Phoenix or the Valley of the Sun is the 5th largest city in the US. Originally inhabited by the Hohokams– the prehistoric tribe (AD 300 – AD 1400) – Phoenix got its name from Darrel Duppa – an educated world traveller and English lord who after seeing the prehistoric Hohokam ruins predicted the rise of another civilization, much like the Phoenix – the anecdotal bird. True to his prediction, Phoenix is now the fifth most populated city in the US and is often referred to as ‘LA without the Pacific’ for one of the best shopping experiences, world-famous spas, vibrant bars, and spectacular golf courses.
Whether you are seeking a thrilling desert adventure or want a relaxing time with family Phoenix is the place to be.
“And then in the desert, when the sun comes up. I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the Earth began.” (Forrest Gump, 1994)
A trip to Phoenix should start with desert exploration. The Sonoran desert – the most biologically diverse desert of North America- covers a whopping 120,000 square miles with a complex variety of desert plants with an equally diverse wildlife species. You can book a tour with professional guides and explore the picturesque desert by jeep or by horseback or Segway. A strenuous hike to the Phoenix icon Camelback Mountain would give you absolutely stunning view of Phoenix and Scottsdale but this arduous trek is NOT for everyone. You can opt for a hot-air balloon flight (sunrise/sunset) and get an incredible view of the pristine desert when the sun rises or calls it a day. Ride on horseback through the Sonoran desert as a cowboy. We suggest Cave Creek Trail Rides and Ponderosa Stables. If you are there on the fourth Saturday of the month enjoy a Silent Sunday walk to the 16000 acres South Mountain Park. At 2330 feet, Dobbins Lookout is the highest point of the park where you can trek to for an unimpeded panoramic view of the Valley.
Interested? Start planning your trip.
And it all starts with passport and visa. First, check if you are eligible for ESTA a.k.a. Electronic System for Travel Authorization. If you are an eligible national of a VWP participating country, ESTA is for you. ESTA costs only $14 and it is an online process through which your travel to the US is authorized by the US CBP. ESTA means no more queue, you apply and receive ESTA status almost instantly. Once granted ESTA is valid for 2 years – your passport needs to be valid as well – and you enter the US multiple times and stay up to 90 days at a stretch. Remember! Obtaining an ESTA does not guarantee your admission to the country. And if you plan a trip through the USA, you will still need an ESTA Visa. Nationals from non-participating VWP countries need regular B1/B2 visas along with a valid passport. The official website of US CBP has answers to all your ESTA or visa related queries.
Coming back to the trip again…
More fun and thrill await you in Phoenix. Enjoy a Segway tour / a zip line tour/ stand-up paddleboarding on the Salt River/ kayaking on Saguaro Lake/ or just rent a bike and explore the city on wheels. A 90 minutes Desert Belle Cruise is worth booking for a narrated cruise on Saguaro Lake. More information on Saguaro cruise here.
Art, Music Museum and More Trips in Phoenix
Visit Pueblo Grande Museum to get a glimpse of the Hohokam tribe, how they lived, how they made canals to survive in a harsh desert environment. Take a look at the pit houses, about natural cooling methods the Hohokam brains invented years ago. Phoenix also happens to have a culturally active diaspora. You would have ample scope to interact with music performers at live concerts. Musically inclined souls should visit the Musical Instrument Museum. MIM displays more than 6,800 musical instruments from all over the world including John Lennon’s piano here.
The Phoenix Art Museum is another must-visit for art aficionados. It is the biggest in the Southwestern US. The Heard Museum will tell you all about Native American art and history. You can buy souvenir or gifts from the museum’s gift shop. Botany enthusiasts must visit the Desert Botanical Garden to know about more than 4000 desert species of flora. The gardens are dotted with art installations.
Another wonderfully natural area is Papago Park. The park offers many trails. Visit Phoenix Zoo to see Sumatran tigers and orang-utans. Visit the official website for more details. Space lovers would love a visit to the Challenger Space Center. The Arizona Science Center is a wonderful place with numerous interactive exhibits. Arizona State Capitol Museum is another notable attraction. If you love music, we suggest The Phoenix Symphony. Theatre lovers can enjoy a performance by Arizona Theatre Company.
Visiting Phoenix would be incomplete without exploring its mouth-watering cuisine talent. Phoenix gives you a plethora of choices – whether you want a sophisticated dine or a casual one. Lauren Reichert has written an informative piece on the current restaurant scenario in Phoenix here.