Things to know before traveling to Zanzibar

best things to do in zanzibarThe tropical paradise of Zanzibar is found lying a short distance off the Tanzania coast at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Zanzibar boasts some of the world’s best diving amongst rainbow coral reefs, the quaint customs and cuisine of the Swahili people, and the Indian Ocean’s spotless beaches.

Whilst luxury travel and tourism has built Zanzibar up to be one of the most sought after holiday destinations in the world,  the islands continue to retain their rustic African charm despite the developments of the last decade.

Most Zanzibaris consider themselves Zanzibari rather than Tanzanian, and their territory has its own leader and governing bodies. Mainland Tanzania is a mix of Christian, Muslim, and indigenous groups, but Zanzibar, which the Sultanate of Oman ruled for centuries, is almost entirely Muslim.

The Sultanate had in turn wrestled the islands from the Portuguese – and much later they became a British protectorate, until Zanzibar’s independence in 1963

Interesting Fact!

Swahili time: time is set in accordance with day light and time counting begins at sunrise. This works relatively well given that Zanzibar is so close to the equator the sun rises at roughly the same time all year round.

Best Things to do in Zanzibar


Cheetah’s Rock

A must see attraction in Zanzibar! At this special place you will come face to face with Lions, Cheetah’s, Zebras and other wild animals. This is a wonderful tour for anyone interested in being up close and personal with native African wildlife.

Opening days and tours run on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday’s from 2pm – 6pm. The Cheetah’s rock is located in Kama, a 60min drive from Stone Town. The $140.00 price includes an afternoon of learning about the animals, feeding and interacting with them as well as hotel pick up and drop off.

Prison Island

Earning its name as a former prison for slaves. The island lies just off the Old Stone Town, it is also a home to giant land tortoises that were imported from Seychelles in the late 19th century.

Now it is more commonly known as a home of Zanzibar’s Giant Aldabran Tortoise colony. The island is fringed with a beautiful coral reef, making it another great spot for snorkeling!

A half-day trip from Stone Town through one of the many local tour agencies in town will cost you around $40USD and includes hotel pickup, boat transport ride to the island, entrance fees to the park and snorkeling equipment.

to things to do in zanzibar

Prison Island and the ancient Aldabran Tortoise are one of the highlights of Zanzibar activities!

Scuba & Snorkeling

The underwater sea life, corals and crystal clear waters provide endless opportunities for snorkeling and diving in Zanzibar.

Some of the most popular beaches have been named as some of the most beautiful in the world and the reason why many tourists visit the island each year.

Recommended beaches for great snorkeling include: Nakupenda Beach, Nungwi Beach, Kendwa Beach, Paje Beach and Matemwe Beach.

what to do in zanzibar

Nungwi Beach and lookout in Zanzibar is a must see in Zanzibar

Mnemba Island Lodge is one of Zanzibar’s most exclusive resorts and a popular stay after an adventurous Safari Tour in Tanzania.

Located on a private island, and comprising only ten plush bandas, the hotel offers a truly luxurious experience. The resort is all-inclusive, including watersports; 2 scuba dives a day for PADI certificate holders, kayaking, snorkelling and wind-surfing.

Prices here typically range from $1,045 per person per night in October through mid-December, to $1,395 per person per night for the rest of the year

Zanzibar Quad Bike Adventures

A full day tour to the remote and local parts of the Island while riding your own quad bike into wild landscapes:

  • Sugar cane and pineapple plantation
  • Paddy rice fields
  • The village of Boma with its children and houses made by red soil and mud
  • Coconut palms and secular Baobab
  • Spice trees and fruit plantation

A great way to see the island! For more information about pricing and details check out >> Zanzi Planet Tours and Travel company.

popular attractions in zanzibar

4×4 adventures around the Island for when you get bored with lazing on the perfect beaches!

visiting zanzibar

One of the local villages you will explore on the Zanzibar quad bike tour

Forodhani Park

Also know as the Jubilee Gardens, this park is found in the historical city of Stone Town, Zanzibar. The gardens are located along the main seawalk of Stone Town, just in front of the most famous buildings of Stone Town.

The Forodhani Park is a popular spot amongst locals and tourists to watch the sunset and grab something to eat from the popular food street market in the main square.

Try the Swahili and Zanzibari delicacies such as grilled seafood, samoosas, cassava and sweet potatoes.

Water Sports

Surfing, Paragliding, Windsurfing & Kitesurfing are all on water activities you can do when visiting Zanzibar. Guided lessons and equipment are available for hire from the many dive and sport stores in Stone Town or Nungwi.

The guys down at Team Aqua Zanzibar or Divine Diving & Yoga centre are my top picks of cheaper rates, quality gear and friendly service.

Mtoni Palace Ruins

It’s an evening filled with a tour of palace ruins by a hilarious guide, an amazingly delicious dinner, drinks, an acting and dancing performance to share the historical stories of the island. The evening takes place in the courtyard of the Mtoni palace, you walk over a beach lit up with dim lighting to find you table and enjoy a dinner under the stars. More information on booking and price enquiries here >> Mtoni Palace Ruins 

best attractions to see in zanzibar island

Photo credits with respect to Peter Bannett


Zanzibar has accommodation that ranges from luxury beachfront cottages to exclusive boutique hotels and elegant spa resorts.

If you’re looking for a beach escape with other Westerners, head north to Nungwi and Kendwa, where you’ll find the same all-inclusive packages and beach discos you’ll find in most other warm parts of the world.

A phone call will bring your individual butler to your door or an electric buggy to keep you out of the sun and drive you to the snaking, cobalt-blue swimming pools, elegant spa area or one of the fine dining bars and restaurants.

For the premium end general standards of accommodation and service are very high, expect to be paying a minimum daily amount of around $250 – $350 per person for upper scale resorts.


Mnemba Island Lodge, Zanzibar


For a slightly more local experience, try quieter towns like Bwejuu or Jambiani where your slice of island paradise is mixed with the rhythms of village life.

There are also options for budget accommodation here, you could try your luck at an AirBnB or one of the many Hotels offering an average of $30USD per night: Swahili House or the House of Spices.

Both are well established, good value small hotels that have pristine beaches and personal service.

best things to do in zanzibar

Getting there

Visitors to Zanzibar tend to arrive and leave via Stone Town, the island capital and an historic hub of commerce and culture. This ancient African icon was declared a UNESCO cultural heritage site in 2000. Wander down the cobblestone streets and experience local flavors and cuisine at the village spice markets.

Transit to Zanzibar options are either plane or boat, most likely departing from Dar Es Salaam and Stone Town. The plane ride involves about half an hour of cruising in a shaky Cessna, but the ferry is cheaper and can be a far more pleasant experience.

The high-speed boats run four times a day each way, take about two hours, and a ticket will run you less than half of what it costs to fly…


Or you can leisurely make your way over to the islands….

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Historic Bellingrath Gardens And Home Nearby Mobile, Alabama

Bellingrath Gardens and Home is located on the Gulf coast of the United States in the state of Alabama. This historic site can be found 23.5 miles from the city of Mobile. Since the gardens were first opened in 1932, several generations of Americans have enjoyed a floral pageantry that can be viewed throughout the year. It is the 13th stop in the series Off The Beaten Path.

Bellingrath Gardens encompass near 900 acres along the Fowl River. A total of 65 acres are continuously cultivated with annual blooms with a riot of color. This now celebrated site was listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 1977 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

In 1996, in the Garden Estates episode of America’s Castles, the site was premiered on the Arts and Entertainment Network, which featured Bellingrath Gardens and Home.

Azaleas in bloom from across Mirror Lake.

In 1999, Good Morning America would be filmed on the site of the Gardens.

The property that would later comprise Bellingrath Gardens, were purchased as a fishing camp by Walter Bellingrath, president of the local Coca-Cola bottling plant. He bought the place as a get away from work and to bring balance to his busy professional life.

The later transformation of the camp into what is now known as Bellingrath Gardens and Home, began with Bessie Mae Morse, who married Walter in 1906.

Mr. and Mrs. Bellingrath in 1938.

Mrs. Bellingrath began developing the expansive gardens with architect George Bigelow Rodgers in 1927. The gardens would be opened to the public for the first time in 1932, during the Great Depression.

Their 15 main room residence would be built between the years 1925 to 1949. The house would be tentatively completed in 1935. This grand home built in the architectural style of 20th Century Revival, and would cover a total of 10,500 square feet or 975.48 square meters.

The design of the house would use building features from an English country room, which can clearly be seen with the incorporation of a Georgian style staircase. Also included are French doors and the enclosed area, that is modeled after a Mediterranean courtyard.

The formal dining room in the main house.

The Bellingrath estate home has hand made brick reclaimed from the 1852 birthplace of Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont in Mobile.

The building contains ironwork from the demolished Southern Hotel from around 1837. It was also located in the city of Mobile.

After the death of Mrs. Bellingrath in 1943, Walter decided to dedicate the remainder of his life to maintain and preserve the extensive Gardens, she had worked so hard to nurture. The couple did not have any children.

Water feature in the formal gardens.

In 1950 at the age of 80, Mr. Bellingrath would establish the Bellingrath-Morse Foundation. This action would set up a trust,that would perpetuate his Gardens and home, for future generations of Americans to enjoy.

Today, although Bellingrath Gardens receives income from the foundation, over two-thirds of present day operations, are actually financed through visitor admissions, donations, membership fees, and sales generated through the gift shop and the on site cafe.

The Bellingrath Home would be opened to the general public as a museum in 1956, following the death of Mr. Bellingrath, the preceding year. The former residence has retained all of the former furnishings, from when Mrs. Bellingrath resided there.

Asian-American Garden

Bellingrath Gardens include a bridal garden, a rose garden and the Asian-American Garden.

There is also a conservatory, a Great Lawn, the Harrington/ExxonMobil Bayou Boardwalk, a nature walk, a chapel, the Little Mermaid Fountain, Mirror Lake, an observation tower, and the Delchamps Gallery of Boehm Porcelain.

The garden pathways are comprised of actual flagstones, from the old city sidewalks of Mobile. These had originally been put in place in Mobile, once they had arrived as ballast in sailing vessels. These ships would be loaded with cotton, for mills in England.

The Harrington/ExxonMobil Bayou Boardwalk

Special events and weddings, are held throughout the year at Bellingrath Gardens.

Yearly events held at Bellingrath Gardens include the Easter Egg Hunt on the Great Lawn and an Easter Sunrise Service on the Live Oak Plaza. There is also the Balloon Glow with trick or treating throughout the Gardens each fall.

The nationally recognized Magic Christmas in Lights each winter, features a display of over 3 million lights.

Part of the Christmas Lights Display

It premiered in 1995 and runs from the Friday after Thanksgiving, through New Year’s Eve. Visitors can view 1,000 set pieces in 13 themed scenes, which are spaced around the gardens as part of the Christmas pageantry.

A 2014 edition of USA Today included Bellingrath Gardens and Home’s Magic Christmas in Lights, on its list of the 10 Best Public Light Displays in America. Online readers voted to put Bellingrath, in sixth place.

In addition, the Gardens are home to the largest outdoor display of cascading chrysanthemums in the United States, each fall. In a project that takes all year to plan, hundreds of four foot long cascades of mums are displayed on bridges, balconies, and containers throughout the Gardens.

Cascades of Chrysanthemums Displays

The first display was held in 1963 at the Gardens from flower stock obtained from Longwood Gardens, which still has the largest indoor display, of chrysanthemums in the United States. The latter began its annual display in 1921.

In 2013, Better Homes and Gardens had a special interest publication Country Gardens, which featured the Gardens annual Cascading Mums Display.

During the summer and winter, the local community is invited each year to a series of educational events called Wonderful Wednesdays.

The Gardens made national news again, when The Bronze Honor Medal was awarded to Bellingrath Rosarian Linda Guy in 2010, by the American Rose Society.

Finally, in 2015, Dr. William E. Barrick was selected to receive the American Horticultural Society’s Liberty Hyde Bailey Award.

The Gardens are well know for their outstanding collection of spring flowers which include more than 250,000 azaleas, Easter lilies, fuchsia, hydrangeas, impatiens, salvia, Pelargonium geraniums and many more.

As spring gives way to summer, the gardens feature more than 2000 roses, allamandas, begonias, bougainvillea, caladiums, coleus, copper plants, hibiscus, marigolds, ornamental peppers, vinca and a great many more.

Autumn flowers include over 8,000 bedded, potted and cascading chrysanthemums, copper plants, hibiscus and quite a few more varieties of fall foliage.

Winter flowers include daffodils, kale, various varieties of narcissus, ornamental cabbage, pansies, poppies, primroses, snapdragons and large plantings of tulips. As a tribute to The State Flower of Alabama, there are over 400 varieties of camellias in bloom at the Gardens.


Bellingrath Gardens & Home is located at 12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road Theodore, Alabama 36582.

The Phone Number is: (800) 247-8420 or (251) 973-2217.

The Email address is


The Gardens and Bellingrath Home package is $21.00 USD (United States Dollar) for adults.

Children ages 5 – 12 tickets are $13.00 USD. Younger children are admitted for free.

The Gardens Only Package is: $13.00 USD for adults and $7.50 for children.

Magic Christmas in Lights and Bellingrath Museum Home Package is $24.00 USD for adults and $13.00 USD for children.

Magic Christmas Lights Gardens Only Package is $15.00 USD for adults and $7.50 USD for children.

During the month of August, the Gardens and Home combination tickets are discounted to $16.50 USD for adults and children for $13.00 USD.

How To Get There

The Gardens are located two hours east of New Orleans, Louisiana, four hours south of Birmingham, Alabama, and six hours southwest of Atlanta, Georgia. The main road of access is Interstate 10.

The Gardens provide free on site parking, during normal business hours.

Days and Hours of Operations

Bellingrath Gardens and Home is open daily. The only exceptions are Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Monday – Sunday 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Tours begin at 9:00 AM. Last ticket is sold at 3:30 PM.

The Magnolia Cafe is open from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM and the Gift Shop is open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

Magic Christmas Lights 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM. Tours begin at 9:00 AM. Last ticket is sold at 7:30 PM.

The Magnolia Cafe will be open from 11.00 AM to 8:00 PM. Closed between 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM. The Gift Shop will be open from 8:00 AM to 9 PM.


Is available in Mobile Alabama, and in smaller nearby communities.

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Iolani Palace In Honolulu, Hawaii: An American Palace Built For Royalty

Iolani Palace located in Honolulu, the capital of Hawaii.

The Iolani Palace in Honolulu,was built in 1879 during the waning years of Hawaiian independence. Built in the American Florentine architectural style, this historic building is the only true palace, that exists in the United States. It was the royal residence of the Kingdom of Hawaii, during the latter part of the 19th century. It is our 12th stop in the travel series Off The Beaten Path.

Iolani Palace is the hallmark of the Hawaiian Renaissance Architecture. Thomas J. Baker would design the structure, Charles J. Wall would add ornate details and the architect in charge of the project, would be Isaac Moore. It was built of brick, with a concrete facing. The Palace features architecture seen nowhere else in the world.

This former royal residence was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962, and the National Register of Historic Places listings in Oahu in 1966.

A more recessed view of Iolani Palace.

Upon completion of the Iolani Palace in 1882, the building would play a crucial role in the last years of the Hawaiian monarchy. Official functions would be held there and diplomats were received, for a royal audience. The entertainment provided at the palace, was often lively and quite lavish.

The present building replaced the original palace on the site, that had been known as the Hale Ali’i’s, built earlier in the first half of the 19th century. The name would be changed to Iolani Palace and during the time of its existence, was the grandest house in Honolulu.

The original Iolani Palace, the grandest house of its time in Honolulu.

The earlier palace had been built by Mataio Kekuanaoa for his daughter Princess Victoria Kamamalu. By the time David Kalakaua ascended to the throne, the original palace had suffered serious deterioration. The building had endured significant termite damage.

He would order the old palace to be taken down in 1874. It had housed the first five Hawaiian kings.

King Kalakaua was the first Hawaiian monarch to travel around the world. During his tour of Europe, he observed the magnificent palaces and castles of the continent’s royalty. He became quite determined, to build a residence fitting his position as king.

King David Kalakaua
reign 1874-1891

The new Iolani Palace was completed in 1882. The total cost came in over $340,000 USD (United States Dollar). In today’s valuation, that would be over $7.5 million USD. It was considered an enormous sum for the time.

The palace measures around 140 feet (43 meters) by 100 feet (30 meters) and rises two stories over a raised basement, for a total height of 54 feet (16 meters). It has four corner towers with the two in the center rising to 76 feet (23 meters).

The unique structure created in American Florentine, features a grand hall facing a staircase of Hawaiian koa wood. This indigenous wood was also used to make a piano, where Queen Liliuokalani played various musical compositions for her guests.

Iolani Palace throne room

There was a throne room located in the southeast corner of the building, a blue meeting room where one would find the famous piano and a large dining room, that adjoined the hall.

Ornamental plaster was used throughout the building.

Upstairs there was a private library and the personal rooms for the royal family.

Iolani Palace was installed with both electricity and telephones. This occurred before the White House,home of the American President, was similarly equipped.

The palace shortly after construction in 1885.

The palace would remain the official residence of the monarchy of Hawaii until 1893.

American residents living in Hawaii, would engineer the overthrow of the monarchy that year. Shortly thereafter, not only Queen Liliuokalani, but the entire family and all their retainers, were forced to leave the palace.

The Committee of Safety responsible for the coup in 1893, would form the Provisional Government of Hawaii. Troops from this new regime, were sent to occupy the Palace.

Liliʻuokalani and Queen Kapiʻolani at Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

Within a few months government offices moved in and the building itself, was renamed the Executive Building, for the Republic of Hawaii.

Officials of the new government then carefully, made an inventory of the contents of the entire building. Thereafter, public auctions were held to dispense of whatever furnishings and furniture that were deemed unsuitable, for normal government operations.

There was an failed effort to restore Liliuokalani to the throne. In the endeavor to round up leading conspirators and their supporters, the question was raised if Liliuokalani herself was involved?

The government allegedly found a number of arms and ammunition at Washington Place, where the former Queen was now residing. In addition, supposedly evidential documents were discovered, implicating her in the failed plot.

Newspaper depiction of the trial of Queen Liliuokalani.

Queen Liliuokalani would be returned to the former palace, following the failed counter revolution as part of the Wilcox Rebellions in 1895.

She would remain imprisoned for a total of nine months, in a small room on the upper floor. A quilt that she created during her time of confinement, can still be seen there.

During this time of captivity Queen Liliuokalani would abdicate the throne, in return for the release and commutation of the death sentences, that had been handed out to her jailed supporters.

The former Queen Liliʻuokalani seated on the lanai of Washington Place in 1917

The subsequent trial of the former Queen, would take place in the onetime throne room. Although she would claim ignorance of the plot, she was convicted and sentenced to five years of hard labor in prison, by the military tribunal. She was also fined a total of $5,000 USD.

Her own sentence would soon be commuted, to imprisonment at the former palace. The following year, she was granted a full pardon and her civil rights were restored. She would later die in 1917.

The territorial governor would accord the former Queen, the honor of a state funeral in the onetime throne room. Her death brought to an end, this era in Hawaiian history.

John L. Stevens, an American diplomat, conspired to overthrow the Kingdom of Hawaii.

The former palace continued to play a vital role in the political intrigues, that happened in the run up to the eventual annexation of Hawaii, which finally occurred in 1898.

The building would serve as the capital of the Territory of Hawaii and the temporary military headquarters of the islands during World War II.

The Hawaiian soldiers of Japanese ancestry, the core of the now famous 442nd Infantry Regiment, were all sworn in during a mass ceremony, on the grounds of the former palace.

During the government use of Iolani, the former second floor royal bedroom became the governor’s office. The first floor would house the legislature. Representatives would meet in the former throne room and the Senators in the former dining room.

In 1930, the interior of the former palace was remodeled. The wood framing would now be replaced by steel and reinforced concrete. The actual name Iolani Palace, would be restored in 1935.

Iolani Barracks

For more than 70 years, Iolani Palace had remained a functional, but neglected site. In the post war period, the building was clearly exhibiting signs of deterioration and neglect.

After 1959, when Hawaii became 50th state in the United States, efforts would begin to restore the palace.

Governor John A. Burns, would begin the process by moving the Iolani Barracks from its original position northeast of the palace. Today, it serves as a visitors center for the palace.

Government offices would be totally evacuated from the Palace in 1969. They were relocated to the new Hawaii State Capitol.

Interior of the music room with donations and artifacts in the restored palace.

Now the real painstaking effort of restoration could commence.

The grand niece of Queen Kapiolani, Liliuokalani Kawanankoa Morris, would found the Friends of Iolani Palace. This organization would oversee the massive effort, to turn back the clock.

In preparation for restoration, the Junior League of Honolulu would begin the process of extensive historical research. This would allow an in depth study on the original construction, furnishings and palace lifestyle.

To achieve this they began to look at 19th century newspapers, numerous photographs and archival manuscripts. This allowed the interior to be restored based on the original plans, as the structural restoration of the building, was being accomplished on the exterior.

Restored Throne Room

Then began the massive and ongoing effort to make acquisitions of original palace objects. This was conducted through both purchases and donations. Many original pieces, have subsequently been returned.

Government grants and private funding allowed the reproduction of original fabrics and finishes. This gave the various rooms of the Palace their late 19th century appearance, once again.

In 1978, Iolani Palace opened up to the public as a historical museum.

In the basement, is a noteworthy photographic display of the Palace that details the process taken in the restoration.

Special ceremonies are held yearly on the birthdays of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani, these can be witnesses on November 16th and December 28th respectively.

A movie titled Princess Kaiulani about Princess Victoria Kaiulani Cleghorn was actually filmed at the palace in 2008.


Iolani is located in downtown Honolulu, on the corner of King Street and Richards Street.

The vehicle entrance to the Palace Grounds is located off Lifelike Mall, on the left of King Street between the Palace and the Hawaii State Library.

If you arrive by car, it is recommended that you park in the private parking garage at Alii Place at 1099 Alakea Street. The cost of parking is $3.00 USD for the first two hours and $1.59 for each additional half hour.


364 South King Street

Honolulu, Hawaii 96813

The Phone Number is (808) 522-0822

For Reservations call (808) 522-0832

Email address for tickets is


A visitor may take a guided tour with a Palace Docent or

A Self-Led Audio Tour – The audio portion is 45 minutes in length. It is available in English, French, German, Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, and Spanish.

Both options include a tour of the first and second floors of Iolani Palace, followed by self-guided exploration, of the basement gallery exhibits.

The suggested time needed for viewing is between 60-90 minutes. Tour options may vary, based on the day of the week and the time.

There is an introductory video A King’s Noble Vision shown every half hour, in the Visitors Center. Viewing of the film, is free of charge.


Guided Tours

Adults (13 and over) $21.76 USD

Children (5-12) $6.00 USD

Children (0-4) are free

Self-Guided Tours

Adults (13 and over) $14.75 USD

Children (5-12) $6.00 USD

Children (0-4) are free

Groups of 10 or more, $11.75 USD per guest

Days and Hours of Operations

Monday – Saturday 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM (the last ticket is sold at 3:45 PM)

Walk ins are welcome.

Periodically Iolani Palace is open on Sundays for Kamaaina Sunday. (usually once a month)

The Iolani Palace is closed on federal holidays.

The gift shop is located in the Iolani Barracks, which is the Visitors Center.

Hours of operation are normally 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM.


Tourists are welcome to photograph the Iolani Palace interior, exterior, and grounds for personal use. However, flash photography and video are not permitted.


Is also available throughout Honolulu and nearby communities.

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Ephesus In Turkey: Glimpse Of The Greco-Roman World During A Golden Age

The Library of Celsus in Ephesus, completed between circa 114–117 CE.

The history of Ephesus can be traced back through thousands of years. The city has survived through incredible change, as various civilizations rose and fell through the centuries. The magnificent architecture that remains from the Greco-Roman period and its other archeological wonders, makes it our 9th stop in the series Journeys to Discovery.

Located on the western shores on modern Turkey, Ephesus is located along the Mediterranean trade routes in ancient times. At least over 1.5 million tourists visit the area yearly.

Ephesus is the most complete classical metropolis, yet 80% of the city remains buried.

This proximity to the sea, allowed the city periods of prosperity, that lasted through the Classical era, the Hellenistic period, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire,and finally the Ottoman Empire.

At its height the city may have been home to at least 200,000 residents, making it the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire. This would be after the cities of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. Of course, the actual number living in the city, is still being debated among historians.

The history of the area can be traced back to 6000 BCE (before the common era), as is evidenced by excavations at the nearby mounds known as tells, at both Arvalya and Cukurici.

According to legend, Ephesus was founded by the great female warriors known as the Amazons.

Historically, the city of Ephesus itself would be inhabited from the Bronze Age onwards. Over time, the exact location would change, due to environmental reasons and the impulses of various rulers.

Although the Carians and Lelegians were among the first residents of the city, Ionian migrations began around 1200 BCE. The arrival of these newcomers would soon change the culture to Greek.

The city would be founded a second time, by the Ionian Androclus, son of Codrus.

The entire region would later be ravaged during the Cimmerian invasion, at the beginning of the 7th century BCE. However, under the rule of Lydian kings, Ephesus would soon become one of the wealthiest cities in the Mediterranean world.

Statue of Goddess Artemis of Ephesus

It was said that during the night, the city streets were brightly lit with oil lamps. This was a extravagance that remained unaffordable, for most metropolitan areas in ancient times.

Ephesus also became a center of learning. The city was renowned for being the birthplace of the philosopher Heraclitus. It was also one of the few places for the time, where women were afforded rights equal to men.

Under the famed King Croesus of Lydia, the reconstruction of the Temple of Artemis began in 550 BCE. The first incarnation had been destroyed in a flood in the 7th century BCE.

It would take 10 years to complete, but would later by destroyed by Herostratus in an act of arson in 356 BCE. Supposedly this occurred, the same night that Alexander the Great was born.

Alexander the Great during his conquest of the region, offer to fund the completion of the famous temple.

This model of the Temple of Artemis, at Miniatürk Park, Istanbul, Turkey, attempts to recreate the probable appearance of the first temple in miniature form.

The Ephesians did not take him up on the offer. They instead would finish the project years after his death in 323 BCE. It had taken decades to complete and would become one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

This Temple of Artemis was 450 feet long (137 meters) and 225 feet wide (69 meters). It was 60 feet or 18 meters high, with more than 127 enormous marble columns.

In 268 CE (common era) after 600 years of existence, the temple would be seriously damaged by the Goths.

It was restored again, but would later be destroyed by a Christian mob in 401 CE. Many of the marble stones would be recycled, in the construction of other public buildings.

Three periods of history in Selçuk: Temple of Artemis(front), Isa Bey Mosque built by the Seljuk Turks (middle), the Byzantine castle (far)

A number of the famous columns 60 feet in height, were used in the building of the Hagia Sophia, by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian from 532 to 537 CE.

The site of the temple would be rediscovered in 1869, with most of the remains being removed and put on display in the British Museum in the Ephesus Room.

Today, the site of the temple can be found in Selcuk, which is located about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) northeast of Ephesus. The town is known as the Gateway to Ephesus. What remains is a single column created out of further architectural remnants and several other marble fragments.

King Croesus would later be defeated, by the Persian King Cyrus. The whole of Anatolia (Asia Minor) would then become part of the growing Persian Empire. Ephesus however, remained an important port of trade.

Great Theatre, seating capacity 24,000.

When the Ionian Greek city-states subsequently rose up against Persian rule in the 5th century BCE, Ephesus made the wise decision to remain neutral and thus escaped the devastation, that was levied against so many other neighboring cities.

Ephesus would subsequently remain part of the Persian realm, until being liberated by Alexander the Great in 334 BCE.

Lysimachus a general serving under Alexander, became the ruler of the region surrounding Ephesus following the death of the latter.

He immediately began the restoration and further development of the city. He did end up moving the city about two miles to the southwest, closer to the coast. This later allowed a reemergence of the city, as an important commercial center.

Temple of Hadrian.

In 129 BCE, the Romans would acquire Ephesus through the final testament of King Attalos of Pergamon. He bequeathed his kingdom to Rome,knowing the territory was likely to fall to them regardless.

The city would survive the rebellion of Mithridates and the storming of the city by the Roman army, under the command of Sulla in 88 BCE.

Ephesus would suffer severe damage, in the earthquake that hit the city in 17 CE.

The city would be rebuilt and would once again become an important center of commerce. It was recognized at the time, as being the most important trading center in Asia.

During the time of Augustus, Ephesus became the capital of proconsular Asia (western Asian Minor). According to Strabo the Roman historian, it was the second in importance and size only to Rome. This would mark another golden age for the city of Ephesus.

Facade of the Library of Celsus at night.

Ephesus would remain a leading intellectual center with the famous Celsus Library and the second school of philosophy in this part of the world. The library itself, once held 12,000 scrolls. It was the third largest in the ancient world, after Alexandria on the coast of Egypt and Pergamon.

Remnants of impressive architectural features of many of the buildings built during this time, are still standing.

The city would be repeatedly visited by early Christians, especially St. Paul. According to tradition, Mary the mother of Jesus, spent her later years there. Her house may still be visited today. Tourists can also visit the tomb of St. John.

House of the Virgin Mary

The Book of the Ephesians found in the Christian Bible, was written for the people living in the area.

In later times, Ephesus laid claim to being the site of the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. It is reputed that seven Christian saints were walled up in a cave above the city, as a punishment for their faith. They would sleep for two hundred years,later emerging as proof of the power of the resurrection.

The Gate of Augustus in Ephesus was built to honor the Emperor Augustus and his family.

The city would be seriously damaged by the Goths in the 263 CE attack. This began the decline of the greatness and splendor of the city.

Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, would attempt to rebuild much of the city and did erect new public baths. However, the previous glory of the city, could not be totally recaptured.

Once Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, the city of Ephesus would begin a further decline. Emperor Theodosius ruling in the late 300’s, had all the pagan temples closed, along with all the schools. The worship of Artemis was now forbidden.

Women would again be reduced to second class status. They would henceforth, be denied work in the arts and learning.

Tomb of John the Apostle at the Basilica of St. John.

The previously lighted streets, adorned with numerous statuary began to decay. Ruins of a number of great buildings, were used as a quarry for far less impressive buildings.

The Byzantine era lasted from 395 CE to 1308 CE for Ephesus. It would remain the most important city in the Byzantine Empire in Asia, after Constantinople the capital, in the 5th and 6th centuries.

The basilica of St. John was built during the reign of Justinian I in the 6th century.

Another earthquake in 614 CE again, destroyed part of the city.

Odeon, indoor theatre once topped with a wooden roof.

The harbor was slowly being silted up the river, despite numerous dredging projects. As the access to the Aegean Sea was blocked, trade patterns changed and the city began to lose the important role, it once had held.

Residents began to migrate to the hills, from the lowlands of the city. Again the ruins of the temples, were used in the building of new structures. Distressingly, marble sculptures would be ground down into paste, to make lime for plaster.

The arrival of the Arabs between 654 CE and 655 CE saw the sacking of the city. This was repeated in 700 CE and then again in 716 CE.

Street scene at the archaeological excavations at Ephesus.

When the Seljuk Turks conquered Ephesus in 1090 CE, it was little more than a village.

When the Byzantines regained control seven years later, they even changed the name to Hagios Theologos. They would finally surrender the entire area, to the Seljuk Turks in 1308 CE.

The warriors of the Second Crusade fought the Seljuks, outside what had been in Ephesus in late 1147 CE. They were surprised at the small size of the community and how it had become cut off from the larger world. In addition, the Temple of Artemis had been long forgotten by the local people.

Stone carving of the goddess Nike

What had been Ephesus surrendered to the Ottoman Turks in the early 14th century. Contrary to an earlier pledge, the Turks pillaged the church of St. John and deported most of the population to Greece. Those that remained, were largely massacred during these turbulent times.

Ephesus would once again know a period a brief prosperity, later in the 1300’s. The Turks would construct the Isa Bey Mosque in the later part of the century, carvansaries and a number of Turkish bathhouses.

Next the area was incorporated as a vassal territory of the Ottoman Empire in 1390 CE. Thereafter, a period of unrest followed. Ephesus would change hands a number of times, with the defeat of the Ottomans by Tamerlane in 1402 CE.

The İsa Bey Mosque constructed in 1374–75, is one of the oldest and most impressive works of architectural art remaining from the Anatolian beyliks

The Ottoman Empire would finally resume control of the region in 1425 CE. By this time, the city of Ephesus had become completely abandoned.

In addition to the aforementioned, another site to be seen today in Ephesus is the famous theater. With a seating capacity of around 24,000, it is believed to be the largest in the ancient world. In Greek times, various plays were constantly reenacted on the stage. In Roman times, these would be replaced with gladiatorial contests.

Tourists can also visit two different ancient agoras. One was used for commercial purposes, the other for official state business.

Aqueduct near Ephesus – Mayer Luigi – 1810

Ephesus is in possession of several major bath complexes, built when the city was under Roman rule.

The city was blessed, with one of the most advanced aqueduct system in the ancient world. There were at least six of them, that supplied the city with water and provided energy for a number of water mills.

The Odeon was a small roofed theater constructed around 150 CE. The ruins give visitors a more than adequate view, of what it once looked like.

The ‘terrace houses’ at Ephesus, showing how the wealthy lived during the Roman period. Eventually the harbor became silted up, and the city lost its natural resources.

The famous Temple of Hadrian can be traced back to the 2nd century, but did undergo extensive repairs in the 4th century. What can be seen today, has been reassembled from the surviving architectural remnants. Original reliefs from the temple, can be seen in the nearby Ephesus Archaeological Museum located in Selcuk.

The Temple of the Sebastoi (Temple of Domitian) was one of the largest buildings in the city. Dedicated to the Roman Flavian Dynasty, the temple and the statue provide the historical connection, to the Emperor Domitian.

There is also the Tomb/Fountain of Pollio erected in 97 CE in honor of C. Sextilius Pollio, who constructed the Marnas aqueduct.

There are numerous other archeological remains to be visited throughout the ancient city as well.

How To Get There

Tourists have a number of options to gain access to Ephesus. They all bring one to the nearby community of Selcuk.

Many visitors arrive by cruise ship, coming through the nearby port of Kusadasi. From there you will need to choose between a tour organized by the cruise operators or plan an independent excursion.

The grand Byzantine fortress of Selçuk on Ayasoluk Hill

You can then arrange to take a taxi to Selcuk, which is nearly 12 miles or 19 kilometers away. It is relatively expensive, as compared to taking a bus from Kusadasi, which is another alternative. These run about every 30 minutes.

Another option is to travel by air to the Izmir Adnan Menderes International Airport. The distance to Selcuk from here, is about 34 miles or 55 kilometers. If your hotel will be in Izmir, shuttles to Selcuk are provided at various times.

Travelers can also take a train from the airport. One can also arrive by bus from the Izmir central station.

From Selcuk one can actually walk the distance to Ephesus, since it is only 2.5 miles or 4 kilometers away. You can also take a taxi, but again it will be more expensive.

If your hotel is in Selcuk you can borrow a bike for the short trip. Most of the businesses that provide accommodation to tourists, will offer some kind of ride to Ephesus, since that is their main business.

The cheapest way to go is by minibus or shared taxi known in Turkish as Dolmus, available every quarter of an hour.

Hours of Operation

The park is open every day of the week from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM local time from mid March to late October. This is the main tourist season.

The rest of the year it will be from 8:00 AM to 5:00 P.M.

Admission And Entrance Fees

General site entry price is Turkish lira (TRY40), the equivalent of $11.35 USD (United States Dollar).

There is an additional charge of TRY15 ($4.26 USD) for the Terrace Houses. These are the former residences of wealthy Romans, who lived there in the 1st century CE.

They are covered with a modern roof. They are a must see, with their exquisite frescoed walls and mosaic floors, all painstakingly excavated and preserved.

To visit the Basilica of St. John will cost TRY10 ($2.83 USD).

A tour of the house of the Virgin Mary  will cost TRY25 ($7.09 USD).

For TRY20 ($5.67 USD) you can rent an audio guide, for a 1 hour commentary on the general site and 20 minutes on the Terrace Houses.

You will need to leave a deposit of TRY100 ($28.37 USD). The money will be returned to you, once you return the equipment. You can also leave your photo identification in place of a deposit.

For visitors aged under 12 admission is free, with the exception of the Terrace Houses which is under 6.

The Archaeological Museum of Ephesus entry fee is TRY10 ($2.83 USD).

Helpful Hints For All Travelers

The upper Magnesia gate is the better side to enter, since it allows one to walk downhill and to exit at the lower harbor gate.

The entire ruins can easily be covered on foot, within two hours.

There are a wide variety of cafes, fast food and small Turkish restaurants at the exit gates.

Restroom facilities are available at the two entry/exit points 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) apart. They are not found anywhere else on the site.

There are an assortment of souvenir shops at the two exit gates. Negotiations on price are possible. One should compare prices. However, it is not a good place to buy carpets or leather goods. These should be purchased in the larger shops in Selcuk.

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Things to know before visiting St Lucia

Things to know before visiting St Lucia

Things to know before visiting St Lucia

Traveling to St Lucia Island

Being a small Island in the Caribbean unlike any of its neighbors and unique in its own way, here are several things you need to know before visiting St Lucia.

The origins of the name Saint Lucia are lost in history. The commonly held notion that Columbus sighted the island on Saint Lucy’s Day, 13 December 1498, is unreliable, for there is no good evidence of his “discovery.”

A more plausible explanation attributes the naming to one of various French visitors during the sixteenth century. It appears that the original designation was “Sainte Alousie,” the name used in Father DuTetre’s 1664 volume on the Antilles.
Things to know before visiting saint lucia


Most Saint Lucians are bilingual, especially those under 40 years of age. The language most commonly spoken in village and rural areas is Kwéyo`l,a creole language that is a mixture of French and African languages.

English is the language of instruction in the schools and the language used in business, governmental institutions, and most formal settings.

The People

The local St Lucian people are wonderful  – they are so happy, so friendly and helpful. The service throughout the island was exceptional; from small beachside bars, boutique restaurants to the most gourmet fine dining. We had such a great time meeting locals and really enjoyed their company.

Saint Lucia is a very safe Island compared to many others in the Caribbean. I was told by many locals and guides that theft is not common and I felt safe leaving my beach bag on the sand while I swam in the ocean. We never had a problem with anyone and the local people bring a really warm, friendly vibe to the island.

Be mindful of being over charged by locals if you are hustling in the street for a better rate on tours offered by your hotel or local agencies – this is really the only situation where you might get ‘ripped off’ and something to keep in mind before traveling to St Lucia.

What to know before visiting st lucia

The big smile of a local St. Lucian – always happy

The Food

St Lucian food is a combination of Creole with French and West Indian influences. Most hotels have restaurants, in addition to a wide range of eateries in the major towns serving many different types of food and international dishes.

Fresh seafood is abundant and often caught locally and many of the upmarket restaurants serve locally produced vegetables and fruits. The national dish is Green figs and salt fish: made with unripened bananas and preserved salted fish. Other popular Caribbean dishes are lobster, stewed fish and plantains and Callaloo,  a spinach-like soup made from the leaves of the dasheen plant.

Cocoa & banana plantations are the main agriculture on the island and the biggest exports.

What to know before visiting St Lucia Island

Our favorite sushi and cocktails from the Beachside Bar at Sugar Beach, St. Lucia

Getting around the Island

Most resorts have free shuttle services to and from the nearby towns and beaches and they often run 3-5 times per day. Most tour companies will include hotel pick-up and drop off in the price of your tour.

Getting around on your own will require you rent a car from the main town of Soufriere or arrange prio-transport with the hotel for a private driver service.

Helicopter Transfers are available for several luxury resorts on the island. You will be whisked from the International Airport to your hotel in roughly 6 minutes.

Things to know about traveling to St Lucia

Helicopter transfer from the Airport

Visa & Currency

One of the most important things to know before traveling to St Lucia is whether you need a Visa. The United States, Australian, New Zealand, British and most European Passport holders do not need a visa to visit Saint Lucia for less than 90 days. Some countries do, so it’s best to check here >> “Do I need a Visa for St. Lucia?”

The East Caribbean Dollar [$ECD] is the official currency of the island however $USD is widely used and accepted almost everywhere. During our stay we only used Credit Cards and USD Cash and we never encountered a problem. The conversion rate for January ’17 is $1.00 USD > $2.70 ECD.

There are currency exchange vendors at the International Airport, through your hotel and the ATM’s in the towns of Sourfrei and Castries will give you EC dollars.

I did hear from other travelers that paying for food, taxis and general items  in the local currency gave a better rate than paying in USD. Something to keep in mind.

Visa, MasterCard and AMEX are accepted widely at hotels, restaurants and taxis.

traveling to saint lucia island

Sugar Beach, a great place for relaxing in the ocean, enjoying seaside drinks and delicious sushi!

The Customs

A 10% Tax and Service charge are added to the end of your bill for meals at most hotels and restaurants. Additional tipping is optional but not required as it’s covered by the service charge.

Also keep in mind that many of the luxury hotels will charge a ‘delivery fee’ on anything ordered from room service and brought to your room. We were, well, lets say surprised to find a charge of $17.00USD for ONE Cappuccino we ordered from room service.

Things to know when traveling to St Lucia

The Caribbean colours

Best time of the year to visit the Island

St. Lucia is a beautiful Caribbean oasis with some of the best weather and luxurious vegetation in the world. The climate is hot and tropical, tempered by welcome trade winds during most of the year. The temperatures range from 21℃ (70°F) to 32°C (90°F).

December to May is the driest time of year and rainfall increases during summer months and towards the year’s end. St. Lucia is also prone to hurricanes from June to November.

popular attractions in saint lucia

The famous Pitons of Saint Lucia

Getting there

Saint Lucia has two airports: The George Charles Airport located in the capital city of Castries, and Hewanorra International Airport located in the southern town of Vieux Fort.

U.S. residents looking for direct travel via airport to Saint Lucia will need to fly out of either Miami, Boston, Atlanta, or New York. Delta Airlines, Jet Blue, American Airlines and United Airlines are the companies that offer direct flights.

If flying from Europe, you will be able to find direct flights from London, Manchester, Frankfurt or fly from Paris to Martinique and take a ferry ride over to Saint Lucia.

Top things to know before visiting St Lucia

Flying over the blue waters of the Caribbean Islands

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and if you have any other tips, items or things to know before visiting St Lucia, I look forward to hearing about them in the comments below.

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Letchworth State Park In New York: The Grand Canyon Of The East

Letchworth State Park is to be found in the western part of New York state. Known as the Grand Canyon Of The East, this treasure chest of natural beauty is the 11th stop in the series Off The Beaten Path. Founded in 1906, Letchworth has become a crown jewel of the New York State Park System.

Situated in the two New York state counties of Livingston and Wyoming, the park is located 35 miles (56 kilometers) southwest of Rochester and 60 miles (97 kilometers) southeast of Buffalo. Letchworth comprises 14,427 acres (58.4 km2) of land in upstate New York. The park is just under a 5 hour drive, from New York City at 314.9 miles.

View of the Middle Falls, with mist from the Upper Falls and the Portage Viaduct visible in the background.

Letchworth State Park is roughly 17 miles long. It follows the course of the Genesee River, as it flows north through a deep gorge, that traverses the park. The rock walls on either side of the ravine, rise up to a height of 550 feet (170 meters) and narrow to 400 feet, near the three main waterfalls, providing the basis for the claim of being the Grand Canyon of the East.

The Genesee River movement over the diverse terrain of the gorge, allows for the existence of several notable waterfalls. These are the Upper, Middle and Lower Falls.

The Middle Falls is the highest among them. The Upper Falls, has an active railroad trestle known as the Portage Viaduct, crossing just above it. The latter was built in 1875 and is still in use.

Lower Falls and stone footbridge at Letchworth State Park

There are as many as 50 smaller waterfalls on tributaries, that flow into the Genesee.

The three most viewed falls are all located in Portage Canyon, the southern section of the park.

The park also contains Inspiration Falls, a ribbon waterfall that is located on a tributary creek, a short distance from the Inspiration Point Overlook. It is just 0.4 miles west of the park Visitor Center. The waterfall features, a total drop of an impressive 350 feet. Although popular with tourists, it remains dependent on abundant rainfall. Therefore, based on the time of the year, it can be totally underwhelming.

The history of the park can be traced back to 1859, when the industrialist William Pryor Letchworth began purchasing land, near what is today the Middle Falls (Portage Falls). He simultaneously began construction on his Glen Iris Estate.

William Pryor Letchworth (1823-1910)

From buying an original 109 acres that year, he would spend the ensuing decades, expanding the size of his holdings. These purchases successfully halted the plans to build a hydroelectric dam in the gorge, that would of altered the flow of the river. It would have also lessened flows over the major waterfalls in the future park.

In 1906, Letchworth would bequeath his 1,000 acres landed estate to the state New York. It would be this endowment, that would soon form the core of the newly created Letchworth State Park.

In 2015, Letchworth won USA Today’s Reader’s Choice competition, as the best state park in the United States.

In addition, it has also been named as the best state park in New York for landscape photography.

Park entrances are located near the towns of Castile, Mount Morris, Perry and Portageville. There is a paved two or three-lane road follows the west side of the gorge. This allows travelers to stop and enjoy the many scenic viewpoints, that have been created by various geologic processes.

View of the Genesee River and Gorge in the park.

There are 66 miles of hiking trails and horse-riding courses as well. The only path that crosses the Genesee River in the park, is on the stone bridge that can be found just below the Lower Falls.

The amenities of the park include an assortment of pavilions, picnic tables, playgrounds, two large swimming pools, cabins, campsites for tents, and trailer sites with dumping stations.

Activities within the park include biking, hiking kayaking, geocaching and whitewater rafting.

Hunting of deer and wild turkey, as well as fishing, are also accessible when in season.

Hot air ballooning is available at the park, but it totally weather dependent.

The winter months bring horse-drawn sleigh rides, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snow tubing.

Genesee Scenery, an 1847 oil painting by Thomas Cole.

The entire area was once the homeland of the Seneca people. They were largely forced out, after the American Revolutionary War, since the Seneca had been allies of the British. The original inhabitants called the land in the park Sehgahunda, which roughly translates to mean Vale of the Three Falls.

According to the Seneca, the Middle Falls identified as Ska-ga-dee, were so marvelous, that it made the sun stop at midday.

In the memory of these early inhabitants, travelers can find the ancient Indian Council House of the Senecas, located on the grounds.

It was the beauty of the places surrounding the gorge, that caused Letchworth to hire the famous landscape artist William Webster, to design the numerous winding paths and roadways, throughout the property. He was also commissioned to add rustic bridges, lakes, and a fountain.

The park contains the Glen Iris Inn, Letchworth’s former home, which has been remade for use as a hotel. It is located on the top of the hill, overlooking Middle Falls. Tourists can arrange for overnight accommodations and in-season meals. The facility is also open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Glen Iris Inn

The Glen Iris Hotel noted for its Greek Revival and Italianate architectural design, was placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

When the American Scenic and Preservation Society of New York took over the management of the Letchworth Estate, a special effort was made to organize and preserve the personal library collection of the now famous industrialist. This accumulation is now kept, in a separate dedicated building.

The park is also the site of the William Pryor Letchworth Museum, which was founded with the extensive collections of the park’s founder. The institution has a focus on both the cultural and natural history of the Genesee Valley. This includes artifacts from the Seneca, early pioneers, the Genesee Valley Canal and Letchworth himself, upon his death in 1910.

In 2016, the Eric Humphrey Nature Center opened. It is operated year round by the state of New York. The 5,000 square foot sustainable building, features a number of classrooms, meeting rooms, a research lab, a butterfly garden and connections to various trails.

Mount Morris Dam

Another interesting feature of the park is the Mount Morris Dam found at the north end of the park. The dam was completed in 1954. The Genesee River became both wider and deeper upstream, due to this construction, but areas below the dam, were henceforth spared yearly flooding.

The Mount Morris Dam is the largest flood control device known as concrete gravity, east of the Mississippi River. The proportions of the dam are impressive, at 1,028 feet in length and 239 feet in height from the riverbed.


Letchworth State Park is located at 1 Letchworth State Park Castile, New York, 14427

The Phone Number is (585) 493-3600  

Upper Falls with a train passing over the Portage Viaduct

Email address is


Letchworth, as a New York State Park, charges a vehicle use fee to enter. It is typically $10.00 USD (United States Dollar), unless you possess a state park admittance pass. Additional charges apply for the use of outdoor accommodation and facilities.

How To Get There

If coming from the east, Letchworth State Park can best be reached by using either Interstate 80 or Interstate 86, also known as NY Route 17. The park will be found off of 19A.

Days and Hours of Operations

Monday – Sunday 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM

Cabins are accessible from April through mid November, with a few ready for occupancy, year round. Both require reservations to guarantee availability.

The Glen Iris Inn remains in operation from the middle of April to the end of October.

For reservations 

The museum is open to the public from May 01 to October 31.

Hours of operation are from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily.

To access the museum, a donation of $1.00 USD is requested from adults, $0.50 USD from children or $3.00 USD per family.


Is also available at the Maplewood Lodge, which is inside the park and in nearby communities.

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Architectural Wonders Of The Hearst Castle In San Simeon, California

The Casa Grande is the centerpiece of Hearst Castle.

Located in central California along the Pacific Ocean coast, stands Hearst Castle. This architectural wonder, was the home of the famous American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst from 1919 to 1947. It is the 10th stop in the series Off The Beaten Path.

At one time, christened La Cuesta Encantada or The Enchanted Hill by its famous resident, today it is both a California Historical Landmark and a National Historical Landmark. The later occurring in 1976. It had already joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

The grand design for the site although visioned by Hearst himself, would only become reality, by the devices of architect Julia Morgan. Construction on the property continued from 1919 through 1947.

Ill health would finally force Hearst to leave the property that year. He would later die in 1951.

In 1954, the property would become a California State Park. The site would welcome the first tourists four years later and has remained open since. The Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, operates the estate and maintains the extensive collection of antiques and art work, for public viewing.

Hearst San Simeon State Park

In spite of the isolated location of Hearst Castle, millions of travelers arrive from around the world, on an annual basis.

Despite being referred to as simply the ranch by William Randolph Hearst, the main buildings and grounds, are often identified with the surrounding unincorporated areas known as San Simeon.

The history of Hearst Castle can be traced back to 1865, when George Hearst purchased some 40,000 acres of land, that comprised Rancho Piedra Blanca.

Following the death of his mother Phoebe Hearst in 1919, William Randolph Hearst inherited thousand of acres around San Simeon.

Owner William Randolph Hearst with architect Julia Morgan in 1926. Photograph by Irvin Willat.

The younger Hearst grew rather fond of the place over the years, because of the many family camping trips. As an adult, he would choose the undeveloped coastline hilltop, that would later be the site of the castle.

The ascent was a simple dirt path, accessible only by foot or horseback, for over 5 miles (8 kilometers).

Over time Hearst would buy far more land, until his holdings in the area would encompass near 250,000 acres.

What is not well known, was that estate was left unfinished, when Hearst left in 1947. This was the consequence of his persistent design changes. By this time, it already contained 165 rooms. The total square footage of these buildings, exceeds 90,000 square feet (8,300 m2).

In entirety, there is 123 acres of gardens, pools, terraces and walkways. These were all built to the specifications of Hearst.

Spanish style guest house, designed by Julia Morgan.

The extensive space provided by the immense constructions, allowed Hearst to display an incredible art collection, that had already become legendary.

William Randolph Hearst spent a great deal of time and effort, to bring back the best of European architecture.

The most notable example of this are the ceilings from the churches and monasteries. These would be disassembled in Europe and later be pieced back together again, in California.

Among the American Hollywood and political elite, invitations to the Hearst Castle were highly coveted, during the 1920’s and 1930’s. They would arrive by taking a private Hearst owned train car from Los Angeles, or by availing themselves of the estate’s on site airfield.

Charles Lindbergh
American aviator

Actors would include the famous Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Dolores del Rio, the Marx Brothers and James Stewart.

The man who was the first to traverse the Atlantic Ocean by airplane in 1927, Charles Lindbergh was also among the guest list.

Notable politicians would include American presidents Calvin Coolidge and Franklin Roosevelt and later, even the former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

Although guests were expected to attend the formal dinners each evening, they were mostly left to their own devices, throughout the day. Many of them would stay in various dwellings, separate from the main residence and would entertain themselves, while Hearst took care of his business empire.

There were always things to do, whether walking through the various gardens and grounds of the estate, or even watching screened films from Hearst’s own movies studio, Cosmopolitan Productions at the on site theater.

Lady Gaga

Commercial filming remains relatively rare at Hearst Castle and most requests made, are simply turned down. Since the estate was donated to the state of California, only two projects have been approved.

One was Lady Gaga’s for the music video G.U.Y. The other one Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. It was used as the villa, of the historical Roman character Crassus.

Although the main estate is a museum, the Hearst family has continued to use an older Victorian house on the property. The dwelling was the home of George Hearst and was constructed in the late 19th century.

To permit maximum privacy for the family, from the many tourists who arrive on a daily basis, there is a dense stand of eucalyptus. A condition of the donation of the estate, was that the Hearst family would be allowed access and use of the property, whenever they wished.

Patty Hearst

Patty Hearst a granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, who made international news following her abduction in 1974, by a left-wing terrorist group, has recalled fondly of time spent as a child at the estate.

In one story, she tells how she used to hide behind various statues in the Neptune Pool, while tours were being conducted.

Years later in 2001, Patty would host a Travel Channel show on the estate.

Amanda Hearst, another member of the illustrious family, is the great granddaughter of William Randolph. She would model for a fashion shoot at the property for a Hearst Corporation magazine, known as Town and Country in 2006.

Hearst Castle was known to be the inspiration for the Xanadu Mansion, in the 1941 film Citizen Kane. Orson Welles would play the lead character, in a fictionalized version of the career of William Randolph Hearst. Of course, the castle itself, was not actually used as a location, in the now famous movie.

The original Hearst plan for a modest dwelling was soon shelved, as was the initial idea of either a Korean or Japanese theme. Hearst instead settled on Spanish Revival, which was rapidly gaining popularity at the time.

Tower of the Church of Santa María la Mayor, in Ronda, Spain, which served as inspiration for the Hearst Castle towers.

He decided to turn to Iberian peninsula for inspiration. The Baroque and Renaissance styled buildings he found in southern Spain, were more in line with his personal taste.

He developed a strong affinity for a particular church in Ronda and asked his recently hired architect Julia Morgan, to pattern the Main Building towers after it. He did decide however, to go with a stucco exterior in place of masonry, in respect to Californian architectural traditions.

His architect persuaded the magnate to begin with the construction of the guest cottages, because these could be built more quickly. Together these comprise a total of 46 rooms, including the lobbies.

There are a variety of historical architectural styles in the various structures, all based on what Hearst himself had seen during his travels around Europe.

A prolific collector of art and antiques the construction of Hearst Castle, provided the space necessary to display his vast collection of artifacts.

The Main Building is a mix match of décor, based on the Hearst purchases of centuries-old ceilings imported from Europe. The area of the Castle Grande alone, is 60,645 square feet (5,634 m2)

The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle

The Castle features a total of 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms and 19 sitting rooms. There are indoor and outdoor swimming pools, the most well known being the Neptune Pool. It alone was rebuilt three different times, to finally reach the present state desired by W.R. Hearst.

Located near the edge of the hilltop, Neptune Pool offers an distensible view of the mountains,as well as the nearby ocean and the main house.

Unfortunately, due to ongoing drought conditions and constant leaks, the main pool is now drained of water. It is in the process to be restored and will soon once again hold 345,000 gallons. It is 104 feet long, 58 feet wide and 10 feet deep at the largest area.

Hearst Castle Roman Pool

The adjoining patio features an ancient Roman temple front. It had been transported from Europe and then reconstructed on its present site.

The indoor tiled Roman Pool, is surrounded by eight statues of Roman gods, goddesses and heroes.

It is supposed to be styled after the ancient Roman baths, like the famous Baths of Caracalla, built from 211 to 217 CE (Common Era). It holds a total of 205,000 gallons of water.

The mosaic tiled patterns, are modeled from what can be seen in the 5th century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy. The intense colors mainly blue and orange, are fused with gold on the inside. It creates an absolutely spectacular ambiance.

Zebras are a popular attraction on the Hearst ranch. They are descendants from Hearst’s private zoo.

Also to be found on the estate are a wine cellar, tennis courts, and the aforementioned movie theater and airfield.

In addition, travelers can find what was once the world’s largest private zoo. Exotic animals including a collection of zebras, still roam the grounds.

Morgan devised a gravity-based water delivery system, that transports water from artesian wells on the slopes of Pine Mountain.

During the time of Hearst’s occupancy, a private power plant supplied electricity to the estate. This had become necessary, due to the remote location of the Castle.


Hearst Castle is located at 750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, California 93452.

Email address is


Adults $25.00 USD (United States Dollar)

Hearst Castle dining room

Children 5 -12 $12.00 USD

Under 5 is free

Evening Tour

Adults $36.00 USD

Children $18.00 USD

How To Get There

Hearst Castle is approximately a four hour drive south of San Francisco and a four hour drive north of Los Angeles. One can take a train from the latter to San Luis Obispo and continue the rest of the way to the Visitor Center by public bus.

Food and drinks are available at the Visitor Center. There is also a Cafe on site, that serves a variety of food made fresh daily.

  • Visitors can reach Hearst Castle from the north, via Highway 101 to Paso Robles

    Egyptian Artifacts – Oldest Pieces In The Collection

  • Travelers coming from the south will arrive via Cambria and Paso Robles.

Days and Hours of Operations

Monday – Sunday 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM

The last indoor tour begins at 3:00 PM.

The Bus leaves at 4:00 PM, for the 5 mile trip back to the Visitor Center.

Evening Tours will have extended hours.

Hearst Castle is closed on the major holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day

Check this website for details and reservations: Appointments for a variety of tours, can be made up to 56 days in advance. Most indoor tours are an hour in length. One will then want to spend additional time on the grounds.

The Grand Tour is the one recommended by this writer, especially for first time visitors.

The evening tour is also available in the spring and autumn, which will take an hour and 40 minutes.

Tourists may also purchase tickets by calling 1-800-444-4445 inside the United States.

Outside the country, travelers will need to call 1-518-218-5078, during extended business hours.


Is available in the nearby community of San Simeon and Ragged Point located four miles away.

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Andalucia: Roadtrip through Southern Spain

Our road trip began in Madrid…

We loaded the Mini with our backpacks, cheese, an old paper map and set off on our adventure through the countryside of Southern Spain.

For more information click here to see the article on the Top Tourist Attractions in Madrid.

Day 1: Merida

We arrived at 3pm after taking our time to stop off at the little towns along the way, and to stock up our cheese and wine supply.

Merida is a historic little town bursting with Spanish colonial charm.

Main attractions include, The Aqueducts, the Roman Ruins in the old Amphitheatre, and the Puente Romano which crosses the guadiana river is the world’s oldest standing bridge from ancient times.

Near the town square and cathedral is a wonderful collection of tasty tapas bars—some of which date back to the early 1800s. It’s a lot of fun getting lost in the super narrow streets while trying to walk back and forth across the neighborhood.

First stop was Merida: stocking up on cheese for road trip snacks!

best things to see in spain

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Spain: Roman  Aqueducts

Day 2: Seville

After exploring Merida we continued onto Seville, a 2hr drive South to the region’s capital city and main ‘hub’ outside of Madrid.

We had heard really good things about Seville and even flirted with the idea of living there for a year, so we were really excited to spend a few days there getting to know the city.

For all its important monuments and fascinating history, Seville is universally famous for being a joyous town. While the people of Seville are known for their happy and friendly natures, the city itself is striking for its vitality and impressive architecture

The sunsets are always prettier seen from the rooftops of old Spanish castles

The main attractions bringing over 5 million visitors per year  to Seville is the Plaza de Espana, Alcazar, Maria Luisa Park and the cathedral.

Although if you ask me, the real treasures are found by walking the cobblestone streets and getting lost in cafes and tapas bars along the bustling streets.  

One thing Seville is particularly good at is food – there is a good selection along the Calle Mateos Gago and along the streets north of the Cathedral with a range of local cured meats and other dishes on the menu.

The charms of Seville lay right around each corner

top attractions in spain

The Plaza de Espana in Seville, Spain

Day 3: Ronda

We were chatting with some friendly locals in Seville and they insisted we add Ronda to our list of the best things to see in Andalucia.

What I love about road trips is that your plans change, so our loose itinerary wasn’t difficult to shuffle around. And so off we went on a detoured, in search of what sounded like the oldest bridge in all of Spain.

The drive through the Sierra Nevada national park is beautiful as you cross over mountain tops and green valleys and through small towns.

After steadily taking our time to stop for picnics and photos through the mountain range, we were in a bit of a panic to make it to Rhonda in time before the sunset!.

top tourist attractions in spain

Driving through the Sierra Nevada Mountain range and stopping to explore the little village towns along the way

Aaaaaand ….we missed it

The sun had disappeared well behind the beautiful mountains that had guided us along the way to Rhonda.

So we decided to splurge on a two story penthouse suite for the night where we sat and ate more cheese and french fries while looking out over the famous bridge.

We stayed at the Parador de Ronda hotel, it wasn’t cheap but we had great views of the bridge at night and the breakfast was excellent!

If you’re on a tighter budget I would recommend staying at the hotel across the street. The Hotel Ronda charges a modest euro rate for a night and has equally impressive views.

Marcello and the Mini, Rhonda

The next day we explored the bridge from the top, sides and underneath! We even hiked the surrounding hillside to get some great drone footage before continuing on our way.

The one day adventure was enough to see the main attractions of Ronda, the bridge was impressive and worth the detour.

visiting spain

The charming little town and the impressive Puente Nuevo bridge in Ronda, Spain

Day 4: Costa del Sol

We decided to travel to Southern Spain in the off season to avoid the tourist floods, the heat and the higher prices throughout Europe. So the coastline didn’t appeal to us too much as it was pretty cold.

We did spend a day driving through the coast and stopping off at little towns along the way….

Wine and more wine: when in Spain….

things to do in spain

Crossing the airport runway to drive around the Rock of Gibraltar in Southern Spain

We were surprised to stumble upon Gibraltar.

This British owned territory is dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar, a 426m-high limestone ridge.

First settled by the Moors in the Middle Ages and later ruled by Spain, the outpost was ceded to the British in 1713 and remains in their possession.

“We were fascinated!”

Literally driving over the International Runway and having our passports stamped by the very proper English men at the border were all unexpected, but we had no troubles getting in.

We drove around the Rock, main square and then headed back out into Spain whilst looking over the sea to Morocco.

If you’re visiting during the warmer months I would suggest you spend more time exploring the gorgeous coastline and hidden beaches of Costa del Sol.

Day 5: Granada

One of the top tourist attractions in Europe is found in Southern Spain’s Andalusia region is Granada, located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  

With close proximity to Morocco, there are strong arabian influences and a gypsy vibe in the marketplaces. We spent a day here checking out the top attractions that Granada has to offer. 

Enjoying breakfast at our hotel before spending the day exploring. We stayed at The Alhambra Palace Hotel that stands on the hill overlooking Granada City.

The Alhambra is the most visited monument in Spain and is of indescribable beauty. It is both a palace and a fortress surrounded by walls and was the residence of the Nasrid sultans between the 13th and 15th centuries.

You need to keep in mind that visiting times are divided into two periods: one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

tourist attractions in spain

Alhambra Palace: A tourist attraction in Spain

From the outside the Alhambra is equally impressive, and you can see great views and a stunning sunset from the mirador San Nicolas. There are also stall vendors, drinks and local art performers at the mirador which makes for a fun afternoon as the sun sets.

To anyone visiting Granada the Hammam Al Andalus baths are a must see attraction!  I was so lucky to stumble upon a pamphlet about these beautiful ancient Arabian baths that I had no idea even existed.

Best attractions in spain

The architecture, lighting and environment were exceptional and I truly felt as if I had stepped back in time for a moment.  Highly recommended for a relaxing evening with your partner, or solo.

Upon walking into the reception I was greeted with a hot sweet tea and a relaxed atmosphere before making my way down to the baths.

There are three different pools, one freezing cold, another warm and the third is hot. There are also turkish steam rooms and sweet tea scattered on the poolside for you to drink.

The delicious Sushi at Pinot Noir, Granada

Salmon Tartare and Sourdough at Pinot Noir, Granada

The Food scene in Granada is excellent and a nice change from Tapas. There is a little corner bar called Pinot Noir just off the main street.

After eating nothing much else besides paella, cheese and ham for the last week; we were so happy to find delicious sushi and seafood!

This place is a must for your visit to Spain! In fact it’s so good that as a traveler and sushi lover, this place is one of my worldly favorites.

Day 6: Córdoba 

It was an important Roman city and a major Islamic center in the Middle Ages. It’s best known for La Mezquita, an immense mosque dating from 784 A.D.

What we loved about Cordoba were the valencia trees that line the roadside. They’re everywhere, and they bring a nice touch to the old buildings and walkways.

The streetside colours of Cordoba, Spain

The Roman bridge is beautiful in the afternoon as the sun is going down, however best time to see it without tourist is early morning before the crowds roll in.

The Puerta del Puente is an impressive gateway arch that stands at at one side of the bridge and at the other is the Calahorra Tower.

The historic centre is a great place to walk around and soak up the vibes of a Spanish town; drink coffee, eat and enjoy the views.

traveling to spain

Puerta del Puente: Exploring the history of Cordoba, Spain


A very old Roman bridge and the star of the show for attractions in Cordoba, Spain

Day 7: Jaén 

As genuinely Andalucían as it gets, and outside the tourist track. A land of mountains and olives, of Renaissance architecture and free tapas, the province of Jaén in eastern Andalucía will pleasantly surprise you if you, even if you are just passing through like we were.  

In fact, the province of Jaén accounts for half of Andalucía’s olive oil production, a third of Spain’s, and a tenth of the entire world!

Every square inch of land outside the cities and natural parks is covered in unending, pointillist rows of olive groves. This makes for a really pretty drive when you’re traveling through the countryside on a roadtrip. 

Getting to Jaen is within an hour’s drive north of Granada, 1.5hrs from Córdoba, and 3.5hrs from Madrid. After Jaén we returned to Madrid to spend a week seeing the sights and attractions of the city.

You can find more information about what to do and see in Madrid here >  Best things to do in Madrid


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Best things to see in London: Top 15 Tourist Attractions

best things to see in london

Finding the time to fit in all the best things to see in London is the hardest part of a trip to England, but hopefully this guide will give you somewhere to start.

From all the famous sights that you’ve heard about for years (Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, etc) to the must-do activities like high tea and shopping at Oxford Street, there’s just an overabundance of things to see and do.

If you are planning to visit London, make sure to include these ones and let me know of any other favourites you have in the comments below.

1. Westminster Abbey

Westminster is considered the political hub of London and is home to the Houses of Parliament and the world-famous Big Ben and the Tower Bridge. Big Ben is the name of the bell housed within the iconic clock tower, and it still chimes every hour.

Parliament Square which features statues of important political individuals including Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill.

2. London Eye

Originally constructed for the Millennium year, the london eye has since become a must see tourist attraction.  The Eye is a giant ferris wheel offering gorgeous views across the city.

best things to see in london tourist attractions

Popular Tourist Attractions: The London Eye

3. Camden Town

The cultural neighborhood in North London. Known for its alternative culture, the crowds here are filled with goths, punks, rockabillies and tourists alike. Check out the Camden markets for vintage classics, trinkets and collectables as well as the international street food. Afterwards, walk along the regent’s canal all the way to Kings Cross.

4. Shoreditch

Shoreditch is one of the trendiest areas of London having recently undergone extensive regeneration. It is now one of the hottest nightlife spots in the city and one of the coolest places to stay in London. Packed full of bars and eateries, it’s the perfect place to spend a day and an evening walking around or shopping at local markets.

top tourist attractions in london

The colourful shop fronts of Shoreditch

5. Hyde Park

The park is home to several memorial features, as well as two bodies of water, the most famous being the Serpentine. Here you can go paddle-boating, see a number of swans, and take in a breath of fresh air in the center of the city. A must-visit.

6. Thames river cruise

Cruises run as regularly as every 30 minutes from several key locations. The cruises pass several key sightseeing locations, including Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye. Some cruises run at night so you can see the sights all lit up, whilst others are served with a meal or afternoon tea. This is a lovely and unique way to view the city, traveling along the historic Thames.

popular things to do in london

The Thames river cruise is one of the popular things to do in London

7. The Madame Tussauds wax museum and visit Sherlock Holmes in Baker Street

Afterwards you can escape the crowds of Baker Street by wandering down to the nearby Regent’s Park, or  climb to the top of Primrose Hill for the most spectacular view of the city for your visit to London.

8. Electric Avenue

You will find electric avenue In Brixton. In fact, it was actually the first street in London to be lit by electricity in 1981. Electric Avenue is now home to Brixton Market, a diverse and eclectic food market. Afterwards, check out the rest of the neighborhood. Brixton features a multitude of small businesses selling unique, quirky and handmade items. This is one of the most diverse areas of London and an excellent spot to do some shopping or catch some live music.

tourist attractions london

A local band playing at the Brixton Markets on a Sunday afternoon

9. Picadilly Circuit

The Times Sq of London. Filled with bright lights and big electronic screens. Piccadilly Circus has been a busy London spot since the 17th century when it was a commercial hub. For the world’s weirdest things pay a visit to Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum here in the Circuit.

10. Oxford St

London’s top spot for shopping but is Europe’s busiest shopping street. It has 300 shops and receives over 500,000 visitors every day. Bond street connects with Oxford however Bond is exclusively for high end boutique and designer stores. Doormen stand outside and guide you through most entrances where diamonds shine in the windows of jewelry, clothing and expensive stores.

tourist attractions and sites in london

Oxford street is one of the biggest tourist attractions for visitors coming to London

11. Leicester Square

With Trafalgar Square to the south, Piccadilly Circus to the west, China Town to the north and Covent Garden to the east, Leicester Square is right in the thick of The West End. It is the beating heart of British cinema, with all the major European premieres happening there.

12. Buckingham Palace

During a visit to Buckingham Palace, you can see the 19 magnificent State Rooms which provide the setting for ceremonial occasions and official entertaining. All rooms are furnished with many of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection. Well worth a visit just to see the guards too, they are great fun!

popular attractions in london

The Royal Buckingham Palace gates: A London Icon

13. Museums

You will find most museums in the South Kensington area, however they are scattered all around the city suburbs. There are many museums and galleries to visit in London however my top 3 favorites are the Natural History Museum (Brompton), British Museum (Bloomsbury) and the Science Museum it in London however my top 3 favorites are the Natural History Museum (Brompton).

14. Art Galleries

The Tate Modern is a contemporary art gallery located in the Southbank area of  London. It is Britain’s national gallery of international modern art and a must see attraction if you like art galleries.

15. Columbia Road Flower markets 

Every Sunday a flower market springs up on Columbia Road in East London. In recent years, as the nearby Brick Lane has gained increasing Sunday flea market stalls, Columbia Road market’s flowers have become a hot tourist attraction.

the most popular attractions in london

Spending a lazy Sunday at the Columbia Flower Markets

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Tikal in Guatemala: One Of The Most Powerful Kingdoms Of The Ancient Maya

Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Colombian Mayan civilization. It is our 8th stop in the series Journeys to Discovery.

Located in the archaeological region of the Peten Basin in northern Guatemala, this thriving cosmopolitan city, would be rediscovered in the mid 19th century. It had been completely covered by the jungle for centuries.

Tikal is situated in the department of El Peten. Today, the site is part of Guatemala’s Tikal National Park and as of 1979, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The site core seen from the south, with Temple I at center, the North Acropolis to the left and Central Acropolis to the right.

Tikal was the capital city of one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Mayan civilization.

Although there is impressive architectural structures that can be dated as far back as the 4th century BCE, Tikal would reach the height of its power and influence, during the centuries stretching from 200 to 900 CE.

During this era known as the Classical Period, Tikal would come to dominate the region of the Maya. Economically, politically and militarily, Tikal had become the head of a conquest state.

The number of inhabitants would swell to as high as 90,000 by some estimates. If one includes the surrounding hinterland, the population reached well into the hundreds of thousands.

Map of the Maya area within the Mesoamerican region. Both Tikal and Calakmul lie near the center of the area.

The rise in population is quite impressive, considering the area surrounding the city is covered in swamp lands.

Interactions between Tikal and the rest of Mesoamerica became more commonplace, as the power of the Mayan reached its zenith.

Regular contacts were maintained with the valley of Mexico as far north as Teotihuacan. In fact, there is evidence, the latter would actually conquer Tikal in the 4th century CE.

Teotihuacan in the Valley of Mexico appears to have decisively intervened in Tikal politics

After the late Classical Period, no new major monuments would be constructed at Tikal.

Around this epoch, it is likely that a number of the aristocratic palaces and temples would be desecrated and later burned. By this time, the population was already gradually diminishing, with final abandonment taking place by the end of the 10th century.

In the modern era, the city has been completely mapped and it has been determined that it once covered an area of 6.2 square miles (16 square kilometers). Within the main city about 3,000 buildings were constructed, over hundreds of years.

Tikal Temple I rises 47 meters (154 ft) high.

The structures were built on a series of limestone ridges rising above numerous swampy lowlands. These built up areas remained connected, by a series of causeways that spanned over the wetlands.

Major construction at Tikal was already underway, in the Late Pre-classic period during 400-300 BCE. The first leading pyramids and platforms would be built at this time. Although Tikal was still far smaller, than El Mirador and Nakbe. These northern neighbors, would decline in the 1st century CE.

It is interesting to note, that Tikal had no real water supply, other than what was collected from rainwater and then stored in a total of 10 reservoirs.

In the 20th century, archaeologists working in the area, were forced to restore one of the reservoirs for this very reason.

The dynastic line of Tikal, that may have been founded as early as the 1st century CE, lasted for a total of 800 years and included at least 33 different rulers. According to legend, it was founded by Yax Ehb Xook.

Stela 31, with the sculpted image of Siyaj Chan K’awiil II.

There were even a couple of occasions, when the male line was broken and women became queens of the city.

At the beginning of the Early Classical Period, power in the Mayan culture was centered in Tikal and Calakmul. The area was plagued with war, as competition between the city states would be ongoing matter.

Tikal remained often at war with neighboring Mayan states including Calakmul, Caracol, Naranjo and Uaxactun. In fact, by the end of the Early Classical period, Caracol would replace Tikal and take its place, as the leading center in the southern Mayan lowlands.

Today in Tikal, there are many different buildings to visit, with many more still waiting for a full excavation before they can be opened to the public. To date, only about 30% have been fully rehabilitated.

The North Acropolis at Tikal

At the center of Tikal lies the Great Plaza that is bordered by two massive temple pyramids, the North Acropolis and the Central Acropolis.

There are 6 Temples, that most in the tourist industry will agree are the most important constructions at Tikal.

Temple I located in the middle of the Park is known as the Temple of the Great Jaguar. It was built during 682 and 734 CE. It rises some 154 feet (47 meters). It was excavated between the years 1955 and 1964.

Temple II on the main plaza

Ah Cacao (Lord Chocolate) also known as Jasaw Chan K’awiil I, known as one of the greatest rulers of Tikal is associated with this temple. He is buried here.

Temple II known as the Temple of the Masks is one of the best restored in the park. It was also built by Jasaw, in honor of his wife Lady Kalajuun Une’ Mo’. It stands at just over 124 feet (38 meters).

Temple III known as the Temple of the Jaguar Priest was built around 810 CE. It stands about 180 feet or 55 meters. It is most likely the burial place of King Dark Sun.

Temple IV is thought to be the tallest structure erected by the ancient Maya. At over 213 feet (65 meters), a traveler is rewarded with an incredible view of the complex.

The Plaza of the Seven Temples

One used to have to make the ascent, by holding onto various roots and branches on the pyramid’s slippery slopes. Today, new wooden stairs make the ascent more amenable.

Temple V stands at 187 feet (57 meters) and is the second highest edifice in Tikal and in pre-Colombian America. From the top of this pyramid, one can see the other temples over the top of the tree canopy.

The Lost World Pyramid in the Mundo Perdido complex at Tikal.

Temple VI known as the Temple of Inscriptions was discovered as late as 1951.

The top of the structure is visible for just over 39 feet or 12 meters. Further excavation will be needed, for this temple to be fully accessible.

How To Get There

Most tourists to Tikal come from three different starting points. The closet airport is the Guatemalan town of Flores, which is just 90 minutes away by bus.

A similar ride from the capital of Guatemala City, will take at least 8 hours. Tikal is located 333 miles or 536 kilometers north of the city.

The other entry point is Belize City, located 3 hours by bus from Tikal.

Upon arrival in Flores, you can then contact a tour company. The cost will average 100 GTQ, the equivalent of $13.63 USD (United States Dollar). The cost without a guided tour, will be around 70 GTQ ($9.54 USD).

Tour buses arrive late in the morning and leave by mid afternoon. This leaves the most reminiscent time of the day which is early morning and late afternoon/early evening to those tourists who remain.

Hours of Operation

The park is open every day of the week from 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM local time.

It is advised not to go on Sundays. The day permits free admission for Guatemalan citizens and will likely be crowded.

Admission And Entrance Fees

Adult tickets for foreigners cost 150 GTQ ($20.46 USD).

There is no entry fee for children under 12.

If you decide on a sunrise tour and enter the park before 6:00 AM, the price of the ticket will be 250 GTQ ($34.10 USD). The extra cost is well worth it for the marvelous views that you will see, the lower air temperatures and the far fewer visitors, you will encounter throughout the park.

All tickets purchased after 3:00 PM, are valid for the following day.

If a traveler wishes to visit Uaxactun located 12 miles (20 kilometers) to the north, it will cost an additional 50 GTQ ($6.82 USD).

Unfortunately to date, tickets are not available for purchase on line.

Helpful Hints For All Travelers

There are no Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) at Tikal so you will need to bring extra hard currency (cash) with you.

Most tourists from northern climates visit during the dry season. This runs from October to May. The reduced humidity at this time of the year, makes the trip far more pleasant.

Tikal has a tropical climate, similar to that a traveler would experience in Yucatan Mexico. This reality will necessitate an ample supply of sunscreen, that will need to be reapplied throughout the day.

A visitor will also need to bring a generous supply of bottled water. It is important to stay hydrated during your visit of Tikal.

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