Monthly Archives: August 2016

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Hipmunk Hotels: Offbeat Attractions in Flagstaff, Page, Yuma, and more

The post below was originally published by Sandra on Tripper on June 29, 2016.

Cover Photo by Ken Lund via Flickr.

By means of a strange acculturation process while growing up, I’m more connected to the American culture than I am to the Portuguese. As a result, the United States is high on my list of countries to visit (and the list of offbeat attractions grows with it). I’m still in the romancing phase, but I’m already liking my odds in Arizona and in Pasadena. I have my eye on several attractions in these areas and more, and I’m interested in the best hotels in each area.

1. Experience Space, the Final Frontier in Flagstaff (Arizona)

I love a good alien story, especially if it mixes an “X-Files” vibe with some futuristic storytelling like H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”. However, you can visit some “other-worldly” attractions without leaving this planet. The Lowell Observatory and the Cinder Lake Crater Field are two offbeat must-sees in Flagstaff. I wonder if I can find an alien-themed hotel in Flagstaff? Or at least one with a mysterious alien story behind it.

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Photo by James Jones via Flickr.

2. The Most Famous Canyon in Page (Arizona)

The Antelope Canyon is hardly a secret and it’s very high on my list of beautiful sights. The most photographed rock formation in the American Southwest is one guided tour away when you visit Page. To continue exploring the scenery beyond the Canyon, check with your hotel in Page for tour recommendations.

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Photo by Todd Petrie via Flickr.

3. A Bridge (Not) Over Troubled Waters in Yuma (Arizona)

Do you know the Talking Heads’ song “Road to Nowhere”? Well, in Yuma, things go a little further with a “bridge to nowhere”. No, it’s not a metaphor. The Gila River was diverted in 1968, and today the McPhaul bridge crosses (oddly) over sand and rocks. I have a series of postapocalyptic-themed photos for that bridge in mind, meaning the visit could be emotionally draining. Finding a hotel in Yuma for some well-deserved R&R would do the trick.

4. London Bridge in Lake Havasu City (Arizona)

Did London Bridge really fall down like in the nursery rhyme? Technically, it was sinking due to structural problems, and in the late 1960’s, the City sold the bridge to the highest bidder — a local entrepreneur in Lake Havasu City. Booking a romantic stay at a Lake Havasu City hotel and a stroll on the bridge shipped overseas, block by block, sounds like a great story to tell.

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Photo by Ken Lund via Flickr.

5. Doc’s House and Strange Sodas in Pasadena (California)

Hoverboards are not a real thing (yet) but Dr. Emmet Brown’s house is. Fans of “Back to the Future” wouldn’t the Gamble House be an offbeat must-see? This could (probably) only be topped by a Buffalo Wing soda. I’m not entirely sure I would handle the sugar rush at the Rocket Fizz, the place where these strange soda flavors come from. Tasting wouldn’t be a problem; narrowing down the weirdest ones to taste would. How do you top this off? Perhaps with a stay at a Hollywoodesque hotel in Pasadena, where you can pretend to be a star with a quirky taste for strange sodas.

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Photo by Ken Lund via Flickr.

This is a post written in collaboration with the Hipmunk Hotels campaign.

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Bajlovica sige - Tara

Canyon Exploration

Canyoning is one of the most exciting and fun activities Montenegro has to offer for anyone seeking adrenaline and adventure. Working your way through canyons and following their river courses, spending time in the wild, descending steep, smooth cliffs worn away over the millennia, discovering spectacular waterfalls – all this will come together to provide an almost fairytale experience.

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Canyons are mostly formed from limestone and granite, the incline of their walls reaching 60°. The rocks over which crystal turquoise water cascades, the bright green vegetation – it is hard to put into words. Canyoning involves climbing through narrow crevices and up cascades, and can also involve double rope rapelling, diving and swimming where possible. Canyoning is an extreme sport that is gaining in popularity the world over. Our country can boast a wealth of natural resources and a great number of canyons that you can explore.
The largest and most famous canyon in the world is the Arizona Grand Canyon. The second-deepest canyon in the world, and the deepest in Europe is in Montenegro – the Tara River canyon. The Tara canyon is 78 kilometres long and up to 1,300 m deep. Its drainage basin is 141 kilometres long and is considered the longest river basin in Montenegro. The Tara River canyon has 80 large caves.
In the centre of Montenegro is the Nevidio canyon. Nevidio is the Komarnica River canyon, just an hour away from Nikšić, and is an attractive and increasingly popular tourist destination, especially foreign visitors. A group of mountaineers from Nikšić first reached this canyon in 1965.

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Then there is the Grlje canyon near Gusinje, very much worth exploring and touring, featuring smooth cliffs up to twenty metres high that are very close together.
The Cijevna canyon near Podgorica was discovered in 1886 and popularized after exploration by Italian botanist Antonio Baldacci. There are also many other smaller canyons in Montenegro that attract adventurers, such as the Škudra River canyon near Kotor and the Bogutovski Potok stream that flows into the Morača River.
Canyons in Montenegro are mostly found in remote locations, and to explore some of them you will certainly need guides with navigation and wilderness survival skills and knowledge of the route.

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Artistic and Archaeological Riches of Montenegro

Montenegro has a tradition of art going back to prehistory, as testified to by the archaeological finds of paintings by prehistoric man in Lipci near Risan dating to the 8th century BC. The drawing represents a deer hunt, and also features a symbol of the rising sun and others. Another drawing has been discovered on a stone tablet in the Prokletije mountains in the north of Montenegro, depicting a prehistoric man and a wolf.
The Crvena Stijena (Red Rock) site in Petrovići is around 30km from Nikšić and is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe. Remains from the Middle Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze ages have been found here, and are highly significant, testifying to the beginnings of life not just in this part of Montenegro but on the planet as a whole. For many years, local and foreign expeditions have been coming to this unique and internationally significant site. More than 26,000 items from the time of prehistoric man have been excavated here. A great many items used in everyday life have been discovered, such as for the procurement and preparation of food, but also non-utilitarian items. These include handmade stone items, snails and shells, as well as ceramic vessels.
The numerous medieval fortresses in Montenegro are an art-form in their own right. They feature Byzantine, Romanic, Gothic and Baroque construction styles, as well as stone forms and paintings. Through the ages these fortresses have played a military and feudal role, or were built as town fortifications. They are built of stone and feature surrounding walls and towers. These fascinating structures were raised in numerous coastal towns, where Illyrian, Austro-Hungarian, Turkish and Spanish influences predominate, such as in Bar, Ulcinj, Herceg Novi, Budva, Kotor, Risan, Perast, as well as in the north of Montenegro: Rijeka Crnojevića, Podgorica and the Lake Skadar area.

The National Museum at Cetinje includes: King Nikola’s Museum, the Museum of Petar II Petrovic Njegoš, the birth house of Njegoš, the Njegoš Mausoleum on Lovćen, Bishop Danilo’s Mausoleum on Orlov Krš, the Art Museum together with the Dado Đurić Contemporary Art Gallery, the Ethnographic Museum and the newly-opened Archaeological Museum and Lapidarium.
The National Museum houses collections of weapons, medals, flags, crests, stamps, photographs, as well as archaeological, numismatic, ethnographic and applied art collections. There are also the residence and the chapel raised in honour of the secular and spiritual leader, poet and philosopher Petar II Petrović Njegoš. During the 1970s the Montenegro Art Museum was known as the Art Gallery, and houses some 3,000 exhibits, including some of the most important works in contemporary Yugoslav and Montenegrin fine art.

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Kite Surfing Ada Bojana

The Ada Bojana island is surely a rare gift of nature, surrounded by the deep blue of the Adriatic Sea on one side and the Bojana river on its two other sides, forming a triangular shape.
Its sandy beach, famed for its beautiful sunsets and fine grainy sand is three kilometres long and faces the sea. Favourable winds create waves perfect for all kinds of extreme water sports, especially windsurfing and kitesurfing, and this is one of the best locations for these types of sport in the Adriatic. Advanced surfers will love the strong maestral wind which blows in from the sea in the afternoons, while amateurs can take lessons at the windsurfing school here.

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Kitesurfing is a fairly new extreme sport, combining elements of wakeboarding, windsurfing, surfing and paragliding, together with elements of gymnastics, and is a very dynamic sport. There are a number of styles of kiteboarding, which is why it has been likened to  “horse-riding on water”. Kiteboarding is done using small (7 to 15m2) specially-designed kite or wings. According to the ISAF and IKA, there were 1.5 million kitesurfers worldwide in 2012. We aim to popularize this attractive sport in the region and in Montenegro, where there is huge potential for its development.

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Roman mosaics and 2nd-3rd century Villa Urbana in Risan

The rapid Romanisation of Risinium began after the subjugation of the Illyrians under King Gentius in 167 BC. Risinium became a typical Roman town, surrounded by walls, with a town centre – a forum in the Carina fields. Ancient tombs – necropolises – were located outside the walls, and in the southern side of town there was a residential area containing the villas of rich Risan landowners and traders. The remains of the eastern portion of a Roman urban villa were found in the early 20th century. Between 1956 and 1962 the mosaic flooring in four rooms of the villa was fully restored and conserved, and the first protective awning built. Another mosaic floor was discovered in 1972, on which conservation work was also done and a roof added.

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Partial restoration and conservation of all the walls of the villa around the central yard – the atrium – was also carried out.
Roman mosaics decorate the floors of four of the five rooms in the eastern part of the villa, as well as two rooms in the western part. There are only traces of mosaic flooring in the remaining rooms. The technique used was one of large cubes of local grey and black stone, with motifs of the labrys – a double-bitted battleaxe originating from Crete. In the eastern wing of the villa a mosaic was laid displaying plant motifs, using stone cubes of varying size and colour (red, yellow, green, blue, black and white). In the middle there is a circular medallion depicting the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos, in the form of a winged boy leaning on the head of the bed. It is likely that this room was the bedroom of the villa’s owner – the dormitorium. Geometric chessboard-like patterns decorate the mosaic floor of the southern room, and beyond that there are a further two rooms with mosaics featuring geometric motifs and stylised sea life (cuttlefish and squid). It is thought that one of the corner rooms that do not have mosaics was the dining room (triclinium), with typical Roman couches.

risan                                                                                            Photo by TOKO

 

Airbnbs: Breakout Star of Spring Break 2016

The post below was originally published on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on February 25, 2016 by The Hipmunk.

spring_break_nutshell_ABy: Hipmunk Staff

Ah, Spring Break. That annual week of respite from school, from work, from responsibilities. (Hey, we can dream, right?) The point is, Spring Break is for everyone– not just coeds.

But since the holiday is so widely marketed to college students, we wondered whether traditional party locations really dominated the Spring Break vacation market and how the rise in popularity of vacation rentals such as Airbnb affected hotel bookings.

To find out, Hipmunk analyzed the most-booked Spring Break destinations for airfare and hotels, which we defined for our purposes as beginning Friday, March 18, 2016, the week preceding Easter (although the dates can vary widely). To break it down further, we also looked the most popular destinations for Airbnb vacation rentals and compared that to the same week the year before to see how those numbers had changed.

Here’s what we found:

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, major US destinations, popular year-round, dominated the list, with Orlando, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles claiming the top spots for most-booked flights.  Yet simply looking at destinations where one must take a plane doesn’t fully reveal the most popular Spring Break destinations, as many travelers choose to vacation in locations that are a drivable distance from where they reside.

To broaden our scope, we also looked at which destinations were garnering the most accommodation bookings for Spring Break 2016.

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Again, major US cities topped the rankings. But by only looking at flights and accommodations, we are still neglecting to highlight locations where vacationers are more inclined to look for rentals than hotels. To discover these destinations we looked first at the locations with the highest net number of Airbnb vacation rental bookings and then compared that number to the total number of overall accommodation bookings in that city for Spring Break to reveal what percentage of those bookings were Airbnbs.

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Again, cities such as Miami and Las Vegas return a large total number of Airbnb bookings for Spring Break, but smaller resort towns like Sarasota, FL and Palm Springs, CA, boast a much larger percentage of Airbnbs for their total bookings. Perhaps the one anomaly is Cancun, Mexico, where Airbnbs have claimed 40 percent of Hipmunk bookings for Spring Break 2016.

It seems that when it comes to Spring Break, Florida is the vacation rental king, claiming five of the 10 top spots!

Digging deeper, Airbnbs are continuing to increase in terms of their share of the accommodation market, as more and more travelers see vacation rentals as a viable alternative to hotels.

In 2015, Airbnbs made up 4.4 percent of all Hipmunk’s Spring Break bookings; as of publication date, that number has risen to 9.5 percent.

Indeed, several of the cities that cracked the top 10 Airbnb destinations weren’t on the list last year at all:

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Looking year-over-year, every city that made both this and last year’s lists increased their proportion of Airbnb bookings, excepting for New York, which saw a decrease of three percent.

Of the cities that made this year’s list (but not 2015’s), Cancun saw its proportion of Airbnb rentals increase explosively, from just 9 percent in 2015; Sarasota’s proportion was only 19 percent in 2015; Honolulu came in at 2 percent last year; Destin was 30 percent in 2015; and Palm Springs came in at 28 percent in 2015.

In the end, it seems that the Sunshine State is also the 2016 Spring Break Capital, claiming multiple spots in every Top 10 category: flights, hotels, and vacation rentals.

And if these destinations seem just a bit too tame or you want to escape the states, be sure to check out our Spring Break College Cheat Sheet or just shoot an email to Hello@Hipmunk.com with all your burning Spring Break travel questions.

Methodology: Hipmunk analyzed its 2016 data for bookings that occurred starting the week of March 18, 2016 (Spring Break) for flight, hotel, and Airbnb bookings, in addition to data for the same week in 2015.

 

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Montenegro Wine Tour

If you love wine and want a unique holiday  then you should not miss going on one of  the wine tours on offer in Montenegro.
It is not widely known that Montenegro, apart from its beautiful seaside and mountain villages, also boasts regions that are famed for producing exceptional and world-renowned wine varieties. France, Italy and Portugal have for many years been building credibility as top tourist destinations thanks to wine tourism. The many scenic regions of our country are perfect for enjoying this type of tourism. The mild Mediterranean climate, the composition of the soil and the favorable location provide ideal conditions for cultivating vineyards and growing grapes. The best-known grape-growing areas are Crmnica, Nahije, Komani, Bjelopavlici and other wine-producing villages around Lake Skadar. Montenegrin wines are produced from various types of grape, including Krstač, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Vranac.

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In 2010 and 2011, signage was put up and the “Wine Roads” of Montenegro were fully marked out. A tourist map of the wine tours can be picked up in local tourist offices in any town in Montenegro, at hotel receptions and in travel agencies. If you like an active holiday, the Wine Roads offer you a chance to visit wine cellars, taste wines, walk through the vineyards and even take part in grape-picking. Wine can be tested, tried and purchased in wine cellars, while some wineries also offer accommodation, so visitors can get the complete experience, learn about the history of the winery, see wine being made and of course enjoy the finished product.

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UNESCO / Durmitor National Park

Many will be familiar with destinations from the UNESCO World Heritage List such as the Taj Mahal in India, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Pyramids in Egypt, Stonehenge in England, the Grand Canyon in Colorado and Lake Bled in Slovenia.  But did you know that also on UNESCO’s list of world natural and cultural heritage sites is Montenegro’s biggest national park, Durmitor? Durmitor National Park encompasses the Durmitor chain of mountains and the canyons of the Tara river with their 1,500 plant species and 130 bird species. The Tara River Canyon has been declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, and there are also the Draga and Sušica canyons, the Komarnica canyon valley and a great many mountain-tops – 48 of them exceeding 2,000 metres above sea-level. There are also 18 glacial lakes that have been dubbed the Gorske Oči – the Eyes of the Mountain. Along with hundreds of other destinations the world over, this park has been specially selected for protection by the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO). The park is of inestimable value to all of humanity as a centre for the development of Balkan flora, with features of both alpine and arctic and, on the southern slopes, in the canyon valleys, thriving sub-Mediterranean and even Mediterranean vegetation, while the lakes are a focal point for plant life more typical of the Siberian taiga. The mountain meadows and pastures, the deep fissures, rock gardens, scree slopes, melt waters, peat bogs and freshwater habitats are what makes this part of south-eastern Europe so valuable, and incomparable to anywhere else in the world.

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Durmitor National Park extends over 39,000 hectares, with 20,000 hectares under UNESCO protection after its inscription in the World Heritage list in 1980. Durmitor also comprises the highest-altitude town in the Balkans – Žabljak, located at 1,456m above sea-level and surrounded by no less than twenty-three peaks more than 2,300m in height.
German geographer Kurt Hassert said,
“Among the mountain giants of the south-Slavic countries, the most powerful and most magnificent is Durmitor”.

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Photography lovers will attest to the fact that the combination of mountains and lakes makes for some of the most beautiful, natural subject matter. Durmitor National Park is an inexhaustible source of inspiration from which some of the most beautiful works of art have sprung, and the very name Durmitor has some interesting stories associated with it. It is told that the word Durmitor is of Romanic origin, from the Latin word dormitorium – it was from this word that the Italian word dormitorio came, or dormire, meaning to sleep.  When they were advancing into this territory the Roman legionaries are said to have asked themselves whether perhaps the mountain was sleeping. Another etymology of the name Durmitor dates back to the time of the Celts. According to this version the name is derived from the Celtic “water from the mountain” – dru-mi-tor, which many find a more likely explanation.

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Some notable peaks dominate, setting the rhythm for all the others. The most striking are: Bobotov Kuk – 2,523m, Bezimeni Vrh – 2,487m, Minin Bogaz – 2,387m, Međed – 2,287m, Savin Kuk – 2,313m, Ljeme – 2,455m, Planinica – 2,330m, Crvena Greda – 2,175m and Pruta – 2,393m. The Austrian explorer Oscar Baumann was the first to scale the highest peak of Durmitor – Botovo Kuk – at a height of 2,523m, and his thoughts, written in “First Steps in Ciro’s Cave”, are still quoted today: “To our east stretched a deserted valley in the karst, full of rocky debris and snow drifts … while on the other side we were greeted by the green landscape … [A]ll was glistening beside Lakes Skrcko and Malo, which looked like two dark blue eyes”.

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In its unbelievably deep and picturesque valleys, beneath the mountain slopes, surrounded by rich plant life, Durmitor conceals eighteen glacial lakes or, as the locals calls them, the Eyes of the Mountain. Mentioning just a few of them, there are Modro, Zminje, Vražje, Riblje and, certainly the best known, Crno Jezero (the Black Lake) which is frozen over in winter but in July and August reaches water temperatures of twenty celsius or more.
This mountain range offers ideal conditions for active holidaying all the year round – hiking, biking, angling, mountaineering and snowshoeing – but Durmitor also offers opportunities to get to know its cultural and historical heritage with visits to sites preserving prehistoric remains dating back to the time of the Illyrians, as well as the Romans. A variety of cultural influences have left their mark in the form of various characteristic structures. The Illyrians left tumuli, or burial mounds, while characteristic of the Roman period are stone bridges, standing stones and caravan trails that can be found in this region. Necropolises with their stylised tombstones, the ruins of Turkish bridges and watchtowers along the old Montenegrin-Turkish border, the remains of the ancient fortification of Pirlitor above Lever and the three monasteries in the Tara valley, at Dobrilovina, Dovolja and Đurđevića Tara, raised between the 15th and 17th centuries – all bear witness to a thriving mediaeval world here.

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Seven areas of the Durmitor National Park are subject to special protection schemes, each with their own specific characteristics: the old-growth spruce and fir forest in the Mlinski Potok valley, the stands of black pine at Crni Podi in the Tara canyon, the Black Lake with its nearby forest, the Skrčka lakes valley and the immediate area of the Sušica canyon, the Barno Jezero lake with its immediate surroundings, the Zabojsko Jezero lake with surroundings and the area along the Tara river canyon.
Do you want to discover and enjoy the beauty of world heritage? Durmitor National Park is a destination you should not miss – just look at how magical the Black Lake is in winter.

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Autumn and Montenegro travel

Yellow, red and golden colors predominate in autumn, and why miss this magical time of year in Montenegro when it is perfect for experiencing adventure? The best time to travel is often said to be between September and November, and it is not different in Montenegro. The beautiful weather, the sunny days and the cool but still-mild evenings are perfect for 4×4 safaris, photo safaris, mountaineering or simply hiking the mountain trails, visiting cultural and historical sites with our tour guides or exploring bays and concealed beaches. Here you can bathe since the average temperature of the Adriatic Sea is still 23 °C in October. For visitors who want to spend their days in complete relaxation of body and soul, we can recommend one of the spa and wellness hotels offering a variety of treatments, massages, saunas, refreshing pools or relaxation in a whirlpool bath in beautiful mountain or seaside surroundings.

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What are the advantages to traveling to Montenegro in autumn?

Prices of flights and accommodation are lower.
Roads, cafes and restaurants are significantly less busy.
You can visit one of the numerous festivals and other cultural events in Montenegro.
You can tour several destinations, towns and visitor attractions when there are no crowds.
You can travel and spend time outside in light clothing, without the summer heat.
You can enjoy autumn foods and the fruits of the harvest.
You can best experience daily life and authentic local culture.

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Bajlovica sige - Tara

Canyon Exploration

Canyoning is one of the most exciting and fun activities Montenegro has to offer for anyone seeking adrenaline and adventure. Working your way through canyons and following their river courses, spending time in the wild, descending steep, smooth cliffs worn away over the millennia, discovering spectacular waterfalls – all this will come together to provide an almost fairytale experience.

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Canyons are mostly formed from limestone and granite, the incline of their walls reaching 60°. The rocks over which crystal turquoise water cascades, the bright green vegetation – it is hard to put into words. Canyoning involves climbing through narrow crevices and up cascades, and can also involve double rope rapelling, diving and swimming where possible. Canyoning is an extreme sport that is gaining in popularity the world over. Our country can boast a wealth of natural resources and a great number of canyons that you can explore.
The largest and most famous canyon in the world is the Arizona Grand Canyon. The second-deepest canyon in the world, and the deepest in Europe is in Montenegro – the Tara River canyon. The Tara canyon is 78 kilometres long and up to 1,300 m deep. Its drainage basin is 141 kilometres long and is considered the longest river basin in Montenegro. The Tara River canyon has 80 large caves.
In the centre of Montenegro is the Nevidio canyon. Nevidio is the Komarnica River canyon, just an hour away from Nikšić, and is an attractive and increasingly popular tourist destination, especially foreign visitors. A group of mountaineers from Nikšić first reached this canyon in 1965.

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Then there is the Grlje canyon near Gusinje, very much worth exploring and touring, featuring smooth cliffs up to twenty metres high that are very close together.
The Cijevna canyon near Podgorica was discovered in 1886 and popularized after exploration by Italian botanist Antonio Baldacci. There are also many other smaller canyons in Montenegro that attract adventurers, such as the Škudra River canyon near Kotor and the Bogutovski Potok stream that flows into the Morača River.
Canyons in Montenegro are mostly found in remote locations, and to explore some of them you will certainly need guides with navigation and wilderness survival skills and knowledge of the route.