Monthly Archives: September 2017

Five Adventure Travel Destinations

Perhaps you’ve grown tired of the usual vacation trips and are actually looking forward to catering to your more adventurous side. If that is the case, you have a number of options to consider, as there are several tourist destinations which would surely keep you on the edge of excitement, pushing you to your limits while still being able to bask in the wonders of the different parts of the globe that not many people get to experience. You may actually think to yourself of just how physically challenging it will be to go on an adventure trek with activities such as mountain biking or hiking through certain forests, but since you want to take a break from the usual routine of your holidays being spent at the beach or some amusement park resort somewhere, maybe it’s something more uncommon that will truly give you the vacation of a lifetime!

Below are just some of the most unique adventure travel destinations wherein you can truly find some enjoyment:

Nepal – With many of the world’s tallest mountain peaks to be found in Nepal, including the internationally renowned Mount Everest, you can engage in some mountain sports. Go mountain climbing with your family and friends, or even take them on a biking trip. Nothing is more exhilarating at the same time enlightening than basking at the majestic glory of the mountain view.

Egypt – The Nile River is one of the most popular attractions in Egypt, one that has a lot of history behind it. You can then be part of that history by taking yourself or your peers on a river excursion.

Amazon Rainforest – There is a wide range of wildlife to be seen and discovered by common people’s eyes in the Amazon rainforest, and taking a trip here would surely serve as a vacation that’s filled with mystery and awe. See the various animals which you may not have come upon in your daily life, with exotic breeds and species that will truly fascinate you as well as visiting the local communities, interacting with the townsfolk and learning their cultures.

New Zealand – New Zealand is one of the many destinations which is known to offer just a portion of everything. If it’s diversity you’re looking for, you can then engage in a bit of snorkeling, swimming with sea creatures such as dolphins and even go spelunking in caves.

Florida – Although somewhat mainstream in certain standards, a little bit of adventure travel in Florida may prove to be just as enjoyable and exhilarating as the more nature-oriented options provided above, especially if you’re a resident of some foreign country in Europe or Asia. Various theme parks with roller coaster rides such as Universal Studios or Disney World will surely bring out the kid in you with much glee!

Lonely Planet Ranks Uganda Number One Travel

Renowned and respected world travel guide Lonely Planet has ranked Uganda the best travel destination for the year 2012. Uganda was ranked ahead of the likes of Myanmar, Ukraine, Jordan, and Denmark.

Lonely Planet collected lots of ideas from travellers, bloggers and tweeters from which they generated a list of countries. Countries chosen are said offer a range of experiences to travellers albeit a few shortcomings like the less than satisfactory infrastructure and seeming tense political atmosphere after the just concluded presidential elections for the Uganda’s sake.

From the collected ideas, the top ten ranked countries were then voted for by a panel of travel experts at Lonely Planet and Uganda happens to be at the pinnacle of this list. The ranking was based on factors such as topicality, excitement, value and the special x-factor for a particular country.

Measuring almost the same size as Great Britain, Uganda passes for the most beautiful and diverse nation on the African continent. The country boast of a range of unique attractions and with the rapidly expanding tourism infrastructure and the much improved political stability, Uganda is turning out to be a haven for travelers.

Uganda is the entire Africa in one small package. What you find in the different parts of the African continent you find it all here in Uganda. At a glance you find the smallest of sunbirds iridescent in the dawn light, the enormous clumsy yet silent elephant disappearing like a vapor behind the trees, the naughty chimps crashing about the forest canopy, the Mountain Gorilla chewing thoughtfully in the bamboo thicket.

This lush tropical country is the source of the longest river in the world, the Nile. The mighty Nile twists its way North like a flickering ribbon, through arid semi-desert with scattered rocky kopjes. It is in Uganda where the savanna meets the huge Lakes of East Africa, and where snow capped mountains bear down on expansive jungles.

Snow capped peaks, tropical, sandy, fresh water beaches, and beautiful jovial faces all over the place. All that and more is here; Uganda is a feast for all the senses.

Declared by legendary British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill as the Pearl of Africa, it is little wonder Uganda is now the number one travel destination in the world.

The other ranked countries among the top ten travel destination for the year 2012 include:

2. Myanmar,
3. Ukraine,
4. Jordan,
5. Denmark,
6. Bhutan,
7. Cuba,
8. New Caledonia,
9. Taiwan and
10. Switzerland.

New Solo Travel Destinations

Always looking for new solo travel destinations, I followed a friend’s suggestion to try Slovenia. Traveling alone, the prices were good, and Slovenia provided options for hiking in the summer, skiing in the winter or just exploring its history/culture year-round. Having been to former Yugoslavia’s Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, Slovenia made sense as the next step.

After arriving in Zurich, I discovered my flight to the capital city, Ljubljana, had been cancelled. However, I was quickly accommodated and dispatched to Germany for a connecting flight. On arrival, a fellow passenger and I watched forlornly while the door on our flight closed leaving us behind. Not to worry, I was reticketed on a flight to Austria. I arrived hours before the next scheduled flight to Slovenia. As I waited to make it to my fifth country in 18 hours, I kept my eyes glued to the jet way. I was afraid I would fall asleep, miss the flight and be sent to a 6th country.

It was well worth the journey. Ljubljana’s historic area was a surprise as it looked more like Vienna than the Balkans. My Art Nouveau choice, the Grand Hotel Union Executive, combined style with convenience. It was walking distance to the Old Town and its multiple restaurants which were still serving at 10 PM. Eating alone was no problem. After a lively conversation with the table next to me, I could almost say I felt like I was solo no more!

In heading out the next day, I was struck by how similar the architecture along the Gallus Embankment was to parts of St. Petersburg. The Ljubljana Castle had a colorful history from defending against the Ottomans to serving as a prison in the Austrian Empire and again in World War II. Afterwards, I strolled back through the Old Town, the Plaza and the Triple Bridge. The last key sight was the Dragon Bridge topped by a fierce creature keeping watch over the city.

Having felt so at home, I was almost sorry that it was time to move on the next day. I was off via public bus for another 3 day adventure. I had read about the town of Bled, a tourist haven since the 19th century popular also with the ruling dynasty and later Yugoslav’s Tito. In the current day it is also a great spot for hiking, golf and fishing. I had two chief objectives: (i) visiting Bled Castle and (ii) exploring the small island of Bled and its Church of the Assumption. I was surprised to see there was no pedestrian bridge to the church. Access was by boat only and not then as it was in the dead of winter when “icebergs” predominated.

Undaunted, I struck out for my second destination, to reach Bled Castle. Its history even antedates William the Conqueror’s Conquest of England. My guidebook described it as a brief walk from my hotel. As I approached the hill, it looked like a snow-capped Mt. Everest crowned at the top with ice-covered boulders. When I somehow made it to the entrance, I realized getting down would be even more challenging. After my tour, no cabs were available. In a moment of desperation which I DO NOT recommend, I accepted a ride with a stranger, an elderly gentleman who found me stumbling down the hillside. A safer alternative to hitchhiking would have been to sit down and slide down like a human luge.

Next I headed out to my last destination, Kranjska Gora on the Austrian border. By then, I thought I was an old pro at mastering local buses. However, I discovered a large difference between the English words “bus stop” and “bus station”. When the bus stopped on a two-lane road and opened the door, I jumped out into the snow with my suitcase. Across the way, I saw the village with a path through the snowdrifts. Guided by welcoming local residents, I located my hotel, fortunately painted a very bright yellow and conspicuous from a distance.

My first day on the slopes I skipped my usual routine: a private or semi-private lesson to get the lay of the land. That was a mistake. My rental skis had been set by height and weight but apparently not by ability. As an infrequent intermediate skier, there was more ice than I could handle. The result? At the top of the slope, the one ski that came off would not go back on while the other would not come off at all. Glad there were no witnesses, I was rescued by snowmobile and sent down the lift with my skis then firmly in my lap. As I approached the bottom of the lift, loud shouts began instructing me exactly(?)what to do. Not understanding a word of Slovenian, I just waited for the lift to stop. When that never happened, I took a wild leap on the still moving lift. Luckily, the next day with a private lesson went much more smoothly.

Then it was back to Ljubljana for a little shopping and a much shorter flight home!

Looking back on it, Slovenia was a great choice for a solo traveler because of:

  • Attractive prices even when traveling alone
  • Friendly people and safe environment
  • Active sports options summer and winter
  • Multiple historic and cultural sites to explore
  • Available local public transportation
  • Proximity to the crossroads of Europe for combining vacations
  • The benefit of still being off the usual tourist route.

A New and Popular Travel Destination

Once called the Middle East, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel have become popular travel destinations. Visited by themselves or in combination, most travelers return satisfied and surprised by their travel experience. For many, they have been on a truly remarkable holiday with a difference. So why is this so? To best answer this, we need to know a little more about these countries and how to travel to and within them.

*How to get there

Most travelers come by air. The national capitals of Damascus, Amman, Beirut and Tel Aviv all have international airports that are serviced by a range of international and Middle Eastern carriers. Both bus and private car travel is possible between most of the countries. Generally these are via a number of single crossing points like Syria-Lebanon and Syria-Jordan (at Derá on the new highway that links the two countries). Land routes exist to bordering countries. Land travel into/from Israel is more restricted. The most common point of entry is via the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge from Jordan. Syria has a somewhat dated rail network. Some services only run weekly but those on the popular central routes operate several services each day.

*How to get around

Trains, buses and taxi’s form the centerpiece of Middle Eastern travel services. Car hire with a guide is provided by many local tourist operators. They generally are cost effective and worth considering. Use Google to find them and always ask for (and check) references. Most will require half of the booking fee wired to them before they will confirm the bookings. A number of international companies including the overland companies offer tours. Again check with Google. A number of universities offer summer archaeological digs. Many of these are fee based and no experience is required.

*When to go

The Middle East enjoys a Mediterranean climate but the summers are hot and the winters cold, especially in the north. March to May is the best time to visit. Those who want to soak up the sun will find the coastal areas mid summer comfortable as temperatures are often influenced by cooler coastal breezes. The area suffers from winter rainfall that can make sightseeing difficult and snow covers the mountains between Lebanon and Syria mid winter.

*The Countries

Syria – Syria is modern, easy to travel in and relatively safe. It’s affordable if you keep away from the more expensive five star international hotels. It has a myriad of charms with excellent food, breathtaking scenery, tons of places of historic interest and friendly people. English is generally spoken in most hotels and markets in the major centers. Damascus is the major attraction with its wonderful markets and historic mosques and palaces. The Umayyad Mosque and the nearby mausoleum of Saladin (one of the greatest heroes of Arab’s history), are a “must see”. Plan a couple of days to enjoy Damascus. Consider at staying in one of the renovated boutique hotels that have sprung up in the past ten years. Many of these are ancient palaces in the Old City and are well worth the little extra cost. Do take the time to drive out to Palmyra for the site of the city that built to rival Rome. Homs with its water wheels in on the road to Apamea. This has an avenue of two kilometers of granite columns. Both are worth visiting and are part of 20 or more major archaeological sites that can be visited by tourists. Wandering around ruins of forts, mosques, churches and palaces provides a wonderful insight into what life was like two thousand years ago. Looping back towards Damascus is the most famous of the Crusader castles, Krak des Chevaliers. It is remarkably intact and it will be enjoyed by castle enthusiasts.

Jordan – Jordan has a huge selection of fascinating history to offer the tourists. It is steeped in the history of the Old Testament. The ancient cities of Petra and Jerash date back to Roman times when they were great trading cities along the Silk Road. Jerash is the “Pompeii of the East” and needs a little background reading to fully appreciate the historic context of the site. Take your time to explore it; you are walking through centuries of history. Although Amman is the relatively modern capital of Jordan, you’ll find the satellite city of Salt with its narrow streets and quaint houses is worth the visit. Jordan has a fascinating history of craft, Bedouin weaving, embroidery, pottery and ceramics, jewellery and glassblowing. These crafts are still very much part of Jordanian life today. The Bedouin hospitality and wonderful local cuisine is legendary.

Driving south from Amman you’ll find the now spreading town of Petra. To walk down the half mile long suq, you will be surprised by the beauty of the pink stone Treasury at the entrance of the old city of Petra. It will take your breath away. Read about Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who discovered Petra in 1812, before you go. His is indeed an amazing story. South of Petra is the now modern port of Aqaba made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. West of here you’ll find Wadi Rum where the film of Lawrence’s war-time exploits was made. Here, an option is to stay with the Bedouins in their cloth covered black tents. They are remarkably comfortable. Take a camel ride out to the secret camp where Lawrence planned his desert campaigns. You might return a little saddle sore but you will have really “ridden” in the footsteps of history.

Lebanon – Lebanon is a relatively small country. The highlights are generally along the coast. Here is the colorful coastal town of Byblos and further north is the ancient Crusader city of Tripoli with it’s interesting souqs (markets), mosques and hammams (baths). Turning inland, you will pass through the picturesque villages of the Qadisha Valley, through the Cedars and on to historic Baalbeck which has magnificent Roman ruins said by some to be the best preserved in the world, The route continues through the vineyards at Bekaa and then Umayyad ruins of Aanjar. Nearby is the charming village of Deiral-Qamar and the Beiteddine palace with its wonderful gardens.

Israel – Don’t ignore Israel as a possible travel destination. Access difficulties can be overcome by careful planning or with the help of an experienced travel operator. It’s the Holy Land and steeped in history. Most visitors head for Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho but there lots of little know archaeological sites like the old Roman capital of Galilee called Tzipori. In Jerusalem, the old City of David, The Citadel and Church of the Holy Sepulcher with the nearby Wailing Wall, draws the most tourists. What is believed to be the oldest church in the world is in Bethlehem. A silver star marks the place where it is believed that Christ was born.

Some tourists choose to visit the Dead Sea. It is off Highway 90 west of Jerusalem. Personally, although unique, I think that it is overrated. Those with more time might consider visiting Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Further a field you’ll find Masada with its spectacular ruined fortress.

Take care in Israel photographing or showing interest in border and military installations or personnel. You’ll get used the very obvious security presence.

*Visas

All these countries have different visa requirements. Generally Israel does not require a visa for most western countries. Tourists are allowed a stay of up to 90 days. However, it is necessary to avoid getting your passport stamped upon entry or exit as this causes problems of entry into Lebanon and Syria. Ask the border officials to stamp your entry permit instead. Better still, put Israel last on your itinerary. Jordanian visas can be obtained upon arrival at the airport and at most border crossings. It is best to get Syrian visas in advance. USA, most EU, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand passport holders can get a visa to enter Lebanon at the border. Jordan allows entry/exit to Israel via the King Hussein (Allenby) Bridge without a multi-entry visa.

*Recommendation

The countries of the Middle East are attractive and exciting travel destinations. The people that you’ll meet are friendly and if your leave politics aside, you’ll have a very enjoyable travel experience. Middle eastern cooking is a highlight and in all countries you’ll find an amazing array of low cost local restaurants. Try the local beers and wines and few of the specialized drinks like Arak (Lion’s milk) which is commonly served with mezze. Talk to your travel agent or check out travel sites on Google. You are guaranteed to have a holiday of lifetime.