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India is a vastly diverse country that pulses with cultural tones ranging from ancient rituals to modern metros. Because the country is so large – 1,269,346 square miles, to be precise – there are an incredible number of things to do on an India tour beyond major tourist attractions such as the Ganges River, Goa and Taj Mahal.
From exploring UNESCO-preserved caves and searching for tigers in the wild to seeing ancient archaeological sites, here are our picks for five fantastic things to do in India.
Explore the Ellora and Ajanta Caves
Located near Aurangabad, the Ellora and Ajanta Caves are arguably India's most underrated UNESCO sites. While very different from each other, they are both spectacular.
The Ellora Caves are closer to Aurangabad. Built between the 5th and 10th centuries, there are 34 caves in all, representing the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions. The word "cave" is a serious understatement here. Many of them are intricately carved into the rock face, and the Kailash Temple in particular is a showstopper. More than 220,000 tons of rock were removed to create a mammoth solid block, into which this magnificent temple was carved.
The Ajanta Caves are much smaller in size, older, and feature primarily Buddhist paintings. Dating from the 2nd century BC, these caves were neglected and water-damaged until a British soldier stumbled upon them in the 19th century. Even though they’re damaged, they are still sublime cultural masterpieces.
Search for Wild Tigers
India is home to more than half of the world's wild tiger population. The big cat is India's national animal symbol, and the focus of ecotourism in many states throughout the subcontinent.
Though still in a precarious conservation position due to their rapidly dwindling habitat, the number of tigers in the Indian wild has increased in the past eight years, from 1,411 in 2006 to 2,226 in 2014.
There are currently 47 tiger reserves in India, with Pench, Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Ranthambhore and Corbett all considered among the best places to spot a tiger in the wild. Ranthambhore National Park is located in Rajasthan, not far from India's "Golden Triangle" of tourism (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur), making it the most well-known tiger reserve. There are currently around 45 adult tigers and 10 cubs in Ranthambhore, which is the highest number ever recorded in the park.
Madhya Pradesh, a state in central India, is home to several of India's most popular tiger reserves, including Pench, Kanha and Bandhavgarh. This region of lush jungles inspired the setting of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.
Savor the Beaches and Backwaters of Kerala
Located in southern India, Kerala is often referred to as "God's Own Country" in reference to the lushness of the tropical state, the abundance of its natural treasures, and the richness of its culture. Kerala is the ideal place to start a journey in India, as it provides a soft landing for visitors.
While there are many reasons to visit Kerala (including hill stations, spice plantations, and Ayurvedic resorts), the palm-lined beaches and fascinating backwaters are arguably the two prime attractions.
Excellent beaches can be found along the length of the coastal state, with spots such as Varkala and Marari attracting travelers seeking a little rest and relaxation. The best way to access the backwaters is by houseboat. Southern India is a particular favorite of IE Custom Travel Planner Kim, who loves planning trips here!
See the Khajuraho Group of Monuments
The Khajuraho Group of Monuments was lost to the verdant jungles of central India for eons, until a British soldier stumbled across them in 1838. Now considered among the finest masterpieces of Indian art, Khajuraho is also one of India's most stimulating UNESCO sites due to the extensive erotic carvings on some of the temples.
The temples were built during the Chandella dynasty (900-1100 AD) and represent both Hindu and Jain religions. There are about 20 temples in all, though it is believed there were originally 85. The complex covers about 9 square miles near the small, remote town of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh.
But it's well worth the visit to see and experience these three-dimensional works of art, especially if you time it to be there in February during the Khajuraho Dance Festival. One of the most popular festivals in India, this gives visitors the soul-stirring opportunity to see Indian classical dance set against the backdrop of the ancient temples.
Visit The Hill Stations
If you ever find yourself in India during the scorching heat of summer (May-August), you will come to appreciate the hill stations. Built during colonial times by the British as a refuge from the oppressive heat, most hill stations are located at an altitude of 3,500 to 7,500 feet.
Today, while the hill stations retain a patina of Raj-era charm, they are mostly very busy, very beloved holiday destinations for Indian families. There are literally hundreds of hill stations in India, but some of the most popular are Shimla, Darjeeling, Mussoorie, Nainital, Ooty, Manali and Rishikesh.
Added to the charm of visiting Darjeeling, Ooty and Shimla are the "toy trains" that you can take to get there. The journeys are slow, but the mountain scenery makes for a remarkably picturesque ride.
Tour India and Discover Your Favorite Things to Do!
International Expeditions offers travel to India focusing on exploration of the cultural highlights while being immersed in the nature of multiple national parks. Check out IE's incredible Explorer's India tours and India Wildlife adventure to start planning your adventure.
Though travel writer Mariellen Ward is Canadian by birth, she feels more at home in India, the country of her soul culture. She writes for many publications and publishes an India-inspired travel blog, Breathedreamgo.
Nature makes you smarter — that’s what all the research says. But what does that mean, actually?
One view: Staring for just 40 seconds at a computer screen picture of a green roof will increase your ability to focus, according to one new study.
But another experiment found only mixed cognitive benefits from a 50 minute walk in actual nature.
Welcome to the messy, far-from-settled science of smarter-by-nature. A bevy of studies does say that people just emerging from a “nature experience” (the definition of which ranges from a days-long hike to merely looking at an image of a natural landscape) do better than control groups on memory tests or other kinds of cognitive tasks. But we’re a long way from those results being confirmed, understood or actually making anyone smarter — much less making nature more of a habit for anyone.
“There’s a ton more work to be done,” says Greg Bratman, a Stanford researcher whose project is digging into the mechanisms behind nature’s psychological benefits, both cognitive and affective.
“We’re all measuring differences according to little concentration tests or working memory tests — we’re not being very specific about the causal mechanisms,” Bratman says. “And replication is a huge issue. Nailing all this down is very important to integrating it into ecosystem services like urban design and prescribing length of urban walks, for instance.”
Not to mention the problem of whether people want to think about nature as, say, a quick-fix to boost our productivity, versus just making us feel better.
More Dosage Required?
As reported on Cool Green Science, Bratman has found that just a 50-minute walk in a natural setting gives people much stronger affective benefits when compared to the same duration walk along a busy multilane urban boulevard. But his results were not as compelling for the cognitive benefits of the same nature walk.
The nature walkers were superior to their urban counterparts in a complicated working memory test known as operation span or OSPAN. OSPAN sounds a bit sadistic: Subjects are forced to solve math equations and simultaneously repeat back a chain of letters they were shown for only 800ms at a time. (This is the first time nature’s been looked at as a variable in such a test.)
However, on three other cognitive tests for which Bratman reported results, he found little or no performance difference between nature and urban walkers. And two of these tests (attention network task and backward digit span) had shown positive results in previously published experiments. (Part of Bratman’s project is to replicate previous study results on nature’s psychological benefits.)
Bratman says there are numerous explanations for his results — chief among them, test-taker fatigue through 70 minutes of intense tests. And a null result, he adds, doesn’t invalidate previous findings.
“If anything, the OSPAN effects are conservative,” Bratman says.
However, Ben Levy, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of San Francisco who studies learning and memory and who was a co-author on Bratman’s new paper, says the results might also reflect the need for larger nature doses to make a difference to memory performance.
“The dosage of nature Greg did was pretty minimal,” says Levy. “Maybe you need to go spend a day or two in nature. I am optimistic that there might be some cognitive changes there, but they are weaker in my assessment than the affective changes.”
Can Cognitive Benefits Ever Be as Appealing as Affective Ones?
The 40-second green-roof-image test, on the other hand, produced very striking benefits for attention — prompting the study’s lead author, Kate Lee of the University of Melbourne, to tell Chris Mooney of the Washington Post that the findings could have immediate impact on workplace productivity.
“Modern work drains attention throughout the day, so providing boosted ‘green micro-breaks’ may provide mental top-ups to offset declining attention,” Mooney quoted an email from Levy.
“Heavy demands are placed on attention in the workplace and this research suggests a simple strategy to enhance concentration,” Lee also told Kate Ashford at Forbes. “Our results suggest attention boosts that could have meaningful implications for any number of vital work tasks that involve executive functioning, such as strategizing, planning, reading and writing.”
Lee’s comments mirror a hunger among many in the environmental community, who have seized on the smarter-by-nature research as a mantra to motivate more outdoors participation.
But larger questions about the implementation and consequences of research such as Lee’s and Bratman’s remain unanswered.
Will people use nature in this way — in essence, to boost their productivity? Instead of, say, a coffee with their colleagues?
Will computerized images of green roofs (or even green roofs themselves) actually strengthen workers’ affinity for nature? Or its conservation?
Might they even come to resent this use of nature as manipulative?
Contrast that with Bratman’s findings on the substantial benefits that 50-minute nature walk can give to your mood and tendency to ruminate — a known precursor to depression. One in approximately every 20 people worldwide suffers from clinical depression — so interest in a solution to these findings is already high.
In addition, affective benefits are immediately and universally appealing. As Bratman says, there’s much more science to be done to turn them into true ecosystem services — tailored to different groups and different landscapes, and implementable into urban planning. But one can see that path being much more populist.
Bratman argues that more research can overcome that bias.
“The idea that nature makes us feel better is more intuitive than the idea that nature makes us smarter,” he says. “You need to break that down with evidence.”
‘There’s Something Going On Here…Let’s Just Tackle It’
Levy lauds Bratman’s research project for helping to bring rigor to the smarter-by-nature literature.
“Most of this [previous research] is correlational, which I didn’t find that compelling — a kid who has a view of nature outside his window will perform a little bit better than another kid who doesn’t have that view,” Levy says.
“The interesting question is: Why do we get these effects?” he continues. “Is it something about nature per se, or could you get the same benefits from going to a museum — a place that might inspire the same sense of wonder or interest?”
“Experimental research, like what we did here, where we have control over who gets exposed to nature and over other variables — like amount of exercise — is quite rare. Greg was very careful here, he included more measures of affect and cognition to see what is actually influenced.”
Bratman defends the state of the literature, arguing that it is a convincing mix of correlative, experimental and natural studies.
“If these studies are all pointing in the same direction — and they are — then there’s something going on here,” he says.
His next steps are helping to refine that “something” with a series of experiments that he hopes will lead to customized implementation of his findings to different groups and environments.
For instance, he and Heather Tallis, a lead scientist at The Nature Conservancy, are studying how density of trees and shrubs might impact test scores in schools — and whether planting more greenery near those schools might be a low-cost way of boosting average scores.
“It’s just such a data-starved area right now,” Bratman says. “My approach is: Let’s just tackle it.”
This blog originally appeared on Cool Green Science, the science blog of The Nature Conservancy.
By weaving historical anecdotes from these fascinating lives into his travelogue, author Kim MacQuarrie makes both the ancient cultures and the present-day people of South America sing, transforming swan songs historians can’t forget into siren songs travelers can’t resist.
In his new meditation on South America, Life and Death in the Andes, Kim MacQuarrie follows the spine of the world’s longest mountain chain, exploring the lives of legendary characters like Charles Darwin, Pablo Escobar and Che Guevara. Picking through remnants and ruins, he muses on indigenous cultures’ disappearance and searches for the true uniqueness of the South American continent.
Each chapter works as an extended essay on a historical figure, such as Hiram Bingham and his strained relationship with the Peruvians after his discovery of Machu Picchu. Many of the characters explored are the outlaws and revolutionaries that often kick up in South American history, societal outcasts like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the drug lord Pablo Escobar and the passionate rebel Che Guevara. MacQuarrie shapes their stories by re-imagining scenes from their lives, from moments of triumph and discovery to an often tragic demise.
In a chapter on the Incas, MacQuarrie even brings to life an anonymous “Ice Maiden” of Peru, whose body was preserved at the time she was sacrificed, at the age of fourteen, to the Incan gods. He gives voice to some fast-disappearing native cultures, visiting the last living speaker of the Yamana language. In a fascinating chapter on Kon-Tiki and the raft-builders that made the famous voyage possible, he meets the natives who make their home on the floating islands of Lake Titicaca.
You can order this book at Longitude.com.
Despite its small size (around 110,000 square miles), Ecuador is one of the most diverse travel destinations in the world. There are an incredible array of things to do on an Ecuador tour, with sights, activities and attractions to suit just about any travel style.
From the Amazon River Basin and Andes Mountains to the Galapagos Islands, the country offers a wide variety of ecosystems within its borders. Their relative proximity makes it fairly easy to see a number of Ecuador’s finest natural and historical attractions in a fairly short time.
As a result, narrowing down a list of the best things to do in Ecuador is a bit of a task. Here are a few of our favorites:
Adventure Time in Baños de Agua Santa
Locals know Baños de Agua Santa simply as Baños. The town gets its name (which means “baths of sacred water”) from the natural hot springs that flow to the edge of town from active Tungurahua Volcano.
But Baños is also the jumping-off point for a wealth of activities around the region. This is the place for white water rafting, which runs the Paztasa River down towards the Amazon Basin. There are also a number of canyons nearby, and rappelling, climbing, and hiking through them is extremely popular.
For those seeking more subdued adventures, a wander down the valley of the waterfalls will take you to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of South America, including the stunning Manto de la Novia and the powerful Pailon del Diablo.
Colonial Architecture in Cuenca
In many ways, Cuenca is arguably Ecuador's most beautiful colonial city.
The Historic Centre of Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was founded in 1557 on rigorous planning guidelines issued in 1527 by the Spanish king Charles V. Cuenca. Much of the city’s architecture dates back to the 18th century, and the cathedral in Cuenca ranks among the most impressive buildings in Ecuador.
Because it’s a safe place with a very high standard of living, Cuenca is one of the most popular cities in South America for expats coming from the United States. There are loads of retirees here, and a great international community as well.
Explore the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are unlike any other place in the world. The myriad wildlife species are a highlight of any nature-lover’s Galapagos Islands cruise, and many of the animals living on the islands are endemic.
Marine Iguanas, Flightless Cormorants, Giant Tortoises and Galapagos Penguins are just a few of the many species you'll find in the Galapagos Islands that don't exist anywhere else in the world. The fact that you can get within a few feet of these wild animals without them seeming to care about your presence at all is amazing.
Beyond the wildlife, the geology of the volcano-birthed islands is something to behold. The landscapes look as if they're from another planet, leaving even the most well-traveled visitor completely awestruck.
Perhaps what's most amazing about these landscapes is the variety of ecosystems found among them. For example, Santa Cruz Island is extremely arid on the northern edge. However, when you drive towards the south, you’ll find increasingly heavy humidity and a lush green rainforest.
Get Some R&R in Montañita
Just a decade ago, Montañita was a quiet fishing village with a small population of South American hippies. But in recent years it has sprung to life as the country's most popular beach destination. Sure, the town is still home to its fair share of hippies and beach bums, but Montañita has also come alive with tourists visiting from all over the world.
To provide some scale on the town’s growth, a decade ago there was just one hostel in Montañita. Today, there are at least a dozen. Nearly the entire beachfront has given way to hotels, shopping and restaurants.
But despite the growth on a tourism front, Montañita has remained a relaxed little spot for a beach getaway, with a permanent population of a little over 1,000 people.
Hike Cotopaxi National Park
Located just an hour's drive from Quito, the Cotopaxi volcano is often visible from the city. It’s an imposing sight: Standing at around 19,347 ft above sea level, it is the highest active volcano in the world. It's also one of the few places on the planet where you’ll find glaciers so close to the equator.
Cotopaxi National Park is easily accessible by car, and open to the public when the volcano is not extremely active. (It was closed to hikers briefly after a 2015 eruption.) Climbing the great snow-capped volcano is one of the most popular things to do in Ecuador among adventure-seekers, but it does require a licensed guide. Those who reach the top will find an impressive 820-foot deep crater at the peak.
Ride the Devil's Nose Train
Most of Ecuador’s train lines have now fallen into disrepair and remain unused. But riding a section of the track called “The Devil's Nose” has become one of the most popular things to do in Ecuador among tourists.
The Ecuadorian train line was originally built back in 1901 by workers that were brought into Ecuador from Jamaica and Puerto Rico. The name for this section of the track was given due to the staggering number of deaths that occurred while constructing the switchbacks.
It's through this section that the train drops around 1,640 ft in altitude over a stretch of just 7.4 miles. To make the drop, the train cuts down a steep section and rolls past a junction on the track, then stops and rolls backwards down the next bit. It's an impressive bit of engineering, and a must-do adventure for train-lovers.
Shop at Otavalo Market
Perhaps the friendliest and most accessible local market in all of South America, Otavalo Market is a brilliant place to wander and explore.
Located about an hour's drive from Quito, this Andean town is built upon trade. On Sundays, locals come to town from nearly every village in the area to trade goods such as fruits and vegetables, and farm animals like goats and llamas.
Of course, in the center of town there is also a tourist market, which is open every day of the week. The vendors here are friendly, and always happy to chat. If you've had enough shopping, hike to the beautiful Peguche Waterfall, which is on the outskirts of town.
Take a Boat Down the Amazon
Ecuador's share of the Amazon Basin is wild and beautiful. It is also completely unique to shares of the forest held by other countries. Where else in the Amazon could you sit and overlook the rainforest jungle while also having the backdrop of a snow-capped volcano?
The Ecuadorian Amazon is one of the best places in the country for wildlife lovers. There are over 1,600 different species of birds, over 350 species of reptiles (including Caiman and Anacondas), and plenty of mammal species as well (including Jaguars, Howler Monkeys, and the endangered Cotton-headed Tamarin).
Quito is the capital of Ecuador, and a bustling hub in the heart of the country. With most of the city located at just under 9,842 feet above sea level, it will take your breath away in more ways than one!
Quito was founded around 980AD by the Caras people, long before the arrival of Europeans. In the 1460s the city was conquered by the Inca, and integrated into their kingdom. When the Spanish arrived in Ecuador, Quito was serving as the northern capital in an Inca Kingdom that was deeply conflicted. The Spanish finally seized control of the city for good in 1534.
Today, there is plenty to love about Quito. The old city offers stunning examples of colonial Latin American architecture. There’s also a cable car which takes passengers up to about 13,779 feet above sea level for amazing views of the city, and, on a clear day, the Cotopaxi volcano.
There are plenty of attractions just outside Quito as well. One of the most popular is the Mitad del Mundo (“Center of the Earth”), a monument and museum for the equator. There’s also a line drawn along the equator, so you can get a photo standing with one foot in the southern hemisphere and the other in the northern.
Walk Around Quilotoa Lagoon
The Quilotoa Lagoon is one of the most overlooked destinations in all of Ecuador. The fact that it sits just off the traditional tourist trail (and the paved Pan-American Highway) means that only a handful of privileged people visit this incredible place each year.
Quilotoa, with a summit at 12,841 feet, is a massive volcanic crater some 820 feet deep that’s filled with water. The crater was created about 800 years ago during a massive eruption that collapsed the peak of the volcano.
Today, the volcano lies dormant and a beautiful hiking trail encircles the lagoon, which is colored green-ish blue due to heavy amounts of mineral deposits left behind in the water after the eruption.
Hailing from Alberta, Brendan Van Son is the professional travel photographer and writer behind Brendan’s Adventures. His freelance work has been seen in outlets such as the BBC, National Geographic Traveler and The Guardian.
The rise of new world wines that began about 15 years ago has brought an increased influx of wine tourism to Chile and Argentina. But these two countries have a wine industry that stretches back nearly 500 years.
Grape cuttings were first brought to Chile, then Argentina by Spanish missionaries in order to produce wine for the celebration of Mass. The favorable climate, abundance of water from the melting glaciers of the Andes, and higher altitude compared to Europe (which meant a reduced risk of insects, fungi and grape diseases) allowed the Patagonian wine industry to flourish over the centuries.
The arrival of European immigrants during the 19th century brought new grape varieties and winemaking techniques. Chile has been exporting wines to Europe since the 1880s, while Argentina primarily focused on producing for the domestic market until quite recently.
In Chile, the main wine-producing regions are the Colchagua Valley, the Aconcagua Valley and the Maipo Valley. The largest wine region in Argentina is Mendoza, followed by La Rioja (which, curiously, is also a winemaking region in Spain), Salta and San Juan.
International Expeditions has two distinct options combining wine and wildlife in these spectacular countries! Here is a brief overview of where to taste the best wines of Chile and Argentina:
WINES OF CHILE
Maipo Valley Region
This is Chile's most established wine region, located just south of Santiago on the other side of the Andes from Mendoza. It was here that the first vine cuttings were planted in the 1540s, and by the mid-19th century the industry was already flourishing.
Red wines reign in the Maipo region, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Merlot, which are all widely exported abroad. As one of the oldest wine producing regions, it's possible to visit some of Chile's best known wineries in the Maipo Valley, including:
- Concha y Toro: This is the Maipo region’s flagship winery, and the ideal place to start learning about Chilean wines. It's a good place to see a large winery in action, and visits on International Expeditions' Birds & WInes of Argentina & Chile tour include entrance to the Casillero del Diablo, the cellar that gives its name to a famous brand of Concha y Toro wines.
- Santa Rita: One of Chile's aristocratic wineries, founded at the end of the 19th century. The great wines are matched by the beauty of the winery itself, which is set in a 200-year-old house. The adjacent Doña Paula restaurant offers a great lunch experience.
Colchagua Valley Region
If there ever was a perfect wine-growing climate, it's in the Colchagua Valley. The climate is Mediterranean – warm with a gentle ocean breeze, mostly dry, but refreshed by rivers. The western boundary of the region is formed by coastal hills, while the east is limited by the foothills of the Andes.
Red wines prefer warmer conditions. As such, most reds (especially Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot) are produced in the warmer east, while whites (Chardonnay and Sauv Blanc) benefit from the ocean breezes of the cooler west.
Some of the best wineries to visit are:
- Lapostolle: This is the Colchagua region's most prestigious winery, set up by the granddaughter of the creator of Grand Marnier liqueur. Lapostolle offers small-group tours of the stunning winery, which includes a roof garden and a glass-topped tasting table, allowing visitors to appreciate the color nuances of the wine.
- Viu Manent: Set in wonderfully retro surroundings, a visit here includes a horse-cart tour of the vineyard and an outdoors tasting area with a view over the valley.
WINES OF ARGENTINA
The majority of Argentinian wines come from Mendoza, in the central part of the country. It’s a place that’s well worth visiting for the stunning Andean scenery alone. The variety of microclimates in the region helped achieve a varied terroir. Malbec is the star of the show in Mendoza, but Bordeaux-style Reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and local whites such as Torrontes, also fare well.
The Mendoza region is highly focused on wine tourism, so there's something for everyone here, from five-star wineries and celebrity restaurants to locally-owned vineyards offering vino patero (foot-pressed) and homemade food. Here are a couple of wineries we recommend visiting if you are in the Mendoza region:
- Bodegas Lopez: This is one of the oldest working wineries in the Mendoza region. The tour takes you through the history of Argentinian winemaking, from wooden presses and delivery trucks dating back to the 1920s to the modern champagne-making plant.
- Bodega Carmelo Patti: Owner Carmelo Patti started picking grapes as a 10-year-old, then sold his car to finance his winemaking enterprise. He often leads the tours himself, and afterwards invites visitors for a drink in his office.
Nestled in the Andes near the northwestern city of Salta at 5,600 feet, Cafayate is one of the highest wine-producing regions in the world. Around Cafayate the scenery is to die for: The barren peaks of the Andes offset the greenery of the vines, and the crisp high-mountain air means that views stretch for miles. Unlike Mendoza, which is really spread out, the Cafayate region is reasonably small, making it possible to tour many vineyards.
The most popular grapes produced in the Cafayate regions are Torrontes (a native crisp white with floral undertones), Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.
We recommend visiting:
- Bodega Nanni: This is a small organic winery, conveniently located in Cafayate city center, producing an excellent Torrontes Tardio.
- Bodega Etchart: This is one of the largest winemaking operations in the region, dating back to the 1850s. The tour will allow you to understand what is special about the Cafayate wine region.
Margherita Ragg is one of the creators of The Crowded Planet, a blog whose motto is “Finding nature and adventure everywhere.” She has an MFA in Creative Writing and a background of literary non-fiction writing, and her freelance work has included editing for National Geographic.
Summer vacation doesn’t have to be synonymous with simply sitting on a beach! For those who like to combine their relaxation with a healthy dose of adventure, International Expeditions offers a range of experiences. From the Far North to Southern Africa, here are our favorite “Must Try” travel adventures!
Tubing Through Caves & Belize’s Lush Rainforests
Hop on an inner tube for a guided tour on an underground river through a series of caves and towering rainforest. The Mayans regarded these cave systems as a sacred underworld and home to powerful gods. With lush tropical rainforests, mystical Mayan ruins and the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere—nowhere else in the world can you experience a greater diversity of environments, wildlife and culture than Belize.
Sea Kayaking with Beluga Whales in the Canadian Arctic
Paddle among icebergs, looking out for ring and bearded seals as well as beluga whales in the shallow waters of the Cunningham River estuary as you travel 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle to Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge. During this distinct Canada adventure, you also hike the tundra, spot polar bears roaming the Northwest Passage, investigate the mysterious Thule ruins crafted from giant whale bones, fish for Arctic char and more.
Hiking To Alaska’s Massive Exit Glacier
Enjoy Alaska’s changing vegetation on a hike for vistas of Exit Glacier’s blue ice spilling down from the Harding Icefield. Your accompanying naturalist explains what’s really happening inside the blue crevasses. On our Alaska tour, enjoy an immersive exploration of two distinct national parks: Kenai Fjords and Denali. Explore Alaska's spectacular Kenai Fjords National Park by kayak and small boat tours before venturing deep into the heart of Denali National Park.
Tracking Namibia’s Rhinos on Foot
Join researchers from Save the Rhino Trust to track rhino on foot through the rocky and desolate landscape of Namibia’s stark northwest. This region is home to the country’s last free-roaming black rhinos. Survey the stark beauty and rich wildlife of one of Africa’s most unusual countries on a small-group safari limited to just eight guests. Plus, explore the dunes of Sossusvlei — climbing some of the world’s tallest dunes — along with shipwrecks and abandoned diamond mines on the rugged Skeleton Coast.
Zip-lining in the Costa Rican Canopy
Fly through the rainforest canopy like a super hero before enjoying horseback riding, rafting and hiking. . Love fishing? Try to land a record-breaking tarpon, sailfish or marlin on a private fishing excursion. Few countries offer this incredible combination of nature, culture and adventure all close to home, and IE's experts can arrange your ideal Costa Rica tour.
Costa Rica is relatively tiny, as countries go. With a total area of around 19,700 square miles, it’s smaller than the state of West Virginia. That’s precisely what makes the ecotourism hotspot’s legendary biodiversity – which includes approximately 894 species of Costa Rica birds – so impressive.
From the wet plains of the Caribbean coast around Tortuguero National Park to dry northern lowlands, from the mangrove swamps the line the Pacific to the cloud forests of the central mountain range, Costa Rica provides a stunning array of habitats for wildlife.
But the country’s diversity of birdlife can actually be traced back millions of years, to the time when North America and South America were completely disconnected. Over the eons, a series of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions gradually tied the continents together, with Central America becoming a sort of land bridge between them.
Avian species from both the north and south were drawn to the lush neotropical climate in the middle. As a result, there are now more species of Costa Rica birds than there are in the United States and Canada combined. These include approximately 600 resident species, of which 19 are threatened and eight are endemic.
Here’s a brief introduction to some of the myriad bird species you should watch for during your Costa Rica tour:
Birds of Prey
Ranging in size from the tiny Pearl Kite (nine inches long, weighing just three oz) to the massive King Vulture (which can reach over 10 pounds and 32 inches, with a wingspan of six feet), Costa Rica’s raptor species are varied and plentiful.
They all share common traits, such as great vision, strong talons for catching and holding prey, and curved beaks for tearing flesh.
Species from this family you’re likely to see include the Red-tailed Hawk, Swallow-tailed Kite, Crested Caracara, and Osprey. If you visit the Osa Peninsula, be on the lookout for the increasingly rare Harpy Eagle, one of the world’s largest and most powerful Eagles.
Hummingbirds rank among the world’s smallest avian species, with most measuring just three to five inches. But it’s impossible to imagine a visit to Costa Rica that doesn’t include daily sightings.
They seem to be almost everywhere, flitting amongst the flowering bushes at practically every resort and national park. The feeders at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve gift shop are a great place to see dozens of them in one place.
There are dozens of species found in the country, including the earth-toned Brown Violet Ear, the distinctive Green-breasted Mango, the aptly-named Long-billed Hermit, the brilliantly colored Violet-crowned Woodnymph, and the diminutive Scintillant Hummingbird, the smallest species in Costa Rica.
Found in most of the world’s tropical and subtropical regions, there are nearly 400 species in the parrot family (which includes Cockatoos, Macaws and Parakeets). They all share common traits, including curved bills, strong legs, vivid colors, and an upright stance.
They’re considered among the world’s most intelligent birds, and the ability of some species to imitate human voices and other sounds have made them popular as pets. Unfortunately, this ability has also increased the level of exploitative parrot trapping. Along with hunting, habitat loss, and competition from invasive species, this has led to a sharp decrease in wild populations over the last few decades.
There are dozens of pretty Parrot species you might be able to spot during a visit to Costa Rica, including Crimson-fronted and Orange-chinned Parakeets; Great Green and Scarlet Macaws; and Blue-headed, Red-lored, and White-crowned Parrots.
Considered by many people to be among the world’s most beautiful birds, the Resplendent Quetzal is a member of the Trogon family whose range stretches from Chiapas, Mexico south to western Panama. It’s the national bird of Guatemala, and was revered as divine in Mesoamerican mythology (where it was associated with the "snake god,” Quetzalcoatl).
The body of these largely solitary birds measures 14-16 inches long, but males also have a fantastic streaming tail that can measure more than two feet. As their name would seem to indicate, the quetzal’s colors are extraordinary: Their green bodies boast iridescent shades ranging from gold to blue-violet, with red breasts, spiky crests, and tails that include white, black, green, and blue-violet.
They’re primarily found in montane cloud forests, but can be difficult to spot. Look for them feeding on fruit and avocado trees, or listen for their distinctive call, a treble syllable that sounds like a kyow (similar to a whimpering puppy) repeated monotonously.
Closely related to American Barbets, Toucans are a family of brightly colored, large-billed birds from the Neotropics. There are about 40 different species in the family, including Toucans, Aracaris, and Toucanets, but certain species of Woodpeckers are also related.
Toucans can range in size from 11 to 29 inches, from 4.6 ounces to 1.5 pounds. But all of them are fairly short and strong, with small wings (since they live in forests and daily travel long distances). Their most distinguishing characteristic is their large, colorful bill, which comes in a diverse array of rainbow colors and features serrated edges that almost look like teeth.
Toucan species you may see feeding on fruits in the rainforest canopy include the Collared and Fiery-billed Aracari, the Emerald and Yellow-eared Toucanet, and the Chestnut-mandibled and Keel-billed Toucan.
These are obviously just a few of the hundreds of Costa Rica birds that keen-eyed birdwatchers may see during International Expeditions' Costa Rica tours. There are dozens of other species of Egrets, Guans, Herons, Honeycreepers, Ibises, Kingfishers, Manakins, Motmots, Owls, Tanagers, and Waterbirds just waiting to be spotted. But hopefully this gives you a taste of what makes Costa Rica a must-see bucket list destination for bird lovers from all around the world.
Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Rolling Stone to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. He is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.
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Peru is a magical land of stunning contrasts. It’s a country with bustling cities (such as Cusco, Trujillo and Lima) and remote natural wonders (including Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon and the Amazon).
It’s a country with thriving culture, ranging from the Quechua of the Andes Mountains to the innovative chefs who led to Peru being named the World’s Leading Culinary Destination for the fourth straight year at the World Travel Awards.
It’s a country where you can be spotting wildlife in the tropical rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon one day, and ascending 8,000-foot peaks to see the archaeological wonder that is Machu Picchu the next.
Peru has a special significance to all of us here at International Expeditions. It was here that we launched our first ecotour 36 years ago, and we remained deeply involved with community-focused initiatives such as the Clean Water Project, Adopt-a-School Program, Iquitos Education Project, Amazon Medical Project, the Amazon Center for Environmental Education & Research, and the ACEER Canopy Walkway.
What follows are just a few of our favorite places to visit in Peru:
Founded in 1540, Peru’s second most populous city is a must-see for history lovers and colonial architecture aficionados. Its 332-hectare historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is filled with beautiful building designs, including Arequipa Cathedral, La Compania Church, and the gorgeous main square (a.k.a. Plaza de Armas). Other can’t-miss sights include the Monastery de Santa Catalina, which was built in the 16th century and was closed to outside visitors for 400 years, and the Santuario Andino Museum, where you’ll find mummies of four young girls archaeologists believe were sacrificed to appease the Inca gods.
Divided by Southern Peru’s Colca River, this is one of the world’s deepest canyons at 10,725 feet (more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon). Its valley is rich with indigenous cultures: The Spanish colonial towns are inhabited by the Collagua and Cabana peoples, who maintain their rich ancestral traditions and cultivate stepped terraces dating back to before the rise of the Incan Empire. The area is also full of wildlife, including herds of Llamas, Alpacas, and the rare (and very shy) Vicuñas. Keep an eye to the skies to watch for the 10-foot wingspan of the massive Andean Condor.
Cusco is an excellent place to familiarize yourself with the cultural traditions of the Quechua people, whose ancient approach to agriculture, architecture, and textiles has been the heart and soul of the Andes region for 600 years now. The Quechua are known as master weavers, turning the remarkably soft fleece of the alpacas and vicuñas they raise into vividly colorful clothing, rugs, and tapestries. Soft alpaca fleece is one of the world's most prized, durable fabrics, and the Quechua products you’ll find in Cusco are available in 22 earth tones and myriad dyed colors.
Considered South America’s largest lake in terms of volume, Lake Titicaca is located in the Andes at an elevation of 12,507 feet on the border between Bolivia and Peru. There are five major river systems that feed into the lake, and its 41 islands include some that are densely populated. The area’s most famous residents are the Uros people, whose villages are floating artificial islands made from reeds so that they could be moved if under threat. Make sure to visit the island of Taquile, whose gorgeous textile art was proclaimed a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO.
Lima is both the capital and largest city in Peru, and its Historic Centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. The city features myriad exceptional examples of colonial architecture, many of which can be seen during a guided walking tour, including the Cathedral of Lima, the Convent of Santo Domingo, the Monastery of San Francisco, the Palace of Torre Tagle, and the Plaza Mayor. Dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, these landmarks showcase a range of Spanish influences, including Baroque, Colonial and Neoclassicism.
An archaeological wonder built in the mid-15th century at the height of the Inca Empire, Machu Picchu is an iconic landmark that inevitably winds up on practically every world traveler’s bucket list. And with good reason: The 8,000-foot mountain-top location is stunning, and the estate (which archaeologists believe was built for the Inca emperor Pachacuti) is impressively expansive. The famed Inca Trail to get there is actually three overlapping trails varying in length and difficulty, and provides numerous different breathtaking views along the way. Fair warning: Permits are limited to 200 hikers per day, and you’ll want to give yourself time to acclimatize to avoid getting altitude sickness.
Manu National Park
This biosphere reserve, which was named a a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, contains over 1000 different species of birds (more than the United States and Canada combined). From Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and Hoatzin (a.k.a. the Punk-Rock Bird) to Macaws and Spix’s Guan, the 11,800-square mile park is a burgeoning hotspot for birdwatchers. But its stunning biodiversity doesn’t end there: With ecosystems ranging from tropical rainforests to montane grasslands at elevations of nearly 14,000 feet, it’s also home to diverse wildlife such as Jaguars, Pumas, Giant Otters, Brazilian Tapir, Capybaras, Spectacled Bears, two species of sloths and 14 species of monkeys.
Trujillo, which was founded in 1534, is widely considered Peru’s cultural capital. It’s also a great starting point for exploring northern Peru’s pre-Columbian ruins. The adobe brick pyramid known as Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun) was the largest pre-Columbian structure in Peru, with a base measuring 500,000 square feet. Though Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) is considerably smaller, it’s beautifully decorated and riddled with rooms in which archaeologists found ceramics, jewelry and polychrome paintings (many of which can be seen in the Huacas de Moche Museum). Don’t miss the nine-square mile complex of Chan Chán, the largest adobe city in the Old World and the capital of the Chimu Kingdom.
The Peruvian Amazon
The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world, with its basin covering nearly 40% of the South American continent (2,720,000 square miles). Although the Brazilian section is plagued by pollution and deforestation, the more pristine Peruvian Amazon is home to an extremely diverse range of wildlife, including 262 species of amphibians, 293 mammal species, 806 types of birds, and around 2,500 different butterflies. International Expeditions offers numerous different ways of exploring the Peruvian Amazon, including land-based exploration and small-ship Amazon River cruises aboard La Estrella Amazonica.
Located near Cusco in Peru’s Andean Highlands, the Urubamba Valley was held as sacred by the Incas for its plentiful natural wealth, which includes lots of fresh water and rich, fertile land for growing various food crops. These days the “Sacred Valley” is a major tourist attraction that features a number of important archaeological sites, including the terraced mountains of Pisac, the underrated Winay Wayna, and the remarkable stone masonry of Ollantaytambo (which is also the launching point for trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu).
Find Your Favorite Part of Peru
Travel to Peru with International Expeditions to discover the very best of this diverse country. Drawing on decades of experience, IE offers small-group tours and custom private travel options for wildlife enthusiasts, families and foodies alike.
Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and Rolling Stone to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. He is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.
It’s easy to fall in love with Argentina, which seems alive with passion and bursting with beauty. This huge South American country spans the extremes: Fiery deserts sprawl across the north, lush pastures and vineyards rule its center, and the south is a jagged, jaw-dropping land of rock and ice.
To give you a little taste of what awaits you, take a look at our picks for the Top 10 Things to Do in Argentina. Tour Argentina and we dare you not to fall in love too!
Marvel at Iguazu Falls
A mighty, imposing spectacle, Iguazu Falls is in the far north of Argentina and is shared with Brazil. These thundering waterfalls are among the most magnificent natural attractions in South America, drawing in countless travelers every year.
The falls are fringed by thick, lush rainforest – Iguazu National Park – which means there are not only plenty of cascades to gawp at, but a whole jungle to explored as well. This subtropical paradise is home to over 2,000 species of vascular plants, and wildlife such as tapirs, howler monkeys and jaguars.
Tango, Tango, Tango!
Tango is the fire in Argentina’s belly. This passionate dance is inescapable here: It’s performed all across the country at shows, in clubs, and even on the streets. This is without a doubt the best destination in the world to watch some tango, and learning a few steps was definitely among my favorite things to do in Argentina.
One of the top spots to watch tango in Buenos Aires is Plaza Dorrego in the San Telmo neighborhood. An infamous street market is run in this area each weekend, and the square at the end of its stalls holds street tango performances for the duration. It’s impossible not to be mesmerized by these dancers. Towards the end of the day you may even find yourself pulled out onto the floor to be shown a couple of moves.
Go Hiking in El Chaltén
Patagonia is a playground for hikers and El Chaltén is one of the most popular bases for trekking in this region. There’s a reason why this little village in Los Glaciares National Park is known as the National Capital of Trekking – rocky, soaring mountains can be viewed from everywhere here.
Trails in this region mainly focus around mighty Fitz Roy, one of the most impressive peaks in Los Glaciares National Park. There are day hikes aplenty here; amble up to Laguna Torre or Laguna de los Tres for stunning lake and mountain views.
Sample Fine Wines
Although neighboring Chile is often praised for the quality of its wine, Argentina produces around four times as much. The Argentine region of Mendoza is one of the most popular places in the country to try a tipple. Many travelers choose to base themselves in the city of Mendoza, from which they’ll take day trips out to the vineyards that skirt the city.
One of the most iconic wine experiences is to cycle the Los Caminos del Vino in Mendoza’s Maipú area. Here you can cycle between a number of different cellars, trying samples of wines along the way and basking in the glorious, often sun-drenched, surroundings.
View Wildlife on the Valdés Peninsula
If you’re into marine life, you would be crazy to miss UNESCO World Heritage Site Valdés Peninsula while traveling in Argentina. Located on the eastern shores of the country, this blip of land protruding out from the rest of the coast is home to breeding populations of the endangered Southern right whales, plus Southern elephant seals, Southern sea lions, penguins, orcas and dolphins.
The best time of year to visit the Valdés Peninsula is from September-February, when many of the species listed above will be in the area. Hop on a whale watching tour in October, look out for Commerson’s dolphins with their calves in November, and head Punta Tombo, also in November, to check out Magellanic penguins in their hundreds of thousands waddling around on the beach.
Explore Cueva de las Manos
Estimated to have been created between 13,000 and 9,500 years ago, the Cuevos de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) is among the most important pre-historic sites in Argentina. Hand prints are stenciled all over the walls here, thought to be created by early hunter-gatherer groups in the region.
The hands are just one part of what you’ll find here. Depictions of animals and humans are littered across the cave, offering a fascinating glimpse into life in Argentina thousands of years ago. The site is in the country’s Río Pinturas region and was given UNESCO Word Heritage status in 1999.
Photograph Perito Moreno Glacier
It’s impossible to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier and not be amazed. This massive glacier in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park forms an 18-mile river of ice through the region and dwarves everything that comes close to it.
As one of the most famous attractions in Argentina, the glacier can be easily reached and there are plenty of walkways nearby from which you can get some good pictures. Keep your ears pricked while visiting: Seeing the glacier is one thing, but hearing huge chunks of ice fall off its side is an even more spellbinding experience.
Venture Into the Untouched North
Frequently overshadowed by the sublime scenery of the south, Argentina’s far north is comparatively quiet. Here the scenery blends with and spills into neighboring Bolivia and Chile; harsh desert, barren flats and scorching dry heat. That might sound pretty inhospitable, but few corners of Argentina are without beauty.
Stop by the beautiful colonial city of Salta, brave the rickety Tren a las Nubes (Train in the Clouds)– one of the highest railways in the world – and marvel and the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a valley in the Jujuy province characterized by vivid, multi-colored striped rocks.
It’s worth visiting Ushuaia just so you can say that you’ve been to the end of the world– the very far southern tip of the Americas. That said, it’s also worth going to witness the gateway to Antarctica. In Ushuaia, adventure is palpable.
If you’re not lucky enough to be able to cross the seas to Antarctica, never fear – Ushuaia has plenty in store for you. Go skiing and snowboarding, book a wildlife watching cruise down the Beagle Channel, or simply feast on the finest seafood in the city’s many restaurants.
Go Sightseeing in Tierra del Fuego
Speaking of Ushuaia, the area this city calls home is Tierra del Fuego, one of the most spectacular regions in Argentina (and South America, for that matter). The jewel in Patagonia’s crown, the magnificent scenery of this area has mesmerized travelers for centuries.
Of course, this Top 10 list is merely a taste of the many things to do in Argentina. But once you get a taste of this remarkably diverse country, I’m fairly certain you’ll fall in love.
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British travel writer Emma Higgins has been traveling solo for over three years and has lived in Spain, Canada and Thailand, collecting tales along the way and sharing them on her blog, Gotta Keep Movin’.
Scenario 1: Morning-dulled parents drag themselves out of bed to prepare breakfast for their equally tired kids, two otherwise bright and inquisitive children. Long days apart find them making the best of their brief evenings together, but usually not all together, and often more preoccupied with homework, work work, family administration and keeping the rising tide of laundry, dishes, garbage, bills, and untidy rooms at bay. It’s a daunting, thankless, seemingly endless grind.
Scenario 2: The entire family surrenders to the freedom and challenges of the road. As a unit, they share and sharpen their children’s bright inquisitiveness, with group excursions focused on the discovery of new people and places. Gone are the weeks of repetitive routine (unless a constant stream of new experiences can be considered regular).
Sure these two snapshots may smack of cliché – sedentary home life stinks, while travel liberates. But, as is often the case with clichés, there’s more than an ounce of truth to them.
Traveling with kids may not be for everyone. In some cases, either the parents or the kids (and sometimes both) just don’t have the right temperament for international family travel. But for those who see the world as an incomparably rich learning environment, there’s no denying the allure and advantages of ecotravel for the entire family.
With that in mind, here are nine key benefits to brood on when pondering the positive impact that travel can have on a family:
Traveling With Kids Brings Families Together
This is a line from the oft-sung psalm of a huge majority of traveling families: Travel as a family creates time and space for interpersonal bonding unlike almost anything you can do at home. Strip away the tangles and pressures of everyday life and you suddenly find yourself able to appreciate one another more fully and live life more deeply, all as a step in creating a robust family dynamic. The result is a more understanding and self-supporting family intimacy.
Family Travel Establishes Trust
An essential ingredient of healthy family bonds is deep trust. Travel takes you out of your collective comfort zone and teaches you to rely on yourself (when others need you as an anchor) and on one another. This is true of any travel group, but especially profound in family clusters. Kids learn that their parents really do have their best interests at heart. And parents often discover an affecting depth of character in their children.
Family Travel Creates Shared Family Memories
“Remember that time…?” is the “Once upon a time” of hilarious or revealing (and probably embarrassingly entertaining) stories about family travel snafus. When the tale is shared with others, it has likely become a point of family pride about working through a problem or overcoming adversity, always as or with the support of family. And then there are the private tales, all sturdy foundation blocks of a strong family that favors memories rather than mere possessions or achievements.
The World Is the Best Classroom
The late Keith Bellows, the award-winning editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler, believed that “Learning happens between the poles, not just between the ears.” And the overwhelming anecdotal evidence, some of it even scientific, supports the notion that travel can provide incredible opportunities for learning. The world really does become your classroom– a present-day version of the belief that it takes a village to raise a child.
Dealing with Difference Builds Character
We live in a world of ever-increasing cultural complexity. In your own hometown, you probably have neighbors whose ethnic origins span the globe. Learning how to thrive with such diversity is a distinctly 21st-century challenge. But that kind of learning still happens in a place you call home. Hitting the road, however, puts you in the role of the visitor. And learning, as a family, about difference from this perspective gives rise to new talents and character strengths.
Traveling with Kids Opens Doors
When you travel as a family, you open yourself up to unexpected friendships. Kids frequently find common ground more easily than their parents, although their parents are often more than happy to follow suit. And in many cultures where kids are adored, your children can be matchless icebreakers. There's nothing wrong with using them in that way, too. Sometimes all that stands between you and a lifelong friend is a good excuse to talk.
Traveling With Kids Helps You See the World Anew
Children don’t view the world the way adults do. They’re not excited by the same things. And when they are excited, they show it with an intensity that baffles adults. Kids just haven’t yet learned adult inhibitions or restraints. So always listen to their desires. It’s easy for adults to think they should be teaching, but there’s much to learn about the world (especially how fun it is!) when seen through kids’ eyes. And few things are more fun for all ages than getting face-to-face with wildlife on a Galapagos Islands cruise or seeing monkeys in the Amazon!
Family Travel Helps You Appreciate Your Adult Partner
The more travel time you spend with your kids – the biggest benefit of family travel experiences – the more you’re reminded why you love your spouse or adult travel partner. So there’s nothing wrong with jealously seeking time alone with him/her. Everything comes into play: trust your kids to make the most of newfound friends or experience-managers. And then show your renewed passion to your partner with an intensity that might just baffle your kids.
As a writer, Ethan Gelber has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, a focus on keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. He started The Travel Word blog and is co-founder of travel content curation site Outbounding.