As we plan for the year ahead, we thought we would offer our top recommendations for some specific “traveller types” – The Last Minute Sunseeker, The Amateur Explorer, The Food and Drink Aficionado, The Epic Weekender and The Nature Lover.
Which one are you?
THE LAST MINUTE SUNSEEKER
Over the last month we’ve had quite a number of last minute requests for some winter sun. The Caribbean has often come up trumps, as people generally know what to expect in this part of the world and there are plenty of direct flights from the UK, making it an easy 7 night escape from the winter. We’ve found particularly good last minute availability in Barbados, St Lucia and the smaller islands like Bequia. 100% it’s not too late to get away for some sun this winter, so please get in touch if you’re in urgent need of some vitamin D.
Fascinating culture, wonderful scenery, world-class hotels as well as good flight connections make Oman a perfect destination for winter sun. The capital city of Muscat is the main entry-point with wonderful beaches and luxurious hotels, so you may find you won’t want to explore beyond here. The Grand Mosque is a highlight and the bustling souks and silk bazaars are full of intrigue. If a relaxing break in the sunshine is more your thing then the luxurious hotels here can offer just that.
The more adventurous among you may want to be transported to a world away and stay in a true Desert camp, surrounded by sand dunes that reach up to 200m in height. Take in some of the most spectacular sunsets and try your hand at dune bashing, or even sand boarding if you’re feeling adventurous.
THE AMATEUR EXPLORER
For those who want take a walk on the really wild side, a true adventure awaits in Borneo. This unique and extraordinary island has an ever-growing list of endemic species, although the one most people seek is the Orangutan. You can trek through primary rainforest, explore dense jungle by narrow boat, snorkel or dive with whale sharks and watch turtles hatch – the wildlife viewing opportunities on land and underwater are endless. If you see yourself as more of an Anthropologist, the state of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo offers unique interactions with the region’s tribespeople such as the Iban, Bidayu or Orang Ulu, many of whom still live in traditional dwellings and will welcome guests warmly into their homes, offering a fascinating insight into tribal life. Aside from its wildlife and people, the island is home to Mt Kinabalu, one of South East Asia’s highest peaks and a feat to climb, picture-perfect white sand beaches and coastlines, beautiful national parks and the world’s largest flowering plant, the rafflesia.
India – Top or Bottom
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure with a dash of cultural intrigue, then India might be just the ticket. This huge country is full of contrasts, each an adventure in itself. For the amateur explorer we couldn’t choose between the Trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh or Southern States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu (the seasons mean they can’t be combined); so we’ll give you the brief on both!
The Buddhist region of Ladakh is best explored between May and September with the high Himalayan peaks protecting the region from the Monsoon rains. This remote region has been made accessible to the “amateur explorer” thanks to the acclaimed Shakti company, who have renovated remote village properties to international standards. Explore these remote villages, monasteries and native plants of the region whilst surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. For an alternative adventure, why not traverse the Southern Tip of India, best visited between November and February. Start by experiencing the frenetic pace of Bangalore, the epitome of modern India. Then travel back in time to the Hindu palaces and temples of Mysore, before visiting the Colonial Hill stations where the East India Company shaped much of the landscape. From the cultivated hill stations, head into the wild Nagarhole National Park which has arguably the best wildlife experience in India with huge numbers of jungle elephants as well as leopard, sloth, tiger, Indian wild dog and over 250 species of bird. From here travel down into the less visited coastline of Northern Kerala. Spend some time on a houseboat away from the masses and then take a train down to Kochin, with its rich trading and Portuguese Heritage.
THE FOOD AND DRINK AFICIONADO
Due to its strategic location in the very heart of the Mediterranean, Sicily boasts myriad influences not only on its history, culture and scenery but also on its gastronomy. The Sicilians are fiercely proud of their island’s food and wine heritage. We can recommend particular areas on the mainland and islands where foods such as sweet pastries, swordfish, capers, olives, lemons, sardines and chilli peppers serve as the foundations to their local specialities. The Sicilian calendar is punctuated with festivals dedicated to specific delicacies, ranging from the Cannoli festival (ricotta filled pastries) in May, the Aeolian Island of Salina’s food festival in June, the onion festival in Giarratana in August, the couscous festival of San Vito Lo Capo in September to the Pistachio festival on the slopes of the mighty Mount Etna in October.
The local wines must be tried too, with grape varieties and options to suit all; from good value to those that compete with some of the finest wines in Europe. Let’s not forget the gelato and granita, something Italians are famous for the world over. We can direct you to the small café on the island of Salina famous for its delicious granita – visitors to Sicily make a special trip to this island just to have a taste!
For food and drink lovers the Basque Country is a must visit. Bilbao and San Sebastian boast some of the most critically acclaimed restaurants in the world. Dining at restaurants like Mugaritz or Arzak will be a highlight, but there is much more we can arrange to really get under the skin of the region’s cuisine. Guided market visits, cooking lessons, private wine tastings and exclusive inclusion in one of the region’s “Gastronomic Societies” lunches can all be arranged.
A Pintxos Tasting Tour over dinner or lunch is a must; Pintxos Bars line the streets of San Sebastian but knowing where to go for the best, freshest and most exciting pintxos is a delicate art. Aside from food and drink there are some wonderful hotels, world class museums, beaches and stunning countryside.
THE EPIC WEEKENDER
Only a short flight, but what a world away! This really is a unique country; a land of truly great contrasts, with an extremely sparse population spread throughout. Where else could you go horse riding, whale watching, snowmobiling on glaciers, heliskiing, fly-fishing and scuba diving between tectonic plates? You really can pack it all in! Reykjavik will be your base, a small city but one laden with a quirky charm as well as a host of fabulous restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. From here we can recommend a wide variety of day trips, including of course, an evening in search of the Aurora Borealis.
Further afield, the Snaefellsness Peninsula is one of stark beauty and steeped in legend. Or how about an awesome adventure to Deplar Farm in the North of Iceland renowned as one of the world’s finest destinations for heli-skiing? Not bad for a long weekend…
For the ultimate bragging rights, how about saying you spent the weekend tracking Mountain Gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park? Thanks to direct Rwandair flights from Gatwick, this is realistically feasible to do over a long weekend and with little time difference you’ll come back fresh as a daisy. Fly out of Gatwick on Friday evening, arriving into Kigali early the next morning. Your guide will meet you from the flight and take you on the scenic drive towards the Volcanoes National Park, home to the endangered Mountain Gorilla. Stay at the “out of this world” Bisate Lodge on the edge of the park. Refresh yourself with an afternoon nature walk in the forest, or walk to the nearby community gardens to learn a little about the Bisate way of life. Wake early the next morning for your Gorilla Trek in the National Park. Once you locate your Gorilla group (one of ten habituated groups in the park), you will have a magical hour in their company; this is unanimously regarded as one of the greatest wildlife experiences on earth. If time permits, go for an afternoon walk, visit an Iby’wacu Cultural Village or Dian Fossey’s grave. The next day after breakfast, return to Kigali for an afternoon city tour including the Genocide Memorial Centre and local craft markets. Fly home on the Tuesday morning for an early evening arrival into Gatwick. Of course if time allows, an extra day at Bisate could be added and would be recommended. Alternatively, this trip could easily be combined with a more conventional safari in Kenya or Tanzania.
THE NATURE LOVER
Africa is the obvious choice for the wildlife enthusiast, however, more specifically Zambia would be our first recommendation for someone who wants a complete all-round wildlife experience. Why? Firstly the South Luangwa National Park is still amongst the best for walking safaris and we believe the best wildlife experiences to be had are on foot. This enables you to really hear, feel and see the wildlife; from the minute to massive. Every plant, insect, mammal and reptile has a story and a good walking guide will bring these to life. When you do encounter a larger beast on foot, the experience is infinitely more exhilarating. On a walking itinerary between bush camps you are constantly part of the wildlife, even when sleeping. The Lower Zambezi National Park excels in the second best way to see wildlife – by canoe. Quietly paddling down one of the Zambezi’s side streams is particularly good for birding, but also for getting an “animal’s eye view” of the varied creatures that inhabit and frequent the water. Then if there’s any big game you still want to tick off your list, you can hop in a vehicle with your expert guide to track them down.
Costa Rica is the world benchmark for environmental sustainability and eco-tourism; this small country is packed with a vast array of natural wonders that are protected and sustained thanks to eco tourism. Explore virgin rainforest and its inhabitants on foot or by boat at Pacuare Lodge. On the Caribbean coast the Tortuguero National Park protects some of the world’s most endangered turtles. Inland the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve protects over 400 species of birds, including close to 30 species of hummingbirds, more than 100 species of mammals including howler and capuchin monkeys, all six species of wild cats, deer, tapir and sloths and a total of 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles. The country’s stunning Pacific Coast is characterised by long sandy beaches flanked by rich eco-systems and the Corcovado National Park is a treasure trove of diversity. Being a fairly small country allows you the opportunity to pack a great deal into a fairly small amount of time; whether you prefer to travel by private plane, relax and enjoy the view from your own private vehicle or get behind the wheel of your own 4WD. Whatever your preference, there’s easily enough to satisfy even the most avid of wildlife enthusiasts.
Make 2018 your year of discovery. We’re here to help you put together your dream itinerary. To find out more, please get in touch