Where To Go In Central America and the Caribbean for Nature Travel and Wildlife Travel

Where To Go In Central America and the Caribbean for Nature Travel and Wildlife Travel

Are you looking for a winter sunshine break that has more than just lazing on a beach? My family can spend a few days on a winter beach vacation and then they start getting restless. When my kids start harassing me to play categories or Marco Polo yet again in the pool, I know its time to hit the road and do something active with them. We’ve started exploring Central America and the Caribbean for winter sunshine because they not only have great places for nature travel with kids but also have fabulous beaches.

Seeking Wildlife in Cuba

Cuba has some of the largest areas of unspoiled rainforests, reefs and wetlands in the Caribbean. Thanks to its repressive government, there wasn’t much in the way of unchecked growth and prosperity on the island never mind the mass tourism that affected many other parts of Central America and the Caribbean.

Fun Fact! Cuba has protected about 22% of its land by designating 263 different conservation areas which include 6 UNESCO biospheres.

There is more wildlife in Cuba than anywhere else in the Caribbean. There are over 350 different types of birds, 900 types of fish and 130 types of reptiles. Most of these animals are small such as the Cuban tree frog and the Cuban rock iguana. Keen fishermen such as Ernest Hemingway have always appreciated the waters off the coast of Cuba.

A Cuban rock iguana – possibly a face only a mother could love.

Among the places to explore for nature travel in Cuba is the marine reserve at  Jardines de La Reina, the tropical forest at Sierra del Rosario and the Zagata Swamp (home to the Cuban crocodile).

When you are done exploring, check out the Cuban beaches which are considered to be some of the best in the world. Cuba’s beaches have long been a favourite winter destination for Canadians and Europeans who do not suffer under the same travel restrictions as American tourists.

Driving around Cuba is safe and easy. Do expect though that you will not have much choice in rental cars and that it will be expensive. Unlike the popular myth, you probably will have just a normal car to drive and not one of the cool 1950’s car. There’s a wide variety of accommodation throughout the island to suit your travel style as well.

Nature Travel in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has attracted winter sunshine lovers for years thanks to its 400+ miles of white sand beach coastline. There is way more to this island than its crown as the most visited winter beach vacation destination in the Caribbean.

With 25% of the island protected by national parks and reserves though, there is plenty of nature travel available on this island when you want to stray from the beaches. For example, the Dominican Republic has over 160 types of birds and 50 types of butterflies.

Now you see the humpback whale, now you don’t.

The Dominican Republic has an extensive cave system where you can explore tunnels, underground rivers and caverns. One of the best national parks in the country, Los Haitises National Park, has something for everyone – whale watching, birding, hiking, and caving as well as spectacular beaches within its boundaries.

On The Lookout For Wildlife in Panama

Panama’s geographical location makes it special for biodiversity. With its location between North and South America creating a perfect meeting spot for animals from both continents leading to an abundance of wildlife in Panama. Approximately 22% of the land is protected by National Parks and reserves.

Getting the side eye from a Toucan

Panama has over 950 types of birds with over 500 species of birds recorded in the Soberania National Park rainforest alone.  It’s a total bird-watcher’s paradise where you can see the Harpy Eagle, macaws, parrots, toucans and quetzals.

Fun Fact!  One of the most powerful birds of prey in the world, the Harpy Eagle is the national bird of Panama.

With 218 mammal species, the wildlife in Panama that you could encounter include howler monkeys, spider monkeys, sloths, tapirs and jaguars. In the water, you have lots of variety of marine life – whales, turtles, sharks and dolphins.

Searching for Wildlife in Costa Rica

Although tiny, Costa Rica has over 5% of the plant and wildlife species of the world. The country has dedicated over 25% of its land to national parks and reserves. It really is a world front-runner in eco-tourism and ensuring that the wildlife in Costa Rica will be treasured for generations to come. In addition, since the country takes the impact of tourism on its landscape seriously, you have more assurance that any Costa Rican tours you book are well-run and environmentally-friendly.

The colorful red eyed tree frog looks like he’s been on a permanent bender with his bloodshot eyes.

Panama shares the UNESCO world heritage site,  La Amistad International Park with its neighbour, Costa Rica. The Corcovado National Park is home to nearly 10% of the mammal species in both North and South America. Among the animals you could see are howler monkeys, macaws and jaguars. There are over 30 species of hummingbirds alone in the Monteverde Cloud Forest which is a must-visit for any birdwatchers.

Fun Fact!  Costa Rica has over 800 bird species and 500 types of fern.

In terms of marine life, you can spot humpback whales about 9 months of the year in Ballena Marine National Park. Tortuguero National Park is a known nesting spot for sea turtles.

Belize Nature Travel

We did a road trip in Belize for 2 weeks around the holidays at the end of the year. It is a super-easy country to travel around because there are only a handful of main roads. In between the beach time we scheduled at the resorts of Caye Ambergris and Placencia, we spent much of our time trekking through Mayan ruins and hanging out in nature.

It’s pretty easy to immerse yourself in Belize nature travel. For example, the Belize Barrier Reef is second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It’s a snorkelling and diving paradise. Inland, national parks and reserves provide a haven for howler monkeys, spider monkeys, coatimundis and iguanas in the Cayo District and the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.

A jaguar playing hide and seek

We spotted a Jaguar only in the conservation-minded Belize Zoo though. In fact, one of our best experiences was being put in a cage and having the jaguar free to walk around us – a sort of reverse zoo experience.

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Where To Go In Central America and the Caribbean for Nature Travel and Wildlife Travel

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15 Great Gifts for Hikers (Including Practical Gadgets for Hikers)

15 Great Gifts for Hikers (Including Practical Gadgets for Hikers)

A born and bred city girl, I am discovering a love for the outdoors. I blame my son who got our whole family into hiking when he joined the Boy Scouts. Next thing, my husband is an Assistant Scout Master and we are all being supporting acts in this endeavor, whether its charging up Mt Snowdon in North Wales or following the path of the D-Day troop path across Normandy.  Now that the Scouts allow girls to join, my daughter will be joining the troop. Since she comes along for the events, she may as well get the credit! I draw the line at camping though – a night on the ground would totally set off my autoimmune issues – but hiking is a fun family activity. We have set off to find waterfalls in as diverse places as Brazil and Wyoming. Along the way, we have good conversations and the kids muck about being kids.

Hiking in the mountains of Switzerland was one of my son’s favourite experiences.

10 Practical Gifts for Hikers

These are the practical gadgets for hikers we always take when we go exploring nature. Most of these gift ideas for hikers were purchased by ourselves a long time ago with our own money and have stood the test of time. Some of the suggested presents for hikers we received as gifts ourselves and stocking stuffers. Many of these gifts for walkers and hikers are not expensive items. They make easy gifts from grandparents and friends who want to encourage wholesome outdoorsy family activity.

Gift ideas for hikers from stuff we have bought and used ourselves.

Backpack

My son loves his Naturehike nylon backpack for hiking. Water resistant and lightweight, it’s the perfect daypack. It’s so handy, he has even taken to using it as his airplane carry-on for personal items. Not only are these nylon backpacks great gifts for hikers but also for the child traveller in your life once they get past the Trunki stage.

Hot/Cold Bottle

We love our OneTwist water bottle. One of the best gifts for hikers, It’s a food and beverage container which is easy open and leakproof. This bottle keeps whatever is inside cold for 24 hours or hot for 12 hours. Why have dehydrated food when you can have a warming soup?

The One Twist hot/cold bottle makes a great gift for hikers. Note the handy stocking stuffer shape!

Head Torch

The Eurohike Cree 3W LED head torch is cheap and useful, the best combination for a gift idea. A head torch is really useful when you find yourself in limited light and want to keep your hands free for navigating across slippery slopes, fixing meals, tying shoelaces etc.

Compass

Sure you can use the GPS on your fancy watch. We are, however, going old school and teaching our children to use a compass which we think is one of the best gift for hikers.  It’s always useful to know how to do something first before relying on technology to do it for you. And, my kids think a physical compass is super fun!


Other great stocking stuffers – a head torch and/or a compass are a good practical gadgets for hikers.

Swiss Army Knife

The Victorinox Swiss Army knife is the workhorse of the outdoor world. There are many variations which make them great gifts for hikers.

The Classic SD Swiss Army Pocket  version is lightweight and incredibly useful with things like scissors, knife blade, nail file and tweezers. My kids don’t use a nail file at home so not sure why they need it hiking but hey its there if they snag a toenail.

Inexpensive but useful presents for hikers including a Swiss Army Knife, compass and hot/cold bottle.

There is also several other different versions such as the Hunstman Swiss Army Pocket Knife (for skinning a deer and then using the corkscrew to open a bottle of fine vino?). A good compromise would be the Victorinox Explorer Army knife which has the useful corkscrew, bottle opener as well as a screwdriver and a magnifying glass. For kids, an upgrade to the Classic Swiss Army knife would be the Victorinox Hiker Swiss Army Knife which has a screwdriver and a wood saw (no corkscrew or bottle opener).

Camelback Water Bladder

The CamelBank leakproof crux Outdoor hydration reservoir is a great for having water at the ready for those strenuous hikes without having to hold your water bottle (or even find it!).


Hip Flask

How to push through when the going gets tough? The tough take a break with a hip flask and hopefully a view. These flasks make great gifts for walker and hikers who appreciate a good toast to the outdoors in the outdoors.

Fitness Tracker

You need a fitness tracker so that you know how active you were.  Helps in creating that cozy glow of virtuousness that you will feel post-hike. We have used FitBits but have been recommended a Garmin fitness tracker by a personal trainer friend. Guess what is on our Christmas list for ourselves?

Waterproof Bags

Totally unsexy but oh so useful, waterproof bags are small and lightweight enough to be thrown at the bottom of your hiking daypack. You won’t even think about them until you are grateful you have them. For example, if you get caught in the rain, you can keep your stuff dry in a waterproof bag. And, there’s a lot to be said for  having a navigation map case so your map doesn’t get all soggy and unreadable.

Camera Phone & Spare Charger

A good camera phone is essential for capturing those memories. No one wants to lug around heavy camera equipment but you don’t want to miss out on bragging about all the beautiful scenery you saw either.

We love our iPhones for their great cameras. My husband was the last holdout – a Blackberry die hard until we convinced him to switch to an iPhone X and now he’s a believer too.  Friends tell me that Samsung smartphones have great cameras too but frankly we’re in too deep with our Apple products to be saved.

As for the backup battery charger, you really don’t want to have been happily snapping away and/or using the GPS app etc, that you run out of battery. I know I love to video the kids and their reactions and that just eats up the battery. Bear Grylls would know what to do if you get lost on the trail but chances are you won’t.

5 Inspirational Gifts for Hikers

Why be practical when you can be inspirational? Here’s our pick of the latest book gift ideas for hikers.

Hiking in the Highlands of Scotland. What a view!!

Lonely Planet do the best inspirational books. We love this Epic Hikes of the World by Lonely Planet. It’s available in hardcover if you are looking at gift ideas for hikers but also free on Kindle Unlimited if you just want it for yourself.

This book Wanderlust: Hiking on Legendary Trails has all the world’s incredible hikes, such as the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage in the Kii Peninsula in Japan.

For the slightly more hardcore hiker, Trekking Beyond: Walk the World’s Epic Trails is a good choice.

Explore an entire continent with the Pacific Crest Trail which runs from Canada through the USA to Mexico. The Pacific Crest Trail: Hiking the PCT from Mexico to Canada should provide lots of encouragement for your favourite hiker.

Enouraging kids to explore nature doesn’t necessarily mean a book. We love this gofindit Outdoor Nature Treasure Hunt kit. If your kids are anything like ours, they love a good treasure hunt, even if they do get super-competitive with each other.

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A list of good gifts for hikers across price points and from the practical to the inspirational #hiking #hikinggear

A list of good gifts for hikers across price points and from the practical to the inspirational

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them at no extra cost to you. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.