Iceland in Photos

IMG_8579 Iceland in Photos Iceland in Photos iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  waterfalls volcanoes travel photos lava fields Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers geysers
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Few could argue with the notion that Iceland is one of the most visually spectacular countries in the world. It’s stunning, lunar-like landscape is dotted with beautiful waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, lava fields, hot springs, ice caves and more.

IMG_8579 Iceland in Photos Iceland in Photos iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  waterfalls volcanoes travel photos lava fields Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers geysers
Reynisdrangar

Reynisdrangar is a collection of large, jagged, basalt sea stacks off the coast of Vik.

IMG_8579 Iceland in Photos Iceland in Photos iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  waterfalls volcanoes travel photos lava fields Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers geysers
Thorsmork

Thorsmork is a mountain ridge in South Iceland named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder.

IMG_8579 Iceland in Photos Iceland in Photos iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  waterfalls volcanoes travel photos lava fields Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers geysers
The Sun Voyager

The Sun Voyager sculpture is made of stainless steel and is located on the water in Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik. It is one of the most photographed sculptures in Iceland.

IMG_8579 Iceland in Photos Iceland in Photos iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  waterfalls volcanoes travel photos lava fields Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers geysers
Hraunfossar

Hraunfossar, located in southwest Iceland, literally means “lava falls” and they are quite a sight to behold.

IMG_8579 Iceland in Photos Iceland in Photos iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  waterfalls volcanoes travel photos lava fields Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers geysers
Into the Glacier Experience – Langjokull Glacier

The “Into the Glacier Experience” takes you literally right inside Langjokull Glacier via Iceland’s first man-made ice cave. A truly unique experience!

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Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Iceland and is famous for having a path which allows visitors to hike behind the falls.

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Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

The icebergs floating in Jokulsarlon Glacier lagoon are broken off from Vatnajokull, Iceland’s largest ice cap. In summer, visitors can ride around the icebergs in zephyr boats.

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Svartifoss

Svartifoss, located in Skaftafell National Park, is known for the basalt columns surrounding it, which create an organ-like appearance.

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Strokkur

Strokkur geyser is one of Iceland’s “Golden Circle” attractions and it reliably erupts every 5-10 minutes.

IMG_8579 Iceland in Photos Iceland in Photos iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  waterfalls volcanoes travel photos lava fields Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers geysers
Langjokull Glacier

Langjokull Glacier is a great place to do snowmobiling year-round.

IMG_8579 Iceland in Photos Iceland in Photos iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  waterfalls volcanoes travel photos lava fields Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers geysers
Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar is an area of Iceland’s interior highlands and is only accessible during Summer.

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Haifoss

Haifoss is situated near Hekla volcano and it is the third-highest waterfall in Iceland.

IMG_8579 Iceland in Photos Iceland in Photos iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  waterfalls volcanoes travel photos lava fields Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers geysers
Stakkholtsgja Canyon

Stakkholtsgja Canyon is found in Thorsmork. It narrows as it leads to a waterfall that can be accessed by hiking over rocks and streams.

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Arnarstapi

Arnarstapi is a fishing village on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It is home to incredible hiking trails and rock formations.

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Thingvellir

At Thingvellir, you can actually see where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.

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Kerid Crater

Kerid Crater is sometimes used for floating concerts.

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Skogafoss

Skogafoss is one of Iceland’s most recognizable waterfalls. It is easily accessible from the Ring Road and visitors can climb stairs all the way to a lookout area on top of the falls.

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Hotel Ranga

Hotel Ranga is one of Iceland’s most well known luxury hotels, often catering to celebrities. The hotel offers guests the option of receiving a “Northern Lights wake-up call” in the event the Aurora is spotted overhead.

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South Iceland Countryside

It has been said that Greenland is full of ice and Iceland is green. Indeed, Iceland’s countryside is surprisingly lush and adorned in vibrant color.

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Black Sand Beach Near Jokulsarlon

Chuncks of ice from the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon often wash up along the volcanic black sand beaches nearby.

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Reykjavik

The observation area atop Hallgrimskirkja Church provides visitors with unparalleled 360 degree views of Reykjavik.

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Gullfoss

Gullfoss is the crown jewel of Iceland’s “Golden Circle” attractions and it is the country’s largest waterfall.

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Landmannalaugar

The Landmannalaugar Highlands have many terrific trails where hikers can walk and climb through fields of hardened lava.

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Jokulsarlon

The blue color of the icebergs floating in Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon derives from the pressure, density, and thickness of glacial ice.

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Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar is also well known for the distinctive orange color of its rhyolite mountains.

All of the photos shown here are original photos taken by Destination Dan.

To read more about Iceland, click here. And remember to keep checking back at Destination Dan for more incredible travel tips and reviews regarding all the best destinations, resorts, restaurants and tours worldwide!

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48 Hours in Florence, Italy!

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Florence, Italy

Nicknamed “The City of Lilies” and “The Birthplace of the Renaissance”, Florence, Italy was instrumental in ushering in the rebirth of art and culture that swept Europe following the Middle Ages.  And you will definitely find plenty of art and culture throughout this charming city.  But given everything there is to see and do all over Tuscany and Italy in general, what if you find yourself able to spend only a short amount of time here?  Well, fear not because Destination Dan has you covered! Just sit back and relax, and let us show you all the highlights you’ll want to cover with 48 hours in Florence, Italy!

Among the MANY things this city has going for it is that it is a compact and extremely walk-able city.  Almost all the attractions you’ll want to see are generally within short distances of each other that can easily be covered on foot.

GALLERIA DELL’ACCADEMIA

First stop… the Galleria dell’Accademia on Via Ricasoli.  This is one of the two most famous museums in Florence (the other being The Uffizi Gallery) and although it also houses an impressive collection of paintings and works by mostly Florentine artists, it is most well-known for being the home of Michelangelo’s spectacular Statue of David.

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Michelangelo’s Statue of David

Incredibly, it’s even more life-like in person.  But be sure to buy your tickets in advance and skip the lines to get in!

MEDICI CHAPELS

Next up and close by at Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini (only a 6 minute walk) are the Medici Chapels.  These chapels serve as a final burial ground for the Medici Family which ruled Florence throughout the Renaissance and they are as opulent as they are breathtaking to behold.

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Medici Chapels
Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Medici Chapels
Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Medici Chapels
Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Medici Chapels

MERCATO CENTRALE

Looking a bit like a warehouse, nearby Mercato Centrale is located is between via dell’Ariento, via Sant’Antonino, via Panicale and Piazza del Mercato Centrale.  The building dates back to 1874 and sits right next to the stalls of the San Lorenzo street market.  Inside the Mercato Centrale are vendors selling all forms of local Tuscan cuisine, making it a great place to stop and get lunch.

GIOTTO’S CAMPANILE

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Giotto’s Campanile – “The Belltower”

Energized from lunch, you’re now ready for a physical challenge.  Otherwise known as “The Bell Tower”, Giotto’s Campanile stands 278 feet tall and takes exactly 414 steps to climb.  It also provides many a photo op!  This pastel-colored, free-standing structure is part of a complex of buildings that make up the Florence Cathedral.

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Florence Cathedral – Piazza del Duomo

Rest assured, there are several platforms along the way on which to stop and get rest.  But don’t spend too much time looking down if you’re afraid of heights – you can see all the way down through the grated floors!  But not to worry, they’re very secure.

From the top of the Campanile, as well as from the platforms and their gothic-style windows, you are treated to magnificent 360 degree views of Florence.

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Views of Florence from Giotto’s Campanile
Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Views of Florence from Giotto’s Campanile
Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Views of Florence from Giotto’s Campanile

And actually, given that the Belltower stands immediately adjacent to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore (“The Duomo”), it provides some of the best views around of the Basilica itself.

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore

BAPTISTERY OF SAINT JOHN

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Baptistery of Saint John

The Baptistery of Saint John (also known as the Florence Baptistery) is an impressive octagonal building which stands across from the Florence Cathedral and the Belltower and is designed in the same artistic style as those two buildings.  It was constructed between 1059 and 1128 and is therefore one of the oldest buildings in Florence.  As it is dedicated to St. John the Baptist, it is also one of the most religiously significant buildings in the city.  It’s 3 sets of bronze doors and its gold ceiling are especially impressive.

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Baptistery of Saint John

PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO

Finish your first day of sightseeing in Florence with a taxi right up to Piazzale Michelangelo (on the other side of the Arno River) to take in the sunset, the panoramic views, and the live musical acts.

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Sunset over Florence, Italy

BASILICA OF SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE (“THE DUOMO”)

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Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore

Start your second day in Florence at the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore.  The Duomo’s giant red dome dominates the Florence skyline and is unmistakably the most recognized building in the city.  Along with Giotto’s Campanile, it is part of the complex that makes up the Florence Cathedral and as with the Campanile, you can climb to the top of the dome in only 463 steps.  That is, so long as you’re not claustrophobic and you don’t mind leaning inwards as you approach the top.

UFFIZI GALLERY

After exploring Florence’s most famous landmark (The Duomo), head further towards the Arno River to take in Florence’s other most famous art museum, the Uffizi Gallery.  But as with the Galleria dell’Accademia, be sure to buy your admission in advance to avoid long lines!

The Uffizi Gallery houses a myriad of some of the most famous works worldwide including some by Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo Da Vinci, just to name a few.

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Uffizi Gallery – Michelangelo Room
Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Uffizi Gallery – Michelangelo Room
Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Uffizi Gallery
Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
View of Florence from the Uffizi Gallery

After spending your morning at the Uffizi Gallery, head over to the Piazza della Signoria nearby and have lunch in the open air square in the shadow of the imposing Palazzo Vecchio.

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Piazza della Signoria
Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Palazzo Vecchio

PONTE VECCHIO

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Ponte Vecchio

Following a relaxing lunch outside, proceed to the most famous crossing of the Arno River, the Ponte Vecchio.  This colorful, medieval stone segmented arch bridge is known for still being lined with shops, most notably jewelry stores.  It’s a tourist trap for sure, but one worth experiencing.  Don’t forget to take photos in front of the Arno River!

PALAZZO PITTI AND BOBOLI GARDENS

On the other side of the Ponte Vecchio, proceed up Via de Guicciardini to the Palazzo Pitti, where ambitious Florentine banker Luca Pitti once lived.  The present day structure dates back to 1458.  The Medici family bought the palace in 1549, after which it became the primary residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.  Over many generations, its residents amassed a veritable treasure trove of dazzling and opulent artwork, jewelry and other expensive possessions.

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Palazzo Pitti
Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Palazzo Pitti
Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Palazzo Pitti
Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Palazzo Pitti – Statue of Victor Hugo (author of Les Miserables)

Immediately behind the Palazzo Pitti are the beautiful Boboli Gardens, which are a lot of fun to explore.

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Boboli Gardens
Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Boboli Gardens

FORTE DI BELVEDERE

You’ll find many pathways throughout the Boboli Gardens, including one leading up to Forte di Belvedere.  Forte Di Belvedere was designed and built from 1590 to 1595 by order of the Medici family.  It is the second-largest fortification in Florence and was built to strengthen an area of the city’s defenses that were thought to be the most vulnerable at the time.  In addition to touring the fort itself, the area makes for another stunning, yet different vantage point from which to take in the next beautiful Tuscan sunset (which, trust us, never gets old).

Florence2 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! 48 Hours in Florence, Italy! incredible-italy  Uffizi Tuscany travel renaissance michelangelo Italy highlights Florence 48 hours
Florence, Italy

Hope you enjoyed this article on 48 Hours in Florence, Italy!

Keep checking back in at Destination Dan for more tips and reviews regarding all the best destinations, resorts, restaurants, and tours worldwide!

Looking for more adventures in places that start with the letter “I”? Then check out our articles on amazing Iceland and Israel!

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Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities

RamonCraterAdventure1 Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities diy-israel  travel rappelling Ramon Crater Negev jeep Israel hot air balloons adventure activities
Ramon Crater Adventure Activities

If it’s adventure you crave then look no further than the Ramon Crater and the Negev Desert!  Just steps outside the stunning Beresheet Hotel, wonder awaits and adventure activities abound (for our review of the world-class Beresheet Hotel, click here).  Here’s our run down on all of the best Negev Desert adventure activities available in and around the Ramon Crater.

RAMON CRATER

First, a little background on the Ramon Crater itself.  Technically speaking, the Ramon Crater isn’t even a “crater” at all.  Using the word crater to describe it is a marketing strategy, and a pretty darn good one I might add! But the fact that it isn’t actually a crater per se hardly detracts from the amazing and breathtaking beauty it offers.  It IS crater-like, however it’s real geological name is a “makhtesh”, a word that’s uniquely Israeli but has been adopted by geologists worldwide.  What’s the difference?  Well, scientifically, a crater is an indentation made by the impact of a meteor or asteroid hitting the Earth.  But no meteor or asteroid has ever hit Makhtesh Ramon.  Instead, Makhtesh Ramon was formed over time by a variety of natural forces, most notably erosion, and it is the largest of it’s kind worldwide.  What that translates to for you, the traveler, is an incredible and picturesque phenomenon that can’t be found anywhere else on the planet and an opportunity to use one of Mother Nature’s most dazzling backdrops as a launch-pad for thrill-seeking and gorgeous photos.

There are many memorable ways to explore the Ramon Crater.  You can go hiking, mountain biking, and even camel-riding.  But if these options aren’t enough to peak your sense of adventure, here are some other activities that’ll be sure to get your adrenaline flowing and bring out your inner daredevil…

RAPPELLING

In the town of Mitzpe Ramon is a fantastic tour company called “Deep Desert Israel” and, among many other activities, they offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to rappel off the rim of the Ramon Crater itself.  Although there are several other locations scattered throughout Israel where rappelling is offered, none can match the experience of dangling in front of the massive and exquisite expanse of the Ramon Crater and climbing down it’s steep walls.

Those daring enough can choose to bounce down cliffs of either 15 or 25 meters.

OFF-ROAD JEEPING

Deep Desert Israel also provides an incredible chance to plow right into the crater and go off road with experienced guides who detail the geological history of the crater while bouncing you all around (literally) during several hours of jeeping adventure.  Go at sunrise or sunset for an even more scenic view!  Or after dark for the spooky version!  There is also an option available to couple the jeep tour with a Bedouin experience.

We had a phenomenal and incredibly knowledgeable guide named Yohash, who taught us everything there is to know about the history of the Ramon Crater and about life in Mitzpe Ramon and the surrounding area.  Here are some awesome photos from our journey…

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Off-road Ramon Crater Adventure with Deep Desert Israel
RamonCraterAdventure1 Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities diy-israel  travel rappelling Ramon Crater Negev jeep Israel hot air balloons adventure activities
Off-road Ramon Crater Adventure with Deep Desert Israel
RamonCraterAdventure1 Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities diy-israel  travel rappelling Ramon Crater Negev jeep Israel hot air balloons adventure activities
Off-road Ramon Crater Adventure with Deep Desert Israel
RamonCraterAdventure1 Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities diy-israel  travel rappelling Ramon Crater Negev jeep Israel hot air balloons adventure activities
Off-road Ramon Crater Adventure with Deep Desert Israel
RamonCraterAdventure1 Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities diy-israel  travel rappelling Ramon Crater Negev jeep Israel hot air balloons adventure activities
Off-road Ramon Crater Adventure with Deep Desert Israel
RamonCraterAdventure1 Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities diy-israel  travel rappelling Ramon Crater Negev jeep Israel hot air balloons adventure activities
Off-road Ramon Crater Adventure with Deep Desert Israel

Deep Desert Israel offers a combination package for those who are interested in doing both rappelling and the off-road jeep tour.  And besides providing us with an exhilarating experience, they even accommodated us when we slept right through our alarm and had to be called 15 minutes AFTER our scheduled tour time!

SANDBOARDING

Like skateboarding?  Snowboarding?  Skiing?  Surfing?  Sledding?  Ever try doing these sports on a sand dune?  Well, if you’d like to, then sandboarding just may be for you!  And there just happens to be an area of the Negev Desert between Be’er Sheva and Mitzpe Ramon where there are soft and sweeping sand dunes that are just perfect for this sort of thing.

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Negev Desert Sandboarding (Photo Credit: www.drorbamidbar.co.il)

Sandboarding outings can be arranged through Tourist Israel and can be tailored to suit all ages from 2 and up.

HOT AIR BALLOON RIDES

Only a 30-minute drive north along Route 40, in Sde Boker, “Over Israel” offers spectacular sunrise hot air balloon rides over the vibrant, glowing desert landscape between Sde Boker and Mahktesh Ramon.

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Negev Desert Adventure Activities – Hot Air Balloon (Photo Credit: Pinterest.com)

STARGAZING IN THE DESERT

Although it may not fit one’s customary idea of “adventure”, stargazing in the Negev Desert can be every bit the adventure and provide a unique kind of rush.  Let “The Starman”, Ira Machefsky, at Astronomy Israel be your guide.  He’ll lead you from the Beresheet Hotel out to one of darkest areas surrounding the Ramon Crater to take in the starry nighttime sky.  While Ira’s jokes can be a bit cheesy, he is nonetheless very charming and extremely knowledgeable, and he gives his guests a real treat every time.  When we went, Ira not only amazed us and educated us by turning the sky overhead into his own personal planetarium (using laser pointers etc…), but he also enabled us to view Saturn’s rings through one of his high-powered telescopes.  Quite a treat and worth the price of admission!  And… he takes musical requests!  So if Davie Bowie’s Starman (or any other track) is what you crave, Ira will be happy to oblige.

RamonCraterAdventure1 Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities Ramon Crater and Negev Desert Adventure Activities diy-israel  travel rappelling Ramon Crater Negev jeep Israel hot air balloons adventure activities
Stargazing in the Negev Desert (Photo Credit: Giulia Cimarosti and Travelreportage.com)

NOTE: The best time to stargaze is summer, especially late August.

Hope you enjoyed reading this article about the many and varied Negev Desert adventure activities available in and around the Ramon Crater.  Stay tuned for more in our series of articles, “DIY Israel: Drive It Yourself”.  In the meantime, you can read our earlier articles in this series here.

-Wanna read more about exploring the Negev? Click here.

-Planning your next trip to Israel?  Click here to find out what you should know before you go.

-Looking for even MORE adventure?  Check out our series, “Iceland: Land of Fire and Ice!

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Enchanting Thailand in Photos

Enchanting Thailand

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Thailand has so much to offer travelers! From it’s bustling capital to it’s temples, ruins and beaches. From it’s warm and friendly people to it’s world renowned cuisine. Thailand is both a cultural feast and a treat for the senses!

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Bangkok

Delightfully chaotic Bangkok is Thailand’s vibrant capital city and home to over 8 million people.  Adorned equally by imposing skyscrapers and impressive shrines, always-busy Bangkok is divided by the Chao Phraya River, whose name means “River of Kings”. The Chao Phraya feeds a network of canals on both sides of the city where colorful floating markets come to life and boats are a common means of getting around.  Because of this, Bangkok is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the East”.

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Bangkok – “Venice of the East”
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Royal Grand Palace in Bangkok

Throughout Thailand you can find an impressive display of unique architecture characterized by spires, sloping gable roofs and ornaments, but the Royal Palace in Bangkok might just be the most impressive of them all with its series intricate and ornate design.

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Royal Grand Palace in Bangkok
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Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, part of the Royal Grand Palace complex in Bangkok

Also found inside the Royal Grand Palace complex is temple Wat Pho, and within it it’s famous Reclining Buddha.  Covered in gold leaf, this statue measures 15 meters high and 46 meters long and is one of the largest Buddha statues in all of Thailand.

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Demon Yaksha Statue at the Royal Grand Palace complex in Bangkok

Pictured here is a giant Yaksha or temple guardian, keeping watch outside Wat Phra Kaeo, royal chapel within the Royal Grand Palace complex. Yaksha are mythological beings generally thought to be benevolent spirits and protectors of the Earth, and of treasures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Ruins of Ayutthaya

Just a short day trip north from Bangkok is Ayutthaya. Founded in 1350, it was the second capital city of Siam after Sukhothai and it was once a major destination for international merchants. However, the glimmering city was burnt almost completely to the ground in 1767 when the Burmese invaded. Today, Autthaya is an archaeological ruin and an impressive hybrid of Siamese, Khmer, and Sri Lankan architecture.

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Ayutthaya
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Ayutthaya
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“Tree Buddha” – Ayutthaya
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Ayutthaya
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Ayutthaya
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Bang Pa In Summer Palace

En route to Ayutthaya and definitely worth a visit is the Bang Pa In Summer palace. Located further north along the Chao Phraya River it was originally constructed in 1632 and previously used by Thai Kings. It later fell into disrepair but was restored in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It is largely a tourist attraction today with buildings that were mostly erected in the late 19th century.

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Part of the Bang Pa In Summer Palace complex
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Part of the Bang Pa In Summer Palace complex

Often, first-time travelers to Thailand like to couple visiting one of the big cities (like Bangkok or Chiang Mai) with visiting one of the countries world-famous beach resort areas. And among the most beautiful of these areas is Phuket (other well-known beach resort areas in Thailand include Krabi, Koh Samui, and Pattaya). Phuket is an island sitting in the gorgeous Andaman sea, just to the west of the Thai mainland. Following the devastating tsunami of 2004 it has been rebuilt and is just as beautiful as ever!

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Phuket
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Phuket Sunset
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Phuket Sunset
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Pavilions Resort – Phuket
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360 Rooftop Lounge – Pavilions Resort Phuket
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View from Ba’an Rim Pa Restaurant – Phuket

From Phuket, one can take a day trip through the breathtaking Andaman Sea via speedboat. These tours provide an amazing opportunity to snorkel with tropical fish in sparkling, turquoise waters.

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Snorkeling in the Andaman Sea

You’ll be surrounded by awe-inspiring, green-covered cliffs and monoliths that just seem to jut out of the sea from nowhere.

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Andaman Sea

Jump into a traditional long-tail boat to get a close-up view of sea caves or, if you dare, even swim or kayak inside of them!

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Andaman Sea

Eventually, most speedboat tours from Phuket end up in the Phi Phi Islands at Maya Bay. Stunning in it’s own right, Maya Bay at Koh Phi Phi Don was made even more famous by the movie “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and as soon as you visit, you’ll easily see why the movie’s producers chose this place to epitomize paradise. It’s that and more!

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Maya Bay – Koh Phi Phi Don

We hope you’ve enjoyed your tour of Enchanting Thailand in Photos!

All of the photos shown here are original photos taken by Destination Dan.

To tour more incredible places in photos, click here.  And remember to keep checking back at Destination Dan for more incredible travel tips and reviews regarding all the best destinations, resorts, restaurants and tours worldwide!

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The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland!

IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Jutting into the Atlantic from Iceland’s west coast, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula has often been referred to as “Iceland in a Nutshell” or “Mini Iceland”.  And with good reason.  Just about everything Iceland’s magical landscape has to offer can be found somewhere in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, whether it be volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, gorges, lava fields, tantalizing rock formations or stacks of basalt columns.  The Snaefellsnes Peninsula has all of these and that’s just part of what makes it the ultimate west coast road trip.  Heck, if you visit in summer and take advantage of the nearly endless daylight, you could even turn it into the ultimate west coast DAY trip!

Yet another reason to drive up Iceland’s West Coast and visit the Snaefellsness Peninsula in Summer is to take advantage of the puffin sightseeing boats that LakiTours runs from Grundarfjordur.  These only run from June through August.  But fear not… if you visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Winter, they run amazing whale watching tours from there instead!  And at any time of year, be sure to stop at Hraunfosser and Barnafoss waterfalls on your way up to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.  We also highly recommend stopping for the “Into the Glacier” experience under Langjokull Glacier as well.

IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
Iceland – Hraunfosser Waterfall
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
Iceland – Barnafoss Waterfall
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
Into the Glacier Experience – Langjokull Glacier

We’ll have much more on Hraunfosser, Barnafoss, and the “Into the Glacier” experience in an upcoming post.  But for now, onward to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula!

GERDUBERG BASALT COLUMNS

IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Driving up Iceland’s West Coast on Route 1 from Reykjavik you’ll come to the town of Borgarnes.  From there, drive Route 54 west for about 30 minutes and you’ll see a turnoff on the right side (just after Route 55 but before Route 567) for Gerduberg.  Here you can park and hike up to massive basalt stacks, reminiscent of the same type of columns found at Reynisfjara Beach, Svartifoss, and in the architecture of the famous Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik.  There is also a path there leading to the top of these stacks.

RAUDFELSGJA GORGE

IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Continuing down Route 54 West for 40 minutes, you’ll come to a left-hand turn off for Route 574/Utnesvegur.  Follow 574 for about 5 miles more and you’ll see the stunning Raudfelsgja Gorge (pictured above) out your right side.  Park and take the walking path up to the giant crack in the rock.  But wait, there’s more!  Traverse the “secret path” inside the fissure!  The gorge extends inside the Rauðfeldsgjá fissure for awhile and continually narrows as you approach the mouth of the canyon stream inside (the same stream which over time actually carved the canyon).  As you walk and climb, the canyon walls are covered with vibrant green moss and the imposing walls looming on either side lend a sense of Iceland’s majesty and mystique (click here to see truly breathtaking and up-close aerial/video footage by Edgar Granados of Iceland’s majesty and mystique).  The approximately 30-minute hike from the road to Raudfeldsgja is well worth it to experience something other-worldly that people usually only see in sci-fi flicks.

IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

NOTE: The first section of the canyon path is easy.  However, the further into the canyon you venture, the more physical fitness and balance is required.  At times, you’ll be required to step from rock to rock while leaning on the cliff walls, so waterproof boots are a good idea!

ARNARSTAPI

IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Next up, just 2 miles further down Route 574 beyond the gorge, is the picturesque fishing village of Arnarstapi.  From here, you can see Mt. Stapafell, a volcanic mountain on the south side of Snaefellsjokull Glacier.  Snaefellsjokull itself is a 700,000-year-old glacier-capped Stratovolcano that is located near the western end of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and visible from nearly anywhere on the peninsula, and sometimes even from Reykjavik.

Arnarstapi itself is home to some extremely impressive sea stacks, rock formations and arches by the water, such as the Gatklettur Arch.

IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
Gatklettur Arch – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

As you approach Arnarstapi, turn left off 574 onto Arnarstapavegur.  Drive to the end, park and look for the head of the spectacular cliff-top hiking path through a lava field that leads all the way from Arnarstapi to Hellnar.  Take care as you walk along the water and enjoy the views.  The route (which is not particularly well-marked) takes about an hour each way and worth the trek.

IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Incidentally, Arnarstapi is also a charming place to grab a seaside meal.

LONDRANGAR

When leaving Arnarstapi, drive back up Arnarstapavegur and make a left turn back onto Route 574/Utnesvegur.  About 10 minutes up the road there’s a car park on the left side for the Londrangar cliffs/pillars and a dirt path leads you out to some more truly science fiction-like rock formations.  Careful to approach the cliffs slowly!

IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip – Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

MT. KIRKJUFELL

Last, but definitely not least, is Mt. Kirkjufell.  If you’ve seen advertisements for Iceland tourism in the past few years, then you’ve almost certainly come across photos of the iconic Mt. Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss waterfalls (which were also featured in Season 7, Episode 6 of Game of Thrones).

IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
Mt. Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss (Photo Credit: Flickr.com)

Bearing some resemblance to Switzerland’s Matterhorn, Mt. Kirkjufell is a 463m high symmetric, free-standing mountain whose name means “Church Mountain”.  And it is the most photographed mountain in Iceland.  From Londrangar it is reachable simply by continuing further along Route 574/Utnesvegur in the same direction, through scenic Snaefellsjokull National Park.  Wind all around the western tip of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and back eastwards until you come to the town of Grundarfjordur (from which town you can also board LakiTours‘ puffin and whale-watching boats).

There is a car park from which the mountain and the waterfalls are both visible an d a trail that leads you around the bottom of the mountain.  You can hike up the mountain as well, but it’s best to to do this only with a trained guide.  Kirkjufell also makes a great setting from which to view the Northern Lights!

IMG_8503 The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! The Ultimate West Coast Road Trip - Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  ultimate west coast road trip travel Snaefellsnes Peninsula mini Iceland Kirkjufell Iceland Arnarstapi
Mt. Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss (Photo Credit: Huffingtonpost.com)

All of these amazing sights are why Iceland’s Snaefellsnes Peninsula is the Ultimate West Coast Road Trip.

For 9 reasons why you should visit Iceland this Winter, click here now!

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9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter… THIS Winter!

IMG_8514 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  winter travel reasons northern lights less crowded Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers cheaper
Iceland – Hraunfosser Waterfall

Nicknamed “The Land of Fire and Ice”, Iceland is a truly stunning place at anytime of year (click here to watch some really unbelievable aerial footage of Iceland by Edgar Granados).  It’s lush, yet lunar-like landscape is dotted with some of Europe’s most spectacular volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers and geysers.  Typically, summer is peak season for tourism in Iceland, and with good reason.  Yet some of the very best Iceland has to offer can only be experienced in Winter.  So without further ado… Here are 9 reasons to visit Iceland in Winter… THIS Winter!

1. THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

Due to it’s location close to the Arctic Circle, Iceland is one of the world’s best destinations to view the Aurora Borealis (a/k/a The Northern Lights), and perhaps even the most accessible.  That’s because – in addition to everything there is to see and do in Iceland – many times the Northern Lights can even be viewed from the capital city of Reykjavik itself!

IMG_8514 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  winter travel reasons northern lights less crowded Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers cheaper
Northern Lights Over Reykjavik

The bright dancing lights of the Aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere.  They create a glow and a scene like no other, and if viewing them isn’t already on your bucket list, well then… it should be!  But you won’t find the Northern Lights overhead during summer (when Iceland experiences Midnight Sun).  Nope!  Because this spectacular phenomenon can only be seen in the night sky between September and early April.

Of course, being able to view the Aurora during even these months is never guaranteed.  High latitude and high solar activity aren’t preconditions to observing the Northern Lights, but they do help.  It’s also best to head to where skies are cold, clear and dark.  The Lights often shine at low-level frequencies and that’s why – even though the Aurora can often be seen from Reykjavik itself – it pays to get away from the lights of the capital and head somewhere even darker for optimal viewing.  And there is no shortage of companies based out of Reykjavik that will help you do exactly that with their Northern Lights Viewing Tours.  There are a multitude of group bus tours offered.  There are even online resources which will help guide you and your rental car in the right direction for prime viewing.  However, our recommendation would be to splurge on one of several available guided Northern Lights Superjeep Tours, with Extreme Island and Superjeep.is leading the way.

For the uninitiated, the “Superjeep” is a uniquely Icelandic adventure vehicle and it just might be about the most fun you’ll ever have.  First imagine a regular jeep.  Now attach enormous monster-truck wheels to it and you’ve suddenly got a durable, versatile off-road vehicle capable of plowing through rivers and storming up and down steep, rocky, volcanic terrain.  Head out in a small or private group in one of these babies and prepare yourself for a night you’ll never forget!

One major advantage of riding around in a Superjeep to find the Northern Lights is that even if you DON’T find them, you’ll still experience something memorable.  Imagine zooming around in the dark.  Off-road.  Wildly traversing surfaces that resemble the moon while your talented driver pumps in tunes the likes of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir.  Adventure indeed!  And did you know…?  That almost all Superjeep companies in Iceland will offer you a chance to come back for free another night in the event the Lights don’t shine for you the first time around?

Many top hotels in Iceland also lend themselves to peak viewing conditions…

For instance, Hotel Glymur – located in Hvalfjordur (“the whale fjord”), not too far to the north of Reykjavik – not only offers a Northern Lights Special booking rate, but also features several spacious and specially designed themed villas.  All have outdoor decks and hot tubs from which you can sit in warmth, comfort, and privacy while viewing the dark, starry night skies above.  

Hotel Ranga – which has hosted numerous celebrities – is another top hotel in Iceland which actually allows it’s guests the option of receiving “Northern Lights wake-up calls” when the Aurora presents itself.

IMG_8514 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  winter travel reasons northern lights less crowded Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers cheaper
Hotel Ranga Northern Lights (Photo Credit: Hotel Ranga)
IMG_8514 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  winter travel reasons northern lights less crowded Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers cheaper
Hotel Ranga Northern Lights (Photo Credit: Hotel Ranga)

As recently shown on The Real Housewives of Orange County (if you’re into that sort of thing), Hotel Ranga features several enormous and luxurious continent-themes suites.

IMG_8514 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  winter travel reasons northern lights less crowded Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers cheaper
Hotel Ranga Antarctica Suite (Photo Credit: Hotel Ranga)

Of course, if you’re not made of money, the hotel also offers many other standard and deluxe rooms that are more affordable.  Even for non-guests traveling through South Iceland, Hotel Ranga is great place to stop in and visit for an elegant dinner or quick game of billiards in picturesque surroundings.

IMG_8514 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  winter travel reasons northern lights less crowded Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers cheaper
Hotel Ranga

2. ICE CAVES, GLACIER WALKS AND BLUE ICE

IMG_8514 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  winter travel reasons northern lights less crowded Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers cheaper
Iceland Ice Cave (Photo Credit: auroraiceland.com)

Iceland is home to some of the most impressive caves in the world, some of which were even carved by volcanic lava flows.  But the most spectacular ones of all are made of ice!  Also known as glacier caves or crystal caves, these mesmerizing ice caves evolve naturally when water that melts in the summer carves long tunnels and caves beneath the thick sheets of ice that make up the glacier.  Given that they are naturally-derived caves that thaw and break down each summer, these dazzling spectacles are always changing and forming.

IMG_8514 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  winter travel reasons northern lights less crowded Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers cheaper
Iceland – Ice Cave (photo credit: Extreme Iceland)

The ice in a glacier is much thicker and denser than regular ice.  And because the ice is so thick, dense and old it absorbs all colors of the spectrum except for blue, and so this is the color we see and this what gives many crystal caves their electric blue color.  The deeper the light gets to travel into clear ice, the bluer it becomes.

IMG_8514 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! 9 Reasons to Visit Iceland in Winter... THIS Winter! iceland-land-of-fire-and-ice  winter travel reasons northern lights less crowded Iceland ice caves hot springs glaciers cheaper
Iceland – Ice Cave (photo credit: Extreme Iceland)

However, the same melting that helps create such dizzying displays of blue also makes it dangerous to venture too deep into the caves during the summer, and also limits the extent to which one can safely hike among the glaciers in summer.  For this reason, ice cave season in Iceland tends to run only from November through March.

NOTE: When touring the ice caves or participating in a glacier walk, always, always, always go with a guide!

It is also said that even among the icebergs that float along the surface in Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, their blue color pops the most during overcast, winter days when the sun is low in the sky.  All of which makes winter the perfect time to experience the ice in Iceland!

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Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

NOTE: There is one ice cave which remains open year round known as the “Into the Glacier” experience in which you can actually descend and hike deep under the Langjokull Glacier ice cap and it is most certainly worth a visit.  However, all of the ice caves and tunnels that are part of the “Into the Glacier” experience are man-made and not quite as enthralling as the naturally-occurring ones found elsewhere in Iceland during Winter

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Into the Glacier Experience – Langjokull Glacier

3. PICTURE-PERFECT LIGHT FOR PHOTOS

During the Winter months, Iceland rapidly descends into darkness due to it’s northerly location.  During October alone, the number of hours of daylight in Iceland quickly decreases from 11 to 8, with that number decreases to barely more than 4 hours by the time the Winter Solstice rolls around on December 21st.  However, Iceland emerges from this darkness just as quickly.  And what may sound dreary actually fills the skies during the Winter months with a brilliant, warm glow that lends itself perfectly to photography.  Many in the photography world will tell you that light for taking pictures is always best at sunrise and sunset.  Well, during the winter months, Iceland is lucky to see the sun ascend – even at solar noon – to more than 10 to 20 degrees above the horizon, which means it looks like dawn and dusk throughout the day.  The Winter months can also be a great time to snap pictures of frozen waterfalls!  Take a look at these photos we captured in Iceland during Winter:

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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography
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Iceland – Winter Photography

4. THE NIGHTLIFE

When the temperature and the sun go down, the nightlife heats up.  And more hours of darkness mean more of Reykjavik’s world famous nightlife.  Vibrant Reykjavik is not only the world’s northern-most capital city and the most populous city in Iceland, it is also home to some of the world’s wildest and most impressive nightlife.  For a city of under 200,000 people in a country with barely more than 300,000 people you’d be surprised at the way this very attractive population knows how to have fun.  Reykjavik is home to the world-famous Iceland Airwaves music festival in Fall and the party continues all year long.  Weekends are especially nuts with epic pub crawls and an ethereal techno-rock fusion that just kicks ass… especially upon returning from a Northern Lights Superjeep tour earlier in the evening.  So grab a pint of Viking Classic and come check it out!

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Reykjavik Nightlife – Gus Gus
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Reykjavik Nightlife – Gus Gus
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Reykjavik Nightlife – Gus Gus 

5. IT’S NOT AS COLD AS YOU THINK

There’s a saying in Iceland: “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.”  In fact, it’s possible to feel like you’ve experienced all 4 seasons in the same hour and the winds can go from whipping to calm just like that.  But it’s probably a whole lot warmer than you’d imagine.  As you may have also heard, Greenland is full of ice and Iceland is actually full of lush greenery.  The Vikings deliberately named it Iceland to deter invaders.

Not that Iceland doesn’t have it’s share of ice.  It certainly does, what with several large glaciers and snow-capped volcanoes.  But it’s certainly possible to visit in November and find much of the country still untouched by snow.  Iceland is also warmed by constant geothermal activity, which even has the effect of keeping Iceland’s biggest highway (Route 1 – “The Ring Road”) warm from underneath and easy to clear of snow.  All you need to get around easily are just some regular snow tires.

Warm ocean currents also keep Iceland relatively warm for it’s latitude.  It may surprise you to know that despite being just as far north as Alaska and Siberia, Iceland’s average high temperature in December is 39F, with an average low of 28F, which puts it pretty much on par with New York City.

6. AN EXTRA-GREAT TIME TO SOAK OUTSIDE

Being a volcanic island certainly has it’s advantages.  There are some roughly 800 geothermal hot springs hidden around the country, including the world-famous Blue Lagoon (which happens to be extremely close to Iceland’s Keflevik International Airport) and Reykjadalur (a/k/a “Steam Valley”), which itself is only a 30 minute drive from Reykjavik.  These naturally-occurring “hot pots” afford visitors a swim in 98F-102F water all year-round, right in the middle of mother nature.  But all of them take on an a special other-worldly air of mysticism in the Winter.  Taking an outdoor dip in relaxing warm warm water when the air is cold is a novelty and one that’s easy to find in Iceland.  And while going for a swim in pools made by Earth is awesome at anytime, it takes on a whole other quality in the Winter when the hot water hits the cold air and creates a thick steam that shrouds your view and adds to the enchantment.

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Blue Lagoon in Winter (Photo Credit: Extreme Iceland)
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Reykjalagur (Photo Credit: YouTube)

Soaking in geothermal pools is a big part of true Icelandic culture and therefore, if you really want to mingle with the locals in Reykjavik you should visit one of many public pools facilities.  Doesn’t sound enticing?  Think again.  Public pools in Iceland are not what you may be accustomed to.  Usually, they are very affordable yet rather elaborate complexes with water slides, multiple geothermal pools and hot pots, saunas and steam rooms.  And they provide an excellent opportunity to relax at the end of a long day of touring Iceland’s stunning scenery.

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Laugardalslaug (Photo Credit: IcelandReview.com)

7. CHEAPER PRICES

Any way you slice it, Iceland tends to be a relatively expensive travel destination these days (although it doesn’t have to be – stay tuned to Destination Dan for future posts about how to maximize your Icelandic experience on a budget).  The Icelandic Krona has been doing much better the past 2 years versus the U.S. Dollar as well as the Euro and that has made for steeper prices.  However, there IS a significant discount to traveling to Iceland in the Winter months.  Airfare, hotels, and tours can all be had for cheap-ER prices.  E.g., during the Summer months round-trip airfare between JFK and Iceland is a bargain at $700 per person.  Yet, Icelandair will periodically run sales with that same flight during Winter for as low as $249.  Currently it is selling for a little north of $400 per person, but even that is a significant savings over Summer flights to Iceland.

8. NATIONAL PARKS AND TOURIST ATTRACTIONS ARE ALL LESS CROWDED

Once again, summer is peak tourist season in Iceland for good reason.  People tend to have more time to travel in the summer, temperatures are higher (since merely the word “Iceland” can scare off some visitors at other times of year), and there are more hours of daylight with which to see the country.  However, with peak season also comes crowds.  And Iceland’s national parks and tourist attractions are starting to see almost a little too much traffic in summer.  Winter travelers can avoid this and feel like they have the whole country to themselves (despite the fact that more and more tourists are beginning to flock to Iceland in Winter).

9. THE CHANCE TO SEE AN ONGOING ERUPTION

OK, so I’ll admit, this one involves a little bit of speculation, but word among the scientific community is that Iceland’s largest volcanic system, Bardarbunga, which last erupted slowly for 6 months from August 2014 until February 2015, is reloading its magma chamber and may be getting ready to clear its throat again very soon!  And if it does you don’t want to miss your chance to see what very view people get to see in their lifetimes… an active, glowing eruption.

Early on in the days of the last Bardarbunga eruption, many of Iceland’s tour companies offered a safe opportunity for tourists to travel close to or take sightseeing flights close to the eruption and I have no doubt the same would be true this time as well as long as it is safe for such tours to be run.  So don’t miss it!

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2014-2015 Bardarbunga Volcanic Eruption

Click here to learn more about the ultimate west coast road trip in Iceland!

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Beresheet – Negev Desert Oasis & Private Pool Luxury Resort

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Beresheet – Negev Desert Oasis & Private Pool Luxury Resort

Whether you’re searching for the ideal honeymoon destination or planning your next spectacular Israel family getaway, Isrotel’s Beresheet Hotel (https://www.isrotel.com/beresheet) is the perfect Negev Desert oasis and private pool luxury resort.  And it just might be the most gorgeous resort in Israel altogether.

Just a short 20 minute drive further southward along Route 40 from the Upper Entrance to Ein Avdat National Park (for more on Ein Avdat National Park, click here: http://www.destinationdan.com/exploring-negev-route-40/), you’ll come to the amazing Ramon Crater, and perched atop the rim of the crater is Beresheet Hotel.

The lobby is gorgeous, and from it you can gaze through the windows at the main resort pool, the crater and nature’s finest handy work.

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Beresheet – View from lobby of main resort pool and the amazing Ramon Crater

The resort is a great base for any romantic couples retreat.  But it somehow caters just as well to families looking for an adventure, all while somehow successfully maintaining an air of privacy, serenity and seclusion for those who would rather not be disturbed.

An adventure was exactly what my 13 year-old son and I had in mind.  In celebration of his Bar-Mitzvah I wanted to give him an experience he’d never forget using Beresheet and the amazing Ramon Crater as our launching point.  After all, he’d never stayed anywhere before where he had his very own infinity edge private pool.

Infinity edge private pool indeed!  Upon checking in, we were immediately whisked away via golf cart to our own “Ovdat with pool” and our luggage was there to meet us when we arrived at our room.  Our accommodations were awesome.  We overlooked the main resort tower and had a set up which included a patio, 2 lounge chairs and a 12m x 12m sparkling, gorgeous pool.  Not the size of a backyard or villa pool, but certainly much larger than a plunge pool.  And it was perfect!  Perfect for jumping in and cooling down when the desert begins to heat up!  NOTE: Larger-sized pools and rooms and even greater privacy exist in proportion to cost.

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Ramon Crater Beresheet Hotel Private Pool

 

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Ramon Crater Beresheet Hotel Private Pool

 

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Ramon Crater Beresheet Hotel Private Patio

 

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Beresheet Hotel – View from room

 

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Beresheet Hotel – View From Room

After spending some time happily relaxing in the pool, we changed and summoned the golf cart once again to bring us to dinner in the main building at “Rosemary”, the resort’s fine dining kosher meat establishment.

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Beresheet – Rosemary Restaurant

While the fixed price per person was on the steep side, we thought it was well worth it.  Just the atmosphere of the restaurant was impressive from the moment we walked in and we were escorted to a table situated on an outside patio area that afforded us stunning views of the sunset as it was beautifully splashed all over the walls of the crater.

In the center of the restaurant was an extensive buffet with just a dizzying array of appetizers, soups, salads, and smoked meats, all just insanely delicious, and all to be paired with your choice of one of several savory entrees.  My son and I both opted for a delicious steak dish that included some kind of otherworldly sauce, shallots and veggies, alongside of a baked potato in which the chef stuffed a poached egg.  Extravagant doesn’t even begin to describe it.  Oh and if you were wondering about dessert… yeah, they got that covered:

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Beresheet – Rosemary Restaurant

Just stay realistic and don’t expect to lose any weight while you’re there!

Off the lobby area there’s another charming restaurant with cheaper kosher dairy eats that are no less delicious.  The unnamed restaurant has a terrific vibe, sporting an amazing outside porch with panoramic views during the day and soft, relaxing live music in the evening.

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Beresheet – Kosher Dairy Restaurant

 

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Beresheet – Kosher Dairy Restaurant

Wandering throughout the resort’s walkways and common areas, you’re likely to encounter the occasional ibex.

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Beresheet Hotel – Walkways/Common Areas

 

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Beresheet Hotel – Walkways/Common Areas

 

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Beresheet Hotel – Walkways/Common Areas

 

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Negev Ibex

These gentle creatures are harmless and beautiful and they just might even visit your private pool to say hello.  But don’t feel that you have to splurge on private pool accommodations to enjoy this resort!

In addition to private pools, Beresheet also offers a large sun deck area right along the edge of the Ramon Crater.  Complete with its own infinity-edge pool, this outdoor area also provides loungers, relaxation beds and rafts on which to lay out and float while you enjoy the sun and panoramic views over the cliff walls below.

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Beresheet – Main Resort Pool and Views

 

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Beresheet – Main Resort Pool and Views

 

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Beresheet – Main Resort Pool and Views

The outdoor pool area has it’s own hot tub area, as does a separate large indoor pool area… perfect for when the sun gets TOO hot or in months where the desert gets too cold (yes, there are times, especially at night, when the Negev really does get cold!).  The indoor pool area even has an indoor/outdoor exit which allows you to start bathing in the shade and swim outdoors when you feel like it.

All-in-all there just isn’t any part of Beresheet that isn’t polished or any part of it that you should miss.  Thought and care has gone into every aspect of this extremely well-manicured hotel.  And all in a very unique location… the amazing Ramon Crater.  That’s what makes this place a true Negev Desert oasis and perhaps the finest private pool luxury resort in all of Israel!

I truly hope you enjoyed this article.  If you haven’t already, please click on our other related “DIY Israel: Drive It Yourself!” posts below.  Stay tuned for our next article all about the myriad of adventure activities you can find in and around the amazing Ramon Crater, some literally mere steps outside the door of your room at the Beresheet Hotel.

Destination Dan

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Iceland’s Majesty and Mystique

Among the world’s truly spectacular countries, Iceland’s majesty and mystique is on display in this amazing drone footage by Edgar Granados.  The Land of Fire and Ice has never looked so good.  From volcanoes to glaciers, waterfalls to hot springs, ice caves and northern lights – Iceland has it all!  Enjoy and… DON’T FORGET TO SUBSCRIBE!

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Exploring The Negev

IMG_2077 Exploring The Negev Exploring The Negev diy-israel

Think there’s nothing worth seeing in between Tel Aviv and Eilat?  You’d be sorely mistaken and miss a whole lot!  For starters… only some of the most spectacular and colorful landscapes Israel has to offer!  So come with Destination Dan as we head down Route 40 and go exploring the Negev!

Although we were a party of 6 on our recent trip to Israel, my son and I actually flew out on El Al 48 hours ahead of the rest of our family to have a memorable father-son adventure in the desert… and it might just have been the best part of our whole trip!

Upon touch down at Ben Gurion Airport, we went through immigration (surprisingly quickly), grabbed our bags, picked up our rental car and hit the open road out onto Route 1 heading southeast (cue the Steppenwolf, “Get your motor runnin’…”).  We continued along Route 1 until the Sheman Interchange where we joined up with Route 6/Yitzhak Rabin Highway going south (Note: this is a toll road).  Finally, we joined up with Route 40 and kept on trekkin’ southwards… all the way to the Ramon Crater and the absolute desert jewel that is perched atop it… the Beresheet Hotel.  We’ll have much, much more to say on both the Ramon Crater and the Beresheet Hotel in an upcoming blog post!

If you drove straight from Ben Gurion airport to the Beresheet Hotel/Ramon Crater this would take you somewhere around 2+ hours.  But then you’d be missing out on all the incredible things to see!

BE’ER SHEVA

Soon after merging onto Route 40, the first city you come upon is Be’er Sheva.  But despite the increasingly desert landscape out your driver’s side window, this isn’t just some small desert enclave.  It’s a growing city (the 6th largest in Israel) of nearly 200,000 people and it is rightfully thought of as the “Capital of the Negev” and a gateway to the rest of the region.

DESTINATION DAN’S TIP: Be’er Sheva is a great place to stop and break up the trip as you journey further into the Negev.

Be’er Sheva is known in part for its biblical significance – in ancient times it marked the southern-most point of the kingdom of Israel.  The Old City is also home to Abraham’s well (referenced in the bible) and it is believed that Abraham and Isaac spent time dwelling there.  The Bedouin Market is another worthwhile attraction.  However, if you have older kids then you can’t miss the Israeli Air Force Museum.  Home to over 150 different aircraft that you can get up close and personal with, the museum is located at the Hatzerim Air Force Base and has on display everything from WWII-era Spitfires to planes that are still in modern use such as F-15s.  There’s a section of the outdoor lot that exhibits the aircraft that took part in historical operations and missions and another that exhibits captured aircraft from neighboring countries such as Egypt and Syria.

SDE BOKER/MIDRESHET BEN GURION

The next attraction on our list might sound surprising at first, but it’s an absolutely CAN’T MISS attraction and we’ll explain why.  It’s the grave site of David Ben Gurion, a primary founder of the State of Israel and the first Prime Minister of Israel.

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Exploring the Negev
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Exploring the Negev
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Exploring the Negev

For those who don’t know, here’s a little history lesson from Destination Dan…

David Ben Gurion – in addition to being a stocky guy with a whacky hairdo and a resemblance to Albert Einstein – was a huge advocate during his lifetime of the Jews in Israel settling outside the most populated coastal areas of Israel near Tel Aviv.  In particular, he encouraged Israelis to make the Negev Desert “bloom” and he saw great promise for this region.  And so it was in the middle of the Negev Desert, near the kibbutz town of Sde Boker he helped found, that David Ben Gurion was laid to rest alongside of his wife Paula.  And, oh my! The beautiful view he chose for himself!

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Exploring the Negev
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Exploring the Negev
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Exploring the Negev

 

To get there, head east off Route 40 just to the south of Sde Boker.  There will be signs on Route 40 and thereafter directing you to “Midreshet Ben Gurion” and a parking area from which there’s a short hike of 5 minutes or less to the grave site.  Immediately after you park you’ll be struck by the awe-inspiring beauty of the Nahal Zin valley, which can be seen not only from the grave site but from the parking area itself.  Equally charming is the route you walk to the grave site as it is home to many beautiful, prancing ibax, some with large spiral horns.

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Beresheet – Ibax
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Exploring the Negev
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Exploring the Negev
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Negev Ibex

 

Upon reaching the grave site, pay your respects to Mr. and Mrs. Ben Gurion, to whom Israelis owe a great debt of gratitude (it is customary to place a rock upon each grave).  But also take in and take photos of the completely stunning panoramic views of the adjacent Nahal Zin Valley.

DESTINATION DAN’S TIP: The best time to go is at dusk, when the light and the shadows combine to paint the desert a vivid array of colors!

EIN AVDAT NATIONAL PARK AND CANYON

Another site not to be missed along Route 40 is Ein Avdat National Park and Canyon.

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NOTE: Don’t confuse Ein Avdat National Park with simply Avdat National Park.  Incidentally, Avdat National Park is also worth a visit.  It is located even further south along Route 40, just about 20km north of the Ramon Crater and it is home to some striking Nabatean hill-top ruins.  But for now we’ll focus our attention exclusively on Ein Avdat National Park, which is even more amazing.

The Canyon at Ein Avdat National Park has two separate entrances – the Lower Waterfall Entrance and the Upper Entrance  – and we at Destination Dan definitely recommend that you go to both!

DESTINATION DAN’S TIP: Combo admission is available for both entrances.

The Lower Waterfall Entrance can be reached from the parking area for Ben Gurion’s grave site.  Simply follow the signs and drive past the parking area for the grave site onto a winding access road that leads south downhill to the base of a hiking trail into the canyon.  Be alert while driving the access road.  Not only is it serpentine but in many spots the road is only wide enough to fit a single car, yet there is traffic in both directions.  The short, 5-minute drive is itself extremely scenic and it is worth stopping at the lookout area off the left side of the road on the way down just to take even more pictures of the valley below.

Once you are at the car for the Lower Waterfall Entrance, there is a wonderful scenic hike you can take through the canyon.  Just note that even in summer, you cannot begin this hike after 4pm and the park closes at 5pm.

There is an option to hike all the way through the canyon to the waterfall and reach the Upper Entrance via a series of somewhat steep (but doable) metal hand grasps at the end.  However, it’s very important to note that if you decide to do the entire hike, you cannot turn around at the end and go back the way you came.  You must either have a second car at the Upper Entrance waiting to drive you back.  Or, alternatively, you can hike along Route 40 for at least an hour all the way back to the Lower Entrance, getting there the same way you drove there.

Regardless… don’t feel like you have to do the entire hike!  There’s another option and it’s no less spectacular.  You can simply hike part of the way into the canyon from the Lower Entrance and still turn back shortly after you reach the water, provided you haven’t begun to ascend the cliff walls.  As you can see in our photos, you’ll eventually reach a stone path across the water.  It’s fun to traverse this path and even take photos of the various members of your group standing on it.  But not too far after you reach the other side of it you’ll hit the point of no return.

IMG_2077 Exploring The Negev Exploring The Negev diy-israel
Exploring the Negev
IMG_2077 Exploring The Negev Exploring The Negev diy-israel
Exploring the Negev

 

IMG_2077 Exploring The Negev Exploring The Negev diy-israel

To do the hike in this manner you’ll need somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 minutes each way, depending on your level of fitness.  The hike itself is stunning, as is the canyon with it’s striped walls (somewhat reminiscent of Antelope Canyon in Arizona) revealing a fascinating geological history.  Also don’t be surprised if you spot an ibex or two… or several!

DESTINATION DAN’S TIP: If you go to Ein Avdat National Park in summer, it is best to do the hike either early in the morning or much later in the afternoon (remember, you must begin by 4pm) because it gets HOT, HOT, HOT!  And don’t forget to bring lots of water!

If you decide not to hike all the way through the canyon to the Upper Entrance, the Upper Entrance is also reachable by car.  Once you get back on Route 40 heading south, just go another 2-3 miles.  It’s not too far after Sde Boker and about a mile or so before the Nabatean ruins of Avdat National Park.  There’ll be a sign and a turn-off to the left (east) from the main road and eventually a car park.  A short walk from the car park is a path which leads you to some uneven steps made of stone and these lead down to an observation deck.  From there you can see incredible views of the canyon and the water below.  It looks a little something like this:

IMG_2077 Exploring The Negev Exploring The Negev diy-israel

Snap some beauties with your camera (to see all of Destination Dan’s best Israel photos, click: http://www.destinationdan.com/photos/israel-photos/) and then get back in your car for the last 20 minutes of the journey down Route 40 to the Ramon Crater and the Beresheet Hotel.

NOTE: Route 40 actually continues even further south beyond the Ramon Crater (another hour and 45 minutes) all the way down to the resort town of Eilat.  Eilat is located on the north shore of the Red Sea, sandwiched in between neighboring Egypt and Jordan and it’s an excellent launching point for some rest and relaxation, many aquatic adventures, or even an excursion to Petra, Jordan.   Since I didn’t make it down to Eilat on my most recent trip to Israel, I’ve elected not to discuss it in this particular series of posts.  However, Eilat and the surrounding Timna Valley certainly have much to offer and they deserve their own entry, so we’ll be sure to feature Eilat on here in the not-too-distant future.

Well, that’s it for now.  Hope you enjoyed and DON’T FORGET TO SUBSCRIBE!

Stay tuned to Destination Dan’s upcoming posts… including our guide to the dizzying array of adventure activities available in and around the Ramon Crater, as well as our review of the Beresheet Hotel, which just might be the most gorgeous resort in all of Israel!

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Before You Go

WesternWall1 Before You Go Before You Go diy-israel
The Western Wall

While it’s true that Israeli drivers tend to be well… aggressive, don’t be intimidated!  It’s nothing the average driver can’t handle!  Don’t let it get in your head.  Driving’s driving.  Just stay alert and remain defensive on the road (as you always should) and you’ll have no problems.

Here at Destination Dan, we’ll include all the driving directions you need to drive yourself around Israel with ease.  But if you want to make things even easier for yourself then do yourself a favor and invest in a temporary international travel plan for your smartphone that includes unlimited talk, text and data.  I did, and I was really glad I did.

In case you don’t already know… just because you have an unlimited talk, text and data plan at home does NOT necessarily mean this includes unlimited data use abroad.  In fact, traveling abroad and leaving your cellular data turned on is usually a really good way to rack up a big fat bill with most cellular carriers.  And that’s why you should always make sure to turn off cellular data on your smartphone the moment you get on the plane at home until the moment you hit the tarmac when you return home.

UNLESS… you sign up for an international travel plan that includes unlimited data.

For me, acquiring such a plan was quick and easy.  I have Verizon Wireless.  I simply logged in online and requested to chat with an online representative and requested to be enrolled in their “International Travel Pass”.  Verizon’s International Travel Pass is only $10 per day for each day of use and it includes unlimited international calling and texting to both US numbers as well as numbers within the country where you are traveling.  Most importantly, it also includes unlimited data use while you travel abroad so you can actually leave your data turned on the whole time and use it at will and you’ll never be charged more than $10 per day.  The plan activates the minute you begin calling, texting or using data abroad and notifies you every 24 hours when you are about to begin a new $10 session.  Then, once you are home, it deactivates so than no further sessions can begin, so you’ll only get charged for the days you are traveling and using the plan.

This is an invaluable tool because while it’s prudent to always print out maps and directions to take with you, being able to use unlimited data abroad enables you to just use Google Maps to direct you around the country (just about any country, including Israel) with ease and precision.  Thus your phone becomes your navigator and others in your party can even use your own phone’s mobile hot spot to gain Wi-Fi access and essentially they can enjoy unlimited data as well.  It’s a win-win!

Very likely, other major US cellular carriers offer similar international data plans, but I do recommend Verizon for the best coverage and connection to local international networks.

If your budget is a concern, I’m told another option is to buy a local Israeli SIM card.  You can get about a month of calls and data for only approximately $22 USD, including set-up fees.

Once you’ve got your phone plan in place, the other thing to do is to rent a car.  If you’re just traveling in a small group of 2 or 3 people, you can hit up any of the usual car rental companies you’ve become accustomed to (e.g., Hertz, Avis, Thrifty etc…).  However, if you’re a larger party like we were, you may wish to check out a third-party referral site like Rentalcars.com or GlobalCarHire.com for the best deals.  We went with the latter and got a very competitive rate on an 8-seat passenger van with an automatic transmission which was then provided to us through Thrifty.

IMPORTANT TIP: When deciding on how big a vehicle to rent, do not forget to take luggage into account!  Always get a vehicle that seats more people than the number in your party!  We were a group of 6 people, so we purposefully sought out an 8-seater and this was perfect.  We were able to fold down the larger section of the 3rd row to create more space for luggage and everyone was able to sit comfortably.  We even had a car seat installed in the 2nd row.

The challenge for most American drivers like myself can be finding a vehicle which has both enough space to fit your group and your luggage AND an automatic transmission, as many of us here in the States are used to driving.  It happens that the majority of large minivans and passenger vans in Israel come with a manual transmission.  For this reason, reserve your car rental months in advance!  Especially if you intend to go in the summer or over the holidays as these are times of peak tourism in Israel.  We ended up with a very spacious Kia Carnival (with an automatic transmission) and we loved it!  There was plenty of room for all of us and our luggage and it handled very easily.

The rule in Israel is that you can drive yourself and up to 8 passengers without a commercial driver’s license (NOTE: Even if you do have a commercial driver’s license at home it won’t be valid in Israel).  In most cases only your passport and local driver’s license are needed for the rental – you don’t need an International Driver’s Permit as long as your license is in English or another latin-character language.

Lastly, here’s another tip to remember.  Even once you rent a vehicle to drive in Israel, required insurance can get a bit pricey.  But if you rent your vehicle with MasterCard, they likely will provide you with their own Collision Damage Waiver coverage, which is the most expensive of the required insurance plans.  Call your credit card and make sure to request that they send you an actual letter confirming your CDW coverage through MasterCard for the rental period in question.  Then make sure to present that letter at the counter when you go to pick up your rental car and decline the rental company’s own CDW.  This will save you money!

A FEW DRIVING TIDBITS:

1)   Police in Israel are required to turn on their flashing lights at all times.  So just because you see flashing lights in your rear-view mirror, don’t freak out or assume someone’s coming for you.  Chances are, they aren’t.  🙂  Don’t worry, if you’re speeding and they want you to pull over they’ll let you know it via blow horn.

2)   Don’t assume you can just park your car anywhere.  If there are no markings, then you can park there.  If there are alternating blue and white strips, then you have to pay the meter and obtain a receipt to leave with your car.  If there are stripes of any other color combination, you can’t park there!

3)   Don’t expect Israeli drivers to use their signals.  They don’t.

INTERESTING FACT: When renting a car or driving in Israel, you’ll see a disproportionate number of white-colored vehicles.  The reason for this is that white vehicles reflect more of the sunlight that frequently shines in beautiful Israel.

Hope you enjoyed this post and DON’T FORGET TO SUBSCRIBE!

 

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