Lets talk about trees. Now, it would be a total lie to say that I travelled across the world to examine different eco-cultures, but appreciate what nature has to offer up there? That I can get amongst! Outside of San Francisco, we compensated for missing our tour to Yosemite with an, albeit smaller, but still impressive national park.
Las Vegas, the infamous city in the middle of the desert in Nevada, brings in thousands of tourists every year to tempt them with all things sinful. Vegas caters for their touristy audience by being the big, bright and over the top, and they’ve made that look work for them in a big way. But like any touristy city, there is a life underneath all the glitter and lights, and if you’re wanting to avoid the tourist traps, you’ll want to tap into it.
Embracing the local wildlife is sometimes the most interesting, and almost always the cutest part of visiting a new city, and San Francisco was no exception for that rule. If you find yourself in San Fran, it is almost impossible to stop yourself taking a stroll down to Pier 39 to check out the cutest sea-lebrities ever.
Travelling in foreign cities usually necessitates at least some sort of involvement with tour companies, be it for a day, week or month. In a city like San Francisco, where the main industry is tourism, you will be presented with an insane number of options for tours.
One of the seven natural wonders of the world, it is no wonder that the Grand Canyon attracts around five million visitors each year. The Canyon is an absolute must see for anyone hunting down some quality scenery, and it is hard to really go wrong with a visit there. But believe it or not, there is a big difference between doing it, and doing it well.
I was lucky enough to see the Grand Canyon from both the West rim and the South rim; and while both sides gave breathtaking views, there can only be one winner. And for me, that was the South rim, although it does depend on the kind of Canyon experience that you are really after, and of course, budget and time constraints. But seeing as the South rim was my favourite, that is the one that I’m featuring today (don’t worry, we’ll get to the West Rim eventually).
Basically, if you are after a full on Canyon experience, with the panoramic views and giant hikes, the South rim is for you, whereas if you want to more just get a feel for what it’s about, West rim it is.
To do the canyon properly on the South rim, necessitates staying the night there, and dare I say it, getting up really early. There are few things that can beat watching the sunrise from deep within the belly of the Grand Canyon, and if you can push past the urge to hit “snooze” too many times, it is well worth it. Staying a night at the Canyon makes experiencing all it has to offer a lot easier, you’ll never hike it at dawn if you have to leave vegas at midnight to complete the 4.5 (approximate) drive to the South rim!
That being said, the decision to hike into the canyon is one that requires a bit of science and common sense however, as from in a single day, the Canyon can go from freezing cold to absolutely sweltering.
Putting two and two together, we know that it gets hotter as we get closer to midday, and we know that it is harder to hike uphill then downhill. Simple as it sounds, a lot of people seem to not realise this, and the canyon has claimed many a victim to exhaustion and dehydration, with hikers setting off down into the South rim mid-morning, only to be crawling back up when the desert heat hits.
Fortunately enough, when I visited the South rim, my partner-in-canyon Anna and I both realised this, and so a 4:30am alarm was set for our hike into the canyon.
And boy, was it worth it.
Even if you don’t want to do a hike, getting up at the crack of dawn is worth it to see the sunrise over the Canyon, it really is spectacular, and my amateur photography doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. Sorry, I did my best but it looks like you’ll just have to go there!
One thing to mention about this hike though, is that this is a natural wonder of the world, and world heritage listed site, which means, there are no guard-rails. None. Just you, a sometimes very narrow pathway, and one hell of a drop on the other side. As you might have guessed, this means that I wouldn’t recommend this hike for those who struggle walking in a straight line, or who are petrified of heights (a little fear is healthy, but too much just ruins it for you).
I would rate this trail as an intermediate level of difficulty, there are times when it gets pretty steep and quite a few times when it could be a little scary. In saying that, Anna and I hiked only a small part of the trail, we definitely didn’t go right to the bottom of the canyon (a recommended two day hike); I imagine doing that is a fair bit more difficult.
Another must-see part of the South Rim is Hopi point, which provides amazing panoramic views of the canyon and is particularly beautiful at sunset (and even better if you sneak in some bubbles like we did); there are free busses that run along the main lookout points on the south rim and it is only a short ride to Hopi point. Where you can enjoy a view like this:
Pretty amazing right? But rest assured, if you find that yourself still at the campsite with sunset closing in, that isn’t exactly a terrible view either.
Again though, these photos can never come close to doing the canyon justice!
I’ve just scraped the surface today of what the Grand Canyon has to offer, stay tuned over the coming months for reviews on helicopter flights and a more in-depth comparison between the South rim, and the West rim.
If you have visited the canyon, particularly the south rim, I’d love to hear from you! Bombard me with your amazing photos! And enjoy this sneaky one of Anna and I mid hike.
Thank you, kind stranger, you captured a beautiful moment, if not our most flattering angle.
When you mention Florida, immediately people think of sandy beaches, insane levels of humidity, and of course, Disneyland.
What they may not think of, is a Spanish-inspired town with an incredible level of historical significance and a big contribution to the formation of the United States of America. This town is St. Augustine, the oldest continually populated city in the USA, and one of my favourite places in the states.
St. Augustine was settled by a Spanish admiral in 1565 and deemed the capital city of Florida for the subsequent 200 years, changing hands between the Spanish and British numerous times in those years (one hell of a custody battle there). If you want to learn more about the history then you can check it out on the towns information website here, or, of course, the Wikipedia page.
And as fascinating as that is, I imagine thats not why you came here! So let me tell you a little more about my experience with the town.
The first thing you notice when you walk into the town is that it has been preserved incredibly well, the original fort and gates to the city (remember this place was settled in 1565!) are still in place and you can go up and walk through them. The town really is like stepping back in time, with a gigantic basilica, cobblestone streets and incredible architecture.
Visiting old town St Augustine, narrow streets are a sure sign that the town was built before cars, and thus the streets are pedestrian only, adding to the feeling that you have just walked into a small town centuries ago. There are loads of little cafe’s, bars and stores that indicate the town now relies a fair bit upon the tourism industry, and St Augustine definitely knows how to impress that market.
Every second shop appears to be either a bar, or an ice cream parlour; not surprisingly for a town in Florida, the ice cream is pretty amazing, and drinks are in general, reasonably priced. The best part though, is that every person I met in this town was lovely, we went nowhere that had bad, or even mediocre service, and the locals we met (including some smoking hot firefighters) were all really lovely; I imagine it is hard to be grumpy living in a town like this though.
This waterfront town offers much more then food and drinks though, and its beautiful setting necessitated waking up at sunrise to showcase the real beauty of the town. Including the site of the very first catholic mass in the states, down in some beautiful gardens near the waterfront, held before they had even built a church.
The top attractions in the town seem to be old town St Augustine, including the fort and gates, the Basilica, Ripleys Believe It Or Not museum and the gardens where that first mass was held. St Augustine is also supposedly one of the most haunted towns in the United States, so if you are into that sort of thing, there are a lot of companies running ghost tours in various parts of the town.
While I wasn’t fussed on Ripleys, I do wish I’d seen the Basilica, but still didn’t feel as though I missed out, exploring the old town, gates, fort and gardens at length.
I’d definitely recommend a visit to St Augustine if you find yourself driving around Florida at any stage, I daresay a day will be enough to experience the town, but it sure is worth a look. Here are my favourite shots from St Augustine, taken on a very early morning stroll through the town.
If you live in, or have visited St Augustine, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know your experience in the town, what you loved about it and the little gems you found whilst exploring!