Colors of Guatemala: Travel Secrets From an Intrepid Wanderer

Colors of Guatemala: Travel Secrets From an Intrepid Wanderer

 

When you hear about Guatemala you may think of vibrant textiles, large markets and ancient ruins. Guatemala is lush in biodiversity, rich in Mayan culture and booming with enticing culinary attractions. Whether you want to dive into Mayan traditions, dream of trekking through dream-like cloud forests or dining on authentic local food while enjoying breathtaking views, this remarkable Central American destination is calling. Read on for my personal Guatemala travel guide, which brings together my favorite experiences and useful tips drawn from living there for several months. 

First, a Few Basic Tips…

Window view, Lago Atitlan, Guatemala

Let’s start with a few bare essentials and helpful hints that allowed me to enjoy my travels in Guatemala. I hope it will help you  experience it to the fullest, too!

The Weather, and What to Bring

Guatemala has two main seasons, wet and dry. While the dry season is from November to April, do note that central Guatemalan areas like Antigua and Lake Atitlan are much warmer and more temperate than Xela to the west or Livingston in the northeast.

This means that you should always carefully research the regions you plan to visit to ensure you’re properly prepared! No one likes getting stuck in the mud in flip-flops or expecting t-shirt weather, then finding conditions demand you wear a jacket and a hat. 

© Anexis Morales

Remember, owing to its beautiful, lush greenery and extravagant biodiversity, a trek through Guatemala often comes with insects and occasionally harsh weather. Exploring the great views Guatemala has to offer, be mindful of insects and mosquitos! No one likes to wake up to buzzing in your ears, so make sure to bring along some natural bug repellent. Here is a great recipe for Home- made bug repellant.

Sunblock is also a must!  During my first trip to Guatemala, I forgot to put sunblock on, fell asleep in a hammock and woke up being so sunburnt I couldn’t carry my pack for several days. Starting off a vacation like that is no fun. Learn from my mistake: be smart and protect your skin!

Don’t even consider leaving your camera behind: with so much color and beauty to capture here, it’s an essential companion. Between the ancient ruins of Tikal to the vibrant market in Chichicastenango to elegant colonial architecture in Antigua, you don’t want to miss a shot.

Read related: Our Top  8 Tips For Taking Beautiful Travel Photography

A word of caution, though: As a tourist you should always be conscious of your surroundings and watch out for your valuables. 

Weaving class: A Gateway to Guatemalan Culture

Woman in Traditional Clothes

© Anexis Morales

 

As you wander through the streets of a typical Guatemalan city, you may easily notice the vibrant clothes native residents wear. This traditional, typically hand-made clothing is a reflection of their regional location, ancestry, season, and economic status. Since weaving is a tradition that dates back to Mayan times, I could not pass up the chance to take a course and learn more about it.

Located in Xela, Trama Textiles called my name, especially after I learned that it’s a 100% worker-owned women’s association. The organization directly works with 17 weaving cooperatives representing 400 women from five different regions of Guatemala. I signed up for a 10-hour course, which is the length of time it takes to make a simple scarf.

To give you an idea of how long it takes to make something more elaborate: it can take from between three to six months to weave one shirt depending on its detail and embroidery! Completing my scarf, I was amazed I did it, and was deeply impressed by the talent of the local weavers in these communities. I wholly recommend that you give it a try yourself on your trip. Why not support the locals and take the time to learn about something different and colorful? 

Trekking in Guatemala: Between Trees, Clouds & Towns

Day 2, Trekkers of the Corn

Day 2 of the Quetzaltrekkers hike: Trekkers of the Corn

Guatemala, also known as “The land of trees” has endless spectacular hikes and opportunities for trekking. If you’re travelling with some extra time on your hands, I’d look into the Quetzaltrekkers 3-day trek from Xela to Lake Atitlan. I’ll admit I was excited to get moving after a few days sitting and weaving!

Read related: The 10 Most Breathtaking National Parks in the World 

I found myself tucked away in the cloud forests of Quetzaltenango, passing corn hills and vibrantly diverse villages– all giving me some real time to reflect. I was able to better understand how certain villages have been able to survive high in the mountains with no electricity, nor real roads, drawing sustenance only from what the earth provides. It was refreshing to take myself away from my daily disturbances and really live in the moment.

View From Cerra De La Cruz, Guatemala

View From Cerra De La Cruz

Quetzaltrekkers not only offers an incredible and educational trek through some of the most beautiful places in Guatemala: they also aim to help the communities they trek through. One essential part of the trek is a Temazcal experience, a traditional Mayan sauna. What better way to unwind and relax your muscles! This is not a fancy resort-style Temazcal, but rather an authentic one that is traditional to the area and enjoyed by locals as well as tourists.

Shaped like a dome, the entrance is low to the ground making you crawl in on your knees. You often sit in the sauna with another person, taking in the intense heat and sweating. After you feel you’ve released all the toxins from your body, you mix together hot and cold water found in two tubs on the ground. You can then pour the mixture over you at the temperature you prefer.

You exit the Temazcal the same way you entered, on your knees. This practice stems from the belief that the dome represents the mother’s womb: when you enter you are seeking nourishment and cleansing. When you exit it is believed your mind, body and soul are prepared and ready for the universe!  

A Magnificent Sunrise Over Lake Atitlan

Sunrise over Lago Atitlan, Guatemala

Sunrise over Lago Atitlan, Guatemala

Waking up feeling rejuvenated, I was ready to catch the sunrise over Lake Atitlan. What a magical sight: to welcome the day as sweet yellow rays danced on the lake peeking between three volcanoes.

What to do next in the area? I recommend the following: Once descending into San Pedro, one of the villages in Lake Atitlan, take the time to explore local art and galleries, wander through organic coffee farms and perhaps some vibrant local nightlife.

From Lake Atitlan to Antigua

Traditional Flower arrangements for Easter

Traditional Flower arrangements for Easter, Antigua

Taking the so-called “Chicken bus” from Lake Atitlan to Antigua is accessible. The Chicken bus runs directly from Panajachel to Antigua for about 35Q or $5 USD. While this choice is the cheapest, it’s not for everyone. it takes several more hours than a private option such as a taxi. Also, buses run at very specific and limited times, typically early in the morning. Many travelers have also reported the Chicken bus to be a bit less reliable than they would have expected.  Still, if you’re looking for a colorful and locally authentic way to get around, this is certainly an experience to have at least once! 

If you miss the direct bus then you will have to take 3 separate buses. To make life easier don’t miss the direct bus, or book a shuttle bus. If you are seeking a more direct and less crowded ride many travel agencies provide shuttle transportation from Lake Atitlan to Antigua. A shuttle will pick you up directly at your location and drop you at your destination in Antigua or if preferred the main square. This option currently costs about 75Q or $12USD.

For more practical information on getting around Guatemala by bus, as well as other useful options, see this page at Lonely Planet. 

My Recommendations for Eating Out in Antigua

Breakfast from Caoba Farms

Breakfast from Caoba Farms/ Image credit: Caoba Farm Facebook

Antigua is a bustling city tucked away in the central highlands looking out to several volcanoes. Not only does this city offer an example of well-preserved Spanish Baroque architecture, overlooking the most active volcano in Central America. It is also becoming a popular place for foodies to explore and expand their taste buds. Living in Antigua for several months, I found myself walking familiar paths leading me to my favorite restaurants.

Near the city center is my favorite place, Luna de Miel. if you are craving something sweet or savory this place has what you’re looking for! The options available are overwhelming and at night the line for to-go crepes can reach the end of the block on a weekend. I’d recommend going in the evening and sitting on the terrace upstairs. Their cozy, open air terrace is not only welcoming but the perfect place to rest after exploring the city. The portions are large, easily shared between two or three people.

Crepe from Luna De Miel, Antigua

Crepe topped with ice cream from Luna De Miel

 

Caoba Farm was my favorite place to go on Thursday evenings to grab a bite to eat and listen to live music. Tucked away on the outskirts of the city, it’s become an essential spot in the local culinary scene. This local farm uses all of their locally grown produce to create an extravagant and original menu. They have options for all, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diners! This is something that’s a bit difficult to find in Central America. 

Read related: The 11 Best Food Markets in the World 

Not only can you find peace in a quiet corner, enjoying a slice of pizza from their brick oven: you can also sign up for one of their yoga classes. If you are looking to educate yourself a bit more about the agriculture in the area, sign up for a workshop on the topic– or even volunteering on a weekend if you want to really roll up your sleeves and get to work. Volunteers help maintain their lush farm, assist in the farmers market and everything in-between.

Caoba Farm is roughly a 20-minute walk from the city center, or you can take a free shuttle leaving from the city center underneath the yellow arch. Either way, this farm is a must see!

 

About the Author

Ashlie McGrath is a travel writer and photographer for The Loftus Guides. When she’s not creating new features for us, she’s teaching English as a second language throughout Europe. Ashlie often writes about experiences as a solo traveler and hopes to give more insight about other cultures. She has visited over 20 countries and has lived in five. Ashlie loves to be secluded in nature as well embraced by different cosmopolitan areas. She enjoys writing poetry, drinking red wine, listening to live music and laughing.  

The 10 Best National Parks in the World

The 10 Best National Parks in the World

A visit to a world-famous natural reserve is a good way to remind yourself of the spectacular beauty and diversity of planet Earth. In the United States, national parks cover 84.6 million acres; in the UK, there are a total of 15 breathtaking protected natural areas, while Italy counts twenty-four. On the Asian continent, Thailand offers remarkable treasures, boasting over 130 awe-inspiring parks. In short, if you’re after an unforgettable adventure that involves plenty of natural surroundings and wildlife, you’ve got a wealth of options to choose from. Read on for what we consider to be the 10 best national parks in the world: selected for their sheer wild beauty, biodiversity and potential to make your jaw drop.

 

1. Yellowstone National Park, USA

Yellowstone National Park, USA

Extending across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone is the world’s first national park, established by the U.S. Congress in 1872. The park spans an area of almost 9,000 km, which comprehends breathtaking canyons, clear rivers, mountain ranges and one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America, Yellowstone Lake. This magnificent area has been inhabited by Native Americans for at least 11,000 years, and it’s still home to hundreds of species of birds, fish and mammals. The park offers an impressing variety of exciting activities, including ranger programs, camping, hiking, boating, fishing and much more.

 

2. Zambezi National Park & Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls National Park

One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe is a precious wildlife refuge that’s home to a stunning array of wildlife and some of the globe’s most jaw-dropping natural scenery. From the mist and rainbow-filled wonders of Victoria Falls, with its thunderous falls and green surroundings, to the Zambezi river and surrounding plains where you can embark on a safari to see everything from elephants and leopards to crocodiles and hippos, this is the place to head if you want to get a sense of what the Earth might look like with fewer humans– and more animals.

3. Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

Italy’s first National Park was established in 1999, and it’s probably one of the most spectacular places on the whole peninsula. This park comprehends the territory of five gorgeous towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare – “cinque terre” literally means “five territories” – as well as the communes of Levanto and La Spezia. This means that when traveling to Cinque Terre, you can enjoy open-air activities such as hiking and camping, and visit some evocative cliff-side villages which are famous around the world.

 

4. Jasper National Park, Canada

A lake and forest at Jasper National park, Canada

Jasper is the largest and wildest of the Canadian Rocky Mountain parks, encompassing over 11,000 square kilometres. While summer is peak visitor season, we strongly recommend visiting the park during the winter, when the abundant snow creates a truly magical tableau.

Read related: The World’s Most Beautiful Spots for Leaf-Peeping and Fall Foliage

The park is also famous for its “dark sky”: this is a perfect location for stargazing, as the second dark sky preserve in the world. In October, Jasper National Park hosts the Annual Dark Sky Festival, celebrating the astonishing beauty of the night sky with special activities and talks by scientists, experts, night sky photographers and astronauts.

 

5. Los Roques Archipelago, Venezuela

Los Roques Archipelago, Venezuela

By Tucanrecords [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Opened in 1972, this National Park consists of an archipelago of nearly 350 islands and cays situated in the Caribbean Sea. These small, white-sanded islands are almost uninhabited; surrounded by crystal-blue water and coral reefs, they harbour some of the best diving and snorkel spots in the world. In fact, Los Roques’ biodiversity is incredible: the park harbors over 60 species of corals, 200 species of crustaceans, 140 species of mollusks, 45 species of echinoderms and 280 species of fish – a real paradise for scuba-divers and sailing lovers!

 

6. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Plitivice Lakes National Park, Croatia

This Croatian park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Located halfway between Zagreb and Zadar in the mountainous northwestern region of Croatia, it represents the country’s most popular attraction. Over one million visitors throng on the park each year, with peak numbers in the late spring and summer.  Immersed in deep and wild forest vegetation, sixteen bigger lakes and several smaller ones are interconnected by a series of breathtaking waterfalls. Seven different routes are available to tour the stunning lake system, as well as four hiking trails.

 

7. Guilin and Lijiang River National Park, China

Guilin and Lijiang River National Park, China

By Dariusz Jemielniak, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This protected area situated in southeastern China is rightfully famous for its lush, deep forests, limestone cones, cylinders and solitary hills, which are also printed on the country’s paper currency. Among the rocks of Guilin flows the Lijiang River and its tributaries, producing spectacular scenery which has long inspired various Chinese poets.

Read related: What to do in Seoul, South Korea

In order to best appreciate the treasures of this National Park, we particularly recommend taking the 30-mile long boat trip along the Lijiang River, from Guilin to Yangzhou, or embarking along the parallel hiking route on the riverside. Both Guilin and Yangzhou, picturesque cities surrounded by the natural splendors of the National Park, are equally worth a visit.

 

8. Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway

Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway

Are you a true snow and mountain lover who would like to experience glacier river rafting or snowshoe hiking? If this is the case, Jostedalsbreen park is the ideal destination for your next trip. Jostedalsbreen glacier covers half of the National Park, and it’s the largest in mainland Europe. The park is also famous for its amazing variety of natural environments all clustered within a small area, and it hosts different activities year-round. During the winter months, make sure to visit the famous blue ice caves hidden beneath the Nigardsbreen glacier. When accompanied by a guide, groups of tourists are allowed to hike on skis or snowshoes up to the front of the glacier and to explore the fascinating blue caves.

 

9. Kui Buri National Park, Thailand

Kuri Buri National Park, Thailand

By: Tontan Travel via Flickr

Not far from the Burmese border, Kui Buri National Park is a stunning site for wildlife viewing. The park is well-known for the presence of herds of elephants, which can be seen pretty much everywhere in the protected area. Tourists are allowed to drive their own cars around the park, but must take a guided tour to visit the protected sections of the natural preserve. For a real up-close-and-personal experience of the wildlife here, it is also possible to rent tents and bungalows to stay overnight.

(Read related: Top 8 Travel Photography Tips)

 

10. Snowdonia National Park, Wales, UK

Snowdonia National Park, Wales

The name of this beautiful National Park comes from Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, while the Welsh name for this area is Eryi: legends state that this name derived from a word meaning “the land of eagles”. The park is best known for its wonderful hiking opportunities, but it offers much more than that: come here for splendid waterfalls, lakes and mountain biking paths. In particular, we recommend that you hop on one of the vintage steam trains that climb up to the highest peak in Wales. Taking the old-world train will allow you to experience the area just as a traveler would have back in 1896, and you will see for yourself how gorgeous and mythical this mountainous area is, journeying through the clouds to Yr Wyddfa, Snowdon.

 

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her work, stories and pics. 

Anna Maria Colivicchi

The World’s Most Amazing Megalithic Structures

The World’s Most Amazing Megalithic Structures

Megaliths are enormous stones used by prehistoric civilizations to construct impressive monuments without the use of concrete or mortar. The word ‘megalith’ comes from two ancient Greek words: mégas, which means ‘giant’ and lìthos, meaning ‘stone’. Even though we can’t always clearly understand the reasons and history behind their existence, these incredible structures allow us to travel back in time and to reflect on the early past of humankind, and are inspiring sites to visit at least once in a lifetime. Every one of these ancient stones has interesting and fascinating stories to tell. From the world-famous Stonehenge to the mysterious spheres of Costa Rica, here are some of the world’s most incredible — and beautiful– megalithic structures to visit.

Stonehenge, England

Stonehenge, England and its breathtaking megalithic structures

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1986, Stonehenge is without doubt the most famous cromlech – a circle of megalithic stones – in Europe, and one of the most visited attractions in the UK. Located near Amesbury, in Wiltshire, its name literally means ‘hanging stones’. The actual position of the megaliths was restored between 1901 and 1964, when every stone was straightened or reinforced with concrete to recreate the site’s original circular shape.

In recent decades, there’s been much speculation over the original purpose of Stonehenge’s construction, in 3100 BC. Theories are numerous: some say it functions as an astronomical calendar while still others think it may have been used as a site for ritual human sacrifice!

According to several legends, giants brought the stones from distant lands to create Stonehenge; isn’t it fascinating that some myths held that the massive stones had healing powers? This megalithic circle has always been surrounded by mystery– and since it’s only a few hours away from London, it’s an easy site to visit.

Just outside the visitor center, you can step into five Neolithic houses furnished with replica axes, pottery and other objects; these allow you to get a real feeling for what everyday life might have been like for the ancient people who built Stonehenge.

Carnac Stones, Brittany (France)

Carnac stones in Brittany, France

By Nicolas Raymond/Freestock

Around the village of Carnac, in Brittany, the biggest collection of megaliths in the world – alignments, dolmens, tumuli and menhirs – takes us back to 4500 BC. These prehistoric standing stones, amounting to more than three thousand when counting those situated within La Trinitè-sur-Mer, were erected by the pre-Celtic peoples of Brittany. At Carnac, there are three major groups of stone rows (alignments), which probably formed a single group and then split up when the stones were removed and used for other purposes.

Read related: Experience the Wonder of France’s Lascaux Paleolithic Cave

Since these incredible stones stand in perfectly straight lines, local legends claim they were marching soldiers, turned into stones by the magician Merlin.

A more rational explanation? According to researchers studying the site, the megaliths could have been used as a primitive earthquake detector, but there are also several theories about it being a huge lunar observatory or even a calendar. In the commune of La Trinité-sur-Mer, a much smaller group of stones known as Petit-Menec is nestled in the woods, covered by ivy and moss. If you’re looking for a unique adventure that combines mysterious megalithic structures and fresh air, Carnac is a great choice. Its beautiful beaches are well worth visiting, and the Quiberon peninsula nearby is famous for wind-surfing and sailing.

Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons

Tombs of Giants and Nuraghi, Sardinia

Sardinia is already well-known for its enchanting beaches and deep blue sea. But if you’re after a peaceful, wild place tucked well away from those crowded holiday destinations, you might want to visit the majestic stone monuments scattered around the island. Several different kinds of megalithic structures grace this gorgeous Mediterranean island: menhirs (singular standing stones), cromlech (similar to those found in Stonehenge) and dolmens (composed of three or more stones).

Megalithic structures in Sardinia, Italy

By ciamabue [CC BY 2.0]  via Wikimedia Commons

The Tombe dei Giganti – meaning ‘Tombs of Giants’, a name given to the site by the locals, but nowadays frequently used by archaeologists – are impressive dolmenic structures, built in the 2nd millennium BC as collective graves and located in various Sardinian regions. We particularly recommend visiting those that stand in Arzachena, in northwest Sardinia.

Read related: Spotlight on Montefeltro, Italy 

By Cristiano Cani [CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Nuraghi are Sardinia’s most well-known symbol and the main type of megalithic structure found on the island.  A trip to Sardinia is not complete without a visit to one of these extremely evocative monuments. According to the experts, there were originally more than 30,000 nuraghi, although only 7,000 still stand today. The exact use of the Nuragic structures is still unknown: they may have served as religious sites, tombs or even fortresses.

Dolmens of the North Caucasus, Russia

Dolmens of North Caucuses, Russia

Megaliths and stone labyrinths have also been discovered in the Caucasus Mountains, 50 km north-east from the Black Sea. While these are not as famous as the European constructions, they are equally mysterious and intriguing. Archaeologists believe they were built between the 2nd and the 4th millennium BC, and previously unearthed dolmens continue to be found on both sides of the Western Caucasus. This makes the site even more fascinating as new discoveries are still underway. Despite their similar appearance to the sorts of structures we’ve highlighted in England, France and Italy, these Russian dolmens are of unknown origin. Experts are still developing theories about who build them and for what purpose.

Diquìs Stone Spheres, Costa Rica

Petrospheres in Costa Rica

By Rodtico21 [CC BY-SA 3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Over 300 petrospheres – the term used by archaeologists to refer to spherical man-made objects – are located on the Diquìs Delta and on Isla del Caño, in Costa Rica. While their exact significance remains uncertain, they have been attributed to the extinct pre-Columbian indigenous culture of Diquìs.

According to ancient myths, these perfectly rounded stones came from the sunken town of Atlantis. Since June 2014, the Diquìs Spheres are on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Despite the fact that “archaeo-tourism” is still a new concept in Costa Rica, the museum FINCA 6 in Palmar Norte, which holds the largest collection of these stones, is gaining in popularity. Could the Diquìs Spheres be an excuse for planning your next trip to the charming Central American nation?

Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites, South Korea

Dolmens in South Korea

By Steve46814 [CC BY-SA 3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Dolmens can be found in East Asia too, and one of the biggest collection is situated on the Korean peninsula, which is said to contain more than 40% of the world’s dolmens, summing up these three important archeologic sites. Korean megalithic monuments date to around 1,000 BC: they are far more recent than the others we covered in this article. Objects excavated nearby suggest that they were mainly used as tombs.

Read related: 7 Top Things to See & Do in Seoul, South Korea 

Due to the increasing number of tourists traveling to Korea to see these megaliths, the sites of Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa are slowly becoming national symbols: ones that celebrate Korean pre-historic culture and its inhabitants.

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her stories and photos. 

Anna Maria Colivicchi

The 8 Most Beautiful Leaf-Peeping Destinations in the World

The 8 Most Beautiful Leaf-Peeping Destinations in the World

Nature Puts On Her Fall Coat

As we sail into the fall season, one of the things many of us look forward to the most is the opportunity for leaf peeping. As temperatures begin to dip and deciduous trees change from summery green hues to fiery shades of yellow, orange and red, the splendor of autumn announces itself in a colorful show.

Haven’t we all experienced moments of joy on a quiet walk in a forest, perhaps with a loved one or even alone? There’s something about trees: they seem to act as a balm for body, mind and soul. Now, healing therapies are bearing this out. 

Did you know that Japanese people (and specifically many Tokyo residents) have been indulging in a practice called “forest bathing” for decades? Called Shinrin-yoku and developed in Japan as a healing therapy in the 1980’s, forest bathing is a nurturing experience for the senses: a way to calm body, mind and spirit by spending time in wooded areas. It’s been scientifically proven to boost your sense of wellbeing, and even lowers blood pressure and stress hormone levels. In the autumn, of course, the colorful sights can enhance the soothing effects even more.

Forest bathing amid yellow fall foliage

Destinations abound for viewing this autumnal tour de force from Mother Nature. When you think of magnificent fall leaves, what’s the first place that pops into your mind? England or New England? Canada or Australia? Depending on where you happen to live, you will no doubt have your own favorites. The truth is that there are many worthy destinations for an awe-inspiring autumnal experience, on almost every continent.

Read on for 8 of the world’s most stunning destinations for leaf-peeping. Take a drive, boat or train to any of these splendid places- and once there, make sure you have time to indulge in your own version of “forest-bathing”! Let us know if you have a personal favorite among them by leaving a comment below. 

1. Agawa Canyon Park, Algoma Highlands, Ontario, Canada

Agawa Canyon, Ontario: the train tour in autumn is absolutely stunning for leaf peeping and fall foliage.

This favorite fall destination in North America is best reached by train!  Hop on the famous Train Tour through the spectacular Agawa Canyon in northern Ontario, Canada, which begins and ends at Sault Ste. Marie. There’s an hour-and-a-half stop along the way, allowing you to enjoy the surrounding wilderness trails and scenic viewpoints in all their glory.

Travelling to just over 100 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie and back via a breathtaking ride through the Canyon, this is definitely one for the bucket list. Of course, you can enjoy the vast pristine wilderness and its numerous provincial parks by car as well. The Train Tour simply adds a “truly extraordinary” element while you sit back and enjoy the unparalleled views of fall foliage. 

When does it run?

The train runs from late June through mid-October. The last two weeks of September and the first two weeks of October are the recommended times for leaf peeping. This time-frame varies with each year as it is dependant on seasonal conditions: in years when cooler temperatures arrive earlier, so do changing colors. 

Be sure to reserve well ahead, as this tour definitely sells out. Click here for inclusive packages for the Train Tour, Accommodations and a Pass Book.

Visit this page to view the map and trails in the Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park.

2. Japan

Gorgeous fall leaves in Japan

More famous for its cherry blossom season and its population’s general love for trees, nature and gardens, Japan is in fact equally spectacular in the fall season. Home to millions of maples and other deciduous trees, Japan puts on an autumnal spectacle that is among the world’s most extraordinary– and we highly recommend that you travel by train to take it all in. As for the inimitable style and diverse fauna found in Japanese parks and gardens, they can’t be beaten. You will revel in the seasonal enjoyment of neatly and precisely planned natural settings, some of which contain thousands of trees. 

Read related: Top 7 Tips for Exploring Seoul, South Korea 

When to See Fall Leaves in Japan?

As temperature differences between mountainous and lowland areas vary and can greatly affect the best viewing times, possibilities for leaf-peeping in the country come as early as mid-September and as late as early December. The earliest times begin in the northernmost region and the latest are in and near Tokyo.

A beautiful autumn scene in Akiyama Township Valley, Japan

Use this resource to find out when and where to visit. Scroll down the page for a map and list by region with the full forecast for all of Japan.

In the Kansai region, a unique Train Tour allows visitors to enjoy the autumn display of color (also recommended earlier in the year to gawk at breathtaking cherry blossoms). This is the Sagano Scenic Railway, also known as Kyoto’s “romantic train”, and viewing times for leaf peeping are from November into December. This is a one-way ticket– with the option of returning via a river cruise on the Hozugawa River to your point of departure at Arashiyama, a short distance from Kyoto. (Of course you can return by train, but you’ll need another ticket.)

Note: If you have a Japan Rail Pass, this will get you to and from Arashiyama, but the Sagano Scenic Railway is not included in the pass. Tickets for the Sagano Railway can be purchased on arrival at the Saga-Arashiyama Station or at any Japan Rail ticket office in the Kansai region. Pre-purchasing is recommended at peak times, as is checking available days for the Train Tour.

Travel Tip: For nature lovers, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove near Kyoto is also not to be missed.

3. Kootenay Lake, British Columbia, Canada

Love mountain landscapes? Add a crystal-clear glacial lake, and you have an idyllic autumn setting at Kootenay Lake, British Columbia, Canada.

This video speaks for itself and is likely to prompt you to put this part of the world on your bucket list!

Alongside Kootenay Lake and its pristine views, you can also bask in surrounding provincial parks, activities, artisan studios, cultural events and more. Even better: Plan to be there during the salmon-spawning season which runs from August through October. This is an incredible experience in and of itself.  See this page for more details.

For accommodation resources, click here to see a selection of different accommodation types–from hotels to Bed & Breakfasts– in the Nelson and Kootenay region. Prefer something self-catered? Take a look here using “Kootenay Lake British Columbia” to create your search. Yes, there are log cabins on this list!

How to get to this part of the B.C. interior? Click here to learn more.

4. New England, United States

Autumn Leaves in New England

The problem with including New England on our autumn leaf-peeping bucket list? There are simply too many marvelous destinations in this part of the United States to properly account for. Places like Maine, Connecticut, Vermont and other New England states offer opportunities for viewing fall foliage at its most glorious.  

With their winding country roads, billboard-free drives, sinuous rivers and picturesque small towns all accumulating in idyllic pastoral scenes, these are destinations sought out by hordes of tourists every year. Visit this page for a spectacular selection and a fully comprehensive list of leaf-peeping destinations from Town And Country Mag. 

Experiencing New England Fall Foliage by Train

What is it about trains? They’re both charming and relaxing, eliminating all need to worry about the road ahead. Sit back and enjoy, take some travel pictures you’ll treasure forever, and wend your way through some truly gorgeous landscapes.

The Essex Steamboat and River Company offers some truly unique excursions that allow you to take in breathtaking fall foliage as you cruise through the Connecticut River Valley.

5. Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

The splendor of autumn at Niagara Falls

Let’s face it: a spectacular autumn visit to Niagara Falls would be incomplete without some serious leaf peeping involved. Southern Ontario is yet another place to see the gorgeous colors of autumn burst into full expression. The protected Niagara Escarpment is wooded as far as the eye can see, and an uncountable number of maple trees, birch trees and other deciduous varieties offer up a feast for the eyes as you make your way to the world-famous Falls.

Further, surrounding vineyards provide a spectacular autumn vista, since the vines also change in hue as cooler temperatures set in. Better yet, it’s harvest time for the grapes– although this is closely monitored for each varietal and by each winery. Maybe you’ll be lucky, and get to observe as the grapes arrive ‘in the back’ to be crushed. This is yet another fall experience that’s both festive and fun.

Best Places to Leaf-Peep in Niagara?

For a superb vista of the Niagara River as it makes its way northward to Lake Ontario through a densely-wooded landscape, check out the Lookout Point just below Queenston Heights Park, about ten minutes north of Niagara Falls along the Niagara ParkwayThe Niagara Parkway itself is a stunningly beautiful drive that takes you north to Niagara-on-the-Lake, billed as the prettiest town in Canada with its quaint shops, wineries and B&Bs. We think it’s true! This beautiful, tree-dense drive will not disappoint, as you take in rolling vineyards and a fall display unlike any other. 

(Read our full guide to beautiful fall foliage in Niagara Falls, Ontario)

The area just near Niagara Falls has many parks and gardens, all of which afford opportunities for lovely strolls and something to see outside the Falls themselves. Free to visit, the Niagara Botanical Gardens— a 99-acre year-round marvel that is vastly appealing in the fall– is well worth adding to your list.

For those visiting from Toronto with a wine tour in mind, there are certain tours that will drive you there and back for a day-long outing. The drive takes you along part of the magnificent Niagara Escarpment: all you need is the right time of year and, ideally, a sunny day. Fall foliage colors truly come alive against the backdrop of a bright blue sky.

Colorful leaves and grapevines in autumn

Toronto’s iYellow Wine Club offers an annual Niagara Harvest Tour that will take you to three wineries as you are driven through the beautiful landscape of this viniculture region. Check their page for dates and information on how to book. 

If you’re already in the Niagara Region and want to take a wine tour, with leaf peeping as an added bonus, there are several companies to choose from. Click here for a number of options from Niagara Vintage Wine Tours, including a half-day wine and cheese tour, an evening wine tour with dinner, design your own private tour and others.

Last but not least and for something truly out-of-the-ordinary, consider this: fly down from Toronto’s downtown airport to Niagara and be whisked away in a private car to one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s premium winery estates, the Two Sisters vineyard. Take in the escarpment’s gorgeous fall colors from the air, then enjoy a VIP tour and luncheon in their famed Kitchen76 restaurant, or on the patio for the very finest Italian fare. Romantic, much? We think so! Click here for all the details and to book your tickets.

Note: The Niagara Grape and Wine Festival generally runs for most of the month of September, a time to enjoy Niagara at its most colorful.  The Discovery Pass offers multiple wine-tasting opportunities, events and more. 

For tons of authentic features and travel tips on visiting Niagara, see our dedicated Secrets of Niagara site. 

6. Paris (With a Stopover in The Loire Valley)

Paris Park in Autumn

Famous for its many elegant parks, Paris is a city that’s glorious in the fall. if you’ve already planned your trip there for around the end of September or early October you’re in for a treat, as its many trees transform to show glorious autumnal hues. Whether it’s the Jardins des Tuileries and Luxembourg, the vast Bois de Boulogne or simply a window-shopping wander along the Champs-Elysées you’re after, cooler temperatures and perhaps fewer tourists are all added bonuses. 

Read related: These Are the World’s 10 Most Romantic Honeymoon Destinations 

If you’re planning on a day trip or weekend whirl through the Loire Valley and its iconic châteaux, you’ll be equally amazed by the fall splendor of vast, sprawling parks and ancient trees that abound there. Vineyards bursting with autumn colors only adds to the overall charm. The autumn season really is one of the best times to visit– we highly recommend it!

7. Patagonia, Argentina

An increasingly popular tourist destination, Patagonia has an autumn season running from March through May, due to its location in the far southern hemisphere. Here’s a leaf-peeping opportunity for the more adventurous and intrepid among you: this remote location has an incredible array of its own distinct flora, as the world’s most southerly forest of the “subantarctic” variety.

A travel photographer’s dream, Patagonia offers rugged mountains and dramatic plains bursting with autumn foliage. This part of the world is beyond compare, and an ideal destination for anyone wishing to get off the beaten path. See this page for a great list of reasons to consider an autumn visit.

To visit here, you will need to join a tour and don your best hiking boots. Visit this resource for some options and to learn more about the Torres del Paine National Park— described by so many as an “otherworldly” experience.

8. New Zealand

Last but certainly not least, New Zealand is another intrepid destination for the ambitious autumn traveler. Here’s the consensus on the best time to visit: mid-April. Offering more yellow hues than fiery reds because of the varieties of trees most commonly found here, the contrast provided by pristine landscapes and waterscapes makes it all worthwhile. The best recommendation we can find is for Lake Tekapo on the South Island with its turquoise blue glacial water and yellow-hued leaves. There are a number of reasons many choose to visit Lake Tekapo, as outlined here, including the striking blue color of the lake, a whimsical statue of a dog gracing the shore and the opportunity to stargaze into the light-pollution-free night sky.

Click here to learn more about this incredible stargazing opportunity, complete with hot springs from which to observe the stars. We’re pretty sure there aren’t too many places on the planet where this is possible- what an experience!

Looking for a place to stay in the area? Visit this page for a list of good Lake Tekapo accommodations.

Our List Is Just the Beginning…

This list isn’t exhaustive, of course- but represents some of our favorites, and will go a long way in giving you a bit of inspiration for your next autumn adventure. Do you have other leaf-peeping spots you love and recommend? Feel free to tell us about them and share them with others by leaving a comment below!