of my most favorite spots to photograph or spend time in Iceland. 

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Village of Arnarstapi in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Located at the foot of Mt. Stapafell, Arnarstapi or Stapi is a popular tourist destination and a natural harbor with exquisite beauty. It’s a one hour of easy coastal walk that takes you around to display its crashing waves, lively bird cliffs, lush valleys with a mountain in the background. The seaside and the cliffs have been made a Natural Reserve in 1979. 

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Village of Arnarstapi in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Standing by the ocean, enjoy the dramatic views of seagulls’ nestings on the sea cliffs and hear their loud chirping. Look for the Arch Rock and basalt columns too. Overall, exploring this historic yet mesmerizing landscape will surely take everyone’s breath away. 

Village of Arnarstapi in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Village of Arnarstapi in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Golden Circle, Kerid Volcano, Blue Lagoon in Iceland

GOLDEN CIRCLE, KERID VOLCANO, BLUE LAGOON: This is probably the most well-known and most popular excursion from Reykjavik that almost everyone does. Each site of this tour was better than the others and Blue Lagoon is the cherry on top. 

Scenic drive during the Golden Circle tour in Iceland

Scenic drive during the Golden Circle tour in Iceland

This was our first guided tour in Iceland, on our 2nd day here. It was $134 per adult which doesn’t include any meals. We were picked up from the Tour Bus Stop-12 near our hotel in Reykjavik by Nice Travel Iceland, a little after 9am and were dropped off at the same place around 8pm. It was a minivan and our guide/driver was a knowledgeable but couldn’t keep our attention for long. The sites and the drive were fantastic, but we couldn’t understand half of the things our guide said in a very monotonous voice.

Moss covered lava fields in Iceland

Moss covered lava fields in Iceland

Meals are not included in this trip. But the good part is that you don’t need to tip the drive or the guide…haven’t seen anyone tipping them during any of our trips. We did get a lunch break but lots of things were packed in the itinerary, therefore, everything was done in a bit hurry. 

TIME of TRAVEL: It was during my kids’ summer break (end of July to be specific) when we flew to Iceland and met my little sister from the East Coast in Reykjavik. Four of us were in Iceland for a total of 5 nights. Although we were prepared for rain and sun with waterproof jackets, hats, rain boots, and hoodies, it barely rained during our stay…nothing we couldn’t have handled with just a t-shirt. But it does get chilly and windy in some places. So, being prepared doesn’t hurt, especially if you are traveling with children like I was.

EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch when we stopped at Geysir at a very well-organized restaurant. The complex has a wide range of Icelandic designed clothing and accessories. Although a bit expensive, this is a great souvenir shop. Icelandic lamb is something very flavorful and different from other places. My lunch of lamb, salad, potato, and rice was about $30 per plate. 

My Icelandic lamb for lunch in Golden Circle tour

My Icelandic lamb for lunch in Golden Circle tour

PLACES I’VE VISITED: The tour was for 11 hours in total. Many people rent car and do it on their own leisurely. 

Here is rough itinerary of this tour:

From Reykjavik to Thingvellier National Park – Þingvellir – 35 minutes drive

From Þingvellir NP to Geysir/hot spring – 40 minutes drive

Lunch break at Geysir – for about an hour (including visiting the geysers)

From Geysir to Gulfoss and stay 40 minutes – 10 minutes drive

From Gulfoss to Kerid Volcan – 40 minutes drive

From Kerid Volcano to Blue Lagoon and stay here for ~2 hours – 1:15 hours drive

And here are all the places we’ve visited during this excursion:

  1. THINGVELLIER/Þingvellir NATIONAL PARK: Our first stop was at Thingvellier NP, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Iceland’s most important historical sites. This is the most popular national park in Iceland. Not only this is a stunning place to explore with miles of lava fields and beautiful landscape, but this is also the original site of the longest running parliament in the world, which was founded in 930 AD. Many crucial events in Iceland’s history took place here, like the adoption of Christianity around 1000 AD and the foundation of the modern Icelandic Republic in 1944. 
Thingvellier National Park in Iceland

Thingvellier National Park in Iceland

Thingvellier NP also lies on the junction of two tectonic plates, on the Mid Atlantic Ridge. The junction of the plates is more clearly visible here than anywhere else in the world. The two plates are constantly diverging, causing fissures and gullies throughout the zone. It’s where the North-American and the European continental tectonic plates are drifting and being torn apart at a rate of few millimeters to 2 centimeters each year. The most exciting thing is that you can actually walk on the continental drift.

Thingvellier National Park in Iceland

Thingvellier National Park in Iceland

Since 1930, Thingvellier has been a National Park and in 2004 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The natural environment of Thingvellier NP is unique in the world. 

We started our walk from the visitor’s center, looking over the vast valley where the river flows. The walk from there to the original parliament site and further is magnificent with breathtaking landscape. 

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Thingvellier National Park in Iceland

The one hour that we stayed here was really not enough to explore some of the gorgeous views that this national park can offer. 

2. GEYSIR: This is another popular and touristy geo-thermal hot spot with steamy water coming out of the earth. It’s amazing how close you can get to these boiling water and smell the sulfur. You can touch the flowing water which is not hot as much. 

Steamy "Geysir" in Iceland

If you walk along a few more steps, the big geyser, Strokkur, shoots up every couple minutes. And it’s a thrill to watch such a show created by nature. 

This is also a good place for meals or snacks. Across from the geysers, are the restaurants where you can find a variety of food options and souvenirs. We had about an hour to visit the geysers and for lunch. 

A bigger geyser that shoots every couple minutes in Iceland

A bigger geyser that shoots every couple minutes in Iceland

3. GULLFOSS: Gullfoss, also known as the Golden Falls, was our next on the itinerary. This is considered to be the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. Rain and glacier water on the White River plunge down a double cascade to create one monstrous and the largest volume falls during summer in Europe.

Gullfoss or The Golden Falls in Iceland

Gullfoss or The Golden Falls in Iceland

Tourists started to visit Gullfoss around 1875. Prior to that time the waterfall was hard to reach because of rough terrain and impassable rivers. A local female, name Sigridur in Brattholt and her sisters often guided visitors to Gullfoss, building the first trail that led down to the waterfall. 

There are few theories how the name Gullfoss was given. One is that it was named Gullfoss because of the golden evening hue which often colors its glacier water. Another story is that the name was inspired by the rainbow which often appears when sunshine hits the water spray thrown up by the waterfall. And another story goes that once upon a time, a farmer named Gygur lived at Gygjarholl. He had plenty of gold and could not bear the thought of someone else possessing it after his lifetime. To prevent this, he placed the gold in a coffer and threw it into the waterfall. And since then, it has been named Gullfoss. 

Gullfoss in Iceland

Gullfoss in Iceland

 

We could feel the mist from the falls from the parking lot while walking towards it. It was about 10 minutes walk on the trail rim right by the falls. Anyone would be awestruck by its sheer size, beauty, and enormity of this falls. 

After the Gullfoss, our driver stopped at a small area where we could pet some Icelandic horses. I bought some horse food for my daughter to feed them. Icelandic horses look very much like Mongolian horses…extremely elegant yet cute looking. Seems like, other tour guide buses were also stopping here to pet these few horses and feed them.

4. KERID CRATER LAKE: This is a small volcanic crater lake on the route back toward Reykjavik from Gullfoss that is about 6500 years old.. You can walk up to the rim and can take an easy hike down into the belly of the crater and circle the lake. This is a very easy crater to visit, even with children. 

Kerid Volcano Crater Lake in Iceland

Kerid Volcano Crater Lake in Iceland

While most of the sights in Iceland are free to enter, Kerid Volcano requires 400 ISK charge which was covered in our excursion fee. 

5. BLUE LAGOON: Our last stop of the day was the highlight of Golden Circle excursion and the most anticipated site, Blue Lagoon. Everybody gets hyped about this and for a very valid reason. This is the most famous and iconic hotspot to visit in Iceland. It’s a man-made lagoon/pool and a geo-thermal health spa center near the airport. Sliding into the warm milky blue water is an experience that I’ll never forget. The water coats your skin in silica. While you are there, slather on a mineral mask for a rejuvenating spa experience (it comes with the entry fee).  

Milky blue water of Blue Lagoon in Iceland

Milky blue water of Blue Lagoon in Iceland

The Blue Lagoon’s geothermal seawater is born 2000 meters within the earth where ocean water and freshwater converge in a volcanic frontier of searing heat and immense pressure. The water temperature stays around 40 degree Celsius all year round, even in the winter weather. And the vast lava plain surrounding the Blue Lagoon dates from the year 1226. The beneficial powers of the Blue Lagoon were first discovered by a man seeking comfort from psoriasis. 

Pre-booking is almost a must if you are planning to go to Blue Lagoon on a specific date and time. Time slots get sold out days or even weeks before sometimes during busy seasons. It is an expensive yet one of a kind experience to have. We got the cheapest package for about $94 per adult (kids are free) which included face mask, a drink, a locker, and a towel. 

We had only 2 hours here, which is definitely not enough…I could spend a couple more hours in that warm water. Also, if you are planning to buy souvenirs from the Blue Lagoon store, be ready to spend more than expected. 

 

Aruba – One Happy and Windy Island

ARUBA, DUTCH CARIBBEAN: Located in the Southern Caribbean and just off of the coast of South America, Aruba, also known as “One Happy Island”, is one of the Dutch West Indies territories under kingdom of The Netherlands. The island is only 19 miles long and 6 miles across. This is one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean (either by plane or by cruise) for its white sandy beaches, turquoise sea, warm water, natural landmarks, tropical climate, and lots of water/land activities for all ages. 

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Aruba’s stunning Baby Beach

Aruba is very dry and desert-like in some regions, therefore, you will see lots of cacti and rugged landscape. And the reason for it is that the island gets only about 18 inches of rain every year. Although it lies outside of the hurricane belt, this is a VERY windy island…just hold on to your hats, sunglasses, documents, plastic bottles or even your kids.

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And the breathtaking sunset in from Palm Beach, Aruba

 

Aruba is also one of the safest places to visit in the Caribbean. Use common sense and general cautions that you’d use when you go to a new place. Arubans can speak at least 3 or 4 languages, like Dutch, Spanish, English, and their local tongue, called Papiamento (which is spoken only in Dutch Antilles). 

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Picturesque downtown of Aruba

Here are some useful things to remember before you travel to Aruba. If you are a US citizen, you don’t need a visa for a short visit there. You can use your phone/laptop charger from USA/Canada without a converter in any hotel outlets here. Tap water here is perfectly drinkable. There are no currency exchange offices in the airport, but then again, this time I didn’t bother to exchange my USD to Florin at all. Because you can use USD everywhere, including restaurants, shops, taxis, public transportation, and etc. Major credit cards are also accepted in most places. Use sunscreens and hats when you are out in the sun. It gets very hot and humid from noon to late afternoon. Have plenty of water or juice in hands, especially for the kids. 

To get around, renting a car isn’t a bad idea…most of the tourist spots have good parking places, just have to learn the road signs. I have used both private taxis (make sure they have TX in their license plates and fix the price before you start the ride) and public minivans (minivans use same bus-stands as the big public buses, “Arubus” and costs $2 from Palm Beach to Oranjestad). Both are pretty safe and efficient. Just keep in mind, if you are going to take a bus from the downtown bus terminal, there are 2 sections. The big parking lot is for the big public buses. Since I took the public minivans, I came to the smaller parking lot. The minivans doesn’t say it’s anything outside…just ask the driver and hop in. 

TIME of TRAVEL: I was in Aruba during the long weekend of 4th of July. The island usually have tropical climate all year long. From a little before noon to late afternoon, the sun gets really strong…I had to come back to my hotel for a couple hours on the 3rd day after walking around downtown area for a few hours. It’s pleasant when you are at the beach because the gentle breeze makes it nice.

EATING and SHOPPING: Before I start this part, let me just say, Aruba is an expensive island to visit. I have visited Dominica Republic last year, but Aruba’s food and gifts are way more expensive than some of the other Caribbean islands. 

There are a lot of big American restaurant chains like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, Subway, Pizza Hut, Hooters, Hard Rock Cafe, and etc. There are also all sorts of other international restaurants near the big hotels and resorts. I had a hard time finding a local Aruban restaurant in Palm Beach…my hotel concierge said there were none within walking distance from my hotel. I was told that I would have to take a taxi to go to those restaurants. So, I mostly enjoyed other international dishes. 

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Top: 3 different types of ceviche at Sweet Pepper and Bottom: my one and only breakfast in Aruba

I didn’t have all-inclusive intentionally, because from my previous experience I can’t really try local food that way. But food in Aruba is not cheap. For the only breakfast I had near my hotel, at Joe & Guisseppe, I paid about $12 for scrambled eggs with toast and potatoes and I paid more than $5 for my cup of morning coffee. That was insane paying $5 for a basic cup of black coffee. My first snack was at Piet’s Pier in Palm Beach where I sat down by the water to have some pina colada and hot wings. Palm Beach Promenade or Plaza mostly has international restaurants from Mexican, to Italian, to American, South American, and etc. There are tons of other restaurants and souvenir shops near Hard Rock Cafe.

Palm Beach Promenade is a great place to go for a meal or do some shopping. You will find small ice-cream places to big restaurants like Lazy Turtle and from local small vendors carts to big brand names for shopping here. It is a trendy place for all ages to shop and eat. My dinner on the second day was at Lazy Turtle, where they have ceviche, soups, salads, burgers, pasta, seafood, and all sorts of local and variety of international dishes. I had ceviche/tuna duo, plantain and coconut soup (an African recipe), and for the main course…blackened grouper fillets…WHAT? I was hungry and I paid $40 to satisfy my tummy. All of those were recommendations from the waitress and each was better than the others. I got to sit outside, devour my delicious food, and do some people watching while enjoying the island breeze at night. On my third day, I picked up some passion fruit gelato from Gelatissimo. And after walking around a little bit more, stopped at Sweet Pepper for an early dinner. Sweet Pepper is right above my previous night’s place, Lazy Turtle. It’s upstairs…may climb the stairs or take the elevator. Since I LOVE ceviche, I got a variety of ceviche platter for $19 along with some bread and butter and tapenade that came before the main course. And of course, my favorite pina colada on the side to rescue me from all the strolling in the heat. When I took the cave/beach excursion, we were taken to a local restaurant, called La Granja, for our lunch. Although the place had a lot to offer in their menu, we were served a plate with rice, rotisserie chicken, pork ribs, fries, and salad. Downtown Aruba, Oranjestad is also a fantastic place for any meal. My last lunch was at Lucy’s by the downtown marina where I had “Whoaa” fish. After lunch and walking around in the heat, I was tired and ready for another drink.  So, stopped at Iguana Joe’s Caribbean Bar and Grill for a mango and strawberry drink to cool off.

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My dinner at Lazy Turtles in Palm Beach, Aruba (Top: ceviche, Middle: coconut and plaintin soup, Bottom: grouper fillets)

The Old Main Street on the trolley ride route is a place for locals to shop in brand name stores. If you want to shop in downtown, the Renaissance Mall has mostly major western designer shops. Renaissance Marketplace was very empty when I was there on a Saturday afternoon. The Royal Plaza is also another hub for big European brand name stores. But for generic souvenir hunting…small vendors opposite of the Royal Plaza are great and reasonably priced. If you want to buy cigars, Captain Jack on the Palm Beach Promenade is a good place. Palm Beach Promenade also is a fun place to shop, especially at night when the place is flooded with all the tourists and all the stores are open. 

A very popular souvenir or gift item is to get anything with the phrase “Biba Dushi” which means “Sweet Life”. You can find t-shirts, mugs, hats, and etc with that phrase. Wood curved items, Dutch ceramics, are also very common and they are everywhere. Some mini-markets and airport stores sell Dutch/Gouda cheese wheels if you want to risk bringing those back home. Another popular item is anything that displays the Aruba’s famous divi tree…magnets, paintings, arts, and decors. I bought a small 4×6 oil canvas of the famous divi tree from a lady for $20, a bracelet, some Aruban aloe products, Caribbean coffee, Biba Dushi t-shirt, sweatshirt, stuffed flamingo…all from Palm Beach. 

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“Biba Dushi”, meaning “Sweet Life”, souvenirs in Aruba

MY HOTEL: I stayed in Brickell Bay Beach Club in Palm Beach, Aruba. While their location is great and the rooms are perfect, customer service is very slow and was OK. Every time I had to ask something or needed help, I had to wait for at least 10 minutes in the line for the front desk guy. They do want a $200 deposit when you check in which they give you back after checking out. Also, this is an adult only hotel…so, anyone below 18 years of age aren’t allowed to stay here. But there are lots of parking space if anyone plans to rent a private car. 

Other than that, the hotel is located 20 minutes drive from the airport and only 2/3 minutes walk from the Palm Beach. Palm Beach Promenade is also about 5 minutes walk from the hotel, which was great, because the promenade is an absolutely fun place to hang out for shopping or meals or just to feel the vibe.

PLACES I’VE VISITED: With its laid-back and islandic vibe, Aruba is an appealing place for relaxing or taking part in any activities. I was in Aruba for 2 1/2 days. I know it wasn’t enough to really enjoy all the beauty that the island has to offer, but I loved whatever I could see and do in that short time there. 

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Colorful retail buses in Aruba where they sell variety of items

There are tons of pristine beaches here that tourists can explore and they are all beautiful…some more than the others. Some of the places that I didn’t get a chance to visit but would recommend are, Flamingo Island and De Palm Island as day-trip. For swimming, paddle boating, kayaking, snorkeling, diving, or water activities, beaches like Divi, Druif, Arashi, Surfside, Mamlok, and Natural Pool are supposed to be the top ones. There are some walking tours in downtown but I did it all by myself and it’s pretty easy. Wilhelmina Park is well known among the locals and tourists too. A statue of Anne Frank is located in this park. There is an old Dutch Windmill in Palm Beach that I could see from my hotel room, but didn’t get time to visit it. And if you are bringing your kids to Aruba, I’m sure they will enjoy the Butterfly Farm, Donkey Sanctuary, or Bubali Bird Sanctuary. And if you like hiking, Hooiberg or the Haystack would be a great place to climb couple hundred steps. Finally, if you are into museums and history, the Aruba Aloe Factory, Historical Museum and Archaeological Museum are probably worth visiting. There are couple submarine tours that you can book from downtown which only runs at 11 AM and 12 PM every day. For activities, jeep safari, submarine tour, ATV tours/4-wheeling tours, sailing, snorkeling, and scuba are pretty common. 

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Thousand years old tribal art in Ayo Rock Park in Aruba

Just to give you some ideas on distance from Palm Beach to other areas of the island (by the way, the airport is located closer to downtown/Oranjestad):

To the airport – about 25 minutes

To Oranjestad – 25 minutes

To Eagle Beach – 10 minutes

To Divi or Druif Beach – 10 minutes

To Surfside Beach – about 25 minutes (closer to Oranjestad)

While I couldn’t see many of the places or do a lot of the things that people recommend to do in Aruba, below are some of the places I did visit here:

  1. PALM BEACH: Palm Beach area is popular for its high-rise resorts and hotels. It is home of variety of water activity operators, piers, restaurants, beach bars, and of course, lots of palm trees.  If you want to enjoy white sand, calm water, and a spectacular sunset, this is the place. There are 3 piers on this beach and Piet’s Pier is the smallest one from where some of the sunset catamarans and few other boat tours leave. The water is quite calm here…makes it perfect for swimming, sailing, or floating. There are lots of water activities that you can do in Palm Beach. If you are a photographer, sunset on this beach is pretty amazing which I got to enjoy on my second day on this island. 
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Palm Beach, Aruba

This was only 2 minutes walk from my hotel. I checked in at around 3pm and this beach was my first place to explore. There is a bus stop right around the corner of the beach, if you are planning to use public transportation. 

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Piet’s Pier in Palm Beach, Aruba during susnet

2. SUNSET CATAMARAN CRUISE: I booked this mini cruise online with Viator 3 days before I left for Aruba. It was $60 and supposed to be for 2 hours where only drinks were included and was supposed to start at 5:30pm. A company called Red Sail operated this and when I went to our meeting point at Piet’s Pier in Palm Beach, I was told the time changed to 6:30pm and it’s for 3 hours. I went back, walked around near Hard Rock cafe a bit and came back to the pier around 6pm to board. The lady at the dock looked at her customer list, said my name was not there, and started helping others to board. When I said I already paid, have a reference number and that I wanted to speak to her supervisor…she called her boss while I had to wait for about half an hour for them to figure things out. I don’t know if it was Viator or Red Sail who messed up my booking, but was slightly frustrating. But eventually, I got on board and we sailed off.

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Our DJ in the sunset catamaran cruise in Aruba

The whole purpose of getting on a catamaran sunset cruise was to actually enjoy the sunset and to cruise around. First of all, the boat was small and cramped with too many passengers. And after about half an hour of sailing, when we came near California Lighthouse, we just sat there for the whole sunset which followed by a 4th of July celebration dinner. Yes, that was the only best part of this cruise, that we got a surprise dinner with our price, which they usually don’t include. The price only includes bottomless drink and a live DJ.

I have been to these sunset cruises or catamarans in Mexico and in Dominican Republic, but those are more fun where people aren’t inside your personal bubble and have more space to breath. And you would actually be cruising the whole time. The music added some fun to this ride…some passengers were even dancing. And the food was ok. Another nice part that after dinner, our captain took us near the Renaissance hotel for the 4th of July fireworks, which we got to watch from our boat. 

3. PALM BEACH PROMENADE/PLAZA: It was only 9:30pm when we got off the catamaran. I was tired from my previous red-eye flight. But fun things are only starting in Aruba at that time. From the Piet’s Pier in Palm Beach, it took me about 5 minutes to walk to the promenade. This is the heart and soul of the Palm Beach. Tons of restaurants, bars, brand name shops, local boutiques, vendor kiosks, and souvenir places are here. The street is lined with big chain hotels and resorts. I was there every night during my stay. It’s an exciting place to hang out after dark…although may seem very dead during the day time with no one there and when all the stores and eateries are closed. 

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Paseo Herencia alley in Palm Beach Promenade in Aruba

The plaza has striking 3-level outdoor mall which is the largest of its kind with lots of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options. Paseo Herencia has a gorgeous fountain surrounded by international and local retailers and restaurants that features nighttime water and musical show at every hour starting from 7:30pm to 9:30pm.

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Light and musical show at night in Palm Beach Plaza

Go inside Texas de Brazil pathway/alley to enter the outdoor shopping plaza. It is a cozy place to walk around, do window shopping, or sit down and enjoy any drinks or meals. 

4. BEACH and CAVE EXCURSION: This day-trip was also booked with Viator few days before my flight to Aruba. It was $74 per person for 6 1/2 hours of guided tour (by a company called Pelican Aruba) in an open-air bus. The tour starts at 9:30am and lunch was included along with hotel pick-up/drop-off. Our guide and driver, James, was an extremely funny and knowledgeable man. We were supplied with cold water, punch, soft and hard drinks whenever we wanted. 

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Baby Beach in Aruba

This was definitely an excellent trip and a nice way of exploring the island’s landscape. The bus passes thru lots of neighborhoods and small villages. It is a scenic ride over all…you may even spot a donkey or two on the road. It was a relaxed way to see the island in a short time, except that they advertises we would go to Arashi Beach, but we weren’t taken there. The trip ended with Baby Beach and I was dropped of at my hotel by 4:30pm. 

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Driving by these cacti during our excursion in Aruba

Below are the places where we were taken to in this tour. Before stopping anywhere, we drove by Mamlok Beach which is famous for the ruins of an old shipwreck from Aruba’s last major hurricane. 

a. CALIFORNIA LIGHTHOUSE: This was our first stop of this trip. The lighthouse, built in 1914, is located on the northernmost tip of the island. Surrounded by blue water, this is a quiet and calm place to visit anytime of the day. We spent only 10 minutes here. There isn’t much to do, unless you climb up the stairs with a fee. There were some small carts and a bright colored bus selling fresh coconut water, other drinks and snacks.

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California Lighthouse in Aruba

b. ALTO VISTA CHAPEL: After a scenic ride from the lighthouse, we arrived at Alto Vista Chapel in a pretty isolated area. This is a small but historic chapel on the northern side of the island surrounded by lots of tall cacti. The altar is pretty simple and modest. And the surroundings were very peaceful. Again, not much to do here…we had 10 minutes to spend and that was a good amount of time to look around the chapel. 

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Alto Vista Chapel in Aruba

c. NATURAL BRIDGE: Third stop was the Natural Bridge where we spent about 15 minutes. The original and bigger natural bridge collapsed in 2005 but a smaller one is there beside the one that collapsed. The newer bridge is there for visitors to enjoy and to walk on the bridge. Do use caution to avoid any accidents.

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Natural Bridge in Aruba

Water color is darker in this part of the island because the ocean is very deep here. There are also sharks in this water. There is a natural crack beside the new bridge where visitors aren’t allowed to go to…follow any danger signs and listen to your guide while visiting this area. 

Ruins of which once was called Bushiribana Gold Mine is a few minutes of drive from the Natural Bridge. We didn’t stop there. But saw people climbing and exploring the surrounding area.  

d. AYO ROCK FORMATION: Our fourth stop was Ayo Rock Formation site where we spent about 15-20 minutes. This is like a very small version of the Jumbo rock in Joshua Tree NP in California. The park houses lots of large boulders, tall cacti, and few walking trails. You can explore these rocks (or even climb them) to get a better view of the area. The guide showed us a protective cave-like small place where you can see thousand years old tribal arts under a rock. Those arts and symbols are still a mystery to the locals since no one could decipher them yet. 

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Ayo Rock Formation in Aruba

e. ARIKOK NATIONAL PARK: After our lunch at La Granja, we arrived at Arikok National Park which takes up about one-third of the whole island. This is a place to explore Aruba’s natural treasures. You can see ancient lava and limestone formation in this park. There are few hiking trails if you want to experience Aruba’s flora, fauna, unique geological formations, and historical sites. The entrance fee to the park was included in our ticket. We spent about a little less than half an hour in and around the cave. 

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After entering Arikok National Park in Aruba

The only place we got to see in Arikok NP was Guadiriki Cave. This was a highlight of this tour where we could go inside the cave. After climbing a few stairs we went inside the not-so-claustrophobic and dark cave. But it was thrilling to scout around different sections of Guadiriki Cave, even the parts where small bats live. 

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Guadiriki Cave in Arikok National Park, Aruba

The cave is famous for the natural light that pours in through openings in the cave roof. There is another cave in Arikok NP, like Fontein Cave, which we didn’t get a chance to see. 

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Guadiriki Cave in Arikok National Park, Aruba

f. BABY BEACH: Our last stop of the tour was Baby Beach, which is a man-made lagoon on the southern end of the island. It is called Baby Beach because of its shallow depth of only 5 feet of water at any point and for remarkably calm beach without any current. Therefore, Baby Beach makes a prime destination for families with small children. You can walk out for a long distance and still touch the sea bottom here. This is also a great location for snorkeling. Certain spots of this beach has the dangerous rip current (those spots are specifically marked and tourists aren’t supposed to go there). 

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Baby Beach…a man-made lagoon in Aruba

On clear days you can see Venezuelan mountains…Venezuela is only 19 miles across the ocean from Aruba. 

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Baby Beach in Aruba

5. EAGLE BEACH: This is supposed to be one of the top 10 beaches in the world and was voted as #1 Caribbean beach by a USA Today survey. With its calm crystal-clear blue water, light waves, and soft white sand, this is a perfect place for relaxation. Additionally, taking leisure walks is an ideal activity here because of its long stretched sandy beach. To me, the highlight of this beach and the ONLY reason I went there was to photograph the famous divi-divi tree of Aruba. 

Under a Divi tree Eagle Beach in Aruba

Under a Divi tree Eagle Beach in Aruba

This pair of divi-divi in Eagle Beach is quite famous where people only come here to take pictures with these. The constant trade wind from the north-east shapes Aruba’s national tree divi-divi to always point to the south-west direction. It has become an iconic sign of Aruba and its image are on lot of the souvenir items as well. 

The famous Divi tree pair in Eagle Beach in Aruba

The famous Divi tree pair in Eagle Beach in Aruba

I took a taxi from Palm Beach to Eagle Beach couple hours before sunset, which costs about $9 for one way. Just keep in mind, on your way back you may have to walk to a hotel or call for a taxi, since there are no taxi stand near the beach. My agenda was to stay here until the sunset and take some shots of the divi-divi tree. But after waiting under the sun for more than half an hour, I couldn’t take the heat anymore and had to head back to my hotel. 

6. ORANJESTAD: My 3rd and last day in Aruba was set aside to roam around its downtown. Oranjestad is the main hub for many resorts, hotels, casinos, expensive brand name shops, and finally the cruise port. This is Aruba’s original shopping mecca for its tourists with vast selections of shopping venues. LG Smith Boulevard is the main street in downtown and everything is on or around this street, including Renaissance Mall & Marketplace, The Parliament, the marina, and The Royal Plaza. If you plan to go to Surfside Beach, going from the downtown is easier, since it’s closer from here (only 2 km). Also, look for the blue Paardenbaai Horse sculptures when you are walking around Oranjestad…there are multiple of them scattered throughout the downtown area. 

These blue horses are everywhere in Oranjestad, Aruba

These blue horses are everywhere in Oranjestad, Aruba

I left at 10:30 in the morning and was back In the hotel by 4 PM. I didn’t go to the park in downtown where Anna Franks statue is located. To go to downtown, I took the public minivan for $2 one way from the Palm Beach bus stop and I was in downtown in less than half an hour. Bus stop in Oranjestad is centrally located and very short distance from most of the major spots. 

Some souvenirs shop opposite of Royal Plaza in Oranjestad, Aruba

Some souvenirs shop opposite of Royal Plaza in Oranjestad, Aruba

a. TROLLEY RIDE: From the bus terminal, it was only 2-3 minutes walk to the cruise terminal where I got on to this trolley. This is a free double-decker hop-on/hop-off bus ride around the downtown area. These are battery operated trams that run very slowly that passes thru some main tourist spots and some not so popular among tourists spots. The street bus passes thru the Archeological Museum, the old Main Street with shops, some small plazas, hotels, and smaller alleys.

Downtown trolley ride in Oranjestad, Aruba

Downtown trolley ride in Oranjestad, Aruba

It’s a short, 45 minutes ride maybe and has a 20 minutes break at a small square. I got off at Plaza Daniel Leo on our way back to the terminal. 

b. PLAZA DANIEL LEO: There isn’t much to do in this plaza but I had to stop here to admire the Dutch/Flemish looking architecture in this square. Most of those are shops. You can find a blue horse sculpture here by the water fountain. Opposite of the plaza is where the famous European store Zara located. There is also a tourist info booth in this plaza, where I got my free Aruba street map from and asked a few questions about surroundings. 

Plaza Daniel Leo in Oranjestad, Aruba

Plaza Daniel Leo in Oranjestad, Aruba

c. RENAISSANCE MALL: If you cross the street from Plaza Daniel Leo, you are at the Renaissance Mall, an elite and trendy shopping mall beside Renaissance Resort & Casino. There are few restaurants and a casino in the mall. 

d. “I LOVE ARUBA” SIGN: If you just walk straight to the mall and keep walking straight you’ll come out of the mall and to the main street. A left turn from would take you to this I Love Aruba sign. This is located right next to Renaissance Mall, in front of the Parliament of Aruba, and across from the marina. 

I Love Aruba in Oranjestad, Aruba

I Love Aruba in Oranjestad, Aruba

e. PARLIAMENT of ARUBA: As I walked by the I Love Aruba sign, I came in front of the Parliament of Aruba. I am not sure if publics are allowed inside the building. It’s a simple building with a statue outside. Not much to do here, I kept walking towards the opposite of the Renaissance Marketplace to see what’s on the other side…didn’t go too far and saw the Historical Museum of Aruba. From there, just turned around, crossed the street to go to the marketplace. 

f. RENAISSANCE MARKETPLACE: It was really empty when I was there with most of the stores being closed…maybe because it’s like the Palm Beach Promenade…dead during day but crowded with tourists at night. It has one side surrounded by the marina. One of many other places in downtown for shopping, dining, and entertainment. The architecture itself of this mall is modern and glassy.

Renaissance Marketplace in Oranjestad, Aruba

Renaissance Marketplace in Oranjestad, Aruba

g. RENAISSANCE MARINA: This is the official name, I think, but most people probably know it by just the downtown marina. Taking an easy stroll by the water is what I did here. There are few spots I found by the marina to be very photogenic. 

Walking by Renaissance Marina in Oranjestad, Aruba

Walking by Renaissance Marina in Oranjestad, Aruba

h. ROYAL PLAZA: After my lunch at Lucy’s by the marina (which is across the street from Renaissance Mall, I walked a couple blocks to reach a line of souvenirs stores. They were right opposite of the Royal Plaza…another trendy shopping plaza and a paradise for exquisite shoppers. The Royal Plaza consists of 3 distinct pink and white Dutch-Caribbean style victorian building with multi-level experience of shopping and dining. Go inside the plaza, which is basically an outdoor mall and walk around to do some window shopping…heck, if you have money to spare, this would be the place for those bills. 

Royal Plaza in Oranjestad, Aruba

Royal Plaza in Oranjestad, Aruba

This was a great way to end the downtown tour, since the bus terminal is right there. I was back in the hotel by 5 and off to Palm Beach Promenade for a lazy walk and dinner. 

IF I VISIT ARUBA AGAIN: If I visit Aruba for the second time, I would definitely stay in Palm Beach again. While public buses are very good, next time I would definitely rent a car since parking in all the touristic places are pretty good. And since Aruba is a small island with tons of beaches, having a car is much easier to hop beaches and not worry about bus or getting a taxi. Next time, I definitely want to try some Aruban food, which I couldn’t this time. Again, having a rental car would make it a breeze. 

 

 

 

 

Florida Parks: The Best Way to Explore the Florida Keys

Lots of visitors to the Florida Keys rave about the food, the nightlife, and the welcoming atmosphere, but the best way to experience the Keys is through Florida’s state and national parks. These are some of the most beautiful and unique public lands in the continental U.S. People travel the world over to swim, snorkel, and fish here. Read on to find out why.

Bahia Honda State Park

Located on Bahia Honda Key north of Key West, this park is best known for two of its beaches. In fact, you might even recognize them from photos. One’s on the Atlantic Ocean side of the island and one’s on the Florida Bay side of the island. Beach equipment rental is easy at the island concession stand, which also offers food service and a small gift shop. Visitors enjoy hiking, fishing, biking, as well as birdwatching. You can pitch a tent or park your RV in designated areas, with reservations; marina slips are also offered for overnight docking. No trip to Bahia Honda State Park would be complete without snorkeling – reserve your spot on the snorkeling tour of Looe Key Marine Sanctuary in advance by phone or online.

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Get a real feel for American history while enjoying some great outdoor activities at this landmark fort on the southern part of Key West. Tours of Fort Zachary Taylor are offered every day. Learn more about how American troops served during the Civil War and the Spanish American War by walking the same paths, looking through the same gun ports, and watching re-enactors bring history to life. Nature trails offer hiking and scenic views; bring a bike for the bike trails. Swimming at the sandy beach here is popular; you can also rent umbrellas, beach chairs, and snorkeling gear. The picnic areas here have grills, so consider stopping by a grocery store for supplies on your way in; if you’d rather let someone else do the cooking, visit the park’s cafe for light refreshments in the shade. If you have a fishing license, there are also designated fishing spots here.

Biscayne National Park

Another of the Florida Keys’ parks with expansive underwater acreage, this one is located at the northernmost part of the Keys. Initially created to preserve the last of the undeveloped Keys, today, tourism is the primary draw. See the best of Biscayne National Park on a guided tour from the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. View some of the historic shipwrecks that are part of the Maritime Heritage Trail and the colorful marine life that’s grown up around them. Kayaks and canoes are available for rent, and guests can take a self-paced tour around the key, exploring mangrove-sheltered shallows. The park’s shorelines are home to wading birds and shore birds, as well as dolphins and turtles, so be sure to pack binoculars. Don’t miss Jones Lagoon and Hurricane Creek. Feeling adventurous? You can camp at Biscayne National Park, too, at Boca Chita and Elliott Key. These campsites are pack in/pack out, and offer trails and swimming; however, the amenities are pretty basic. And be sure to try the fishing here. The area is especially well-known for bonefish, grouper, tarpon, and spiny lobster. Seize the Day Charters  can ensure any required licensing is in place for a relaxing trip.

Florida’s state and national parks offer visitors a unique and up-close look at the Sunshine State’s natural beauty. From snorkeling and diving to fishing, birdwatching, kayaking, and more, it’s easy to immerse yourself among the plants and animals that make the Florida Keys such a special place to visit in these parks.

 

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