Moon Travel Guides Trip Ideas, Itineraries, Maps & Area Experts Wed, 26 Apr 2017 16:44:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Moon Travel Guides 32 32 125073523 5 Best Trails for a Family-Friendly Rocky Mountain National Park Hike Wed, 26 Apr 2017 16:44:26 +0000 Rocky Mountain National Park is a great option for family vacations in Colorado, and Erin English has five suggestions for the perfect family-friendly hike.

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The phrase “family-friendly hike” is up for wide interpretation. Parents lugging full-to-the-brim diaper bags and strollers around on a Rocky Mountain National Park hike might be game for a half-hour jaunt on level ground (Coyote Valley Trail fits the bill). On the flipside, I’m personally aware of a family that climbed Longs Peak with a 6-year-old in tow. Like I said—family friendly: it means different things for different people.

For the purpose of this list, the phrase is defined as holding broad interest and appeal for multi-generational groups—from toddlers to teens, midlifers to active seniors. The following five hikes in Rocky have been proven, time and again, to capture imaginations of all ages.

view of mountains and pond lilies on Nymph Lake

The picturesque Nymph Lake is abundant with pond lilies. Photo © Erin English.

Nymph Lake and Beyond

Nymph Lake’s appeal lies largely in its decorative pond lilies. In the warm months, scores of verdant leaves float weightlessly alongside brilliant yellow flowers. Any spot along the lake’s edge is great for views, but I recommend parking yourself at the north side of Nymph for the most remarkable vantage point. To arrive at Nymph, drive or catch a shuttle to Bear Lake, and hike approximately half a mile (one-way) along the Emerald Lake Trail. If everyone in your party is pumped to keep going, continue on to Dream Lake (an additional 0.6 miles) and finally Emerald (an additional 0.7 miles) before heading back.

Father and son hiking to the cabin at Holzwarth Historic Site

Holzwarth Historic Site was built in the early 20th century and has been well-preserved. Photo © Erin English.

Holzwarth Historic Site

One of the most interesting remnants of early settlement on Rocky’s west side is Holzwarth Historic Site, a well-preserved guest ranch built in the early 20th century. History buffs in particular will enjoy poking around this cluster of guest cabins and outbuildings. Volunteers lead informal tours around the property in summertime, and some of the log structures display historical items of significance. A ranger-led campfire program with songs and stories takes place one night a week in the peak season (bring your own marshmallows to roast). The hike out to Holzwarth is approximately 0.5 miles from the trailhead.

child walking on a path at Lilly Lake

Lily Lake has a wheelchair-accessible path that is also great for strolling. Photo © Erin English.

Lily Lake

Lily Lake is a people-pleaser for so many reasons: among them, its birds and colorful wildflowers. A 0.8-mile, wheelchair-accessible path winds its way around the lake and is delightful for strolling. Several picnic tables with nature-iffic views dot the shore; snag one of these highly coveted lunch spots if you can. There’s no admission fee to hike around Lily Lake—simply arrive via Highway 7, on the east side of Rocky, and park in one of two lots. They fill quickly, so plan to get there early in the morning or late in the day.

Albert Falls waterfall surrounded by trees

Hike the Glacier Gorge Trail to Albert Falls. Photo © Erin English.

Alberta Falls

When journeying to a waterfall, I am of the opinion that the build-up on the hike out is almost as good as the gusher itself. I just love listening for those first glorious sounds of rushing water. The easy trek to Alberta Falls—a tumbling, frothy spectacle—delivers on both fronts: the path there, and the main attraction. The tree-lined trail is especially gorgeous in the fall, when the aspen leaves’ pigment changes from green to yellow. Large rocks alongside Alberta are great for sunning or snacking. Your starting point for this 1.6-mile round-trip hike is Glacier Gorge Trailhead. In the summer, the parking lot fills up by 6am, so plan on either rallying your crew at the crack of dawn, or taking the park shuttle.

Tundra Communities Trail on a sunny day

Bring a sweater when you head out on the Tundra Communities Trail. Photo © Erin English.

Tundra Communities Trail

Walking around above treeline is a fascinating experience, no matter your age. On the Tundra Communities Trail (0.6 miles round-trip), pikas and marmots scurry about. The wind often screeches and howls, and plants grip tightly to the earth in order to survive. This partially paved trail features a number of interpretive signs along the way, making for both an educational and scenic outing. To get there, take Trail Ridge Road to the Rock Cut parking area; the path to follow will be obvious. Pack sweaters and jackets for all.

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Seattle With Kids: Family Fun 3-Day Itinerary Fri, 14 Apr 2017 15:55:36 +0000 Though the city is best known for its very adult technology industry and cloudy weather, Seattle is fun for the whole family–as long as you like to explore, play, and get dirty.

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Though the city is best known for its very adult technology industry and cloudy weather, Seattle with kids is also a lot of fun–as long as you all like to explore, play, and get dirty.

Stay at the Hotel Monaco or Hotel Ballard, which have adult style but less bustle, or the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, which has a glassed-in swimming pool that kids will love.

sea otter looking at the camera

The whole family will love the aquarium! Photo courtesy of the Seattle Aquarium.

Day 1

The entire Seattle Center complex is perfect for children, starting with—of course—the Seattle Children’s Museum. The other attractions are ideal for kids, like the IMAX theater and hands-on exhibits at Pacific Science Center, which teach everything from global climate to parts of the human body. Be sure to toss a coin into the pools that sit between the buildings—it’s good luck.

The Space Needle will thrill all the way from the elevator ride to the 360-degree revolving restaurant on top, and even Chihuly Garden and Glass, where the outdoor glass sculptures look like a scene from Alice in Wonderland, is surprisingly family friendly. Every kind of dining preference can be catered to at the Armory, with its food court of local favorites, and the International Fountain outside was made to be played in.

Down on the waterfront, the Seattle Aquarium has giant tanks of fish, a wily octopus, and feeding shows with harbor seals. Check up front for details on the day’s events. Next door, the Seattle Great Wheel thrills the child in all of us, especially when it dips over the dark Elliott Bay water.

Most restaurants in Seattle are somewhat family friendly, save the most formal. Get the whole family to try oysters at Elliott’s Oyster House, or rely on tried-and-true fried treats at Ivar’s Acres of Clams on the waterfront.

Day 2

As stuffy as the name sounds, the Museum of History and Industry was made for young explorers. Just venture upstairs to the working periscope, or try the interactive history exhibits that explain how nature, calamity, and ingenuity built the city. Plus, the Center for Wooden Boats next door rents toy sailboats for use on the pond next to the museum, and the grass outside is perfect for watching seaplanes take off from Lake Union.

Over in Ballard, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks combines a botanical garden with a working nautical operation. It’s easy to spend an entire afternoon watching the engineering feat that moves boats up and down, passing them into the Ship Canal that links the city’s lakes to Puget Sound. Across the locks, an underground fish ladder allows salmon to make their annual move to fresh water.

For dinner, make your way toward Fremont, to the Frelard Pizza Company. Located on the border of Ballard and Fremont, this thin-crust pizza joint has a play area for kids.

ferris wheel in Seattle

Seattle Great Wheel. Photo © Robert Briggs/Dreamstime.

Day 3

Get breakfast at Macrina Bakery in SoDo. A block south, the Living Computers: Museum + Labs has working computers on display, some hundreds of times bigger than the cell phones kids are used to using. Ask about which ones have working computer games from the past. Meanwhile, the Seattle Pinball Museum is much more low-tech. The playable machines, which are included in the cost of admission, range from decades old to brand new, but the goal is the same—keep hitting buttons and prevent the little ball from disappearing.

End your day with dinner in the International District. Shanghai Garden is a good choice for families.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Seattle.

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Best of Italy Itinerary: Two Weeks in Rome, Florence, and Venice Thu, 13 Apr 2017 22:23:57 +0000 See the best of Italy with this two-week itinerary balancing past and present in the incredible cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice.

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Crafting a best of Italy itinerary is both very easy and very hard. To start, the three cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice are an obvious choice. But seeing everything in these cities is impossible, and visiting one museum after another will leave you exhausted and unable to absorb what you have seen. You’re better offer taking it slow and balancing days with a mix of sights and everyday activities, like lingering in piazze, tasting gelato, and enjoying aperitivo (happy hour). Using local travel cards like RomaPass, Firenzecard, and Venezia Unica will help you get the most out of your journey without wasting time in lines.

Rome is a convenient starting point for a three-city tour of Italy. Most transatlantic flights land directly in the Italian capital and tickets are less expensive than to Florence or Venice, which often require connecting flights. The 327 miles that separate the cities are covered by high-speed trains, which are the quickest and easiest way of getting between destinations. A Rome-to-Florence-to-Venice itinerary also allows you to travel from the most populated to the least populated city and from oldest to newest, which can facilitate appreciation and understanding of each.

colosseum during the day

Rome’s ancient amphitheater exceeds all expectations. Photo ©


Day 1

Walking is the best cure for jet lag, so after you settle into your room, head out for lunch and a stroll. The pizza al taglio parlors in the center provide a good introduction to Roman pizza. Point to the variety you like and have it wrapped up for takeaway. Grab a seat on the stone bench at the base of Palazzo Farnese and observe the comings and goings in the busy square. At the first sign of a yawn enter a bar and order an espresso. Although most Romans drink at the counter, outdoor seating is common.

Afterwards ride the number 23, 44, or 280 bus or 8 tram to Aventino and Testaccio. If it’s close to aperitivo (happy hour) order a cocktail at Porto Fluviale and enjoy the buffet that can double as dinner. The longer you resist sleep the easier it will be to adapt to Italian time.

Day 2

The Colosseum is a sight that cannot be missed. Walk to the ancient stadium, or ride Metro B to Circo Massimo and approach from the south. Skip the lines with your preordered tickets or RomaPass and spend an hour exploring the interior with the audio guide. Then head next door to the Roman Forum, where you can wander through ruins and get a feel for ancient Rome. To see more artifacts, climb nearby Capitoline Hill and visit the Musei Capitolino. Michelangelo designed the square outside the museum and there’s a great view of the city from the adjacent Vittoriano monument.

Walk down to the Jewish Ghetto for a taste of artichokes prepared in the Jewish style at Nonna Betta or the other kosher restaurants on Via del Portico D’Ottavia. Alternatively, ride the number 8 tram to the Piramide station and swap ancient for 19th-century history. Pay your respects to Keats in the Protestant Cemetery before heading to the covered Testaccio Market. Pick a stand and create an improvised picnic of a beef sandwich, cheese, and bread, all washed down with local wine served in plastic cups.

On the way back, explore the residential streets of Aventino and the shaded Giardini degli Aranci (Orange Garden) with a view of the Vatican. Return at night to Monte Testaccio via the Metro B to Piramide for dancing and Roman nightlife, or dine al fresco at one of the informal kiosks along the Tiber and let your feet have the night off.

Day 3

Zigzag along the pedestrian streets towards Campo De’ Fiori. Browse the market for household souvenirs and order pizza bianca from Il Forno on the northwestern corner of the square. There’s a flow of tourists on their way to Piazza Navona, but plenty of scenic side streets offer less crowded opportunities to reach the square. Choose one and admire the former athletic track with the help of a gelato from Frigidarium. Street musicians play near the fountains and there’s a lot of art on display. Avoid cafes with waitstaff out front recruiting tourists, and order an espresso at Antico Caffè della Pace.

The Pantheon is less than ten minutes away and free to enter. After visiting it, browse the boutiques along Via del Corso as you head towards the newly refurbished Spanish Steps, which you can climb to reach Villa Borghese. Escape the summer heat by cycling in the city’s biggest park or visiting the Borghese Gallery (advance reservations required).

Afterward, walk down to Piazza del Popolo and follow Via Ripetta to the Ara Pacis museum, then have dinner at Gusto. End your day by visiting the Trevi Fountain after dark.

statues and facade of Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain in Rome. Photo ©

Day 4

Walk or ride the Metro A to the Ottaviano station and follow the pilgrims to Vatican City. Remember to dress properly, and arrive early to the Vatican Museums where you can choose from several itineraries taking in the immense collection. Most visitors beeline to the Sistine Chapel, but there are less crowded parts of the museum.

Once you’ve gotten your fill of art, take the guided bus tour of the gardens before entering St. Peter’s Basilica. Light a candle and descend into the crypt to pay tribute to past popes, then make your way to the top of the cupola. The elevator only goes so far and you’ll need stamina to climb the highest structure in the city. If you arrive on Sunday morning you can join the faithful in the square below and receive the pope’s blessing.

The nearby streets of Borgo Pio and Borgo Vittorio have catered to pilgrims since the Middle Ages and are lined with eateries and souvenir shops. Follow one of these parallel streets to Castel Sant’Angelo. You can climb the castle and enjoy the view from the rooftop bar. Then walk or catch a bus to Trastevere and mingle with the crowds in Piazza Trilussa. Order cacao pepe pasta at Da Giovanni and explore the streets of this lively neighborhood packed with bars and clubs.

Optional: Add an Extra Day in Rome

Ride the train from Piramide station to Ostia Antica and walk along the well-preserved streets of an ancient city. Explore the baths, theater, shops, and villas to understand how the Romans once lived. Afterward, have lunch in the small medieval enclave near the entrance to the archeological site or take the train back and get off at the Magliana station to explore EUR. There are dozens of eateries along Viale Europa and Viale America, along with Fascist-era architecture and a man-made lake where Japanese cherry blossoms bloom in spring.

Via Appia Antica is closer to the center and can be reached on the 118 bus from Circus Maximus in 15 minutes or on foot in a little over twice that time. Rent a bike from the park office and then saddle up and set off on a leisurely trot down the first road that led to Rome.

Golden hour over the River Arno in Florence

The Arno River in Florence. Photo ©


Day 5

The journey from Rome to Florence on board Italo or Trenitalia trains takes less than two hours. Both operators run frequent departures from Termini station in the center of the city and Tiburtina slightly to the east. Depart midmorning so you can have lunch in Florence. There are taxis and buses waiting outside Santa Maria Novella station, but the historic center is small and flat enough to navigate on foot, with no two monuments more than 20 minutes apart.

If you’re driving, consider stopping in Assisi, burial site of St. Francis, or Siena. Florence’s historic rival is famous for its shell-shaped piazza, annual horse race, and enormous unfinished cathedral.

Once you’ve deposited your bags, find a small trattoria like Trattoria Sostanza and discover the difference between Florentine and Roman gastronomy. Order papa al pomodoro or the steak from Chianina cattle raised along the Tuscan coast. The two covered markets in the center are also good places to learn about local culinary traditions. The 2nd floor of Mercato Centrale is a food emporium, while downstairs you can sample tripe sandwiches, a Florentine specialty.

Work off your meal by hiking to Basilica San Miniato al Monte via the less traveled footpath, which has a panoramic payoff. Just cross the Pont alle Grazie bridge and follow the signs through the old city gate before turning right and up the grassy path. On the way back walk along the medieval walls to Forte Belvedere, where free outdoor exhibitions are organized, and enter the Pitti Palace gardens from the side entrance.

If there’s time catch the sunset over Ponte Vecchio from nearby Ponte Santa Trinità. Otherwise order an aperitivo at Volume or any of the bars with outdoor seating lining Piazza Santo Spirito. During the summer, head to the riverside beach where DJs spin lounge music until late.

Day 6

Start the day with an espresso at Café Rivoire and purchase a Duomo card for a tour of the cathedral. There are a lot of steps to climb up the Duomo, but the inside is nearly as impressive as the outside. (Note: It’s not for the claustrophobic.) Once you’ve reached the top, circle the terrace for a 360-degree view of the city. The card includes entry to the Campanile bell tower and newly renovated Museo dell’Opera, where you can learn how the Duomo was built. Just a few blocks away is the Piazza della Signoria in the center of the city and another steep climb to the top of Palazzo Vecchio.

Sample Florentine pizza at Cucina Torcicoda or a thick local steak at Mario’s before visiting the Museum of San Marco, which contains colorful frescoed cells where monks lived. Nearby and a couple of blocks north is the Accademia that houses the statue of David and only lets in 300 visitors at a time. That explains the line, which will require patience if you haven’t booked your tickets in advance.

Next pay homage to Michelangelo, who grew up in Florence and is buried inside Basilica di Santa Croce. Arrive a couple of hours before closing (5:30pm) if you want to get in. Then stop into nearby Vivoli for gelato. Try their crema de’ Medici (cream-flavored gelato). At night, wineries offer cellars full of local Tuscan vintages, and the happy hour cocktail of choice is Negroni served with cured meats and cheese. The Soul Kitchen and Winter Garden by Caino are both good options with happy hour appetizers that can easily substitute for a sit-down dinner.

front of basilica of santa croce

Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence. Photo ©

Day 7

Mornings are the only time to see the city’s Last Supper frescoes, which were painted inside Florence’s smaller churches like Cenacolo di Ognissanti and Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia and are often overlooked by tourists. This is your opportunity to be alone with a masterpiece. Afterwards enjoy an enormous takeaway sandwich stuffed with Tuscan ham from All’Antico Vinaio.

Brace yourself for crowds and join the line at the Uffizi, home to works by Botticelli and other greats. After visiting the galleries, take a break in the museum bar overlooking Piazza della Signoria. The museum is considerably smaller than the Vatican Museums and you can see it all in a couple of hours. If the line is too long or you want to discover the city’s most underrated museum, head to the Bargello nearby and prepare to be blown away by another David with far fewer admirers.

For a caffeine pick-me-up stop into Ditta Artigianale, or pull up a lounge chair at Amble and start the evening with a cocktail. For dinner, the rustic Angiolino is a good choice for handmade pasta dishes, but if you want to sample Michelin-rated flavors and dine in a romantic interior reserve a table at La Bottega del Buon Caffè overlooking the Arno.

Optional: Add an Extra Day in Florence

Fiesole is a half-day excursion just outside the city with stunning views overlooking Florence. You can get there on the number 7 bus from the train station in around 20 minutes. During the summer there’s a musical festival and evening concerts are held in the ancient Roman amphitheater.

The hills around Florence are dotted with medieval villas where influential families retreated during hot Renaissance summers. There are finely furnished interiors and manicured gardens to explore with fountains, sculptures, and occasional views of the Duomo in the distance. Beyond these elegant homes is Tuscany and some of Italy’s most iconic landscapes. Use Enjoy or Car2Go, Florence’s car-sharing program, or rent a scooter from Walkabout or Tuscany Vespa Tours and motor down the SP 222 into Chianti country to sample the latest vintages from roadside vineyards.

If you prefer not to drive, board a regional train from SMN station to Lucca. An hour later you’ll be inside one of Italy’s best-preserved fortified towns and can cycle along the ramparts and climb medieval towers in the center. Soccer fans in town from September to June can walk or catch a bus to Artemio Franchi stadium. Home games are usually played on Sunday afternoons at 1pm and tickets are available at the gates. Make sure to wear purple.

gondola in the canal near the Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge in Venice. Photo ©


Day 8

If you’re driving from Florence to Venice, consider a stop for lunch in Ferrara or Bologna, two cities that are famous for food. The latter is also on the same high-speed train line that connects Rome, Florence, and Venice, which makes it a convenient stop. Journey time by train to Venice is around two hours with several stops. Venice is the end of the line, and Santa Lucia station drops passengers off on the city’s doorstep. You can reach your accommodations on foot or via water taxi on the Grand Canal, which is more expensive but also more fun.

After you’ve settled in to your hotel, follow the yellow signs to St. Mark’s Square and take the secret tour of the Doge’s Palace to discover why they call it the Bridge of Sighs. Enter St. Mark’s Basilica next door and listen to the audio guide explain the mosaics.

Restaurants are expensive in Venice, but snacking at local bars is affordable and a chance to sample lagoon fish transformed into tapas-like appetizers called cicchetti. Try All’Arco across the Rialto Bridge and near the animated fish market. From there you can hitch a ride over the Grand Canal in a gondola and spend the evening in Campo Santo Stefano listening to Vivaldi.

Day 9

Purchase a ferry pass and go island hopping on the 4.1 or 4.2 vaporetto from Fondamente Nuove. Get a window seat or stand on deck for the best views. Get off at the first stop on Murano. From here, you can visit workshops and watch a glassblowing demonstration. Some require a small fee while others are free.

Continue on the 12 vaporetto from the Faro station to Burano. It’s a 45-minute ride past lagoon wildlife, and you can order fried calamari and cold beer at Fritto Misto near the main dock once you get there. Afterwards, circumnavigate the island on foot and put your camera to good use. Along the way are colorful houses and galleries where locals make and sell textiles and glassware.

Just north of Burano is the nearly uninhabited island of Torcello. There’s only one path to follow unless you decide to cross the Ponte del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge) and follow the dirt trail to Santa Maria Assunta cathedral. On the way back stop at Locanda Cipriani, where Hemingway wrote and drank, before returning to Venice by vaporetto as the sun sets over the lagoon.

four people dressed in Carnivale costumes

Carnivale goers in Venice. Photo © Claudio D’Armini.

Day 10

If it’s a weekday morning, watch the fishmongers and greengrocers under the colorful Rialto market and shop for masks along the adjacent streets. Atelier Pietro Longhi is a good place for dressing up and getting into the Carnevale spirit. Head to any of the traditional bacari bars nearby and accompany every meal with prosecco from the Veneto region. If you don’t want to wander unknowingly past Marco Polo’s house or the oldest ghetto in Europe, spend a couple of hours with a certified guide who can provide an insider’s perspective on the city. Take a break inside the first pastry shop you see and sample as many delicacies as your appetite can handle. There’s a different sweet for every season, but burranei are baked all year long.

Hop a vaporetto to the Galleria dell’Accademia for a glimpse of Venetian Renaissance art. Alternatively, if you prefer contemporary canvases, keep going to the Guggenheim Foundation and Punta della Dogana at the very tip of Dorsoduro. Escape the narrow streets of the center and take a walk along the sun-drenched Fondamenta Zaterre promenade and stop for a gelato at Da Nico. Enjoy a cup or cone on the dock overlooking Giudecca and the southern lagoon. At night the squares near the university fill up. Campo Santa Margherita is the most animated in town, where you can listen to street musicians and join improvised parties spilling out into the square on weekends. If you haven’t tried risotto with fish, make your way to Osteria da Codroma.

Optional: Add an Extra Day in Venice

It’s difficult to tire of Venice, but if you long for a different landscape spend a morning cruising up the Brenta Canal on a boat tour with Il Burchiello and then take the train back to Venice. Ride a vaporetto out to the Lido and lie on the beach or rent a bike near the main landing and cycle along this narrow strip of an island to the wild reserve where Goethe was inspired and Mussolini played golf.

Back in Venice, do your own sailing with a boat from Brussa Is Boat. A license isn’t required but you will need to learn the rules of the lagoon. If that sounds too risky, try paddling through the city by kayak or riding a wakeboard.

If you happen to be in town during the Venice Biennale (May-November, odd-numbered years) art festival, visit the pavilions in the public gardens and installations set up around the city. All the gambling houses in the city have closed except one—you can still place bets at the Venice Casino and play familiar American table games or harder-to-master European games until 2am.

Back to Rome

Day 11

It takes a little over 3.5 hours to get back to Rome by train. Leave Venice early enough to enjoy a final meal in the capital. Take the subway, tram, or bus to Trastevere for a tasty farewell, and if you haven’t ordered amatriciana or carciofi alla romana this is the time to do so. Before heading off to the airport, climb the nearby Gianicolo Hill for one last look at the Eternal City and say your good-byes to Italy.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Rome, Florence, and Venice.

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From Markets to Museums: The Best Things Do in Marrakech Thu, 13 Apr 2017 15:13:11 +0000 Author Lucas Peters shares the best things to do and see in Morocco's great city of Marrakech, from visiting the bustling souks to relaxing at a traditional hammam.

The post From Markets to Museums: The Best Things Do in Marrakech appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

Modern-day Marrakech is made up of ancient bamboo-covered souks, an endless array of bazaars, lush palm groves, five-star restaurants, snake charmers, fortune tellers, and characters of all shapes and sizes. With the snowcapped peaks of the High Atlas serving as a backdrop, it often feels as though Marrakech has sprung out from the famous tales of Scheherazade. With its myriad activities, sights, foods, and accommodations to fit nearly every budget and interest, it should come as no surprise that Marrakech is one of the most popular destinations in the world.

Most travelers will find that Marrakech’s famed medina is more of a felt experience than a sightseeing stop. Somewhat surprisingly, there are only a few attractions and museums to tour in the area. Most sights can be visited between breakfast and lunch, leaving plenty of time to wander through the souks and bazaars, which is the real pastime in Marrakech. But be warned: if it’s your first experience in a Moroccan medina, the vast bustling streets of Marrakech can be stressful to navigate, and it’s easy to become disoriented. Streets are usually unnamed and there are plenty of confusing, often frustrating, dead ends. Thankfully, the lack of pressure to check off a list of sights makes it easier to stop in at a café or dawdle a bit longer over lunch (or perhaps reserve that much-needed massage), all in the name of relaxation—particularly after an adventure in getting lost. Don’t worry: it’s bound to happen, and is all part of the experience.

A water seller on the Jemma el-Fnaa. Photo © Lucas Peters.

A water seller on the Jemma el-Fnaa. Photo © Lucas Peters.

A stay in Marrakech wouldn’t be complete without a night out on the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the giant plaza that is the carnival heart of the city. Fortune tellers, jugglers, medicine men, musicians, henna artists, storytellers and snake charmers gather to entertain the crowds as they have for a millennium. Sip on fresh-squeezed orange juice from one of the twenty or so local sellers (prices run about 4 dirhams) and peer through the veil of smoke from lamb, chicken, and beef brochettes being grilled up at the numerous food stands, while the Gnawa drumbeat rhythmically draws you further into the festivities. This is a quintessential Marrakechi scene and truly something to behold.

The Ville Nouvelle offers some of the best restaurants in town, some of the best parks in Morocco, and some of the best nightclubs in Africa. Though lacking in major sightseeing attractions, a trip through the palm groves should be on your itinerary, as well as an early morning at the Majorelle Gardens.

Evening at Jemaa el-Fnaa, where visitors can find all manner of food stands and local culture.

Evening at Jemaa el-Fnaa, where visitors can find all manner of food stands and local culture. Photo © Simon Hack/Dreamstime.

Best Things to Do in Marrakech

Shopping the Souks

Chunky silver jewelry, hand-woven carpets, artisanal soaps, and hand-spun and painted ceramics are just a few of the goodies waiting for you in the labyrinthine souks of Marrakech. Of course, one of the charms (and one of the hassles) of Morocco is bartering. Prices are nearly always negotiable. The entire interaction is an intricate dance, with partners taking turns with the lead, spinning one another around until a final price is agreed upon. Moroccan dancing partners, at least when it comes to shopping, are notoriously aggressive and demanding, and you are expected to be equally aggressive and demanding. Don’t be rude, but be firm with a price you think is fair.

Moroccan Spas

There are still a number of traditional hammams (Moroccan spas) running throughout the medina of Marrakech. These are simple affairs with a steam room and scrubbing available for 10-20Dh. Though intended for locals, many travelers find a visit to a genuine Moroccan hammam to be a memorable experience. You can ask your accommodations for directions to the closest one.

A considerably less traditional, though completely luxurious, spa experience can be had at almost any of the palatial hotels in Hivernage. The cream of the crop is the Es Saadi Palace Spa (Rue Ibrahim el Mazini, tel. 0524/337 400). The enormous spa grounds feature a thermal spa, high-tech swimming pool with multiple water pathways, thermal heat baths, massage rooms, open terraces for yoga, a complete gym, and a mirrored room for indoor yoga or dance. This is holistic body care at its finest.

Storytelling at Café Clock

Every Thursday night at 7pm, Café Clock (224 Derb Chtouka, tel. 0655/210 172, free) hosts one of the most culturally interesting events in town. Professional storytellers from the Jemaa el-Fnaa come and weave their tales for audiences in English and Moroccan Arabic. Other weekly events include traditional music on Sundays (6pm), jam sessions on Wednesdays—where you can bring your own instrument and play with a cast of characters from around the world—(7pm), and live local music on Saturdays (6pm).

colorful array of ground cooking spices

Take a cooking class in Marrakech to learn how to utilize Moroccan spices. Photo © Lucas Peters.

Cooking Classes

Check in with the dada (a woman who manages the cooking and children of a house) at the chic La Maison Arabe (1 Derb Assehbé, near Bab Doukkala, tel. 0524/387 010, 600Dh). Geared toward both amateurs and professionals, classes work with translators and use modern equipment. Classes begin with an explanation of the seasonal menu, typically with a Moroccan salad as well as a tajine of your choice (you can also forgo the salad and make a dessert instead). Then you’ll take a tour of the local market to pick fresh ingredients, make a quick stop at the spice market, and then get to work. After class, enjoy the fruits of your labor poolside in in this elaborate, upmarket riad.

Things to See

Marrakech Museum

The restored Dar Menebhi Palace houses the Marrakech Museum (Musée de Marrakech) (Pl. Ben Youssef, tel. 0524/441 893, daily 9am-6pm, 50Dh). Though there is plenty to see on display, half of the fun of this museum is walking around the restored palace and taking in the attention to detail, the zellij tile work, enormous carved wood doors, and fine stucco work.

If you are touring the Medersa Ben Youssef and the Marrakech Museum, buy the combined visit ticket for 60 dirhams.

Medersa Ben Yousseff

The Medersa Ben Yousseff (Kaat Benahid, tel. 0632/251 164, daily 8am-5pm, 50Dh) was a functioning Quranic school built during the Almoravid period in the 12th century, and was in continual use until the 19th century. It has recently been restored. Throughout the medersa, you’ll find photos of the recent restoration as well as beautiful woodwork carved from the cedar trees of the Atlas Mountains throughout the vestibules, cupolas and main prayer room. Marble imported from Italy, combined with the local stucco work, provide most of the decoration alongside complex zellij work of various shapes, techniques and arrangements.

Photography Museum

Following the Zaouiate Lahdar from the Dar Bellarj west, toward Place du Maoukef, will bring you to the Photography Museum (46 Rue Bin Lafnadek, tel. 0524/385 721, daily 9:30am-7pm, 40Dh). Photographers and those interested in Moroccan history will enjoy the collection of black and white photos dating from 1870 to 1950. There is a short documentary from 1957 about the Amazigh, Chez les Berbères du Haut-Atlas, by Daniel Chicault that screens every hour. This is the first time that the Amazigh were ever filmed in color and the scenes, even if you don’t understand the French narration, are breathtaking. The rooftop terrace has gorgeous views of Marrakech and the distant peaks of the High Atlas.


Further west along the same road that led from the Place de la Kisseria, past the shops selling everything from bottled water to recycled metal sculptures, and all the way to the exit of the medina near Bab Debbaugh, you’ll find the tanneries of Marrakech. The tanners of Marrakech have been working leather hides traditionally for almost a thousand years with little change to the process. Hides are first left to soak in a vat of quicklime, salt, water and cow urine to make hair and fat easier to remove. Tanners then leave the hides out to dry. Once dry, they are transferred to a vat of pigeon excrement, which makes the leather softer, before being dipped into a final vat of colored dye. The hides are left to dry in the sun once more and then cut and sold to leatherworkers who make slippers, bags, purses, belts, wallets and other products with them. With all the bodily fluids, bloody animal hides, and hot sun, it’s no wonder that they tanneries smell as rank as they do—and obvious why they are so far away from the rest of the medina. You’ll likely be given a mint leaf cluster to shove up your nose, which will make the smell more bearable. It’s an impressive sight, all the same, and a truly medieval experience.

tile detail in a doorway of Bahia Palace

Don’t strain your neck looking up at the ornate ceilings at the Bahia Palace! Photo © Lucas Peters.

Bahia Palace

You’ll find the Bahia Palace (5 Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid, tel. 0524/389 511, daily 9am-4:30pm, 10Dh) just off the Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid that leads to the Jemaa el-Fnaa. This ornate palace was given to the concubine Bahia, a favorite of the wealthy vizier Si Moussa, a former slave who rose to become the grand vizier to Moulay Hassan. Be prepared to strain your neck looking up at the beautifully maintained woodcarving, geometric painting, and stucco work covering the ceilings of the palace.

The palace is still used by the government, with the current Minister of Culture Affairs residing in a small section of it. A few scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much were filmed on the palace grounds. Get here early to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more tranquil stroll through the palace and its gardens.

Saadian Tombs

Originally walled in by Moulay Ismail in the late 17th century and then “rediscovered” by the French in 1917, the Saadian Tombs (Rue de la Kasbah, daily 8am-4pm, 10Dh) are some of the most ornate tombs in all of Morocco. It is the sheer beauty—or, some might argue, audacity—of their decoration that drives so many tourists here to gape at the gaudy mesh of stucco work, zellij tiles, inlaid gold and Italian marble. The mausoleum consists of three rooms and the elaborate gravestones spill out into the courtyard and its gardens. About 60 members of the Saadi dynasty (1554-1659) are buried inside the mausoleum. The most famous room is the Room of the Twelve Columns, which houses the grave of Ahmed al-Mansur, the best known of the Saadi rulers. He ruled from 1578 to1603 and built the nearby Badi Palace. It is rumored that French authorities found the tombs while conducting an aerial survey of Marrakech, though the locals say otherwise, maintaining that they have always known of their existence.

Badi Palace

The Badi Palace (Ksibat Nhass, tel. 0661/350 878, daily 8:30am-12:30pm and 2:30pm-4:30pm, 10Dh) is the ruined palace of the Saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansur. Al-Mansur began construction of the palace in 1578 to celebrate his victory over the Portuguese at the famous “Battle of the Three Kings” in the town of Ksar el-Kbeer near Tangier. The empty grounds are a bit more interesting after a tour of the Bahia Palace, where you will catch a glimpse of the history that has been preserved and then, at the Badi Palace, see that which has been left to ruin. The ramparts are excellent spots to photograph Marrakech, and the general lack of crowds will grant you a little peace and quiet after the busy medina.

The palace has a long history of being looted and sacked. In the 17th century, after the fall of the Saadian Dynasty, it was stripped of materials and marble was taken, perhaps to Moulay Ismail’s palace in Meknes. Today, the coos of pigeons and clacking bills of mating storks enliven the grounds. There are projects under way now to renovate certain areas and develop gardens.

Admission price does not include access to the small museum (10Dh) and the excellent minbar (a type of pulpit sometimes used by imams to deliver their Friday sermons) housed there. The minbar is a great example of 12th century artistry and has been faithfully restored. The museum is the best-preserved indoor area of the expansive palace grounds, and the admission fee is well worth it.

view of cactus surrounding a bright blue building in Marrakech

The Majorelle Gardens are the loving creation of French painter Jacques Majorelle, who began working on the gardens in the 1920s. Photo © Tudor Antonel Adrian/123rf.

Majorelle Gardens

The wonderfully art deco Majorelle Gardens (Rue Yves Saint Laurent, tel. 0524/313 047, Oct.-Apr. daily 8am-5:30pm, May-Sept. daily 8am-6pm, Ramadan 9am-5pm, 50Dh for gardens, additional 25Dh for Berber Museum) is the loving creation of French painter Jacques Majorelle, who began working on the gardens in the 1920s. Majorelle cultivated this garden over 40 years, first opening it to the public in 1947. However, because of health issues, he had to abandon the gardens. They suffered without a caretaker—the gardens were nearly destroyed and, at one point, almost mowed over to make room for a hotel. Luckily, in 1980, fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé purchased the gardens and set about a restoration effort.

Today, the intense cobalt blue walls (incidentally, this particularly intense shade of blue is called “Majorelle blue” after the French painter), water lilies, lotus flowers, and numerous cacti tucked beneath the shade of the towering palm trees make this a heaven for people and birds alike. Due to its popularity, however, the garden isn’t quite as relaxing as one might imagine (particularly when a bus full of tourists descend onto the property). It’s best to go early in the morning, when the crowds are away, the air is fresh, and the blackbirds, house sparrows, warblers and turtledoves who call these gardens home are at their most active.

There is a small café with a terrace inside the gardens, but it’s expensive for what it is. There is also the small Berber Museum that provides an interesting look at the neighboring culture of the High Atlas mountains, including its textiles and jewelry. The gift shop has original period photographs for sale, some of them decades old and all of them fascinating, though not cheap.

Planning Your Time

Most people spend at least three days in Marrakech. Three days is just enough time to see the sights, absorb the life of the medina, make a trip or two into the Ville Nouvelle to see the Majorelle Gardens, Palmerie (Palm Groves) and a few of the other attractions, while also leaving enough time to lounge for an afternoon or two in your luxurious medina riad. The wide variety of restaurants on offer, as well as abundant entertainment, make longer stays easily feasible.

The post From Markets to Museums: The Best Things Do in Marrakech appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

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Beat the Crowds on These 5 Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Wed, 12 Apr 2017 21:26:48 +0000 Great Smoky Mountains National Park can attract large numbers of people, especially at certain times of the year or along popular trails. Beat the crowds by planning a wintertime hike, or explore these lesser-known regions of the park.

The post Beat the Crowds on These 5 Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park can attract large numbers of people, especially at certain times of the year or along popular trails. Beat the crowds by planning a wintertime hike, or explore these lesser-known regions of the park.

a hiker stands near Abrams Creek

Abrams Creek Trail. Photo © Jason Frye.

Balsam Mountain Road

The road’s location off the Blue Ridge Parkway means people tend to forget this beautiful corner of the park. Head here in the fall to immerse yourself in foliage and be safe from the typical leaf-peeping traffic.

Mount Cammerer

This strenuous hike is avoided by many, but rewards with an unparalleled view. The few folks on this trail are here to be surrounded by the Smokies—and to dodge the crowds.

Lakeshore Trail

Start this trail from Fontana Dam to avoid trail traffic. You’ll see the dam and have a tough uphill right off the start, but the western end of the trail is a beautiful one.

Big Creek

An almost-forgotten campground and some awesome hikes in a corner of the park most casual visitors forget? That’s Big Creek. Camp here, backpack to Mount Sterling, or check out the suited-for-everyone Big Creek Trail.

Abrams Creek

This seasonal campground is rarely full; even if it is, several great hikes originate here. Hit the Rabbit and Abrams Creeks Loop or hike the easy (and wildflower-rich) Little Bottoms Trail.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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5-Day Best of Mexico City Itinerary Mon, 10 Apr 2017 23:31:16 +0000 Take four or five days with this Mexico City itinerary to dive headfirst into its history, culture, and its beguilingly low-key friendliness.

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Mexico City is a city of contrasts, and a place that you must experience to understand. Dive headfirst into its history, culture, and its beguilingly low-key friendliness with this five-day best of Mexico City itinerary.

Day 1: The Centro Histórico

Mexico City’s Zócalo, one of the largest public squares in the world, is located in the same open square that once stood at the center of the Mexica city of Tenochtitlán. Take a moment to feel the power and history of this grand plaza, then stop in to the northern wing of the Palacio Nacional, where Diego Rivera’s breathtaking murals chronicle life in the pre-Columbian city, during the Spanish conquest, and through the ensuing centuries of industrialization.

To the north of the plaza, you can visit the remains of Tenochtitlán’s holiest site, a twin temple-pyramid that adjoined the city’s central plaza, at the fascinating Templo Mayor (55/4040-5600, ext. 412930, Tues.-Sun. 9am-5pm; US$5, free on Sun.; Metro: Zócalo). Though much of the temple was destroyed by the Spanish and then buried for centuries beneath the colonial city, its base was uncovered in the 1970s, along with hundreds of artifacts, now held in the on-site museum. It’s one of the Centro’s most moving sights.

ruins in Mexico City

The ruins of Templo Mayor. Photo © Julie Meade.

Have lunch at El Cardenal, just a block from the Zócalo, widely considered one of the best traditional Mexican restaurants in the city. After lunch, head east along Madero, stopping to see the current show in the Palacio de Cultura Banamex and making note of two iconic buildings just before the Eje Central, the Casa de los Azulejos and the Palacio Postal. Take a turn around the Palacio de Bellas Artes (55/5512-2593; Tues.-Sun. 10am-9pm; free to enter the lobby, US$4 admission to museum and mezzanine level; Metro: Bellas Artes), one of the city’s flagship cultural institutions, where the gorgeous art deco interiors are as opulent as its elaborate marble facade. It’s worth the admission fee to ascend to the top floors of the building, where there are interesting murals by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo, as well as contemporary art galleries.

Dusk is the perfect time to start a tour of the Centro’s many cantinas. Begin by sipping a tequila at the grandest old joint, Bar La Ópera, on Cinco de Mayo. Next, head to Salón Corona for tasty tacos and mugs of beer. If you’re up to it, make one last stop to old-time cantina Tío Pepe, another historic watering hole with an excellent atmosphere.

view of Palacio Postal from below

Palacio Postal is an architectural jewel. Photo © Julie Meade.

Day 2: Chapultepec and the Condesa

Set aside the morning to tour the Museo Nacional de Antropología (55/4040-5300; Tues.-Sun. 9am-7pm; US$5; Metro: Auditorio), a vast and fascinating museum dedicated to pre-Columbian and modern-day cultures in Mexico. You won’t have time to see the whole museum. Streamline your visit by focusing on the spectacular rooms dedicated to the Mexica people, as well as the Teotihuacán galleries.

Back outside, take an hour or two to explore a bit of the surrounding Bosque de Chapultepec on foot, strolling past the multidisciplinary cultural center Casa del Lago Juan José Arreola, the pretty manmade lake beside it, and the industrial facade of the Museo de Arte Moderno as you make your way to the Castillo de Chapultepec, set atop a rocky outcropping overlooking the park and the Paseo de la Reforma. It’s worth visiting for the views alone, though the legendary building and the history museum it houses offer an interesting glimpse into Mexico’s past.

aerial view of mexico city skyline

The view from the Castillo de Chapultepec. Photo © ozeri/123rf.

Just below the Castillo de Chapultepec are the main gates to the park. From here, take the Metro one stop from Chapultepec to Sevilla, then walk into the Roma Norte for a late lunch at Contramar, an ultra-popular, always-bustling seafood restaurant near the Glorieta de las Cibeles. There’s often a wait around lunchtime, but the food and atmosphere are ace.

After lunch, spend a few leisurely hours watching dogs romp and children play in Parque México. Stroll along Avenida Amsterdam, snapping photos of the Condesa’s distinctive art deco architecture and enjoying the people-watching in the many neighborhood cafes. Wrap up the day with a drink at one of the neighborhood’s trendy bars, like the hip pool hall Salón Malafama or good-time standby Pata Negra.

park full of lush, green trees

The lush foliage of Parque Mexico. Photo © Julie Meade.

Day 3: Coyoacán

If you arrive in Coyoacán via the Metro stop Viveros, you can admire old country mansions and towering trees while walking into the heart of neighborhood via avenue Francisco Sosa. Peek into the rust-colored Moorish-inspired hacienda that is home to the Fonoteca Nacional, an interesting sound archive and gallery space. Down the road, take a breather in charming Plaza Santa Catarina, a quiet, cobbled square popular with locals and their dogs. Once you arrive in the center of town, spend some time people-watching in Jardín Hidalgo and Jardín Centenario, the two old-fashioned public plazas at the center of the neighborhood.

Grab a mocha at long-running coffee shop Café El Jarocho, then wander through the Mercado Coyoacán, where you can snack on a tostada or two (the market is famous for them) to tide you over till lunch. From there, it’s a few blocks to the Museo Frida Kahlo (55/5554-5999; Tues., Thurs.-Sun. 10am-5:45pm, Wed. 11am-5:45pm; US$4.50 adults, US$2 students; Metro: Coyoacán), a moving museum dedicated to the life and legacy of its namesake artist. Walk back to the Jardín Centenario for a late lunch on the patio at Los Danzantes, and accompany your meal with a shot of their house brand of Oaxacan mezcal. If you want to extend the evening, drop in for a drink at nouveau cantina La Bipo, just a few blocks away.

Blue wall in Frida Kahlo Museum

Museo de Frida Kahlo. Photo © Dreamstime.

Day 4: San Ángel and UNAM

Saturdays are a popular time to visit the colonial-era neighborhood of San Ángel, where the weekly Bazaar Sábado attracts some excellent artisan vendors, including some modern designers. From there, stroll through the neighborhood, stopping for a bite in one of the pretty restaurants around the Plaza San Jacinto or touring the wonderful Museo de El Carmen, housed in a colonial-era Carmelite monastery. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera fans will prefer a short walk out to the Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera, the former adjoined homes the couple shared in San Ángel.

From San Ángel, take the Metrobús along Insurgentes to the CCU stop, then spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the cultural center on the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) campus. Have a very late lunch at contemporary Mexican restaurant Azul y Oro, then spend a few hours in the light-filled Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (Insurgentes Sur 3000, 55/5622-6972; Wed., Fri., and Sun. 10am-6pm, Thurs. and Sat. 10am-8pm; Wed. and Sun. US$1.50, Thurs.-Sat. US$3.50, children under 12 free; Metro: Universidad, Metrobús: CCU), one of the finest contemporary-art museums in Mexico City, opened in 2008. From there, wander into the northern section of the Espacio Escultórico de la UNAM, a massive outdoor sculpture garden built atop an expanse of volcanic rock in the 1960s.

aerial view of ruins of teotihuacan

Teotihucán is one of the largest archaeological sites in the Americas. Photo © Shen Tao/123rf.

Day 5: Teotihuacán

Have a hearty breakfast in or near your hotel, slather on some sunscreen, and pack a big bottle of water before making your way to the Terminal Autobuses del Norte, the first stop in your journey to the ruins at Teotihuacán archaeological zone (Ecatepec Pirámides km 22 + 600, Municipio de Teotihuacán, Estado de México, 594/956-0276; daily 9am-5pm, US$5, children under 13, students, teachers, seniors, and people with disabilities free). Mexico’s most famous and most visited archaeological site is just 30 kilometers outside the city, and buses depart the city for the pyramids every 15 minutes.

Though little is known about its people, Teotihuacán was once the most powerful city-state in Mesoamerica, evidenced by its massive installations and visionary city planning: Today, you can get a small glimpse into the past by walking along Teotihuacán’s grand central avenue and climbing to the top of its massive pyramids. After touring the ruins, cool off with a bite in quirky restaurant La Gruta, though you may prefer to relax after getting back to town. After all the stairs and sun, make it an easy but classic pick for dinner: tacos al pastor, the city’s signature dish. You can try some of the best at El Huequito in the San Juan, or at El Califa in the Condesa. Crash to sleep with plans to return.

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Mexico City.

The post 5-Day Best of Mexico City Itinerary appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

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Rocky Mountain National Park with Kids Mon, 10 Apr 2017 17:58:41 +0000 Shared experiences are one of the building blocks of a successful family vacation, and there are many opportunities for such moments while in Rocky. Here are a few suggested family activities to get you started.

The post Rocky Mountain National Park with Kids appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

Shared experiences are one of the building blocks of a successful family vacation, and there are many opportunities for such moments while in Rocky Mountain National Park with your kids. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Help your child earn a Junior Ranger badge through the Junior Ranger Program. Activity booklets can be picked up at any visitor center, and ranger-led Junior Ranger programs are held every day late June-late August at the Junior Ranger Headquarters at Hidden Valley.
  • On a hot summer day, cool off your toes and make new friends at the Alluvial Fan. Mellow pools of water near the bottom of the fan—plus plenty of rocks to climb on—equals fun for kids. (Entering rushing water is a serious safety risk and much of the Alluvial Fan fits that description; look for gentle waters only and supervise children at all times.)
  • boy wading in water

    Cool off in a mellow pool of water at the Alluvial Fan. Photo © Erin English.

  • Take an outing to Bear Lake, Adams Falls, or Sprague Lake. If you are visiting with babies or toddlers, don a carrier backpack and narrate the scenery as you go.
  • Step back in time at the Holzwarth Historic Site and view artifacts from an old dude ranch. Bring marshmallows to roast for ranger-led evening programs held at this location.
  • Check out educational displays, ponder relief maps, or shop for souvenirs at one of the park’s visitor centers. View a short film about the park in the Kawuneeche Visitor Center or Beaver Meadows Visitor Center auditoriums.
  • Travel by horseback around the park with your little one. Children as young as two can saddle up at Sombrero Ranch’s Glacier Creek Stables or Moraine Park Stables.
  • woman on horseback in a meadow

    Take a scenic ride on horseback through Beaver Meadows. Photo © Erin English.

  • Sign up your child in advance for a Rocky Mountain Conservancy Field Institute program. Kid-class topics include photo journaling, geocaching, and animal “poop.”
  • Scramble up and over piles of boulders—found everywhere in the park—with your little one. Or watch real-life spider-men and spider-women climb the walls along Lumpy Ridge.
  • Sleep under the stars at one of the park’s five established campgrounds: Timber Creek, Aspenglen, Moraine Park, Glacier Basin, or Longs Peak. Watch and listen for wildlife activity at dusk and indulge in a gooey campfire treat. On summer evenings, head to one of the park’s amphitheaters or auditoriums for a ranger-led program.
  • Go on a virtual treasure hunt with the Across the Divide GeoTour, a geocaching adventure that takes visitors to spots around Rocky, Estes Park, and Grand Lake.
  • In the winter, pack the car with saucers and sleds, and drive to Hidden Valley sledding hill. Or, with a pull-behind carrier, explore snow-packed trails on cross-country skis around Wild Basin.
woman laughing on a sled in snow

Kids and kids-at-heart enjoy Hidden Valley’s sledding hill. Photo © Erin English.

Excerpted From the First Edition of Moon Rocky Mountain National Park.

The post Rocky Mountain National Park with Kids appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

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Day Trip to Monte Plata in the Dominican Republic Fri, 07 Apr 2017 17:14:42 +0000 After spending a day or two exploring the Colonial City, you’ll be ready to discover attractions near Santo Domingo. If you're a nature lover there’s a destination close to the capital that you absolutely shouldn’t miss: Monte Plata, also known as the emerald province.

The post Day Trip to Monte Plata in the Dominican Republic appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

After spending a day or two exploring the Colonial City, you’ll be ready to discover attractions near Santo Domingo. You’ll hear about the most popular day trips: Boca Chica and Juan Dolio beaches, and the caves of Tres Ojos National Park. But if you’re a nature lover, there’s a destination close to the capital that you absolutely shouldn’t miss: Monte Plata, also known as the emerald province.

Monte Plata is an earthy, vibrant paradise that begins just an hour’s drive north of Santo Domingo and sits at 175 feet above sea level. This province’s scenery is spectacular—as you drive past lush pastures set against the Sierra de Yamasá and explore verdant, dense subtropical forests that seem to melt into the rivers below, you’ll revel in a kaleidoscope of greens, from the darkest olive to the brightest of jades.

green trees and campo home in the Dominican Republic

Colorful homes dot the landscape along the drive to Monte Plata. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Monte Plata was founded in 1606 during colonial times, when the Spaniards relocated families from Monte Cristi and Puerto Plata to this area after destroying their hometowns to stop contraband activities taking place in the north. Monte Plata was named after these two areas. Primarily rural, the economy in this province is dominated by agriculture like sugar cane and cacao and livestock, which you can see as you drive past vast lands dotted with palm trees, horses, goats, and grazing cows.

The municipality of Bayaguana is home to the majority of Monte Plata’s waterfalls and river parks. Prepare to immerse yourself in a landscape you’ll find difficult to leave.

Visit Salto de Socoa

Located northwest of Bayaguana town, Monumento Natural Salto de Socoa is the easiest waterfall to access because its entrance is directly off the Autopista del Nordeste (highway 7) from Santo Domingo towards Samaná, and about 60 km north from Autopista de Las Americas. Approximately sixty-five feet tall, Salto de Socoa is a stunning single waterfall that empties into a circular jade pool. Framed with vegetation, rocks, and idyllic corners around the park, it feels like your very own Garden of Eden as butterflies, birds, (and a few mosquitoes) flutter about.

The drive from Santo Domingo to Salto Alto is the most scenic of all—particularly on the last highway stretch north of Monte Plata town towards the entrance. Prepare for a surprise when the air cools and the road is lined with pine trees and a rocky landscape akin to the Haitises National Park in Samaná (which makes sense, as the waterfall is between Santo Domingo and Samaná). It is without doubt one of the most beautiful drives in the Dominican Republic.

Salto de Socoa is easily accessed with an entrance off the highway—you’ll drive about two minutes along a manageable dirt road towards a gated entrance. An attendant will collect the fee, and open the gate for you to park your car safely inside. Another three-minute, pleasant hike down from the parking lot takes you through a beautiful tropical forest, down to a series of steps with solid wooden railings all the way down to the waterfall area. The hike back is steeper, so you’ll need to be in good health.

Past the shallow parts of the pool is a rope running along the surface to the other edge, to provide support for those who aren’t strong swimmers. Stick close to it and don’t venture far towards the waterfall. There are no changing rooms or benches, but plenty of rocks to keep your belongings dry or to change unseen.

woman swimming in a green pool of water by a waterfall

Keep a safe distance from the waterfall at Salto de Socoa. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Lunch in Bayaguana

After visiting Salto Socoa in the morning, drive back towards the small, colorful town of Bayaguana for a Dominican lunch break. Relax on the outdoor patio at La Barrica (also known locally as Comedor Francis) across the Isla gas station, and order the plato dominicano of the day—rice, beans, and a meat choice—for a mere RD$160 per person. After lunch, take a few minutes to peek inside the Iglesia del Santo Cristo de los Milagros–a colonial church built in 1789 and one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the country. Legend has it that the image of Christ, the centerpiece inside the Church, was found in the 17th century by a young girl, and that after this discovery, her blind mother recuperated her sight. Believers flock here every year to pray for a miracle or to give thanks for one.

Dominican church with a bright sky behind it

Iglesia Santo Cristo de los Milagros. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Visit Salto Alto

Approximately 30 minutes’ drive northeast from Bayaguana town, the most impressive and farthest of the waterfalls in Monte Plata, Salto Alto’s three cascades tumble down together from approximately 75-feet into a gigantic, wide-open pool below, to a backdrop of bluffs and tropical forest.

Getting there isn’t hard, as the improved Carretera Bayaguana-Sierra de Agua is nearly completed and road crews were finishing off the last portions this week. A gated entrance on the left side of the road will signal the way, and after paying the requisite RD$50 per person, you’ll drive down slowly a dirt, partially rocky path towards the parking lot to the falls. You won’t notice the slow drive because the scenery is green, lush, as it takes you into a private ranch.

Once at the falls, reached via a series of about 50 concrete steps, you’ll notice quickly that the beauty of Salto Alto’s waterfalls isn’t just the cascade–though it is a sight for sore eyes–if not its surroundings, flanked by cliffs covered in tropical plants, trees, and the sound of trickling water along the rocks. The entry into the water is easy and shallow, at ankle-depth, and deepens as you go along, until the rope which signals caution.

Equally beautiful is the woodsy area below the parking lot, where you’ll see a jade colored, calm river below with mini falls, and picnic tables for relaxation. If there are crowds below at Salto Alto, you could easily wait it out here in the shade.

man standing in water near waterfalls

Salto Alto is paradise. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

Chill at Balneario Comate

Balneario Comate is just 1.85 miles or 3 km from town–you’ll pass the sign on the way up to Salto Alto. It’s a popular, typical Dominican-style balneario or river park with plenty of seating areas and an on-site bar and restaurant. But this balneario is as large of a setting as I’ve seen so far, set along the Rio Comate, tributary to the Ozama River. There are thatch huts for sitting areas, and below, a shallow river where locals relax along the banks, tube in the river (tubes are available on site), or simply sit atop the small rocks as mini falls tumble down. Others play dominoes with their table and chairs set in the shallow of the river.

Like much of Monte Plata, it’s a clean and safe environment. Entrance is $RD50 per person at the gate.

locals lounging in the water of the Balneario Rio Comate

Balneario Rio Comate. Photo © Lebawit Lily Girma.

An Easy City Escape

It’s incredible that you can swim and relax at all of these parks and waterfalls so close to the capital in a single day. The ease of driving to Monte Plata—thanks to improved road conditions (but watch out for cattle)—the cleanliness of the parks and rivers, and the affordability of the trip (US$50 total for two persons, including gas) all make for an ideal independent day trip from Santo Domingo. Pick a weekday (Monday through Wednesday), and you’ll likely have these waterfalls and parks to yourself.

Note that some visitors have been charged an extra RD$50 parking fee per car, but that is most likely done on the weekend.

Stay Longer

If you have more time, don’t hesitate to overnight at one of the eco-camping facilities in the area like Campo Aventura Comatillo. The next day, you could head to Saltos de La Sabana, another waterfalls park 14 km north of Bayaguana, or drive east to Yamasá town to visit to the famous Taíno ceramic workshop of the Guillén Brothers (Hermanos Guillén), known countrywide for their Taíno-inspired crafts made in Yamasá and sold in major tourist areas of the DR.

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10 Fun Things to Do in Seattle Wed, 05 Apr 2017 23:32:59 +0000 The top ten things to do in Seattle reflect its youthful exuberance–it's a city of experiments and achievements (not status), gaze firmly set on the horizon.

The post 10 Fun Things to Do in Seattle appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

Seattle is growing so fast it sometimes feels like a living being, one figuring out this brave new world at the same time it’s creating it. With that in mind, here are the top ten fun things to do in Seattle, rain or shine.

Pike Place Market

This downtown landmark’s seafood counter and its flying fish may be the most famous part of Pike Place Market (market 9am-6pm Mon.-Sat., 9am-5pm Sun., individual shop hours vary), but there’s enough produce, spices, crafts, buskers, and fresh-made doughnuts to fill an entire day.

Seattle Art Museum

Discover a peerless collection of Northwest art at the Seattle Art Museum (1300 1st Ave., 206/654-3100; 10am-5pm Wed. and Fri.-Sun., 10am-9pm Thurs.; $20 adults, $18 seniors, $13 students, children free). Displays range from the traditional to the cutting-edge, with artists like John Singer Sargent and Jackson Pollock represented.

seattle art museum

See a fantastic collection of art at the Seattle Art Museum. Photo © Benjamin Benschneider, courtesy of the Seattle Art Museum.

Seattle Center

The Seattle Center (305 Harrison St., 206/684-7200) collection of museums, sights, green spaces, and fountains–comprised of big-name attractions like the Space Needle, Museum of Pop Culture, the Chihuly Garden and Glass, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation–entices visitors to spend as much time as possible here.

Space Needle

The city’s retro icon was born as a sketch on a cocktail napkin by one of the 1962 World’s Fair planners, and the 605-foot Space Needle was built in less than a year. At 520 feet, the Observation Deck (10am-11pm Mon.-Thurs., 9am-11:30pm Fri.-Sat., 9am-11pm Sun.; $18-28 adults, $16-26 seniors, $11-17 youth 4-12, children 3 and under free) features indoor and outdoor binoculars and information on what you can see.

view from underneath the space needle

Seattle’s iconic Space Needle. Photo © Justek16/Dreamstime.

Olympic Sculpture Park

What was once an oil company’s waterfront land has been reborn as Olympic Sculpture Park (2901 Western Ave., 206/654-3100; sunrise-sunset daily; pavilion: 10am-5pm Tues.-Sun. summer, 10am-4pm Tues.-Sun. winter; free), a series of zigzagging green spaces that hold massive works of art.

Museum of History and Industry

Interactive exhibits, artifacts, and curiosities offer insight into the city’s past, present, and future at the Museum of History and Industry (860 Terry Ave. N, 206/324-1126; 10am-5pm Fri.-Wed., 10am-8pm Thurs.; $17 adults, $15 seniors and students, children free). The museum saw renewed interest when it moved to this former armory building in 2012—finally, the city’s best museum about itself wasn’t on the periphery, but close to downtown, in a striking four-story waterfront home.

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

Boats big and small gain passage to the Ship Canal through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (3015 54th St. NW, 206/783-7059; grounds 7am-9pm daily, fish ladder 7am-8:45pm daily, visitors center 10am-6pm daily May-Sept., 10am-4pm Thurs.-Mon. Oct.-Apr.; free), next to a special thoroughfare made just for salmon. For the mechanically minded, there’s nothing like an afternoon watching the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operate the locks.

Nokea Honolulu ship

Visit the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks to see boats, salmon, and even a botanic garden. Photo © Allison Williams.

Coffee Culture

The craze for caffeine was born here, and the city’s blocks are full of corporate coffee chains and indie outposts alike. In the 1990s, Seattle’s cultural explosion saw salon-style coffee shops popped up on almost every block in the city, becoming places where counterculture, music, poetry, and activism could thrive. Starbucks reigns, but there are also local mini-chains like Cherry Street Coffee and Uptown Espresso, and one-off favorites like Lighthouse Roasters and Monorail Espresso.

Live Music

Seattle’s storied live music scene attracts talent from around the world and across genres. This is the city that Jimi Hendrix called home, where Kurt Cobain found fame before his tragic end, and where Macklemore became an independent rap sensation. Rock, soul, and pop acts are drawn to stages at the likes of Neumos, Tractor Tavern, The Triple Door, and even the busking corners in Pike Place Market.

Craft Beer

An abundance of local, artisanal breweries place the city at the forefront of this hoppy trend. You’ll find the beer on tap in many of the city’s bars, though never canned or bottled. Brewers are stretching beyond IPA into new specialty areas, including porters, sour beers, and session ales. Bars like Tap House Grill and Noble Fir offer a chance to taste the wide variety of Northwest beers.

beer taps and menu

Beer lovers will love the craft brew options in Seattle. Photo © OIiver Perez/Dreamstime.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Seattle.

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Markets in Mexico City: Saturday in the Roma Wed, 05 Apr 2017 15:48:37 +0000 A complete morning-to-evening guide to spending the day exploring the Saturday markets in Mexico City, including where to eat and what not to miss.

The post Markets in Mexico City: Saturday in the Roma appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

Saturday is for markets in Mexico City! Several unique and interesting weekly markets set up in the Roma on Saturday mornings, making it the perfect day to visit this excellent shopping district. Here’s how to make the most of your day.

three people sitting on the edge of a fountain

Plaza Luis Cabrera sits in the heart of the Roma neighborhood. Photo © Julie Meade.


There’s often a wait for Saturday brunch at Sobrinos, where black-vested waiters rush trays of café con leche and baskets of sweet breads to local families filling the bustling old-fashioned dining room.

From there, walk a few blocks east to the Mercado de Cuauhtémoc, a weekly vintage market held in the Jardín Dr. Ignacio Chávez, on the border of the Roma and the Colonia Doctores. Though not as well known as the antiquities markets in La Lagunilla and the Plaza del Ángel, this weekly flea has some funky booths and, often, excellent finds for sharp-eyed shoppers. Look for watches, midcentury home accessories, and antique toys, though you may have to sift through some flotsam to find them.

After the market, take your treasures out for a coffee at the wonderfully unpretentious yet high quality café El Cardinal, on Córdoba in the Roma. After that, walk along the Roma’s main corridor, Álvaro Obregón, which is filled with creaky old bookshops, hip cocktail bars, and 19th-century mansions. Take a look inside the mansions. Take a look inside the art gallery and bookshop at multidisciplinary cultural center Casa Lamm, and pick up a jar of honey or guava-chile salsa at Delirio.

lalo restaurant

Grab lunch at Lalo. Photo © Julie Meade.


Do like the local crowd and set aside a few hours for lunch—though first you’ll face the near-impossible task of deciding where to eat. If there are tables available, try inspired Mexican spot Fonda Fina, grab a sidewalk table at hopping oyster bar La Docena, or, if you don’t have reservations for Máximo Bistrot Local, line up for a spot at the communal table at Lalo, the more casual cousin to chef Eduardo Garcia’s famous restaurant.

After lunch, wander along the shady street Colima, stopping in to its funky skate shops and boutiques, like 180° Shop and Goodbye Folk, and seeing what’s on show in galleries, like Galería OMR. Top off the afternoon at Mercado Roma, a next-generation market and food court, which can pack to standing-room-only during the lunch hour. Since you probably aren’t hungry, better to head upstairs to the Biergarten, spending an hour or two enjoying the sunshine with a Mexican-made craft beer. Order some bar snacks and linger, or head back into the heart of the Roma to have a proper dinner at hipster hot spot Mog, a popular Asian café on Álvaro Obregón.

market in mexico city

Mercado Roma is both a market and food court. Photo © Julie Meade.


Wrap up the evening with a drink at one of the neighborhood’s best bars, like tiny Félix or cocktail-centric Licorería Limantour.

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Mexico City.

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