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Archive for December, 2009

Exploring 2010

Wow! We’re starting our second decade of the 21st century! It doesn’t seem all that long since travelers were worried about flying during “Y2K”, yet here we are. So far, the 2000s have seen the emergence of destinations worldwide that many thought would never be luring travelers. 2010 is no different. No longer are honeymooners flocking only to hammocks and fruity drinks, just as safari-goers no longer have to camp for days without much evidence of modern civilization (or course, both are still popular, they just aren’t the only options for their respective groups).

Stockholm at night

There are numerous lists of “where to go” and “must see” destinations, each with their slightly unique spin. Though it wouldn’t be a January issue without travel suggestions for the new year, we decided to move away from the traditional method of forecasted hot destinations, and instead choose those destinations that we truly feel are a great experience, perhaps because they are not the main focus of most lists. As we couldn’t fit nearly all our top picks in this issue, we will be following up these articles with additional destination suggestions on our blog, so make sure to subscribe! If you’ve been to these destinations, we’d love to see comments, thoughts, pictures, or videos that would help travelers enjoy their visit.

Happy Travels and Happy New Year!

Maya

Himalayan Country

Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet – three of the six countries through which the Himalaya Mountains run – offer plenty of intrigue while growing their infrastructure for tourism enough to make travel quite do-able. The region may be most famous for the daunting Mt. Everest (on the boarder between Nepal and Tibet) which draws the world’s ultimate mountaineers.

Nepal
Nepal is perhaps the ultimate Himalayan country, with nine of the world’s largest peaks and three quarters of the country covered by the mountains. Due to its terrain, Nepal is a favorite for adventurous travelers. Mountain biking, trekking, rafting, 4WD tours, mountaineering and safaris (rhinoceros, bengal tigers and crocodiles being among the most sought after animals to spot).

Mt Everest

Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal, and the Kathmandu Valley, which covers 218 square miles. This UNESCO World Heritage site contains seven groups of renown monuments and is of great historical and cultural significance to the country.

Getting to Nepal is easier than one might think given its location. Fifteen international carriers fly in and out of Katmandu, and 10 carriers – both domestic and international – fly to virtually every tourist destination in the country.

Tibet
Tibet’s altitude has earned it the nickname “roof of the world” and for good reason – it’s lowest peak is higher than most countries’ highest peak! Among these peaks, the scenery is mesmerizing and the culture, noted most for its Buddhist monasteries, is equally as enchanting. A visit to the palaces of the dalai lama, particularly the Summer Palace, are a “must”.

Potala Palace, Tibet

Tibet is ideal for hiking, biking and mountaineering, though these adventures are not for everyone. The terrain is tricky to traverse, and much of the land is considered sacred and not to be touched by human feet.

It is important to note that visitors to Tibet must be with a guide at all times when outside of their accommodations. Visitors are also required to have a Tibet permit, which is applied for separately from (and in addition to) any visas needed during your travel.

Visitors to Tibet usually fly into Lhasa from one of the surrounding countries – most often China or from Katmandu in Nepal – though flights may not operate every day.

Bhutan
Bhutan has recently been on the radar as a “hot” destination (as in popular, not as in global warming). Despite this recent attention to the country, it is by no means trendy – in fact quite the opposite. Bhutan’s isolation has helped to preserve its culture for hundreds of years. Like it’s himalayan neighbors, trekking is one of the most popular activities in Bhutan and there are plenty of opportunities to experience the magnificence of the landscape.

Bhutan’s festivals are an important part of their culture and take place in various cities and towns throughout the year. The most famous is Tshechu, a religious festival generally celebrated at the end of the harvest season, which is characterized by its masked dances performed by monks.

Paro, Bhutan

Monsoon season in Bhutan runs from mid-June through September, making this time less than ideal for visiting. There is one airline that flies to Bhutan – Drukair – which travelers can take from Bangkok, Delhi, Kathmandu, Kolkotta and Dhaka.

Why travel to this region of the world in 2010? It is still relatively unexplored and those who are visiting are often there exactly for this reason – to experience these countries before they become “go to” destinations building up their tourism infrastructure and destroying the rugged, preserved culture that has made them so attractive for those looking for an out of the ordinary adventure.

Northern Lights and Cities

Scandinavia is by no means a new tourist destination. It is not necessarily, however, the first European destination that travelers (particularly American travelers) tend to visit. With stunning natural beauty along the fjords, small towns full of heritage and charm, cutting edge cosmopolitan cities and the “happiest people in the world”, this is not a region to be overlooked. Besides, there are few other places in the world where you can enjoy the sunshine at midnight!

Unless you have a month to travel, it will be impossible to visit even all the attractions in this region, let alone some of the more “out of the way” places less populated by tourists. Here some suggestions to get you started!

Northern Lights

Norway
– The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis by their proper name, are an absolute must if in Norway. They are most frequently viewed from Tromso and Finnmark, though can be seen several times each month even from southern Norway. Though they are visible year round, the best viewing time is September through April.

– The North Cape: Located in Finnmark, Norway, this cliff formation is considered the northernmost point in Europe and is one of the most visited destinations in Scandinavia. In the summer, you can experience the midnight sun when the sun does not “set” (it does disappear below the horizon but it does not get dark). This allows for experiences such as midnight rafting and other adventures that take advantage of the lack of darkness.

– Norway’s landscape is one of its top “attractions”. The fjords, mountains and glaciers create an opportunity for breathtaking scenic cruises, glacier walking, mountaineering, skiing, hiking, sea kayaking and plenty of other ways to enjoy the natural surroundings.

Denmark
– Denmark is known for their beautiful gardens, particularly the Danish Royal Gardens in and around Copenhagen. The most popular are the King’s Gardens at Rosenborg Castle in the city. Others include the Hirsccholm Garden and Museum, Tivoli Gardens, and Frederiksborg Castle Gardens. Weekday visits to the Gardens help to avoid crowds (which can get pretty large), especially in the summer.

Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

– Copenhagen, in addition to having the self-proclaimed “happiest people in the world”, has the longest pedestrian shopping street in the world, the Stroget, which runs through the heart of the city and with stores for everything from designer labels to second hand goods.

– Amelienborg Palace is an actual royal palace where the queen spends her winters. Visitors can explore the chambers that are not in use while the royal couple is staying here.

Sweden
– Stockholm, Sweden is in itself a major “attraction”. With the world’s highest concentration of museums, an old town – Gamla Stan – that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an equally as enthralling modern side with shopping, restaurants and nightlife, Stockholm is considered to be one of Europe’s top cities to visit.

Stockholm

– Skeppsholmen Island is home to some of Stockholm’s most enjoyable museums including the Museum of Eastern Antiques and Museum of Modern Art (Moderna Museet). This island is also home to Stockholm’s Jazz Festival. The island is reached by a bridge that connects it to the mainland.

– Visby is a preserved medieval town on the island of Gotland. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this town’s most notable landmarks are its two mile stone wall and 12th Century Cathedral. The Hanseatic Harbor and Botanical Gardens here are also worth a visit

In addition to all that it has to offer, Scandinavia serves as the easiest jumping off point for visiting Finland, Iceland, Greenland and Lapland. This is just a small sample of what visitors will enjoy in the region. Some travelers choose to focus more extensively on one country at a time, while others choose to visit the highlights of the region.

360 Days of Sunshine

This is the climate you might experience if you lived in Namibia. This southern African country can easily be enjoyed year round, due to it’s warm temperatures and virtually continual sunshine. Still it seems to elude many travelers looking to head to Africa.

Travel to Africa has spiked over the last couple of years. Perhaps it’s that South Africa’s hosting the World Cup this year, or that more travelers realizing that visiting Africa doesn’t have to mean trenching into a third world country. While “must see lists” have taken increasing notice of several of it’s neighbors – South Africa’s Cape Town and Kruger National Park, Botswana’s Chobe region and even Zimbabwe’s Victoria Fall’s – Namibia has escaped the limelight, so to speak, and still remains a relatively uncommon destination, especially for American travelers.

Desert landscape of Namibia

Attractive weather is just the start of Namibia’s acclaims. Etosha National Park’s wildlife – including the big five- the seaside resort of Swakopmond, the mountains of Spitzkoppe, the colonial yet modern capital city Windhoek, the Skeleton Coast in the west and the isolated landscape of Fish River Canyon in the south each offer a unique experience.

Etosha National Park covers 22,000 square kilometers and a wide variety of terrain. The center of the park is a vast salt pan, with grass and bush land in the west and a dry forest in the northeastern section. Water holes in the southern portion of the park offer the best game viewing. Lions, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, elephants, and especially springbok quench their thirst here. There are three camps in Etosha – Oakuuejo, Halali and Namuturi, each with their own restaurant, store, swimming pool and accommodations and camping facilities.

Lions resting in Etosha National Park

The colonial styled buildings and dune lined coast make Swakopmond a popular resort town, especially during the Christmas and Easter holidays. Thirty kilometers south of Swakopmond is Walvis Bay, which offers a natural lagoon and large collection of sea birds (over 120,000). Sandwich Harbor is also nearby – a lagoon surrounded by dunes which is ideal for anglers.

Between Usakos and Swakopmond, Spitzkoppe rises 1728 meters out of the plains. Though it is not the country’s tallest peak, its location create an illusion of greater height. It may appear easily to explore, but these mountains should only be traversed by experienced mountaineers, and only in the winter as the rock gets too hot in the summer months. For photographs of the magnificent rock formations the light is most agreeable right after sunrise or right before sunset, so many visitors choose to camp overnight.

Spitzkoppe - The Matterhorn of Namibia

Windhoek is the capital of Namibia, and the country’s largest city. While much of the architecture still exhibits the German influence in its colonial style, the city also has a modern appeal. Sights to see include the Parliament building, the National Gallery of Namibia – previously an old fort, Christuskirche (Christ Church).

The Skeleton Coast of Namibia, though considered the world’s largest ship graveyard, is less scary than it sounds (unless you’re a ship captain). The coast is a protected national park which stretches all the way up to the Kunene River and the Angolan boarder. The southern part of the coast requires a permit to enter, and the northern portion (north of Terrace Bay) may only be visited on private safari.

Fish River Canyon, at 550 meters, is the second largest canyon in the world. It runs 161 kilometers from Seeheim to Ai-Ais and it’s estimated that it was created 500 million years ago. The canyon is part of a conservation park and is a popular spot for hiking, though hikers have to be in good physical condition as the hike is 86 kilometers and generally takes several days.

Basic Namibia facts:
-Namibia gained its independence in 1990 and is eager for visitors to experience all it has to offer.

-A visa can be received on entry, and passports must be good for at least six months.

-Air Namibia, the national airline, flies four times per week nonstop from Frankfurt to Windhoek. Other carries such as Lufthansa, British Air and KLM fly via Johannesburg.

-Though Namibia can have 360 days of sunshine, certain times of the year are more prone to thunderstorms, especially in the interior, making April through September the best months to visit.

-English is the official language, though Afrikans and German are spoken widely.