Probably not. That’s how our premiere White Glove Service® guest assistance works. You never see them but they are always there in the background, 24/7, while you are traveling, unless and until you need them! Then they jump into action.
We launched WGS® in 2009 with the thought that we could avoid complaints by taking immediate action to solve problems as they arise, not later, say after the trip.
Over that time, the guest assistance team has tackled and solved somewhere around 7,300 issues from a little girl’s lost doll, to delayed luggage, to emergency medical evacuations.
WGS® runs 24 hours a day every day of the year, no matter where you are traveling. The team also contacts our guests with a welcome phone call after they arrive in their destination and maintains contact at times throughout the journey.
The entire focus is on our guests, from planning to the details of each travel day, to a follow up when they have return home.
Big Five continues to lead the way in guest relations for the luxury tour and travel industry. If you haven’t already explored the new website, you can start here, learning about White Glove Service® before haunting the destinations your clients have been dreaming about.
Happy Halloween. Whatever you do tonight, dress spooktacularly, be safe and have fun.
And, we’ll be waiting here tomorrow to help you plan the next grand adventure.
Sometimes a trip comes your way that is just irresistible. For those who love and study history, religion and cultures, a Heritage Journey in Time & Place, is an extraordinary adventure into Ethiopia, Egypt and Jordan. It reaches far back in time to Ethiopia as the ‘Cradle of Mankind. It explores one of the world’s gems — Lalibella, rightly acknowledged as one of the Wonders of the World for the 12th and 13th-century rock-hewn churches built during the reign of King Lalibella of the Zaghwe Dynasty. It was named New Jerusalem.
Then it’s on to Gondar, where a dozen castles were built by various emperors over 236 years. Picturesque ruins, like fairy-tale castles, dating back to the 17th century are just waiting to be seen. The castles reflect the glory of Gondarine kings and are characterized by distinctive architectural style. The other place of interest is the Fasilides Pool, where pilgrims today still take a plunge during the Timket (Epiphany) celebrations.
Travel on to Egypt for an in-depth exploration of this ancient city and all it has to offer. As you drive around Old Cairo and step onto its alleys and walkways the aura of antiquities flows over you and you area swept into the past. Yes, you routinely enter 1,000-year-old sites that are anything but routine. Feel the chill move across you and take in the slightly stale air. Enter a 5th-century Coptic Church, with a basilica built on the cave where the Holy Family stayed. Drive into the desert to Dahshour to see the Red and Bent Pyramids, the first ancient attempt at building those structures.
Savor a special night when you meet Big Five Country Manager, Farah Abouseif, who previously worked for the United Nations defending women’s rights in Egypt. She takes you for a fascinating night out in Cairo to introduce you to some everyday people who live and work here. You gain personal insight into the city and enjoy rich conversations.
Travel to the Fayoum Region to visit Lake Qarun, Tunis Village and the pyramids of Meidum and Hawara. Take in the city founded by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C. and experience the Catacombs of Kom El-Shogafa, the Roman Amphitheatre, Pompey’s Pillar and finally the fabled Bibliotheca of Alexandria. There is so much more to Egypt…. Aswan, Luxor, Abu Simbel, the great Nile River. It reads like a Indiana Jones script.
Then you move onto Jordan and Amman, its capital. A fascinating city of contrasts supports a unique blend of old and new, ideally situated on a hilly area between the desert and the fertile Jordan Valley. This desert land has overlaying landscapes from the shores of the Dead Sea to the grand sweep of Wadi Rum. Travel up Nebo’s windswept promontory, overlooking the Dead Sea, Jordan River Valley, Jericho and the distant hills of Jerusalem, Moses viewed the Holy Land of Canaan. Then encounter the gorgeous rose city of Petra, carved into the side of a canyon some 2,000 years ago.
With every step, you feel the past is present, right here. Even the breeze at your back seems to whisper in your ear… remember this and this and this.
Enough about me. What about you?
This almost feels like a first date… And, we’re excited. We created a website that doesn’t sell anything.
“What,” you say. You think that’s crazy, right?
Well, it’s uncommon in an industry that is all about selling the next, newest, hottest place. Most of you know us and know that we look at things a bit differently. That goes for this new bigfive.com. They say that we have about eight seconds to capture your attention. If you are reading this blog, then you understand that it’s all about why we go. The opening video is about what evokes emotions in you, what stirs your heart.
This site isn’t meant to appeal to everyone. It is for those of us who passionately want to know and experience the world. It for those of us who are not satisfied to see things second-hand through the eyes of others.
This website has a brand-new feel as well as look that we think you’ll like. It has more ‘breathing room’ than most sites, with a new look, better functionality, fewer clicks to get where you want to go and is easy to maneuver with vibrant images and videos.
You see the menu is simplified with four main headings – Destinations, Sustainable Travel, About Big Five, and Find a Travel Advisor, each with an arrow dropdown that reveals more information, and Contact Us. It’s easy to order our Navigator Series® Edition IV brochure or find a Travel Advisor with less clicks around the site.
Bigfive.com is an uncommon website creating uncommon adventures. It is meant to inspire as well as serve as a practical tool to help you create journeys of a lifetime. Please take a few minutes… or at least 8 seconds… to have a look around.
Water can create or destroy with equal efficiently. Our own Southwest is awash with examples, the most impressive being the Grand Canyon. While water was not the only force carving into the earth, it was a major player along with wind. And look what it left behind, an incredible natural wonder of rock and earth in endless and elegant forms for us to marvel at and enjoy.
The same can be said of other remarkable natural wonders such as the Marble Caves in Patagonia. These magical caverns are partially submerged in the turquoise waters of glacial Carrera Lake, which shares itself with both Argentina and Chile.
The Marble Caves (Capillas de Mármol) rest in the Chilean side of the lake, in the country’s least populous region. This ridge of sculpted rock sits in the General Carrera Lake in the heart of Patagonia and encompasses three main caverns: the Chapel (La Capilla), the Cathedral (El Catedral), and the Cave (La Cueva).
As your kayak slips past an irregular opening of one of the caves, the colors can’t help but impress with dramatic shades of sapphire, seafoam green, lavender and rich turquoise as well as yellow, grey and streaks of white.
This charmed seascape of sculpted rocks began more than 370 million years ago, when the mineral formations of calcium carbonate were deposited deep in the glacier. Nature takes her time in sculpting her artwork, taking some 6,000 years to create this barrier rock wall.
The whole effect of the caves is enhanced by the striking azure water it sits in. This is Chile’s largest glacial lake as well as the second biggest freshwater lake in South America. It is known to fishermen for both fine salmon and trout. At its deepest point, the lake is some 586 meters, 1,923 feet deep. The age of the lake depression is not known exactly but did not exist 10 million years ago and may be younger than four million years. The existence of the lake was first reported to the outside world by an Argentinian geographer, Carlos Moyano, in the late 1800s.
The Chilean side of the lake was isolated for much of the 20th century because of its limited access by boat and later by plane. In the 1990’s, Chile’s government funded the building of the southern route, Carretera Austral, which opened up the region.
This amazing natural treasure is currently under threat by plans to build five large dams in the area. To experience these enchanting caves, explore our 17-day Chile & Argentina or create your own adventure including the magical Marble Caves.
I have always been fascinated by the flow of human history and how ideas, knowledge and inventions move around the globe to the most distant places. Whether it is the creation of a canoe or the birth of a concept such as religion, that channel seems to ebb and flow with the results of human ingenuity and endeavors.
Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest religions yet it has no single recognizable founder, no set place of origin, nor does it owe its philosophy to a specific book, but it does offer a single creator – Brahma. Hinduism spread as most things do along ancient trade routes into Southeast Asia and Indonesia but remained confined primarily to Asia.
Today, some 13.4% of the world population practice Hinduism. Cosmic themes connect them all and have been created and revered in earthly manifestations around the world from Cambodia to India and beyond for centuries.
Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia is the world’s largest religious monument. The entire complex was built between the 8th to 15th centuries CE. Angkor Wat, means “City Temple” in Khmer. The initial design of the temple of Angkor Wat itself took place in the first half of the 12th century and was dedicated to Vishnu. It was the king’s state temple and capital city. Towards the end of the century, Angkor Wat gradually evolved from Hindu into Buddhism, which it remains today.
Some 6,471 miles away, Virupaksha Temple, part of Hampi’s Group of Monuments, is in Karnataka, India. Virupaksha was also originally was constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the Lord Shiva. Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma together are the three deities of the Trimurti in Hinduism. This temple is the main center of pilgrimage at Hampi and had been considered the most sacred sanctuary over the centuries.
Each temple has evolved far distance from one another and molded over time by separate cultures but carved by myths both similar and strange. In both temples, the religious motifs derived from myths and legends of Hinduism, and dedicated to the gods Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu. Exploring these and other remarkable sites, you gain a sense of the threads that weave together a world of connections that touch us all in one form or another.
I gaze over this beautiful view from my perch on top of a rock in the Flinders Ranges some 280 miles north of Adelaide in the great Australian Outback. I have hiked up here this morning to try to establish a wifi signal. I know, it seems funny that I should come all this way to spend time searching for a signal, but this moring, I received an email from my 12-year-old son, Shiv, who needed help with his algebra homework.
The voice of the computer crackled as it took a few minutes to connect. I was staying at the Arkaba homestead, nestled in a quiet, serene little valley. Not far off are towering granite outcrops just made for adventurous four-wheel drives. Saw-toothed peaks encircle the majestic natural amphitheater of Wilpena Pound’s giant stone crater. Among these ancient landscapes, the timeless terrain showcases a kaleidoscope of outback experiences.
Once the link solidly connected, Shiv’s face lit up as I raised my smartphone to give him a full sweep of my surroundings — the same one you saw when you opened this email. He shares my passion for spirited travel and is game for just about anything.
Nature created this perfect place for dramatic treks and incredible star gazing under a brilliant sky. It is easy to see why the area is such as favorite with hikers and nature lovers. The Flinders Ranges are the largest in South Australia. The discontinuous ranges stretch for over 265 miles from Port Pirie to Lake Callabonna. The first humans to inhabit the Flinders Ranges were the Adnyamathanha people (“hill people” or “rock people”) whose descendants still reside in the area, and the Ndajurri people who no longer exist. Cave paintings, rock engravings and other artefacts indicate that the Adnyamathana and Ndajurri lived in the Flinders Ranges for tens of thousands of years. Occupation at the Warratyi rock shelter dates back approximately 49,000 years.
Wildlife occupaying the lands include red kangaroos, western grey kangaroos and wallaroos and the yellow-footed rock-wallaby, which neared extinction after the arrival of Europeans due to hunting as well as predation by foxes, but that has now stabilized. Other endemic marsupials include dunnarts and planigales. Insectivorous bats make up a significant proportion of the mammals. The region is home to large numbers of bird species including parrots, galahs, emus, the wedge-tailed eagle and small numbers of water birds. Reptiles include goannas, snakes, dragon lizards, skinks and geckos. The streambank froglet is an endemic amphibian.
Several small areas in the Ranges have protected area status such as the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park near Wilpena PoundMount Remarkable National Park in the south near Melrose; Arkaroola Protection Area in the north; Dutchmans Stern Conservation Park west of Quorn; and the Mount Brown Conservation Park south of Quorn. Heysen Trail and Mawson Trail run for several hundred miles along the ranges and offer scenic long-distance routes for walkers, trekkers, cyclists and horse-riders.
Shiv got an A on his Algebra homework, by the way, and I made sure he knew the steps we took over here in the Outback to facilitate that A. Who knows where I’ll be for his next assignment.
If you’d like to discover your own rock, visit Australia Active that includes three days hiking the timeless terrain of the Flinders Ranges – largest mountain range in South Australia, some about 540 million years old.
Taking the next step in travel innovation, Big Five Tours and Expeditions has launched GIB 5.0, an Artificial Intelligence proprietary application to support its sustainable tourism projects around the world.
“The most exciting aspect of GIB 5.0 is that it allows Big Five’s travelers to better support giving back to local people and the planet in the destinations they visit,” said Ashish Sanghrajka, President of Big Five.
The innovative travel company twice won the top global award for Sustainable Tourism Leadership by the Virtuoso Travel network, and currently provides funding to several long-term projects in the regions where they operate through their non-profit Spirit of Big Five Foundation.
“We are always seeking to integrate our wildlife conservation and community development efforts into ever more aspects of Big Five’s travel portfolio, which includes Asia, Africa and Latin America. Our vision remains to have a positive impact on the people and places we visit, through enjoyable, meaningful and sustainable travel to some of the world’s most spectacular places,” adds Sanghrajka. “GIB 5.0 uses proprietary AI to bring about more equitable giving, a belief that sustainability for communities and conservation should be consistent and constant no matter what geopolitical events are happening in our world.”
GIB 5.0 launches as soon as a client begins booking their first trip with Big Five and evolves as more information is added. Updates from guides, in-country managers, and from Big Five’s 24-hour White Glove Service program are added throughout a guest’s trip. GIB 5.0 can also help travel advisors learn about the interests and passions of their clients, providing them with an additional tool to better curate and design the vacation of a lifetime that also gives back to people and the planet.
Additionally, Big Five is expanding its support to encompass more short-term projects based upon the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by using the AI technology to present a rich variety of options to guests that are closely aligned with their personal interests when they travel, allowing them to better channel their philanthropic support. Should the client’s advisor or family want to present a special occasion gift to be delivered during a vacation, they can also opt to make a donation in the traveler’s name to a grassroots community development project, such as a local women’s handicraft cooperative or wildlife conservation program, in the country they are visiting.
“We want to change the conversation and empower the travel community, including both travelers and travel advisors,” states Sanghrajka. “GIB 5.0 provides more opportunities for more meaningful conversations about traveling with purpose and enabling each traveler to choose how they wish to ‘give back’ in tangible ways to local people and the environment, to create a better world for future generations. We believe that is the power and the promise of sustainable travel in action.”
When I was college age, my younger self could set out on the road without much worry about missed planes, lost luggage, weather and all the vagaries of travel. But today I have wife and two young, adventurous s just as eager to hit the road as I was.
Today I plan more and prepare more before we set out on our journey, ready for anything… or almost. After all, let’s face it, travel, especially internationally, something, big or trifling, is bound to happen as nothing is perfect.
While Big Five has always handled issues that might arise during a journey, it was at 3:00 a.m. one morning in 2009 that the idea of 24 Hour White Glove Service® came into being to help assure that our travelers enjoy their adventures in safety and comfort without stress or worry.
The true value in our White Glove Service® is that our travelers are never alone, no matter how far off the beaten track they go, or regardless of the time of day. They are always able to connect to the wider world when needed.
That has lead to dozens and dozens of stories such as the guest who broke his hip in the Galapagos Islands. His daughter wrote: “My Father was recently aboard on of your tours of the Galapagos Islands. I wanted to thank your staff for taking care of him. For as long as I can remember, my father has been an avid bird watcher and my siblings and I were very excited to hear about his plans to visit the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador when he first began to make travel arrangements six months ago. This was the trip of a lifetime for him, and it was exciting to hear that he would get a chance to do something he loved in such a unique place. He had not really traveled while my mother was still alive, and I was very happy and excited he was going to get a chance to take this trip. He had researched everything about the islands and was looking forward to exploring with you.
Unfortunately, my father fell and broke his hip on one of the islands. Your staff and guide on the ground aided him in getting to a medical facility on the islands and your tour guide stayed with him until arrangements could be made to get him back to the United States.
When we first heard, my siblings and I were terrified. Here was my father on an island with no real hospital and it was unclear how he was going to make it back home. Fortunately, a few days and several phone calls later, with the aid of your company, my sisters were able to arrange with his insurance for an air-ambulanced home. He has had surgery and rehab and is now home and walking around a bit.
More than anything, my family I wanted to thank you for taking care of our dad; especially your tour guide and those who helped him get medical care quickly. It really meant a lot to my father that your guide stayed with him until he was able to be back home. The tour guide was one of the few at the medical center on the Galapagos who spoke English and it was comforting for him to communicate with someone. Thank you all for making sure that he was taken care of; and thank you also for sending flowers. Your tour group is really a class act and we appreciate all you have done for our family!”
While those situations are thankfully few and far between, is it vital for travelers to know and trust their tour operator, no matter how far they travel. We receive many more reports along the lines of the family traveling to Kenya and Tanzania, who wrote: “Thank you for assigning our guide to us while we were on safari last week. He opened our eyes to East African landscape and wildlife, sharing his extensive knowledge during our daily game drives. We were traveling with our grandchildren, and he was most attentive to their questions, making it an exhilarating trip of discovery for them. He is an excellent ambassador for his country and its people.”
I think about how far we have come in not only creating life-enhancing journeys, but also in solving just about any issue that may arise. Detailed and specific planning supported by professional teams such as our White Glove Service® guest relations are the keys to giving travelers incredible travel experiences.
To learn more about us and how we work for you, visit our About Us page.
Mt Kilimanjaro. The name conjures up images of the Dark Continent, of stories by W. Somerset Maugham and Hemingway, and the challenge of climbing this legendary volcano, the highest mountain in Africa. One of the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on the seven continents, Kilimanjaro lies within the 292-square-mile Kilimanjaro National Park in Tanzania in East Africa. It rises from its base approximately 16,732 feet, making it the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.
In 1889, the first non-African people known to have reached the summit were Hans Meyer, a German mountaineer and geographer, and Ludwig Purtscheller, who pioneered climbing without a mountain guide and who climbed more than 1,700 mountains.
These days some 30,000 people climb Kilimanjaro each year, with three-quarters reaching the summit. One of those who did is one of Big Five’s own. Tatiana Johnston, one of our senior destination specialists, just successfully completed the climb this month. She shares her experience.
I am back home in Pueblo and happy to report that I made it to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro! I have to admit that it was more difficult than I thought but I am so proud that I did it. I took the eight-night Shira route, which gave me two extra days to acclimatize – that is the secret to a successful climb. The second key is to follow all the guide’s instructions thoroughly, which included drinking at least four liters of water every day, (not easy even though I usually drink a lot of water). He also stressed hiking slowly from the first day to let your body adjust to the altitude and avoid altitude sickness. This is actually more difficult than you might think for people like runners. Altitude sickness is the major reason many don’t make it to the summit. I saw three helicopter rescues caused by altitude sickness.
Our climbing team consisted of 28 porters carrying tents, food and everything we needed for the next eight days, plus a chef, a waiter, one main guide and two assistant guides – 33 people for four climbers. They made this experience so easy and comfortable. We always hiked with one of the guides and a porter carrying oxygen, first aid equipment and a stretcher. Luckily, we never had to use those.
Every day, we hiked between five and 15 kilometers but “pole pole” (‘slowly’ in Swahili). When we arrived each day at the lunch site, the chef had lunch waiting — a nice light meal such as a grilled sandwich with French fries, or avocado toast. One day, we even had pizza! We continued hiking to our camp in the afternoon. The porters had set up the tents and dinner was waiting. Every night, we had something different: spaghetti, beef with rice, chicken with coconut sauce and always a delicious soup. Our guide told us that we needed to eat well on the first few days since the higher we would go, the less appetite we would have. And this was true. The night prior to our summit climb, I lost my appetite completely. I didn’t eat anything for dinner that night, and nothing for breakfast or even lunch on summit day.
We slept in tents. The first couple of nights were difficult because the wind was so strong. It was cold outside, but my sleeping bag kept me warm and comfortable.
Most people set out for the summit right after midnight, starting the seven-hour climb in the dark with very low temperatures. Our guide recommended we start at 5:00 a.m. instead, when the temperature was better, and we would only hike in the dark for the first hour.
At the beginning of the climb, I had so much energy and excitement, thinking: This is it! This is the day that counts after all the training and the months of preparation. Then, the higher I went, the thinner the air became and the less oxygen my lungs and brain received. This, of course, slowed me down, and the only thought I could keep focused on was “One foot after the other”. I made several stops to catch my breath and drink more water, but we are warned not to stop too often… that we had to keep the body moving.
In the final hours, I saw the summit getting closer – but still not close enough. I reached Stella Point (18,651 feet) by noon. I was finally in the roof of Africa but not at the highest point. I had to keep going, walking in the rim of the volcano’s crater to Uhuru Point (19,341 feet). This last part was the most difficult for me. This is when my mind experienced the hardest challenge. This is when the climb is no longer solely a physical task but becomes a mental test.
I finally reached Uhuru Peak at 12:41 p.m. on August 3, 2019, after seven hours and 41 minutes of hiking. The odd thing was that during those moments, I did not really comprehend what I just did. It took me 24 hours to begin to feel the euphoria from the climb and what I had accomplished.
But then I had to leave the top and begin to go back down, which took another four hours. We came to an area that was very sandy and steep. The guides encouraged us to just slide down. And that was so much fun. As I began to reach lower altitudes, I was able to take more air into my brain and lungs, which was making for easier hiking. That night I ate a lot and slept from 6:30 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. the next day.
Looking back after a few days, I learned about being genuinely humble in the face of the mountain. Kilimanjaro doesn’t care who you are, how old you are, your gender or how many marathons you ran.
The mountain tells you to go slowly, be constant, respect the weather and make mental connections with your inner self. I am convinced that climbing Kilimanjaro is 65% mental and 35% physical.
One of the first questions I get now is “How did you train?” I owe reaching the summit to my yoga practice. Yoga helped me during this climb. At night, when I couldn’t sleep, I relaxed myself the same way I tell my yoga students to relax. This helped me to fall asleep easier. While hiking, I used the type of breathing that I use to hold yoga poses longer, inhaling and exhaling through my nose, which helps with more energy and staying better hydrated. Core exercises that I practice in yoga helped me during the trek to avoid stumbling or falling. My yoga mental strength pushed me to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro.
My exhilaration has not diminished yet. Every day, I still wake up exhilarated and proud. I always knew I was strong, but the mountain has taught me that I can do anything, climb any mountain.
We all have challenges, mountains to conquer, in our lives, be that a tough job, a bad relationship, ill health or unfortunate circumstances. That is when each of us needs that gather strength, both physical and mental, to confront our own mountains and reach for the top.
Is Mt Kilimanjaro on your Must-Do List? Tanzania & Kenya: The Challenge and the Promise.
Nina Boys is our guest blogger this week. Nina is an avid explorer and passionate traveler whose journeys have taken her across five continents to some of the world’s most beautiful natural and cultural wonders. She has served as a judge for the National Geographic World Legacy Awards, honoring the planet’s sustainable travel visionaries, and has a knack for finding unique travel experiences wherever she goes. She is known to seek out up-and-coming art scenes, local delicacies at street food stands around the world, and opportunities to scuba dive on vibrant coral reefs, all while blogging about her off-the-beaten path adventures for publications including Virtuoso.com, Huffington Post and Roads & Kingdoms.
A plume of smoke rises dramatically from a sunken pit in the ground, carrying the smoky essence of earth and sea as my local friend Andrés peels back the wrinkled nalca rhubarb leaves to reveal a treasure trove of steaming mussels and clams. The team who has prepared this subterranean feast descends on the earthen oven, diligently removing more layers to reveal a medley of plump sausage, juicy chicken and native potatoes, followed by more shellfish, until finally reaching the hot stones that cooked the traditional underground curanto. Andrés waves for me to dig into his home’s culinary heritage.
“The first evidence of curantos here dates back 6,000 years,” he explains while pouring our glasses full of Chilean Carménère, “To not participate in one is to not truly know Chiloé Island.” The primal cooking technique reminds me of the seaweed-steamed lobster bakes of my New England upbringing, but as the conversation turns to local folklore involving brujo witches and forest gnomes while a sinking sun bathes the mighty Andes mountain range in an ethereal glow, this little-known pocket of Patagonia begins to reveal just how unique it really is.
Most travelers visiting Chilean Patagonia head straight to the surreal peaks and turquoise icebergs of Torres del Paine National Park, but venturing to the northern part of the region and jumping on a ferry will land you in one of South America’s most fascinating and far less explored destinations. For what Chiloé lacks in popularity, it more than makes up for in a distinct character woven from the independent spirit of its seafaring residents – a vivid world of local mythic folklore and vernacular architecture that includes the stilted wooden palafito fishing shacks teetering above its rugged shores. In stark contrast to the landscapes of the south, here lush rolling hills are dotted with agricultural fields and rural salt-cured villages that resisted colonization and clung to their way of life for centuries. The result is an alternate reality where pagan traditions still thrive and where wanderers are richly rewarded for their explorations.
Adorned with bold stars and cobalt blue spires reaching towards the heavens, the church paneled in tejuelas shingles before me is unlike anything I have ever seen. It is one of over 150 iconic wooden churches sprinkled across the archipelago, thanks to Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries who arrived once Chiloé was colonized in the 16th century. Sixteen of the brightly colored holy buildings are now UNESCO-designated World Heritage sites and an integral part of the island’s eccentric culture. Pushing open its heavy front doors, I immediately notice a ceiling that mimics the shape of an upside-down ship hull; a photogenic confluence of Old World maritime traditions and New World colonial ideals.
Its identity is deeply tied to the churning waters that isolated it from outside influence for years. I notice the power of the ocean in everything around me while wandering a quaint seaside village. I hear it in the playful sounds emitted by native dolphins frolicking alongside penguins in the icy currents; I see it in the hand-knit woolen mermaids I purchase from a local artisan;, and I taste it at the lone oyster stand that appears to be the only place open in the quiet community. Andrés summons a shucker seemingly out of the fog who begins to pry open the pearly bivalves, inviting us to toss back the sea-kissed expressions of Chilote merroir, making me feel connected to this singular island and archipelago of the same name. The deeper that I dive into Chiloé, the more I discover the raw magic of this hidden side of Patagonia where goblins loom just out of sight and ghost ships may disappear from the choppy seas before my eyes.
To explore this eccentric island, please consider President’s Pick An Adventurer’s Chile
A couple of weeks ago, this blog focused on the roots of our Kid Kouncil™. Once again, our goal was, and is, to help inspire kids discover the world’s grandeur as well as its challenges. They will encounter other cultures and meet other children as well as fascinating people working on real-world solutions.
We understand that guiding and safeguarding our kids seems to grow ever more complicated. That makes it that much more important to try to raise fearless children who will grow into adults willing to take up the challenges this world presents. One vital way we do that is by exposing them to other cultures and ways of living. That is a big part of why we began our original family-focused Precious Journeys® collections.
In that column , we talked about the new Kids Kouncil Approved™ Peru Adventure with its encounter with Peruvian children is an informal language ‘exchange’. Children have an opportunity to teach and learn language at simple booth set up in the plaza with a sign saying We Teach English Words In Exchange for Learning Spanish Words. It is a simple cultural exchange of words between kids that can open up a world of possibilities.
The next new family adventure in the Precious Journeys® Kids Kouncil Approved™ Morocco Camels, Souks and Sand, a 10-day journey into Morocco. This is a truly strange land for most children. And it is stuffed with adventures for all members of the family. They see Marrakech from the sidecar of a motorcycle, which provides a unique, almost ground-level view. Trek into the Valley of Roses on guided walks with donkeys for children, exploring villages and isolated plateaus. They also have opportunities to move about with a variety of transports – mountain bikes, quad bikes and camels as well as stand-up paddle boarding and surfboards.
Along the way, children see a vivid country of old-world medinas, mosques, vibrant Kasbahs, amazing palaces and, maybe a snake charmer or two.
There is no doubt in our minds that discovering vastly different cultures through first-hand encounters helps our children grow up with less fear, more compassion, creativeness and openness.
Chile: Southern Atacama and Northern Patagonia
Argentina: Ibera Wetlands, Iguassu and Northern areas
Today’s parents worry about everything to do with their kids from the schools they attend to internet usage, to their friends. So preoccupied are we that sometimes that we may be the last to recognize our children’s abilities, talents and strength. And we can overlook, or worse, dismiss their ideas to help the world.
Yet, there are young leaders who have already fostered in us the desire to open the door to their passions and talents. That is at the root of our Kids Kouncil™. It grew organically out of Big Five’s continuing desire to learn from children where they want to go and how we can help them get there.
In these uneasy times, we can look to the kids who have ideas they want to peruse. Here are a few who did.
One of the most well-known child activists has to be Pakistan-born Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban for her activism. She was just 15, yet this act of violence only spurred her on to become a prominent activist for the right to education.
Other stories are not quite so dramatic, but equally life-changing. Vela Orozco was in high school when she became aware of the homeless people she saw on the streets and under bridges of her hometown in California’s San Fernando Valley. The number of homeless increases every year in the valley as it does in the rest of the country. Daniela and her friends wanted to do something but they were from a lower income bracket so donating money was not a possibility. They persisted and over time came up with an idea… a solar-powered tent that folds up into a rollaway backpack. The girls and 10 others from their high school joined in to make this idea a reality. They hope that their tent will improve the lives of homeless people in their community.
Mary Grace Henry learned that young girls in other countries can become child brides and how in many cultures, women and girls have little value. At 18, Henry had already hand made and sold enough hair accessories to pay for 66 girls living in extreme poverty in Uganda and Kenya to go to four years of secondary school. She founded Reverse the Course, a nonprofit organization that donates all profits to combating gender inequality. Henry has received a two-year $35,000 grant from a World of Children Award, which she will use to fund educational workshops and programs for girls in impoverished areas in Africa.
There are many more stories such as this happening all around the globe. They helped ignite sparks behind the evolution of Precious Journeys®. These adventures allow our youngest travelers, from ages five to 11, to explore a wondrous world of exciting places filled with incredible animals, amazing landscapes and fun things to do. The next step was Precious Journeys® College Edition for older children and their families. Each journey is crafted to put the children at the center of the trip, not on the periphery, with activities and adventures tailored to ages and interests.
Our goal is to help inspire kids to discover the world’s grandeur as well as its challenges. They will encounter other cultures and meet other children as well as fascinating people working on real-world solutions. They will learn what the sustainability movement means from a global perspective and have opportunities to experience fields ranging from archaeology to conservation to organic farming.
All this led to the Kids Kouncil™ that takes us back to our continuing wish to encompass all aspects of family travel. Our newest Kids Kouncil program is Kids Kouncil Approved™ Peru Adventure. In Aguas Calientes Town, children have the unique and distinctly fun opportunity to teach and learn the language at simple booth set up in the plaza with a sign saying We Teach English Words In Exchange for Learning Spanish Words with priceless encounters and maybe even some new friends. Kids have fun as they try learn La Marinera, a northern Peruvian folk dance, from other kids as well as professional, national champions of La Marinera. They climb up the face of a mountain and zip line down, all the way securely harnessed so that even the young can participate. Then, like the early explorers, they discover dark rooms carved from giant stones and follow along in the footsteps of Incan Indians along narrow passageways at the 500-year-old fortress of Machu Picchu.
Like so many species throughout the African continent, the black rhino barely survived the poaching and illegal hunts especially during the 1980s and 90s. But with the slow rise of conservancies, hope has grown that some of Africa’s irreplaceable wildlife will survive. With the growth of conservation has come an awareness by many communities of the value in preservation in terms of increased tourism, employment and education opportunities as well as a degree of recognition from the outside world.
Namibia is home to the larger of two subspecies of the black rhinoceros in southern Africa and Huab Conservancy is set in a core desert where endangered desert-adapted black rhino remains. In this starkly beautiful landscape, Huab Under Canvas offers an authentic back-to-nature experience with seclusion and liberty to explore one of Damaraland’s most dramatic landscapes and the wildlife that inhabits it.
The camp partners with Save the Rhino, a nonprofit group that has been vital in helping save the dwindling population of desert-adapted rhinos. Even though the camp is able to be mobile, it is nestled in a grove of Mopane trees on the banks of a tributary of the Huab River. It is nearly invisible in its setting with one of the lowest environmental footprints of any camp in Namibia. Eight tents are raised on mobile platforms with basic infrastructure for guests’ basic comforts.
One of the privileges here is tracking the rhinos, privately, in an area that has the highest tracking success rate in north western Namibia. Another bonus is exploring the upper and less crowded Huab River in search of other dwellers such as desert-adapted elephants. Nature walks and drives go deep into this unique place. The camp presents opportunities to sleep out under crystal clear skies with nothing between you and the brilliant stars of the Namibian night sky, where satellites, galaxies, shooting stars and the occasional significant meteor can all be seen with the naked eye.
Discover this remarkable 13-day adventure President’s Picks Namibia Damaraland to the Dunes.
As the train slowly pulls away from Kamblighat Station, you seem to hear every rattle and squeak of its old metal bones. The train, known only as No. 222, rolls on through the Rajasthan countryside in Deogarh, both a city and a municipality. This was once the land of Chundawat Rajputs.
On a hill, Deogarh Mahal is an imposing palace with a commanding view of the Aravalli mountain range, lakes and countryside. It features battlements, domes, turrets and huge gateways and was built in 1670. It was constructed as both residence and fort following turmoil and in-fighting between aristocrats of the Mewar region. In the heart of the town, the Kunjbihari Mandir is famous for colonies of bats that live inside the roof of that building. A clock tower in the main central chowk (market) of the town sits at the top of Charbhuja Temple.
Travel aboard this historic gem is an adventure in time as well as place. While it lasts less than two hours, the journey back through time seems longer as you sit on its time-worn wooden seats filled with locals for whom this train is a lifeline. You may be sitting next to an old woman in a traditional sari loaded down with baskets or energetic kids or even chickens or cows.
Old 222 rumbles on through the sanctuary and hills of Kali Ghati and through the Aravalli hill range, scrub forests, two tunnels and 172 bridges, large and small, constructed by the British in the 1930s. This is also the highest track on the Western Railways.
Goram Ghat Station in Pali District with its troops of monkeys is the last stop before the journey ends at Phulad Station. Goram Ghat is unusual in that it can only be reach by train. The rail track to reach it was built in 1932 by the British the help from former Mewar’s Maharana.
The small station of Phulad Station rests in Pali District in Rajasthan with lush rolling hills of the Aravalli Range nearby.
For lovers of trains and romance, No. 222 will delight and entertain, and for the rest of us… well, it will, too. Experience this historic ride on our newest 18-day President’s Pick India Ghats, the Ganges & Leopards.
Ise Jingu Shrine was built in the fifth century but it has never stayed in one location more than 20 years. That’s right, it has moved every two decades, deconstructed and rebuilt 62 times nearby since 690 AD. It is thought that this act renews the strength and power of the spirits. It is the most famous and most sacred of the Shinto religion in Japan. Some 120 shrines are encompassed in the Ise Jingu complex. The primary shrines are the Naiku, or inner, and the Geku, outer shrines. The sun goddess Amaterasu O-mikami is said to be enshrined in the inner shrine, the Naiku, and is why the shrine was built as part of the Shinto belief of death and renewal of nature.
The shrine is one of the most important on the 311-mile-long Nakasendo Trail, path through mountains, that takes you through the heart of Japan’s main island of Honshu. It was one of only two means of transportation between Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. This route has been used since feudal times.
After the last battle of national unification at Sekigahara, the Edo shogunate acted to establish a communication system which would allow the regime to move quickly and efficiently messages, personnel, diplomatic missions, spies, and important goods to or from Edo throughout the empire. Five highways including the Nakasendo were designated for this purpose. Each highway was organized along principles which the Chinese used to regulate their highways in imperial times. The route was carefully laid out, the width of the highway was determined, and villages at convenient intervals along the way were designated as post-towns, which were responsible for the functioning of the highway in the area and for providing food and lodging for official travelers.
In the second half of Japan’s Edo period (1600–1868), travel for the sake of travel was not allowed. Imagine that! Religious pilgrimages, however, were gaining in popularity. As time went on, various religious establishments, such as Ise Jingu Shrine, help popularize pilgrimages.
Post towns developed every few miles to provide travelers with places to rest, eat and find accommodation during this long journey. Along the Kiso Valley, a few post towns, particularly Magome, Tsumago and Narai, have been preserved to look as they did when they served travelers of the Nakasendo.
Today, hikers come from across the globe to walk the Nakasendo Trail and follow in the footsteps of emperors and shoguns. There are hikes of varied lengths for all skill levels. If you would like to experience this historic trail, explore our 14-day President’s Pick Japan Cityscapes & Sacred Trails.
Although you may not have heard much about it, yesterday was World Environment Day, a United Nations day to help promote worldwide awareness and action to protect our environment, our planet.
Since it began 45 years ago, the event has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is celebrated in more than 100 countries. On this day each of us are encouraged to do something, large or tiny, to help the planet. That action can be local, national or global; it can be a solo action or involve a crowd.
But who would have thought that that action could come in the form of a stay in Africa? Stay in a stunning, exclusive private retreat hidden in northern Kenya. Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy, a 58,000-acre reserve settled on the Laikipia plateau, was once the private home of the Wildenstein family, among the most well-known art dynasty families. The home is built among the kopjes, outcrops of ancient granite boulders and rocks that stick out like rough islands on the flat landscape.
Ol Jogi is today one of the most exclusive properties in all of Africa and perfect for those looking for an authentic Kenyan experience reminiscent of the days before mass-tourism. It is all yours for the length of your stay – no minivans, no other guests – perfect for family reunions or groups of friends. The complex accommodates groups of four to 20 guests throughout the year in the Main House, as well as larger groups for special events such as weddings and birthdays. For an extra bonus, enjoy Ol Jogi Under The Stars, a luxury tented camp set up adjacent to the Main House.
It clear that this has been a labor of love as well as a refuge from the outside world. Away from the main house, seven individually designed cottages overlook a watering hole in the garden. Each cottage has been individually designed around a different theme with tailored furniture, individual dressing rooms and ‘his and hers’ bathrooms. From your bed you wake up to spectacular sunrises above Mount Kenya and go to sleep aware of the vast array of wildlife around the watering hole. The combination of luxury and nature is hard to bet.
One of the most exceptional facets of this already exceptional property is that all the money generated goes directly back in to support the conservancy. This was never intended to be a money-making proposition.
The conservancy is home to endangered and threatened species including 25% of the world’s remaining Grevy’s zebra, more than 60 of the world’s 860 stock of Eastern Black Rhino, 375 Reticulated giraffe as well as African wild dog, lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, cheetah, hyena, Oryx, impala and eland. Ol Jogi also supports a Wildlife Rescue Centre & Veterinary Clinic that rescues elephants and orphaned rhinos.
You will revel in exploring this stunning landscape on guided day and night game drives, walking safaris and guided horse riding for experienced riders. Or, savor cultural encounters take you into Twala Cultural Village and the Ol Jogi Primary school to meet the children.
For a new twist on a walking safari, how about a walk with baboons? Follow the baboons as they clamber down from their sleeping sites, play in acacia trees and eat sweet opuntia fruit.
You’ll be led through the bush by a local Maasai guide and learn about other species, tracking and Maasai culture.
Baboons can live up to thirty years in the wild. Females are the stable center of the troop, which has multifaceted social structures based on friendship, alliances and family ties. Males, however, migrate in and out of groups. Although baboons are usually more active and social in the early morning and slightly more relaxed in the evening, both times offer excellent opportunities to observe them in their natural habitat.
A heated outdoor swimming pool with waterfall and island, gym, ‘spa’ services including a Moroccan-inspired Hammam (steam rooms), cedar wood sauna, Jacuzzi and private masseuse as well as helicopter excursions are available.
This exclusive and luxurious property delivers all that it promises and ever so much more. Every dollar earned through hosting guests is 100% reinvested into conservation efforts. Your trip will make a substantial donation to the conservation and community. Your stay includes a $25,000 donation, which you will decide how to invest once you have visited Ol Jogi’s conservation and community projects. That is worthy of World Environment Day!
Explore our newest President’s Pick Tanzania & Kenya The Wild Walk for more.
Tell people you are going glamping and they may tilt their head in a kind of question mark or tell you to watch out for snakes. They haven’t a clue!
You can be sure that these folks have never been glamping in Colombia!
The camp is just a short distance from the main part of Guatapé, a small town in the northwest of Colombia about an hour’s drive east of Medellín. The town boasts colorful houses, a variety of water sports and panoramic views that will knock your socks off. This classic romantic glamping experience is hidden within the forest
They call it Bosko Hotel, but don’t let that fool you. You stay in a spacious, transparent dome, half of which seems open to the world with stunning panoramic views of the lake and its surroundings from your bed. Each domed pod is called a mushroom and it owns its individual space in the forest, allowing you a very private and intimate encounter with the landscape.
The mushroom sports a luxurious interior including a king-sized bed, rustic-style decor, mini bar, bathroom and open delightful and energizing outdoor air shower. Each also has its own terrace overlooking the lake and the valley surrounding it. Now this is a tent, er, excuse me… a mushroom!
Rise early and settle on your terrace with a cup of coffee and fresh breakfast served as you watch the sun come up. Savor every second of the sun rising over the mountains before you venture out to go hiking and exploring native species of flora and fauna, or fishing from the floating dock, or kayaking and paddle boarding on the private lake. Optional activities include spa treatments, speed boat tours, helicopter flights, rock climbing and wake boarding.
Then it’s time to relax by the bonfire and toast marshmallows. The firewood creaks in the flames as you sip a fine wine. Retire to your private terrace to take in the delicate colors of the cosmos and listen to the gentle voices of the night.
Can there be a better day than this?
To enjoy a different side of Colombia, explore our Colombia country page.
Yes, Tombée du Ciel, House Fallen from the Sky. That about sums up this unusual topsy-turvy house. It rests in a field of tall yellow grass with palms trees in this oasis at the edge of Marrakech’s northern section.
The modest house was originally located in the small town of Fouras, in the Charente‐Maritime region of the French coast. It rests oddly on one half of its roof with the body of the house reaching for the stars, a little like a dead cow with its legs stiffly stretched upwards. How did this curiosity happen to end up in Morocco in such a predicament?
This is an amazing art form by Jean Francois Fortou, a Paris-born, French artist who splits his time between Marrakech and Madrid. His upside-down house is fully decorated inside with everything arranged upside down and a bit off kilter. The kitchen is laid out with two red chairs plus a pale blue table set with full soup bowls, terrine, cutlery and a bottle of wine. The wooden floorboards above anchor a simple bed to the ceiling…. I mean the floor. Walking up the ladder to the first floor can make you dizzy. You feel as though you are in one of those carnival funhouses from childhood. Indeed, the atmosphere has a nostalgic feel flowing through the structure.
The artist offers other works that include houses stacked one upon the next – melded together, unique animals and chairs that explode out of windows. He loves to play with perspective and angles and size. His giant “Monumental Giraffe” can be found hovering over a conference table or peering around the corner of a fence.
Tombée du Ciel is Fourtou’s is his second large-scale sculptural work in Marrakech. Also on his property, Dar el Sadaka, is his well-known La Maison de Géant, The Giant’s House, with all the objects set at twice their normal size or more. Reached through a labyrinth of bamboo on one side and olive trees on the other, the house evokes the past and pulls you back into a child-sized world with the towering chairs and an enormous bed. A giant pencil is ready to draw in the giant notebook – all to make you feel a part of that world again. The house is set at three-quarter scale, adapted to a four-year old’s perspective, and on a one-fifth scale – not much larger than a doll house.
Djemâa el Fna Square is alive with its multitude of street artists and stalls of dried fruit or orange juice freshly-pressed. Small restaurants take over its center from the early evening, adding a rich scent to the surroundings. No one really knows how it came into being, but over the years it has become the beating heart of Marrakech, where spectacles of fire eaters, mime artists, snake charmers and street musicians perform at every turn.
Marrakech is a wonder of a city from its Moorish palaces, to the raft of stalls filling suqs (bazaars), to Tombée du Ciel. To discover this remarkable city, begin with President’s Pick Morocco Mazes & Mysteries.