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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 ‘Sightseeing & Culture’

By Land, Sea and Air: The Best Things to do in Cairns, Australia

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CairnsCairns, Australia is a magnificent fusion of sea, land and air. Its close proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and the rainforest make it a fantastic destination for travellers from all over the world. There are plenty of things to do and after travelling to Cairns and being swept off my feet by its beauty, I’ve realised that the best way to get the most out of your trip to Cairns is by designating time for activities on land, in water and in the air.

Land

Cairns is nearby some of the most majestic rainforests in the world. Daintree Rainforest is the world’s oldest surviving rainforest and the largest continuous stretch of rainforest in Australia. Having said that, it only takes up about 0.1% of Australia’s land mass, yet is home to 30% of the country’s frog, reptile and marsupial population. Daintree is part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site, in particular because some of the oldest species of plants grow here including 7 families of ancient fern. Daintree is also unique in that its dense tropic forest ends on the very edge of white sandy beaches leading to crystalline sea water. If you are interested in exploring this exotic and ancient rainforest, we offer a Cape Tribulation & Daintree Rainforest Tour From Cairns that takes visitors on a life changing trip through the primordial forest.

For those animal lovers out there, a trip to Cairns offers several opportunities to come into close contact with some of the strangest creatures in the world. The Cairns Zoo presents the unique opportunity to explore the zoo at night and meet its nocturnal residents. Late-night visitors are treated to a true Aussie barbeque and then led by torch through the dark zoo. It’s a spooky adventure that I would do again in a heartbeat. I even got to pet a koala, which made my night.

Petting a Koala

For those who want to see animals in the daylight, there are plenty of ways to do that too. The Rainforestation Nature Park is an excellent option because it combines exploration of the rainforest with Australia’s largest Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary. Rainforestation is part of a 100 acre World Heritage Park and offers visitors truly unique activities such as riding an army duck through murky rivers under the canopy of one of the most beautiful rainforests in the world. While I was there I held a koala, threw a boomerang (I ran away instead of trying to catch it when it came hurtling back at me) and tried my best to play the didgeridoo.

If you happen to have an unappeasable desire to see some crocodiles up close and personal, then head over to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure. At Hartley’s, you get the opportunity to see the terrifying head shake and death roll of some of the largest crocodiles you’ll ever see. You also get the chance to hold a crocodile (I opted to take a picture kissing the nose of a baby croc…of course, his mouth was rubber banded shut so it wasn’t the scary ordeal that it sounds like it could be.) You can also go to the Snake Show and discover some of the most deadly snakes in the world, including the Australian Brown Snake, one of which slithered by my foot while hiking in the outback on a separate trip to Australia. I highly recommend seeing one at the Snake Show instead… Crocodile

Sea

Underwater World
Of course, what Cairns is best known for is its location right on the Great Barrier Reef. Visitors from all over the world come to swim with the thousands of tropical fish, explore the islands just off the coast from Cairns and cultivate their tan in the hot Australian sun. The number one thing to do, at least in my opinion, is to explore the aquamarine depths of the reef. It is an entirely foreign aquatic world down there, just waiting to be explored. There are plenty of ways to get to the reef, one of which is by a Quicksilver Catamaran which boasts an impressive Underwater Observatory and acts a platform from which you can go snorkelling. The observatory is perfect for those wanting to see all of the brightly-coloured fish without getting wet (some of my friends staying on the boat and actually watched us swim up to the window of the observatory).

For those wanting to dive a bit deeper into the good ol’ ocean blue, diving expeditions are the ways to go. Whether you are diving at night, diving with sharks or just plain old diving, the experience is sure to be one you will never forget. Inky blue water below, turquoise water above and thousands of fish all around comprise the traditional dive. If you want to stay out on the water for longer than an afternoon, 3 and 4-day Diving and Marine Life Cruises are available. They are essentially aquatic hotels that allow you to get the most out what is sure to be a surreal diving experience. Boat

If you are simply looking for a romantic and relaxed time on the water, Cairns is the perfect place to be. There are a number of Evening Dinner Cruises that are perfect for a dreamy night with your beloved. Gaze at the mangroves that line the water as you sip on champagne, let the delicious food and gentle rocking of the boat lull you into contentment and gaze at the stars in the arms of your sweetie on the deck. It certainly will be a delightful evening not soon forgotten.

Of course, not all of the things to do in Cairns are stress-free. Thrill seekers can get their adrenaline pumping on a Tully River Rafting Excursion. The tour takes you on an incredibly fun white water rafting excursion through the rainforest. It’s led by expert guides and concludes with a delicious meal cooked on the ‘barbie’.

Air

Who doesn’t dream about flying every once in awhile? To be honest, I can’t imagine a prettier place to fly over than the emerald jungles and hypnotic turquoise waters of Cairns.

Plane

Now, there are two main ways of seeing Cairns from above. The first is with a Scenic Flight that takes you from the wild rainforests to the white cays and aquamarine ocean. The flight will take you over the Great Dividing Range in the rainforest near Cairns. You may feel like you are flying through a scene from Jurassic Park (I know I did). The rainforests really do look as ancient as they are. From the sky above the rainforest, you will travel to the coast. It is a surreal experience, looking out at the reef from your plane and seeing the shimmering colours of the coral refracted by the water above them. For those who, after seeing the water, need to be in the water, there are also flights that will then stop and allow you to go Snorkelling at Sandy Cay.

Another, more leisurely way to explore the sky space above Cairns is via Hot Air Balloon . Of course, in true Aussie fashion, the balloon flight isn’t entirely relaxed. While up in the balloon, you will get to experience a balloon chase, which is essentially exactly what it sounds like: Your balloon will chase another balloon across wide open country and vice versa. It’s a very fun time and not stressful in the slightest, but it does add a bit of pace to the otherwise lovely, leisurely and scenic flight.

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The Perfection of the Piazza Del Duomo

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Looking back on my week long, mid-semester break to Italy I simply can’t shake the feeling I got at the top of the Piazza del Duomo, so I thought I’d share, and hopefully inspire some other travelers.

First, I should probably mention that I was traveling with my four other friends, and it was our last day of our five day Italian extravaganza. Nobody wanted to leave Italy, the land of pasta, pizza, wine, and gelato (four things that will never taste the same to me again), the place where people relax and enjoy simple pleasures like coffee, which we normally find more of a necessity than an indulgence.  Where real leather was as common as the authentic Venetian masks.  But enough of my Italian tangents, the point is just when we thought it couldn’t get any better we came across the infamous Duomo.  The entire week we were running around Italy we had been so focused on seeing everything that the cities had to offer, I realized we rarely took a moment to stand back and take in everything that was around us.

Piazza del Duomo proved to be the exception. duomo

Totalling 463 steps to the top, we were surprised that the staircases were windy, narrow, and very dark, not exactly user friendly.  About half way to the top you find yourself on a walkway, inside the church walking around the circumference of the dome giving us an up close view of the painted dome.  And if anybody’s wondering, looking from the top tier down onto the inside of the church was just as stunning as standing on the floor of the church and looking up.  After the brief break on a flat surface we continued climbing.  If we thought the stairs before were cramped, it only became tighter!  With a large school group in front of us, and other visitors squeezing by to get back down, I would give up your values of personal space for a couple minutes while you wait to get to the top.

And just as quickly as I felt bombarded by people, I felt overwhelmed by the sweeping views as we stepped out of the stairs into the open air on top of the Duomo.  It’s a small area, but you can walk around in a complete circle getting the full 360º of Florence.  It’s weird how at only 90 meters high, we were able to overlook all of the city, from the people below us at the market, slowly stretching out to the rolling hills and mountains in the countryside.

duomo 2 After getting our pictures from all sides, and constantly repeating how we were never leaving, the exhaustion from a week of walking, combined with a whole lot of stairs seemed to hit us all at once.  If you find yourself in the same position, we found there’s no better place to regain your strength than on top of the Duomo.  We sat down by the fences on the perimeter and watched as the sun set over the city–another suggestion I would make would be to go at this time because watching the sun set on the infamous Italian terracotta houses was truly breathtaking.

duomo32

The Piazza del Duomo was the perfect ending to our perfect trip, and I hope that you have an experience that’s just as memorable.  Happy traveling!

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Exploring the Dreaming Rock: The 5 Best Things to Do at Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia

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Uluru To the aborigines of the wild and desolate Australian outback, Uluru is a sacred and mystical site. To travellers from around the world, Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is a thing of wonder and mystery. Uluru is one of Australia’s most distinctive landmarks. The giant red rock rises out of the land like the sun rises above the horizon, inspiring photographers, painters and nature-lovers with its exquisiteness. When I first gazed upon the Dreaming rock, I was astounded by the natural beauty and spiritual energy vibrating through the air.

Uluru towers above the earth, reaching 318m at its highest points. It is made of arkrose sandstone and is 8km in circumference. It is considered an inselberg, which literally means “island mountain” and stands along with the nearby Kata Tjuta formation as the only two testaments to the evolution of the earth in an otherwise flat landscape. Archaeological findings suggest that humans first settled in the area around Uluru approximately 10,000 years ago. Europeans first explored the area in 1872 when Ernest Giles first mapped Uluru and named it Ayers Rock.

The Anangu, the aboriginal people who have lived near the formation for hundreds of years, consider Uluru a sacred dreaming site. The Dreamtime was when the great spirits created everything upon the earth. The concept of ‘Dreaming’ can refer to several things; it can be an individual’s spirituality, such as when a man or woman says they are part of Kangaroo Dreaming or Dingo Dreaming. ‘Dreaming’ is also the place where each person’s spirit lives eternally. The aborigines believe that every spirit existed before its time on earth in the Dreaming and that it continues to exist after the death of the body. The Dreaming pervades every aspect of an aboriginal Australian’s life. It is a complex and unique network of stories, faith, knowledge and practices. The aborigines believe that there is a hollow space beneath Uluru that houses Tjukurpa, the Dreamtime.

1) Discover the Legends surrounding Uluru- Visit the Museum

In order to visit Uluru, visitors must buy passes to enter the park. These can be purchased through our Uluru Pass. Once you have entered the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, it is best to begin your adventure by visiting the cultural centre located near Uluru’s base. Not only does the centre have an extensive list of all of the activities happening in the park but also introduces you to the culture of the Anangu. The centre presents material relating to traditional culture and park history. The entrance to the cultural centre tells the story of the Anangu people and the various aboriginal beliefs and stories that involve Uluru. There is also an art centre in the vicinity that sells incredibly intricate aboriginal art. It’s nearly impossible to resist buying the incredible pieces they have in the store (I bought a hand-woven aboriginal pillow cover that reminds me of Uluru every time I sit down on my couch). Uluru

2) See Uluru from Every Angle

When you see Uluru, you realize why the aborigines believe it to be the centre of their spiritual existence. The sheer size of it is enough to inspire awe in anyone. The colour of it reminds me of the embers of a fire; the oranges and reds seem to intensify as the sun moves on its path through the day. To really experience the majesty of Uluru, you need to get up close and personal with the giant monolith. Our Uluru Pass, besides getting you into the park, also includes several walking tours. Visitors to the park can walk around the entire base of Uluru, while also witnessing the flora and fauna of the beautiful Outback. Keep a sharp eye out for Malu (red kangaroos) and echidnas as they are not found anywhere else in the world outside of Australia. Explorers and adventures can also discover the rugged beauty of the Kata Tjuta formation. Kata Tjuta is close to Uluru and with its deep gorges, unique rock colouring and exotic flora it is not a destination to be missed.

3) Experience Night-time in the Outback

A night in Uluru There is nothing like the outback after the sun has gone down. Stars blaze brightly above, the air gets cool and refreshing and if you listen closely, you may hear the lonely sound of a dingo’s far-off howl. Star gazers and romantics will find the Sounds of Silence Dinner particularly entrancing. Diners get to sample real bush tucker, including kangaroo, emu and barramundi, and sip on champagne as the sun sets on Uluru. After the delicious dinner experience, explore the heavenly stars above with an experienced Star Talker who will walk with you through the net of constellations hanging in the sky. Night in the Red Centre is an otherworldly experience; my friends and I felt as if we had travelled through the mists of time back to a primordial land.

4) Take to the Skies above the Red Centre

The Anangu consider Uluru to be one of their most sacred sites. When tourism began in Uluru, they were dismayed to witness visitors climbing up and down Uluru’s lofted peaks. Today, the local indigenous community requests that visitors do not climb Uluru. The path that leads to the top of the monolith crosses a sacred dreaming path, a fact that has caused the traditional owners of the rock much anguish. Though the path is still accessible, it has become smooth over the years from visitors’ feet and the path remains closed for most of the year. Those who wish to see what Uluru looks like from above but desire to respect the wishes of the Anangu will delight in a breath-taking Helicopter ride over Uluru and Kata Tjuta. If you choose to see the formations this way, you will witness some of the most awe-inspiring views Australia has to offer.

5) Experience the Bushman Lifestyle

A trip to the outback is not complete without experiencing the bushman’s lifestyle. Bushmen are the wild cowboys of the outback; they drive cattle, work farms and sheer sheep on a farm circuit they call the Wallaby Track. Needless to say, Bushmen are a fiery bunch (think Hugh Jackman’s rough and tough portrayal of a drover in the blockbuster Australia). Bushmen, after a long day’s work droving cattle, often sit around the campfire telling stories and eating bush tucker. You too can experience this sort of lifestyle, albeit in a slightly more comfortable way, by setting off on the Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon 3 days camping safari. Campers will explore Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon over the course of three days, with two nights lodging in the permanent campsites at Uluru and Kings Canyon that boast off-the-ground beds and a hearty supply of bush tucker.

The Outback

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Sunny European Get Aways.

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It’s official as Metro reported that UK’s summer 2011 is the coldest since 1998. The Met Office has concluded that the average temperature this summer was a mere 14C .  The report called the British summer ‘somewhat pitiful’… Hmmm, we can think of a stronger synonym or two for this appalling weather! So search for the sun elsewhere as September is looming and summer is officially at an end. Here are our suggestions to get your portion of Vitamine D in Europe.

by Flickr - Moyan Brenn

Rome, Italy. Temperature: 29C

Friends have recently returned from Rome describing it as epic but hot! (Perhaps this should be: epic and hot.) In any case Rome does tick the sun box as well as all the culture boxes. You can see ruins of the old Roman Empire, the Coliseum, the Forum and Palatine Hill. Admire the riches of the Baroque movement in Bernini’s architectural work at the Piazza San Pietro, his sculptures and a mix of both the Fountain of the Four Rivers at the Piazza Navona. Book for the Vatican and skip the line: walk through the Papal post and its surroundings and view the world famous works of painter Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.

by Flick- Justin Knabb.

Cote d’Azur, south France. Temperature: 25C

Madonna was spotted jet skiing there and the French Riviera has always had it’s attraction for celebrities as Cannes, where the famous film festival is held, is conveniently located there. One of the most popular destinations is Nice, the capital of the Cote d’Azur.  It has 15 private and 22 well-kept public beaches for you to lie on and top up that tan.Speaking of which, you could also visit the seaside resort of  St Tropez. We offer a wine-tasting tour from Nice, we bring you to the lovely village of Port Grimaud and St Tropez. On the way back you make a stop for a wine tasting session. Sun, beach and wine: who could wish for more?

by Flickr - Wendjie Zhang

Seville, Spain. Temperature: 25C

How do you think the Seville oranges get their colour?  Seville in southern Spain is the crown of Andelucia. Relax, while walking through the city admiring the architecture. Their famous Gothic Cathedral was a former mosque and the largest Gothic building in Europe. After some sightseeing, enjoy some local tapas and visit a flamenco show in the evening all while on tour in Seville.

Photos by Flickr: Rome by Moyan Brenn/ Nice by Justin Knabb/ Seville by Wendjie Zhang

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‘The Right Way to Climb Masada – Looking After Your Feet and Surviving the Heat!

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When visiting Israel, an excursion not to miss out on is a visit to the fascinating and ancient desert fortress of Masada. Having never been before, I booked a tour to visit and hike the 2000 year old fortification, the scene of a deadly Roman siege against the Jewish rebels in 72 AD that resulted in the mass suicide of nearly 1000 Jewish men, women and children. Masada rises majestically above the Judean and Negev deserts, overlooking the Dead Sea; the lowest point on Earth and although it is possible to take a cable car the 400 meters to its summit, and also the gentler Roman Ramp path, it is highly recommended to hike the side-winding snake-paths up the side of the mountain. This gives you spectacular views over the stunning, raw and arid landscape and a real appreciation of the magnitude of what was involved in the siege.

Hiking Masada, it has to be said, is not an easy task. Although the height and incline aren’t the most imposing or arduous, it is the searing desert heat which begins very shortly after sunrise that makes the hike all the more difficult. It is imperative that no matter what time of the year you visit, you take hydration very seriously. I used a 3L Source Hydration pack and I can tell you, was thankful for every last drop of those 3 Liters by the time I had hiked to the top. Just as important as keeping yourself hydrated, is making sure you bring the correct footwear too. This was obviously not a concern to the two middle aged Russian women I saw hiking in stiletto heels, but for the rest of us, wearing the correct footwear will help you get the most out of your Masada hike and prevent the blister and unwanted smells comparing that seemed bewilderingly popular on the bus at the end of the day. Considering the rocky terrain and the unforgiving sun, I opted for a pair of men’s Source sandals giving me comfort and sturdiness without the weightiness and lack of ventilation found in hiking shoes/boots. In this kind of environment, I always go for a good pair of hiking sandals as I find they don’t weigh you down like boots and shoes tend to do.

Once the hydration and choice of footwear has been sorted, it’s time to slip on a hat, slap on some sunscreen and enjoy your historical hike to the summit of ancient Masada. There, you are greeted with unique and interesting antiquities and a view that will simply take your breath away.

About the Author:

Samantha Wilson is a blogger who writes about travel and tourism. She enjoys visiting new places and getting the best deals.

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isango! Customer review: Vintage Car Tour

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We thoroughly enjoyed this trip and Don our driver kept us well informed all of the way. He queued up for our Alcatraz tickets.
The weather was not to good on the day but Don said that if we were here in the Summer the Golden Gate bridge would most probably be shrouded in mist.
He was a mind of information and kept you listening.
Would we recommend this excursion our answer would be a definite yes.

Edward, United Kingdom

Edward booked: Vintage Car Tour

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isango! Customer review: Vatican Walking Tour

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This tour is the best way to see the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s. Our wonderful tour guide, Francesca, was a wealth of knowledge and her passion bought Rome’s history to life. If you are lucky enough to get Francesca as your tour guide you are in for a fantastic experience.

Janine, Australia

Janine booked: Vatican Walking Tour

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Alhambra Palace Tours

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alhambra

Arguably the most impressive landmark in Spain, and perhaps one of the most spectacular in all the world, The Alhambra Palace sits in the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains and epitomizes Moorish architectural splendor. Inside the fortress, many have marveled at the palace’s intricate elements, such as its ornate ceilings, impressive stucco work, beautiful mosaics and cupolas. On the palace grounds, even more exquisite offerings await visitors, including marble structures, tranquil pools and fountains, and pavilions that offer stunning views of the mountains that surround the fortress. continue reading

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What to see in Singapore.

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blog-pic2

Singapore is obviously extremely diverse when compared with countries in Western regions. It is crammed with culture from clashing eastern and western influences, with endless things to discover, so much so that Singapore sightseeing can be a little overwhelming. Just what are the best places to visit and the must do activities? Fear not, Singapore sightseeing isn’t as daunting as it may sound.

Singapore’s history. continue reading

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Rome Sightseeing, any way you want it!

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colosseum_rome_5932_10

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Known for its expansive roads, ancient edifices, and religious importance, Rome is a metropolis of history and wonder waiting to be discovered. Because there is an endless array of things to do in Rome and a charming surprise down every cobblestoned street, making sure you see it all on your own is quite a difficult task. Rome sightseeing is best done by bus, boat, bicycle, or vespa, as such vehicles enable you to see and experience Rome’s gems in all their glory, without wasting too much time. continue reading

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