With the recent release of "The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" on DVD, we got to thinking about, well, fantastic beasts, such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Over the years, other cryptids have gained notoriety around the world, despite lurking in trees, under waves, or behind boulders. With that in mind, we've pulled together eight destinations and the mythical creature associated with each, plus top to-dos in each place. Wannabe cryptozoologists, get packing!
The Yeti (a.k.a. the Abominable Snowman) may have the highest credibility among mythical creatures. That’s because of how deep the creature is embedded in Himalayan folklore; locals are unshakeable in their conviction that there is a real, live “man bear” inhabiting the Himalayan region. Noted explorers have said they’ve witnessed the creature and/or photographed its footprints, and even Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach the top of Mount Everest, was convinced.
Kathmandu, where nearly every Sherpa has a story, is Yeti central. Hike the verdant Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park and enjoy views of the Kathmandu Valley. Most hikes start at Budhanilkantha, a village known for having the largest stone carving in all of Nepal (a black basalt sleeping Vishnu, the Hindu god of preservation). Biking tours are easily available, and rickshaw rides to sample street food, including samosas and aloo paratha, are popular during the day and evening.
Bigfoot, the famous denizen of the Pacific Northwest, has been spotted and/or heard in just about every forested area from northern California up to British Columbia. The encounters have been going on for the past 200 years, and were found in Native American stories well before that. But it’s Oregon that is the hub of the “I saw a Sasquatch!” reports. Specifically, Oregon Route 224, which runs southeast from Portland into the Cascade Range, seems to be a particularly hot stretch for sightings.
A walkable city with outdoorsy people who love their locally-brewed coffee (and beer), Portland is also known for farmers’ markets and quirky museums. There’s the Portland Puppet Museum, which offers free admission, and the Stark’s Vacuum Museum, for starters. At the Portland International Rose Test Garden, rose breeders enter their new varieties to see if they flourish. It’s a beautiful, fragrant park to stop in.
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Eyewitnesses of the kappa — a goblin-like creature that hangs around river banks — don’t agree on its appearance. Generally, the mythical creature, which is found in Japanese folklore, is noted as being about the size of a big monkey, but more human in its movements, and featuring greenish-blue skin.
Of course, you can always stop by the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto to see another animal found only in Japan: snow monkeys, or Japanese macaques. They are the only monkeys on earth to live in a habitat that far north. The Golden Temple (Kinkakuji), also in Kyoto, is arguably the most impressive site among the many Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and gardens. Manga fans will want to check out the Kyoto International Manga Museum. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting in the spring, the fluffy cherry blossoms will be a special treat.
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The Everglades are known for being dark, dank, and mysterious — the perfect stomping ground for a Skunk Ape. The southern cousin of Bigfoot, this slimmer and shorter ape-like creature allegedly smells like it has been sprayed by a skunk or like sewage. The Skunk Ape Research Headquarters (the owner, who has himself had three encounters with the stinky cryptid, encourages curious visitors to stop by) is in the small town of Ochopee, about 35 miles east of Naples.
Everglades airboat tours are the easiest way to explore the elusive apes’ lair. Luckily, many companies offer them. Plus, Skunk Ape trivia and fun facts are usually offered by the tour guides. For instance, serious Skunk Ape hunters are sure to try and lure them with their favorite treats (wet lima beans and deer liver).
When you’ve had enough of searching, head back to Naples, where you can catch feedings at the Naples Zoo, home to exotic critters like fossas and lemurs. Also a short drive away is the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, where visitors can check out 600-year-old cypress trees and the super-rare ghost orchid. You’re also likely to see otters, alligators, and plenty of endangered birds here. Plus, it’s a landing place for migrating butterflies in the fall and winter.
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Perhaps the most creepy of the world’s mysterious monsters, the Ningen is described as a grayish-white sea dweller that resembles a stingray, but is nearly as big as a whale, and yet is also humanoid. And unlike some of its peers, which have been spotted for centuries, the Ningen is a newbie. In fact, reports of the enigmatic Ningen only began surfacing around the turn of the 21st century. Fishermen were the first to supposedly encounter them.
They’re spotted in the frigid waters of the Antarctic, making Punta Arenas, a city near the southernmost tip of Chile, a logical launching point for the chase. Boat trips through the Strait of Magellan go out frequently, and even if the Ningen eludes you, you’ll still get pictures of thousands of penguins in their natural habitat.
The founders of the Punta Arenas were pioneers from many different countries in Europe, as well as other parts of Chile, so you’ll see a range of influences as you tour the city. The Nao Victoria Museum offers visitors the opportunity to interact with authentically-made replicas of the boats that contributed to the discovery and colonization of Chilean Antarctica.
The Chupacabra is a cryptid whose name roughly means “goat sucker.” It gained sudden fame in Puerto Rico in the mid-1990s, when farm animals turned up dead and drained of all their blood. Hundreds of reports of the bizarre attacks turned up in 1995 alone, and experts couldn’t link the incidents to any known predator. What the Chupacabra does is quite specific, but descriptions of what it looks like is much less so. No photos exist, and eyewitness accounts vary greatly, though most agree on one thing: it is ugly. One witness likened the creature to the alien in the sci-fi movie “Species” — spikes and all.
Changed your mind about coming face-to-fangs with Chupacabra? Another way to get your otherworldly phenomenon fix might be to head to the bioluminescent bay in Vieques. At night, the water emits a bluish glow from the part-animal, part-plant microorganisms that live in it. More than 700,000 of these bioluminescent dinoflagellates are in each gallon of bay water.
The El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. The hiking is renowned, and well worth the approximately 30-mile trip from San Juan. Plus, you’ll likely enjoy the serenade of Puerto Rico’s tiny coquí (tree frogs) much more than the unsettling shriek Chupacabras reportedly give off.
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An iconic enigma of Great Britain, the Loch Ness Monster — or monsters, as some locals are convinced — is said to swim in its namesake loch, near Iverness. At 755 feet deep, it’s the largest loch by volume in Great Britain, and thus, many believe, its murky depths could easily conceal a slew of bus-long serpents. The Scottish Highlands have become a popular tourist area over the years, thanks in large part to its shy aquatic “resident.” Nessie tours, both by bus and boat, are available.
After you’ve had your fill, take in the natural beauty of the area beyond the Loch Ness Monster’s shores. Travel out to the Isle of Skye and tour the medieval Eilean Donan Castle. Admire the Cuillin Hills, a rugged mountain range that takes on a reddish color or casts black, imposing silhouettes, depending on the section. Then, sip your way through the Highlands, savoring the national spirit: whiskey. Another must-visit stop: the Glengoyne Distillery, which has been making single malt since 1833.
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We couldn’t leave out the fantasy beast getting more buzz than any of the above lately — Emma Watson’s rough-around-the edges paramour in “Beauty and the Beast.” The tale is known to be set in France, but the exact location of Belle’s hometown is never specified. A few clues — namely, the weather, the architecture, the mountainous landscape, and the fact that the tavern serves beer — point to the Alsace region in the northeast part of the country, near Germany. The Alsatian town of Colmar, with its timber-framed buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, colorful houses, and a lookalike fountain, is about as close as you’re going to get to feeling like you’ve stepped inside the film. Plus, there’s no shortage of foreboding castles nearby that could easily serve as the Beast’s lair. And by no shortage, we mean that the French tourism board distinguishes the Alsace region by dubbing it “the land of castles.”
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