Spending every summer in Washington State, we always try to search out something new and interesting we have never done. The Pacific Northwest is chock full of gorgeous opportunities for hiking, biking, boating and more. And this summer we decided to go chasing waterfalls in Washington’s Puget Sound region.
There are lots of waterfalls to choose from, and not only on the west side of Washington. Eastern and Southern Washington have a variety all their own. But we chose to visit five waterfalls within a short drive of our summer villa which is located on the Kitsap Peninsula.
Today I share with you five beautiful, easily accessible waterfalls everyone should visit – locals and visitors alike. It’s time for everyone to try chasing waterfalls in Washington’s Puget Sound region. So here we go;
1. Marymere Falls
The drive to Marymere Falls trailhead is in itself a great summer or fall activity. Located just a short 2 mile walk from Crescent Lake and the Crescent Lake Lodge, Marymere Falls is 30 miles from Port Angeles and is within the Olympic National Park so an America the Beautiful Pass is required. At this location you can also do the Storm King hike if you are in good shape and an experienced hiker. As for the hike to Marymere, it is accessible to just about anyone. Starting from the parking lot it’s about 2 miles with a slight incline to reach the falls. The view of the 90 foot drop of the falls is beautiful. This hike is very popular and can be extremely crowded on a summer weekend. Consider fall or midweek if you can.
2. Franklin Falls
There are at least three waterfalls all within a few miles of each other and just off of Interstate 90 near North Bend and the town of Snoqualmie in the Cascade Mountains. Franklin Falls is the first of the three. A easy and beautiful 2 mile round trip hike through old growth forests, Franklin Falls is on Denny Creek. You can swim at the base of the falls and many people come here on the weekends to cool off in the summer. This is a hike you can do any time of year, and the water level of the falls changes seasonally. Again its easy access makes it very popular on summer weekends and parking can be tight. Plan accordingly. Franklin Falls is part of the Denny Creek Washington State Campground and a Discover Pass is required.
3. Twin Falls
A short drive west from Franklin Falls you can get to the hike for Twin Falls. Located on the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River, Twin Falls is within Olallie State Park and a Discover Pass is required. Many families come here on the weekend to swim in the river, but the hike has a slow and steady incline so not everyone goes to the falls. But due to limited parking, consider weekday visit in the summer. The 2 mile round trip hike meanders along the river then traverses through beautiful forests before reaching the first observation point for the falls. Continue on another quarter mile to get up close and personal with beautiful Twin Falls.
4. Snoqualmie Falls
The Granddaddy of all Washington waterfalls is the incomparable Snoqualmie Falls. Located on the Snoqualmie River, just downstream from the town of the same name, Snoqualmie Falls is majestic. Higher than Niagara, the falls have a different personality depending on the season. If you are lucky enough to view the falls during a flood or high rain season you will be astonished by the amount of water that thunders over. But the falls are just as beautiful during summer and fall, when the narrower cascade gracefully falls like a veil. Snoqualmie Falls offers multiple viewing platforms, open from dawn to dusk, and a steep hike is also an option down to the base of the falls. Access is free and free parking is also available. A very special treat is to dine or stay the night at the impeccable Salish Lodge, located right at the edge of the falls with spectacular views. Snoqualmie Falls is located just off Interstate 90. Follow the signs through the town of Snoqualmie to the falls.
5. Silver Falls
Within Mount Rainier National Park you will find a variety of glorious waterfalls, as well as wonderful hiking options. Silver Falls is one of the most beautiful, with a 3 mile round trip loop hike that most anyone can do. Start the hike at the Ohanapekosh Campground, located at the Cayuse Pass entrance to the park about 47 miles from the city of Enumclaw. Once again, summer weekends are busy and parking is limited, so try to come midweek. Autumn is an excellent time to visit as well. The hike is within the Mount Rainier National Park and a America the Beautiful Pass is required. From the parking lot follow the signs to the falls through a beautiful old growth forest with views of the Ohanapekosh River below. Arriving at the falls you will be awarded with a stunning view. Cross the tiny wooden bridge to see another view of the falls, or to clamber out on the giant boulders and enjoy your lunch. Return to your vehicle on the loop trail, enjoying more of the beauty and scenery of this magnificent National Park.
We love our home state of Washington and love being tourists in our own back yard when we are in Washington and the USA. Chasing waterfalls in Washington’s Puget Sound region is just one of our favorite things. Want to learn more about our Favorite Places in Washington? Click here.
What is a Tasty Tuesday Travel Tour? If you love travel like I do, you are probably feeling a little tense right now. When can we go? Where will be able to go? And when? And where? AND WHEN?
Okay, take a deep breath. We all need to stay safe. I’m doing a few “staycations” around my region, and trying to be patient and wait.
One thing I have started as a way to help me get through this lull in travel is my new series on YouTube called Tasty Tuesday. Each week I’m presenting a new and delicious dish I’ve learned to make on my travels. You can join me every Tuesday and travel around the world with me through food. It’s a Tasty Tuesday Travel Tour! And it’s free!
Follow me on YouTube and let’s travel through our taste buds!!! Here is a link to this week’s TASTY TUESDAY.
Thanks for all your love and support. Be safe my friends and enjoy TASTY TUESDAY TRAVEL TOUR!!
Funny title you say, how REI travels with us around the world? But it’s true. Oh so true. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and the Recreational Equipment Inc Co-op (REI) was just a tiny store back then in the ’60’s, but it was still a big part of my childhood. In those days REI was primarily focused on mountain climbing and backpacking. Jim Whitaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest and a Seattle native, was the first full-time employee of REI in 1955.
In the 1980’s REI expanded it’s offerings but remained true to it’s co-op roots. From then until now, REI continues to offer high quality gear for backpacking, camping, kayaking, cycling and travel.
I’ve been a member of REI since the 1990’s, and through membership you earn points for discounts on every purchase you make. And, because we travel so much and love the products, we make a lot of purchases at REI. In fact our family has learned to buy REI gift certificates for us when gift giving is in order.
We have been using our down time during quarantine to inventory our travel gear and prepare so that as soon as we can, we can hit the road again. It’s still gonna be a while, probably after the new year, but we will travel again, and our REI gear will be with us.
Even if you don’t travel as extensively as we do, REI has a wonderful selection of travel items for casual travelers, walkers, hikers and more. Because we are such big fans, tooday we share with you some of our most favorite items from REI that we don’t leave home without. We hope this is helpful to you.
The links below are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thank you.
We LOVE our REI roller bags and we can verify they are tough! Our bags are four years old and have been around the world twice! That’s 121 flights, 153,000 miles and 68 countries! With all the wear and tear the only thing we have had happen was one wheel got caught in a baggage carousel and we had to replace it…but the replacement was available on line and easy to install. We continually pack these bags to 50lbs each and will continue to do so. A great purchase for us.
We each have a backpack, mine an Osprey brand and my husband’s an REI brand. These have also been traveling with us as our carryon for four years. Additionally the backpacks made the 500 mile trek with us on the Camino de Santiago Frances, as well as on many other hikes. Both of these brands available at REI are durable and sturdy as well a comfortable. We beat them up, and the take a licken and keep on trekking.
When I first heard about something called packing cubes I thought it was just another gimmick to get me to spend money…boy was I wrong. I can’t imagine being on the road as much as we are now without packing cubes. Because we carry so much more than just clothes, our packing cubes provide us with a way to organize medicines, electronics and cords, office supplies and even things like salt and pepper and olive oil – and of course our clothes too. We have several different kinds of packing cubes but our Eagle Creek REI Cubes are our favorite and the most durable. The zipper (which has blown out on our other brands) is so strong and the fabric is perfect. I plan to pick up a few more of these before we hit the road again.
Yes we do carry a hammock with us around the world…why? Because we can, with this lightweight and compact hammock by ENO from REI. We use the hammock on the beach, or on our Airbnb patio and sometimes even on a hotel deck. The straps we also purchased from REI.
You might be surprised that I carry a French Press with me when I travel, but it is actually one of the things in my suitcase I use the most – in fact every day. And it’s so easy to be able to have my favorite French-press coffee each morning because of this amazing titanium light weight French press from REI. One of my all time favorite purchases from REI. It’s made for backpacking, but just as useful for a long trip or weekend getaway.
If you consider price and quality, buying a product that is well made will always give you more bang for the buck. Case in point, our trekking poles by Black Diamond. We have been using these same trekking poles for nearly 12 years. They took me over Mount Warminanusqa on the Inca Trail and all 640 miles on both the Camino Frances and the Camino Portuguese and hundreds of other hikes equaling thousands of miles. Trekking poles keep my posture upright, keep my hands from swelling and provide stability as I hike around the world. These collapsible poles easily fit in our suitcase.
My husband really likes the Cool Max REI hiking socks while my favorite are the lower cut Smartwool women’s style that keeps the merino wool off my ankle because I sometimes have a skin reaction with wool.
We have purchased many of our favorite pieces of clothing for both hiking and everyday travel at REI. My husband is a big fan of PrAna and owns multiple pairs of PrAna shorts and long hiking pants. I have REI hiking shorts that I LOVE and will be getting another pair soon. And we both own several REI and Columbia brand hiking shirts, both long and short sleeve.
If you follow us around the world you will notice we are rarely without a hat on our head. I carry three or four different hats in my bag while Arne usually has two kinds. He likes a wicking style baseball cap for running and daily use and likes the Outdoor Research brand. And for hiking he wears a wide brim hat by by REI. I also have a wide brim hiking hat that includes a roll down neck protector by Sunday Afternoon. I have had this hat so long I don’t even remember and it’s still in great condition.
As you can see, I am a huge fan of REI, for the products I need at a price point I can afford. Through my experience I know I can trust REI for quality and durability on the things we love for our travels. It’s also really important to me to support local businesses. Although REI is now an internationally recognized brand, I love how it’s roots are solidly in the Pacific Northwest. And so that’s how REI travels with us around the world.
Our fingers are crossed that we will be back traveling internationally in early 2021. We hope to pick up our itinerary where we left off (with some adjustments for weather) and continue on our Grand Adventure. The world has changed but our desire to see it has not. Another thing that hasn’t changed, how REI travels around the world with us. We are loyal customers and look forward to updating what’s in our suitcase very soon.
Feel free to ask me any questions about products I am endorsing here. We love it when you share our blog. Be safe.
Just under four years of nearly non-stop travel, as well as many adventures earlier in my life, has left me with an unbelievable collection of epic adventures around the world memories. Lucky me.
I’m not giving up on resuming our travel life…however I expect we will sit home for a year before we set out on anything too epic. And even if that never happens, what a life we have led.
In my living room I have a large book case that I call “The Museum”. Here I display my world treasures. There are not alot, given the fact that we travel light and I try not to do too much shopping as we travel, but I rarely leave any country without picking up something special. I love looking at “The Museum” and although I appreciate when guests look too, “The Museum” is really for me, a reminder of my blessed and adventurous life.
As I wait to determine what my next chapter in my life is going to look like, I spend a lot of my brain cells reliving some of my life’s greatest epic adventures. Therefore it seemed like a perfect blog to pull together and share. My Epic Adventures Around the World. I hope you enjoy.
The Inca Trail and Machu Pichu – I don’t have a blog about this experience, it was before I began blogging about my travels. But it was a defining experience in my life, opening my eyes to my own physical capabilities. The five day hike on the Inca trail to Machu Pichu took every thing my body had to give, while also providing some of my all -time favorite zen moments. Life changing.
Galapagos Islands – Everything about the Galapagos Islands is unique and memorable – both on land and in the sea. One of our favorite trips of all time. The day we snorkeled in the Galapagos was the only time I have ever swam with seals who danced a playful ballet around us as we swam. We also encountered baby seals, beautiful turtles and small sharks. Just one remarkable event in a very remarkable place.
Weekend with the Monks South Korea – spending the weekend at a Korean Buddhist monastery was a unique and slightly painful experience. Living as a monk, mostly in silence, sleeping on the concrete, up before the sun and hours of meditative prayer was certainly memorable. But my favorite part was meeting the female monks at this monastery, hearing their story and gaining such an admiration for such a devout life.
Easter Island Chile – Everything about Rapa Nui was stunning, but like most visitors I had my favorites. And like most visitors my two favorite sites were the Ranu Raraku quarry site and the Ahu Tongariki. Upon laying your eyes on these two sites for the first time you conjure a list of adjectives; breathtaking, fascinating, interesting, surprising, remarkable. At one point I had to just stop and breathe deep – and remind myself how remarkable it all was, and how remarkable it was that I was standing there.
Namibia – Arne and I both have Namibia on our top five list of one of the most beautiful countries and most incredible experiences ever. That is saying a lot in 110 countries. Unspoiled, incredibly diverse and still remarkably authentic, Namibia is astonishing. I have two excellent blogs about our experience there. The link above is the first one. Here is the second.
Burkina Faso – who goes to Burkina Faso? Well apparently I do. I didn’t really want to go, but in hindsight spending three weeks there visiting our Peace Corps son was one of the most remarkable and eye-opening travel experiences of my life. And doing it with my grown sons made such fantastic family memories. I will never regret having gone.
Inle to Kalaw Hike Myanmar – I don’t have a blog about this experience, but it did win one of our 2019 Travel Awards for it’s uniqueness. This two day hike was longer and harder than I thought it would be (I should read the fine print) but the experience was amazing. Our guide was great, the food was surprisingly abundant and delicious and even sleeping on the floor in the home of a local Myanmar family with no electricity or running water was a memorable experience.
Camino de Santiago Spain – Hands down one of the best, most spiritual, most life affirming experiences of my life. Walking 500 miles across Spain – 40 days, thousands of memories, one incredible experience. I hold this memory very, very dear.
Gorilla Trek Uganda – a life-long dream for me to trek to see the elusive Mountain Gorilla, for me this has also become a marker for the Corona world-crisis. Doing this tour was the last “normal” thing we did, before the world spiraled out of control, and came to a screeching halt. I will be forever grateful that Covid-19 did not stop us from doing this experience, and I will remember these creatures fondly.
Tiki Tour in New Zealand– who knew living in 90 square feet could be so much fun? What a remarkable way to see one of my top favorite countries, New Zealand. I would do this again…and have also considered doing it in Australia. To really see all that is fabulous about New Zealand, a Tiki Tour is the way to go.
The Great Barrier Reef Australia – I had to really convince my husband that snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef off of the east coast of Australia was worth the money. But I wasn’t visiting Australia without seeing the reef, and despite a crappy weather day, our experience in the ocean was amazing. A pinch me moment, in a life of pinch me moments.
Alps Hike Switzerland – with total honesty and without hyperbole, this day hiking the Schilthorn was one of the best days of my life. The physical challenge of it was astonishing, the beauty of it was heavenly and the satisfation on a travel scale of 1-10 was a million. Blessed day.
Camel Trek in Morocco – incredibly painful, incredibly memorable. Our overnight camel trek in the dessert of Morocco was quirky and special, despite how uncomfortable riding a camel can be…who knew? But I’m so glad we did it; overnighting in the Bedouin camp, drinking wine around the camp fire in the chilly dessert night air, then rising again and clamoring back onto the beast for the trek back. I’ll never forget it.
Bangladesh– we would have never gone to Bangladesh, except our friend Natalie was teaching there…so why not? A quick stop in this untouristed country to see what we can see. Wow. I would never imagined that we would have enjoyed it so much and have one of the most authentic travel experiences of our life.
Above it all – we paid a ridiculous amount of money to have two separate experiences in our travels – both taking us high above it all. It’s always hard to know if these things are worth the money, especially when we travel on a fairly strict budget. But for me, both of these experiences were worth every penny. Climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Sydney Australia and flying in a Hot Air Balloon over Bagan Myanmar. These both will go down in our travel life as phenomenal.
So the Grand Adventure is on sabbatical until further notice. I continue to hope we will travel again…but the brake is firmly set until further notice and we turn our attention to other inspiring adventures…stay tuned, and don’t give up.
Thank you for continuing to support our blog – we promise lots of interesting and inspiring articles coming your way. Be safe. Be healthy.
Do you remember the 1988 movie Gorillas in the Mist based on the life of Dian Fossey? The film takes us to Congo, Uganda and Rwanda where Fossey studied and tried to protect the magnificent mountain gorilla. She gave her life doing so. But to her credit there is no disputing that her work saved the mountain gorilla from extinction and opened the doors for gorilla tourism. Thanks to Fossey, I marked my 60th birthday on a exhilarating Uganda Gorilla Trek.
Most of us have seen lowland gorillas in zoos. But the mountain gorilla has not been able to survive in captivity. Biologists are not sure why they don’t survive. So the only way to see these animals is to go to them.
And so, for one blessed hour, I sat in the jungle of Uganda and observed up close and personal one of earth’s most noble, splendid and humanlike creatures.
Unfortunately doing a Uganda gorilla trek is expensive. The cost is mostly due to the permit fees required by the government. The money of course is helping continue to save these magnificent beasts, but at $600 per person for the permit alone, it’s beyond reach for many people. Rwanda’s permit is more than twice as much. You can trek in Congo for less, but you would also be putting you life in danger going to Congo. And so, for us, as a celebratory birthday event, we chose to do our Uganda Gorilla Trek with Achieve Global Safari of Uganda.
How it Works
Through Achieve you can sign up for three day, five day, ten day or however long you want. Achieve can take you beyond the Uganda Gorilla Trek and also show you many of the other wonderful animals and sights of Uganda. But having already done a couple of safaris, our focus was just the gorillas.
We arrived at Entebbe Uganda in the afternoon and were met by our guide John. We were so glad to have been assigned John, he turned out to be an amazing guide. John took us from Entebbe about an hour to our Marriott hotel in Kampala for a first night. Very nice hotel. Bright and early the next morning John picked us up for the ten hour drive from Kampala to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
It was a very long drive, but we saw some interesting sights along the way, including a stop to have our photo taken as we crossed the equator. This was our first time crossing the equator on land.
We also enjoyed seeing many beautiful birds, zebras grazing alongside cows, and the famous Ankole longhorn cows praised for the beef and milk. We enjoyed seeing mile and miles of agriculture. Uganda’s mild climate and long days provide a stable growing environment year around for everything from sweet potatoes to bananas, onions to avocado, rice to pineapple. We passed dozens and dozens of villages large and small and slowly ascended into the mountains. At the highest point we were at 7800 feet (2400 meters) but came down to about 6500 feet on arrival at our lodge.
Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge
If you decide to make this trek we highly recommend using Achieve, asking for John to be your guide, and requesting to stay at the beautiful Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge. Small, lovely, comfortable and possibly the best service of anywhere we have stayed in all of Africa. I wished we had the time to stay longer and linger…enjoying the misty mountain views and relaxing on the verandah. The food was also exceptional. A very nice touch was a hot water bottle placed in our bed every evening to keep us warm as the mountain temps dropped.
Uganda Gorilla Trek Day
Overnight I woke up with a frightful headache, and I knew I was suffering from altitude sickness. At breakfast I began to feel very queasy and I was unable to eat anything. Damn. I was not going to miss this! I put on my happy face and we headed to the trek site.
In 1981 it’s estimated there were only 250 mountain gorillas left in the world. Thanks to conservation efforts the population is healthy and growing in all three countries where they live. There are 36 gorilla families in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park, with a total of about 650 gorillas, half the world’s population. Of these about 13 families are currently habituated for the tourist trekkers. Habituation began in 1991 and the first trekkers came in 1993.
After a briefing by the ranger and some local entertainment, we were split into groups of eight and assigned to trek to one of the families. The families stay within a general area that is their home, so using advance tracking ranger teams, the guides know approximately where the gorillas are hanging out today.
Our trek group consisted of a German/Dutch family of four, two women from Estonia and me and my husband. Our lead ranger was Phillip and we were accompanied by two armed guards, one forward and one aft. In addition local porters could be hired ($15 US minimum) to assist trekkers with their packs or to help them through the mud. We were the only ones who hadn’t hired a porter and we probably should have, if only to provide a good day’s employment to a local person.
Despite my upset stomach I was feeling pretty lucky when we were assigned to the Nshongi Family. This currently is the biggest habituated gorilla family in Uganda with 25 members but more than 10 have left to form another family called the Mishaya Group. The Nshongi group also was in a area we could hike to from the orientation site, instead of driving a distance to start the hike. I started to feel better once we started moving and after the first few kilometers I was no longer suffering the upset stomach. Instead I was focused on what was turning out to be a very difficult Uganda gorilla trek. (read more about all the habituated families here.)
Our name was mud. Wow. So much mud. It sucked at your shoes and oozed into your socks. It had rained a lot the day before, and we were counting our blessings for a clear morning, but the weather the previous day left its calling card and it was named mud. There was no chance of staying out of the mud and so we didn’t try. I was very glad to have my hiking poles with me as we trekked along, slurping through the muck.
It took us about two and half hours before our guide was on the radio conversing with the advance trackers. We were feeling lucky since we had heard that sometimes it takes 7-8 hours to find them. The trackers had the gorillas in sight. But the gorillas wait for no tourists and they were on the move. At this point we left what was somewhat of a trail and went headlong into the dense bush. Our guide Phillip had a machete and he hacked as much of a trail as possible for us as we stumbled through the vines and bushes and up the mountain side. The sweat was pouring off of me.
And Then There They Were
My heart stopped as the first gorilla, a small juvenile, came bounding across the path right in front of me. But he was gone in a flash. We continued, hacking with the machete through the bush. Suddenly there were four gorillas, two females and two two-year olds. The kids were playing and the mamas were resting after their lunch. I was taking photos and switched to video just in time to have this little fella get up on a branch and pound his chest. Chest pounding in a large gorilla can mean an attack, but this little guy was just acting tough and I was smitten.
Our guide led us down a little incline into a clearing where two more juveniles (a three year old and a two year old) were wrestling. This is both a form of exercise and play, but also a way for the older gorilla to teach the baby. We were watching this playtime and our guide had me step a little to the right and pointed ahead about twenty yards. And there I saw him. A resplendent silverback gorilla.
King Kong comes to mind. This beautiful creature is twenty-four years old (they live as much as forty) and weighs nearly 500 lbs. We never saw this beast stand up but mountain gorillas can grow as tall as 2.25 metres (7.5 feet). The mature male sports a crest of fur on his head and the magnificent silver fur on his back.
Our new friend seemed quit content as he laid there snoozing, then grazing, then watching the littles play. Unlike many in the animal kingdom, the patriarch of the family is intricately involved in the lives of the young. The little gorillas crawled all over him, banged on him and cuddled up to him as he lay. He rolled over into a half sitting position (he seemed to be posing for a centerfold) and watched us watch him. He addressed the kids with a gorilla grunt, which sounds more like a pig grunting than what you think a gorilla would sound like.
Slowly, slowly, my heart returned to it’s normal rhythm as our hour with the Uganda Mountain Gorillas came to an end. Phillip said it was time for us to take our final photos, as our hour was nearly up. As if he understood, the Silverback sat up, looked us in the eye and we snapped our final shots.
On our trek back we had to ford a couple of high running streams. We were soaked, muddy and exhilarated. I don’t think anybody was thinking about how hard the trek had been…only thinking about how rewarding.
Once in a lifetime. I feel so grateful.
I should point out again that the hike was very difficult. Occasionally there are trekkers who just can’t go on. The porters provide another service, but for a price. An additional $300 USD and they will literally carry you in a kind of rickshaw up the mountain. They call this the gorilla helicopter.
On our return ten-hour drive back to Entebbe for one final night before our flight out of Uganda, John took the time to really share his gratitude to us for choosing to visit Uganda. He elaborated on how many jobs are created through gorilla tourism – not just the guides, the rangers and the porters, but all the staff at hotels, restaurants, shops and gas stations. This on top of the money we invested into the conservation of the gorilla through the work done by the African Wildlife Foundation.
Our five day tour included four nights lodging, all our meals, a personal vehicle and our guide John, park entrance permits and all the staff it took to get us up the mountain to the gorillas. We tipped everyone generously. Total for all of this was $3100.
We were sorry our visit to Uganda was so short. It’s such a green, friendly country with UNESCO recognizing it’s biodiversity. Certainly Uganda still has political challenges, and the Entebbe airport is in need of signifcant upgrades. But as a visitor, there are so many exciting options for wildlife viewing, Uganda is poised to be the next big safari destination, although currently still flying under the radar. Your dollars help both the people and the animals, and help save the habitat of these incredible creatures. Just like in Borneo when we visited the Orangutans, loss of habitat is the greatest threat.
If you can afford it I highly recommend a Uganda Gorilla Trek. Come now…before the secret gets out. Come for the gorillas. Come for the beauty. Come for the people of Uganda. Uganda, the Pearl of Africa.
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I am admittedly a bit of a waterfall geek. There is something about the free fall of water that literally takes my breath away. I always find myself trying to watch a single drop…and thinking about how far that drop has traveled. One drop of precious water, suddenly falling, falling, falling…SPLASH.
Be still my heart.
Last year I was enchanted with Iguazu Falls in Brazil…a stunning waterfall that at the time I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful. Oh but wait…there is. Bigger, badder and more beautiful…the wondrous Victoria Falls.
We came here just to see it. It’s a tall order, particularly with all the travel we have done, it’s hard to impress us anymore. But impressed we were. We could hear it long before we could see it…and then there it was. My first look…breathtaking.
Locals know it as Mosi oa-Tunya, meaning smoke and thunder. The name Victoria Falls was given by David Livingstone, the first European to lay eyes on it, in 1855. The falls straddle the border of Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) in South/Central Africa. The falls are generated from the Zambezi River, flowing some 2700 km (1700 miles) from the headwaters in North Zambia. The Zambezi is joined by several tributaries such as the Luena, Chifumage and the Chobe before reaching the falls where the vast amount of water plummets 100 metres (360 feet), creating the biggest curtain of water in the world. The river then flows on, eventually reaching the Indian Ocean. On this journey the Zambezi flows through six countries; Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Angola.
See. It. All.
The falls were formed over thousands of years as the basalt plateau eroded from the pounding water. Today the thing that makes the falls so magnificent is the width. Spanning 1700 meters (5604 feet – about mile and a quarter), you can view the spectacle from the Mosi oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambia side and the Victoria Falls National Park on the Zimbabwe side. We did both. And a whole lot more.
We were told by many people that the view is better on the Zimbabwe side. I wouldn’t say better…but I would say there is more variety of viewing on the Zimbabwe side. It’s easy to see both sides in one day.
It’s also quit easy to see both sides without a guide. Unless you are looking for someone to provide you with wildlife, birdlife or geological details, a guide is not necessary.
We started our Victoria Falls day taking a taxi from our hotel in Livingstone, about ten minutes to the entrance of the Mosi oa-Tunya National Park on the Zambia side. It’s $20 per person to enter the National Park. Consider bringing a poncho or raincoat but make sure it’s not one of those cheap plastic throw-away kind – because those are not allowed. One small effort the park is making to eliminate plastic. If you don’t have a poncho there are plenty of vendors willing to “rent” you one and to sell you all kinds of other things as well.
Our visit in February had the falls running pretty high and that means the mist was high too. Low season is August to December and high water is March to June.
We purchased our tickets at the entrance and did an easy self guided tour on the Zambia side. We walked all the paths and stopped at all the viewpoints and marveled over and over again at the majesty of it. We also did a hike down to “Boiling Pot”, more difficult going down than going up, but worth the view of the “boiling” river just below the falls.
We had planned to go to the Zimbabwe side on a different day, but after thoroughly seeing the Zambia side it wasn’t even noon yet so we decided to walk across the border. There are lots of taxis and rickshaw drivers who want your money to take you across the bridge, but as walkers, we wanted to do the walk. From one park entrance to the next it’s about 2.3km (1.4 miles). First you exit Zambia and there is border control there. We had purchased the KAZA Visa before arriving in Zambia, a special visa that allows visitors to this region to easily cross the borders of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. After exiting Zambia we marveled at the hundreds of big rig trucks filled with copper waiting to be cleared to cross the border. As we walked we had to ignore all the men aggressively trying to sell us carved wooden figures, copper bracelets and drinks. Arne calls it running the gauntlet.
Eventually we arrived at the Victoria Falls Bridge which provides another beautiful view of the falls on the right hand side and down river on the left hand side. This bridge also is home to both a zipline and bungee jumping operation. No thanks.
On the opposite side of the bridge we had to clear Immigration to enter Zimbabwe. This included a medical check and having our temperature taken. Moving on to the entrance to the park the fee was $30 per person. Wow expensive. I was surprised that the two countries can’t come up with some way to do a combined ticket. Currently Zimbabwe has a worthless currency and they are using USD as their currency. But we used our credit card to buy tickets on both sides of the falls.
Once we were in the park we realized it was much bigger and the views offered are really lovely. We had shed our ponchos because they made me sweat so much I was getting wet anyway, so we just let the mist cover us. The temperature was warm so it felt good. An interesting fact about the Victoria Falls Rainforest is that it is the only place on earth that it rains 24 hours a day.
There seemed to be more visitors on this side, but overall we enjoyed a very sparsely populated park. Comparing to our visit to Iguazu the week of New Years 2019 where we could barely move because of the crowds, we were pleasantly surprised by the lack of tourists.
As we walked we encountered a film-crew from ABC News doing a live shot for Good Morning America. We learned later that the story is a combined nature series with National Geographic.
The Zimbabwe side offers some pretty amazing up close and personal moments with the falls – nothing like feeling like you are on the edge of the abyss. The massive flow of water made my fantasy of following one drop of water pretty difficult….but I tried. But later we got even closer to the edge, actually a little too close for me.
Just. Plain. Crazy.
Before arriving we had booked a tour through Victoria Falls Guides to do what it called the Angels Swim. OMG. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. First of all let me say that there are two separate pools that visitors can “swim” in on the very edge of the falls. Devil’s Pool is only safe during the dry season and requires a walk/swim across the river holding on to rope. Say what? Angel’s Pool is accessed via Livingstone Island, a small island in the middle of the river on the Zambia side. It is only available for swimming during medium water flow because when the water is at its highest level, Livingstone Island disappears underwater.
So we signed up to do the Angel’s Pool swim. I knew the pool was close to the edge of the falls because I had seen photos but holy cow. We were right on the ledge. This activity is not for someone faint of heart, afraid of heights, afraid of water, or sane. Seriously this was crazy. At first I told my husband I didn’t think I could do it when I saw how close we were getting…. but of course I ended up doing it. Absolutely heart stopping. I don’t think you could ever get a permit to operate something like this back home in the USA. Too many lawyers.
But now I can add it to the list of crazy, fun exhilarating travel stories…one for the record books. Worth the $230 price for two people.
And by the way, the water was surprisingly warm.
Most visitors come here on full-tours but we rarely do group tours and had no problem enjoying the area on our own. We made all our own arrangements. We stayed at Ngoma Zanga Lodge, a lovely oasis in Livingstone with a full restaurant. From Ngoma Zanga we were able to easily take a taxi ($6) to the falls.
Much. More. Fun.
In addition to swimming at the edge of the falls the region offers a wide variety of other activities for both the thrill-seeker and the more subdued. There is bungee jumping, ziplining, ultralight and helicopter rides. You can also go to a crocodile park, have a candlelight dinner on the edge of the falls, walk with rhinos or have breakfast with elephants. There are jet boat rides, canoe trips and whitewater rafting.
We didn’t do any of those, but we did choose to do the following;
Chobe National Park – Using Victoria Falls Guides, we booked a full day tour in Chobe National Park in Botswana. Door to door service provided us an amazing opportunity to cross the border to Botswana, spend the entire day in Chobe on a morning river cruise and an afternoon land safari drive with lunch in between. We saw amazing animals including hippopotamus, crocodile, water buffalo, antelope, giraffe and hundreds and hundreds of elephants. This full day was worth the $340 price for two people. I would certainly do it again.
Sunset Boat Cruise – Our hotel booked an evening sunset cruise for us on our final night in Zambia. The boat could probably hold 100 people but there was only about 30 people on board so it was not crowded. Live African music, snacks and open bar was included in the $150 price for two people. The cruise also included a naturalist guide who pointed out hippopotamus, giraffes and so many birds along the shore. And of course we enjoyed a beautiful sunset.
Seeing Victoria Falls checks another item from my never ending bucket list. It was worth the effort to get here. I continue to love this continent chock-full of surprises – the never ending wonders of Africa. I know there are still a lot of people who fear traveling in Africa. We found these tourist areas of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana all safe, welcoming, and beautiful. And though the days are long gone where animals roam freely and abundantly, conservation efforts and National Parks offer the most astonishing opportunities for visitors. The natural beauty, lovely people, and incredible history (we all came from here) makes Africa one of the most fascinating places in the world. Our three months enjoying the African continent continues…watch for more adventures coming to a blog near you.
After three weeks on Malaysia’s island of Langkawi, I’ve been thinking a lot about all the islands we have visited around the world. It’s a lot of islands. My favorite islands around the world are usually remote and small. But I have also loved some larger, populated and sometimes touristy islands. We are headed in January to the island of Mauritius – I’m looking forward to six whole weeks there! Just call me Island Girl.
We have been working on our travel plans for the rest of the Grand Adventure 3.0 and have just booked two weeks on the island of Cyprus in April and more than three weeks on the island of Malta in May. There are several other favorite islands around the world that are high on our bucket list we hope to visit over the next few years including Madagascar, Sao Tome, Cuba, Jamaica and Guernsey…to name a few. Ahh my bucket list never seems to get any shorter.
So in today’s blog I thought I would share some of my favorite islands around the world, and a brief description of why they make my fav list. There are several other islands we have visited I don’t mention here…I had to narrow it down. But if you have ever considered traveling to any of these – here are my recommendations;
Very quiet but also expensive. Beaches are nice but having a car at least part of the time is a must if you need to shop. Groceries are very expensive and produce is difficult to get. The people are quiet but nice and it is just beautiful. Boats available to visit other islands.
Don’t miss swimming at Gold Beach Anse Volbert-Côte D’Or,
In October Antiparos was really quiet as the season ends in September. But we had exceptional weather. Some restaurants and businesses in the tiny town were closed for the season but we found everything we needed at reasonable prices. Ferries available to surrounding islands.
By far the tiniest island we have been on, this very low lying Maldivian island is actually an atoll, made up of coral. The weather was incredible and we had the most relaxing three weeks of our life here. Best one day snorkeling of my life off of Huraa. Very little to do, and nearly no shopping. Note that there is no alcohol on this Muslim island!
Size 150 X 500 miles (12th largest island in the world)
Population 1.3 million
Best time to visit December to May
Where we stayed – we rented a caravan and traveled around
New Zealand is downright amazing. We loved both the North and South Island and we would really love to go back and visit again. This is not a laying in the sun island. Rather it is an island for all things recreational: hiking, walking, cycling, bird watching and more. Absolutely stunning. And ridiculously expensive.
It’s been a long time since I visited magical Mackinac and I sure would love to go again. It is so unique, especially in the USA, to find a place with no motor vehicles. Both times I was there in the summer with beautiful weather. Renting bikes and riding around the island is a highlight.
I’m lucky to count myself as one who has visited every Hawaiian Island that isn’t privately owned, and hands down Maui is the best. It is expensive but beyond that everything about it is perfect – the weather, the water, the beach, the food, the activities and the fact for people who live on the west coast of the USA, it’s really easy to get to.
Don’t miss whale watching for humpback whales in the winter months
We loved our time on both of these beautiful islands. Bali is very popular with tourists for its beauty, beaches and vibe. Lombok on the other hand is a unique, tiny and non-touristy island where we spent six glorious days doing nothing but laying in a hammock.
Don’t miss an authentic Balinese Cultural performance in Ubud
I visited Zanzibar with my sister after spending a week on a safari in mainland Tanzania. It remains one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It is also the second worst sunburn I have got. The white sand beaches are amazing. The people are quiet and kind. The seafood delicious.
Don’t miss a ride in an authentic Zanzibar Dhow Boat
Definitely one of the most interesting places I have ever been. This tiny island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is difficult to get to and expensive but worth it. We loved our time here learning about the Moai and the history of Rapa Nui. I highly recommend.
Don’t miss touring with an authorized tour guide to understand the amazing statues and history of this island
We did a five day tour with a guide around the major sites of Sri Lanka seeing some of the most amazing things including the astonishing Sigiriya ancient mountain fortress. Then we kicked back for more than two weeks in a tiny hut on the beach in Hikkadua, which ended up being “interesting” but super fun and the weather and the beach were perfect. The Sri Lankan people are some of the kindest on the planet.
Don’t miss Sigiriya Fortress one of the most incredible things I have ever seen
Size 50 x 80 miles (Isla Isabela, the largest of the archipelago)
Best time to visit January to June
Where we stayed – we were on a small 12 person cruise
My first dip into my bucket list was this trip to the Galapagos Islands to celebrate my 50th birthday. Living on a boat for five nights we saw many islands and the most amazing collection of wildlife and sea life. We loved every minute of it and although it’s expensive, we recommend it to anyone!
We only had a couple of days in Singapore, the teeny island city/state that is one of the most expensive places in the world. It is also one of the cleanest and most colorful, particularly at night. I hope to return.
Don’t miss the Singapore Gardens by the Bay at night and the amazing Singapore Botanic Garden
We only had a couple of day on Nantucket but we were traveling with our young children at the time and it was a great little place for a family vacation. We were there in spring before the hoard of tourists descend in the summer and it was peaceful and beautiful and historic.
Don’t miss a Clam Bake and riding bikes around the island
We drove up to the Maritimes from Boston and enjoyed the drive as much as the islands. Prince Edward Island was still at that time very quiet and we enjoyed riding bikes, eating lobster and learning about history.
Don’t miss searching for sea glass at Souris Beaches
Average temperature – Honshu is a big island with multiple climates but Tokyo average summer high is 80 F
Size 150 x 500 miles
Population 104 million (2nd most populous island after Java Indonesia)
Best time to visit – March to May and September to November
We spent five weeks exploring the island of Honshu. Our kids were little and it was a magical time for us as a family. Japan is one of the most unique and beautiful places in the world. I hope to go back some day.
I have visited these islands many times as they are in the backyard of where I grew up
Average Temperature 55 F
Size – there are nine islands in varying sizes. The two largest are Orcas and San Juan
Best time to visit – Summer months
We have traveled to nearly all of the islands over my lifetime growing up in the Pacific Northwest. The islands are a great place for family camping or romantic getaways. Hiking, cycling and kayaking are popular.
Don’t miss getting up close and personal with the famous J-Pod of Orca Whales on a whale watching tour.