glowing lava at Masaya Volcano National Park

Unexpected Wows When Traveling

Atop Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

Part of the fun of traveling somewhere new is the unexpected. Even when you’ve done your research, surprises can be a good thing. Unexpected wows. That’s what I like to call them. Even if you’ve read countless travel websites and every guidebook out there, they can sneak up on you.

Anywhere. Like Masaya Volcano National Park, in Nicaragua.

glowing lava at Masaya Volcano National Park

Masaya Volcano National Park

It’s about a 45 minute drive from Granada.There are volcanoes everywhere you look in Nicaragua, but this is one of then that you want to get a good look at.

Obviously, Mother Nature is in charge and activity can change at any time, but it’s been a busy year at Masaya Volcano National Park. Currently, Masaya is the second-most active volcano in Latin America, constantly spewing smoke and sulfur gases. Traffic to the crater is controlled, and folks are limited to five minutes in the area.

hot lava at Masaya Volcano National Park

The park is open day and night, so if you can make a trip up in both daylight and in the evening, go for it. If you have to pick one, the night time view probably packs the most wow power.

Cerro Negro

It’s hard to top the glow of Masaya Volcano National Park, but if you like to hike and have a sense of adventure, Cerro Negro, about an hour’s drive from León, is worth a stop. It’s. You will most likely do some grumbling on the way up to around 2,400 feet. The path is steep and rocky at times, and you’ll have a sand board strapped across your back, because At Cerro Negro, what goes up, comes down in a fast and fun way.

Sandboarding down Cerro Negro

After you’ve taken in all of the views, you’ll suit up into a protective jumpsuit and goggles, hop on your sandboarding, and go for it. The terrain is more like gravel than beach sand, but the effect is the same. Guides will teach you some tricks on how to go fast, or in my case, to go slow. Looking down as you are getting ready to launch, I’ll admit I was questioning what I had gotten myself in to. But once I got moving, I figured out I was kinda stuck to the side of the volcano, relaxed and enjoyed the ride, which to me a little more than two minutes to reach the bottom.

ochre quarry Le Sentier des Ocres

Le Sentier des Ocres

For a mellower adventure in a sandbox of gold, journey to Provence, France. What used to be an open-pit ochre quarry, is open to the public. Take in the views, go for a 30 to 60 minute walk. The place just shines in a unique way. This is not what most folks envision when they think of Provence, and truthfully I had no idea Le Sentier des Ocres existed. Its discovery was a bit of a fluke. I was sailing on Carnival Vista when another planned excursion was cancelled, so I wound up here with my family. Lucky us.

Ochre is a natural pigment, similar in texture to sand, but it likes to stick to things, so don’t wear your nice shoes. After roaming the quarry it’s an easy walk to the main section of town with some restaurants and shops and, of course, things made using ochre.

Swim with manatees, Crystal River, Florida

Three Sisters Springs, Kings Bay

Many folks head to Florida for amusements parks, I went with my teenage daughter in search of manatees. The city of Crystal River is about 90 minutes west of Orlando, and thanks to warm, spring-fed waters, this relatively unknown stretch of the Sunshine State is the winter home to what’s reportedly the world’s largest herd of wild manatees. Unlike snorkeling with turtles and tropical fish, the manatees I met that day seemed to love seeing people, just as much as people loved seeing them. Often they came face to face with swimmers and would nudge at swimmers’ hands until it was clear they wanted their nuzzle or their belly scratched. Bottom line, the encounter was extraordinary.

There are rules, for example, you can’t hold them, so touching is best done with one hand. Roped off areas, serve as manatee sanctuaries and are off limits to people. Wildlife officers and volunteers are keep a close watch.

close up of a manatee underwater

The water is about 70 degrees – tour operators provide a wetsuit, mask and snokel, but no fins. Sudden movement scares manatees. Our captain, Ross Files from the Plantation Adventure Center, told us to be “slow, still and quiet.” In other words, act like a manatee.

So I spent two hours moving slow. But I think I moved the slowest when they announced we had to get out of the water and head back to the hotel, Plantation on Crystal River.

Dana received media pricing and complimentary accommodations during travels. As always, her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Dana Rebmann.

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