Winter has come to the Northern Hemisphere and that means ski season is in full swing. If you’re looking for a winter adventure filled with events and experiences upon which to build memories, there are a number of notable spots you should visit. Spending time on the slopes doesn’t have to break your fun budget. Check out these hot spots for cool deals and cheap tours.
Situated just 40 km west of Sapporo, Japan and near the idyllic seaside town of Otaru, this resort offers ski enthusiasts the most experiences for their money. Boasting Japan’s fastest ski lifts, you’ll be able to spend a maximum of your time on the slopes. When you’ve had your fill of powder, nearby Sapporo is home to some of the sweetest sightseeing opportunities and shopping venues in the area.
This pristine French valley is home to some of the most challenging steeps in Europe and rests at the foot of Mont Blanc, one of the most highly celebrated skiers playgrounds on the planet. But it also offers fare for the less skilled in addition to the 10,000 vertical feet plunging from the piste to the valley floor below. There are gently winding trails and slopes along a glacial valley running at the feet of the majestic Alps.
Forge deeper into the Alps and visit Zermatt, Switzerland. One of Europe’s best-established ski resorts, it’s three mountains offer more than 153 miles of ski runs to sate even the most enthusiastic winter warrior. Because it has long been the winter holiday paradise for Europe’s elite, it also boasts one of the best developed culinary cultures and after-hours night scenes in the region.
Set in the breathtaking Rocky Mountain Range in Colorado, USA this ski resort has a reputation for the wide diversity of terrain in its 2000 acres of ski runs, offering something to please every skier. It also boasts some of the best developed infrastructure of the Colorado resorts.
In the wilds of one of the loveliest Western mountain states of the USA, Alta in Utah a worth a visit. This resort boasts a healthy balance of wild runs and relaxing amenities that will please everyone.
No matter where in the Northern Hemisphere you’re headed this winter, there are great ski opportunities abounding. You can avail yourself of some of the greatest skiing, scenery, and cuisine. Meanwhile, build the memories of a lifetime on the slopes of these wonder-filled locations.
One of the most amazing animal encounters you can have is the chance to see mountain gorillas up close in the wild. This is a very rare and priceless experience that very few people ever get the chance to enjoy. If you want to go on an expedition to meet gorillas face-to-face, keep reading to find out what you need to know about this epic adventure.
Where to Go
Obviously, you will need to get yourself to Africa to see gorillas in the wild. They are an endangered species that only exist in a small part of Africa. You will need to go to Uganda, Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo if you want to go on an affordable tour to see mountain gorillas.
Finding the Gorillas
You will need to go with an experienced guide to find the gorillas. They are very elusive creatures, and you will have to trek for several hours through rough, mountainous country to have a chance to see them. This means that you need to be in excellent physical condition to make the trek. Most of the guides will not take anyone who is under 15 years of age on an expedition to search for gorillas. Also, because disease passes easily back and forth between humans and apes, you cannot go on the tour if you are sick or showing any signs of illness.
Rules When You Find the Gorillas
The gorillas that you will see have become used to humans, but that tolerance only goes so far. You must be cautious around these very large and potentially dangerous animals. You are typically not allowed to get closer than five meters from the gorillas. Also, flash photography is strictly forbidden. The flash will upset them. No one is allowed to eat or drink around the gorillas. Of course, no food or drink is to be given to the animals either.
You cannot make loud noises around the gorillas, and you are not allowed to try and touch them. However, because the gorillas are used to humans, they sometimes will come up and interact with people. They may even touch you and play with you if you are really lucky.
This is a magical experience that you will never forget. If you want to see gorillas, you will have to pay a fee of several hundred dollars a day for the chance to track them. It is well worth it for the adventure of a lifetime.
Some of our favorite tours
- 6 Day Gorillas in the Mist tour with On The Go Tours
Take an incredible journey deep into the heart of the African jungle, in search of the mighty mountain gorillas – our closest living relatives, and relax by beautiful Lake Bunyoni.
- 3 Day Gorilla Trek with G Adventures
Admire a family of mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, have your bases covered with all national park and permit fees for gorilla tracking included, get peace of mind with your guides to yourself– you won’t be pooled with other trekkers.
- 16 Day Gorillas and Game Tour with Tucan Travel
What more could you ask for on an African overland safari tour than the chance to visit world-famous game reserves, stunning lakes and to trek to meet one of our closest relatives? Mountain Gorillas are endangered but are making a comeback in the Virunga Mountains of Uganda, where they are protected and roam the forests in small family groups. Join a trek to visit a silverback and his harem of females, their juvenile offspring and perhaps a cheeky infant or two.
- 29 Day Meet the Rellies Tour with Gecko’s Adventures
Experience the Gorilla trek along with plenty of other African wildlife encounters on this tour to Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.
One of the best tours to South America involves Bolivia’s salt flats. Bolivia is located right in the heart of South America, sandwiched between countries such as Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Near the crest of the Andes Mountains, you will find Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world. The size of the salt flat is monstrous, spanning more than 10,500 square kilometers. For those unfamiliar with salt flats, they are simply salt deposits that were left behind when large bodies of salt water evaporated. Think about what would happen if portions of the Atlantic Ocean were to evaporate off the coast of the U.S. This is precisely what happened in Bolivia nearly 30,000 years ago that led to the formation of Salar de Uyuni, only on a smaller scale with Lake Minchi.
Salar de Uyuni is not only a spectacular sight, but it also serves many economic interests for people in Bolivia and around the world. At the salt flats, one can find enormous deposits of sodium, magnesium, borax, lithium, and potassium. Lithium is the most important and useful of the bunch here as more than 40 percent of the world’s lithium supply can be found in these salt flats. One American company has spent nearly 150 million dollars on lithium mining projects at Salar de Uyuni.
As a tourist destination, Salar de Uyuni is one of the most popular locations to visit in Bolivia. Many of the hotels there are actually built from the salt found in the flats. Many people are interested to discover that the building they stay in during their visit contains pieces of the attraction they are here to see. The buildings are clean and well-kept away from the actual flats, but they are close enough for easy access.
For the adventurous travelers out there, salt flat tours at Salar de Uyuni may be just right for people of that personality. This is an exciting expedition that will be remembered forever. You may try going in the winter when traveling on the flats is more widely available. A trip to the flats in the summer is great in its own right since you will be able to see the reflections from the glare of the sun that people rave about. Take a visit to Bolivia’s salt flats and experience a unique, stunning and beautiful geographic landscape.
As the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized by explorers from Europe, Thailand features some of the most incredible one-of-a-kind adventures, and is a terrific option for cheap tours in Asia. Consider the following attractions and adventures when creating the perfect Thailand experience:
1. Rai Leh Beach
The only way to get to this amazing beach is by boat because the small stretch of sand is surrounded by high cliffs, which attract rock climbers from near and far.
2. Phang Nga Bay
When many people think of Thailand, they think of Phang Nga Bay, an amazing series of limestone islands, secret caves, and crystal clear waters.
3. Elephant rides
There are a number of spots around Thailand, like Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary, where visitors can experience the excitement and joy of an elephant ride. This majestic animal is the national symbol of Thailand.
4. Sea Kayaking around Phuket
Thailand’s amazing island scenery is best viewed from the water and is an amazing experience when viewed from a kayak.
5. The ancient city of Ayuthaya
Built in the 1300s, this incredible city was once the center of trade in Asia and had more than a million people living in it 500 years later.
6. The Similan Islands
Around this beautiful archipelago are some of the most beautiful scuba diving experiences in the world with extensive coral and sea life.
7. Zip lining in Chiang Mai
This 1500 year old rainforest offers incredible an adventure from the perspective of the forest’s canopy, and the area also offers rock climbing and mountain biking.
8. Koh Tao
Adventurers who want to learn the fine art of diving should visit this tiny island where millions of fish and marine sea life live in shallow reefs that surround Koh Tao.
9. Hill-tribe villages of Northern Thailand
Trekking through the hills of northern Thailand offers the chance to see ancient cultures and societies, as well as intricate temples and palaces that have remained intact despite the passage of centuries.
10. Chiang Dao caves
Nestled within the Chiang Dao National Park, this series of over 100 caves offers views of stalactites and stalagmites in beautiful limestone formations.
At least 6 million international tourists visit Thailand each year because of the amazing adventures offered in this incredible country. There’s no shortage of heart-pumping experiences in Thailand. To learn more about traveling to Thailand, check out our array of Thailand tours on offer.
As the Northern Hemisphere prepares for winter, it is a great time to plan a trip to a snowy destination. The weather can completely change your travel experience, and there are some great trip ideas that highlight the cold weather, and embrace the spirit of the festive season. Here are a few winter tours we recommend checking out:
12 Day Alpine Festive Trek with Busabout
Brace yourself for a magical festive escapade through the heart of Europe that will leave you stunned, enthralled and more than a little excited. This is a journey through some of the continent’s most iconic cities – Paris, Munich and Prague, and best of all the heights of Europe in the Swiss Alps. All combined with the biggest party season of the year, it’s enough to give you goose bumps just thinking about it.
15 Day Winter Japan Tour with Intrepid Travel
Pack some winter gear and head out to explore the far north of Japan – a fascinating and rarely visited part of this diverse country. See the amazing Sapporo Snow Festival and enjoy some of Hokkaido’s energizing winter sports. Return south to visit Nikko – a truly beautiful winter wonderland, peppered with ancient temples, gardens and shrines. This trip mixes the energy and excitement of Tokyo with the serenity of Nikko’s temples and the white beauty of Sapporo in winter. The result is an adventure holiday rich in cultural icons, history, tradition and seasonal delights.
7 Day Winter Toubkal Accent with G Adventures
Climbing a mountain in the summertime is tough. Climbing one in the winter? That’s for adventurers only. While the climb up Mount Toubkal is the undisputed centre piece of this week-long escapade in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, it’s not the only once-in-a-lifetime encounter you’ll have. Beginning in captivating Marrakech, you’ll trek deep into the hills (no prior experience required—promise!), happening upon snowbound Berber communities and some of the most majestic mountainscapes you’ll ever see along the way. Prepare to return home a completely different person than when you left.
14 Day Winter Wonder Tour with Topdeck Travel
There’s no better way to spend two weeks than experiencing all Europe has to offer in winter! To travel in Europe during winter is to discover the same wonders but in a different light. From the Eiffel Tower to the Colosseum, the towering Swiss Alps to the canals of Amsterdam, the sights and sounds of Europe will stay with you long after this winter tour of Europe is over.
A great way to really get in touch with the local culture while traveling is to volunteer within the local community. Even if you set aside one week of your vacation to volunteer, your experience abroad will be that much richer. Volunteering abroad has become very popular, and many tour companies offer great packages to help you easily find a reliable and legitimate volunteer program that interests you. There are many different genres of volunteer work you can get involved in, and G Adventures does a really great job of offering tours that include both time volunteering, and time exploring. Here are a few of our favorite G Adventures tours that include volunteering while abroad:
15 Day Volunteer Costa Rica
From pristine cloud forests to the Pacific coast’s famous surf, experience some of the world’s most incredible scenery and exotic wildlife—and make a lasting impact while you’re there. Spend five days volunteering with a sea turtle project to help ensure these endearing creatures are around for future generations to admire. Then hike through misty cloud forests and get your heart racing on optional activities in the lush wilderness. Give some of your time to this beautiful country and a worthy cause, and you’ll be rewarded with an experience you can really treasure. Gain a real sense of accomplishment and take home more than photographs.
13 Day Thailand Volunteer and Hilltribe Trek
Experience the diversity of Thailand on an adventure that includes hilltribe trekking in the North, beach time in the South and life-changing volunteer projects on a pristine Andaman island. You’ll make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged children as you pitch in at the local school, and after a rewarding day, you can really immerse yourself in the island lifestyle as nights are spent in a beachside homestay. Then trade the beach for the hills and a chance to trek to resilient hilltribe villages.
15 Day Kenya Volunteer and Safari
Kenya has some of the world’s most incredible scenery, exotic wildlife and friendly people—experience the best of each on this 15-day volunteer adventure. Scour the Masai Mara for lions, cheetahs, elephants and rhinos, while camping under the big sky, for a uniquely African experience. Gain a different perspective on local culture while volunteering with medical clinics and orphanages that help to improve the lives of the local population. Give a little of your time to Africa and take away a truly immersive experience that few travellers encounter.
When planning a big trip it is always advisable to do some research, buy a guide book, and have somewhat of a plan for sightseeing. But, what about those spontaneous trips when you are unexpectedly in a city for a day or two, and would like some good recommendations for places to eat and things to do? Well, Google has a great app for that! The relatively new Schemer app is something I recently stumbled upon which is fantastic for finding great things to see and do in almost any city. While the app is not available everywhere yet, I am anticipating this great new information source to catch on and expand quite quickly.
All you need to do is simply sign in with your Google Plus account, and you will have access to often hundreds of recommendations and information sources for things to see and do in any city. The larger the city the more recommendations, and all of the information is sourced from blogs and articles written by registered authors (often locals or travel experts). The app is incredibly user-friendly, and well worth checking out even in your own city. If you are an avid travel writer, you can even become a contributor yourself.
So next time you are visiting a new city, or if you would like to see what is available in your own city, check out Schemer and let us know what you think!
As a new year approaches, new tours are launched, and those that book their 2014 tours early are often rewarded. Tour companies are always looking for ways to keep their travelers interested, so new tour itineraries are often created as a new year approaches. To show off their new travel creations, it is common for tour companies to launch their new tours with a generous ‘Early Bird’ discount. If you are a traveler who likes to be organized and plan ahead, October is a great month to book your travels for 2014. Here are a few of our favorite discounted new itineraries available:
Topdeck Travel Eastern Escape Tour – 10% off 2014 departures when you book during October:
This tour starts and ends in Prague, and travels to some of the finest cities in Eastern Europe. This in-depth tour visits the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. Stay in Hotel Gellert in Budapest, take a boat trip on the River Danube, see a concert in Vienna, visit Auschwitz in Poland and much more on this comprehensive Topdeck tour in Eastern Europe.
Travel Talk Timeless Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam Tour- Take a friend for free on 2014 departures when you book during October:
Explore the diverse and fascinating cultures of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam on this tour through the Southeast Asian peninsula of Indochina. The indigenous kingdoms and ancient temples are a unique drawing card along with the contrasting landscapes from forested mountains to the beautiful and unspoilt beaches. Experience the diverse lifestyles ranging from the busy, bustling streets and markets in the major cites to the quaint and simple local villages and communities. Indochina has something to offer anyone from trekking, tubing and rock climbing to relaxing with tropical fruits and fun cocktails on secluded white sand beaches. Combine these three diverse and yet complimenting countries for a true Indochina experience you’ll never forget.
Tucan Travel Inca Trek Tour – 15% off 2014 departures when you book during October:
Approach the awe-inspiring ruins that are Machu Picchu in the most authentic way possible trekking through the land of the Incas. The Inca Trail Trek will take you over high Andean passes and across original Inca stone pathways before you arrive at the Lost City of the Incas. The Inca Trail is the primary route of this package when permits are available.
Intrepid Travel Mayan Discovery Tour – 15% off 2014 departures when you book during October:
Dive into the sun and fun of Mexico and travel to Belize and Guatemala on an all-encompassing adventure. This tour is a heady mix of volcanic beauty, ancient Mayan ruins, sparkling Caribbean beaches and colourful colonial towns. Travelling from Mexico’s famous beachside city, Cancun, to the idyllic shores of Playa del Carmen, this trip combines cultural highs with active adventures. Learn Mayan secrets at the famous ruins in Tikal and experience an official new Wonder of the World, Chichen Itza, in Mexico.
Gecko’s Adventures Feel the Burm Tour – 14% off all departures before September 2014 when you book during October:
When we talk about getting off the beaten track, we’re talking about Burma: hill tribes who’ve never seen foreigners, one-legged rowing fisherman, 2000 temples in one valley and a balancing rock held in place by Buddha’s hair. Did someone say bragging rights?
The allure of a forbidden destination is undeniable, and for Americans, Cuba is one of those destinations. American citizens CAN travel to Cuba, and there are two ways to go about it: Legally, and illegally in the eyes of the US government.
The Legal Way: Americans can join an organized tour to Cuba that starts and finishes in the USA, which is escorted by a certified tour company. The plus side to this travel option is the legality according to the US government, but the cons of this option are:
The high costs involved in booking one of these tours.
The limited options you have in regards to the itineraries available. You may end up on a tour that does not explore the parts of Cuba you are most interested in exploring, and free time can be limited or non-existent.
A tour we recommend checking out if you want to see Cuba the legal way, is the Cuba Culture and Heritage tour with Intrepid Travel.
The Other Way: If you fly from any other country other than the US directly into Cuba, the immigrations officers in Cuba will allow American citizens to enter the country by either not stamping your passport, or adding a temporary page in your passport, and stamping this page so there are no traces of your trip to Cuba when you return back to the USA. The advantage of this option is the fact that you can book one of the many cheap tours available in Cuba, or you can opt to explore the country on your own without the assistance of a tour. The cons of this option are:
- The fines you could face if the US government discovers you have traveled to Cuba.
The risk you take as a US traveler given there is no US representation in Cuba. So if you get into any legal trouble, you cannot call on the USA to help you.
No US credit or debit cards will work in Cuba, so you will need to travel with cash and travelers checks only.
No U.S. airlines fly direct to Cuba from the U.S. To fly there, you must fly from another country (usually Canada or Mexico). This prolongs the travel time and also increases the flight costs.
Some of our favorite independent tours to Cuba:
Free – Couchsurfing:
Couchsurfing is a community that encourages members to stay with other members for free. Typically, members will have an air mattress or couch that other members can sleep on. The community has a great reputation for being very hospitable and friendly towards its active members. If you are new to the community it may take awhile to establish a reputation and gain trust of other members. Consider hosting someone first who can then vouch for your credibility when staying elsewhere. If you are willing to have a potentially uncomfortable nights sleep and love meeting new people you can save a ton of money.
You can check out couchsurfing.org if you are interested.
$5-$30 – Hostels
Hostels vary in quality and comfort. You can expect to share a room with at least one other person, and up to 25-30 in some cases. Usually there will be shared bathrooms and showers so travellers who are germ phobic may be uncomfortable staying here. Most hostels are crawling with young travelers between the ages of 18-30. Some hostels have a reputation for being a nonstop party, so make sure to read the reviews on what kind of atmosphere to expect.
Additionally, Hostelling International is a network of hostels all over the world. Some of these have special rules and/or gender specific dorms. However, staying here frequently can help earn discounts for future stays as they have a great membership program.
$30-$70 – Peer to Peer Accommodation
This is a new form of accommodation that has started up in the last five years. Members who have a spare room or open apartment can sublet their property for a single night or many nights. The upside is that you can experience a destination from a “locals” viewpoint and have a lot more of the comforts you are expecting around a home. This is a great way to stay in some of the best locations in expensive cities for much cheaper than you would pay at a hotel.
The top sites for this new breed of accommodation are:
Airbnb.com (Worldwide, but based in the U.S.)
Roomorama (Worldwide, but based in Asia)
9flats (Worldwide, but based in Europe)
Wimdu (Worldwide, but based in Europe)
$50 & Up – Opaque Inventory Accommodation
If you’re not quite ready to travel somewhere without staying in a hotel, make sure you check out the subset of hotel booking engines which specialize in filling up unused inventory.
Most hotels know that they won’t sell out every room at the price they want, so they allocate a portion of their rooms to a handful of hotel search sites and allow them to sell for a discount on their published rate. The catch from the user perspective is that you won’t know exactly which hotel you stay in until after you commit to purchasing the room. You will know which area or district the hotel is and what star rating the hotel is that you will be staying in, but won’t know exactly which hotel it will be until after paying. Some people may be uncomfortable going this route, but there are specialized sites (Better Bidding, Bidding Traveler, and Bidding for Travel), which assist in determining which hotel you are reviewing before purchasing. The sites essentially reverse engineer which hotel you are looking at based on the amenities listed, what other bidders have successfully booked in the past, and a variety of other factors.
The top sites for these “Blind Booking” travel sites are:
Priceline.com: Auction style
Hotwire.com: A Subsidiary of Expedia, provides fixed price discounted rooms.
Top Secret Hotels : A subsidiary of Travelocity, provides fixed price discounted rooms.