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5 Fairy-Tale Forests Around the World

From bluebell forests in Belgium to ancient jungles in Mexico, here's where to catch a breath of fresh air.

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This article was originally published on Tripadvisor.com. Viator is part of the Tripadvisor Media Group. Follow Viator on Instagram at @viatortravel, and Tripadvisor at @tripadvisor.

There’s something special about forests. It’s in the air—the smell of damp earth and wet leaves, the quiet rustle of wildlife, and a deep, resounding stillness that can only be found in wilderness. When urban life gets too loud, there’s nothing better than a walk in the woods. Get off the grid and go for a wander in these five beautiful forests around the world.

1. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

A traveler walks through the Mexican jungle in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Mexico.
A traveler walks through the Mexican jungle in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.Foto: Shutterstock

Mexico

This UNESCO World Heritage Site was dubbed Sian Ka’an, or “Origin of the Sky,” by ancient Mayas who once inhabited the region. They couldn’t have picked a more fitting name—Sian Ka’an’s 1.3 million acres (528,000 hectares) contain lush green tropical forest, mangrove trees, and aquamarine lagoons set against the backdrop of the Caribbean Sea. The area’s diverse ecosystem also houses rare species of birds, fish, and mammals such as jaguars, sea turtles, and manatees.

How to visit: Take a day trip from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum to explore Sian Ka’an by boat and get an in-depth look at the local flora and fauna. You can also snorkel on the reef and investigate ancient Maya structures at the nearby Muyil archaeological site.

Where to stay: Book a room in nearby Tulum, Playa del Carmen, or Cancun. Getting to Sian Ka’an is easy from these areas; most tours even include hotel pickup and drop-off.

2. Hallerbos Forest

Bluebells line the floor of the Hallerbos Forest in Halle.
The forest floor is carpeted with bluebells in Hallerbos Forest.Foto: Shutterstock

Halle, Belgium

This forest brings fairy tales to life. Smooth beech trees reach toward the sky, allowing thin rivulets of sunlight to filter through their branches. For a few weeks each spring, bluebells carpet the forest floor with vivid sapphire hues and transform the woodland into a haunting landscape of blues, purples, and greens. Aside from the flowers, on these winding forest paths you might expect to spy glimmering faerie wings, unicorn hoofprints, or even a lonesome wandering witch.

How to visit: Located on the outskirts of Halle, Hallerbos Forest is about 40 minutes from Brussels by road, making it an easy day trip from Belgium’s capital.

Where to stay: Put your feet up at one of Halle’s bed & breakfast inns, or base yourself in a Brussels hotel.

3. Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve

A suspension bridge takes visitors through Monteverde's tree canopy through Guanacaste and Northwest, Costa Rica.
A suspension bridge takes visitors through Monteverde's tree canopy.Foto: Leslie Cross / Unsplash

Guanacaste and Northwest, Costa Rica

Situated atop the Continental Divide, the high-altitude Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is literally shrouded in clouds. Wisps of fog trail through the lofty canopy, creating the perfect environment for more than 100 species of mammals, 400 types of birds, and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles. Monteverde is also one of the last refuges for jungle cats such as jaguars, ocelots, and pumas—although the felines are shy and hard to spot. The forest is made up of some eight miles (12.9 kilometers) of trails and encompasses over 35,089 acres (14,200 hectares) of land.

How to visit: Book ahead for a guided day hike, night walk, or private bird-watching tour. Thrill-seekers can fly through the forest canopy on ziplines or traverse the park’s series of hanging bridges.

Where to stay: Wake up with nature on your doorstep by staying at the dreamy and convenient Hotel Belmar right in Monteverde.

4. Great Otway National Park

A waterfall at the Great Otway National Park in Victoria.
Waterfalls abound in Victoria's Great Otway National Park.Foto: Shutterstock

Victoria, Australia

This cool temperate rain forest is home to massive tree ferns, cackling kookaburras, and immense waterfalls. Great Otway National Park spans more than 25,000 acres (10,227 hectares) across rugged coastline, beaches, and the mountains of the Otway Ranges. In the park’s southern region, swaying eucalyptus trees provide shelter for sleepy koalas, while ancient lighthouses stand sentinel at the sea’s edge.

How to visit: You can access the park via Australia’s famed Great Ocean Road, which stretches between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford on the country’s southeast coast. Book a convenient day trip from Melbourne to visit the park and see highlights such as Kennett River and the Twelve Apostles rock formations.

Where to stay: Spend a few nights in Torquay or Melbourne, and take a round-trip road trip along the Great Ocean Road to see the park.

5. Muir Woods National Monument

A hiker observes the ancient redwoods in Muir Woods in California.
Ancient redwoods tower over wooden walkways in California's Muir Woods.Foto: Anthony Cruz / Viator

California, USA

In America’s forest of giants, old-growth redwood trees cool their roots in robust creeks and reach their lofty crowns through Bay Area mists. Thousands of years old, the ancient redwood trees at Muir Woods are some of the tallest living things in the world; some reach up to 24 feet (7.3 meters) wide and 250 feet (76.2 meters) tall. Beneath the redwoods grow red alders, California big leaf maples, and a variety of pine trees. Walk quietly and you may glimpse river otters in the creek, or maybe deer, woodpeckers, and Pacific wren.

How to visit: Take a guided Muir Woods tour from San Francisco, or book a double-whammy day trip to wine country and Muir Woods to escape the city.

Where to stay: Most visitors stay in downtown San Francisco, only a short drive across the Golden Gate Bridge from Muir Woods. To be closer still, stay in Sausalito.

Related: Guide to Marin County: Sausalito, Muir Woods, and More

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