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Things To Do in Canyonlands National Park

Last Updated on September 9, 2020

Canyonlands National Park encloses 337,598 acres of colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, as famous Mesa Arch, and spires in the heart of southeast Utah’s high desert. Canyonlands is more remote then neighboring Arches National Park. It invites you to explore a wilderness of amazing formations carved by the Colorado River, the Green River, and their tributaries. Moreover, Park is divided by nature into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and The Rivers. So, if you like hiking trails, wilderness and deserts adventure, go to the Canyonlands. We give you all the tips about the best things to do in Canyonland National Park, best hikes on the Island in the Sky district, great overlooks, and all the practical information before you go. So, check our Travel & Photography Canyonlands National Park Guide.

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Mesa Arch Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park Weather

Southeastern Utah is part of the Colorado Plateau. So, it is a high desert region that experiences wide temperature fluctuations, sometimes over 40 degrees in a single day. Due to it, you need to be prepared for temperature differences. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere. Below, we’ve compiled charts with the lowest and highest average temperatures in Canyonlands National Park. Moreover, we have also prepared average precipitation for each month. So, before you pack & go to Canyonlands, check our list of essential things that you should take on a day hike. Above all, always check current conditions and forecast before you go for a hike.

Best Time to Visit Canyonlands

So, what is the best time to visit Canyonlands National Park? The best temperature, and most popular seasons, are spring (April through May) and fall (mid-September through October) when daytime highs average 60º to 80ºF (15º to 26ºC), and lows average 30º to 50ºF (-1º to 10ºC). Summer temperatures often exceed 100ºF (37ºC), as a result making your hiking extremely difficult. So, if you plan a summer visit, check our hiking tips. Winters are cold, with highs averaging 30º to 50ºF (-1º to 10ºC), and lows averaging 0º to 20ºF (-17º to -6ºC). Moreover, even small amounts of snow or ice can make hiking trails and roads impassable.

TRIP TIP: If you are planning a Utah road trip, check our detailed Utah Photography & Travel Guide, where you can find the most exciting & must-see places in Utah, the best hikes in Utah, and useful hints for trip planning.

Canyonlands National Park Facts

Canyonlands National Park Fun Facts

How to Get To Canyonlands National Park?

The closest town to the Canyonlands is Moab, Utah. There is no public transportation inside Canyonlands National Park, so if you need to rent a car, we highly recommend Alamo, which we often use. If you want to drive through White Rim Road or get to The Maze, you must have a 4×4 car. Moreover, the best option is to combine exploring the Canyonlands National Park with the Arches National Park. Therefore, we describe everything about Arches in our separate article.
Another option to reach the Canyonlands is a commercial guided tour. You will learn the most exciting facts and will see the best places in the Park. So, check the best trips from Moab on Viator.com or getyourguide.com.

The Park is accessible by air or car from Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Grand Junction. So, the best flight offers you will find and book on TripAdvisor.com. Furthermore, food and water are not available within the Park, so you need to be prepared for your trip. Moreover, pets are not allowed in the Park.

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Canyonlands National Park views

Directions

Island in the Sky district, in the north of the Park, is the closest district to Moab, UT. It takes you about 40 – 45 minutes to get to Island in the Sky via UT 313. The Needles district is in the southeast corner of Canyonlands. The Needles is about an hour’s drive from Monticello, UT, via UT 211. The Maze district, in the west of the park, is the most remote and challenging. So, you must have 4×4 to get there. You can reach The Maze via unpaved roads from UT 24.

Entrance Fee & Visitors Centers

Private vehicle is $35 per week. But, if you plan to visit more than two parks, the best idea is to buy America the Beautiful – National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass. For the reason that it costs only $80 per year, and you have access to more than 2,000 National Parks and federal recreation sites in the United States.
Canyonlands National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day.

The central Canyonlands Backcountry Office is located at park administrative offices south of Moab. Rangers can answer questions about backcountry travel and issue permits. The address is 2282 Resource Blvd, Moab.

The Island in the Sky Visitor Center address is Off UT 313, approximately 22 miles southwest US 191. The visitor center is open daily from early March through December and closed for Thanksgiving, and Christmas (December 25). In January and February, the visitor center is only open Friday through Tuesday (closed Wednesday and Thursday).

The Needles Visitor Center is open spring through fall. The address is: at end of UT 211, approximately 35 miles west of US 191.

Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park Map

Canyonlands National ParkArches & CanyonlandsSunrise at Mesa Arch
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Canyonlands National Park Districts

If you like backcountry hiking trails and dirty off-road accessible by 4×4, Canyonlands is a Park for you. But, many hiking trails and roads will take you to remote locations on the Park. So, don’t forget the map, guide, and GPS watch for your adventure. Because there is no telephone coverage in Canyonlands. The districts of the Canyonlands National Park are:

Island in the Sky 

First of all, Island in the Sky is the most popular and most accessible district of Canyonlands, with plenty of breathtaking overlooks along the paved scenic drive. Furthermore, you will see the best of the Park, and you will find several hiking trails there. Island in the Sky is the most accessible area of Canyonlands and the best if you have limited time for your visit. So, you can hike to Mesa Arch here or to Grand View Point. Moreover, there also is a moderate four-wheel-drive route called the White Rim Road. It is 100 miles long, you should prepare for this. You must have a day-use permit for all day trips on the White Rim. And you must have a permit for all overnight trips along the White Rim. There is no potable water along the White Rim. More info you can check on the NPS website.

How to get to Island in the Sky?

To get to Island in the Sky by car, you should drive 10 miles (16 km) north of Moab or 22 miles (35 km) south of I-70 on US 191. Then you must turn onto UT 313, and then drive southwest 22 miles (35 km).

PROTIP: If you want to explore hiking trails in this part of the Park, take a detailed Island in the Sky district map with you.

The Needles

The Needles is more remote, and it offers more of a backcountry experience. Due to, hiking trails in this area are strenuous and most important is to know that you must have four-wheel driving to see The Needles area’s attractions.

How to get to The Needles?

On US 191, you must drive 40 miles (60 km) south of Moab or 14 miles (22 km) north of Monticello. Then you have to take UT 211 roughly 35 miles (56 km) west. UT 211 ends in The Needles, and is the only paved road leading in and out of the area.

PROTIP: If you want to explore hiking trails in this part of the Canyonlands, take a detailed The Needles district map with you.

The Maze

The Maze is the most remote area of Canyonlands. So, it is only accessible by 4×4. Furthermore, you must have backcountry experience to explore this part of Canyonlands. Finally, you must be prepared for self-sufficiency and the you must have proper equipment or gear for self-rescue.

How to get to The Maze?

To get to The Maze, you must have 4×4. First of all, you have to reach The Hans Flat Ranger Station, which is 2.5 hours from Green River, Utah. From I-70, you must take UT 24 south for 24 miles. A left-hand turn just beyond the turnoff to Goblin Valley State Park will take you along a two-wheel-drive dirt road 46 miles (76 km) southeast to the ranger station. But it is not the end. From the ranger station, the canyons of The Maze are another 3 to 6 hours by high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle (more if traveling by foot). Another four-wheel-drive road leads into The Maze north from UT 95 near Hite Marina (driving time is 3+ hours to the park boundary).

PROTIP: If you want to explore hiking trails in this part of the Canyonlands, take a detailed The Maze district map with you.

The Rivers

The Colorado River and Green River flow through the Canyonlands, cutting it and form two deep canyons. Moreover, both rivers are calm ideal for canoes, kayaks, or rafting. However, the Rivers are not easy to get. You need a guided trip. So, the best option to explore this part of Canyonlands is taking an organized tour.

Colorado River Rafting Tour combines outdoor adventure, which takes you off-roading through Canyonlands National Park, followed by a guided rafting trip on the Colorado River. So, you see the best natural wonders of Canyonlands during this trip. The tour includes transportation by 4WD, whitewater rafting, river gear, and a buffet lunch by the riverside. You can book it here.

Maze District CanyonlandsNeedles District CanyonlandsIsland in the Sky District
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Canyonlands National Park Lodging

Where to stay in Canyonlands National Park? The closest town is Moab, and it is the best to connect visiting Canyonlands with Arches National Park. It is about 40-45 minutes driving from Moab to Canyonlands. Below are some of our suggestions that receive the highest reviews among guests. Moreover, we found the best options for hotels and RV’s.

Best Moab Hotels

Moab, Utah, is home to Canyonlands National Parks, Arches National Park, and Colorado River so it’s the best idea to stay in this small charming town, surrounded by stunning red rocks. However, it is one of the most popular destinations in the American Southwest, so book your accommodation in advance. After visiting Utah Parks, you will find lots of opportunities to relax in this photogenic town full of great restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, and art galleries. Below we put some suggestions for accommodation in Moab with the highest customer reviews. You can check prices and availability on booking.com or hotels.com.

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Budget Hotels ($)
Bowen Motel features an outdoor swimming pool and free WiFi access. The air-conditioned rooms have satellite TV and a seating area.
Inca Inn Motel is located in the top-rated area in Moab, and has an excellent location score of 8.8. It offers free Wi-Fi, heated outdoor pool and guest rooms that include a cable TV, fridge, and microwave.
Rustic Inn also has a great location. We like these decorated rooms with oak cabinets and a built-in desk. Rooms are air-conditioned, equipped with free Wi-Fi access and a TV set. There is a kitchenette with utensils, kitchenware, and a microwave.

Mid-Range Hotels ($$)
Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn and Best Western Plus Greenwell Inn are our choice. We stayed in both. They are located in the heart of the city, well equipped and have good value for money. We like these hotels and we highly recommend them.
The Gonzo Inn is located in Moab and provides free WiFi, express check-in and check-out and concierge services. Featuring family rooms, this property also provides guests with an outdoor pool.

Luxury Hotels ($$$)
Hoodoo Moab is a luxury hotel in a heart of Moab. It offers swimming pool, restaurant, bar, and fitness center. The rooms are modern and well-equipped. It offers variety of breakfasts as continental, full English, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and American.
Hyatt Place Moab provides accommodations with a restaurant, free private parking, a seasonal outdoor swimming pool and a fitness center. Hyatt Place Moab offers 4-star accommodations with a hot tub and terrace.

If you prefer a cheaper apartment ($) or cottage ($$), check offers on airbnb.com.

RV Canyonlands Camping in the Moab area

If you need facilities for your RV, book campgrounds in the Moab area. They offer many conveniences such as showers, running water, RV hook-ups, toilets, Wi-Fi, dump stations, and more. It’s good to reserve it in advance because this area of Utah is trendy. Lots of guests visit Canyonlands National Park and neighboring Arches National Park and stay in private campgrounds. So, below are some our RV’s campground suggestions.

Canyonlands RV Resort & Campground offers WiFi, swimming pool, breathtaking views and incredible amenities. So, you can book it here.
O.K. RV Park & Canyonlands Stables is just outside of Moab but still close enough to enjoy the restaurants and shops in the town. It offers 70 sites with WiFi.
Spanish Trail RV Park has great reviews among the guests. It offers 81 sites with WiFi and ather facilities. There is no tents allowed. After exploring the Arches National Park, you can relax in the pool. Moreover, you can book it online.

Moab Valley RV Resort offers 69 sites with all amenities and WiFi. It has dedicated tenting area, too. There is heated pool and playgraund. You can also rent a cabin. So, check availability and prices on the website.
Archview RV Park & Campground offers 77 sites with WiFi and full hookups. It is also tent camping allowed. It offers restroom and showers, laundry, and swimming pool. So, can book it here.
Kane Creek Campground and RV Park has great location and offers sites for RV and for tent also. It is located 3 miles south of Moab between massive 600-foot red rock cliffs and the Colorado River.

Canyonlands National Park

BLM Campgrounds in Moab area

There are also the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campgrounds on the public lands surrounding Moab, but they are popular and fill quickly every day. There are no reservations. Campsites are available on a first-come-first-served basis only. Many BLM campsites are suitable for RVs, although hookups are not available. You will find full list of BLM in Canyonlands area on discovermoab.com.

Canyonlands Camping inside the Park

Island in the Sky (Willow Flat) Campground

Island in the Sky Campground (Willow Flat) has only 12 sites, and it is first-come, first-served. So, it is not easy to get the site. The campground is open year-round. The camping fee is $15 per site. Sites fill quickly spring through fall. There are toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings in the campground. There is no water at the campground. You can get drinking water outside the visitor center but only from spring through fall.

The Needles (Squaw Flat) Campground

The Needles Campground has only 26 individual sites, plus 3 group sites in different locations around The Needles district. The camping fee for an individual site is $20. You can reserve some individual places in spring and fall. Other times of the year, individual sites are first-come, first-served. You can also book group sites for nights between mid-March and mid-November.

Backcountry Camping in Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park has an extensive backcountry where you can enjoy backpacking, four-wheel driving, boating, or bicycling. But you should prepare for your backcountry hiking or backpacking trip in Canyonlands. You must have a permit for backpacking, and for overnight trips, so check details on the NPS website.

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Best Viewpoints in Canyonlands National Park

Below you can find our favorite and best overlooks in Canyonlands. If you have limited time for your visits, those overlooks are the best way to explore the Park. Besides, you have the chance to take great photos. From the parking lots, there is short and easy access to viewpoints.

Green River Overlook

Two rivers created breathtaking canyons of Canyonlands National Park. So, from this vista, you can admire canyons formed by the Green River. To get to the Green River Overlook, you must drive Upheaval Dome Road. The turn-off for Green River Overlook is located on Upheaval Dome Road, just past the junction with Grand View Point Road. There is a car park here and restrooms.

Canyonlands National Park

Buck Canyon Overlook

From this vista you can see canyons created by Colorado River. This overlook is located on Grand View Point Road. 

Grand View Point

Grand View Point is located at the very end of Grand View Point Road. It is a trendy spot, due to it might be challenging to find an empty parking space. Finally, from this overlook is the best view on Island in the Sky. So, you can admire deep canyon that was carved out by the Colorado River.

Shafer Canyon Viewpoint

This vista is located just past the Visitor Center. So, it offers views on switchbacks on Shafer Canyon Road.

Visitor Center Viewpoint

Visitor Center Viewpoint offers one of the best views in Island in the Sky, and it is located just across the street from the Visitor Center.

Our favourites:

Utah National Parks GuideUtah National Parks MapHiking Canyonlands & Arches
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Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park

Below you will find the best hikes in the Canyonlands National Park in the Island in the Sky district. Check our hiking tips, before you go for a hike. Furthermore, check our list of essential things that you should take on a day hike. But, remember, that if you plan overnight hike you must have a permit.

Mesa Arch

Difficulty: easy
Distance: 0.5 mi / 0.8 km round trip
Time: 30 min
Getting there: There is a car park located right on Grand View Point Road. From the Visitor Center, it is a 10-minute drive to get here (6 miles). But, it might be a crowded place all day.

It is the most famous place in Canyonlands. Moreover, it is the best spot for sunrise photography, because of its unique lighting on the arch. So, therefore get ready for the crowds. A short and easy hike will lead you to a cliff-edge arch. But, if you are going for the sunrise photos, watch your step. It easy to slip on the rocks, when it’s dark. So, take a headlamp and tripod with you for sunrise.
However, you should know that Mesa Arch offers stunning views toward the La Sal Mountains at any time of day.

Mesa Arch sunrise

White Rim Overlook

Difficulty: easy
Distance: 1.8 mi / 2.8 km round trip
Time: 1.5 hrs
Getting there: There is limited trailhead parking. As you travel south on Grand View Point Road, there will be a left turn for a picnic area. Turn here and then park at one of the limited parking spaces near the trailhead. This turnoff is located 0.9 miles north of the Grand View Point parking lot.

White Rim Overlook offers views of the Colorado River, Monument Basin, and the La Sal Mountains. The best light for photos is in the late afternoon. It’s a short and easy hike also, which offers one of the best panoramic views of the Canyonlands.

Grand View Point

Difficulty: easy
Distance: 2.0 mi / 3.2 km round trip
Time: 1.5 – 2.0 hrs
Getting There: The trailhead is located at the Grand View Point.

It is a stunning hike on the canyon edge. This easy trail offers spectacular panoramic views of Canyonlands.

Upheaval Dome

Difficulty: moderate
Distance: 1.0 mi / 1.6 km round trip to first overlook
Time: 30 min
Elevation change: 100 feet / 30m
Getting There: The parking lot is at the end of Upheaval Dome Road.

It is a very short but steep trail. Above all, watch your step. It leads you to a view into Upheaval Dome. To the first overlook, it is a 100-foot elevation change. Hiking to the second overlook adds 1 mile (1.6 km) and 50 feet (15 m) elevation change.

Whale Rock

Difficulty: moderate
Distance: 1.0 mi / 1.6 km round trip
Time: 1 hour
Elevation change: 100 feet / 30m
Getting There: The parking lot is located just before the parking lot for Upheaval Dome.

This trail will leads you up the side of a sandstone dome. It ends with broad views of Island in the Sky. Above all, watch your step, because of steep drop-offs.

Aztec Butte

Difficulty: moderate
Distance: 2.0 mi / 3.2 km round trip
Time: 1.5 hours
Elevation change: 225 feet / 68 m
Getting There: The parking lot is located on Upheaval Dome Road.

This hike offers to see archeological sites of ancestral Puebloan structures. The trail follows a sandy wash, then splits. The eastern fork to your right ascends Aztec Butte for spectacular views. The western fork on the left climbs the smaller butte then drops below the rim to two ancestral Puebloan structures. Furthermore, both trails require scrambling up to slick rock and ledges, so be careful.

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Canyonlands National Park Tours

First of all, it is a great idea to consider an organized trip through Canyonlands, because some parts are remote. With a guide, you will learn the secrets of the Canyonlands National Park, you will discover the hidden side of the Canyonlands, and you will reach more remote districts. Moreover, if you want to see The River district from the river level, you must take organized trips. If you don’t have a 4×4 car, and off-road experience, you will not know The Maze district, The Needles, and it is impossible to take White Rim Road, and get to more rugged places. So, check commercial tours on getyourguide.com, viator.com which is a TripAdvisor.com Company. Below you will find some our suggestions.

White Rim Trail by 4WD it will be a great adventure. So, you can go off-roading by 4-wheel drive deep into Canyonlands National Park via the White Rim Road, a scenic route of switchbacks and red rock formations. Moreover, you will see the best spots such as Island in the Sky, Gooseneck overlook, Musselman Arch, Lathrop Canyon, and the Shafer Trail leading to the Colorado River. You can take a hike with a guide to hidden passages and secret canyons too. You can check prices and availability here.

If you dream about flying over desert canyons, you have the chance to see two national parks from above during one flight. This scenic air tour above Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park gives you breathtaking views and great memories. You can check prices and customer reviews here.

Needles District by 4×4 is a great option to see this remote part of Canyonlands. Expert guide will take you to see the highlights such as Elephant Hill, Devil’s Lane, and Devil’s Kitchen. You can also take a 3-mile (4.8-km) hike on the spectacularly scenic Joint Trail.You can book it here.

We mentioned Colorado River Rafting Trip, which has excellent reviews. But you have several other river trips to choose from. If you like fun & adventures, you can try to Stand Up Paddleboarding or Whitewater Rafting from Moab.

Check more tours on:

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Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands Photography Tips

The Landscapes of Canyonlands National Park are breathtaking, so you can find lots of opportunities for taking great pictures. Vistas are weird, like from another planet, magical and enormous in scale.

Mesa Arch sunrise is the most famous photo from Canyonlands. Sunrise is the most popular time to photograph Mesa Arch. The sunlight reflects off the mesa sandstone canyon walls and illuminates the arch above; so, it is a magical moment.
Photographing Mesa Arch requires preparation. First of all, the most important is getting there for about an hour before sunrise. Why? Because it is the most popular spot and might be crowded. Moreover, you also need time to find your composition. So, don’t forget the tripod and headlamp. It’s a great idea to have a wide lens to make a panorama and zoom for these shots. With zoom, you can focus on the detail of rock formations and the millions of years of erosion. Below you can check what gear we used in Canyonlands.

The Green River Overlook is the best for sunset. You can shot magnificent panoramas from this point, so a wide lens or standard zoom will be perfect. It is a beautiful vista of Green River.

It is a great idea to use a circular polariser to reduce glare especially during the daytime.

Finally, take a plenty of water and snacks. Check our list of essential things that you should take on a day hike, before you go.

More inspiration you will find in books:

Photographing Southern UtahPhotographing the SouthwestUtah's Greatest WondersOwyhee Canyonlands
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Gear for Canyonlands Photography

Below you will find photo gear which we used during our trips to Canyonands National Park.

Tripod for photographing Canyonlands National Park is crucial if you want to take sunrise or sunset photos. We recommended a reliable and heavy tripod. We use these model of Sirui for years, and it's a high quality, and reliable tripod. Our second choice, the cheaper ones, is this model used by Agnes. It is also fantastic.
Take remote shutter release, too. A remote shutter release allows you to control the shutter through a remote control, which ensures you won’t have to touch your camera. As a result, you will eliminate any unwanted blur on your subject.
Chris uses Canon EOS R , it is very light and modern mirrorless camera.
Agnes loves Nikon D750, it is light camera with excellent quality sensor and very ergonomic.
So, in the case of Canon, we recommend EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM or EF 16-35mm f/2.8L or cheaper 17-40mm f/4L EF Ultra Wide Angle.
In Nikon system, it’s good to have Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED (which Agnes uses) or Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR.
Use the polarizer filter to reduce reflections on surfaces. Some filter may warm up your scene a little bit. So, we recommend Circular polarizing filter, ND grad filters (minimum Lee soft edge 0.9, Lee reverse ND grad and a holder) and full ND (Lee Big Stopper or Little Stopper).
Another important lens in photographing Canyonlands National Park is standard zoom lens or telephoto lens. The telephoto lens is perfect for focusing on rocks details. So in case of Nikon we use AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens. Standard zoom which Agnes uses is Nikkor 24-70 mm f/2.8
In Canon system our choice telephoto is Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens. Chris has been using it for years, and it works great in landscape and wildlife photography. As a standard zoom lens Chris uses Canon 24-70 mm f/2.8L
Protecting your camera from the sand and dust at desert Canyonlands is crucial. Using a camera backpack is a great idea for hiking too. Our favourites are Think Tank Backpacks.
Camera cleaning kit is also important to remove dust that will get on your lens at Canyonlands.
Don't forget memory cards for your trip. Purchase name brand memory cards. We use Lexar and SanDisk.
Canyonlands National Park

Don’t Forget To Insure Yourself Before Your Trip

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the van escape

Hi, we are Agnes & Chris! Welcome to The Van Escape! We are travelers, photographers, and bloggers. Our goal is to share travel & photo experience and inspire you to outdoor adventures through America. We love wildlife, off the beaten path places, soaking in hot springs, and van life. We also like cities by night and tasting local food & wine. We give you ready itineraries, hints, and essential tools to prepare you for your unforgettable lifetime journey. We only describe the places we have been, which we know and recommend without hesitation. All photos are also ours. We are so glad you’re here!

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