While we were in Liberia for almost two weeks we were busy almost every day, from doing engineering activities with Kim’s students to shopping in the enormous Waterside Market in Monrovia. For our last full day in Liberia we decided to relax by visiting the Libassa Ecolodge, about an hour away from Monrovia and not far from the airport. We called a taxi driver we had used previously during the trip to take us to the resort directly, instead of doing the less expensive, but much more time consuming traditional way through various taxi stations.
When we checked in our room wasn’t ready yet so we dropped off our bags and headed to the poolside. Before jumping in the water we relaxed under the warm sun and sipped on our complimentary fresh coconuts. The resort has a multiple swimming pools, a lazy river, a lagoon to swim in plus lounge chairs along the beach. We dipped in the various pools and floated in the not-so-lazy river (the pump was broken at the time so the water was still). After the pools, we headed towards the beach to walk in the sand and dip our toes in the water–a first for me on this side of the Atlantic!
On the same property as the Ecolodge resort is the Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary. The recently opened sanctuary is home to wild animals rescued across the country from people that illegally kept as pets. Our wonderful guide, Angie, led us around to the different enclosures and explained the progress of various animals towards being reintroduced to the wild.
We saw many animals including different types of monkeys, mongooses, a small deer and the cutest little pangolin. Pangolins are actually the most sought after animal for poaching in the world because their scales are believed to have healing properties. We were surprised to learn that the small deer, technically called Maxwell’s Duiker, had been rescued from the beach front restaurant in Monrovia we ate at the night before! The poor deer were so overweight from a diet of pizza and beer that even though they had been at the sanctuary for four months, they still looked obese! The sanctuary was an eye-opening experience seeing the types of animals native to Liberia, as well as discovering the extent that some people go to keep them as pets.
The Grand Canyon is a breathtaking natural wonder any time of year, but visiting in the winter months can be very different from the peak summer season. When we visited last winter here are the five things we wish we would have known before visiting the Grand Canyon in December:
The North Rim is closed
The Grand Canyon’s North Rim has view and trails to trek similar to the South Rim however it is more difficult to visit as it is far from the freeway and doesn’t have close airport options. Generally the North Rim is less crowded but it is not open to visitors in the winter months. If you are planning to visit, the North Rim is open from May 15th to October 15th each year.
Its gets cold!
The Grand Canyon is at an elevation of 7,000 ft above sea level so although it is a desert it is still pretty cold in the winter time during the day. For us it got up to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the height of the day but if you are hoping to see the sunrise bundle up! When we watched the sunrise it was around 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit. We also saw some ice on the trails so be careful when hiking and be sure to wear plenty of light layers!
Daylight hours are short
While it makes it easier to view the sunrise (~7:30am) and the sunset (~5:15pm), there are a lot less hours in the day to enjoy the canyon. The main way this affected us was when we hiked part of the Bright Angel Trail down into the Grand Canyon. We were wary about leaving plenty of time to make it back up the canyon so we wouldn’t be on the trail in the dark.
Not all the buses are running
We never ended up using the shuttles since it was more convenient to have a car in the winter. Only two of the shuttle bus routes are running and this did not include the one that could bring us to the park from our hotel or the route along Hermit Road stopping at many beautiful overlooks including Hermit’s Rest. If you are there in the winter it will be helpful to have a car to drive to the different areas you want rather than relying on the shuttle bus services.
During holiday weeks it is extremely crowded but other times it is not crowded at all
If you are traveling to the Grand Canyon in the winter be sure to avoid Thanksgiving week and the week between Christmas and New Years if at all possible. During the holiday weeks the Grand Canyon National park is jam packed. However, when we were there in mid December there were many times we had places to ourselves.
Visiting during the winter months definitely has it’s advantages, the main one being very few fellow tourists, but we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Hopefully these tips will help you plan you winter vacation!
Last April, while visiting family in Louisville, we decided to take a day trip to Mammoth National Park. Located in central Kentucky, Mammoth National Park was officially established in 1941 and is home to the longest cave system in the world. On the surface, Mammoth National Park extends around 80 square miles but the underground cave systems extend a least 405 miles! Exploration and surveying continues today, with new passages discovered each year!
There are tour options of various intensities, but we chose the 2 hour Domes and Dripstones Tour. With over 100 people on the tour, we rode buses to what appeared to be just a door at the bottom of a sinkhole but it was really a man-made entrance to the cave. At the mouth of the opening, you can feel the cool air from within the caves, which stays around 54 degrees Fahrenheit year round.
Heading into the cave, we descended around 280 steps winding through small openings, over deep crevices and under large domes. The descent was both exhilarating and at times a little terrifying. Water dripped down on our heads throughout the climb but once we got 250 feet underground, everything was completely dry. We stopped to rest for a few minutes on benches while he ranger taught us more about the cave system. At one point she turned off every source of light humans had put into the cave. Immersed in complete darkness, there was no source of natural light in the cave at all.
We continued our trek through wide caverns and narrow pathways admiring the variety of dripstone formations along the way. Our tour concluded with a visit to the “Frozen Niagara”, a large formation of dripstones resembling a waterfall frozen in its tracks. After hiking through the caves for 2 hours we only explored 0.18% of the discovered passageways throughout the cave system!
Once back at the visitor center, we had to walk over soapy mats to clean off the bottoms of our shoes. This is to try to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease detrimental to bats. The fungus first appeared in the United States in the winter of 2007 and an estimated 5.7-6.7 million bats have died in country since. We talked to the park ranger about it and she told us that these efforts are to try to contain the fungal disease and they are hoping the bats will develop an immunity.
Overall, the cave tour was definitely worth the $15 price tag. Before you head to your tour, be sure to walk through the visitor center for small exhibits and an informational video! You’ll learn about the discoveries made in Mammoth Cave throughout history. Our quick day trip was well worth the trek but we wish we had more time to explore all the things Mammoth National Park had to offer!
During our 8 day trip in Iceland, we knew one thing we had to do was go whale watching! While there are multiple areas in Iceland to take off on a whale watching tour, we chose to embark from Akureyri, the “Capital of North Iceland”, with the company Ambassador.
From Akureyri, we boarded a boat and headed out to sea. After about an hour ride we slowed and scanned the top of water until we had our first whale sighting. After just a few minutes we were able to see the fins of a humpback whale! The boat sped over to its location just in time for it to take a deep dive flapping his tail to push him deep in the water. We were able to see 3 whales total, one alone and one pair. The whales stayed near the top of the water swimming around for a few minutes before taking deep dives further down into the ocean that usually lasted around 5-6 minutes.
The reason Iceland is a great place to whale watch is that humpback whales travel north to feed. These whales eat in Northern Iceland, building up enough fat to stay warm in cold waters before returning south to breed. Each whale has a unique design on their flute (aka the back of their tails) making them fairly easy to track. The same whales found in Iceland have also been spotted in the Caribbean and even the Horn of Africa!
Overall the tour took about 3 hours, 1 hour at the whale watching sight and 2 in transit. The guides were very well informed, full of fun facts about the whales. Having spotted 3 whales, multiple times, I’d say overall the trip was a success!