Travel Expressions Ltd.'s Blog

11 Best Places in the World to Go Whale Watching
70 percent of our planet is covered by oceans, and whales are not only the largest marine mammals, but the largest animals alive. No wonder humans are drawn to the oceans and these mammals who dwarf us and remind us how small we are in the universe. 

Whale watching tops many travelers' wish lists. Seeing whales in their natural environment touches every traveler, no matter how young or old, and it's an experience accessible to travelers of all budgets.

As with any interaction with Nature, we recommend booking only with a licensed and reputable operator who knows the area and how not to interfere with the wildlife. Many regions are now protecting whale feeding and breeding grounds. Following protection guidelines helps ensure these fascinating creatures will continue to thrive for future generations.

Here's our list of the top whale watching destinations around the world, when to go, and what types of whales you can hope to see. 
 

ALASKA

America's 49th state is a magnet for summer visitors, and May-September just happens to coincide with its prime whale-watching season, which is concentrated in the Inside Passage area, with tours originating from Juneau, Gustavus, Ketchikan, Petersburg and Sitka.

Although Orcas are seen along the Alaskan coast year round, and gray whales spend summers in the Gulf of Alaska feeding, the star of the show in the Inside Passage is the humpback whale, so numerous many operators guarantee you a free trip if you don't spot a whale on your tour. The incredibly rich waters provide enormous quantities of food the humpbacks need to gain literally tons of weight before migrating for the winter months to breed and calve in …
 

HAWAII

From December – April, an estimated 10,000 northern pacific humpback whales congregate in the warm waters of Hawaii to give birth to their calves, safely away from northern orca whale predators.
 
The calm and shallow waters between Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe provide humpbacks with the optimal conditions. Most tours originate on the west coast of Maui, like Lahaina and Maalaea. Tour operators also offer whale-watching excursions from the main island Hawaii.
 

BRITISH COLUMBIA

You may not be able to identify all the world's whales, but orcas (sometimes called 'killer whales') are unmistakable with their stylish black and white coloring. They are not the world's largest whale, but among the most popular – and the very best place in the world to see an orca in its natural environment is Canada's Vancouver Island mid May to mid September, with most whale watching tours starting in the Vancouver Island city of Victoria. For a more active option, try a whale-watching tour by kayak.


If you get off the beaten path, to the island's west coast, Tofino and Ucluelet are ideal places to see the migration of 20,000 gray whales as they pass the island on their journey between the Gulf of California and the Bering Sea between February and May. If you're there in mid-March, don't miss the Pacific Rim Whale Festival.
 

BAJA CALIFORNIA

The gray whales' yearly migration between Alaska and Mexico is one of the longest migrations of any marine creatures in the world. At the southern end of their journey, 20,000 or more gray whales as well as humpbacks, finbacks, and even blue whales gather in the rich, subtropical waters around the Mexican peninsula. Between December and March, the region is a whale nursery, where females give birth in shallow lagoons before heading north again in April.

Tours focus on gray whales, who are known to be curious, approaching boats, with gray whale calves often visible playing. Check out one of several annual whale festivals on the Baja peninsula in the early months of the year.
 

THE CARIBBEAN:

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
You can combine your beach vacation in one of the most popular Caribbean islands with whale watching. This is the biggest whale-watching destination in the Caribbean, based in Samana Bay on the island's northern coast, which is now a designated sanctuary. At the beginning of every year, from January through March, thousands of humpback whales migrate to breed and calve in these protected waters.
 
In addition to having the opportunity to see humpback behavior like breaching and diving, and slapping the water with tail or fins, some tour operators are equipped with underwater hydrophones for you to hear these whales' unique 'singing'.

DOMINICA
Prime season for whale-watching on this island is from October through March. This long season includes migrating whales like humpbacks, and several varieties of dolphins, as well as sperm whales who live here year round. The steep mountains of the island are mirrored underwater. 3000-foot deep waters close to the west coast create a unique and protective home for 200 female sperm whales who can dive deep for food like giant octopus, and also rest in sheltered waters. Male sperm whales join them for a few months late winter and early spring for mating.

GUADALOUPE
The islands of Guadaloupe are in the midst of a ocean freeway for dozens of marine mammals. Even taking a ferry between islands, you can often spot wildlife. For a dedicated whale-watching tour, head to the north coast of Basse Terre, the closest point to waters that are home to sperm whales, migrating humpbacks, as well as a dream list of other Caribbean whales including pilot whales, orca, pygmy right whales, pygmy sperm whales, melon-headed whales and even the rare Antilles beaked whale along with several species of dolphins.
 

THE AZORES

They're like the Hawaii of the Atlantic. The Azores islands belong to Portugal but are 1500 km away from mainland Europe – almost halfway to Canada. There, in the middle of the Atlantic, 30% of all types of the world's whales and dolphins live permanently or pass by, including sperm whales, the most commonly-seen here as the males live here year-round and the females visit with their calves May-October, pilot whales, who live here all year too, and even the largest whale in the world, the blue whale, and finbacks during their migrations April/May and again September/October. Whale-watching is one of the top reasons travelers come to the remote Azores islands.
 

QUEBEC AND CANADA'S EAST COAST

The might Gulf of St. Lawrence stretches from Quebec, to New Brunswick, Labrador and the island of Newfoundland, with sheltered waters and abundant fish for hungry whales. The region has a 1200 km 'Whaleroute'. You can follow the route on a road trip that connects national parks for different whale experiences along the way, with many spotting opportunities from the land, and marine tours offered at many points along the way. 


The southernmost pod of extraordinary, white beluga whales in the world live in Saguaney Fjord year round, blue whales in the summer, as well as minke, humpback and finback whales in different waves from May through October.  Whale watching tours are popular in all of Canada's east coast provinces, including Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy, one of the very few places n the world where rare northern right whales make an appearance.
 

ICELAND

Whale-watching is a year-round event in Iceland, where 11 species of whales can be spotted including blue whales, humpback, minke, sperm whales and orca. Most visitors travel to Iceland during the summer months, but whales can even be spotted in the winter. The town of Husavik, whose whale museum is well worth a visit, calls itself the 'Whale Watching Capital of Europe'.

 

SOUTH AFRICA

You may go to Africa for its Big Five land mammals, but don't forget the marine life off its coast. South Africa is surrounded on three sides by oceans rich in wildlife. From July til October, bulky but agile and playful southern right whales attract hundreds of thousands of whale watchers. 100 km east of Cape Town, Hermanus hosts a whale festival and even has a 'whale crier' who blows a horn when a southern right whale is spotted in Walter Bay.

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5 FAQ's About Travel in the Arctic

If sultry heat is not your style, set your travel compass to the North. The Far North. 

The Arctic is one of the most remote and life-changing travel destinations – and it's accessible to adventurous travelers year round and especially during the relatively 'warmer' summer months.

Here are 5 questions everyone asks about taking a trip to the Arctic:

How Far North is the 'Arctic'?

The Arctic Circle is the northern-most of the 5 circles of latitude circling the earth. The 25,000-mile Equator is the one around the widest part of the Earth at the middle. Up near the top of the planet, by comparison, at 66°33′47.2″ north of the Equator, the Arctic Circle is only 10-thousand miles around. 

The Arctic Circle passes through 8 Northern countries: Greenland (Denmark), Canada, the US (in Alaska), Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and an island off the coast of Iceland. Although definitions vary, travel roughly anywhere above the 'tree line' – where the terrain and the cold climate prevent trees from growing – could be considered a trip to the Arctic.

Unlike the opposite polar region, the Antarctic, which is a vast island continent, much of the 4% of the Earth's surface above the Arctic Circle is ocean. So many trips to the Arctic involve travel by sea.

(Photo Credit)

Will I See The Northern Lights?

This magical natural phenomenon is one of the top reasons people travel to the northern hemisphere's polar regions. But you'll have to dress for cold weather. The Aurora Borealis are only visible nights from September til April.

And only when atmospheric conditions are right. Moving charged particles in solar winds interact with the Earth's magnetosphere, emitting different colors of light that seem to 'dance'. The most common colors are greens and yellows, but other colors are possible in different conditions.

The best places to experience the Northern Lights include Canada's Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, Alaska, southern Greenland and Iceland, northern Norway, and off the coast of Siberia. The farther north and away from the 'light pollution' of towns and cities, the better the viewing.

If you travel to the Yukon during the summer and miss experiencing the Northern Lights, drop in to the Northern Lights Space and Science Centre, which will treat you to interactive displays about the science and folklore behind the Northern Lights, as well as a spectacular video in its domed theatre. (If you visit in the winter, the show's all around you outdoors).

Is There Really A 'Midnight Sun'?

Summer has its own uniquely polar atmospheric event. Because the Earth tilts on its axis, in the Arctic at the very top, during the Summer Solstice in June, the sun is visible for a full 24 hours, even at midnight. And the days on either side of the Summer Solstice are very long, indeed. 20-24 hour days are a surreal experience – as are mid-winter days of endless darkness on the flip side of the annual calendar. 

(Photo Credit)

What Wildlife Can I See?

The word 'Arctic' comes from Greek meaning 'Bear' and 'northern'. It actually is referring to constellations of stars, but there's no doubt the poster child creature of the Arctic is the magnificent polar bear.

Canada's Churchill, Manitoba is the polar bear capital of the world, the ultimate destination for any traveler intent on seeing polar bears. Guided tours in the safety of specialized vehicles can bring you unbelievably close to the largest polar land mammal and fierce predator, one whose survival is threatened by shrinking sea ice due to climate change.

Travelers to Arctic seas hope to cross beluga whales, orca and narwhals, seals and walrus off their spotting lists.

And on land, polar bears share the tundra with musk ox, Arctic fox, wolves, caribou and Arctic hare, and in the skies, snowy owls and other species highly adapted to a severe environment.

Plant life in the Arctic is less notable for being spectacular than for being astoundingly hardy; the tiniest flowers you wouldn't notice underfoot at home are breathtaking in such a stark environment.

What About Human History in the Arctic?

While the Arctic is famous for its 'Big Nature', you may be surprised that about 4 million people also live above the Arctic Circle in the 8 Arctic countries. Indigenous people have lived in this harsh climate for thousands of years, and being able to visit one of their villages and experience first-hand their traditions and lifestyle is a highlight of any trip to the Arctic.

(Photo Credit)

Also don't miss the historic sites associated with tragic attempts to locate a maritime Northwest Passage as well as the famous Klondike Gold Rush sites in Alaska and Canada's Yukon.

There are many ways to explore one of the world's last remaining wilderness frontiers. Let us help you plan an Arctic journey of a lifetime.

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It's Bike Month! 3 Cycling Travel Stories to Inspire you to Travel Active

One of our favorite ways to stay active when we travel is to get on a bike and explore!  Cycling through city streets or picturesque countryside is one of the best ways to experience a destination, meet people, and get up close to the sights. 

On the other side of the world, or close to home, here are some of our favorite cycling experiences to celebrate Bike Month, and inspire you to book bike time on your next trip.

1. Staying Active in Vancouver:  How this hotel's wellness program gets you outdoors into Vancouver's Stanley Park and stunning sea wall.

CLICK to watch the video here.

2.  The Mother of All Cycling Cultures: Amsterdam and the Netherlands:  What it looks like when there are more bikes in a city than people.  And go behind the scenes of a workshop where they create those famous Dutch cargo bikes!

CLICK to watch the video here.

3.  Explore what one cycling guide calls: One of the World's Best Cycling Destinations - and it's closer than you think!

CLICK to watch the video here.

Did you get on a bicycle on your last trip?  Would you like to get the family active for your next vacation?  Take a river cruise where you can borrow a bicycle from the ship and cycle through quaint towns and local vineyards?  Or join a cycling tour of one of your bucket list destinations?

Let us help you find the perfect holiday where you can take a two-wheeled exploration of a new destination.

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4 Traditional Sports You Can't Miss When You Travel To Hawaii

Many of the world's favorite sports have roots in ancient cultures, based on the skills early peoples needed to survive in their environments. Ancient Hawaiian sports are a great example. Life in Hawaii's lush, volcanic, Pacific islands shaped a traditional Hawaiian sports culture and history that is still active – and even celebrated worldwide - today. Here are some ancient Hawaiian sports you'll want to make sure you experience - and maybe even try out - on your next trip to the Aloha State.

Surfing Remember what the Beach Boys said: 'If everybody had an ocean… then everybody'd be surfin'. The islands of Hawaii are the cradle of modern board surfing.  And far from the mellow, nomadic lifestyle associated with modern surfing culture, the sport has aristocratic and even spiritual origins of bonding with the sea. Surfing used to be the domain of Hawaiian chiefs and nobles. They were required to demonstrate their surfing skills to maintain or earn their status. Then in the 1880's, three Hawaiian noble teens away at school in California took their boards to the waves at Santa Cruz… and the rest of Hawaii and West Coast modern surfing culture is history.

(Photo Credit);

Now there are famous surf destinations on coasts around the world. But nothing beats surfing – or learning to surf – on the waves where it all began. (Top Photo Credit)


Outrigger Canoe Paddling Outrigger canoes are one of the strongest symbols of Polynesian culture Hawaiians share with Tahitian, Samoan, and even more distant Filipino and New Zealand's Maori societies. Their incredible seafaring heritage and feats of distance traveled in the vast Pacific waters to other islands are due in large part to outrigger canoes.

Early Polynesian and Hawaiian fishermen took single-hull canoes and added support floats alongside, attached to the main hull. Outriggers give canoes extra stability, and allowed the craft to be shaped longer and narrower than non-outrigger canoes, giving them tremendous speed even in rough waters. So effective were outrigger canoes that the early European explorers in the 1500's wrote of native craft that were faster and more maneuverable than European vessels.

(Photo Credit)

Outrigger canoeing has spread world wide, and when you visit Hawaii, there are many opportunities to learn paddling techniques and explore the islands' waters by outrigger canoe. It's also a competitive sport that draws enthusiastic crowds. Races overseen by the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association and local clubs are often held on popular beaches. And the annual October Molika'i Hoe is a 41-mile, 8-hour open ocean race from the island of Molokai to Oahu island that draws a thousand competitors in teams from around the world.

Surfing and outrigger canoeing have been adopted and shaped coastal lifestyles worldwide. Other Hawaiian ancient sports can only be experienced locally.

Holua Sledding Ancient Hawaiians didn't just surf the waves. They tried to translate similar methods to island terrain. But the technique they developed to surf the land didn't catch on quite so much in modern sports culture. Holua sledding involves a narrow – only 4-inch! – wooden sled to 'surf' down mountain slopes and lava flows. Without snow as a cushion and to reduce fiction, holua sledding is a lot tougher and less reliable a way to get around than the skiing and sledding developed in northern climes.

Holua sledding is said to honor the Hawaiian volcano goddess. You'd need some super-human skills to master bare-ground sledding; you can't pick it up easily in an afternoon on the lava version of bunny slopes. Holua sledding is best left to the experts who keep this cultural sporting tradition alive in the islands, but not to be missed if you have the opportunity to see a demonstration.


Ulu Maika You'll recognize other traditional cultures in the elements of Ulu Maika, too. In a feat of strength and skill, ancient Hawaiians catapulted lava stone 'balls' between 'goal' posts in the ground only about a foot apart. Like other early societies' sports like the stone put or shot put, excellence in Ulu Maika was part of battlefield training. And like later sedate iterations of ball throwing in other cultures, like bowling or bocce ball or petanque, Hawaiian Ulu Maika made the transition from warrior to recreational practice. It's still played wherever supplies and space permit. When you visit Hawaiian cultural sites or a luau, you can often see it and sometimes even test your own skills.

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Tips for Biking Bermuda's Railway Trail National Park

t may be one of the best ways to see the beauty of Bermuda.

The train system in Bermuda was short-lived, but its legacy is a National Park trail that is a gift to islanders – and visitors to the island – for generations.

In the '30's and '40's, the train, fondly known as 'Old Rattle and Shake', spanned the island 22 miles across, from east to west. It ceased operations shortly after WW2. But then something quite wonderful happened. With the rails removed, the right of way began to be used as a trail for hikers and cyclists, and the trail became formalized and maintained as a National Park of Bermuda for all.

Now, 18 of the original 22 miles of the railway take you through and past some of the island's most memorable landscapes. Breathtaking remote beaches and quiet woodlands. Challenging slopes and tranquil stretches. Lush foliage and city streets. Panoramic ocean views, and many photo-calls along the way at beaches, caves and even a lighthouse.

If you're in Bermuda for a one-day port of call on your cruise, or staying in one of Bermuda's famously hospitable hotels, cycling this trail is one of the best ways to get off the beaten track and see the non-tourist side of Bermuda.

Here are some tips to see the best of Bermuda by bicycle:

Access:

You can enter and leave the trail at either end or at multiple other points along the way as it crosses through the parishes of Bermuda. The trail is made up of sections as short as only a mile, and as long as nearly 4 miles. So you don't have to commit to the entire 18 miles – or at least, not all in one day!

The trail is not continuous. Like the original railway, it traverses busy roadways, communities, bridges and other places you may need to dismount and cross by foot.

There's a free Railway Trail Guide, and you can pick one up from a Visitor Information Centre: at Bermuda's Royal Naval Dockyard, in Hamilton, or St. George's.

Bicycles:

Words matter, and in British-influenced Bermuda, a 'bike' is motorized. What you want is called a 'pedal bike' or a bicycle. (No motorized vehicles are allowed on the Trail).

There are several places to rent bicycles across the island, and rentals are quite affordable, in the $30- 35 range per day. Some are near major hotels and hotel concierges can point you to the closest. You can even make a reservation for bicycles, have them delivered to your hotel and picked up when you've returned.

Or take a guided bike tour for groups, so you join like-minded active travelers and have a guide point out some of the highlights of the trail.

Bermuda's Railway National Park is one of the hidden gems of the island; and cycling is one of the best ways to get off the beach and the beaten track, enjoy an active day on vacation, and experience some of the most beautiful scenery and serenity on the island.

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Maybe you've had the fun of a zip line adventure before.  But have you ever taken a zip line over the ocean? 

When Norwegian developed Harvest Caye, its private island beach resort port of call for cruises in the Norwegian family: Norwegian Cruise Lines, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania, it took the concept of a zip line adventure to another level (pardon the pun.)

Standing tall on the island is the 'Flighthouse'.  A tower that looks, no surprise, like a lighthouse.  It's the focal point of the island's air-borne adventures.  Guests depart from the Flighthouse onto ropes courses over the beach and lagoon, and this is where you can take flight on a zip line that sets you sailing over the crescent-shaped beach, then right over the water to a safe landing back on shore.  It was a highlight of our BestTrip.TV visit to the island, and we're sure it will be yours, too.

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If You Haven't Visited Uluru Yet...

This UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the most recognizable natural landmark symbol of Australia, has banned visitors from climbing.

Uluru/Ayers Rock rises nearly 350 meters (1142 feet) high above the hot, dry, desert in the center of Australia. This monolith is almost 10 km (6 miles) around.  And it isn't just a miracle of survival of the erosion of the rest of the landscape around it. At different times of the year and in the light of dawn and sunset, its sandstone also appears to magically glow red. (Top photo credit)

Cultural and Spiritual Significance

Photo Credit

No wonder it is a place of cultural and spiritual significance for the local Aṉangu people, the traditional local inhabitants. The area also has springs, waterholes, and rock caves with ancestral petroglyphs and paintings.  Members of the aboriginal community lead walking tours to introduce visitors to the local plants and wildlife unique to the area, aboriginal cultural traditions, and their Dreamtime spiritual stories.

But they don't lead treks up the steep slopes to the top.

10,000 Years of Human History

Archaeologists have determined humans inhabited the area more than 10,000 years ago. Europeans arrived in the late 19th century, and tourism to the site began in the first half of the 20th century.  Since the site was given UNESCO World Heritage designation, even more people  - half a million visitors a year - have made the journey to this spectacular site at the heart of Australia.

As interest and visits rose, the challenge to balance conservation, respect for Uluru's spiritual significance, and visitor experience grew.

To Climb or Not to Climb?

The local aboriginal people do not climb the sacred Uluru rock themselves to avoid violating sacred Dreamtime ground.  And they have long requested visitors follow their lead.

Photo Credit

Nonetheless, about a third of visitors to Uluru/ Ayers Rock make the hour-long, steep, 800 m (half-mile) climb to the sometimes dangerously windy summit.  In recent years, unfortunate videos have even popped up of truly disrespectful behavior by tourists at the top.

Those incidents have added to pressure to ban climbing Uluru.  First, Ayers Rock was re-named using its aboriginal designation.  Then, in 1985, ownership of Uluru was returned to the local aboriginal people, who now share decision-making on the management of the National Park where Uluru resides.

New Rules at Uluru

In November 2017, the park board voted unanimously to prohibit climbing Uluru. The new rules take effect in October 2019, coinciding with the 34th anniversary of the return of the site to its aboriginal owners.

If you visit Australia, there are still many ways to experience the awe-inspiring site of Uluru other than climbing.  Since 2009, there have been special viewing areas whose design and construction were supervised by the aboriginal community.  They provide visitors road access, walking trails and views from angles at both sunrise and sunset.

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Sometimes we think that the best travel experiences can only be found in distant, exotic destinations. And they're waiting for you right in your back yard.

Kieran Andrews of Wild Rock Outfitters leads cycling tours in some of the most famous and storied locations in the world. But when BestTrip.TV's Ryan McElroy asked him about one of his favorite places to cycle, it was at home in Canada in Peterborough & the Kawarthas.

In this BestTrip.TV video, Kieran takes Ryan in a two-day cycling journey across rolling hills and scenic vistas to waterfront in cottage country. Ryan gets an insider's introduction to local cycling community favorite trails, views and 'energy stops' (that is, fabulous restaurants!) as well as its network of passionate, connected cyclists.

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Why Inject Adventure Travel Into your Next Vacation
We get it. You really need a break. Downtime. Relaxation. Time to book a vacation so you can… Try a new adventure. Does 'adventure travel' sound way too energetic, even the opposite of what you need in a holiday? Think again.

Lynn Elmhirst, Executive Producer, Host and Travel Expert from BestTrip.TV, explains why finding a way to leave the beach and make soft adventure part – or all - of your next holiday, whether it's a cruise, multi-generation family vacation, a couples' escape, a girl- or guy-friend getaway, bleisure time from your business trip or business conference, might be the best travel decision you can make. And way better for you than a week on a lounge chair.

Soft adventure is about being active and interacting with the outdoors and nature. It's not about extreme activities that involve intensive training or baked-in danger. Think hiking, cycling, canoeing and kayaking, spelunking, tree walks, orienteering, photography, bird and wildlife watching, agriculture and rural volunteering - not tagging sharks, climbing Everest, or base jumping!

Tapping into your inner Scout, not SEAL.

Soft adventure vacations are one of today's top travel trends. Some reports say 50% of North American travelers have started choosing soft adventure travel experiences over beach vacations. There are outdoor adventures waiting in some of the world's most beautiful, inspiring places for travelers of every age and most levels of fitness. Cruise lines are getting into the 'action', pun intended, wit active and soft adventure options in ports of call, and even with some ship board activities.

Get active on your next vacation and here are some of the benefits:

Physical Wellness

Fill your 'park prescription': anytime you can be active rather than sedentary, you're doing your body good. Doctors are starting to prescribe 'park prescriptions' to get people moving outdoors, deep breathing clean air, absorbing Vitamin D to reduce the impact of, and even treat common modern ailments, from heart disease to obesity to ADD. And of course you've heard that sitting is the new smoking. Anytime you're moving not sitting, your overall health and fitness is winning. Outdoors just makes it more effective.

And knowing you're going on an adventure on your next vacation can give you motivation to stay on your fitness program at home so you can enjoy the kinds of soft adventures you want to experience when you travel.

Acid Balance: Breathing fresh outdoor, clean air is believed to have an alkaline effect on your body. This can reverse or balance acidity from stress and lower oxygen levels from a more indoor, sedentary life. Ultimately, being active outdoors is a valuable tool to fight impaired fat loss, poor endurance and more unwelcome physical effects and make your body stronger and healthier.

See green to get fit: Getting outdoors is one of the best ways to support your fitness goals. Research shows that when you're viewing the color green (that is, plant life in a natural setting) exercise actually feels easier! So you'll enjoy it and stay with it longer, and it feels less like a 'workout' than play.

Get dirty to get healthy: It's possible our lives have just gotten too… clean. It's time to get down in the muck to strengthen our immune and digestive systems. Contact with soil and the earth is now believed be important to reconnect us to the good bacteria, enzymes and other organisms in soil that helped our ancestors – and can help us – strengthen our bodies against allergies, asthma, chronic digestive problems and support our overall immune systems.

Mental Wellness

Reduce stress, improve your mood and perceived energy: Being active in nature has been shown to realign thinking associated with stress and depression and low energy levels, and viewing natural beauty can elicit feelings of awe, releasing endorphins and trigger a purely natural mental 'high'.

Take a hike, grow your brain-power: Memory loss as you age is linked to a shrinking hippocampus in your brain. Guess what? Hiking and walking or similar moderate outdoor activity grows the hippocampus, with just 3, 40 minute walks a week. And brain scans after being active show focused activity in the pre-frontal cortex.

Increase your confidence to deal with uncertainty: The one thing you can always say about Mother Nature is that she isn't afraid to throw you a curve ball. Soft adventures give you low-risk opportunities to grow your problem solving skills when things don't go according to plan, practice staying cool under pressure, and acquire confidence in your ability to cope with life's uncertainties.

Give yourself a sense of accomplishment: Physical adventures give you opportunities to push the envelope of your safe zone and acquire new skills and knowledge outside of your daily routine, especially when they take place in a new environment. When you set yourself a challenge – like getting to the top of a new hill, to the end of a new trail, and achieve it, we get a chemical reward from our brains that creates euphoria. Don't we all need some natural euphoria in our lives?

Personal Growth

Create Memories and Stories: Our earliest ancestors knew the value of group memories and storytelling. Outdoor adventures and challenges create new memories, shared stories, opportunities to learn from challenges and share them. Even tough times create great stories, and fantastic times can give us inner resources to draw on for a lifetime.

Forge new relationships: embarking on challenges, achieving goals and getting those outdoor and physical 'highs' together with other people, can forge lasting bonds, whether it's with family, new friends, or even business colleagues.

Develop Self-Awareness/ Mindfulness: Outdoor adventures, especially ones that keep your body busy, free your mind to reflect on what you're seeing and experiencing, and on big picture 'life' itself. Most of our days are occupied on mentally-heavy work, family scheduling, and multi-tasking. Hiking or paddling or most other soft adventure remove us from our day-to-day mental loads, and let the side of wonder, self-reflection, and interaction with a world that's greater than ourselves take over.

Help the World

A lot of soft adventure travel options involve interacting with the natural and unspoiled world. Increasingly, soft adventure tourism, when it is about responsibly interacting with those natural spaces and resources, wildlife and local / indigenous people, provides one of the only – and best – sources of income to financially support their ongoing protection. The value of adventure travel creates a 'business case' for preserving them from development or other encroachment.

Key words: responsible and soft. Soft adventure isn't just 'soft' on your body, it's ALSO soft on the world around you. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Soft adventure can be transformative travel for you AND for future generations together on this earth.

(Photo: Kayaking in Halong Bay, Vietnam, a shore excursion on our Seabourn cruise. BestTrip.TV)

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Spelunking in Jamaica

It might be the most polar opposite activity to a day on the beach in Jamaica. Escaping from the sunny, hot, breeze of the beaches, to explore one of the island's networks of cool, dark, damp cave systems.

Jamaica is one of the special places in the world with 'Karst' topography, where flowing water has carved paths through soluble limestone terrain, resulting in spectacular underwater rivers and caves.

Exploring caves is irresistible. Our earliest ancestors used caves for protection, a place for worship, where they created art, stored their treasures, even buried their dead. There's something about being in a cave that taps our most primal instincts, returning to the refuge of Mother Earth. Feeling just for a little while that we're exploring the unknown.

It's a magical environment inside caves. Like entering another world, transitioning from sunlight, heat, and breeze, to dark, damp, stillness, with the Earth encompassing you, not just beneath your feet. Where light does leak in through openings from the world above, it's filtered and bounced off the limestone walls, dancing off particles in the air, creating a mystical ambiance.

Jamaica has long been on the map for the global community of experienced cavers drawn to the wild highlands of the island where some claim are a thousand cave systems, some descending hundreds of feet into the bowels of the Earth. Now, Jamaica is also a destination for spelunking – amateur caving – where travelers with no caving experience at all can work with guides who have intimate knowledge of the maze of caves, and can provide safety equipment and instruction so you, too, can discover a completely different world in Jamaica.

If you are not part of a very experienced, well-equipped caving team who has safety training for these conditions, working with a reputable cave tour company is the only safe and responsible way to experience Jamaica's caves. First, you don't want your actions to damage the cave or its wildlife inhabitants. Then there's your own wellbeing. Cave interiors are dark and can be muddy with difficult footing, low ceilings, and twists and turns that can make you lose your way.

You need more than flip flops, a camera phone and enthusiasm! Spelunking tours in Jamaica provide you with everything you need to become an explorer of this fascinating, underground side of the island. You'll discover not just new scenery, but perhaps also a new, mystical relationship with the earth that might be one of your best memories of a trip to Jamaica.

Cockpit Country Adventure Tours offers half and full-day caving trips. Their experienced guides lead trips of all levels of difficulty. Whether you're a first-timer, or an experienced spelunker, you'll have an unforgettable adventure. For more information, or to book a trip, click here.

Start your Trip!

 

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High-Flying Winter Luxury at Whistler Blackcomb

Canada's Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in British Columbia has been rated top in North America for the third year in a row.  The mountain and lifestyle are already legendary for skiers and riders, but Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler is upping the ante this winter with high-flying luxury helicopter mountain adventures that will give you epic memories and stories to share.

Winter "Glamping":

A custom snow hotel experience: A helicopter takes you to the a remote ice cap to explore ice caves before arriving at your own private enclave, for a stay in a luxury "snow hotel." The encampment is custom designed and built with comfort in mind, complete with pre-warmed down duvets, gourmet meals and a hot tub in a remote wilderness setting. This experience incorporates an array of bespoke Four Seasons services, including a natural thermal spa experience with a Four Seasons spa professional and culinary offerings prepared by Four Seasons' chefs.

Wilderness Wellness Hot Springs Experience:

Your journey includes a helicopter ride over a remote ice cap before arriving at a remote natural hot spring, where you are greeted by a master yoga instructor and a Four Seasons spa therapist to enjoy a private yoga session, followed by an aqua massage treatment. The experience includes thermal pool-side cuisine and cocktails prepared by a Four Seasons Chef de Cuisine.

Ice Cap Adventure and Exploration: 

Transportation begins via helicopter over expansive ice fields, after which guests will explore the vast ice caves with a private guide through natural, aqua blue ice sculptures, ice flows and gentle slides transporting you from one cave to the next. The adventure ends with a Four Seasons gourmet mountain-style lunch.

High Altitude Dining:

A private helicopter whisks you to a remote ice cap as you sip on a glass of sparkling Moët Ice Impérial. You're wearing a Canada Goose black label parka and sleek, waterproof Sorel boots, yours to keep, ensuring maximum comfort and warmth for this excursion and years to come.

When you arrive at a glacial peak, you embark on an ice cave exploration, discovering a spectacular 12,000-year old labyrinth of chambers of aqua blue magnificence, where you gather a crucial ingredient for the upcoming cocktail session - pure glacier ice. The resort's Mixologist will shake the ice into one of their signature specialties amid the majestic beauty of Whistler's mountain peaks. 

Once cocktail hour is complete, you re-board the helicopter and take in the alpine scenery before returning to a luxurious Private Residence  featuring panoramic views where the Executive Chef prepares a memorable dinner boasting locally sourced ingredients and premium meat cuts paired with custom cocktails that complement each dish. 

It may be hard to choose which of these one-of-a-kind exploration, culinary and wellness backcountry experiences – all with the brand's renowned style and finesse – will make this winter your best season yet.

Start your Trip!

 

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Go Glamping in Antarctica

Antarctica may be on your travel bucket list, but what if even the prospect of being one of the few people ever to set foot on the surreal, winter wilderness of the South Pole isn't enough to convince you to rough it?Well, you don't have to. We've discovered a tour operator that takes only a dozen visitors at a time to what they call the 'real' Antarctica, inland from cruise shore excursions, all the way to the actual Geographic South Pole.

And they do it in style. Inspired by luxury safaris of yesteryear complete with china, chefs, hampers and fine linens, White Desert creates an encampment of luxury pods that furnishes almost as unique an environment inside as outside.

Taking off from South Africa, it's a half-day's flight to the camp. While nothing to look at from the outside (and why would you want to when you're surrounded by scenic glaciers and ice waves?), the interior design would be at home in any luxury lodge. It's 'glamping' – that's 'glamour' meets 'camping'.

All photos: White Desert

The camp has six sleeping pods for two, equipped with a bed, desk, and wash/toilet area.

There are separate structures for showers, a kitchen, and lounge and dining areas, and your meals are catered by an award-winning chef. With your comfort assured, it's time to explore.

Guests can choose from two, eight-day trips, and even an extraordinary, 'best day ever' single day to Antarctica and back. Expert polar guides help you discover the wonders of the immense 'white desert' continent through different excursions out from base camp. You may trek to a magnificent colony of 6,000 majestic Emperor Penguins, explore exhilarating ice formations and tunnels, go technical rock climbing, abseiling, kite-skiing, even take a trip to the actual Geographic South Pole and the science station nearby. Imagine standing at the single place on earth where all points lead… only north!

Your actual footprints will be swept away by the snow, and the company ensures no ecological footprint will be left behind in this pristine environment either. The company's zero impact policy is complete: the camp is temporary, and re-created each season; all waste – including human – is removed; solar and wind power the camp; and even your flight emissions are offset through dedicated carbon projects around the world.

It's an Antarctic luxury 'safari' where you can have the world's rarest scenery, rushes of adrenaline, and stylish comfort, too.

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Snuggle in an Igloo in the Alps in Switzerland

Igloos aren't a central feature of Switzerland's picturesquely traditional alpine culture. Scenic, snow-capped mountains, check. Sophisticated ski chalets, check. Meadows with dairy cattle, check. The famous cheeses and milk chocolate they produce, check and check.But a mountain in central Switzerland also has the unique atmosphere of high-design 'igloos' as part of its winter experience.

Stockhorn mountain towers seven thousand feet high, with a restaurant near the peak reached by cablecar, hiking trails, and views of the surrounding Alps and lakes below. On the shores of one of the lakes, an 'igloo village' springs up, just for the winter months: December through March.

Three thousand working hours of muscle power, snow plowing, balloons and enthusiasm go into the ice hotel/ 'iglus' as they call them. Igloos are interconnected and themed, with elaborate, fantastical ice/snow carvings by international artists, and warmly rustic chic décor.

Up to 14 people can stay at the hotel – imagine booking the whole place for a group of friends or even a company retreat!

Nothing says 'team building' or 'family fun' like an igloo building workshop. 

 But there's also the family igloo and even the romantic igloo. Snuggling under the covers is bound to cement feelings of warmth.

Yes, that's a wedding proposal made out of ice. How romantic is that?

Cocktails at the bar, fondu dinners, mulled wine, mini film festivals, they'll all keep you warm indoors.

Outdoors, around Lake Hinterstocken, you can fill your days ice fishing, snow tubing, winter hiking and snowshoeing, playing hockey… or even relaxing and soaking up the winter sun in a lounge chair.

Stockhorn has half a dozen sister 'igloo-villages' throughout the country, so as long as the weather cooperates, you can add a night in an igloo to your winter trip to the Swiss Alps.

Start Your Trip!Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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Sloshing around the Czech Republic

By Anita Draycott

Last summer my friend Margaret and I literally sloshed our way around the Czech Republic. If we weren’t steeping in thermal springs or sipping mineral waters, we were knocking back the country’s many liquid libations—from Slivovice to Absinthe to Pilsner. 
I should explain that Margaret, an expert on all things distilled and fermented, makes her living writing and opining on wine and alcohol. 
In the name of research we thirsty travellers began our jaunt about 180 km south of Prague in the fairy-tale town of Cesky Krumlov. Just before sunset we boarded a raft and for forty-five minutes our guide poled us along the Vltava River that loops through the medieval town’s impressive collection of Renaissance and  Baroque architecture dominated by splendid castle towers. 


Cesky Krumlov was established in 1253. After German occupation during World War II many gypsies came to live here. The vagabond spirit still pervades, especially at Cikanska Jizba, a lively bar when tourists and locals cavort and Diego the dog is a regular. It was here that I got my first taste of Absinthe, a green potion, flavoured with wormwood. It tastes like licorice and packs quite a punch. Legend has it that “The Green Fairy” was the tipple of choice of Oscar Wilde and that Ernest Hemingway penned For Whom the Bell Tolls under its influence.
Groggily, the next morning, Margaret and I hiked up the hill to visit the second largest castle in the Czech Republic. This rococo gem houses the best preserved Baroque theatre in the world, complete with original hand-cranked wind and thunder machines, sets, props about 650 costumes and candle-lit orchestra pit.


No doubt the second most popular place in town is the Eggenberg Brewery, established in 1560. After a tour and some free samples (they even make a beer for diabetics) we washed a substantial lunch of liver meatball soup, potato salad, schnitzel and strudel down with a tankard or two.


En route to the spa town of Marienbad, we made an obligatory pitstop in Plzen, home to Pilser Urquell’s Beer World. This is the place where in 1842 the golden lager that many have tried to copy, originated. The comprehensive tour culminates with more free suds.
When Bads are Good
With forty hot mineral springs, Marienbad (German) or Marianske Lazne (Czech) has been luring those who come to take the waters for centuries. Its illustrious visitors have included Russian and English royals, Freud, Chopin and Goethe. We arrived on Saturday night. To say it was dead would be an understatement; the casino reminded me of a funeral parlor.


However, on Sunday morning the town was full of well-slept seniors slurping the mineral waters from the various arcaded fountains. Margaret described the taste as “rusty pipe spiked with sulphur.” However, folks swear by the therapeutic powers of Marienbad’s springs and the its pristine forest-fresh air. A tour of some of the spa facilities revealed a mind-boggling array of treatments including cinnamon packs, carbon dioxide baths and injections, bowel cleansing, flasking and lymphodrainage. In case your purified body craves some toxins, I noticed cream puffs in a revolving refrigerated case, as well as cigars, cigarettes and bottles of booze on sale in one of the spa hotel reception areas.  Perhaps the most exciting entertainment to be found was a musical fountain in the centre of town that plays classical tunes every two hours.


The livelier spa oasis Carlsbad (German) or Karlovy Vary (Czech), about two hours from Prague, is beautifully situated on the Tepla River. Thanks to the fact that during the Communist regime there was no money to tear down the classic 19th century “wedding cake” Art Nouveau buildings and put up proletariat eyesores, the elegant architecture remains intact both here and in Marienbad. 
Carlsbad’s twelve natural mineral springs are purportedly good for what ails you—from gout to obesity. As in Marienbad, folks taking the “cure” slosh around this Bohemian town’s four drinking pavillions filling their spouted cups with the thermal gold. The spout allows you to sip the water without staining your teeth. Rush hour occurs about one hour before mealtimes.


Fearful that too much of the sulphurous waters would have purging effects, we decided to indulge in some spa treatments. First we soaked up to our necks in a bubbling tub redolent of rotten eggs. Then came the massage, a half-hour pummeling by a brick of a woman lacking what I’d call people skills. The Czech’s have not adopted the North American concept of spa as place to be pampered. Also keep in mind that Eastern Europeans are blasé about nudity so it’s not uncommon to find yourself in a sauna or hot tub with “members” of the opposite sex. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!


Margaret with her inquenchable thirst for new libartions decided we should find a drinking establishment and order Carlsbad’s locally produced Becherovka liqueur. If I thought the Absinthe was awful, this bitter brew, with hints of clove and cinnamon, was brutal. It was originally invented by Josef Becher, a Carlsbad pharmacist, to relieve stomach ailments. 


To her credit, Margaret consulted some locals and they suggested it was best downed in one quick swallow followed by a pint of piva (Czech for beer). Many demonstrations of Becherovka bravura followed. Somewhere along the line, we found ourselves dining with these merry Czechs. When I suggested the meal was sitting rather heavily in my gut, a new cure was procured from behind the bar. Slivovice, yet another national treasure, is plum brandy designed to digest the heaviest of duck and dumplings. 

Explore the Off-the-Beaten-Path Destinations in Jamaica

When going to Jamaica, most vacationers think about the resorts that line the island's northern coast. It's not surprising that most travelers will head to that direction because Jamaica is known for exactly that: lounging in the pool, basking in the sun, or enjoying the buffets. But if you're tired of the usual Jamaican scene, why not try exploring the off-the-beaten-path destinations in the island?

It takes an adventurous spirit should you want to explore the other side of Jamaica. However, we can assure you that it's an adventure worth taking! Here are some of the destinations you can visit:

  1. Port Antonio: Located in the eastern side of the northern coast, you can enjoy a slow-paced stay in this local secret destination with lush and green secluded beaches. But, Port Antonio is not just about the beaches. You can try waterfall hikes here or go bird watching. You might also want to try dining on authentic jerk cooking.
  2. Southwestern Jamaica: Just a 90-minute drive from Montego Bay, Southwestern Jamaica is less isolated than Port Antonio, but can still offer you a less crowded vacation spot. Some of the activities you can join are a safari excursion on the Black River, a tour of the historic Appleton Rum Estate, and a relaxing dip at YS Falls. You might also want to visit Treasure Beach, which is the site of Lovers Leap where two Jamaican slaves were said to have leapt to their deaths.
  3. Pelican Bar: A 20-minute boat ride out on the sea, Pelican Bar stands on stilts. Guests can enjoy a frosty Red Stripe and some fresh-caught seafood here.
  4. Mandeville: When you think of Jamaica, you think of beaches. However, land-locked Mandeville is something else. Here you can find the Caribbean's oldest golf course, the Manchester Golf Club, which dates back to 1868. Expect an English vibe when you visit this place, with cricket games and English-style pubs all over the place.
  5. Flower Forest and River Head Adventure Trail: Go to this ecotourism attraction and enjoy a 130-acre tropical forest and 40 acres of landscaped gardens. Follow a hiking trail along Little River and feast on the beautiful sights that include dozens of tropical plants, flowers, and birds. At the end of your hike, you will find yourself in a 14-foot deep pool where you can relax and enjoy the view.

Experience Jamaica differently by exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations. Book your holiday with a travel agent today and get the best deals!

Escape to Florida Keys, Florida, where the fun never stops!

Located between the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Keys is the perfect place to escape the city life and spend days being a beach bum! Kidding aside, Florida Keys is where you can enjoy an unlimited number of activities that are just simply awesome!

The Keys as it is often called, is also known as the American Caribbean. It is a Coral Cay archipelago composed of 1700 islands, most of which are uninhabited. 43 of these islands are connected by bridges. Florida Keys is divided into different groups, namely, the Upper Keys, Middle Keys, the Lower Keys and the Outlying Islands. The most popular islands are the Key Largo, Marathon, Islamorada, Big Pine Key, and Key West, the southernmost point in the Continental United States.

Aside from the usual water activities you can enjoy in any of the islands, Florida Keys has so much more to offer. It is the home of the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, Dolphin Research Center, the Turtle Hospital, Harry S. Truman Little White House, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum, San Pablo Catholic Church, Vandenberg Wreck, History of Diving Museum, Lobster Trap Art Gallery, Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, and Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, just to name a few. You can also enjoy an African Queen Canal Cruise, food and cultural tours, ghost & vampire tours, and events such as Fantasy Fest, Marathon Seafood Festival, Cuban American Heritage Festival, Hemingway Days, and Florida Keys Island Fest

Head to Florida Keys and be captivated by its charm, beauty, and friendly locals!  

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