Odenza Reviews: Beauty in Your Own Backyard

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Both meditative and mind-blowing, the magnificent national parks of Canada and the United States offer travelers breathtaking views while simultaneously protecting natural heritage for generations to come. From snow-capped mountains and turquoise lakes to lush forests and red rock canyons, there is wonder to be found from sea to shining sea. And, while you might not be able to visit these parks in person now, we encourage you to immerse yourself in these lush locales to inspire your future travels.

Canada

Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, Atlantic Canada’s second largest national park is a starkly beautiful expanse of craggy, mist-shrouded mountains, wind-swept highlands and landlocked fjords on the eastern coast of Newfoundland. From its rocky beaches and lush coastal forests to its barren lands, this geologically fascinating and breathtakingly scenic park is punctuated by the panoramic peak of Gros Morne Mountain and the ancient glacial and geological formations called the Tablelands. Here, you can ascend from flower-filled lowlands high into the alpine tundra in search of caribou, ptarmigan (also known as a snow quail) and snowshoe hare. Paddle past the sheer cliff sides of Western Brook Pond, a waterfall-fed freshwater fjord, and explore coastal pathways and trails leading to beaches hidden among sea stacks – all the while soaking up the colorful traditions of the charming seaside communities that make Newfoundland so unique.

Thousand Islands National Park, Ontario

Sitting on the St. Lawrence River, on the border between Canada and the United States, Thousand Islands National Park is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to Ontario. Its rugged shoreline and islands are dotted with opulent estates, including the famous Boldt Castle. The European style mansion, on Heart Island, is one of the main attractions, but its history is mired in sadness. The castle was the dream of millionaire George C. Boldt, an American hotelier who built this summer home as a display of his love for his wife, Louise. Unfortunately, she passed away suddenly before the castle was completed, and the broken-hearted Mr. Boldt stopped construction and never set foot on the island again. For over 70 years, the structure was vacant, left to mercy of the elements until the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property. Today, visitors who embark on a Thousand Island cruise can visit the castle (a passport is required to disembark on the island) and enjoy the stunning views of the St. Lawrence River. Other islands offer visitors hiking trails, canoe or paddling excursions and overnight accommodations.

Jasper National Park, Alberta

The largest of Canada’s seven Rocky Mountain National Parks, which together comprise a UNESCO World Heritage site, Jasper is an alpine wilderness teeming with wildlife, including bighorn sheep, moose, eagles, elk, wolves, lynx, cougars and grizzly bears. Here, nature is writ large – from massive glaciers and snow-capped peaks to towering waterfalls, deep canyons and pine scented valleys. In summer, you can stroll through meadows carpeted with brilliant swathes of delicate wildflowers, soak in the restorative waters of natural hot springs and paddle across pristine emerald lakes, or camp, hike, bike and even backcountry horseback ride over rugged mountain trails. In winter, there are opportunities for canyon ice walks, cross-country and downhill skiing, pond skating, snowshoeing and wildlife watching.

Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia

Saturated in millennia-old indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth culture and famed for its rugged coastline dotted with enormous beaches and old growth rainforest, Pacific Rim National Park is one of Canada’s most popular National Parks. Stretching south from the whale-watching center of Tofino, the park spans part of Vancouver Island’s wild west coast – famous for its spectacular Pacific storms that draw awed visitors from around the world. Take an easy interpretive stroll along the picturesque Wild Pacific Trail near Ucluelet or a challenging multi-day trek along the legendary West Coast Trail. Learn to cold water surf like the pros. Paddle among the Broken Islands, one of the world’s premier sea kayaking destinations. Whale-watch from shore or on a boat, keeping an eye out for some of the estimated 20,000 grey and Orca whales that transit past here each year. Explore one of the world’s oldest temperate rainforests at Clayoquot Sound. Or kick back and relax while watching a ferocious winter squall pummel the shoreline while you dine in style on classic west coast cuisine.

Kluane National Park, Yukon

Kluane National Park and Reserve is truly an extraordinary destination, set within the traditional territory of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. On top of being home to the largest non-polar icefields in the world, the park is a hiker’s paradise as it comprises 17 of Canada’s tallest mountains – including Mount Logan, the highest peak in the country. Two modern highways allow visitors access to the park, where they can enjoy scenic drives and watch Dall sheep grazing or resting on the mountainsides, black bears roaming in search of food, and herds of mountain goats climbing to the summits. For visitors seeking adventure, the park offers numerous hiking trails from short family friendly paths to multi-day expeditions. Rafting is also available on the Alsek River to see grizzlies, eagles and glaciers. For a behind-the-scenes look at the wildlife, flightseeing tours offer a great opportunity for some unique encounters with nature and spectacular photo ops. A visit to the Thachäl Dhäl Visitor Centre is a must to get historical details of the region and the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.

The United States

The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon encompasses just over one million acres and three distinct forest environments, measuring 277 miles long. From Grand Canyon Village, the drop measures a vertical mile, or approximately 5,000 feet from Rim to River. (No, there is no elevator to the bottom!) The width ranges 10 to 18 feet across. Putting that in practical terms, if you hike the canyon or go down by mule, it takes two days. If you hike from the South to North Rim, the trek is three days one way. For a real adventure, raft through the Canyon; the trip can take up to two weeks. That said, the park offers a variety of sight-seeing opportunities for people of all ages and fitness levels. Scenic rim tours by motor coach are an excellent way to maximize your time and see the key viewpoints.

The North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

For a quieter, less crowded visit, make the 4.5-hour drive to the North Rim. North Rim is open May 15 to October 15 and there is only one lodge in the park, so reserve well in advance. The North Rim offers numerous hiking trails and mule rides from 1 hour long to 2.5 days.

Petrified Forest National Park

The Petrified Forest was designated a national park to preserve and protect multi-colored stones, trees, plant and animal fossils, Native American sites and petroglyphs, and portions of the Painted Desert, along with a section of Historic Route 66. The landscape is diverse in color, wide open and somewhat flat with plateaus spanning miles. Visit the Hoodoos, natural stone towers at Devil’s Playground, or do some geocaching. The National Park Service set up a series of geocaching clues that can be accessed from your own GPS system through the park website. The visitor’s center displays some amazing samples of petrified trees and clearly explains the evolutionary process of fossils – great for the kids if you are traveling as a family.

Arches National Park

Here you will find the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world, with over 2,000 documented arches! A special experience is the park’s night skies program. Here, the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye, except on nights of dense cloud cover. Arches offers visitors the opportunity to view dark skies from dusk till dawn, and there are ranger-planned night sky programs on set dates. A unique moment in time here is when the earth and sky blend into the darkness, allowing you to wonder at the beauty and vastness of the universe.

Bryce Canyon National Park

From Arches, it will take around five hours to drive to Bryce Canyon, where you will be awed and inspired by towering stone hoodoos and cliffs in dazzling shades of orange, pink and gold. The hoodoos, according to Paiute legend, were once human before a powerful god called Coyote became angry with them and turned them all to stone. Take in the formation called Thor’s Hammer on the Navajo Trail – a must-see for movie and comic book fans. The park is open year-round, but access may be restricted during winter months due to road conditions. There is nothing more beautiful than snow covering the glimmering red rocks at sunrise. The park even offers snowshoeing in winter months as part of their planned ranger program.

Zion National Park

Zion was Utah’s first National Park. The name means “Place of peace and refuge”. The Narrows, truly the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, has white and pink walls as high as a thousand feet tall, and the river is sometimes just 20 to 30 feet wide. It is one of the most popular areas in the park and can be seen by hiking along the paved, wheelchair-accessible Riverside Walk for one mile from the Temple of Sinawava. If you wish to see more, you will be walking through the Virgin River, which can involve wading upstream for a few minutes or become an all-day hike. There is only one historic lodge inside the park and two restaurants, so dining is limited. If the lodge is sold out, your agent can find a variety of lodging options nearby. From April to October transportation through the park is by shuttle only, but private cars can take the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway year-round.

There is so much more to see throughout North America, and the national parks of Canada and the United States offer a variety of opportunities to get out and explore the great outdoors. So, start planning your future exploration now – we’ll be back out there before you know it.

Odenza Reviews: Marrakesh, Morocco

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Marrakesh, home to beautiful palaces, gardens, night market and mosques, is an enchanting city that will make you want to revisit every summer for years to come.

This city is easily one of the most unique and fascinating cities with beautiful boutiques, riads (traditional guesthouses), and spectacular architectures that will blow you away. Located on the Saharan dessert, you will find plenty of activities to partake in from camel riding to exploring hidden palaces.

This thousand year old city is bustling with tourists and it’s easy to travel to from anywhere around the world. The oldest historic part of Marrakesh, is called Medina and is a popular area for tourists with its lineups of souks (traditional markets) for antiques, crafts, spices and affordable souvenirs. When wandering around Medina, stopping by a Hammam, a bath house, is highly recommended and is an experience that one should not miss out on.

Marrakesh is a city to get lost in and each alley is guaranteed to give you a different experience from its maze-like narrow cobblestone lanes to the use of vibrant and bold colors around walls and tiled mosaics that easily make for breathtaking backdrops.

 

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Odenza Reviews: Island-Hopping in Hawaii

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Adventure travel in Hawaii is hot and happening. Granted, America’s 50th state is well-known for destination weddings and tiki drinks, but there are also activities suitable for every level of adrenaline as you explore these legendary Pacific Ocean islands. From helicopter rides and jet boat tours to stand-up paddleboarding and whale-watching, Hawaii has never offered more exciting adventures.

Maui

You don’t have to be a fan of military thrillers like The Hunt for Red October to enjoy a submarine tour of Lahaina Harbor with Atlantis Adventures. On a custom-built, 48-passenger submarine, view eels, sharks, and colorful tropical fish as you dive down 100 feet and motor past coral reefs and a sunken ship, with an interpreter providing educational commentary.

If you’d rather stay close to the surface, a high-speed Blue Water Rafting boat tour is a thrilling option, especially on a sunny morning. Go snorkeling among sea turtles and manta rays and check out lava arches and sea caves along the Maui coast during a four-hour tour. And from November to April, keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales. Blue Water Rafting launches from the Kihei Maui Boat Ramp beneath Mount Haleakala.
Alternatively, soar over Haleakala with a Blue Hawaiian helicopter tour, diving into deep, lush canyons with waterfalls and admiring eucalyptus trees and sugar cane fields.
Stand-up paddleboarding provides a fantastic core workout. Whether you’re a SUP veteran or newbie, you can hone your skills with lessons from a Moana Athletic Club instructor. The panoramic vistas at Kaanapali Beach as you balance atop your board make it genuinely magical.

Oahu

Nothing screams “Hawaii!” like surfing at Waikiki Beach. This two-mile strip of white sand witnessed a surfing revival in the early 1900s, thanks to legendary Waikiki beach boy Duke Kahanamoku. Today, local Honolulu operators like Waikiki Beach Services and Hans Hedemann Surf School are happy to rent you a board and help you progress toward your “hang 10” dreams on these welcoming waves.

Hawaii Water Center offers more adventures from wakeboarding to jet skiing. If you’re looking for a more elevated perspective, you can go parasailing, riding single or tandem, over Oahu’s gleaming water, going as high as 1,000 feet. Or head to the North Shore and learn how to fly a powered hang glider from Hang Gliding Hawaii, enjoying views of Makua Valley and Waimea Bay.

The Big Island

One of Hawaii’s top ziplining experiences is the Akaka Falls Zipline Tour by Skyline Eco-Adventures. Not only do you whiz over a 250-foot-tall waterfall on this seven-line, 2.5-hour tour, but you also traverse landscapes featuring banana farms, wild pigs, and lush rainforests. Between ziplines, eat fresh local guava and passion fruit, and learn about the Big Island’s history and botany from your guides.

The 1994-established Ocean Safaris offers scintillating kayak tours in Kona’s pristine Keauhou Bay. Build your fitness while paddling amid spinner dolphins and sea turtles.

Molokai

Provided you’re not prone to vertigo, the Kalaupapa Guided Mule Tour is a thrilling must-do. Riding a well-trained mule during this 1,700-foot descent off the sea cliffs on Molokai’s north coast, you’ll feel your pulse pounding on the 2.9-mile-long trail, which includes 26 switchbacks. At the bottom, take a poignant tour of a former leper colony, now part of a national historical park.

Lanai

Rusty wrecks of World War II navy boats greet visitors to Shipwreck Beach, a windswept, eight-mile-long beach on Lanai’s north coast. More than 10 vessels – including schooners, barges, and steamships – either experienced shipwreck or were intentionally grounded here. The most adventurous way to get to Shipwreck Beach is renting a jeep from Dollar Rent a Car in Lanai City. After the joyfully bouncy ride, hike over to check out the Kukui Point petroglyphs as well.

 

 

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Odenza Reviews Isle of Skye, Scotland

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Scottish culture is filled with nature based Celtic myths and legends that tell of magical beings living under hills and waters filled with large and small beasts. The Fairy Pools near Carbost, Scotland encapsulate that sense of magic in their beautiful blue waters.

The series of small waterfalls that make up the so-called Fairy Pools are located near the village of Carbost on the Isle of Skye and accessible only by a foot hike through the Glen Brittle forest. These Fairy-Pools are some of the most pristine swimming holes in the entire world. On a sunny day, the turquoise waters of the natural pools are so clear, you can clearly see each moss-covered stone at the bottom.

I hope this review of Isle of Skye, Scotland will encourage you to visit soon!

Le Marais, Paris

Le Marais

Le Marais (“The Marsh”) is a historic district in Paris, France. Along the aristocratic district of Paris, it hosts many outstanding buildings of historic and architectural importance.

Le Marais is the closest you will get to the feel of medieval Paris and has more pre-revolutionary buildings and streets left intact than any other area in Paris. A glance at some of the beautiful buildings and houses indicates the wealthy status of the former residents. The small  medieval lanes are alive with bars, restaurants, hotels, high and low fashion boutiques, trendy shops, hip designers, old fashioned bread shops, jewelry, wine shops, fashionable art galleries and museums all packed into one small area.

 

The Shambles, York, England

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The Shambles is an old street in York, England. The buildings that line The Shambles were erected as far back as the 14th century. The charming timber-framed buildings bend and, at times, hang over the cobblestones street below.

Now a popular tourist destination, the shops currently include a mixture of eateries and souvenir sellers, but there is also a bookshop and a bakery.

Lagoa de Albufeira, Sesimbra, Portugal

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Lagoa de Albufeira (Albufeira Lagoon Beach) is a unique beach in Portugal and is close to Sesimbra. To one side the beach faces the Atlantic and is part of the 30km beach stretching the length of the western side of the Setubal Peninsular. Flowing into the rear of beach are three minor rivers and these rivers combined with the tidal currents have carved out deep lagoons in the soft sands.

Heart-shaped rock in Chapada Diamantina National Park, Bahia, Brazil

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Heart-shaped rock in Chapada Diamantina National Park, Bahia, Brazil (by Raphael Koerich).