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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts in ‘Nature & Wildlife’

Algarve Safari Tour

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Algarve Safari Tour

Taking a jeep or 4×4 buggy safari through the Algarve feels like you are bumping along some remote dusty North African desert region. That sensation is in the name too. Algarve is a translation from the Arabic meaning “the West.” The Algarve is at the southern tip of Portugal and you could be forgiven for thinking that you were not in Europe.

That exotic feeling is further accentuated by a sense of adventure as you jolt and jounce in your jeep across pebbly streams, through sandy, dusty and scrub dotted tracks. It doesn’t matter from where you start your Algarve Safari you have about 2,090 square miles of potential fun and excitement. It is also the best way to see this region and get you away from the beaches and the crowds.

There is one thing you learn very quickly as your open vehicle roars through the fabulous scenery – you shouldn’t have worn white! The dust thrown up your jeep and the others in the convoy will soon change it.

Going on an Algarve safari is an opportunity to see spectacular parts of the country you would not otherwise have seen or imagined. Adventure and thrills aside the safari will take you into the interior with its winding un-metalled roads; tiny white-washed villages that pop up out of nowhere; past orange and lemon orchards interspersed with stands of eucalyptus.

Another one of the attractive aspects of getting on an Algarve tour is the chance to have lunch in a traditional village or a local restaurant – a meal that includes the famous chicken piri-piri. If you are up to it you could try out a glass of medronho – the potent local “firewater.” You will see how the rural people of Portugal get along and glimpse their way of life.

There are several versions of an Algarve safari. Some will combine a boat trip along with the jeep ride. Others include a day surfing and swimming in the itinerary. There is a half day tour that starts in the evening. This one is best enjoyed if there it is a moonlit night.

There are plenty of photo opportunities along the way as the jeep drivers make regular stops when you can sip some refreshment and (possibly) give one’s bottom a break from all the bouncing. It is also a great time to bond with your fellow safari travellers.

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Top 5 Things To-Do in Finland

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     Hiding in the Northern part of Europe is the beautiful, Nordic country of Finland. Bordered by Sweden to the west, Norway to the North and Russia to the east, Finland has always lied beneath the shadows of its neighboring European countries. Known for it’s snowy climate, excellent education and peaceful economy, Finland is an ideal destination for relaxation and perfection. The following list is a countdown to the Top 5 things to do in Finland!

5. Husky Dog-Sled Safari
     If Cool Runnings is your favorite movie, then the Husky Dog-Sled Safari is for you! The tour begins with a heart warming meeting with you’re friendly husky team. Once acclimated with your crew, begin your journey through the majestic forests and magnificent mountains of Rovaniemi, Finland.

4. Find the North Pole
     Get as close to Santa as possible with a Reindeer Farm Visit and Sleigh Ride in Lapland. Santa might be hard to find at this time of the year, but his trust reindeer are there to lead the way. With a complimentary hot juice or coffee, this sleigh ride is a perfect activity for family and friends.

3. Rauna Wildlife Park
     If reindeer are not exotic enough for you, make sure you check out the Rauna Wildlife Park. Located in Rovaniemi, and is the northernmost zoo in the world, the park is filled with exotic and unique animals that you will not be able to find in the London Zoo!

2. Helsinki
     Opposite of Rovaniemi is the southern city of Helsinki. Filled with breathtaking artwork and the largest maritime fortress in the world, this city is filled with adventure and magic. The Helsinki card grants you access to all major sights and over 50 museums. This card is the best way to immerse yourself in the Finnish culture. 

1. Hunt for the Northern Lights
     You do not want to miss out on the chance to see the greatest light show on earth! Allow the moon to light up your path to the most radiant sky illumination in the world! The Northern Lights is a Finland staple and should not be missed! 

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White Salmon River, Washington

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White Salmon River

The very name conjures up shimmering, silvery bodies of fish flashing through the water on their way upstream to spawn. Green trees throng its sides and shrubs lean over the banks of the river as it picturesquely twists and turns it way down canyons. And that is exactly what you get with White Salmon River.

The river has a length of only 44 miles (71 kilometres) and runs on the southern border of the Pacific North-western US state of Washington. It has its source in the glaciers of Mount Adams and runs partly through the Adams Wilderness region.

White Salmon is a tributary of the Columbia River, emptying into it near the community of Underwood. In 1986, the strip between Gilmer Creek and Buck Creek was designated “Wild and Scenic” and in 2005, the upper stretch near Gifford Pinchot National Forest was designated the same.

The river is stunning and truly beautiful. Its white-tipped waters churned by rapids and fed by numerous springs and glacier melting has made it a favourite destination for white water rafters and kayakers. There are excellent boating opportunities in calmer waters of its lower reaches. The Native Americans, particularly those of the Yakama Nation, have lived off the bounty of the river for centuries.

Yet the reason for the river’s name was lost for 100 years. That was because of the Condit Dam. The 125 foot high dam was completed in 1913 and proved impassable to the salmon and steelhead fish. They were restricted to spawning in only three miles of the river.  The dam also affected the river’s natural cycle as mineral rich sediment was blocked from moving downstream.

Fortunately the dam has outlived its usefulness and in October 2011 was breached. In November 2012, the final concrete section of Condit Dam was removed and the river now runs free. In the short span of a year there is nothing to show that the dam ever existed.

What is even more amazing (and exciting) is that in the same time the salmon have returned and are spawning abundantly.

As a recreation and adventure holiday site, White Salmon River is easily accessible. It is only about 90 minutes from the Portland/Vancouver area. The river has plenty of Class III and IV rapids as it surges through thickly forested gorges.

Now that the dam has gone and the fish are back, you can add fishing to the attraction of the river. As if that were not enough, the White Salmon River area is forested, enjoys great weather and the water itself is clear. So hiking or rafting trips of one or two days is a great way to spend the holiday.
 

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Tour of Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre

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Two Young Orangutans

From Kota Kinabalu

Getting There

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is located in the Malaysian Sabah District of North Borneo. There are several ways you could get to the Centre. Public transport buses operate from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan, a journey of about 5 hours. Sandakan is the closest town to the Centre’s reception office and is about 23 kms. away.  You could also take a tour bus from Kota Kinabalu.

Once you arrive at Sandakan you could hire a taxi to the Centre. There is a taxi stand outside the Centre too. Minivans also operate with one leaving every hour. If you take the Kota Kinabalu/Sandakan bus you could hop off at Jalan Sepilok, which is a junction just two and a half kilometres from the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. From Sandakan the public transport bus bearing ‘Sepilok Batu 14’ sign will take you directly to the Centre. They start operating from 6 in the morning.

About Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre
First started by an Englishwoman, this first of its kind, rehabilitation centre opened in 1964.  It is located in a corner of the fabulously green and relatively virgin Sepilok Forest Reserve.  Occupying about 43 square kilometres it is the largest orang utan sanctuary in the world.

The objective of the Centre is to repatriate orphaned, injured, rescued, displaced (by logging or development projects) or previously captive orang utans into their natural habitat. They are taught the necessary skills needed to survive in the jungle via a mentoring system. This involves pairing the new/young arrivals with another older veteran of the system.  

The creatures are not kept in captivity in the Centre, rather they set free and encouraged to forage and fend for themselves. Though the Centre has feeding sessions every day at 10am and 3pm, the diet is kept deliberately monotonous. It is supposed to act only as a supplement, for these gentle red-haired apes, and promote their search for a more varied and self-acquired meal. This helps them to get used to living in the wild.

Physical (or any other) interaction between visitors and staff of the Centre is not encouraged or permitted. That is because the Centre does not want any attachments to develop, diseases transmitted. Also the orang utans are sometimes unpredictable.  Weighing in at an average 135/140 kgs., they are very strong and dangerous to tangle with.

Visitors to the centre can observe the orang utans at feeding times.  There is no guarantee that you will get to see many orang utans. Non-appearance of these attractive and appealing animals is a testament to the success of the rehabilitation process. When the trees are bearing fruit the chances are that they will not show up. Having said that, the Sepilok Centre, is a very popular tourist attraction because of the very regular sightings that occur.

There are plenty of other wild creatures to see. The Centre also cares and treats sun bears, gibbons and Sumatran rhinos. Noisy Macaques are aplenty including flying squirrels.

Visiting Hours:
Entrance Gate: 8am till 5pm – Daily
Ticket Counter: 9am to 11m & 2pm till 3:30pm

Orang Utan Feeding Times:  10am and 3pm. You should try and get to the feeding area about 15 to 20 minutes before.

Admission Fee:
Adults – RM30
Children below 18 years – RM15

Camera Fee: RM10
 

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Hiking in Vancouver

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Hiking in Lynn Valley

Vancouver has some of the best places to go hiking in Canada. This is mainly due to the availability of trails for all skill levels and interests – from seaside hiking to mountain hiking to urban wilderness hiking. Let's have a look at some of the interesting hiking places:

Stanley Park Seawall: The most famous place in Vancouver, Stanley Park is famous for its recreational facilities and its natural attributes. It attracts 8 million visitors a year – including locals and tourists. The Seawall stretches 8.8km and loops around Stanley Park, running along the park's northern, western and southern coastlines. The Seawall is fully-paved and is an ideal pathway for hikers of all skill levels. Its route is undoubtedly beautiful with views of the city, northern mountains, and Lion's Gate Bridge.

Lynn Canyon Park: The park has lots of free activities for all ages, including the suspension bridge, waterfalls, mini hikes, and a swimming hole – all connected by hiking trails. Its most famous feature is of course, the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge. The Suspension Bridge stretches 50 feet above the churning waters. The park also boasts of the popular Twin Falls, where a wooden bridge stretches over the river in view of the two gorgeous waterfalls. Another popular feature of the park, the 30 Foot Pool swimming holes is an ideal spot to keep cool in the summer months.

Burnaby Lake: A home to a large variety of wildlife – at least 70 species of birds making it their home – the lake occupies 3.11 square kilometres of land. The lake also has a 10km hiking path that loops around the entire park area.

Deer Lake: Located in the east of Vancouver is Deer Lake that offers nice scenery, a viewing tower, a beach area and pier. It is popular with locals walking dogs as well as for an afternoon stroll through the park. In the summer you can rent a boat, launch your own canoe or sailboat/rowboat on Deer Lake or enjoy sunbathing on the beach. There are also hundreds of rhododendrons blooming every spring.

Baden Powell Trail: Named after Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the world Scouting Movement, the trail is about 48 kilometres long and has lots of switches. It extends from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Deep Cove in North Vancouver. The hike takes you through an amazing range of vegetation – Oaks, Jeffery pines, Sugar Pines, Incense Cedar, White Fir and Limber Pines etc.

Iona Beach Regional Park: Located north of Vancouver International Airport, the park is made up of a long, narrow jetty of sand and grass along the mouth of the Fraser River. You will have a fairly unobstructed view of the Georgia Straight. Sea birds are visible throughout the area as well.

So there, you have our best hiking places in Vancouver. What about yours? Do share us your favourite hiking places.

Happy Hiking!

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The Giverny Gardens

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It is said that many of Monet’s works were created twice – the first time at his garden and the second on canvas. And the gardens are really an artistic creation with profusion of flowering plants and trees randomly placed. Yet the beauty lies in its seeming randomness. Monet disliked regimented gardens and scattered flowering plants and trees randomly allowing them to grow without restraint. Monet’s garden is divided into two sections:

The Clos Normand
This section has a central alley of iron archways with climbing plants including roses, coloured shrubs and nasturtiums that cover the ground under the arches. There are also two yew trees. There are numerous flower beds of hollyhocks, daisies, poppies and other more exotic flowering plants.

The Water Garden
This distinct portion was inspired by Monet’s fascination with prints of Japanese gardens.  Ten years after he moved in, Monet started the Water Garden. Through this section of the garden runs a stream with the famous blue Japanese bridge and other smaller ones over hung with wisterias, weeping willows, a bamboo grove, nympheas and azaleas.

Monet painted The Water Lilies, a series of twelve canvases and based several others on the blue Japanese bridge. Monet’s house with its famous pink crushed brick deserves an honourable mention. The restored house is a faithful recreation.  None of Monet’s original paintings are in the house.

The house and gardens are open daily: From April 1st to November 1st, 2012
From 9.30 AM to 6.00 PM
Fees: Adults €9.50.  Children over 7 and students: €6.50

Tips:  Go early as crowds wanting to get in can be large. Take the guided tour and you will get the best out of your visit. 

About Giverny
The little village of Giverny is about 80 kms to the West of Paris and in the valley of the Seine. It falls in the Haute-Normandie region of France. The village has remained a small one though it gets a massive influx of tourists every day.

Besides the attraction of the Monet’s house and gardens, the village also boasts a Mechanical Museum dedicated to restoring old engines and machinery. Then there is the Museum of Impressionism Giverny dedicated to the history of impressionism. The village and surrounding countryside are lovely and begging to be explored.

About Claude Monet and his Giverny Connection
Claude Oscar Monet was born in Paris on 14th November, 1840. He travelled widely and painted many locations. He first saw Giverny from a train window. He moved to Giverny and rented a house in 1883, later buying it and an adjoining piece of land in 1890. He was totally captivated by the place. He would live there, creating some of his greatest works, many featuring his gardens.

Monet died on 5th December, 1926 and is buried in Giverny’s cemetery.

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Things to do in Jamaica: Music and Good Vibes.

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Jamaica
Jamaica is known as the home of reggae, Bob Marley and jerk chicken. But there is more to Jamaica that meets the eye. The Jamaica Ocho Rios Jazz Festival celebrates music at its finest and is a definite can’t-miss for music lovers. It occurs during June, giving you a taste of summer in the Caribbean. Quick tip: bring a lot of sunscreen and mosquito repellent!

If you really want to cool down, you can always kayak in the White River Valley! This will give you a nice dunking in fresh water, a thrilling ride through rapids, and you will even get to see a riverside dwelling reminiscent of early inhabitants of Jamaica!  If river kayaking is not your thing, you can try the White River Valley Tubing – a more relaxing way to experience this river. It’s slower paced, giving you more time to appreciate the beauty of Jamaica and take pictures. Another great way to cool down is to take a Jeep Safari to Dunns River Falls. You will get to see a bit of Jamaica as the zebra-striped jeep takes you to some breathtaking sights. And, finally, the famous Dunns River Falls, where you can climb the 600-foot cascades!

Ocho Rios, despite its name, is not all about rivers. If you’re in the mood for something a little less conventional, you can always try Jamaican Dog Sledding. Yes, I know, dog sledding is usually done over snow and Jamaica never has snow. But why should that stop you? You will learn about the adventurous individual who decided to start the whole movement, meet the dogs, and harness them in preparation of your own ride! This is a great and rather unusual way to see Jamaica, and something to brag about to your friends.

If you cannot make it in June for the Jazz festival, or if Jazz just doesn’t tickle you the right way, you can always come down for the Reggae Sumfest in July. Eat some great food and soak in some of those ‘irie vibes’ as you listen to the music. To authenticate the experience even more, you can take the Bob Marley tour. Get the full history of the creator of Reggae and all the places he visited, lived, and is buried.

If you’re all ‘reggae-d out’ by the end of the Sumfest, there are many other things you can do in Montego Bay, like, let’s say, a zip-lining tour. This thrilling tour takes place in the canopy of Jamaica’s forests and will give you a fantastic bird’s eye’s view of the Jamaican rainforest- literally! And if you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, you can always try the ATV Safari in Sandy Bay. Sandy Bay is known as one of the most idyllic parts of this small island and you will get to experience and see some of Jamaica’s rich history while zooming along.

Jamaica is full of rich culture, fantastic music, beautiful sights and friendly people, and is a must-visit for everyone who wants a Caribbean holiday. Yeah mon!

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Come to Cape Town

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Cape Town is arguably Africa’s most popular tourist destination, for good reason. Cape Town provides the best of both worlds, by combining the convenience of city living coupled with magnificent views of nature. Here are some activities that you must put on your Cape Town itinerary:
shark
1. Shark Cage Dive
Come face-to-face with one of the world’s most notorious predators, the Great White Shark, on a Shark Cage Diving Tour. If you prefer to keep some distance between you and the sharks, enjoy the experience via boat. You’ll see a variety of sea life from penguins to seals.

2. Whale-Watching
If you don’t like sharks, why not try a more-friendly Whale Watching Tour? The tour will take you to the seaside town of Hermanus, a world-famous whale watching destination. There’s no need to bring your binoculars, as the whales come to within twenty metres of the shore!
penguins
3. Cape Peninsula Tour
Explore the natural beauty of Cape Town and its surrounding area, on this comprehensive tour. See rare and endangered flora at Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and the adorable penguin colonies at Boulders Beach.

4. Cape Town Township Tour
Get to know Cape Town through the eyes of a local on this informative cultural tour. You will visit a range of areas from the oldest township of Langa to the colourful streets of Bo Kaap. Try some local delicacies, learn about the impact of apartheid and see the work of traditional craftsmen.

5.
Cape Town Winelands Tour
What could be better than sampling delicious wines surrounded by spectacular scenery? You will visit some of the best wine estates in Cape Town and partake in expert-led tasting sessions. Plus there are many opportunities to explore the towns and estates.

And if you fancy a Shark Dive in Cape Town, vote for it in the isango! Travel experience poll and you’ll be entered to win a brand new iPad and other amazing weekly giveaways.

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Top 5 Asian Beach Tours of 2012

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How about a quick get-away this Easter holidays by hitting the beaches? And enough of the Spain sun this or Spain that; or other European destinations for that matter. Why not hit the wild Asian beaches for a change? Below are the top 5 Asian Beach Tours we have selected for you this summer 2012:

Gili Trawangan; Credit: Jeda Villa Bali

  1. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia: One of the three Gili Islands, Gili Trawangan is situated in northern Lombok. The place has become easier to reach thanks to speedboats that cover the journey from Bali in 90 minutes. Here, you can go snorkelling in its sparkling clear waters or soak up the sun.  It also provides excellent opportunities for underwater photography.
  2. Koh Larn and Pattaya, Thailand :  Located in the gulf of Thailand, Koh Larn has a warm, inviting sea with silver-sand beaches. And at the beautiful seaside resort of Pattaya, you can explore the colourful coral reefs, go snorkelling, scuba diving, windsurfing, skiing and para-sailing.
  3. Goa Beach, India: Another awesome beach escapade, Goa Beach in India is famous for its sun-kissed beaches and exotic sea food. Lay back and enjoy the calm and beauty of the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, whilst sipping coconut water.
  4. Phang Nga Bay and Lawa Island Cruise, Thailand: Also known as James Bond Island for being featured in the James Bond Film, ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, Phang Nga Bay is bounded by Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi provinces of Thailand, and covers more than 100 islands. You can enjoy swimming and snorkelling, or/and sunbathing at the beautiful Lawa Island.
  5. Pa-La-U Waterfalls, Thailand: A 15-level waterfall along a creek stretching out to the Burmese border, the Pa-La-U waterfalls is the ideal destination for a perfect family get-away. The waterfall is surrounded by a forest of over a thousand years old and is filled with rare wild animals as well.

So, what are you waiting for? Book your tickets now and explore the wild Asian Beaches this Easter!

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Iceland: A Place of Earthly and Celestial Colour

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Northern Lights
The Northern Lights, more formally known as the Aurora Borealis, captivate the minds and spirits of all who witness them. It is impossible not to be moved by the flowing colours that move through the celestial heavens in a dance as ageless as the sky itself. In ancient Rome, Aurora was the goddess of the dawn and in Ancient Greece, Boreas is the god of the north wind. Thus, in 1621, the current of colour in the night sky was officially deemed the Aurora Borealis. In days long past, those who gazed at the lights believed that the neon colours were the souls of unborn children or the torches of ancestors long since past. Scientists as well as stargazers have been captivated by this strange aberration in the atmosphere. Today we know that the hypnotic hues of the lights are created by energetic charged particles colliding with atoms in the high atmosphere. Of course, when looking at the Northern Lights, it is just as easy to believe that it is a river of celestial spirits on their journey through the sky.

Now, as we enter into the darkest time of the year, the Northern Lights are displayed in the peak of their glory. The divine light show that dances across the evening sky is best seen between the months of November and February. One of the best locations from which to see this incredible phenomenon is in Iceland. What many do not realize is that this wild and stunning country is just as colourful and vibrant as the glowing colours that dance above its horizon.

MountainsThough the name distinctly brings to mind frigid days and desolate, icy landscapes, Iceland is, in all honesty, one of the most beautiful and untouched places on earth. This is a land where fire and ice coexist in a surreal setting of vast emerald valleys, black sand beaches, volcanoes and massive glaciers. Though ‘ice’ figures in the country’s name, ice only covers 10% of the country’s land mass. Having said that, the ice that there is comprises the largest glaciers left in Europe. Iceland is located in the middle of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, thus making it a very active volcanic area. The most famous of these looming beauties is Mount Hekla, which reigns over the nearby Landmannalaugar area. This area is rich in jade stretches of land and golden mountains streaked with ashen stripes and swathed in ghostly clouds. When snow falls upon these sleeping giants, a beauty unlike any other overtakes the land and stirs the soul with a sense of magic.

Blue Lagoon
Iceland is also particularly famous for its incredible hot turquoise waters that form the Blue Lagoon. Here guests can relax and rejuvenate in what some believe to be the most restorative waters in the world. The Blue Lagoon is a natural spa with a man-made spa right next to it. You can hop from the naturally heated aquamarine lagoon into a luxurious steam bath or sauna at the spa. Visitors can also get intoxicatingly good massages while still enjoying the view of the lagoon (if they can manage to keep their eyes open). I personally think that the Blue Lagoon looks as if the Northern Lights had melted out of the sky into a massive, beautiful and deliciously warm puddle. Those who have soaked in the Blue Lagoon before will tend to agree with me.

Near Reykjavik, Iceland’s capitol, lies what is known as the Golden Circle, the best route to take in order to see some of the most exquisite earthly sites in Iceland. Trips around the Golden Circle involve seeing such things as the Gulfoss (meaning ‘golden falls’) Waterfall, Geysir Hot Spring and Þingvellir National Park. None of these are to be missed while travelling through Iceland.
golden-circle

So, if you head to Iceland to gaze at the hypnotic celestial lights of the Aurora Borealis, you are sure to find other exquisite, more earthly delights as well.

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