In Madagascar, everywhere you look, the view is worthy of a postcard. Every scene is more breathtaking than the last, and every moment is ripe with potential for adventure and excitement. Traveling to this island nation is nothing short of magical.
A biodiversity hotspot, Madagascar is home to an astonishing array of endemic species. Ninety percent of its wildlife can only be found on the island, or its smaller peripheral islands. One of its most beloved, and well-known, residents is the lemur. There are about 60 different species and subspecies of this distinctive creature, and scientists predict that they will discover 10-20 new ones in the next 20 years! Visitors have a unique opportunity to explore the world of the lemur and see how they interact with their environment.
Nature-lovers will find an abundance of other critters and creatures to enjoy, including 200 species of mammals, 300 species of birds, and 260 species each of reptiles and amphibians.
Soft sandy beaches, crystalline water, cerulean skies, gently swaying palm trees…all you need is a cold drink and sunscreen! Madagascar’s famous beaches are ideal for lounging and cooling off on hot days, especially after a sweaty trek through the rainforest. But they also provide the perfect backdrop for a host of activities, such as swimming, diving, kayaking, and more. Or, if you’re in the mood for privacy or romance, check out one of the deserted islands – knowing you are a world away from cares but still close enough to return to your accommodations easily!
From biking and kayaking to hiking and trekking, you have your choice of activities to satisfy your adventurous side. At Isalo National Park and other gorgeous parks that dot the Madagascar’s terrain, for instance, you can find a variety of hikes to suit your fitness level. Whether you’re a meanderer or a serious fitness fanatic, the reward for your efforts include beautiful views, the opportunity to spot wildlife, and the most memorable sunsets of your life.
Experience Malagasy culture in the city of Antananarivo, and visit museums, botanical gardens, or the many street markets. Travel is arduous (bus) and you’ll need a working knowledge of French, but it is worth the effort to see a different side of Madagascar.
If you want a vacation that gives you a real break – a break from crowds, stress, noise, dreary routine – Madagascar offers a balm that refreshes and revitalizes visitors.
Tigers, rhinos, and elephants, oh my! Malaysia is a nature-lover’s dream. The “megadiverse” country is home to an estimated 20 percent of the world’s animal species and offers a variety of ecosystems to sustain them. Wildlife expeditions, bird watching tours, jungle trekking, and other adventures allow visitors to get up close and personal with nature in a way that is possible in very few other locales.
Malaysia has about 210 mammal species, including its spectacular “big cats,” the Indochinese Tiger, the Clouded Leopard, and the endemic Malayan Tiger. There are many other endemic species in Malaysia’s jungles and forests as well: Kinabalu ferret badgers, Kinabalu black shrews, Brooke’s tree squirrels, and Hose’s palm civets can only be found in the Borneo Mountains. In addition, there are 620 species of birds, 250 species of reptiles, and, perhaps not as delightful to visitors, thousands of insect species. Be wary of fire ants, giant honeybees, and scorpions! The many butterfly species, though, remind us that insects are incredible, too.
Life under the surface of Malaysia’s waters is as rich and dazzling with thousands of fish, sea snake, and coral species. Whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, and reef sharks patrol the water, and fishermen angle for Blue marlin and tuna. The Sula Sea alone features 1200 fish species, 600 coral species, 20 sea snake species, and five sea turtle species. Visitors can see many of these if they take the plunge into the cerulean water. Locales like Sipadan Island offer astonishing biodiversity and your choice of dive operations so you can gear up and explore.
There is no shortage of thrilling ways to experience Malaysia’s stunning wildlife. From kayaking down mangrove-lined rivers and trekking through Langkawi Lowland to taking in a butterfly tour and seeing the view from above as you stroll along the canopy walkway in the Sedim Rainforest. Thirty meters up, 925 meters long, this is the longest canopy walkway in the world, and it is your chance to see many species that are available to most of us in books and pictures only.
Malaysia is a treasure to be protected; its biodiversity is threatened by issues like over-logging and deforestation. Visitors can help protect these important ecosystems by taking nothing but pictures and leaving nothing but footprints, as well as treading carefully whenever possible. It’s the least we can do in exchange for the magnificent show that awaits Malaysia’s visitors.
China is a land steeped in tradition and legend; it is not surprising that its most distinctive landmark, the Great Wall, is as enshrouded in myth and fantasy. One story holds that a benevolent dragon traced the course of the Wall for the workers, who followed his tracks. Another says that its mortar was made of human bones – perhaps of the million people supposed to have died during its construction. Luckily, the mortar is made of rice flour! But the legend, mingled with fact, is what makes the Great Wall of China such a fascinating structure. What else can we discover?
No, you cannot see it from space, but the Great Wall is no less magnificent. Construction began around 221 BC and continued until 1644. The series of walls was not a military barrier, but rather a declaration of the frontier and a major employer. It was, as well, an impressive show of strength and grandeur. Today, the best place to experience the Great Wall is via Beijing. This section was built during the Ming Dynasty and so is the “youngest.” While many other parts are closed to walkers, you can find plenty to explore in the 7 legally open bits of “tamed” wall.
This is one of the most popular attractions in the world – so be prepared for crowds! It is best to avoid going on weekends or public holidays when crowds are at their most dense. Weather can be another limiting factor: summers are very hot, and you’ll need to stay covered and hydrated. Winter brings frigid temperatures, and the risk that some sections may be closed due to snow. Fellow tourists will be fewer in number though.
Depending on your travel needs and what you want to see and experience, you can select different sections of the wall. Juyongguan, for instance, is ideal if you want a quick look but don’t have all day to spend at the Great Wall. Beautiful scenery and mountains surround this section. The Badaling Great Wall is the most popular with visitors. It is convenient to access, picturesque, and of great historical significance. Mutianyu Great Wall is less busy than these other two sections and offers a 2.5 walk that lets you explore 22 towers and the gorgeous valleys on either side.
Other sections that are more rugged to hike are the Shixiagan Great Wall, Jinshanling Great Wall, Gubeikou Great Wall, and Huanghuacheng Great Wall. The Simatai Great Wall is closed temporarily, but check on its accessibility before your trip. There are also handicapped accessible routes, so inquire about those as well.
The crowds and temperatures, whether soaring or plunging, are forgotten as soon as you see and walk through this vibrant piece of history.
In recent years, many travelers have sought to add more thrills, more adventures, more sights and sounds and experiences, to their trips by combining a jaunt to Easter Island with an exploration of the Atacama Desert. No mere “add-on,” Atacama offers more than its share of wonders in a way that both complements and contrasts the more tourist-popular Easter Island.
Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. Some 6,000 people call the island home, and thousands of visitors make the trek to see, first-hand, the mysterious and imposing sculptures that make the destination so appealing. The moai statues are, on average, 4 meters tall and weigh 14 tons.
The mystery is why: why did ancient people create this monument – and to what or whom is it a tribute? Many believe that the statues honor ancestors or important people in the tribe. Of equal interest is why the intrepid founders of the society ventured thousands of miles from any known civilization to carve out a life in the rugged terrain of the island. Today, you can see the completed stones and visit the Rano Raraku quarry, the source for the stones. In the quarry, there are 400 statues in various states of completion, another fascinating glimpse into this ancient culture.
When you’ve had your fill of stone-viewing, you can take advantage of Easter Island’s beaches. Diving and surfing are excellent, as is simply lounging on the sand. It is a nice way to cap off your day of exploration.
Visitors leave the lapping waves of Easter Island and enter one of the driest regions on earth. Atacama is located on the Pacific coast of Chile and is the hottest, driest desert on earth. Why visit one of the world’s most unforgiving landscapes? Because it also happens to be one of the most beautiful. It is easy, when traveling through the plains and salt lakes, to imagine yourself in another world. In fact, Atacama is often compared to Mars or the surface of the moon.
Abandoned nitrate mining towns give the Atacama Desert the appearance of a ghost town, but it is livelier than you might expect. Extreme sports fanatics find the terrain a thrilling challenge, and many adventurous runners take part in the Atacama Crossing, a week-long foot race. In addition, there are weather observatories, solar car races, and, of course, tours. This is Chile’s third most popular tourist spot, but for all that, you are sure to find plenty of solitude.
Easter Island and Atacama are wonderful destinations and provide a stunning contrast that will only enhance their unique offerings more.
If you want to stray off the beaten path on your next vacation, there are no better destinations than Zambia and Botswana. With stunning natural wonders, abundant animal life, vast stretches of beautiful wilderness, and warm, hospitable people, these African nations are an ideal setting for fun and adventure.
Against a backdrop of rugged, largely untouched terrain, visitors come to catch a glimpse of the famous “Big Five.” Both Zambia and Botswana are prime game-viewing destinations, and in addition to lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and Cape buffalo, you may encounter giraffe, hippo, zebra, antelope, and other magnificent residents of the desert. Many endemic species live here, and this is your chance to see gorgeous black-maned Kalahari lions adorable meerkats.
Zambia has 20 national parks and 34 wildlife management areas. Over 30 percent of the country is reserved for wildlife, so there is plenty of opportunity to get up close and personal with nature. Kafue National Park is the oldest and largest of the national parks, and it offers a wonderful diversity of animals and birds to enjoy. Enjoy a night safari and see if you can spot an elusive leopard or follow the river to see the biggest crocodiles in Southern Africa or catch playful elephants cooling off.
Botswana, too, has an abundance of national parks, including the renowned Chobe National Park. It encompasses over 10,500 square kilometers and has a large population of wildlife, including big cats. And, of course, no trip to Botswana is complete without a visit to Victoria Falls. It is a major tourist destination, but don’t let that stop you! It is a truly remarkable experience; the “smoke that thunders” will take your breath away.
It would be easy to enjoy a complete vacation and see more animals than people, but if you want some human contact, head into the city. Lusaka, Zambia is a growing, vibrant city that offers contemporary amenities with Zambian flair. You will find stores and shops with modern clothing and products, as well as market stalls with an eclectic array of crafts and curios. Several great restaurants will fortify you for the rest of your vacation. In Gaborone, Botswana, you can find museums, parks, botanical gardens, shops, football stadiums, and much more to fill your day.
Whether you are in the wilds of a national park or a buzzing, lively city market, you will find Botswana and Zambia to be packed with adventure at every turn. Don’t forget your camera – you will have opportunity after opportunity for excellent photos and even better memories.
This small country, connecting Central and South America, is brimming with gorgeous scenery, wonderful wildlife, and a vibrant, rich culture that beckons travelers to forget their cares, pack sunscreen, and discover adventure around every turn.
Panama’s cultural life blends indigenous peoples with Spanish influences, brought to the area by settlers in the 16th century. A remarkably diverse nation, Panama is home to Creole, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Chinese, African, Jewish, and Hindu populations, as well as four officially recognized Indian ethnic groups- the Kuna, Embera, Waunaan, and Guaymi. The blend of heritages and cultures is reflected throughout city life, in the food, music, and attractions that combine to create a unique travel experience.
What is the best way to explore Panamanian culture?
The culture of Panama is as dynamic, rich, and abundant as life in its rainforests. Explore, and lose yourself in this magical land.