The shoreline at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Park.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Opportunities to explore incredible and at times surreal landscapes abound in Oregon Dunes National Recreation area. Go hiking, rent a dune buggy, or try sandboarding on your visit, and make sure to schedule a stop at Umpqua Lighthouse.

Sunset in Solentiname. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

San Fernando and the Solentiname Islands

Solentiname’s best-known attraction is the creativity of its inhabitants, so don’t expect a lot of tourist infrastructure. Take a fully guided, four-day exploration of the entire Solentiname archipelago and the Río Papaturro in Los Guatuzos, including all its natural, archaeological, and cultural attractions.

Springtime at Daffodil Hill. Photo © Brandon Bourdages/123rf.

Visiting Volcano, California

Little Volcano is an often-overlooked town in the Shenandoah Valley. While it has its own share of wineries, the real draws are the stunning Black Chasm Caverns–inspiration for the atmosphere in the film The Matrix–spring on Daffodil Hill, which explodes each March into a profusion of sunny yellow, and hotels with vintage Gold Country charm.

Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge. Photo © Elizabeth Perkins.

Los Guatuzos Wildlife Refuge

Howler monkeys and birdcalls will wake you bright and early in Los Guatuzos. Los Guatuzos contains dense populations of crocodiles; caimans; feral pigs; jaguars; and howler, white-faced, and spider monkeys. This is also home to a rare, ancient species of fish called the gaspar (Actractoseus tropicus), a living, armored relic of the Jurassic age. Between February and April, flocks of migratory species fly through in spectacular concentrations.

View from Granite Point Trail at Point Lobos. Photo © Ken Wolter/123rf.

Visit Carmel’s Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

The Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is filled with ragged cliffs, hidden coves, rich marine ecosystems, lovely meadows, and dense pine and cypress forests. Hiking trails crisscross the reserve, the most spectacular of which hug the coastline. Point Lobos might be even more famous for what lies beneath the water than above it; underwater protected areas are home to a diverse marine ecosystem that includes 70-foot high kelp forests.

Rio Celeste Valley in Volcan Tenorio National Park, Costa Rica. Photo © Joerg Hackemann/123rf.

Hiking Tenorio Volcano National Park

Volcán Tenorio, rising southeast of Upala, is blanketed in montane rainforest and protected within Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio. Local hiking is superb, albeit often hard going on higher slopes. Cougars and jaguars tread the forests, where birds and beasts abound.

View from Hotelito Desconocido. Photo © furphotos, licensed Creative Commons usage.

Rustic Luxury Retreats in Puerto Vallarta

A sprinkling of secluded upscale mini resorts, perfect for a few days of quiet tropical relaxation, have opened in some remote corners of the Puerto Vallarta region. Being hideaways, they are not always easily accessible, but for those willing to make an extra effort, the rewards are rustically luxurious accommodations in lovely natural settings.

A monkey in a tree on Monkey Island. Photo © Paul Schlindwein/123rf.

The Natural Beauty of Nicaragua’s Las Isletas

The 365-island archipelago of Nicaragua formed when Volcán Mombacho erupted some 20,000 years ago, hurling its top half into the nearby lake in giant masses of rock, ash, and lava. The natural beauty of the isletas is spectacular there is plenty for history buffs to enjoy as well. The islanders themselves are interesting and friendly, maintaining a rural lifestyle unique in Nicaragua: Children paddle dugout canoes or rowboats to school from an early age, and their parents get along by fishing and farming or by taking camera-toting tourists for a ride in their boats.