Isola Madre, Lago Maggiore, Italy | Exploring the Charming Botanical Gardens of Isola Madre

Our visit to the exotic gardens of Isola Madre.

Isola Madre was a contrasting visit after we had explored the sumptuous palace and gardens of Isola Bella earlier that day. The short boat ride from one island to the next was over in less than 20 minutes, with a short stop at Stresa. On our approach to the Isola Madre we could see that it was somewhat larger, less built on and covered in lush vegetation, with only one stately palazzo on the Southern side and a small café on the end of the island. Isola Madre is not only the largest of the Borromean islands it was also the first to be inhabited by the aristocratic family. The palazzo Borromeo was built at the beginning of the 16th century and later extended in the Renaissance style, however it is renowned for its botanical gardens more than the house, with a variety of exotic plants from all over the world.

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy architecture

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy garden boat

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy jetty

Jerome was looking forward to the gardens of Isola Madre and we had to promise him to leave the house until last.  He loves to walk around and explore in gardens and unusually for a child loves not only all forms of wildlife but is interested by plants too. Walking up the ancient stone steps from the jetty, through an iron gate, we could see the palazzo above us and the entrance to the garden was straight ahead. We immediately realized that the style of the garden was very different to the Italian garden on Isola Bella. It was much wilder, with larger flowerbeds and big trees and bushes. The garden was constructed over seven terraces, in the English style, for count Vitaliano Borromeo and covers the entire island. They remain largely unchanged since the 18th century and have seen famous visitors like Napoeon and writer Gustave Flaubert, who named the Isola Madre “Earthly Paradise”.

We strolled along the southern side of the gardens, called the African Avenue, which on average is about four degrees warmer than the rest of the island. We could see the gardeners taking out the wilted tulips from among the flowerbeds of colourful poppies. We also noticed a beautiful staircase covered in sweet smelling wisteria as we strolled along. Further on were a lot of ferns and moss-covered stones, this part of the island was noticeably cooler due to the towering trees and the constant shade.

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy garden poppies

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy garden gardeners

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy garden wisteria

We looked into the old boathouse, where we could see an old, wooden gondolier, very much like the ones we had seen last year in Venice. Around the corner we stumbled upon a field of camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas, an overwhelming wall of flower power in shades of pink, red, white and yellow. Jerome discovered a narrow path going off into the depth of the colourful bushes that few others seemed to follow. It was a pleasure to stroll along the path, especially as we did not meet anyone else along the way. The rhododendron blossoms had formed a flower carpet underneath the bushes, which glowed in the setting spring sun.

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy garden snow ball flowers

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy garden rhododendron

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy garden azaleas

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy garden flowers

The narrow path ended by a large lawn, where we could see colourful birds grazing between the bushes and flowers. Jerome with his love and admiration for birds stopped in wonder to gaze at them. There also was a white peacock, like we had seen at Isola Bella earlier but also several colourful hens and some exotic pheasant like birds wandering around. At the end of the lawn we also saw an aviary with smaller, exotic birds.

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy garden birds

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy garden aviarium

Our stroll took us on past some conifers and Japanese pine trees. Life on the island must have been very isolated and shut off from the rest of the world, wandering and playing in this amazing garden, full of rare and exotic flowers and plants must have nurtured the love and curiosity for nature from a very early age. I felt that children growing up on Isola Madre must have had a very happy and hopefully free childhood compared to the children on the more formal Isola Bella.

On our round through the garden we eventually found ourselves at the back of the Borromeo Palazzo. Right in front stands the Tibetean cypress, the largest of its kind in Europe. It was severly damaged in a tornado that hit the island in 2006 and on its path through damaged the garden substantially, including this precious tree. A lot of effort and care went into keeping the tree from dying. It was not hard to notice the steel cables attached to the tree to keep it from falling over and it appeared to have recovered from most of the storm damage, it still looks a bit delicately balanced though and I do hope it recovers fully.

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy garden palazzo borromeo

We entered the palace from this side of the garden and immediately made our way up the wide stairs, past paintings of the Borromeo family and ancestors to the first floor. This palazzo was much more down to earth in comparison to the splendor we had seen at the baroque palace on Isola Bella. It felt much more like a family home, although I felt it was much darker inside, despite the bright sunshine outside. The décor was more basic and rustic but Iam sure for the 16th century it was rich. There was plenty of plush furniture on display, a heavenly canopy bed with curtains. Jerome was curious about the curtains around the bed and we explained to him that they served as a form of privacy from the servants and to keep the cold and light out.

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy palazzo borromeo stairs

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy palazzo borrromeo balcony

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy palazzo borromeo table

One room had a massive theatre with marionettes and scene set up. In the room adjacent we found display cases full of the most incredible marionettes, including a devil that breathed smoke and other scary and beautiful puppets. It must have been an absolute childhood dream to live and watch these shows. A lot of money and time must have gone into preparing these spectacular theatres and surely adults must have had fun watching them too. Downstairs on the ground floor were more rooms filled with antique furniture from the Borromeo’s estates. We knew time was getting tight before the house and garden would close and did a quick walk through the remaining salons and out into the last of the sun.

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy palazzo borromeo marionette theatre

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy palazzo borromeo marionette collection

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy palazzo borromeo seating area

Back outside we walked down the stairs to the little chapel that has been turned into a shop and café. This was a lovely spot to sit and enjoy the view of the pretty pond whilst sipping a cup of coffee. We walked along the front of the house and exited to the back of the park. To our surprise we saw there was a restaurant, hidden away in the perfect location, catching the early evening sun. Sitting on the terrace must be one of the most beautiful places to have dinner in the area. I am not sure about the food though, on our visit it was still closed for the season.

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy palazzo borromeo stairs

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy palazzo borromeo pond

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy palazzo borromeo wisteria

We walked back towards the gate and down the steps to the jetty. The sun had turned the lake into a silver carpet, a magical end to our trip to Isola Madre.

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy palazzo borromeo lake view

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy palazzo borromeo entrance gate

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy wall

Our only wish, would have been to have had more time to explore both islands, I would recommend considering up to a full day for Isola Bella and a good half day for Isola Madre. Children will love the boat trips, the animals on both islands and the little paths through the gardens. The houses can be a bit overwhelming but I think the marionettes and grotto can catch any child’s imagination.

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy pallanzo

travel with kids children isola madre lago maggiore italy pallanzo architecture

Torrent de Pareis, Mallorca, Spain | Hiking the Torrent de Pareis with a Child

Our experience of hiking through the finest gorge on Mallorca.

As a blogger and travel writer I had to think long and hard about whether I should include this hike through the Torrent de Pareis, perhaps the finest walk on Mallorca, on my blog. After discussing it with Chris, I decided to write about our experiences for the main reason, that I should make people and that includes parents, aware of the dangers of this hike, especially as it features in a number of guides and on some of the maps.  Before you read further be aware that this is not a hike in the normal sense, it borders on scrambling and canyoning in parts and it would be dangerous if undertaken un-prepared. Every year, casualties and accidents happen on this decent, these are usually caused by people who over estimate their own abilities or choose to set out without planning and preparation. The hike is not a walk in the park, it is the most strenuous hike on the island! To consider attempting it you must be a fit and experienced mountain hiker, not scared of heights, be steady on your feet, flexible and able to squeeze through gaps in the rocks, and be able to climb down larger rocks and boulders.

Planning and preparation for the route is essential – NEVER venture onto this hike if it has rained in the last 10 days and only if the weather forecast shows dry conditions, with zero chance of rainfall. Rain not only makes the rocks treachery and slippery, if large amounts of rain fall, the torrent turns into a dangerous, raging mountain stream and will sweep away everything in its path including you. Recommended for a hike are the months of May to October. Having said that, in dry years we have hiked the Torrent de Pareis once in March and the second time in April and we did not encounter any water in the gorge during our hikes. You should never attempt this hike on your own, always go in a group of 2, ideally 3 or more people.

When preparing make sure you have the right provisions and equipment. It is absolutely essential to take a rope with you, ideally around 5m in length. Take a phone for emergencies but keep in mind, there is no mobile reception in the gorge! Take plenty of water, 1.5l per person, more during the hot summer months. Food and snacks are essential, plus a first aid kit and a hiking map and ideally a guide book with detailed descriptions of the route down.

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis view

Finally, inform someone, that you are going on this hike, this can be a friend or family member or even your hotel reception, and check in with them when you have finished. Leave early in the morning to have enough time to enjoy the beauty of this incredible hike and not be in danger of missing the last bus or boat at Sa Calobra.  My advice is to plan at least 6-7 hours for the hike, plus more if you want to include the detour into the most difficult gorge on the island, Sa Fosca.  The entire way is only about 8km with 680m descent but the difficulty of the terrain will mean that progress is much slower than you expect.

Having read all that and those warnings you maybe surprised to learn that the first time we hiked the Torrent de Pareis, Jerome was just 5 years old and he walked the whole way. Bear in mind not every five year old could do that, he was already an experienced mountain hiker, and he has been on walking holidays every year since he was born. He himself wanted to hike the torrent after he had seen photos of the gorge and heard stories about it from his grandparents and friends on the island. One dry spring after a lot of talking it through with my parents and Chris, we decided that we would attempt the walk with him. A local friend had told us that he had done the walk with his sons a few times and considering how much Jerome had hiked before he should be fine.

That first time, we took a taxi from Soller to the start of the hike and came back by boat. On our second attempt five years later we drove to the start, and used a taxi to collect the car. The main starting point for the hike is just before you reach the Restaurant Escorca from Soller, at km 25.5. There you will find an information board, which details and warns about the difficult parts of the hike. To the left is the entrance to the hiking trail that starts around some sheep fields. Shortly after you will pass through a gate and walk through a field, following a wall. On the morning of our hike the sun was only just reaching the top of the surrounding mountains and the morning air was still fresh with dew on the grass and the sheep in the field looked as sleepy as us. Both Chris and my Dad carried full backpacks with our equipment and food, we had taken a special rope that you normally would use to lift and deliver large sacks of sand, plus some normal climbing rope too. The special rope we used later to lower Jerome down some of the larger rocks and boulders. The climbing rope came in useful at a few points, even for the adults.

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis start point

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis rope

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis puig roig

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis cave houses

About fifteen minutes into the walk, we had left the woods behind and were on the zigzag path through the fields, where we found a sunny spot to sit down. We had breakfast of freshly baked croissants from our favourite bakery and hot tea and coffee from our flasks. Down below we could see the gorge with its sharp cliffs, still pitch black, the sun had not yet reached this part of the Serra Tramuntana. Keeping an eye on the time we moved on after a brief stop, slowly downhill, through the tall clumps of pampas grass, some of the leaves were taller than Jerome and we had to keep an eye out to not miss him among the green. To the other side of the gorge we could see Puig Roig with the old police halt to stop the smugglers and the cave houses of Escorca, that were built into the mountainside eons ago.

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis rocks

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis rocks

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis cliffs

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis stream bed

The stony path, winds itself downhill following dry stream towards the main riverbed that cut the gorge. When we had reached the streambed we got our first glimpse into the torrent. Still shady inside, the sun was not high enough to reach into the gorge. Reaching the riverbed we walked left along the Torrent de Lluc until we got to the junction at the Torrent des Gorg Blau, this is where the real Torrent de Pareis starts. It is also possible to take the longer route in via the riverbed of the Torrent de Lluc but that takes far longer and misses the impressive views on the descent.

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis sunshine

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis stream bed

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis stream bed

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis shade

Entering the deep gorge, it is there that the real beauty of the torrent becomes visible. 300 metre tall cliffs to either side, towered above us, with just a narrow opening where we could see the cloudless, blue sky high above. Until there, the hike had been a fairly normal hike, the gravel and stones in the river bed meant that we could not walk as fast and had to watch our steps, but there had been no difficult sections yet. We all gazed at the immense beauty and Jerome was very excited that he was able to join us on the walk.

At the junction of the canyons and if you have enough time for the little detour to Sa Fosca (plan in another 1h) walk up along the torrent des Gorg Blau to your left, until you get to some slippery rocks, which will make your passage more difficult. Past these rocks you will find Sa Fosca, the most difficult gorge on the island, some parts never see the light of day and at the narrowest it is only one step across the top. We did not venture to Sa Fosca on our first hike with Jerome, however, the second time we made the detour and we all agreed it was definitely worth the extra effort and time. Brave souls do descend this canyon from the top but it is one only for the canyoning experts.

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis gorge blau

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis sa fosca

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis moss

After leaving the junction of the two torrents and heading into the entrance to the Torrent de Pareis we had to walk to the right side of the streambed. If you keep an eye out, you might be able to see a cave up in the cliffs. Some 15 minutes later you will encounter the first difficult part of the hike. A massive stone blocks the canyon base and must be negotiated. Carefully find yourself a way around two pools, they might be filled with murky water and then down the “steps” or ledges, which someone has carved into right side of the boulder. It is there that we first used our rope, we slowly lowered Jerome down the side of the boulder, when he was five years old. Last time he found his own footing and we did not need the help of the rope, we just gave him some advice on where to put his feet.

The hike goes on winding along the riverbed, make sure to stay on the right path, this might be indicated by where people have trodden before or by coloured markers and stone cairns. The next difficult places are some narrow sections where you will have to lower yourself with the help of the ropes that have been fixed to the rocks, we found having some extra rope here useful. A little while later a pool follows, which needs to be passed on the right. Jerome was always eager to be the first one for the next challenge ahead, however, usually it would be my Dad or I, who would test the waters and give Jerome some help from down below in case he needed it. My Mum would go next and Chris would follow last to make sure everyone was OK.

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis obstacle

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis plants

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis boulder

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis hold on

At some points we could see where the water level would be when the gorge is filled with water, in parts green moss had grown on the smooth rocks along the riverbed. It is a sobering thought to realise that after a storm that water will rush through the canyon as much as 6 metres or more deep. About half way into the hike we found a flat rock where we could all sit down and enjoyed our packed lunch, being sure to keep some food and water for later.

At some point we had to leave the riverbed on the left side and shortly afterwards we passed another cave. There were still a few more tricky passages to come though. We had to squeeze ourselves through a narrow gap and then our last ordeal, which used to be even more difficult, until someone made an opening into the rocks.  The last difficult point is called in Spanish “fat men get thin” and involves descending 2 to 3 metres down a small hole in a massive rock. I think the name says it all.

Having mastered all the treacherous sections, it is possible to enjoy the last spectacular stretch of the gorge before it ends. On the last section it is usual to find some curious ill equipped tourists coming towards you on the flat stretch from Sa Calobra, they probably read the warning sign at the entrance to the gorge and want to find out what it is like for themselves. Few get further than the last big obstacle thankfully.

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis narrow passage

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travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis boulders

The gorge finally opens out, the large rocks turn into a field of gravel and there is a small lake that is normally filled with murky, green water to the right. The impressive view of the sea between the rocks and the beach at Sa Calobra will come into view, giving a spectacular end to the hike through the Torrent de Pareis.

We always have to accustom ourselves at this point, to the many tourists around, after barely meeting anybody for the whole day. Most tourists visit Sa Calobra to experience the hairpin road that descends from the mountain pass, to see the secluded beach, relax and go for a swim. A large number of them are not even aware of the beauty that is hidden behind the sheer rocks and cliffs further behind their backs.

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis warning

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis sa calobra

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain torrent de pareis sa calobra

I always have mixed feelings after ending this hike, for one I am relieved we made it, unharmed and safely down the gorge, on the other hand I wish I could have savoured the beauty of it for longer. Straight after finishing the hike we always say never again but I know, possibly not next year, or the year after but for sure we will attack the hike again, the next time we have a dry spring.

With our legs weary and our feet sore we walked the last stretch through the man made tunnel to the port of Sa Calobra. On the last occasion we still had some time spare before Jerome and I would take the boat back to Soller. My parents and Chris called a taxi that would take them back up the road to the car at Escorca, but as the taxi would not take five, so it gave Jerome an excuse to enjoy the boat again. There is a bus service that goes from Sa Calobra past the restaurant but it only runs at certain times of the year and it was only scheduled to start a few weeks later. I wonder at the patience of the drivers of both buses and taxis that ply the twisty road down and up to Sa Calobra.

While waiting for our transport we went down to one of the cafes overlooking the little, stony beach in the port to have our well-deserved coffee and ice cream. There were surprisingly few tourists around, despite the Easter holidays and many of the cafes and restaurants were still closed up. Once the boat arrived we left my parents and Chris behind, they were still waiting for the taxi, while Jerome and I boarded the boat back to Soller. We both enjoyed the calm ride, past Cala Tuent and the beautiful coastline back to Port de Soller..

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis restaurant

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis port

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis beach

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis sa calibre beach

travel with kids children soller mallorca spain hiking torrent de pareis happy child

There are some hikers that say it is easier to hike up the gorge than down. We have twice hiked it downhill and I can say that the view and option of a hot coffee and an ice cream is more appealing to us than climbing for 7-8 hours straight up the hill.

I will finish this post not on the joy of the adventure but with a final warning. This is not a hike for everyone, the route is tough and needs planning and preparation. There are also experienced guides that will take you through the gorge, I can recommend Tramuntana tours in Soller. It helps to have someone with you, that knows the in and outs of the Torrent de Pareis. Remember if you are having any doubts about whether you are fit and experienced enough for this hike, it might be better to say no I am not, and do not set out – better safe than sorry later. No one wants to be rescued by the mountain rescue or even worse not make it out. Having written all that, I will finish by saying that after both our hikes Jerome had a big grin on his face and we were rather proud that he achieved such an incredible adventure.

Top Tips for Yucatan, Mexico | Things to do with Children on the Yucatan Peninsular

Top Tips for your stay on the Yucatan Peninsular with kids

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Cenotes:

Swimming in Cenotes (natural sinkholes filled with freshwater) is a must when visiting Yucatan. Even though there are other places in the world where you could enjoy a swim in one of these, there is nowhere else where you can find such an abundant choice of these underground caves and natural pools than on the Yucatan peninsular. Some of these have been turned into major tourist attractions, with all the comforts of public swimming pools, like showers/toilets and lockers, whereas others do not even offer a place to change into your swimming suits. Make sure you bring swimming suits, life vests/armbands, towels and snorkelling equipment as some of them offer amazing views underwater. Be careful, the water can be quite cold and steps might be slippery. The bigger sites near the main centres can be very busy so expect that, these may also offer adventure sports such as zip wires, or abseiling, which teenagers may wish to try. We preferred the more natural slightly off the beaten track Cenotes that gave a real feeling of swimming in the jungle.

travel with children kids mexico chichen itza cecote ik kil

Valladolid mexico with children kids cenote zaki swimming

Valladolid mexico with children kids cenote zaki swim

travel with children kids Yokdzonot Cenote

Beaches:

The east coast all the way from Cancun to Tulum is almost one long beach. Despite this, getting to the beach might prove quite difficult at times, as the whole coast is built up and fenced in by large resorts or private landowners. Technically the beaches cannot be claimed as property so you can walk along the beaches, but if you have no way of getting to them from the main road they are inaccessible. Where the local roads do reach the beach they also might charge you fees to park your car and/or get access to the beach. We found Tulum beach to be quite disappointing, but around Akumal (where even the smallest children can see turtles in the sea albeit for the price of hiring a buoyancy aid) and near Xcacel (great beach for building sand castles) the beaches made up for it.

Along the north and west coast there are also plenty of options and access to the beaches there are much easier but here the water is much murkier as the rivers drain into the sea on this coast and there are many mangroves. Be aware that the remote beaches might be covered in seaweed and the sea can be much wavier than on the west coast. There are some resorts, for example, we enjoyed the beach at Celestun.  There maybe flag warnings at the larger resorts but do not expect lifeguards on most beaches so do keep an eye on less experienced swimmers in your family.

Travel with children mexico Tulum mayan ruins restaurant posada margarita

Travel with children kids mexico playa del carmen beach life

travel with children kids mexico tulum playa beach

Mayan Ruins:

A visit to see the Mayan ruins should be on top of your list if travelling around the Yucatan peninsular.  Presented in the context of a climb around the ruins can make the history far more accessible to children. Chichen Itza is the most famous site, but it might also be one children can find overwhelming and quite boring as it is large and very busy. Try to introduce them to the Mayan culture and history through one of the smaller sight, for example, Ek Balam and Izamal are both great options. In many of the smaller sites children (and adults!) will be able to climb up the pyramids, which makes it much more fun than just walking between piles of stones. Tulum is another great option, as you could break up the visit by spending some time on one of its two beaches and it is smaller. Make sure you get to sites early to avoid long queues and the masses of people from tour groups, lunchtime and later afternoon can also be quieter than the peaks of the day.

Valladolid with kids children ek balam pyramid climb steps

Valladolid with kids children ek balam acropolis steps up

Valladolid with kids children ek balam snake mouth entrance

Boat rides:

Go for a boat ride at one of the nature reserves on the peninsular to see flamingos, other birds and even animals like snakes and jelly fish if you are lucky. Both Celestun and Rio Lagartos are great for a boat tour. Depending on the time of year it might be easier to see large flocks of flamingos at either of these two locations, the largest groups are in the mating season. If you happen to be in the area of Holbox and Cancun between the months of May to September you could try and take a whale shark tour. These gentle giants congregate here to feed on plankton but can be hard to see. Make sure you go on a responsible tour and do not scare these beautiful giants, this means only a few swimmers plus a guide in the water at one time. Holbox Island Tours is an option.

Travel with children kids mexico celestun secret lake

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Travel with children kids mexico rio lagartos boat tour

Child friendly museums:

Train fans will be delighted to see the large selection of old Mexican trains that are on display at the train museum in Merida. Some of them can be climbed onto and even entered. Unfortunately a number of them are not in the best of conditions any more but still worth seeing.

There is a chocolate exhibition in a small museum in Valladolid in the Cala de Los Frailes which allows a taste of real cocoa and is interesting for the little ones.

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum

Travel with children kids mexico merida train museum steam train

Festivals:

The Mexicans love to celebrate and children will love the colour and sounds of their festivals if there is one happening when you are in town. Expect colourful stalls, food to taste, and music in the town square on feast days and often on Sundays too. Watch for local adverts or check where you stay for information.

Travel with children kids mexico merida izamal convento de san antonio de padua festival

Travel with children kids mexico merida sunday market plaza grande toys

Travel with children kids mexico merida pinata shopping

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Travel with children kids mexico merida oaxacan festival

Sound and light shows:

Many of the towns and sights on the Yucatan peninsular have sound and light shows. We saw the sound and light show at Valladolid (21:00 at the Convento de San Bernadino de Siena) and they are a fun way to learn more about the history of these places. Most of them are in Spanish first, followed by the English version and free of charge. Ask at your hotel or sights about show times.

Travel with children kids mexico valladolid sound light show

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Sandankyo Gorge, Hiroshma – Wandering Off The Beaten Track In The Mountains Of Western Japan

Walk along the emerald green Sandankyo gorge.

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The previous day when we visited the atomic bomb dome followed by the Shukkeien Garden we had covered most of the city sights in Hiroshima, hence we had originally planned to get out of the City.

Our initial choice was to head to the castle and wooden arched Kintai Bridges, about an hour drive from Hiroshima, but after going though some brochures at our Airbnb apartment we decided to visit the Sandankyo gorge instead. The drive there took us nearly 1.5 hours, but the scenery made more than up for it. The roads seemed to take us deep into the “Hokkaido of Western Japan” as the locals call the area around Mount Osorakan. Driving, we passed lush green rice fields, thick forests and quaint villages on the hillsides with plenty of things for Jerome to spot from the car window.

Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan village houses

Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan painting

Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan restaurant

There are three places to get into the gorge, we chose the bottom of the gorge in order to be able to walk as far as our legs would take us and then stroll back down on the return. Accessing the top parts stretches the drive another 30 minutes.

Once we had parked our car at the car park near the information centre at Shiwagi, Yamagata district, we checked our route on the big map sign and took one of the free leaflets. We also took our back pack, filled with drinks, plus a small picnic as we did not know if we would be able to find any food or drink on route. In addition our towels and swimming costumes as we one of the delights of the mountain streams is swimming in the cool water on a hot day.

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Sandanko gorge hiroshimma japan entrance

There are restaurants at the beginning of the gorge and some small shops in case you need to fill up on either food or drinks, but it maybe best to bring some with you.

We orientated ourselves on the map and decided that it would take us around 2-2.5hours to walk to the top waterfall, our goal for todays walk.

If you have smaller children with you, I would recommend taking it as far as you feel comfortable with, but would definitely recommend walking to the first boat stop as every child would surely love to ride the boat across the pool in the river. The winding path can also be appealing to children and there is plenty of opportunity to throw stones into the river water.

Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan village houses

The Sandankyo gorge must be one of Japan’s most beautiful and scenic gorges. The Shiwagi River winds for over 13 kilometers through the forest and rocks. We crossed the first bridge over the river, the riverbed here was wide and the water shallow, Children played and swam in the water. We started to slowly walk along the well-paved path, not sure I would recommend using a pushchair to go very far, as it is rather steep in places.

The clear emerald green river floating next to us, we were excited to see this work of art Mother Nature had created over thousands of years. Depending on the depth and speed of the water the green turned deeper or lighter shades, in contrast to the lush green trees and the bare, grey rocks that surrounded it. Now and again the water would gush over the rocks like a waterfall. Even though it had been another hot and humid day in Hiroshima here in the depth of the gorge we could feel the coolness of the water. The boys were already thinking about where they might be able to get down to the river and the right pool of water to have a swim in.

Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan river path

Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan piggy back

Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan river water

Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan river trees

Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan river rocks

We passed surprisingly few people considering it was a Sunday and still Golden Week. After about an hour we arrived at the first boat station Kurobuchi. Here the gorge is deep and narrows, the path climbs high to one side or you can short cut across the lake with the boatman. We decided to get a one way ticket, 300Yen for adults, 250Yen for over 12 year olds (return 500Yen for adults, 300 for over 12). The boats run from April to November from 9-16:30 daily, if the weather permits. The last boat runs from Kurobuchi Zhang at 16:10. We boarded the little boat, waited until it was filled and then the guide took us by punting across the naturally formed lake through high rocks surrounding the gorge on this part to Kurobuchi Zhang. It is a gorgeous 10 minutes of quiet on the water.

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Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan kurobuchi boat ride

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan fish on stick

Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan kurobuchi restaurant

At this end we found a restaurant serving basic food like udon, grilled fish on sticks and their speciality, cold noodles which you dip into the fresh river water, apparently among the cleanest of all waters in Japan. We stopped here to have lunch, Jerome, as always, eating his favourite udon. We sat overlooking the lake down below, watched children who threw stones into the water and other people had a picnic. Here we also found a very essential toilet across the river’s small suspension bridge.

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan krobuchi zhang

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan bridge

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan emerald green water

After lunch we walked on towards the top falls and the second boat ride. The path still wound along next to the river, we crossed a few bridges until we got to the second car park, located around two thirds of the way up the river. Here a sign informed us that if we wanted to see take the second boat ride through the gorge we needed to hurry as they stopped at 15:00 for the day! We had exactly an hour to get to Sarutobi before the last boat went. We rushed, trying to walk as fast as possible and literally got there at 14:55. The guide seemed fairly relaxed about us arriving just before his closing time and told us to get into the boat. We were not the only ones turning up this late; there was another couple of Japanese who shared the boat with us in the end.

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan boat guide

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan boat ride

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan towering cliffs

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan view up

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan walls

The guide pulled our boat along ropes attached to the rocks. The entry through the gorge here is very narrow, with high rocks topped with thick forest and the boat is the only way in. At some point we could barely see the sky. The beauty of the gorge here was breathtakingly stunning. The boat slowly glided through the deep green water with the sheer cliffs on either side. It was absolutely peaceful and calm until we could hear the roaring of the waterfall at the other end. Here the gorge opened out again, we could see some other people already waiting for the boats arrival. By the falls, we got off the boat while the guide took the other people back to Sarutobi. We climbed onto the rocks, trying to get the best view of the gorge and the waterfall, taking loads of pictures. After around 10 minutes the empty boat returned to collect us.

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan waterfall

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan close up waterfall

Back at Sarutobi we were very pleased with ourselves that we had managed to get the last boat, there were still people turning up but the guide sent them away. We celebrated with some welcome snacks and drinks before starting back down the gorge.

As mentioned earlier the boys had kept an eye out for a spot to swim in the clear cool river water. About half way back down we carefully scrambled down the steep riverbank to a natural pool in the riverbed where the water had collected and went in for a refreshing swim in the blue green clear water. Swimming in a mountain stream in the summer heat is a great alternative to a swim in the sea or pool. Sadly, our lazy swim was disturbed by a nasty, obnoxious horse fly that kept buzzing around our heads and wet bodies when we got out. We tried to chase it away with our towels but without luck. Insects are a fact of life in Japan but it forced us to move on rather quickly rather than sitting around by the water.

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan natural swimming pool

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan river swimming

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan emerald river

Sandankyo gorge Hiroshima Japan river waterfall

When we got to the first boat station at Kurobuchi Zhang we saw that the restaurant was already closed up for the day and no tourists were around anymore. Walking the steep path up the side of the gorge we were surprised when the staff of the restaurant went zooming by on their motor scooters, who would have thought you could ride a motor bike up this mountain path! I guess they do it every day and know the dangerous parts but I was glad I was not on the back of one even with tired legs!

We did not meet anyone else on our way back to the parking lot and by the time we got there everything was shut up apart from the ryokan.

Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan ryokan

We jumped back in our car and drove back towards Hiroshima to the JA Toguchi branch where we had spotted a big playground and Jerome wanted to stop. Jerome desperatly wanted to go onto the roller slide there. Jerome had fallen in love with these unique slides a few years before on Shikoku, where we had first encountered them. They look like a normal slide but instead of having just a flat metal sheet where you slide down, the roller slides are made of lots of thin rolling rods, which make it for a superfast slide. I recommend wearing proper trousers though as I experienced this time with my thin dress that it can hurt if you go down on your bottom. If you are very brave try sliding down on your feet while kneeling. These slides are much more fun than normal ones, for children and adults alike. Of course all at your own risk!

Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan roller slide

Sandankyo gorge hiroshima japan roller slide fun

All in all it was a fun day away from the masses of tourists, experiencing the beauty of nature. I would definitely recommend making the detour and visit Sandakyo gorge if you are in Western Japan. It must be especially spectacular to visit in fall when the leaves change colour. The Sandankyo Ryokan at the start of the gorge could also make for a perfect traditional Japanese overnight stay in a stunning location if you have the time.