IE Blog

You’ve planned and packed and you’re all ready for your expedition, but you may have overlooked one of the key ingredients for successful nature travel: taking the necessary steps to make sure you and your family take a few simple steps to keep yourselves safe. Our friends at MedJetAssist have great travel tips for ensuring your own safety while exploring.

Hotels

  • Stay in hotels on well-traveled streets in safer areas of any city. The more expensive hotels usually have better security.
  • Stay on lower-level floors in case of fire or other need to evacuate quickly.
  • Avoid the first floor, as it may not be safe from burglars.

Transportation

  • Your tour operator can arrange for transfers from the airport or port if necessary, and International Expeditions includes arrival and departure transfers in the cost of our ecotours. Taxis or private car hires are recommended as you are more insulated. Most airports, ports and train stations have areas clearly marked for taxis and car service pick-up.
  • Do not enter any vehicle that does not have a proper license or does not pick you up from the designated area.
  • If you will be renting a car, get maps in advance and clearly write out the directions from the airport to your hotel.
  • If you need to stop for directions, go to well-lit public areas.
  • Keep the phone numbers of your destinations with you.

Keep a Low Profile

  • Do not discuss your travel plans or itinerary publicly...we know, it's hard not to share everything on social media, but it will keep you safer. 
  • Vary your schedule if possible and vary travel routes when you can.
  • Maintain a low profile and dress down if possible.
  • Leave the expensive jewelry and watches at home and do not display large amounts of cash.
  • Look like a person of modest means and do not leave your itinerary or other sensitive business information in your hotel room.

Out and About

  • Keep your valuables including passports, etc., in a money belt concealed or use the hotel safe to store valuables.
  • Keep a copy of your passport with you at all times, but separate from where you are carrying your passport.
  • In high-risk countries it is a good idea to check in with the American Embassy and provide them with a copy of your passport in case you need to have it replaced.
  • When using your credit card, keep an eye on it until it is returned to you. Always verify that it is your credit card before storing it again.

As always, trust your gut. If you feel uncomfortable in a restuarant, shop or area of a city, do what you would even if not in a foreign country - leave. 

What are your best tips for staying safe when you travel? Let us know in the comments below. 

To most people, the words “giant hairy spider” send chills down the spine and basically give people the "heebe geebees.” For me, as a naturalist, I love finding big hairy spiders and it gives me great pleasure in finding a ficus tree (strangler fig type) full of holes with lots of tarantulas prowling under the hours of darkness. 

The pink-toed tarantula is a common resident in the Upper Amazon Basin, but most travelers to the region never see one. Of course there are certain trees where International Expeditions' guides know they can find a tarantula if in the area at dusk or on a night excursion during our Amazon River cruises. Most of the guides prefer to just shine a light on them for folks to observe them, but I actually enjoy doing a little impromptu program with a nice female pink-toed as they are wonderful subjects for education and spiders need all of the help they can get in this regard. Spiders, like reptiles get a pretty bad rap as being ugly, dangerous and thoroughly disgusting. Often, with just a little help from your IE naturalist guide, that impression can be “somewhat” altered or completely reversed in some people.

The pink-toed tarantula is indeed a large and very hairy spider. Each hair is tipped in silver so it makes for a glistening appearance and makes the hairs actually look longer than they truly are. As their name suggests, each leg is tipped in a pink-colored toe. Spiders are extremely important creatures as they are predators of a great variety of creatures: everything from insects and other arachnids to amphibians, reptiles and small birds. Pink-toed tarantulas are large enough to feed on a big variety of insects, common in the Upper Amazon Basin, but they are also capable of taking small frogs and lizards as well. The pink-toed tarantula has formidable fangs that can easily penetrate and subdue prey. The venom is not extremely toxic, but due to the size of the fangs a tarantula bite does hurt (first hand experience!). Of course, if you are not handling or “messing around” with a big spider you certainly do not run the risk of being bitten.

These spiders are often found on dead trees containing cavities even during high-water season. There are a few trees in the Pacaya-Samiria where I know I can find a few pink-toes, especially if the water is high. The spiders come out at dark and just hang out of the tree trunk waiting for an unsuspecting insect or frog to appear within reach of the eight-legged predators. The last little trick that guides have in regards to looking for spiders is their eye shine. Spiders eyes reflect in the beam of a light and the golden sparkles that glisten in the beam of light may just be a very big and hairy spider.

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

March 04, 2014

Room with a River View

International Expeditions staff member Emily shares photos and memories taken during her Amazon tour aboard our new riverboat. 

When choosing accommodations, do you look for a great view or a stellar location? How about a room that offers both? It was morning #2 on my Amazon River cruise aboard La Estrella Amazonica, and I had yet to fully take advantage of my jungle-adjacent, private balcony. La Estrella Amazonica is the only riverboat on the Amazon offering a private balcony for every cabin, and this is the perfect place to watch the river pass and get to know the locals. This became my retreat before afternoon excursions to simply sit and think - something that I rarely get to do with a full-time job and young kids!

Helpful hint: Our riverboat's small size and large windows offer an intimate view of life along the river; however, area fishermen often paddle past in their dug-out canoes during early morning fishing excursions. Please close your curtains accordingly!

What do you look for when choosing a vacation spot: location, view or both? Let us know by leaving a comment below. 

Whether you travel with International Expeditions' Level 3 naturalists on a Galapagos cruise, certified Master Naturalists on a Costa Rica tour, or discover Myanmar with our experienced expedition leader Charlie Babault, you can be sure you'll be traveling with a passionate guide who is sure to stand out as a highlight of your travels. In fact, strong leadership is a hallmark of IE tours and built into each of our journeys. So it is no wonder that guests often ask: "What does it take to be an IE guide?"

Knowledge: IE's naturalist tour guides and expediiton leaders are highly educated locals - experts in history, archeaology, geology, geography and biology. Naturalist guides have a tremendous grasp on the ecology of a region (how things interact) as well as a wealth of knowledge in the proper identification of insects, arachnids, reptiles, birds and mammals.

Experience: Your expedition leaders, naturalists and safari guides combine for hundreds of years of experience guiding nature tours to Earth's most interesting places.

Humor: Of course you want to learn, but an IE journey is also FUN - with music, storytelling and bonding over excursions, meals and drinks in the wild.

Sharp Eyes: Can you spot a red howler at 150 yeards? Our sharp-eyed guides are sure to help you spot wildlife you never thought possible. Plus, IE's guides know where the squirrel monkeys roost or an pride's favorite hunting ground, and ensure that guests are at the right place at the appropriate time to see them.


Meet some of IE's experienced expedition leaders and naturalist guides who accompany our nature tours.

February 21, 2014

The Cuban Trogon: Guest Poetry

Travel to Cuba impacts everyone differently. International Expeditions’ guest James Blackburn wrote a series of poems about his experiences on our people-to-people Cuba tour. James’ poetry includes stars of Cuba's endemic bird species.

The Cuban Trogon

In the mountains
North of Trinidad Cuba
On the trail of Che and Fidel and Raul.

The Cuban Trogon sits on the cicopia branch
Perched above the concrete path
Now travelled by Russian war machines
Drafted in the service of the natural ecosystem.

The trogon watches as the former army truck
From the former Soviet Union
Brings discoverers and adventurers
To see this lovely Cuban bird –
To see its rosy breast –
To see its regal self.

How poetic is the justice
Overseen by the all-knowing trogon
Who sends out his haunting call
Across the gorge,
Telling all who will listen
Of how once upon a time in Cuba,
A social political change occurred.
Not the revolution of 27 de Julio
But the transformation of mal-intent
The change from violence to respect for life
That is now witnessed by all who ride
The eco-war machines.
And Raul smiles content with the revolution.

Learn more about Cuba’s endemic birdlife.

There is little in nature as enduring as a penguin. They somewhat resemble little humans in tuxedos and walk like Charlie Chaplain of the silent movie era. Actually, penguins were walking on earth and ice and swimming in the southern Oceans long before the days of Charlie Chaplain, so it should be said he walked like a penguin as opposed to the other way around. There are a few species of penguins known to occur at the Southern tip of South America but only the Magellanic penguin is a common resident.  

The Magellanic penguin is a fairly small penguin and quite closely resembles other species like Humboldt, African and the Galapagos penguin. These species are all similar in appearance and size and the call is somewhat like the bray of a donkey. In fact, the African penguin was named “jack-ass” penguin until a decade or so ago, when it was changed to African as it is the only penguin found in Africa.

The Magellanic penguin nests in large colonies during the Austral summer. Pairs of these taxa are monogamous and the Wildlife Conservation Society has data reporting a pair of Magellanic penguins with the same partner for 16 straight years. Quite a testimony considering the penguins head to sea each fall and remain at sea separated until the following spring when they arrive at the same shore, find each other, most likely by call, only to pair bond, mate, incubate eggs and raise chicks once again.

Magellanic penguins nest on the ground under bushes and in many locations they dig a burrow which they use as a nesting chamber. Here, the incubating adult is protected from the sun and heat of the Austral summer and the burrow also allows for greater protection of their eggs and chicks from marauding skuas. Two eggs are typically laid and the chicks are fed copious amounts of regurgitated food and the chicks grow rapidly.  If food is not readily available during chick rearing, only one chick may be successfully fledged. Fledging of penguins, which are non-flying birds, is when the chicks learn to swim. Penguin chicks actually appear larger than their parents as the first feathers to grow in are the down feathers and thus they make the penguin appear like a “Michelin” penguin. On adults, the mature feathers hold the down feathers underneath, thus the adults resemble slick black and white torpedoes in the water. The down feathers of the young make them look much larger than the adults until their outer feathers grow in.

The Magellanic penguin spends the entire Austral winter at sea. They feed on a variety of prey species including fish, krill, squid and crustaceans.  

I've spent many hours in penguin colonies and never tire of such incredible experiences. Watching hundreds or even thousands of young Magellanic penguins learning to swim or adults returning from the sea, bulging with food for their chicks, only to run a gauntlet of pecking neighbor penguins in order to proceed from the water to their burrow, which may be deep in the colony. The noise, the activity and the smell of a penguin colony will not soon be forgotten. Your excursion to the Magellanic penguin colony and to see South America's most accessible colony of King penguins during International Expeditions' Patagonia tours may well be one of the highlights of your trip!
 
Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

As International Expeditions searches for new nature travel experiences, Bill Robison, IE Director of Program Development, has the “difficult” task of scouting a county for the best naturalist guides, hotels and to uncover extraordinary opportunities for our guests. Here we get Bill’s impressions and photos as he researches IE’s new Myanmar tour options. 

Step one of many on the road to Mandalay.


In a village just outside of Mandalay, I spent the early morning watching 1,050 monks peacefully enjoy breakfast before prayers then took in sunrise over a 200 year old wooden bridge...and it's just now 7am. It was magical - one of the best travel experiences I have had to date. I'm off to the highlands of Kalaw to enjoy some birding.


Standing next to me is Mr. Upa (pictured middle), who is probably THE best birding guide in Myanmar. When not surveying just about every square inch of this country for NGOs, he is leading groups of passionate nature lovers and pointing out species after species of endemics, like some we saw today amongst the stupas and ruins of old Bagan. Among the species we observed today were the white-throated babbler (which sounds oddly quite like a monkey), Burmese bushlark and lannar falcon. Mr. Upa tells me we can spot more than a dozen endemics from the breakfast table tomorrow. Can't wait!

Mingalaba - hello and good morning - from the good people of Lake Inle.This area is home to astounding birdlife, floating markets and ancient teak wood monastery, home to Shan-style images of Buddha. 

When was the last time you saw a phone book this thick? Currently, less than 10% of the people in Myanmar have internet or a cell phone.

Back from Mt. Victoria, where we observed 82 species just yesterday...not bad for three hours from the road in the rain and fog! We didn't even get on to the trail. Four different species of eagles put in an appearance on our drive back, as did several parakeets, bulbuls, bee eaters, flycatchers and even a spotted owl. This little guy is a white-throated babler, an important Bagan endemic and constant meal companion when dining outdoors. The fields between the over 3000 temples are flooded with interesting and endemic species in Bagan.

Almost getting stuck in the mud attracted a small village.

Sambar deer in Hlawga National Park, where we observed lots of Asian hog deer, wild pigs and rhesus macaques galore.

Early Booking Discount: Don't just read about Myanmar! Travel to this extraordinary country with International Expeditions in 2014. Book by March 3 and save $250 per person.

The red howler is a fairly large primate, but certainly not the largest in the Amazon Basin. Like other howler species and subspecies, red howlers live their lives well above the forest floor. These animals are very much at home in the canopy and sub-canopy of the rainforest and gallery forests of South America. Due to the species' extensive range, from Venezuela to Argentina, it is found in a wide range of forest types. In areas of the llanos, the red howler is confined to the forests along the edge of streams. These forests are called gallery forests. In the massive basin of the Amazon River, the red howler is found throughout much of the region. The exception is in the large tracks of deforestation that appears to be an unstoppable cancer in much of the basin today. Like all large monkey species, deforestation and hunting pressure has resulted in the disappearance of monkeys in a large part of their historical range. Red howler is no exception in this unfortunate circumstance.

Red howler monkeys are an attractive species with a rich dark reddish coloration. Their troops are not exceptionally large and troops of 10 to 15 appear to be average. Both males and females vocalize, and a troop of 10 howlers can sound as if there is an army of upset monkeys. Typically calling is a means of defining territory, but other loud noises such as thunder, boat motors and guides imitating the call can set a troop into a full chorus. This can occur both day and night, and at night the call of the howler can be an especially eerie sound.

On my many Peruvian Amazon tours (over 30 trips), I have observed red howlers many times. They are always a delight to observe as they are not nearly as common as the saddle-backed tamarin or squirrel monkey. I have, on occasion been out on a black-water lake in a small excursion boat until the very last hint of light is in the western sky. Frogs and katydids are just beginning to crank up ,and off in the distance the booming call of red howlers is the icing on the cake. It always reminds me of “place”...that I am in the greatest rainforest on the planet waiting for the changing of the guard from diurnal sounds of birds and insects to a slight silence at dusk. And then, the iconic call of howlers. It does not get any better than that!

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

 

Once they move beyond the first question “Can Americans travel legally to Cuba?” and book their place on one of IE’s people-to-people programs, most travelers still have questions about the ins and outs of traveling to the political hotspot. We polled our travel planners to find out your most frequently asked questions.

Can you use credit cards in Cuba? How do we get Cuban currency?

No credit cards tied to an American bank may be used. Unless you have a foreign bank account that issues you a credit card in Euros or Canadian dollars, you must pay for your purchases, gratuities, bar tabs and hotel extras in CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos). Also note that the same applies to debit cards — not even four- and five-star hotels can accept them for payment. We suggest you bring US Dollars enough to cover anything you might purchase and exchange them in small quantities as needed throughout your tour. Your Expedition Leader will bring you to a currency exchange and help with the process.

Do I need to speak Spanish?

No, no knowledge of Spanish is required as our Expedition Leader and local Cuban guides are all fluent in English and the tour will be conducted in English. 

I'm not interested in an escorted tour...Can IE just book my flight? 

Travel to Cuba for Americans is still highly restricted. For Americans, only licensed travelers (through the Office of Foreign Assets Control) are legally allowed to visit Cuba. Licensed travel is available for people-to-people tours, educational travel for students and other categories of limited scope. By law your flights between Miami and Cuba are only allowed to be arranged by US Government licensed charter service providers operating under very strict regulations. Therefore, you are not able to arrange your own air flight to Cuba to travel with the group.

 

How will we know what is allowed and what is not allowed — for buying or just going through each day?

Traveling in Cuba is a very relaxing and engaging experience – you will be amazed and thrilled for having gone. We offer many resources to help prepare you:

  • Many of our Travel Planners and staff have been to Cuba and are very familiar with the details. If you have questions, never hesitate to call the staff at 800-234-9620.

  • IE sends each guest a detailed pre-departure booklet with all details including passport information, currency, insurance, packing list, which items you may bring back to the U.S. and many more helpful details. 

  • At the welcome reception in our Miami hotel, we meet as a group and your Expedition Leader will walk you through what to expect along with any remaining questions before you board the plane.


 

January 29, 2014

The Art of the Amazon Selfie

International Expeditions' own Emily Harley shares the story behind this photo - taken by another IE employee Charlie Weaver. Charlie and Emily traveled aboard La Estrella Amazonica, our new Amazon riverboat. 

Selfie – (n.) a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website. 

Oxford’s word of the year for 2013 means very little in the tiny Peruvian village of Nueva York. But as I would find on my recent Amazon cruise, children and tweens of all ages love taking snaps of themselves – regardless of their country of origin. 

Our small group of travelers had gathered in the three-room home of the village’s mayor, accompanied by a tangle of curious children, eager to hold hands with their visitors. As the mayor and his wife shared about their daily lives and generously answered our questions, the children would peek over the low walls of the home. Their sly giggles drew the cameras of many guests, and all of the kids happily posed and grinned with only one price – show them the picture in the viewfinder once it was done. 

On a whim I handed Sophia my own camera, clumsily miming and stringing together instructions in broken Spanish.  With little encouragement, she was off. Pictures of her parents, friends and sisters. Sophia momentarily relinquished control of the camera to her brother. He wanted to be a teacher or a doctor, but after a few moments, he thought a career in photography might be a good fit. Our guest lecturer for that journey was a professional photographer, and was an immediate hit with these children who had only just discovered this art. 

Her brother engrossed in conversation with other guests, Sophia once more began snapping photos with my camera. 

“Do you want to see yourself in the camera,” I asked. 

An enthusiastic nod was all of the encouragement I needed to bring the art of the selfie to Nueva York! 

As a side note, a friend at the Peruvian NGO and IE partner CONAPAC, passed along to me that it is rare for people in Amazonian villages to have photos. The weather conditions, combined with frequent relocation of villages along the flooding banks of the Upper Amazon Basin, degrade photo paper. 

 

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