Each day, more than three million tourists cross international borders, and every year more than one billion people travel abroad. Simply put, travel and tourism combined are now one of the world’s largest industries. To make sure that the power of travel is harnessed as a positive force for people and the planet, the United Nations has declared 2017 The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. The three key pillars of Sustainable Tourism are:

  • Environmentally-friendly Practices
  • Support for Protecting Cultural and Natural Heritage
  • Social and Economic Benefits to Local People

At Big Five, our longstanding commitment to sustainable tourism runs deep, and we are proud to be the only travel company to have won the prestigious Virtuoso Sustainable Tourism Leadership Award, not once, but twice (2014 and 2016). We know that experiencing an outstanding vacation and supporting the pillars of sustainable tourism can go hand in hand. We are proud to share with you how traveling with Big Five can help to support cultural heritage, protect endangered species, deliver local economic benefits, and further cross-cultural understanding and peace in the world – all wrapped together into the journey of a lifetime.

Cultural heritage is about our legacy to the world. It is the culmination of those intangible attributes, knowledge, traditions and ideas that have been handed down to us by our predecessors, which in turn will be ours to pass on. The importance of our global cultural heritage was recognized in 1972 when the General Conference of UNESCO adopted the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

In 2001, UNESCO began raising awareness concerning intangible cultural heritage and encouraging local communities to protect important forms of cultural expressions. The movement toward preserving and sustaining our priceless cultural heritage continues to expand. By 2011, there were 936 UNESCO World Heritage Sites: 725 cultural, 183 natural, and 28 mixed properties, in 153 countries.

Big Five supports properties such as Napo Wildlife Center Amazon Lodge, Yasuni National Park, Ecuador, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, where an ancient culture is striving to survive. The Kichwa Añangu Community own and operate the lodge here. Travelers experience one of the most bio diverse ecosystems in the world and, at the same time, explore its ancestral culture. In addition to protection of the land, the Kichwa also provide leadership for preservation of a way of life that is all but vanishing from the earth. This mission becomes all the more important because Yasuni National Park sits atop some 800 million barrels of crude oil, 20% of Ecuador’s reserves. You can experience and help support the extraordinary cultural heritage of the forest on a visit in our President’s Pick: Ecuador’s Galapagos & Amazon.

Deep in the heart of Jordan’s mountainous Dana Biosphere Reserve, at the end of a rugged track, is the magnificent Wadi Feynan. Feynan is special for the insight it offers into the traditional lives of the Bedouin, the desert-dwelling semi-nomads. Some 40 to 50 families live spread out in tented camps throughout the valley. There’s a small church and mosque but those are the only permanent structures other than the ecolodge. Feynan Ecolodge blends into its craggy surroundings. The lodge is on the western edge of the reserve, the largest nature reserve in Jordan. All the lodge’s staff are local Bedouin, mostly young men, who do not have to move away to find work. That is one of the most enabling aspects of these properties located in such remote areas. Traditions are easily lost when taken out of the context of their place. Being able to stay in their villages and with their families helps keep communities stable. The benefits spread out further to the drivers, a local woman who makes bread for the lodge and others who create handmade items to sell in the lodge shop. You can meet members of this ancient culture and exchange stories with local Bedouin during our Jordan & Oman: Trails of The Caliphs.

The first settlements in Hampi date from the 1st CE. In northern Karnataka, India, many communities living here have had historical ties with the region. Indigenous communities include Kurubaru (shepherds), Vaddaru (stone masons), Gollaru (cowherders) and Madagiru (dyers and fishermen). Certain indigenous tribes who’ve been sheltered from the mainstream, practice a way of life that is syncretic with that of the wildlife in the region, rather than with the outside world. According to one theory, after the fall of the Pallava empire many kurubas settled down in South India as small land owners and farmers, while some kurubas took to hiding in the forests of South India and adapted their lifestyle to their environment, where they developed their own culture and traditions different from others due to their prolonged isolation. Originally hunter gatherers, Kurubas switched to agriculture and later to collection of minor forest produce and weaving baskets. Today they work as small farmers around the forests and sell their goods to properties such as Orange County Hampi. You can explore the rich and ancient culture of the region on our President’s Pick: Southern India’s Vijaynagar Empire.

Why, in a train cemetery, of course.

It is a strange and almost eerie sight – rivets, old train wheels and miscellaneous metal shards scattered among the rusting skeletal remains of mighty steam engines that once traveled across this stark land.

Just outside the small town of Uyuni in southwest Bolivia, there is a casual cemetery of sorts of abandoned trains. In the past, the town served as a distribution hub for trains carrying minerals to the Pacific Ocean ports. British-sponsored Antofagasta and Bolivia Railway Companies invited British engineers to build the train lines, and the construction lasted from 1888 to 1892.

Until 1879 Bolivia bordered the Pacific Ocean but a war with Chile resulted in Bolivia becoming a landlocked country. Exporting their minerals became a problem, and eventually the mining industry collapsed. There was, practically speaking, no way to maintain the railroad. As a result, the once prosperous hub fell silent, and the trains were simply abandoned.

These were the first locomotives of Bolivia, yet these early-20th-century relics have all but succumbed to the corrosive effects of Salar de Uyuni’s salty winds, the relentless sun and dust. Oddly enough, they have gained something of a renewed life as a minor tourist attraction to those few who travel this arid landscape.

You can explore this unique sight on our newest President’s Pick: Bolivia & Argentina Highland Adventure

Oh wait, you might be. Sorry.

Storms are pummeling the US and Canada this week. Records seem to be falling as fast as the snow. The second-heaviest snowstorm in 117 years of records hit parts of the Northeast. As I send this to you, I am sitting in Calgary Alberta, where, you guessed it… it’s snowing. So the question I started asking is, when does Ice melt? If the surface temperatures ever warm back up to above 32°, the snow and ice will melt. But it’s hard to play catch up when the snow just keeps coming.

For those of you who simply cannot wait to bail out of your snow boots, consider our new Tanzania and Kenya safari adventure, which features a stay at the new Saruni Rhino Camp in a remote and  largely undiscovered area, where the main draw is the rhino.

After years of hard work and determined commitment by Sera community members and Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), two years ago the Sera Community Conservancy became the home of the ‘Sera Rhino Sanctuary’. This is the first community conservancy in Africa to own and operate a sanctuary dedicated to the conservation of the near threatened black rhino.

The sanctuary currently provides state-of-the-art protection for 11 black rhinos relocated from other conservancies and national parks. You can enjoy the thrill of a lifetime – tracking a 1,870- to 3,530-pound rhino… on foot. Accompanied by an expert Saruni guide and a highly-trained Sera Community Conservancy ranger, equipped with a GPS transmitter, you set out to find these animals that stand 59 to 69 in high at the shoulder and are some 11 to 13 feet in length.

This is just one of the memorable adventure you experience as you explore the expansive landscapes the during the 17-day President’s Pick: Tanzania & Kenya journey.

It has been whispered for years that the mummified body of an extraterrestrial was found in Egypt in a burial chamber beside a great pharaoh. Rumors have also persisted for decades that aliens built the great Pyramids of Giza. And then there’s the one about King Tutankhamun’s dagger, a 3,300-year-old weapon found wrapped in bandages on the mummy’s right thigh, is reportedly made out of “iron from a meteorite forged in the depths of outer space. Scientists said the make-up of the iron ‘strongly suggests’ extra-terrestrial origin” states one website.

Wow! Rumors can be great fun and quite amusing, but rarely completely true. They may be a nugget buried here and there but….  The truth of the pyramids is far more interesting than outer space stories — even the story about the pyramid on Mars!

The Egyptians had strong cultural, religious, and political reasons for building the pyramids. There are various theories as to why the tombs of the early pharaohs were built in the pyramid shape. Here are three different ideas that have been put forth: the pyramid represented the first land to appear at the beginning of time – a hill called ‘Ben-Ben’; the pyramid had sloping sides so the dead pharaoh to symbolically climb to the sky and live forever; and the pyramid represented the rays of the sun.

Each of the pyramids was capped with a pyramidal stone block, or pyramidion. The carvings on the one from Amenemhat III’s pyramid at Dashur confirm its celestial role for the king. It is inscribed with a pair of eyes looking up at the sundisk and hieroglyphs that read ‘Amenemhat beholds the perfection of Re’.

The Pyramid of Snefru, or the Bent Pyramid, at Dahshur was probably the first planned from the outset to be a true pyramid, with smooth sides. This pyramid was built by the Old Kingdom pharaoh Sneferu who reigned over ancient Egypt from 2575 to 2551 BCE. He was also responsible for the construction of the famous Red Pyramid and the Medium Pyramid. As one of the most unusual pyramids in Egypt, as well as one of the best preserved with much of its casing remaining, it attracted considerable attention over the centuries; yet, a serious archaeological investigation of the structure was not made until the 19th Century, when the great pyramid explorers Perring, Lepsius and later, Petrie, came to explore the structure. After World War II, Abdel Salam Hussain and Alexandre Varille further investigated the Bent Pyramid, but their work was lost.

This structure is called the Bent Pyramid because of the change in angle from 54 degrees to 43 degrees approximately half way to its peak. The structures original height was 105 meters/344 feet. It was significant in the evolution of pyramid making in ancient Egypt due to the fact it was the first pyramid to have been constructed as a true pyramid, with smooth sides, not a step pyramid. Two things about this pyramid – there are no drawings or writings anywhere on the it; and it’s unusual for having two entrances.

To explore the ancient and unusual Bent Pyramid as well as other Egyptian treasures, consider our Classic Egypt Exploration.

What is roughly the same height as Cinderella’s Castle and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, surrounded by hundreds of birds, and moves?

A sky bike, of course.

Tucked away in Ecuador’s 3,200 acre Mashpi Rainforest Biodiversity Reserve is an innovative way to explore the Andean cloud forest canopy. The sky bike is a human-powered, two-seat bike, dangling from a 656-foot cable stretched between two points in the forest. Reaching up to 196 feet, the areal bike is perfectly at home among the treetops.

About 70% of the diversity of a tropical forest can be found in the high canopy, and people have found a number of mechanisms to access the top of the forest, from hot air balloons to mechanical cranes.  But the sky bike has advantages other contraptions do not – it is noiseless, does not disturb the wildlife and moves at a pace you choose. Riders leisurely explore the forest canopy as well as enjoy the views when crossing a river gorge. Guests have been using the bike – this one is the latest of five prototypes – since 2012.

The sky bike allows guests to feel a part of life in the treetops. Savor unique views of trees full of mosses, bromeliads, orchids and other epiphytes, and come across some of the other inhabitants of the forest from butterflies to monkeys to sloths. Listen to some of the 400 to 500 species of birds believed to inhabit the reserve such as indigo flower piercer, Chocó vireo and yellow-green bush tanager.

And if that is not enough high wire time for you, there is the Dragonfly, an innovative cable system that carries you under, through and above the forest canopy. The Dragonfly consists of two stations, six towers and four ‘gondolas.’ Each gondola can carry four guests plus a guide. It travels gently and slowly along a 2-kilometer/1.2-mile cable between the two stations. It really offers you a bird’s-eye view as it moves sometimes below the canopy, sometimes through it, and sometimes far above it. It also passes over some of the reserve’s trails, rivers and waterfalls.

Once you have finished your areal adventures, you can retreat to the five-star, one-of-a-kind Mashpi Lodge in the heart of the Equatorial Chocó Bio-Region, regarded as one of the planet’s most important “hot spots” of biodiversity. Even here, you remain an integral part of your surroundings with stunning views of forested mountains right up close through its floor-to-ceiling panoramic glass windows. The lodge was built using the latest techniques of sustainable construction and is designed to blend perfectly with its natural environs.

You feel like royalty in your own private castle that embraces you like a luxurious cocoon amidst the cloud and tropical forests.  Explore the sky trails of this ancient forest on our 14-day Private Sanctuaries of Ecuador.


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