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Are you dreaming of diving or snorkeling in the Caribbean but would also like to have other things to do? Curacao could be the perfect destination for an active outdoorsy vacation with white beaches and turquoise waters but also a lot of other things to see and do. Scuba diving in the Caribbean had been in my dreams already for quite some time and I decided I would live this dream on my birthday. Since it was hurricane season it was important to find a location out of the typical trajectory. Finally, it was a choice between Bonaire and Curacao – Curacao got selected because of slightly better flight connections, colorful buildings in the photos of the capital Willemstad, UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it seemed like it would be easy to find also other things to do in addition to diving.
What I really liked about Curacao was how safe, clean and organized it appeared. A huge additional bonus was the drinkable tap water. Also, it was easy to communicate as everyone I encountered spoke good English which is Curacao’s official language in addition to Papiamento and Dutch. LionsDive Beach resort was an excellent location to stay as it was right at the beach and offered different restaurants to choose from. The breakfast at Restaurant Hemingway’s on the beach was just amazing – both for the food and the views!
Scuba diving was absolutely the main reason for traveling to Curacao and diving with Ocean Encounters was fantastic. Our guides Lexi, Pieter & co were very professional and made the day trips to the sea safe and fun. It was easy to pre-book the boat dives in advance and I’d recommend it to be on the safe side – even though at least they did have available seats even for the next day.
As the dive shop is right next to the resort it was super easy to go there and take only minimal belongings along. Don’t forget sunscreen and a hat! And bring along your dive log book as it’s a good idea to get the instructor’s signature and stamp right after returning to the shore. 4 days double tank boat trips took us to some amazing diving spots on the west coast of Curacao:
Smokey, Boobey Trap, Bullenbaal, Blue Bay Garden, Beacon Point (wall, drift dive), Shipwreck point (wall, drift dive), Newport, Barracuda point – Small Wall – Director’s Bay (drift dive through 3 diving sites)
Photo: Turtle & Ray Productions Curacao
We saw for example turtles, barracudas, stingrays, tarpons, lion fish, angel fish, green moray eel, trunk fish, lobster, parrot fish… Some of the dives were drift dives with lighter or stronger currents where it was very practical that the boat came to pick us up where ever we surfaced in the end of the dive. The diving spots were mostly not too far and the boat rides were maybe half an hour at the most.
Photo: Turtle & Ray Productions Curacao
The sea was quite calm which made me very happy as I didn’t experience motion sickness (unlike my previous scuba diving in Australia). The boat was good too and offered enough shade as well as some seats in the sun. Drinking water was available all the time and some orange slices were offered after the first dive which tasted refreshing.
On the downside, to be honest, I got an understanding from frequent divers that there has been maybe too much fishing and less marine life than there used to be. I hope this is something that’s taken seriously now and that the amazing underwater world will be protected to stay amazing for our children as well! I was happy to notice that Ocean Encounters and other dive centers in Curacao actively participating in coral conservation efforts and underwater cleanups. Reducing the environmental impact not only from fishing but also from pollution and other stressors on the environment will require lots of collaboration and commitment from us all.
The weather in Curacao was really HOT in September, even above +35 degrees celcius and the sun was scorching – so hot that it was difficult to move in the middle of the day. Scuba diving was the by far best activity for these hot days. After lunch in the afternoons it was best to continue the day by snorkeling from the beach. Just remember that the sun can burn even if you’re in the water and protect yourself with sunscreen and UV-clothing!
LionsDive Beach resort’s pool was Olympic size 50 meter long – perfect size for swimming some laps. Swimming lessons were organized at the pool couple of times a week.
Willemstad’s colorful buildings and Queen Emma Bridge
Curacao capital Willemstad’s brightly colored buildings are just as picturesque as they look in photos. LionsDive resort offered complimentary mini-bus transportation to the city a couple of times a day so it was within easy reach although far beyond walking distance. The city center is quite compact and it felt safe and easy to walk around. The views around the floating Queen Emma Bridge are gorgeous and it’s fun to see it swing open for boats to pass through.
On the Pietermaai side of the bridge on Waterfortstraat there’s some restaurants with amazing views to the sea – for example Perla Del Mar is a great place to stop for a drink or a meal if you’re staying in the city for longer.
After crossing the Queen Emma Bridge to the Otrobanda side you can find the Renaissance Mall in the Rif Fort. I needed to do a bit more shopping than usual as the airline had lost my luggage and it took a few days for it to arrive. After some serious shopping, I was very happy to find a Starbucks and cool down with a caramel frappucino 🙂 Some stores had appealing discounts but be aware that the mall is located close to the Cruise ship port and it looked like some shops were taking advantage of this in their pricing. It seemed that there were less expensive shops on the other side of the bridge. Zuikertuin Mall is a bit further away from the center but it’s a nice small shopping center with air conditioning which makes it a pleasant place to cool down if you’ve already had too much of sun for the day.
Early mornings were the best time for going jogging because of the hot weather. There were some nice paths along the seaside but sometimes private areas were blocking the way and the only way to continue was at the side of the road. I was still happy that I had brought my sneakers along.
Yoga and gym with sauna
Body Beach Wellness Club is located adjacent to Lions Dive Resort and guests have unlimited free access to the Wellness Club. Sunset yoga class was organized on the deck close to the sauna. Even in the sunset it was still a hot yoga class in practice and great exercise.
Strolling on Mambo Beach boulevard
The strip along Mambo Beach boulevard has numerous small shops, a small convenience store and lots of clothes shops selling mainly beach wear. There’s plenty of cafes and restaurants where you can dine under the stars at night.
Renting a car and seeing more white beaches and turquoise sea: Playa Kalki and Grote Knip
At the Seaquarium beach you might realize that you’re swimming with doplhins as the aquarium is next door and they take the dolphins to the open sea. The sand on the beach is white and creates a dreamy contrast with the turquoise sea. The sunsets were stunning too!
Playa Kalki and Playa Kenepa /Grote Knip and Kleine Kip located in the north west of the island are rated the best beaches in Curacao and were absolutely worth the drive up there. Up north Playa Kalki is a stone beach that seamed to be a popular spot for divers while Playa Kenepa is a gorgeous white sand beach.
The fantastic benefit of staying at a hotel on the west coast is the opportunity to enjoy amazing sunsets. Add a cool cocktail and some Caribbean beats in the background and you’re all set for a relaxing end of the day.
Have you been to Curacao or the Caribbean? Or dreamed about going somewhere special for a long time? I’d love to hear about your experiences!
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March to April is the best time to visit Lapland because the darkness and freezing temperatures of the deepest winter are over and the sun is often pampering the winter wonderland’s visitors. In April the days are long already – if you are lucky the sun is up on the cloudless sky and shining till late. Easter is the top season when it’s most crowded and expensive but at other times it’s possible to find good deals on accommodation. However, Lapland is huge and very sparsely populated so even at the busiest time outside the biggest resorts you will find plenty of peaceful nature. Downhill skiing slopes may get busy in the weekends but on the cross-country tracks are unlikely to be very crowded.
Last Easter we enjoyed a skiing holiday in Salla “In the middle of nowhere”. This year we headed to an even more remote and secluded location in Lapland: the northern part of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, the 3rd largest and most popular national park in Finland based on number of visitors – over half a million annually – and which just turned 80 years. Other wonderful places to visit in Lapland include Ylläs in the southern end of Pallas-Yllästunturi National park and Saariselkä and Urho Kekkonen National Park. Another great skiing destination in Northern Finland is Ruka south from the Arctic Circle.
Unfortunately public transportation isn’t easily available and the most convenient way to get there is by car. It is possible to take a train to Kolari or fly to Kittilä or Enontekiö (closest airport but Finnair flights only once a week on Saturdays in the winter) and take a taxi to your accommodation.
Pallas Top 5:
- Lots of snow, peacefulness and the cleanest air
- Cross-country skiing in the natural park and on ice
- Breaks at wilderness huts and cafes
- Downhill skiing on natural snow in Pallas
Lots of snow, peacefulness and the cleanest air
If you are looking for snow you can’t go wrong with Lapland where snow covers the ground for at least half of the year from October to May. The snow is at its deepest in March and can even exceed 1 meter depths. It’s claimed that the air in Pallas is in the top 3 of the cleanest air in the world and it really did feel wonderful to breathe. The snow is usually so clean that it’s possible to melt it into drinking water (just watch out where you take it from!) and you might find also a stream or a spring with fresh drinking water straight from the nature – if it’s not frozen.
Cross-country skiing in the national park and on ice
There’s lots of skiing tracks to choose from for all skill levels. We were mainly skiing in the Raattama area where it’s possible to choose hills or flat ground, open fields or forest. In any case you can enjoy beautiful pristine nature. Lakes are frozen with thick ice so you can ski over the ice. The weather can be quite windy and change quickly from sunshine to fog or snowfall so it’s good to be prepared with warm layers (although not too much as little ones get hot easily), sunglasses, sunscreen and a backpack to carry everything.
How to keep the little one motivated to ski all day? This was my main concern before this trip. Kids often enjoy outdoors activities but would need to have variety, fun and lots of breaks with snacks built into the day to keep on going for hours. Here’s our favorites:
Snacks: juice, granola bars, sandwich, fruit, nuts… I always look for healthy snacks but pack along also a bit of chocolate and some sweets in case of most critical moments.
Some games to play:
- I spy: “I spy, with my little eye, something that is…“ Based on something that you see around you. We played it only with colors but you could play it with first letters, shapes, etc.
- Vocabulary games: thinking of different words starting with the same letter (in Finnish “laiva on lastattu”), compound words, finding words that start with the same letter as the previous ended, poems – coming up with rhymes…
- Reindeer names: think of the funniest/cutest/strangest names you could have if you were a reindeer – like “Silver sparkle foot”, “White yawning runner” – let your imagination fly!
- Picking a focus point: “look at that funny looking tree, let’s have the break after we’ve reached it”
- Skiing ball – this was a brilliant idea borrowed from here. We used a floorball instead of a golf ball which was good size but a bit heavier ball of the same size might be the easiest for kids to keep on the trail.
- There’s some more fun ideas here – I like especially the Alphabetical trip and Guess who
Don’t forget lots of encouragement and praise – it usually does miracles!
Snowshoeing in deep snow
We experimented snowshoeing for the first time. The snowshoes really helped walking on deep snow where without them you might fall waist deep in snow! But it’s a pretty heavy exercise if the snow is deep and soft. Actually, it turned out that it was easier for my daughter as she is lighter. Finding the right calm pace is helpful. Note that moving on roads or paths with snowshoes is slower than in winter boots – in the end we ended up taking the snowshoes off to go faster. Anyway, it was a lot of fun and nice variety to the skiing.
Breaks at wilderness huts and cafes
It’s a good idea to get a ski track map of the area where you are going to ski. A good practice is to plan the day’s trip based on breaks (our favorite part of the day!). Select at least one ski hut or café to be your destination and always pack along plenty of snacks, water and hot drinks. We visited Varkhaanjärven kota, Porokotajärven Kotakahvila and Montellin maja (on top of a very steep hill – so proud of my daughter for not giving up despite the long 3km/2miles climb!).
Downhill skiing on natural snow in Pallas
Ski resort Pallas is only open about 10 weeks in a year from mid-February till the end of April. We started our visit from the Pallastunturi visitor center which is open to visit free of charge. We watched a short, about 20 minutes interesting and educational video about the history and special nature of the area.
Ski resort Pallas is focused on offering a genuine experience of skiing on natural snow – which felt very pleasant, softer and less icy than artificial snow. It’s a popular place for off-piste skiing but we were careful to stay on the slopes. There’s 9 slopes with the longest run being 2,4 kilometers (~1,5 miles) but just two anchor ski lifts. At Easter time there were lines to the lifts but I would imagine that other times and especially during the week it there wouldn’t be waiting – even in the busiest time of the year there was plenty of space in the slopes. There was a good variety of slopes for beginners and families as well as more advanced skiers.
There is a very small café in the back-slopes with some tables and benches outside where it’s really nice to take a break and relax for a moment with a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate.
Summary of the best tips for skiing with kids:
- Take lots of breaks and remember the snacks
- Clothing: Layers, sunscreen and sunglasses
- Variety: different activities to ensure the kids don’t get bored
- It doesn’t need to be so serious – let’s make it fun and play games 🙂
- Lots of encouragement and praise!
Saved for next time…
Arctic Spa Jeris sauna and ice swimming
Hetta-Pallas hiking trail (55 kilometers)
Kite skiing – we saw many people kite skiing and I thought it would be impossibly difficult until I met two ladies in the sauna who were active kite skiers and convinced me that I should go on a course and learn it!
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We arrived in Gran Canaria on the day before New Year’s Eve hoping to relax in warm weather and sunshine. We got lucky and it indeed was sunny and warm every day. However, evenings were cool so it’s best to pack along warm clothes if you’re traveling to the Canary Islands in winter.
Top 5 things to do in Gran Canaria (especially if traveling with school-aged kids):
- Walking and running at the magnificent Maspalomas Dunes
- Having fun at the hotel pool
- Renting bicyles
- Renting a car and visiting Puerto Rico
- Day trip to Puerto Mogan
1. Walking and running at the magnificent Maspalomas Dunes
The highlight of the holiday was the morning outings – the sunrise is just amazing! Close to our hotel, there was a dried-up river or canal down to the Maspalomas Dunes and alongside are good walkways for walking, jogging and bicycling. Close to the seaside, there’s a beautiful natural reserve lagoon La Charca with lots of bird life.
2. Having fun at the hotel pool
Honestly, many kids enjoy most having fun at the pool and our hotel Canary Garden Club in Maspalomas had a great pool area with sunbeds to enjoy. There’s also a kiosk offering snacks and lunch. The breakfast buffet was excellent, lots of options including fresh fruit and vegetables. The bungalows are small and simple but fine when you spend most of the time outside anyway. There’s a small playground for kids and the surroundings make it easy for kids to run around without disturbing others. There’s a mini convenience store next to the reception and not far, within around 10 minutes walking distance, was a small mall Faro 2 with a Hyperdino grocery store.
3. Renting bicyles
We rented bicycles which we found to be lots of fun with just 15 euros in total for kid’s and adult’s basic bicycles for 24 hours and helmets were included. We recommend Elemi & Lino’s Bike located in Faro 2 shopping mall – they have a wide range of bicycles and helpful staff.
We had a wonderful day bicycling to the beach, having lunch at our favorite restaurant Café Colon that’s located at the root of the Meloneras lighthouse “Faro”.
4. Renting a car and visiting Puerto Rico
We rented a car for three days at a very reasonable price (around 150 euros) including full insurance cover from Isla Car. It was easy to drive around but finding a parking place close to popular places can be a challenge. We visited Puerto Rico and spent the day at the Angry Birds park. It’s basically a big playground with different activities like trampolines, climbing wall, slides, mini golf, etc. The 8-year-olds loved it and seemed to find more things to do all day. Other interesting attractions for an active day out with kids would have been Aqualand and Palmitos Park, but had to save those for another time.
We spent half a day in Atlantico shopping center that has a big Carrefour store and lots of popular brand stores like Zara, Mango and Desigual. The capital of the island Las Palmas is the number one shopping place but we skipped it this time.
5. Day trip to Puerto Mogan
On the last day with the car we drove up to Puerto Mogan which is a really beautiful small town by the sea. I would have liked to get there early in the morning to make it to the morning yoga on the beach. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible and I couldn’t find any outdoor yoga classes in Maspalomas. Anyway, we had a very nice lunch in a restaurant on the beach boulevard.
Overall, it was a wonderful holiday and Gran Canaria became one of my all-time favorite family travel destinations and there’s still plenty of things to do for our next visit! Traveling with kids isn’t always a breeze but it helps a lot to plan ahead – here’s for example some good tips to consider in preparing for the next journey with the little ones.
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It was Easter holiday when we packed our skiing gear and set off for my daughter’s first skiing holiday. Last year I spent Easter in Finnish Lapland for the first time in my life and it was an amazing experience to be surrounded with snow, yet […]