Hiking in Aruba: exploring Arikok National Park

At 8am the heat was already rising, as my taxi dropped me at the Arikok Park Visitor Centre at the northern end of Aruba. Think of the Caribbean and perhaps you’ll imagine relaxing on white sandy beaches with a rum punch in your hand. I’d had my fair share of that on Aruba, but today I was about to experience a different side of the island; a hike along sandy paths weaving between spiky cactus, past cave paintings and giant boulders.

Arikok National Park in Aruba

My guide Stanson met me in the Visitor Centre, an impressive hardwood and glass building that had been constructed in 2008, offering visitors information about the flora and fauna as well as much needed air-conditioning. The visitor centre is the starting point for many of the hikes in the park and is easy to get to, although the speed bumps on the park roads mean it’s easier to get around inside the park with a four-wheel drive vehicle. Stanson explained that he was student volunteering as a park ranger in between his studies, and his enthusiasm was as infectious as his encyclopedic knowledge was impressive.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

We set off along the Canucu Arikok, an easy hiking trail that is ideal for first time visitors to the park. The trail provides a circular route from the visitor centre, which takes around 2 hours to complete. Unusually, the ground was a little damp from overnight rain showers, the first decent rain they’d had for 3 years. The hot and arid climate of Aruba creates the distinctive landscape of the island, covered with prickly trees and cactus, which have adapted to survive the lack of water.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

Within the park are a few hills which provide viewpoints over the island and our path took us past Sero Arikok at 185M, where there’s an air traffic control beacon and a trail that leads to the well known Conchi or Natural Pool on the coast, one of the popular things to do on Aruba. When the park was created, there were already trails used by locals to ride their horse or donkey to the Miralamar gold mines, which were cleared and bounded by stones to make the hiking trails. The Cunucu Arikok was an easy, level walk on sandy paths and although I love a challenging hike in the Alps, I was quite grateful that in the rising heat we had a more gentle stroll and chance to take in the natural landscape.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

Without Stanson’s warning, I could easily have brushed up against the Bringamosa plant, which he described as ‘like poison ivy on steroids‘, as it will make your skin burn and itch for several days. The best antidote is to either pour alcohol over your skin or to rub it with another plant that grows nearby, the Seida – the only problem being that the two plants look rather alike!

Cactus at Arikok National Park Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cactus at Arikok National Park

A rather more pleasing find was the Turk’s cap cactus, a spiky ball topped with a felt like cap within which were buried bright pink berries. This was a sweeter treat, as the fruit can be pulled carefully from their furry enclosure to pop in your mouth. They’re otherwise known as Bushi or Bush fruit and look like tiny pink peppers with little black seeds inside.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

As we continued along the trail, we stood aside for a group of mountain-bikers to pass us, bumping fearlessly down a set of stone steps. There are a few challenging trails in the park, with a new one opening a couple of years ago, built by the Trails for Life project. As part of their ‘Good for the Neighbourhood’ community scheme, high school children constructed a new hiking and biking trail that reaches all the way out to the Natural Pool.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

Along the trail we reached a part where the path narrowed, hemmed in by huge boulders that looked as if they might have been dropped by a playful giant. Here, painted on the sides of a small cave, we could see the paintings left by the Caquetío Indians. Traced in red and white pigment I could make out an iguana and a bird with wings outspread, that has been used in the logo of the Arikok National Park. There are more paintings in the Quadirikiri and Fontein caves on the other side of the park, where the much larger caves contain stalactites and stalagmites, as well as a colony of bats. The bats are an important contributor to the ecosystem on Aruba as they act as polinators for plants and flowers, doing a job that would normally be performed by insects or birds.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

All along the trail, my guide Stanson pointed out curiosities of the flora and fauna, such as the Wayaka tree, also known as Evergreen as you’ll never see it with a brown leaf. Because the tree survives from reservoirs of water deep undergound, it grows very slowly, perhaps an inch each year. Don’t be fooled by the diminuitive size, as a tree that’s 2-3 metres tall may be around 300 years old.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

The cactus in the Arikok park come in all shapes and sizes, grouped together in tangled thickets as well the elegant lone cactus framed against the sky. “Just as tourism is an economic pillar on Aruba, the Cacti are the ecological pillar” Stanson told me. The cacti provide a prickly pear fruit, which is the main source of food for many birds on the island and to conserve water they have shared root systems, which spread underground over a wide area. Eventually a cactus may get too heavy and topple over, but as they dry out their wood can be used to construct the frames of the old style adobe houses.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

Every so often we spotted a flash of a bird in the trees, looking for fruit or nectar from the flowers that appear after any rains. Stanson reeled off the names; the Bananaquit which as its name suggests has a bright yellow breast, the blue-tailed Emerald hummingbird and Ruby-topaz hummingbird, which provide a flash of jewel colour if you can spot them. The Burrowing Owl, locally known as Schopo, is also found here and is the national bird of Aruba. The owl buries its eggs deep in the ground, but as soon as the chicks are old enough to venture out, they dart around to catch insects and small lizards.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

At the end of the trail, we reached the old Adobe house, enclosed by its trankera or fence made of cactus plants and tranchi stone wall. Because the cacti are stem plant, you can cut a piece off and plant it in the ground where it grows more roots. This was the traditional form of enclosure on Aruba, providing security, fruit and a haven for wildlife. The house is a replica of an older building that was destroyed in a huricane and has been restored to show how a traditional homestead would have looked on Aruba.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

It’s constructed by making a frame out of cactus wood which is smeared with a mixture of mud, sand, clay and saltwater, known as Torto. Once one layer of the Torto mixture was dry, another would be applied until the walls were thick enough. We walked inside the empty shell of the house, where a couple of bats flitted overhead as we examined the kitchen area with cooking platform and a stone mortar for grinding meal.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

Our circular route took us back in the direction of the Visitor Centre again, passing a tree that looked bare and lifeless – but not so, Stanson told me. In the arid landscape of Aruba, every plant has its own tricks to survive, but after rain the trees such as this will quickly flower and then fruit with a cherry that will attract all the iguanas from miles around to a feast under its branches.

Beside the path we also saw plenty of Aloe plants that were another economic driving force on the island, before oil refining and mining. The plant is well known for the cooling and healing properties of its gel-like sap, but some species also provide a sugary syrup as well as fibre from the dead leaves which was used to make rope.

Arikok national Park, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok national Park, Aruba

By now we’d come full circle on the Cunucu Arikok trail and arrived back at the visitor centre, just as the heat was become a bit too much for any more walking that day. I was grateful of the cool air conditioning of the cafe to refresh myself with a drink from the chill cabinet, before heading back to my hotel with its pool and views over Eagle beach. My morning in Arikok National Park had provided a fascinating insight into the landscapes and natural world on Aruba, far removed from the tourist beaches and bars. I’m so glad that I went for that hike and discovered a very different kind of day on Aruba.

Visiting Arikok National Park on Aruba

The island of Aruba is small, so it’s easy to get to the Arikok National Park visitor centre, either by hire car or by taxi. The taxi ride was around 30 minutes from my hotel at Eagle beach and would be closer from Oranjestad or San Nicholas.

The park is open daily from 8am to 4pm and I’d recommend arriving as early as possible to avoid hiking in the heat. Be sure to wear a sunhat and take plenty of water with you. You can hike on the easier trails in trainers and shorts, but on the more advanced trails, boots and long trousers are advisable.

The Park entrance is $11 per person which is used to support the maintenance of the roads, trails and park infrastructure. You can book one of the Park Rangers to act as your guide on the hiking trails and this service is free, although you need to book at least a day in advance. Park Rangers are also available at the visitor centre and around the park for advice and information.

I highly recommend booking a Park Ranger as their knowledge of the flora and fauna will certainly enhance your experience, although the Canucu Arikok trail was easy to follow and did not require any special guidance. There are, however, more demanding trails in the park, some of which require basic climbing skills and use of ropes, so these would be best taken with a guide.

For more information about Arikok Nationa Park, visit their website at www.arubanationalpark.org

More articles from the Caribbean

My 10 favourite things on Aruba
Street-art on Aruba: the unexpected Caribbean
Where and What to eat and drink in Aruba (Travel with Kat)

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Aruba

Where to Stay on Aruba

During my week in Aruba, I stayed at the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort, a delightful hotel that’s just across the road from Eagle Beach. The hotel is family owned and was built 25 years ago in traditional style with Dutch gables, painted in the warm yellow that you see everywhere on Aruban buildings. I was extremely comfortable, sharing a suite with two bedrooms and a first floor balcony looking towards the sea, furnished in traditional Caribbean style with dark wood furniture, brightly coloured walls and citrus shades of lime, lemon and tangerine.

The outside areas of the hotel were beautifully maintained with paved areas, trees and immaculate planting, with a welcoming pool area and the shady Mango restaurant, where we had breakfast. The hotel is ideal for couples who want to relax by the pool or on the beach, while having a well located base for exploring Oranjestad and all the other sights of Aruba.

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Amsterdam Manor Hotel

The staff could not have been more friendly and helpful and they even have a dedicated Romance Co-ordinator to help you organise your beach wedding or celebration event. The Fofoti trees opposite the hotel are a favourite for wedding photos and the Passions on the Beach restaurant where we ate one evening is an incredibly romantic setting to have a cocktail and dinner as the sun sets over the ocean.

For more information, visit the Amsterdam Manor Beach resort website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Address: J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 252, P.O. Box 1302, Oranjestad, Aruba.

To compare prices and book for hotels on Aruba check out Hotels Combined where you can see the best deals from all the booking websites for hotels including Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort.

See more photos from this trip

Click to see more photos from this trip

Visitor Information for Aruba

For more information to plan your holiday in Aruba, visit the Aruba Tourism Website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Pinterest

Thanks to Aruba Tourism for hosting my week’s stay in Aruba to discover the island.

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Street Art in Aruba: the unexpected Caribbean

As we drive into San Nicholaas, the second town of Aruba, the morning’s already hot but nothing much is stirring. The building by which we park, with shutters pulled down against the sun, looks just like any other. Just like any other, that is, except for the striking eyes and Amerindian face staring out from above the entrance with swirling peacock feathers for hair.

Street art in Aruba

We’ve arrived at the Artisa gallery and headquarters of Aruba Art Fair where we’ve come for a painting workshop with local artist Vanessa Paulina. We find Vanessa busy painting a mural on the walls of a local shop, which is yet to be finished. A string of Indian beads like those that would have been traded by the first inhabitants of Aruba, is ornamented with African masks, Indian faces and the head of the Spanish queen who funded Christopher Columbus to adventure here. Vanessa tells me how the beads represent a circle of life that connects us all, from the native Indians, the colonists and traders, to the artists of today.

Vanessa Paulina in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Vanessa Paulina – local artist in Aruba

She’s a well known artist on Aruba, with paintings on exhibition in the Historical Museum at Fort Zoutman and plenty of experience of community street-art projects, from her time studying and living in the Netherlands. The mural has been commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and as we walk around we realise that it’s only the latest in a street-art gallery that covers the buildings of San Nicholaas. This may be the Caribbean, but it’s an unexpected contrast to the white sand beaches and palm leaf beach umbrellas that you’ll find elsewhere on the island.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba by Street-art Chilango Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – by Street-art Chilango

By comparison with the bustling shopping malls of Oranjestad, packed with cruise visitors, San Nicholaas feels sleepy and somewhat down-at heel. When the oil refinary closed in 2009, people and jobs moved away from the town and there was little to bring tourists here unless they were driving to the popular Baby Beach nearby. But since the Aruba Art Fair took place in September 2016, there’s a new reason to visit this quiet corner of Aruba, and that’s the Street Art.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Aruba Art Fair organiser Tito Bolivar and his mother and co-organiser Diana Croes

Art Fair organiser, Tito Bolivar, told me how he’d come up with the idea after a trip to Colombia when he’d seen so much amazing art on the streets of Bogota. “I came back to the island and thought – why not here?” he told me, and in less than a year the project took shape, with the first Aruba Art Fair being held in September 2016.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba - Iguana by Bordalo II from Portugal Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – Iguana by Bordalo II from Portugal

One of the first international street-artists that Tito invited to be part of the project was Bordalo II from Portugal, who is known for recycling rubbish to create his large scale “Trash Animal” pieces. To create the iguana that we saw clinging to the side of the building in San Nicholaas, the team drove around the island, picking over car wrecks, scrap metal and rubbish washed up on the beach.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba - Pan Box by Leon Keer of Netherlands Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – Pan Box by Leon Keer of Netherlands

Next on board with the project was Leon Keer of the Netherlands who is known for his surrealist pieces. In a disused building next to the old customs house, he painted the 3D cardboard ‘Pan’ box, which would normally contain a well known brand of corn meal from nearby Venezuela. The custom house doorways on either side of it are a reference to the large numbers of Venezuelans who arrive on Aruba for economic reasons, since the mainland is only 500 miles away – watch the video here.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba - by Bond Truluv from Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – by Bond Truluv from Germany

As we circled the side streets around the gallery we found striking murals covering the buildings wherever we looked. In the parking lot, was a piece by Bond Truluv of Germany, which he painted when he arrived as a ‘tryout’ piece, and then went on to create a large dolphin, next to the “Daddy Cool” mural by Amsterdam Streetart. My favourite murals were the colourful carnival-like faces of a man and woman by Guache from Colombia which covered the entire height of a building.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba

As Tito gave me an impromptu tour, he told me how his initial idea for an art fair expanded to eventually include seven different art related projects. Before the main art fair there was a culinary competition with a twist, in which six teams from Aruba’s cookery schools, each headed by an executive chef, were tasked to create a new desert inspired by canvases from local artists.  There was an auction dinner and a fashion show to showcase the work of local and international designers, as well as video interviews of local artists filmed by Conocemi, an Aruban TV show.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba - by Guache from Colombia Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – by Guache from Colombia

During the art fair itself, Tito was able to enlist the support of Aruba’s Ministries of Culture and Tourism as well as sponsorship from Aruba’s banks and business community, so that the artists themselves could sell their artwork in outdoor galleries without any charge. Several empty buildings were loaned so that Aruban art organisations could hold their own exhibitions as part of the show and provide a space for more established contemporary artists.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba

Tito’s mother and co-organiser Diana Croe showed me the mosaic benches around the town that had been created as part of a community project with different groups contributing the designs. The work is planned to continue with more benches and canvas sun shades which will be painted in bright colours.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – Infinity House of Cards by Chenis from Czech Republic

Despite the success of the Aruba Art Fair, which is now established as a regular event, Tito has plenty more plans in the pipeline. His hope is to use the Art Fair and other projects to infuse art into the local community on Aruba, and he told me “I’m not an artist myself, but I feel it’s important to make a change. I see a lot of talent, and beautiful art, I want to start tapping into that talent and pushing those artists forward.” Next on the agenda is to establish a website and mobile app for the Artisa (standing for Art Is Aruba) organisation which will give information about the artists and artisans on Aruba, so that they can be more easily found.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – Infinity House of Cards by Chenis from Czech Republic

With so much creative energy on Aruba it seems sure that this year’s Aruba Art Fair will be even bigger and better. Last year the Aruba Art Fair was held in mid September 2016, so look out for announcements of the next date on the Aruba Art Fair website and social channels: Twitter| Instagram | Facebook. For an alternative taste of the Caribbean on Aruba, head to San Nicholaas for a walk around the streets to see all the murals and call in at the Artisa HQ and gallery at Theaterstraat 20, San Nicolaas, Aruba.

San Nicholaas is around 30 mins drive from Oranjestad at the south-east end of the island and buses run several times an hour. A morning seeing the street-art could happily be combined with lunch at the quirky Charlie’s Bar, and a relaxing afternoon on nearby Baby Beach.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – by Robert Solognier of Aruba

Where to Stay on Aruba

During my week in Aruba, I stayed at the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort, a delightful hotel that’s just across the road from Eagle Beach. The hotel is family owned and was built 25 years ago in traditional style with Dutch gables, painted in the warm yellow that you see everywhere on Aruban buildings. I was extremely comfortable, sharing a suite with two bedrooms and a first floor balcony looking towards the sea, furnished in traditional Caribbean style with dark wood furniture, brightly coloured walls and citrus shades of lime, lemon and tangerine.

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Aruba

The outside areas of the hotel were beautifully maintained with paved areas, trees and immaculate planting, with a welcoming pool area and the shady Mango restaurant, where we had breakfast. The hotel is ideal for couples who want to relax by the pool or on the beach, while having a well located base for exploring Oranjestad and all the other sights of Aruba.

The staff could not have been more friendly and helpful and they even have a dedicated Romance Co-ordinator to help you organise your beach wedding or celebration event. The Fofoti trees opposite the hotel are a favourite for wedding photos and the Passions on the Beach restaurant where we ate one evening is an incredibly romantic setting to have a cocktail and dinner as the sun sets over the ocean.

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Amsterdam Manor Hotel

For more information, visit the Amsterdam Manor Beach resort website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Address: J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 252, P.O. Box 1302, Oranjestad, Aruba.

Visitor Information for Aruba

For more information to plan your holiday in Aruba, visit the Aruba Tourism Website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Pinterest

Thanks to Aruba Tourism for hosting my week’s stay in Aruba to discover the island.

More articles from Aruba

My 10 favourite things about Aruba
Our top 5 sites on Aruba
Travel With Kat: Where and What to eat and drink on Aruba

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Read about the Street art of Aruba

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Where Heather travelled in 2016

As we start a new year I’m enjoying the memories of last year’s travels, like flicking through a photo album in my head. I visited new places, returned to old favourites and had a great mix of travels with family, friends and the occasional solo trip. This year is wide open to new travel possibilities, but before we move on let’s take a moment to revisit some of the places I travelled in 2016.

Where Heather travelled in 2016

February – a weekend of culture in the Lake District

The Lake District

The Lake District

My weekend in the Lake District brought back memories of family holidays as a child, when we stayed in an old stone cottage in the Easter holidays. This time I was there with my blogging friends and Travelator Media colleagues, Zoe and Kathryn, to enjoy a cottage stay with the Good Life Cottage Company. Despite the rain we had a great time discovering the cultural side of the Lakes, at Blackwell Arts and Crafts House, Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop Farm and Wordworth’s Dove Cottage, getting out for a blustery walk on Elterwater when the rain finally stopped.

Read More: A weekend of culture in the Lake District (or what to do if it rains)

February – a spring break in Athens

Acropolis in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Acropolis in Athens

Later in February I visited Athens with my parents and sister who lives in Greece, gathering for the weekend at the classic and elegant Electra Palace Hotel. The warm and sunny weather gave us the opportunity to visit the Acropolis without the scorching heat and crowds that descend on Athens in summer. We loved the fresh spring days, wandering around all the ancient sites and relaxing in a pavement cafes of Plaka to watch the world go by.

Read More: Visiting the Acropolis in Athens: here’s what you need to know

March – A Caribbean adventure in St Kitts

St Kitts Christophe Harbour Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

St Kitts Christophe Harbour

March took me to St Kitts, my first ever taste of the Caribbean, where I explored this island that is one half of the island federation of St Kitts and Nevis. I found a laid back and slightly scruffy charm, with lush fields that once grew sugar cane, plantation house hotels and a growing list of stylish new bars and hotels. I tried lobster on the beach and rum cocktails at Salt Plage, learned about the local medicinal plants on a rainforest walk and saw the batik being made at Romney Manor. The visit gave me a desire to visit more Caribbean islands, which despite being small in size are surprisingly diverse, each with its own character.

Read More: A stylish traveller’s guide to St Kitts

March – Cliff walks on the Gower in Wales

Walking on the Gower

Walking on the Gower

I’ve visited the Gower Peninsula in South Wales a few times now, since my son was at university there and in March we made a return visit to the lovely Promenade View in Mumbles. With husband Guy, my son and his friends we explored the coastal paths and gorgeous beaches of the Gower, breezing along the cliff paths of Pennard Cliffs and Three Cliffs Bay. We even clambered along the peninsula of Worms Head, just making it back before the tide turned and covered the jagged rocks with the sea again.

Read More: The Gower in Wales – find your perfect coastal walk and place to stay

April – A farmhouse stay in Costa Brava

Costa Brava in Catalunya

Costa Brava in Catalunya

After Easter it was off to Costa Brava, for a family break in a large and luxurious farmhouse (read my review) through Charming Villas. The fields around the house were bright yellow with rapeseed and from the bedrooms we had views over the olive trees to the snow capped Pyrenees in the distance. We spent a day in Girona, with pretty pastel houses lining the river, visited the Salvador Dali museum at Figueres and had a tapas lunch in the sunshine at Cadaques, before walking over the headland to Dali’s fishermens cottages in Port Lligat.

Read More: A driving tour of Costa Brava

April – Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast

Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland

On Northern Ireland’s scenic Causeway Coast I found windswept golden beaches, ruined castles and of course what most visitors come to see, the Giant’s Causeway. Along with the stunning landscape of the Causeway, I braved the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge and visited the photogenic Mussenden Temple perched on the cliff-top, staying at the fabulous Bushmills Inn where a welcoming peat fire always burns. I also dipped into the thriving artizan food culture, with fabulous seafood and outstanding quality meat, all served up in huge portions with a healthy dollop of friendly Irish charm.

Read More: 10 fab foodie stops on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast

May – Visiting laid back Menorca

Hiking in Menorca

Hiking in Menorca

May took me to Menorca, the smallest and calmest of the Balearic islands, a place that doesn’t like to boast too much about its charms, but is full of history, fashion and great food. I spent a day exploring Mahón, the elegant capital of the island, walked to unspoiled beaches along the Cami de Cavalls and  visited some of the island’s fascinating Talayotic monuments. Menorca has all the ingredients for a delightful break with mellow old buildings in Cuitadella, stylish shopping and lazy seafood lunches by the port.

Read More: How to spend a perfect day in Mahon, Menorca

June – A Uniworld Cruise through Burgundy and Provence

On a Burgundy river cruise

On a Burgundy river cruise

With husband Guy I took a Uniworld river cruise with Titan Travel through the South of France, from Lyon in the heart of Burgundy, to the medieval walled city of Avignon in Provence. The week flew by with rich insights into local culture and history, as we uncovered the secret passages of Lyon, visited the Papal Palace at Avignon and dipped into the world of Van Gough at Arles. Along the way there were plenty of opportunities to discover the delicious food and wine of Burgundy in vineyards, cookery classes and on board Uniworld’s extremely luxurious SS Catherine.

Read More: 10 things to expect on a river cruise with Uniworld

July – A road trip across Canada by RV

Canada RV trip Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Canada RV trip

As a child our family were great campers, and in July I rediscovered the great outdoors in a road trip driving a motorhome (or RV as it’s known in Canada) from Toronto to Montreal. With husband Guy, I mastered how to navigate and park up our home-on-wheels and enjoyed a range of outdoor activities like cycling, hiking and kayaking in Canada’s National Parks. We also found that with a bit of planning it’s perfectly possible to visit Canada’s vibrant cities on an RV road trip. InToronto, Ottawa and Montreal we dipped into cultural highlights from totem poles to street art and new tastes from Poutine to Maple beer.

Read More: How to drive an RV from Toronto to Montreal (Our top tips)

August – Cycling in Dorset

Cycling in Dorset Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cycling in Dorset

With the end of the summer in sight I went cycling with my daughter in Dorset, one of England’s prettiest counties. We set off from Dorchester, stopping for tea in Moreton and lunch overlooking Lulworth cove, passing Lulworth castle before finishing our ride in Wareham. We loved the quiet lanes, rolling countryside and sea views, not to mention all those impossibly picturesque thatched cottages, reminding me just how pretty England can be.

Read More: Cycling in Dorset on the Jurassic Coast

August – An active river cruise on the Danube

Melk abbey in Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

In August I took a short cruise with Avalon, starting with the cultural jewel of Vienna and passing through Austria’s scenic Wachau Valley until we reached Melk Abbey and disembarked at Linz. In Vienna we learned how to bake bread Austrian style, enjoyed the coffee culture and got to know the famous Lippizanner stallions in the Spanish Riding School. I also had the chance to try out many of the active excursions on offer, cycling past orchards heavy with plums and canoing down river with views of well kept vines in neat rows along the hillside.

Read More: Getting active in Austria’s Wachau Valley

Summer in Bristol

Ferry in Bristol Harbour Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ferry in Bristol Harbour

This year I’ve tried to enjoy more of my home town of Bristol, especially in the summer when there are so many festivals and things going on. I’ve discovered so much more of what’s on my own doorstep with levels of creativity and cool that had previously passed me by. In 2017 I hope to connect even more with all the fabulous things going on in Bristol so if you are thinking of paying a visit do let me know and I’ll be happy to give you some recommendations.

Read More: 10 Cool things to do on Bristol’s Harbourside

September – Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites

Hiking in the Dolomites

Every year my friend Julia and I set off for a mountain hiking holiday, and this year we chose the South Tyrol in Northern Italy for our girl’s own adventure. Setting off from the luxurious Hotel Cyprianerhof, we made a circular route around the Rosengarten or Catinaccio range, staying in the mountain huts of the Dolomites. The trip gave us the challenge of climbing over high mountain passes and huts with limited facilities (what no shower?) but rewarded us with amazing views and a sense of achievement when we returned to Cyrianerhof for a well earned aperitif admiring the peaks we had climbed over.

Read More: Hiking in the Dolomite – a tour of the Rosengarten in South Tyrol

October – a sunshine break in Aruba

At the archaeology museum in Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

At the archaeology museum in Aruba

October took me for some much needed sunshine to Aruba in the Dutch Antilles. I found a warm welcome at Amsterdam Manor Resort, indeed everywhere on Aruba which describes itself as “One Happy Island”.  I found an island of contrasts – on one side a well developed tourist strip with white sand beaches, on the other a wild northern shore with waves breaking onto the jagged rocks and little in the way of development. There’s a sophisticated and cosmopolitan food scene and I loved the street art murals in San Nicholas, showing an unexpected side of the Caribbean.

Read More: My 10 favourite things about Aruba

November – 48 Hours in Florence

The Duomo in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Duomo in Florence

With the summer over and Christmas in sight, I nipped off to Florence for a weekend break with Citalia, to get a quick fix of culture and good food. Of course I saw the best known sights, like the Duomo and the David but also took some time to soak up the atmosphere and charm of this ancient city set in the heart of Tuscany. I loved the bustle and great food in the Mercado Centrale where I found a local tripe festival in full swing, dipped into the Salvador Ferragamo shoe museum and wandered through the Boboli gardens behind the Pitti Palace with views over the teracotta roofs of Florence.

Read More: How to spend a perfect weekend in Florence

December – Finding the Christmas spirit in Coburg, Germany

Christmas market in Coburg, Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Christmas market in Coburg, Germany

My final trip of 2016 took me to Coburg in Germany, where early in December we caught the first weekend of the Christmas Markets to soak up some seasonal spirit. This pretty town, with medieval buildings clustered around the town square, was also the birthplace of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria who visited Coburg several times. As well as enjoying the mulled wine and Coburger Bratwurst cooked over a smoky wood fire, we visited the elegant palaces of Ehrenberg, Rosenhau and the Veste fortress overlooking the town where Martin Luther stayed and worked for a few months.

Read More: Christmas in Coburg – Discovering th seasonal magic in Coburg

What’s next for 2017?

At the moment the New Year is wide open for travel plans with just a few things pencilled in and lots of possibilities. So far I’ll be off to:

Dublin in January – my son has just started university at Trinity College, Dublin so I hope to pay him a visit with my parents. You can read about our last trip – 10 fun things we did on a weekend in Dublin

The Liffey in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Liffey in Dublin

Seefeld, Austria in February – as a travel blogger I often come across places on blog trips that I want to return to with the family and Seefeld was one of them. I was there in September 2015 on a walking holiday and fell in love with the pretty resort of Seefeld which is also a popular winter-snow destination. I’ll be returning there in February to try out some of the outdoor snow activities like cross-country ski, snow-shoe and winter hiking with my husband and friends. I’ll be trying to have a proper holiday (believe it or not blog trips do involve quite a lot of work!) but I’ll still be posting some photos on my social media channels.

Otherwise I have on my wish list to see more of the Caribbean, Canada and generally explore some new destinations further afield as well as enjoying all the great stuff in Bristol where I live.

Whatever your plans for 2017, I hope that health, peace and happiness follow you, wherever you travel this year.

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Read about where Heather Travelled in 2016

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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