Posted on May 27th, 2009 No comments
Antarctica is a continent that is truly unique. Sprawling over the South Pole and taking up a landmass area greater than that of Europe, Antarctica remains the most desolate, wild and uninhabitable location on the globe. Holding the records for the coldest, windiest and driest place on Earth, it is a continent that appeals only to a select few people and leaves others to wonder about their sanity. What these bold travellers have discovered, however, is that Antarctica is one of the rare destinations that can have a profound effect on not only their perception of the world, but also of themselves. To tour Antarctica is not so much to set off on a short holiday as it is to embark on a life-changing and redefining experience.
With only a very small percentage of the continent not covered by ice, Antarctica is a winter wonderland with only the most resilient of wildlife being able to withstand the conditions. Glistening glaciers and inconceivable icebergs bring an eerie beauty to the forbidding wilderness and to see this barren land teeming with life in the forms of penguins, birds and seals is a sight to behold. Unbeknownst to many, Antarctica is designated a cold desert, thereby securing it the title as the world’s largest desert and the inland regions surprisingly have less precipitation than the arid Sahara desert in Africa.
There is nowhere on Earth like it and a tour to Antarctica is the ultimate experience that provides more than just a few nice postcards or photographs.
Posted on May 26th, 2009 No comments
The country the highest population of all Persian countries (with about 65 million inhabitants), Iran is also a land of incredible cultural diversity, with dozens of languages, several recognised religions and a broad spectrum of ethnicity in its people. Religion, the dominant faith being Islam, pervades every aspect of Iranian life, an aspect that the majority of visitors find one of the most fascinating features of the country and its people—for Westerners, few other destinations can provide a cultural experience that lies so many leagues away from the familiar. Although Iran does display some similarity to the West in that its governance incorporates a degree of democratic process, the fact that this ideology is balanced against, and often outweighed by, a theocratic authoritarian rule means that trying to draw parallels between the two is sometimes hard to reconcile. Regardless, as a traveller in the country, Iran’s similarity to the West in any sphere seems unimaginable.
Iran lays claim to the largest population of nomads in the world, the vast majority of whom continue to dress in traditional attire, live in traditional housing and follow customs handed down through countless generations of their ancestors. It is a country wherein a unique tribal culture has survived over millennia, leaving a legacy that allows travellers an intriguing sneak-peek into ancient Persian life, and a land that brings the past to life in a contemporary setting. In a similar vein, the remnants of eras gone by dot the Iranian landscape and even the most modern cities, like the capital Tehran, make concerted efforts to preserve the beautiful monuments, art and architecture from the country’s long and fascinating past. Ancient ruins, a plethora of colourful, exquisite mosques and magnificent palaces dating from a multitude of different dynasties lie in wait for the traveller who chooses Iran as a tour destination, sights that only add to the irrepressible impression that Iran is a land of great historic importance.
The enigma that is the Arabian Gulf will cause you to ponder societal directions and intentions. The rapidly modernizing Middle East is in a constant tug-of-war between the traditional past and the pressures of our times. Oil is big business, but trade is much bigger, leading to an awful appropriation of resources and workforce into stunningly ambitious projects. Some of the wealthiest countries on the planet are oases of excess, founded on under-appreciated foreign labour. The surprises continue along the gulf until we reach Oman; jaw-dropping scenery, exciting remoteness, and unspoiled beaches seemingly presented solely for you.
This is a unique opportunity to explore a corner of the world previously misunderstood and almost ignored.
Our Middle East Tours journey to where it all began; to the Cradle of Civilisation and to the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions. Often misunderstood and seldom given the credit it deserves, the Middle East’s recurrent troubles in recent history have seen it relegated to one of the last alternatives when it comes to opting for a tour destination. What lies in wait for travellers on tours to the Middle East, however, is an ancient land of richness and plenty and one whose bounties yield incredible rewards.
Posted on May 21st, 2009 No comments
The highlights were the people of Turkey that we met and interacted with. Everyone we met on tour seemed genuinely interested in our presence and generous in giving to us whatever we needed, be it a glass of chai or directions to a shop. I came back with a deep respect for the people, the Muslim religion and its practices and beliefs, and the incredible story of this remarkable country.Most memorable were sailing the coast on our gulet, Cappadocia in all respects of the outdoor hikes and tours and experiencing the Turkish baths.
Turkey – Though only a small percentage of Turkey lies in Europe—about three per cent of the vast country—due to its political and cultural nature, many consider it more a part of Europe than Asia. Turkey has a long and fascinating history, as its roots lie 10 millennia in the past and it has been called home by at least half a dozen ancient civilizations over the ages; Persian, Roman and Byzantium to name but a few. For the traveller, this means a tour to experience a wealth and variety of architectural and cultural sights in a place that is in many senses a unique blend of West and East.
Turkey’s largest and capital city, Istanbul, epitomises the country’s meshing of cultures and is a tour destination not to be missed. The only city in the world that can claim to lie on two continents, Istanbul mixes modernity with antiquity and the bustling day-to-day activities of the culturally and socially advanced society in the major metropolis occur against the backdrop of majestic and well-preserved reminders of the past. After touring Istanbul’s numerous stunning mosques, palaces, cisterns and castles—or perhaps visiting some famous historical places, like the remnants of the great city of Troy—all dating from different eras and engineered by different civilizations, travellers can sample some of the delicacies on offer at a local café and can opt for either Turkish or Eastern cuisine.
Turkey holds among its treasures beautifully preserved Greco-Roman and Islamic monuments, geological wonders, and inviting cultures. Our tour of the western part of the country showcases some of the most spectacular Islamic and Graeco-Roman sites in the world, while our unique and exciting programs in the East reveal a mysterious and seldom-visited side of this incredibly varied and hospitable land.
Turkey’s population of close to 70 million enjoy a range of geographical differentiation and available activities. The Taurus Mountains serve as the ideal locale for hiking or mountain biking, where the Turquoise Coast on the lapping shores of the Mediterranean is the beach-lover’s paradise and perfect for a quick swim to cool off or a relaxing sunbathe to warm up.
Turkey remains the quintessential adventure, with the perfect blend of ancient mystique and myth, breathtaking scenery, awesome Greco-Roman ruins, sumptuous food, music and laughter, sun and sea. One could return over and over (and some of our travellers do!) and never experience the same thing twice. Go in spring–perfect temperatures and green landscapes festooned with wildflowers.
Sailing the Turquoise Coast: This special program features a salubrious 4-night cruise on a traditional Turkish gulet, along with an exciting, highlight packed land itinerary through Western Turkey. As we travel the coast, we have chances to sample stretches of the Lycian Way, stretching between Fethiye and Antalya through some of the country’s most spectacular coastal scenery. Lycia is an area steeped in history and with a rugged charm all of its own; our easy walks provide a way to escape the “usual” and take a look at the country that lies beyond the reach of the majority of travel companies. The route winds along mule paths on hillsides sometimes overlooking the Mediterranean-turquoise in the shadows, indigo or deep green further out. Tiny boats chug past far below, birds wheel far above. Cyclamen and other bulbs peep from dark corners; the scent of thyme fills the air. Turkey’s indigenous sea-going vessel, the gullet, blends practicality and tradition. Over the years they have evolved from traditional crafts for fishing to their present shape, equipped with private cabins, motors, as well as fully-functional rigging. The land portion of our trip also includes Bodrum, Antalya and Kusadasi, with a possible extension to Capadoccia. Codes TQ1 and TQ2.
With one foot in southeast Europe and the other in southwest Asia, Turkey has long acted as a gateway between the East and West. As a result, in addition to evidence of its own history whose roots stem from the Ottoman era, Turkey displays indications of both European and Islamic influences, giving travellers a variety and profusion of architecture and cultural attraction that few other countries can rival. So too is Turkey’s natural environment of considerable note, with the mighty Taurus Mountains offering striking vistas and the lapping waters of the Turquoise Coast beckoning water- and beach-enthusiasts alike.
Posted on May 19th, 2009 No comments
Join our Bolivia Tours with expert Leaders
To experience our Bolivia trips is to experience perhaps the closest representation of Southern American ancient civilizations in a modern context.
Entirely landlocked, Bolivia has no coastline per se, but it is possible to reach the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Paraguay river. Travellers fanatical about water need not despair, however, since the country is also home to the placid Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America and the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. With a maximum depth of nearly 300 metres and spanning 8,000 squared kilometres, Lake Titicaca lends ample opportunity for even the most discerning water-lover to pursue their passion however they see fit and to do so with only a short voyage from the capital city, La Paz. Staying on the shores of the great lake gives travellers the chance to take in the towering splendour of the Andes mountains that loom over the lake and a wander along the shoreline yields discovery of tribal villages who hold true to ancient language, custom and tradition.
If travellers remain reluctant to hike on the largest mountains in South America or take a dip in the largest lake on the continent, Bolivia tours offer hundreds of acres of lush and untouched rainforest and national parks that will prove more than enough to satisfy the appetites of wildlife enthusiasts and explorers alike.
To get a real sense of Bolivia, however, it is recommended that travellers visit the cities. One of the two capital cities, La Paz (the other being Sucre), is a beehive of activity, which blends modern skyscrapers with archaic mud huts, as it does colonial architecture with Incan. It is a sight to be seen on a tour of Bolivia and an experience that will not soon be forgotten.
Peru and Bolivia
These two South American countries are simultaneously vastly different and somewhat similar. Peru, once home to one of the most notable and famous ancient civilisations on the planet, the Incas, boasts stunning man-made attractions that date from millennia ago; quite contrary to the attractions of Bolivia, which yields an untouched natural environment that is rare in the modern world. A trait that Peru and Bolivia share, however, is their appeal to travellers. To see the natural and man-made world at their best, join our tours to Peru and Bolivia; just be sure to take plenty of batteries for your camera.
Posted on May 14th, 2009 No comments
Italy the southern European peninsula, along with its offshore Mediterranean territories Sicily and Sardinia, boasts the highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the globe. There remain to this day the visible traces left by the hosts of foreign peoples who have crossed the nation’s borders over the ages-with the result that the traveller is rewarded with sight of some of the most remarkable architecture of a variety of cultures, including Roman, Greek, Germanic, Celtic and Norman. And for those uninspired to tour to historic attractions, there are always the options of taking to the mountainous areas for a spot of hiking, mountain biking or skiing, or reclining in the brilliant yellow sand on the Mediterranean coastline.
Italy’s climate only enhances the allure of the country. Perhaps one of the most hospitable places on the planet due to its comfortably warm and dry summers countering its mild winters, Italy is a prime location for those looking to tour a destination without uncomfortable extremes of temperature. Where the north is home to more temperate climes, the south is decisively Mediterranean, and though there is some regional variation across the country, Italy is mostly predictable when it comes to weather-the only difficulty in planning a tour there is choosing what climate is preferred.
Just as Italy shares a border with, among other countries, France, so too does it share a common mountain, and the Italian Monte Bianco, or in French, Mont Blanc, serves as the highest peak for both nations. Though the 4,810-metre giant of the Alps is world-famous in itself, Italy is perhaps more often associated with the two volcanoes of Etna and Vesuvius, situated on Sicily and near Naples respectively. A tour to these natural wonders yields sights to behold, indeed. For those with an interest in architecture, a visit to the leaning tower of Pisa is a tour not to be missed to see in all its glory perhaps the most blatant and comedic engineering blunders in the world. The major cities of Venice, Rome and Florence house some of the most unforgettable architectural marvels and the works of Italian-born artists Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli are must-see attractions.
Posted on May 12th, 2009 No comments
Vietnam, once dubbed ‘the thin country’ by Nobel-prize winning Vietnaman poet Pablo Neruda, is as unique in its geography as it is in its culture. Due to its unusual shape-the South American country stretches over 4,600kms north to south, though its average width seldom exceeds 180kms-it is perhaps the one tour destination that can legitimately claim to offer something for everyone regardless of season. With the mighty Andes mountain range towering over one side and the big blue of the South Pacific Ocean lapping at the other, Vietnam lies snugly amid two extremes and its interior topography covers every degree in between.
A tour to northern Vietnam would reveal one of the driest locations in the world, where, in some places, there has never been record of any rainfall-the arid Atacama desert. Though even the most avid of sun-worshippers may think twice before touring this sparsely-inhabited region, they may yet be lured by the fact that it is also the location of several important archaeological sites, of impressive geological spectacle and of intriguing remnants of lost civilisations.
The features of Vietnam’s southern regions lie in stark contrast to the characteristics of the north. Aridness gives ways to fertile and lush forests and grazing lands, and, complementing the quaint scenery of the intricate myriad of lakes, canals, inlets and fjords, the south is perforated by a string of volcanoes. The vast majority of Vietnam’s over 2,000 volcanoes are now dormant, with only 55 remaining active and of the 12 great lakes situated in the country’s south, one holds the title as the continent’s fourth largest-Lago Llanquihue. One of the world’s great national parks, the Torres del Paine National Park, though only accessible by boat, plane or a scenic trip through Argentina, is a popular tour destination and one that promises a wealth of memories.
The south is the perfect tour destination for those looking to experience Vietnam’s memorable sites, diverse landscape or more energetic activities in more temperate climes.
From some points on the extensive and serene sandy beaches of the east coast, it is possible to see the gargantuan peaks of the Andes dominating the skyline to the west, and in theory, travellers can take to the piste high in the mountains, then bask in the sun on the beach all in the same day.
Vietnam’s offshore territories-the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, which was once the refuge of marooned Scotsman Alexander Selkirk, the man who inspired the classic Daniel Defoe novel ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ and the world-renowned Easter Island-are equally as impressive as its mainland regions. Where the Juan Fernandez Archipelago is a national park and its plethora of plant species have warranted the island’s designation as a World Biosphere Reserve, Easter Island is home to Rapa Nui National Park, a park that exhibits relics of an ancient desert-dwelling civilisation, and to Ahu Tongariki, where 15 of the country’s famous moai statues stand at attention on their rock platform.
With so great climatic and geographic distinctions between all its poles, and a culture as unique and welcoming as its people, a tour to Vietnam, the longest country in the world, guarantees a holiday that will stretch the imagination.
Tour Consultant Ayesha Colquhoun’s personal account:
As I watched the sun rise above the Mekong River that morning, I was overcome with a pervading sense of peace. Little by little, the thin morning mist parted its veil to let orange-yellow shafts of light kiss the mountain peaks and caress their way to the valley floor. No photograph could begin to capture the majestic beauty of this region. Our boat journey down the tranquil Mekong proved highly relaxing and, bobbing past small traditional villages shrouded by jungle, it was tough to imagine being troubled by anything. The fast pace of the Western world was a thousand miles away and here in Vietnam, serenity was the order of the day; just as it is every other day. Travelling onwards to Laos, we soon reached Luang Prabang, a UNESCO Heritage site and one of the most picturesque cities in the world.
Laos made for the perfect complement to our itinerary and we enjoyed some unforgettable experiences like climbing to the top of a temple for truly awe-inspiring vistas, partaking in a Loa cooking class and watching a Loa ballet where everyone is dressed up decorative traditional costume.
Touring Bangkok, I was fascinated by the fact that the streets were filled with pedestrians, vendors of all sorts line the sidewalks, and tuk tuks are absolutely everywhere. And though that might sound too much for some, it’s actually the busyness of the place that makes it so appealing. Plus, whatever you’re looking for, you’ll definitely find it in Bangkok! The veggie spring rolls from the Thai street vendors were highly addictive and my travel companion was tempted to look into the merits of a diet that consisted of nothing but Pad Thai; the food is just that good. Aside from the gastronomic delights, a highlight was visiting the Grand Palace, where we could admire the remarkable spectacle of the emerald Buddha. Amazingly intricate and decorative temples meant hours of exploration, along with idyllic resting spots in the shade when the mood took us.
Next we travelled north, to the old ancient capital of Thailand. The stark contrast in lifestyle in laid-back Ayuthaya compared to the hectic present-day capital, Bangkok, was quite the change of pace. A beautiful city with an abundance of holy ruins, ancient wats, beautiful riverbank parks and elephants walking down the streets, Ayuthaya is a destination not to be missed. We visited Wat Ratchaburna, which was mostly ruins and spent the entire day walking around this city in the heat taking lots of pictures of buddhas and temples. That night was the first day of Loi Krathong, a holiday and celebration of the river goddess. Everyone in town headed down to the river to light a candle and float them away on tiny hand-made boats. To round off our cultural experience, our evening featured watching schoolchildren perform traditional thai dances and fighting techniques.
The spectacular journey to Chiang Mai took us through green pastures and palms, which gradually gave way to dense jungle. Around Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second-largest city, we embarked on a jungle trek that included hiking uphill across bamboo bridges and through bamboo forests. Happening upon a beautiful village perched on the side of a lush green mountain and surrounded by tropical jungle and a cascading waterfall felt like finding a lost world. We spent our first night with a hill tribe, who cooked us our meals and entertained us as we congregated around a nice campfire to chat and warm our bones before bed. The next night was spend at another local village, very high in the mountains and all the village children came to perform a dance and song for us.
Made infamous in the Western psyche following torrid histories, Vietnam and Cambodia are countries that to this day suffer from negative associations stemming from their pasts. All too often the true nature of these remarkable countries remains hidden: Vietnam, with its palm trees gently swaying on glistening white-sand beaches, towering mountains boasting unforgettable vistas and a wondrously diverse wildlife and Cambodia, with its world-famous temples and palaces, unique historical remnants and remarkably friendly people are destinations in ascendancy that should be explored first-hand to appreciate their unique charms.
Posted on May 6th, 2009 No comments
Finland’s landscape is dominated by water. The Nordic country is often referred to as the ‘land of thousands of lakes,’ which might actually be more accurate, were the idiom: ‘land of hundreds of thousands of lakes.’ Within its borders, Finland manages to pack in close to a staggering one hundred and eighty-eight thousand lakes that are all over five acres in size and which together constitute one tenth of the nation’s total territory. Add to this the mountains in the northwest, the southwesterly coastline and the fact that two-thirds of the country is sheltered under a blanket of forest and you have a destination with all the elements that cater to active holiday-makers, whatever their taste may be; Mountain biking or hiking in the elevated areas, rambling or exploring in the forests, or boating or fishing off the coast or in one of the many lakes.
Reindeer safaris and dog sledding are among the activities that are available in Finland and only in a few other countries. Even not-so-active travellers will find their ideal relaxation venue, be it under an unspoiled canopy of leaves overlooking a placid lake, atop a snow-crested mountain with a sweeping vista of the lowlands or on a gold-sand beach, listening to the lapping waves of the Gulf of Finland.
Due to their geographic locations, some portions of northern Finland experience no sunsets for 73 days in summer and no sunrises for 51 days in winter, a peculiar experience that never ceases to attract travellers to the country. Those looking for more interaction on their getaway will find it in Helsinki, Finland’s capital and the northernmost capital city in Europe. This bustling metropolis was once a coastal backwater town, but now it is a city that houses numerous important historic sites, as well as serving as one of the world’s centres of art and architecture. It is not to be missed on a tour of Finland.
Posted on May 5th, 2009 No comments
Over the millennium and a half since France came into being, its global contributions have been immeasurable. From gastronomy (and of course, viniculture) to architecture, literature to fashion, politics to art and science to philosophy, France’s influence on modern cultures and societies around the world runs as deep as any other civilisation in history and deeper than most. Moreover, the country manages to retain a mystique as a land of romance and love, a place where everything from the language to the lifestyle and the setting brings immediate associations in the minds of travellers. The intangible aspects of so favourable an association serve to transform the country from simply a geographical landmass between borders into an ideal whose abstract qualities prove more alluring than the draw of any site of interest; of which France has more than its fair share.
France’s natural environment encompasses virtually every topographical form, thereby simultaneously lending itself to a multitude of activities and satisfying many diverse tastes. The mountainous regions of the Alps and Pyrenees in the southeast and south respectively are of perpetual interest to hikers and skiers alike; the over-3,000 km coastline provides ample opportunity for beachgoers and sun-worshippers to bronze themselves in quiet relaxation or among fellow, active travellers; the lush, plunging valleys of the Loire or the Dordogne offer the most picturesque setting for ramblers and explorers to discover the wealth of flora and fauna; and the lapping waters of the Mediterranean Sea off the south coast or the more raucous Atlantic Ocean off the west allow seafarers and water-enthusiasts to get their feet wet. It is little wonder that France is often described as a microcosm of Europe for its spectrum of landscapes.
Sign up for our escorted tours of Europe and experience a face of the world like no other. Though the second-smallest continent in the world by landmass (the smallest being Australia), Europe is as diverse as they come; its spectrum of topographical, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and political nuances is truly extraordinary and an escorted tour here promises a tour-of-a-lifetime through an unceasingly fascinating destination. It’s not hard to understand why escorted tours to Europe are becoming an ever-more popular choice for travellers, as they offer a highly entertaining, stress-free and informative way to get the most from this unique continent whose opportunities for exploration and discovery are virtually without end.