Africa

10 Summer Trips That Will Change Your Life

Posted May 21, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Fred Leblanc)

Put down your juicy novel and get out of the poolside lounger. This summer we're pushing you out of your comfort zone. These 10 epic trips, from the Grand Canyon to Tanzania, take you to awe-inspiring settings, give you intimate encounters with majestic wildlife, and introduce you to people who live on next to nothing. By journey's end, you're sure to see the world with new eyes.

 

(Photo: Captain Barry King)

Sail a Schooner Along Maine's Coast

The Trip: The Maine Windjammer Association's weekend and weeklong cruises take you outside Wi-Fi and cell-phone range to help you kick your texting habit and reconnect with family. Under the guidance of a captain, you'll work as a team to sail one of the association's eight ships, many of which are National Historic Landmarks. It's an experience that feels a bit like summer camp, with incredible stargazing and the chance to see whales and porpoises as you navigate uninhabited islands, going ashore for campfires and beachcombing.

How It's Life-Changing: The wind, the tide, and your captain's whim dictate each day's schedule and destination, which forces you to let go of any control-freak tendencies and really relax. On the schooner Isaac H. Evans, fun activities (including hunting for pirate-themed treasure, hauling lobster traps, and cranking ice cream) have made some kids fall in love with sailing and return later as crew members.

 

Tash Rabat Yurts (Photo: Pieter Schepens via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Travel the Old Silk Road in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan

The Trip: This trip of a lifetime leads you through two countries that otherwise might not be on your travel radar. In Kyrgyzstan, Wild Frontiers Travel introduces you to locals and their ways of life on the mountainous Old Silk Road. Trek a challenging high-altitude pass, ride horses, and camp beneath the stars in traditional yurts. Then you'll fly to Uzbekistan to see the remains of an old caravanserai (roadside inn) along the Silk Road route. Browse a bazaar and meet silk weavers and knife makers still plying their wares in a city adorned with grand mosques and mausoleums.

How It's Life-Changing: Your perspective shifts when you spend time with the nomadic mountain people and gain insight into life as a shepherd or eagle hunter. Staying in yurts along your journey and living as a local brings you back to the basics. Feel a sense of accomplishment after tackling the Ton Pirival pass at an elevation of about 13,450 feet.

 

(Photo: Elevate Destinations)

Work with Kids in Haiti

The Trip: Hoards of emergency volunteers came and went after Haiti's catastrophic 2010 earthquake, but this Elevate Haiti volunteer project lives on. The 10-day experience on the island of Ile a Vache, a 30-minute boat ride from Port-au-Prince, allows you to help with long-term rebuilding. In a workshop similar to a summer camp, you'll boost kids' leadership skills and English fluency, teaching through sports, poetry reading, and other personal interests. You'll also work alongside locals to build a new school and spend time off exploring beaches and nearby islands.

How It's Life-Changing: For some, seeing one of the poorest countries in the world evokes pity. But Elevate Haiti volunteers see the need and feel a calling and a sense of responsibility to make a difference. So strong is the rapport among alumni that many of them keep in touch long after their projects are over.

 

(Photo: CaptainOates via flickr/CC Attribution)

Island Hop by Bicycle in Scotland's Outer Hebrides

The Trip: This 174-mile guided mountain-bike ride along the Hebridean Trail with Wilderness Scotland weaves its way across seven islands in a weeklong adventure off the remote northwest tip of the U.K. Blazed in 2012, the trail follows ancient wilderness paths and rolls into little villages where proud Gaelic-speaking islanders live steeped in tradition. You'll see the Callanish Stones, a prehistoric Stonehenge-like grouping of rock monoliths. You'll ride up to six hours a day for a week, hopping islands with your bike on a rigid inflatable boat. Post-pedal pints are part of the daily ritual.

How It's Life-Changing: The first couple of days can be a shock for leg muscles, but soon you realize you're no longer constantly watching for the support van to show up for a snack break. You've got this. Finishing it is a huge achievement that you owe to the cleansing island air, mesmerizing views, and camaraderie among riders.

 

(Photo: Felix E. Guerrero via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Practice Yoga at an Ashram in India

The Trip: For nourishing your soul and raising your consciousness, few spots can top the Himalayan Yog Ashram in the Himalayan foothills on the banks of the holy Ganges River. This ashram-stay program, suiting both beginners and yogis wanting to deepen their practice, follows a disciplined schedule of healthy meals, yoga, and meditation. More than a physical workout, the program is a holistic approach to an Indian yogic lifestyle, one that includes space and time for reading, reflecting, and hiking to the nearby waterfall. You can also choose a purification/detoxification or anti-stress program with relaxation and massage treatments as well as life-coaching sessions.

How It's Life-Changing: The heightened awareness you learn will help empower you to make changes and live more intentionally with joy. You experience how healthy eating makes a tremendous difference in body, mind, and soul.

 

Mongol Horse Trail (Photo: martin_vmorris via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Ride the Mongol Horse Trail

The Trip: It's said that Mongolians were the first to tame horses on the country's vast, treeless steppes where large herds roamed, and this summertime trip takes you there. Not for the faint of heart, In The Saddle's Mongol Horse Trail expedition leads you over steppes, into forests, and across rivers. As you walk and canter, you'll see sweeping views of a countryside where there are no fences, no tracks, and no power lines. The only signs of life are the local herdsmen you meet along the way. Camp along rivers, then load your luggage into the yak cart towed by one of the crew.

How It's Life-Changing: Riding for days without seeing anyone gives you time to unclutter your mind and find solitude. When you do come across a ger, a tent-like Mongolian home, and meet people with a simple lifestyle, it makes you evaluate what matters most in life.

 

(Photo: Winky via flickr/CC Attribution)

Kayak with Orcas in British Columbia

The Trip: Each year from mid-July through mid-September, hundreds of orcas return like clockwork to the Johnstone Strait off Vancouver Island to feast on salmon. Most tourists witness the spectacle from large tour boats, which foster a sense of security but also of separation. But in a kayak, you're among the pod at eye level. A hydrophone will allow you to hear the pod communicating just beneath the water's surface. You'll likely spot porpoises and bears, too, on Sea Kayak Adventures, Inc.'s four-day or six-day trips as you paddle, camp, and hike this wild coast.

How It's Life-Changing: When a whale or dolphin looks back at you, the closeness inspires a feeling of intimacy and oneness with the ocean. It's humbling to see a six-foot dorsal fin lift out of the water next to you before the massive creature dives and swims beneath your little boat.

 

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park (Photo: National Park Service)

Help Maintain Trails in Grand Canyon National Park

The Trip: While the summer tourists ride mules to the canyon floor or hover above in helicopters, you can see the Grand Canyon from an entirely different perspective: as a volunteer caretaker. American Conservation Experience runs Conservation Vacations that allow travelers to participate in environmental restoration projects usually reserved for AmeriCorps members. You'll work eight-hour days with your group to remove invasive species, repair fencing, and maintain the trails. There's plenty of time in the evening to explore the park or hang out at the group campsite with fellow volunteers.

How It's Life-Changing: You have access to awe-inspiring areas of the park that aren't on tourist maps, and after working to improve them, you appreciate this national landmark even more.

 

(Photo: La Escuela del Sol)

Avert a Midlife Crisis in Costa Rica

The Trip: In Costa Rica's adventure capital Montezuma, La Escuela del Sol is proof that it's never too late to pursue a passion and even make a career out of it. Here you can study fire dancing with a Cirque du Soleil artist. Or, train to be a certified yoga instructor, get your scuba certification, or earn college credit for Spanish classes. The school's surfing courses are popular, too. Stay in a private room or get into the campus vibe and be paired with a roommate.

How It's Life-Changing: At the end of your vacation in this tropical paradise, you return to the real world (or not) as an entirely new version of you. During your courses, you connect with others from different countries and professions who, like you, are at a crossroads in life and vowing to make a change.

 

Masai Mara Wildebeest (Photo: Wajahat Mahmood via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Help Conserve Wildlife in African Game Reserves

The Trip: On this 27-day Masai Mara Conservation and Wildlife Safari with Acacia Adventure Holidays, not only do you get to check off "Seeing the Great Migration" on your bucket list, but you also get to volunteer in Kenya's famous Masai Mara National Reserve during its peak. Spend the first 14 days helping out with lion research, collecting data, and learning about local conservation. During the second half, you'll head to Tanzania for game drives in the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater and stay on the island of Zanzibar.

How It's Life-Changing: Nothing can prepare you for an up-close experience with Africa's majestic wild animals. Whether you happen to witness the birth of a giraffe or the thundering of thousands of wildebeest, you never forget that feeling of connection to the natural world.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title  10 Summer Trips That Will Change Your Life.

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10 Best National Parks Around the World

Posted October 18, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

580x382_COVER_Africa_Serengeti-National-Park_Zebras-at-Sunset

National parks are kind of an American thing. After all, we established the first one (Yellowstone) in 1872. But it didn't take long for the idea to catch on overseas, and these days the international community can give even our most impressive parks a run for their money. If you love exotic wildlife, ancient ruins, and otherworldly scenery, you might want to add these 10 foreign national parks to your bucket list.

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Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Where else can you enjoy mountains, lakes, fjords, and rainforests in one park? Fiordland National Park, located on New Zealand's South Island, encompasses a massive almost 3 million acres (roughly 4,687 square miles) formed by glacial flows. The most famous of the park's 14 fjords is Milford Sound, which visitors can explore from all angles: Take a helicopter ride above it, cruise on the water, or go below (without getting wet) at the Milford Discovery Center's underwater viewing chamber, which offers 360-degree views of the ecosystem and rare black coral some 30 feet underwater.

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Tikal National Park, Guatemala

You'll feel like you've traveled back in time at Guatemala's Tikal National Park, where ruins of an ancient Maya city-state (which housed approximately 100,000 people from the 6th century BCE to the 10th century CE) lie deep in the heart of the jungle. Remains of more than 3,000 separate buildings (including temples, palaces, and tombs) are preserved here. The massive archaeological site feels even more otherworldly as it is surrounded by 54,610 acres (roughly 85 square miles) of rainforest, now inhabited by a wide variety of wild animals such as monkeys, jaguars, snakes, sloths, and armadillos.

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Kruger National Park, South Africa

Wildlife watchers, this is the park for you. Kruger National Park's almost 4.9 million acres (roughly 7,722 square miles) are home to an incredible variety of species: 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds, and 147 mammals—and of course that includes the "Big Five" of African game (elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo). There are numerous ways to traverse the park, from the wilderness walking trails (where you'll be accompanied by armed guards) to traditional safaris and 4WD trails.

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Galapagos National Park, Ecuador

An astonishing 97 percent of the land area of the Galapagos Islands is part of this national park (the other 3 percent is the inhabited islands, on which tourists can find overnight accommodations, if they don't choose to do a cruise). To visit the park, you'll need to pay a $100 entry fee, and you'll have to be part of a tour that is accompanied by a Galapagos National Park certified guide—there's no doing this park solo. You'll be rewarded with one-of-a-kind wildlife spotting, including the giant tortoise, Galapagos Penguin, marine iguana, and blue-footed booby.

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Kluane National Park and Reserve, Canada

Kluane National Park and Reserve is home to Canada's highest mountain (Mt. Logan), more than 100 species of birds (including golden and bald eagles), glaciers, and grizzly bears. Visit in the summer when this park, located in the southwestern corner of the Yukon, experiences up to 19 hours of continuous sunlight per day! Although more than 80 percent of the park's landscape is comprised of mountains and glaciers (more than 4,000 of them), the park still has plenty of greenery—there are meadows and forests that house wide ranges of wildlife, from mountain goats to Dall sheep.

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Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Japan

This national park consists of four different regions: The Mt. Fuji area (home to the highest mountain in Japan, fields formed by lava flows, and five volcanic lakes), the Hakone area (famous for its hot springs and botanical garden), the Izu Peninsula area (featuring the Mt. Amagi volcanic mountain range and Atagawa Tropical and Alligator Garden, which houses 29 reptile species), and the Izu Islands (a group of islands formed by submarine volcanoes).

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Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Chile's Torres del Paine National Park is one of the world's most visually arresting places. Its glaciers, lakes, green forests, and rivers are framed by mountains and towered over by the Torres del Paine (granite pillars that rise more than 9,000 feet above the Patagonian steppe). Amid the beautiful scenery, you'll find more than 100 species of exotic birds (including parakeets and flamingos), guanacos (similar to llamas), pumas, and the endangered Chilean huemul (a species of deer).

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Canaima National Park, Venezuela

The star attraction of Canaima National Park is Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall, which drops for more than half a mile before hitting the rapids. The park itself is roughly the size of Belgium (12,000 square miles) and about 65 percent of its terrain is tepuis—plateaus of rock that create the amazing cliffs and mountains that make this park so picturesque. This national park is actually inhabited—it's home to the indigenous Pemon Indians.

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Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

If you want to experience some of Africa's best wildlife viewing, Serengeti National Park is the place to do it. Every year, more than a million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras, and 300,000 Thomson's gazelles make their annual migrations from the northern hills to the southern plains, making for some amazing safari photo ops. Even if you come when the migration is not happening, you'll still likely see the Big Five, plus cheetahs, Nile crocodiles, monkeys, giraffes, and much more.

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Swiss National Park, Switzerland

Switzerland's only national park is one of Europe's best-protected natural environments—hunting, mowing, off-trail hiking, and tree cutting are all forbidden within the park's more than 42,000 acres. (You can't even bring your dog.) The park's landscape is classic Switzerland, with Alpine forests and meadows, The Sound of Music-esque scenery (including edelweiss flowers), and mountain lakes.

 

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Best National Parks Around the World.

Follow Caroline Morse on Google+ or email her at at editor@smartertravel.com.

 

The World's Top 10 Vertigo-Inducing Attractions

Posted April 3, 2008 by Zak Patten

If you're a traveler like me, your typical vacation will include a trip up to a scenic lookout where you're likely to have the best view of the place you're visiting. And if you're a big wuss like me, as soon as you get to the most scenic vantage point, your knees will start wobbling and you'll grip the handrail with vise-like intensity/strength, thinking, "I could've gotten this view from a postcard in the lobby!" For those of you who like the idea (if not necessarily the reality) of a great view, I've put together the following list of 10 attractions, each of which is extremely nosebleed-friendly.

10. The CN Tower

The CN Tower is 553 meters tall, which is a Canadian way of saying 1,815 feet off the ground. Technically, it's the "tallest free-standing structure on land," but that just means it's not a place where people live or work. Which is just fine by me, because I have absolutely no interest in living or working anyplace higher than my third-floor bedroom or fourth-floor office. The CN Tower was completed in 1973 and is used primarily for TV and radio broadcasts, as well as tourism. Fans of 1940s music will be dismayed to learn that there is no AM antenna on the Tower.

Vertigocntowersunsetweb
Overcompensate much?

9. The Jungfraujoch Railway Station

What do you get when you cross the Swiss Alps with Europe's love of passenger trains? The Jungfraujoch railway station, which is 11,333 feet above sea level. Okay, that's not much of a joke, but the Swiss aren't known for their sense of humor (kidding!). So once you've made this hair-raising train trip to the top of the world, what can you do besides gorging on Swiss chocolate and fondue? How about checking out an Ice Palace or a ski and snowboard park that's only open in the summer?

Vertigojungfraujochwebshopped_2
om nom nom

8. Mt. Kilimanjaro

For number eight, let's take this a notch higher. It's true that Mt. Kilimanjaro makes the Alps look puny. But with a summit of 19,340 feet, Africa's tallest peak is actually accessible enough for real people to climb, sans oxygen tanks. Of course that's not to say it's an easy task, especially if you're the type who favors the escalator to the stairs.

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Floor 5895: Neon hiking gear and ridiculous hats

7. London Eye

Coming back a little closer to earth, the London Eye is essentially a big ol' Ferris wheel. If that doesn't wow you, consider that the 443-foot-tall ride was the tallest of its kind when it opened in 2000. If you want to make your visit more upscale, you can purchase a glass of Champagne for an additional £30. I think I'll pass on the pricey drink. I'll be happy just to hold down my lunch while in one of the pods.

Vertigolondoneyewebkittie
OH NOES!

6. Singapore Flyer

With about 100 more vertical feet than the London Eye, The Singapore Flyer took the role of world's highest Ferris wheel when it opened this month. One of the coolest things about the Flyer is its taxi-driver promotion, which currently awards all cabbies a free ride. I guess the idea is they'll be so taken with their trip that they won't be able to stop talking up the attraction to their customers. I'm assuming they're not trying to recruit the drivers to be "pod pilots." Just one warning to those who do take the Flyer: Don't write your name in your cabin. They're not big fans of graffiti in Singapore.

Singaporenightshopped4
Never Forget: Michael P. Fay

5. The Top of the Rock

The Empire State Building is great, but it's soooo 20th century. For the latest in Big Apple views, you gotta hit the Top of the Rock. The "Rock" in question is Rockefeller Center, and while its 850-foot-high observation deck doesn't reach the Empire State Building's height, , this deck affords a much better view of the ESB than you'll get when you're standing on the building itself. Oh, and our sister site TripAdvisor's users rank the Top of the Rock number one of 1,296 New York City attractions. 'Nuff said.

Vertigotopoftherockweb
Hey, is that Tina Fey? Let's not forget her either.

4. La Paz

Just about any spot in La Paz, Bolivia, the world's highest capital city, can make the most grounded person feel as if his head is in the clouds. At 11,942 feet in elevation, La Paz is an attraction in itself. If you go, make sure you're prepared for the altitude. You can take a medicine such as Diamox, or just chew some coca leaves like the locals. La Paz's Museum of the Coca Plant is the place to learn more about the coca leaf and all its interesting uses.

Cocacat
im in ur bolivia sniffin ur cokez

3. The Edge

It might be in Melbourne, Australia, but there is nothing "Down Under" about The Edge, a glass cube that juts out of the Eureka Tower, which at 975 feet is the world's tallest residential building. The worst … er, best part of it all is that The Edge doesn't just sit there like all the other observation decks. No, you get in and it physically moves outward until you're hanging out with nothing between you and a long fall but some chintzy glass panel. 

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Hello, Hello. I'm at a place called Vertigo.

2. Taipei 101

The Taipei 101 is currently the world's tallest building at a height of 1,670 feet, though the Burj Dubai is set to overtake that record when it officially opens. At that height, I'm really not interested in which one is taller, but rather how the hell I can get down safely. What I think is coolest about the 101 is not just its height, but how big it is relative to the buildings around it. It's as if former NBA big man Manute Bol decided to show up and play pickup hoops with you and your friends. Basically, the Taipei 101 doesn't care about its neighboring skyscrapers—it's going to dunk on their asses.

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Manute enlarged to show texture.

1. Insanity, the Ride

Which brings us to number one. Yes, Insanity, the Ride, at Las Vegas' Stratosphere, is not only the most vertigo-inducing attraction in the world, it's probably the most wetting-your-pants/barfing-your-guts-out one as well. The casino-hotel stands 1,149 feet above The Strip, which is what you'll be gaping down at as you are spun at three-Gs by a "massive mechanical arm" extended 64 feet out from the building. I can barely even look at the picture below without feeling queasy.

Manutebucket
Serving suggestion, some assembly required, ManuteBucketTM not included.


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