We’re starting a new series called Off the Beaten Path. Our first post in the series will cover 3 amazing locations in Indonesia. Please see our Tour Reviews section for more information about tour operators and schedules. Note: All prices in the posting are subject to change and/or be included in tour packages. Double check!
Raja AmpatRaja Ampat is an archipelago located at the north-west tip of Papua, the Indonesian part of the world’s second largest island, New Guinea. It comprises of more than 1500 islands and is widely regarded as one of the last real remaining paradises on earth. Why? Due to its isolation, it has been so far untouched from mass tourism. Visitors are rewarded with the sheer beauty of nature; even if you’re not a birdwatcher you will love to see plenty of unique bird species in all shapes and sizes calling only Papua their home. You can stroll around the islands with its small hills without seeing any other tourists. Oh, and the underwater world: the turquoise colored water automatically hypnotizes you! Jump in and snorkel or dive – the magical blend of corals and colorful fishes will surely take your breath away… How to get there: from Jakarta via Makassar (Sulawesi) to Sorong (Papua) with Lion Air, Merpati, Sriwijaya Air and Express Air. Fees: 500.000 IDR per person per year, usually to pay at the airport in Sorong. It is more considered as local area tax, in order to preserve the area.
Komodo National ParkKomodo Island is world-wide known for its monitor lizards, the closest living relatives to the dinosaurs. It’s a thrilling experience to see the Komodo dragons in their natural habitat- there are nearly 6000 lizards living across the three islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar, among a number of smaller ones. The area was declared as UNESCO world heritage site in 1991. What else can you do and see? One of the lesser known things is that the park is not only home to the before mentioned lizards, but also to a number of other animals such as wild horses, wild pigs, civets and macaques and reptiles such as cobras and vipers. Further, there are fantastic areas for diving around – how about some carpet sharks or manta rays? How to get there: by ferries from Sumbawa, but mainly from Labuanbajo, Flores. In order to reach Flores, you can conveniently fly in from Denpasar (Bali) or Jakarta. Fees: Entrance fee: 20.000 IDR; Camera: 50.000 IDR; Video camera: 150.000 IDR; Ranger: 80.000 IDR (per group); Local area tax: 50.000 IDR
Mount Krakatau:Mount Krakatau or Anak Krakatau is an active volcano, sandwiched between two of Indonesia’s major islands, Sumatra and Java. It parent volcano exploded in 1883 and was one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions in history. Anak Krakatau -“Child of Krakatau “-was eventually formed beneath Mount Krakatau years later. The island has black sand beach half around the island, while the other half is virtually inaccessible as lava flows down into the ocean. Climbing up the volcano doesn’t take much time, but can be quite exhausting. Once you reached the highest accessible point, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view over the surrounding islands. Don’t miss out one of the highlights: the mystical yet spectacular view at night of floating lava! How to get there: by ferries from Sumatra and Java. If you take an organized tour, buses will usually depart from Jakarta (Java) or Bandar Lampung (Sumatra). A Conversation Site Entry Permit (Surat Ijin Masuk Kawasan Konservasi/SIMAKSI) needs to be obtained prior. Fees: Official Rangers/Guides: 250.000 IDR. Berthing fee: 200.000 IDR per boat. Looking for other destinations? Yep, we’ve got that covered too! More amazing photos of Asia. .
We’re chatting with Sarah Field, destination manager and ex-tour leader at Tucan Travel about two new Eastern Europe tours that have been launched for the 2014 Europe summer. She speaks about her research trip to Romania to develop the award-winning Transylvania Tale tour – a two week tour from Budapest to Istanbul exploring citadels, fortified churches and Dracula’s castle – and her recent trip to the Baltic cities of Tallinn, Vilnius and Riga and how the area surprised her. What gave you the idea to develop the Transylvania Tale? The tour is part of a longer trip that starts all the way up in Russia, so passengers have the option to join the full two-month expedition or smaller sections. The last section from Budapest to Istanbul didn’t really do the area justice, so it was decided to lengthen the tour and explore more of Romania and give people the chance to see something a little bit different. The new tour also includes more time in Bulgaria, specifically Plovdiv which is home to a vast Roman amphitheatre. What are your impressions of Romania as a travel destination? My first impression of the place is that there is so little English spoken. People are very friendly and welcoming, but they speak little or no English and there are generally no English menus. There is a lot of sign language that goes on! The locals are not yet used to foreign visitors; it’s refreshing when compared to the very well-visited Western European countries. What are your recommendations to travellers to Romania? Romanians are unlikely to approach you and are fairly reserved, but if you make an effort to approach them they are generally very helpful and kind. If you can, it is very useful to learn some words in Romanian and also have a few food words written down to help decipher menus. Did anything surprise you about Romania? The cities were lovely; I was half expecting bleak ex-communist places but they were very pretty. Brasov is an attractive city with gothic and renaissance buildings and churches. Sighisoara really is the most beautiful medieval city. On the tour, we have arranged to stay inside the citadel where you have a view down into the rest of the town and the river. From Sighisoara you can take a trip out to Viscri which is one of the world’s best preserved medieval villages. Also, the fortified churches at Viscri and Prejmer were like nothing I had seen anywhere in the world. They are churches with space for the village to go inside and live during a siege. The one in Prejmer is huge and the walls surrounding the church are hollow as people would live inside them during times of war. What were your highlights of the Baltic Capitals? The highlight for me was Estonia. Tallinn has stunning medieval cobbled streets and is quite small for a capital city. The old town of Tallinn is just how you’d imagine a medieval city to be with parts of the old walls intact and a main square lined with cafes and shops. It also has one of the most famous medieval-style restaurants called Olde Hansa. This restaurant uses traditional medieval recipes and everything is prepared in an authentic medieval way. You eat by candlelight and the ambience is like nothing I’ve experienced elsewhere. After Tallinn, I would probably say my next highlight was the KGB museum in Vilnius which is an included excursion on the tour. This place really affected me. One of the reasons was the local guide – he fought against the communists and was involved in the final shootout in the very building where the KGB museum is housed. His parents were also part of the resistance and his son is studying history to ensure what happened in the area never happens again. The building itself is an old office block with cells underneath it where political prisoners were taken for torture. It was in the middle of the city right under everyone’s noses and they would monitor people that walked outside the building. Even walking on the street outside too often could implicate you, such was the level of their suspicion and paranoia. Anything else you’d like to add? Travel with an open mind. These places are amazing and completely distinct to other European countries, so go and enjoy them for what they are before the tourists move in. Don’t think just because they were once behind the iron curtain that there’s nothing but communist concrete here. Their history is so much older than that and is truly beautiful.
North America is a vast continent that offers plenty of exciting choices for those who enjoy hiking. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or an advanced trail-walker; you will be able to find trails that appeals to you. Many tours to USA and Canada incorporate hiking in their itineraries, as it is a popular way to explore some of the scenic highlights. A few of our favorite hiking regions: Arches National Park Moab, Utah is the site of one of the most magnificent hiking treasures in the entire world. Over 2,000 sand arches fill the dessert countryside in this picturesque hiking haven. If you’re a true fan of natural beauty, you will be impressed by what you see. The trails are suitable for hikers of all experience levels, so it is a great destination for groups with differing physical abilities when it comes to hiking. Killarney Park Many hikers in Ontario, Canada dream of hiking at Killarney Park. The most famous hiking landscapes in Canada can be found there. The Granite Ridge Trail has often been featured on postcards, and you’ll see the appeal when you go in person. The la Cloche Mountains, are one of the premiere sets of hiking mountains in the entire world. A visit here will satisfy your hiking needs and raise your expectations to new heights. John Muir Trail This trail in Yosemite National Park in California is named after conservationist and environmentalist John Muir. This is an interesting and unusual hiking trail for a few reasons. The first is that the crest of the peak is mostly at a high elevation, while other crests aren’t quite as high. It’s also a unique place because it’s best to hike between June and September due to snow on the higher peaks. Cape Breton National Highlands Park On the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada sits Cape Breton Highlands National Park. This stunning place offers scenic images of crashing waves against the coastal shores. Sunrise and sunset are particularly good times to see everything this place has to offer. The canyon is the perfect place to stop for a break and snap some photographs. These pictures are the ones you’ll put closer to the front of your travel scrapbooks. Denali National Park In order to tame some of the most rugged terrains of Alaska, you’ll need to have at least some experience as a hiker. There aren’t many trails carved out here. You’ll have to navigate the mountains on your own. This is the perfect opportunity for hikers to test their abilities on some truly challenging mountains. Once you get to the top, you will know you have achieved something special. Hiking trails are abundant in many parts of the USA and Canada. You’ll be able to quench your thirst for adventure with every step you take if you plan your trip around the hiking trails in each region you visit.
Antarctica is a picturesque and exotic destination that few travelers have the opportunity to visit; however, one-of-a-kind wildlife and incomparable scenery make this destination a favorite for those seeking an extraordinary adventure. Cheap tours to Antarctica can be difficult to find, so planning ahead and researching options are important factors when planning a trip. Getting There The most popular way to visit Antarctica is via cruise ship. Visitors will need to fly to one of several departure points which include Tierra del Fuego, Argentina; Punta Arenas, Chile; or the Falkland Islands’ Port Stanley. When choosing a ship, it’s important to remember that the number of daily visitors to Antarctica are limited, so the smaller the ship size, the more time allotted for off-shore excursions. Direct tourist flights to base camp are available from cities in Australia, South Africa and Chile; however, air travel can be unpredictable as weather conditions can make it difficult to travel to and from Antarctica. When to Visit The best time to visit Antarctica is dependent on each traveler’s individual interests. Visitors wishing to see the wildlife should visit between late November and March. November is the best time for bird watching, and penguins are out in full force; seal pups and penguin chicks are born between December and January, and these months are popular for visitors wishing to see the arrival of new life in this frozen land. Not long after the baby animals arrive, whale sightings peak between February and March. Alternatively, visitors who are more interested in the fauna and ice formations should visit during the spring when wildflowers are in bloom and the warming temperatures form sculptural elements in the abundant ice. South Georgia A long and slender island in Antarctica, South Georgia boasts two scenic mountain ranges for visitors along with a dense population of wildlife. Visitors will find king penguins, macaroni penguins and seals inhabiting this island which is 75% covered by glaciers, ice and snow. St. Andrews Bay and surrounding beaches are home to the albatross. Another point of interest is the South Georgia Museum where visitors can learn about the history of the land and its wildlife. Antarctic Peninsula Many of the most visited points can be found on the Antarctic Peninsula including the scenic Lemaire Channel, a slim ocean passageway between the Peninsula and Booth Island surrounded by steep and stunning cliffs. The British Survey Base Port Lockroy which was once used as a whaling station is now home to an educational museum and is a designated historic site. Also found on the peninsula is Esperanza Base, a fascinating permanent settlement in this frozen environment. Antarctica is one of the most isolated travel destinations in the world, and travelers to this picturesque land of snow and ice are rewarded with an unforgettable journey. Whether visiting for the wildlife, the history or simply for bragging rights, this unique destination has a lot to offer.
As the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized by explorers from Europe, Thailand features some of the most incredible one-of-a-kind adventures, and is a terrific option for cheap tours in Asia. Consider the following attractions and adventures when creating the perfect Thailand experience: 1. Rai Leh Beach The only way to get to this amazing beach is by boat because the small stretch of sand is surrounded by high cliffs, which attract rock climbers from near and far. 2. Phang Nga Bay When many people think of Thailand, they think of Phang Nga Bay, an amazing series of limestone islands, secret caves, and crystal clear waters. 3. Elephant rides There are a number of spots around Thailand, like Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary, where visitors can experience the excitement and joy of an elephant ride. This majestic animal is the national symbol of Thailand. 4. Sea Kayaking around Phuket Thailand’s amazing island scenery is best viewed from the water and is an amazing experience when viewed from a kayak. 5. The ancient city of Ayuthaya Built in the 1300s, this incredible city was once the center of trade in Asia and had more than a million people living in it 500 years later. 6. The Similan Islands Around this beautiful archipelago are some of the most beautiful scuba diving experiences in the world with extensive coral and sea life. 7. Zip lining in Chiang Mai This 1500 year old rainforest offers incredible an adventure from the perspective of the forest’s canopy, and the area also offers rock climbing and mountain biking. 8. Koh Tao Adventurers who want to learn the fine art of diving should visit this tiny island where millions of fish and marine sea life live in shallow reefs that surround Koh Tao. 9. Hill-tribe villages of Northern Thailand Trekking through the hills of northern Thailand offers the chance to see ancient cultures and societies, as well as intricate temples and palaces that have remained intact despite the passage of centuries. 10. Chiang Dao caves Nestled within the Chiang Dao National Park, this series of over 100 caves offers views of stalactites and stalagmites in beautiful limestone formations. At least 6 million international tourists visit Thailand each year because of the amazing adventures offered in this incredible country. There’s no shortage of heart-pumping experiences in Thailand. To learn more about traveling to Thailand, check out our array of Thailand tours on offer.
On our recent visit to the Cayman Islands, we got the chance to swim with wild stingrays! It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. There are very few places in the world where you can get up close and personal with stingrays in the wild, so close in fact that you can hold them! About a 20 minute boat ride from Seven Mile Beach (the main beach on Grand Cayman) is a sandbank now known as ‘Stingray City’. Most of Grand Cayman Island is surrounded by a coral reef, and a break in the reef has caused a sandbank to form overtime. Years ago fishermen would stop off at the sand bank after a day of fishing to gut their fish, attracting stingrays who would return loyally everyday to feed on the fisherman’s scraps. As time went by the stingrays became quite the attraction, and today they swim with hundreds, sometimes thousands of visitors on the sand bank each day. When we first stepped into the waist-high water, the stingrays were very welcoming, rubbing up against our legs to say hi. It was quite overwhelming at first, and I was a little nervous, but after about 10 minutes in the water, I started to to come around and enjoy the company of these beautiful creatures. You can touch the rays as they swim by, and even hold one if they are open to swimming into your arms! So, what do they feel like? The skipper of our boat described their touch as a ‘wet portobello mushroom’, and I have to say this description is quite accurate! There are many different breeds of stingrays throughout the world, and the ones we swam with are known as the Southern Stingray, or Dasyatid.
The final stop on our amazing 6 day tour to the South Island of New Zealand, was Lake Ohau. This was a beautiful spot, and perfect for a relaxing evening on the last night of our tour. Our hotel overlooked the lake with New Zealand’s tallest mountain, Mount Cook looming in the distance. A good meal, a glass of wine, and a soak in the hot tub with great views was the perfect way to spend the evening! Lake Ohau is an extremely popular destination in the winter, with a major ski field minutes away, and in the summer it is a great place to check out if you want to take some time to stop and enjoy the views!
After our relaxing evening in Lake Ohau, we headed back to Christchurch. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a sheep farm, which was fantastic! Our lunch was made with ingredients fresh from the farm, and we got the chance to see a sheep shearing demonstration, and of course feed the sheep:-)
All in all, our Topdeck tour to the South Island of New Zealand was nothing short of spectacular, with no moment wasted, great accommodations, wonderful crew, an itinerary I wouldn’t change, and many new friends made.
The Fjordlands in the South Island of New Zealand should be on everyone’s must-see list as a tourist. The stunning landscapes and wildlife in this region are incredible. You will not leave disappointed. The Doubtful Sound is not accessible by road, the only way to get there is by boat. We began our journey to the sound via a ferry across Lake Manapouri. We then boarded a bus and journeyed over Wilmot pass, where we met our home for the next 24 hours on board our overnight cruise vessel with Real Journeys. My words and pictures cannot explain the pure magical feeling the sound possesses. We passed a waterfall every few minutes, we saw penguins, seals, and dolphins. The entire experience was tranquil and beautiful. Just before the sun set on our first day onboard, we anchored in a quiet inlet and took out the kayaks. This was my favorite part of the cruise, getting up close to the waterfalls, and seeing the mountains right up-close rise straight up out of the water, covered in plush green trees. The staff on board were really knowledgeable, and never missed an opportunity to show us something magical. They explained the fjords and their history in such detail. At one point, the captain turned the engine off, and we sat in silence for a few minutes just to get a true understanding of the isolation and tranquility of the area. It was truly a peaceful moment. The cruise itself was also fantastic. The accommodations were comfortable and wonderful, and the food was out of this world. The chef on board made every effort to fill our bellies with delicious local seafood, lamb, beef, and other Kiwi favorites. The desert was probably the most memorable part of dinner, mostly because I have a crazy sweet tooth! For the food alone this cruise was worth it, but food aside, I will always highly recommend a visit New Zealand’s Fjordlands, and Topdeck Travel did an amazing job of making this part of the trip magical with the overnight cruise, and the amount of time we spent enjoying the region.
They call Queenstown the adrenalin Capital of the world, and it is not hard to see why! Queenstown is a stunning town nestled in the mountains surrounded by beautiful lakes, ski resorts, canyons and raging rivers. But back to the adrenalin…..on our way into Queenstown our guide gave us a run-down of all of the activity options available. These options included the largest bungy jump in the world, AJ Hacket’s original bungy, the world’s largest canyon swing, sky diving, shotover jet boating, paragliding, hang gliding, horse riding………the list goes on. Having already skydived and bungy jumped in my younger years, I opted for the canyon swing, and Brian decided to do AJ Hacket’s original bungy. I have to say that the anticipation leading up to the actual moment is a lot scarier than taking the leap. Brian has a pretty bad fear of heights, so conquering the bungy was huge for him, although his emotions don’t show on his video, I look much more nervous than him! I highly recommend the canyon swing, because if you want to go again it is only $39NZD! So of course I did! While many people are attracted to Queenstown because of the adrenalin, there is also many other things to see and do here. The nightlife for one is fantastic. We kicked off our night out on the town at the ice bar with our Topdeck group, which was a lot of fun, and a lot cheaper than expected.
There are also some really great restaurants worth checking out. When it comes to food, one place you MUST try while visiting Queenstown, is Fergburger. The burgers here are huge, and very tasty. I was also really impressed with the Ferg Bakery next door, offering delicious fresh pastries and desserts. We also hiked the Tiki Trail up to the summit of Bob’s Peak, which boasted amazing views of the town. You can also catch the gondola to the top if you are not feeling so athletic after your Fergburger:-)
All in all, our two days in Queenstown were so much fun, and probably the highlight of our trip. Next time, we want to visit in the winter so that we can check out some of New Zealand’s best ski resorts!