The unspoiled savannahs of Kenya are renowned as an untamed wilderness. Left unchecked, nature would take its course and species would thrive and falter as they may. But many animals are vulnerable to human interference such as poaching, loss of habitat due to human encroachment, deforestation and drought. These all threaten populations—and nature’s balance—leaving newborns as orphans and herds at risk. That’s where two remarkable organizations come in to play, and you’ll visit them in a small group during our Kenya Safari Exploration.
Nurturing Orphans Back into the Wild
It is not uncommon for the passionate and caring staff of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) to encounter baby elephants alone in the bush. In many cases, they have wandered from their families, victims of poaching; the little calves have been spared because they have not yet developed ivory tusks. To aid these helpless creatures, the DSWT developed the Orphans’ Project, the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world.
The adorable little elephants are brought to the Trust’s farm-like clinic, fed a steady diet, and taught skills by the staff that they will never learn from their mothers and aunts, all while being eased out of the trauma of loss. It is a remarkable thing to witness as these miniature beasts bond with staff, following them wherever they go.
Since its founding, DSWT has successfully reared many dozens of elephants and reintegrated them into the wild. In fact, many wild-born calves are reared in the wild by elephants that were nurtured back to health at the clinic, a hopeful note that the work they do has fostered entire generations.
Elephants are not the only focus of DSWT. Black Rhinos, also prized for their tusks, are also raised at the clinic. The Trust’s efforts also include anti-poaching initiatives, protecting the natural environment, raising community awareness, animal welfare and veterinary services to wild animals. Founded in 1977, it is one of the pioneering wildlife conservation organizations in East Africa.
Saving a Threatened Giraffe
Nearby, the Giraffe Centre, part of the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, has similar goals to support the preservation of the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe. It is thought that just several hundred of these majestic creatures remain in the wild, and you just might spot some during your game drives at Lake Nakuru National Park, distinguishable by their creamier-coloured coat and the “white stockings” above their hooves. Curiously, the Rothschild’s is also the only species to have five ossicones on its head, the stubby antler-like horns. (Most other species only have two.)
Founded in 1979 as a breeding centre, the Giraffe Centre today also serves an educational role for Kenyan youth. Their vision is to create a harmonious relationship between man and nature by raising awareness in the next generation. This is no small task considering the vast natural resources and wildlife that Kenya hosts. But all of the centre’s programs are offered to schoolchildren free of charge, so we can hope that this brings greater access and with it much success.
The focal point of the centre is the giraffe feeding platform, a raised structure that lets you meet these gentle giants at their level. Inside, an auditorium offers talks to guests. And it is all charmingly decorated with artwork created by local schoolchildren – inspired by the giraffes, of course!
The small group size of our Kenya Safari Exploration lets us experience these remarkable places at their fullest. We hope you’ll visit them with us.
It’s all here in the United States. From the magnificent sweep of their national parks to bustling cultural centres, from coastal beauty to southern charm, Gate 1 pulls the curtain back on this remarkable country that you only thought you knew, all at a value that you never thought possible.
North by Northeast: Rich Histories and Seductive Charms
We’ll begin where the U.S. began. You’ve long heard about the birth of the nation and the gently rolling hills outside Boston, Massachusetts, that were the stage of the American Revolution. It’s quite a moving experience to witness firsthand the historic places that carry echoes of pre- and post-colonial days. It all comes startlingly to life in New England, particularly at the first settlement at Plymouth Rock.
Of course, Boston was the hub of it all. Legendary sites like the Old North Church, Beacon Hill, and the Boston Commons—the oldest public park in the country—take you back to inspiring moments in history. There’s more inspiration in Hyannis on Cape Cod, lined with beautiful sandy beaches and home of the Kennedy Compound, witness to so much national pride and tragedy. Massachusetts also nurtured some world-renowned literary and artistic talents. One stands apart at the Norman Rockwell Museum, where you will gain incredible insight into the life of a man whose work has stood the test of time.
Those lovely rolling hills of Massachusetts rise into dramatic mountains in Vermont and New Hampshire. Traversing these stunningly beautiful states—much of them protected U.S. Forest Land—you’ll pause to explore charming, steepled New England villages and admire sweeping vistas of granite cliffs and hills blanketed in evergreen.
There’s more northern beauty along the legendary lakes that surround Michigan. This truly is one of the undiscovered corners of the U.S. But Michiganders are in the know about the tranquil beauty here, from inviting shores lined with Victorian gems and green forests to the charming Bavarian village of Frankenmuth. Major moments in history have also played out here: Detroit’s Henry Ford Museum chronicles the achievements of American inventors and Fort Mackinac was erected by the British to fend off the new colonists during the American Revolution.
The South: Grace and Vitality
The American South is a virtual gumbo of history, culture and beauty. Antebellum charms, pretty green parks, and trees dripping with Spanish moss line the streets in Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. These inviting and very walkable cities are home to some of the country’s most treasured Greek Revival, Revolutionary Era, and plantation mansions. It’s easy to imagine sipping a mint julep on any of the sprawling porches of these gracious cities. Nearby, St. Augustine, Florida holds the torch as the country’s oldest city. Straddling the Matanzas River near its mouth, it was founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1565, more than two centuries before independence.
For a completely different southern experience, you can visit New Orleans, where life is lived slowly and strains of jazz echo on the bayou. Home of Bourbon Street and the annual Mardi Gras festival, New Orleans’ French Quarter is one of the most captivating musical centres in the country—a place to let your hair down and join in the fun. But the state of Louisiana has much more in store. You can take time to explore its rich history in its fascinating museums; take in the blend of Spanish, French, Creole and Cajun cultures in Baton Rouge; and witness the natural beauty of the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest River Swamp in the U.S.
There’s music to be danced to, as well, in Tennessee. For country and rock music lovers, the state is home to revered pilgrimage sites. In Nashville, you can visit the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame. In Memphis, music clubs lure you in with twangs and strums spilling onto the famous Beale Street. And, of course, no visit here should bypass Graceland, the palatial home of Elvis Presley. Another musical legend, BB King, is memorialized at his namesake museum in the Mississippi Delta.
Our National Parks: Magnificence Preserved
West of the Mississippi, the plains open up to some of the grandest vistas in the country. Symbols of the grand American ideal, many are protected as American Parkland.
Perhaps one of the most interesting parks, South Dakota’s Mt. Rushmore is more known for its man-made wonder than its natural ones. For many visitors, its quartet of presidential sculptures carved into the granite cliffs of the Black Hills serves as an altar to democracy. In Wyoming, endless grassland and soaring peaks set the stage for the drama of Yellowstone. Its countless hot springs, massive mountain faces, and towering waterfalls are truly stunning, but the “Old Faithful” geyser steals the show. Not to be outdone, the Grand Teton massif, with its distinctive and spectacular craggy range, is a humbling testament to the West’s natural beauty.
In Arizona and Utah, fissures in the earth have carved out breathtaking natural wonders. Almost 280 miles long and up to 18 miles wide, the Grand Canyon is the great American icon. Though the colossal chasm was sculpted over millennia, it is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a national park in 2019. It was February 26, 1919, when Woodrow Wilson signed the Grand Canyon National Park Act. In Utah’s Bryce Canyon, conical-shaped rock formations stand like sentries among pine-dotted hillsides. And at Zion National Park, red sandstone canyons are kissed by cascading waterfalls, flowing rivers and vivid desert colours. Though it is nowhere near the size of the Grand Canyon, it’s been said that its beauty far surpasses that of its larger cousin.
More startling earthen colours and stunning rock formations grace the landscapes of Canyonlands National Park. Ascend to its 1,500-foot mesa to marvel at red-rock vistas, including the legendary Mesa Arch. Many more of these astonishing natural sculptures – the densest concentration in the world – greet you in Arches National Park. In Colorado, you can get a glimpse of how ancient peoples lived amidst such ruggedly beautiful terrain at the Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park, home to 5,000 known archaeological sites.
Farther north, you might answer the call of the wild in Alaska. Mt. McKinley watches over an untouched wilderness in Denali National Park. This is a pristine world of magnificent panoramas cut by babbling streams and salmon-rich rivers. A deluxe train journey and a tour of the tundra highlight it all. Incredible scenery is everywhere in Alaska; even our transfer days take the breath away! And no trip here would be complete without seeing its impressive glaciers. Kenai Fjords National Park and its 300-square-mile Harding Ice Field are one of the best spots to witness them as they calve into the icy waters. You can watch from a safe distance during a spectacular cruise among soaring, snow-capped peaks. Alaska also offers visitors the opportunity to search the skies for the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), among the most spectacular phenomena on earth.
The West: Glittering Cities Amidst Natural Beauty
The western U.S. has a lot more to offer than its national parks. California, especially, is home to beautiful cities that enjoy magnificent settings. To be sure, the hills of San Francisco, its situation on its famous bay, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge make for one of the most breathtaking skylines in the world. Exploring the city—with its bustling Union Square and Ghirardelli Square—and the vineyards to the north—with their inviting wineries and galleries—is pure pleasure.
The star of California’s coast is the “17 Mile Drive.” Widely called one of the most scenic panoramas in the world, this road follows the jagged Big Sur coast to the Del Monte Forest. Sweeping vistas unfold around every corner, from crashing surf on rocky shores to multi-million-dollar homes hugging hillsides. And of course, one cannot visit northern California without laying eyes on its towering redwoods, which you can do during visits to Redwood National Park and Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Long heralded as one of the most magnificent corners of the U.S., the Pacific Northwest offers an enriching blend of natural beauty and rich culture. If you want to get a sense of how much Oregonians love and respect the wilderness that surrounds them, just consider that Portland ranks high on the list of the most “green and livable” cities in the world. From here, an exploration of the Columbia River Gorge, an 80-mile-long twisting river canyon fed by plummeting waterfalls, takes the breath away. The lush, rugged Oregon coast and Crater National Park punctuate the state’s unrivalled natural diversity.
An entirely different landscape mesmerizes all who visit New Mexico, where starkly beautiful desert vistas have long inspired artists and craftspeople for generations. Glimpse the old Pueblo ways in Albuquerque at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and the Bandelier Monument, one of North America’s oldest settlements. In Taos, explore the streets of Taos Pueblo, a typical ancient village preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And get to know the life and works of the region’s most famous artist, Georgia O’Keefe, at her home known as Ghost Ranch and at Santa Fe’s renowned museum named for her.
Gate 1’s U.S. Escorted Tours: The Ultimate in Convenience and Value
Here’s the real beauty of seeing this magnificent country on a Gate 1 Escorted Tour: We take care of everything for you. This saves you countless hours of planning—arranging airfare and car rental, researching sites to visit and making sure you have driving directions, hoping you’ve picked a decent restaurant for your meals. Plus, you’ll gain insight and learn more about your destination than you ever would on your own, thanks to the expert knowledge of our tour managers. Simply put, the only thing you have to worry about is enjoying yourself and taking in our country’s glorious sites.
What’s more, our buying power with hotels and other travel providers ensures you the lowest possible price for your overall trip. In fact, if you were to try to duplicate any one of our trips on your own, you would end up paying far more.
Convenience and ease … the unmatched value of our buying power … magnificent and awe-inspiring destinations … a comprehensive trip made all the more fascinating by our expert tour managers. If you’re planning to explore your own country, then a Gate 1 Escorted Tour is your ticket to a trip unlike any other. Join us!
Its isolated, land-locked locale lends it a cultural richness unparalleled in any other South American nation. It boasts one of the planet’s lowest population densities and most dramatic geographic extremes. The peaks of the Andes soar to some 19,000 feet. Glassy surreal salt flats shimmer under the sun. It is home to the highest navigable lake in the world. And that’s only part of the story.
You might ask why you would explore Bolivia with a Discovery Tours small group. But with its many-layered cultures, remarkable history, and astonishing natural wonders, the real question is, “Why wouldn’t you?”
La Paz: City of Peace
All three of Bolivia’s show-stopping qualities – culture, history, and nature – converge in its bustling capital. Its setting is truly breathtaking: nestled in a vast canyon carved out by the Choqueyapu River and spread at the foot of Mt. Illimani, one of the highest Andean peaks. To get a full view of the city’s splendid urban and mountain vistas, just board one of the Mi Teleférico aerial cable cars, said to be the longest and highest-altitude such system in the world. From its heights, the entire patchwork of La Paz unfurls below, from its red-roofed villages clinging on hillsides to its glittering glass skyscrapers, all encircled by a ring of spectacular mountains.
Where architectural treasures meet. Of course, to experience the city fully, you’ll need to come down from these lofty heights. A central place to begin exploring is the Plaza Murillo. This vast city square was named for national hero Pedro Domingo Murillo who, in 1809, likened the revolution against Spain to a growing flame that no one would be able to extinguish. He was right. A local uprising here in La Paz kickstarted the liberation of all of South America.
Still, many monuments to Spanish colonialism remain as an important part of Bolivia’s past. On the square, the Presidential Palace (known to locals as the “Burnt Palace” for the number of times it has caught on fire) is home to the nation’s leader. Adjacent, the La Paz Cathedral is a stunning example of neoclassical and baroque ingenuity. The National Congress building, with its stately façade, was a convent and a university before it was transformed into a house of legislature. Nearby, the distinctive San Francisco Cathedral is a stunning blend of baroque and mestizo style—the epitome of indigenous-influenced colonialism.
Where ancient and modern cultures converge. The cultural gems of La Paz are, in a word, spellbinding – especially at the Witches’ Market in the Cerro Cumbre district. Browsing its stalls, you might think Hogwarts of Harry Potter fame was transplanted right here in the Andes. If you wish, you may visit with the local yatiri, indigenous Aymara witch doctors with their tell-tale black hats. Perhaps you’ll purchase dried frogs, armadillos, or potions and talismans that promise good luck and long life.
For an outing with a more modern flair, visit the many museums along the city’s famed Jaén Street. This historic neighborhood looks much as it did when the Spanish ruled here. Today, it boasts ten different cultural institutions. To glimpse ancient history, visit a replica of a semi-subterranean temple from the Tiwanaku culture that thrived in Bolivia from around 100 to 800 AD. And to feel the pulse of the city’s heart, head to El Prado, the main avenue where families stroll, merchants sell their wares, and cholitas don traditional bowler hats as they go about their daily errands.
Beyond La Paz, Astonishing Nature and a Long History
North of La Paz, the highest navigable lake in the world straddles the border with Peru. Lake Titicaca sits at 12,500 feet above sea level and has witnessed some of the region’s most stirring and pivotal history. On the Isla del Sol, or Island of the Sun—a short boat ride from the mainland town of Copacabana—Inca ruins date to the 1400s. The island is said to be the birthplace of Inca civilization; more than this, they believed it was also the birthplace of their sun god. Ample evidence of the Inca can be found among the island’s terraced gardens, ancient temples, and even a reputed fountain of youth. Much of the island’s pre-Columbian past is chronicled at the Inti Wata Cultural Complex. Here, you can witness a Kallawaya ceremony and the ancient craft of weaving the lake’s tortora reeds into water-tight boats. Today, the island’s rocky and hilly terrain hosts just 800 families who live off the land, the lake, and tourism.
South of La Paz, a surreal landscape unfolds in the Valle de la Luna, the Valley of the Moon. The land here is composed of clay, not rock, which has left it prone to dramatic erosion. Tall, craggy spires and countless canyons have been carved by strong winds and rains over millennia. Its mesmerizing palette of colours is explained by the varying minerals of the earth here.
The town of Colchani is our gateway to the magnificent Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. Stretching some 4,000 square miles, the salar is covered with several feet of salt which covers a pool of brine below. Over the entire surface, its elevation only varies by a few feet; this means that rainfall leaves a thin layer of calm water, creating the world’s largest mirror. During your visit, head out to an “island” in the flat to see its thousands of giant cacti standing as high as 26 feet and stop to explore the remarkable Chiquini Cave, formed underwater before the lake that covers the salt flat dried up.
From the history and culture of La Paz to the beguiling beauty of the planet’s largest salt flat, we can’t think of a reason not to visit Bolivia with Discovery Tours. And you can, when you join our new Natural Wonders of Bolivia & Chile small group tour! Join us!
If you’re a Game of Thrones (GoT) fan, there’s a good chance you have dedicated a fair amount of time to comparing the fictional continent of Westeros to modern day Europe.
George R.R Martin based Westeros on ancient Europe so it’s tempting to start drawing comparisons around things like Hadrian’s Wall and The Wall, and the English Channel and The Narrow Sea (or is that the Strait of Gibraltar, George?).
We have popped on our thinking capes and researched what we believe each of the Seven Kingdoms (and outlying lands) equate to. Read on and have your mind blown.
1. The North is Scotland
Northmen in Game of Thrones are most likely based on the Picts, a
group who largely banded together to fight off the Romans or, in the
case of GoT, the Southerners.
2. North of the Wall is Greenland
this makes no sense geographically, it makes sense historically. The
Vikings arrived in Greenland at the end of the 10th century. They
were led by Erik Thorvaldsson, known as Erik the Red because of his
3.Norway is the Iron Islands
It’s a bit of a giveaway that the Iron Islanders behave very much like vikings: pillaging and destroying villages. They are master seamen and women, and the fact that one of the main captains in the books is a woman is also reflective of Viking society where gender equality was the norm.
4. London is Kings Landing
It’s not too much of a stretch to gather that King’s Landing – home of the Iron Throne – is based on London. Many of the events in the book are inspired by the Rose Wars. The houses mirror Lancaster (Lannister), York (Stark), Plantagenet (Baratheon) and Henry VI was Aerys Targaryen. Of course the city of Dubrovnik in Croatia has been the setting for the capital city of King’s Landing since the beginning of the show.
5. Spain is Dorne
The sunny mediterranean landscape featuring olive groves and palm trees is a hint. Also in the show the nobles of House Martell reside in the Alzacar in Seville which is the oldest palace still in use in Europe.
6. The Riverlands are Germany
being raided and ransacked, Germany has been bathed in blood for
eons, eventually being split between the Prussians and the Bavarians.
7. The Vale is Switzerland
not really sure why. It’s pretty, hilly and chilly?
8. The Reach is France
Tyrells were a stylish, open-minded bunch. They also came up with a
bloodless way to get rid of a certain prince, resulting in less
dry-cleaning for everyone. A very French solution to a rather ugly
9. The Stormlands is Wales
The weather is bad and people tend to avoid going there. While we’re not saying that Wales is unpopular, the weather can be a little tricky.
10. England is the Westerlands
Home of the Lannisters, Westerlands is a shrunken down England with a terrifyingly ruthless family at its head. While the modern day Windsors aren’t exactly scary, some of their ancestors loved a good beheading.
If you’d love to visit some of the filming locations featured in Game of Thrones check out Gate 1 Travel’s escorted Europe tours here.
Here are our favourite 8 lesser known facts about some of the Wonders of the World:
The Great Wall of China
Did you know that parts of this wall date back to the 7th Century? Emperor Qin, the leader who unified China, started extending the wall around 220 BC. Subsequent dynasties continued building and reinforcing the wall until it reached its current length: 21,196 kms. That is just over half the circumference of the earth.
The Lost City of Petra
Petra is not the original name of this city. It was originally called Nabataea and at its height, had a population of 20,000 people. The Nabataeans were nomadic Arabs who used the city as a place to do business due to its proximity to key regional trade routes. The rock wall carving that Petra is best known for is actually a mausoleum for a Nabataean king name Aretas IV. It was built in 1000 AD.
The Great Pyramid of Giza
This, the largest of the three pyramids at El Giza, took an estimated 20 years to build, with workers moving 800 tonnes of stone every day. This equates to 12 blocks per hour, 24 hours a day for 20 years. The pyramid was built as a tomb for a pharaoh named Khufu, as well as his wives and some of his nobles. The outside of the pyramid was original smooth but the limestone casing stones have since eroded. Before this deterioration occurred, the pyramid stood at 146.5m tall. This is equivalent to a 44 storey building.
Did you know Machu Picchu was only ‘discovered’ in 1911? A Yale professor named Hiram Bingham led an expedition to South America in search of the last Incan capital. He discovered Machu Picchu and incorrectly dubbed it the capital. He also explored and documented a city called Vilcabamba that was later identified as the last Incan capital. In the local Quechua language, Machi means ‘old’ and Picchu means ‘chewing coca’ or ‘pyramid/pointed mountain’.
Chichen Itza on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has a grisly history in the sense that it was a site of live human sacrifice. The upside is that being sacrificed was considered a great honour in Mayan society. A mass grave unearthed at the site corroborates this theory.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
This wonder came about by accident. The foundations of this bell tower were unstable and the structure started to lean while it was being built. The tilt – said to be four degrees off being perpendicular – worsened over time. The tower took 199 years to build and architects working on later stages of the project actually built one side longer than the other in order to correct the lean, meaning the tower bends. The legendary status of the building has meant that modern engineers have reinforced the tower without correcting the lean.
In today’s money, the Taj Mahal cost around $1 billion to build over ten years from 1633 – 1643. The Taj Mahal was built as a mausoleum for Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s favourite wife, Mumtaz Jahan, who died while giving birth to her 14th child. The construction project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.
Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious monuments in the world and is built on 402 acres located 5.5kms from Siem Reap. It was originally a temple devoted to the Hindu God Vishnu, and was later transformed into a Buddhist temple. Angkor Wat translates from Khmer into English as City of Temples.
Are you sitting there wondering where to go next? We understand – that’s how we’ve spent our entire lives.
There is something so exciting about being on the brink of your next adventure. So, if you’re looking for some inspiration, take our quick quiz to figure out which Wonder of the World you should visit next.
1.In your past life you were:
A) A queen
B) A sports star
C) A nomadic trader
D) A drunk architect
2. Your idea of a fun night out is:
A) Shimmying the night away with a group of bellydancers
B) Drinking giant margaritas
C) Star gazing in the desert
D) Drinking wine in the village square
3. You like shopping for:
A) Leather slippers
B) Mexican wrestling masks
D) Hand painted crockery
4. Your favourite food is:
A) Ful medames – a hearty concoction of beans, pastas and spices
B) Fish tacos made with proper guacamole (no sour cream)
C) Mansaf – slow cooked rice served with saffron rice and yoghurt sauce
D) Pizza, pasta, gelato, risotto, arancini, antipasto… and that’s just to start
5. Your favourite place to relax is:
A) By the river
B) At a white sand beach with crystal clear water
C) Next to an inland sea
D) In the mountains
6. You describe yourself as:
A) Ancient and glorious
B) Solid and a bit gory
C) Majestic and fort-like
D) Wonky but classical
7. If you were a wonder of the world, you would want to be:
A) The oldest
B) The coolest
C) The most impressive
D) The weirdest
8. If you were a building, you would be:
A) Built to withstand the test of time
B) Full of secret passages
9. If you could put a price on yourself, you would be:
A) Cheap and cheerful
B) Affordable and great value
C) Pricey but princely
D) Top of the range
10. If you were an animal, you would be:
A) A cat
B) A frog
C) A camel
D) A bird
you answered mostly As
need to visit The Great Pyramid of Giza. Cruise along the Nile,
explore souks and cities, taste the local cuisine (and then walk it
all off as you wander around ancient ruins).
you answered mostly Bs
headed to Chichen Itza in Mexico. Located on the Yucatan Peninsula,
home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and cenotes
(sunken swimming holes), this region combines ancient Mayan temples
with super fun bars and beaches.
you answered mostly Cs
off to the Lost City of Petra. There is nothing more exotic than
heading off into the desert aboard a camel. The good news is that
Jordan is also home to delicious food, great swimming, snorkelling
and diving, and surprisingly sophisticated ancient architecture.
you answered mostly Ds
Leaning Tower of Pisa is calling you, mi amico. Check out this
architectural catastrophe while you enjoy la dolce vita. Dinner
starts with aperitivo at 5pm and ends with gelato at midnight. Take
your stretchy pants!
Perhaps no other city in Chile casts a spell as mesmerising as the port city Valparaiso. Certainly, it strikes a dramatic pose, nestled on a thin strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and 43 steep, rolling hills. You might think it’s a wonder that settlers built a city on this terrain at all! But as you stroll its narrow, labyrinthine streets—among mansions that cling to their once-grandiose days, stunning ocean views, and hard-working porteños taking a break over cafecitos (small black coffees) in cafés—you will be very glad they did.
Indeed, Valparaiso—or Valpo to those in the know—is nothing if not authentic and romantic. Chilean native and Nobel prize winning poet Pablo Neruda regaled the city in his works Canto General and I Confess that I Have Lived. In return, proud locals honoured him on his 100th birthday by “composing” the world’s largest poem, an epic collection of contributions from Chileans that scrolled 65 feet long and three feet wide. Other artists have been similarly inspired: the city’s rich street art—huge colourful and beautifully wrought paintings that cover the sides of buildings—appears at every turn. And a host of world-class museums dot the cityscape.
Founded in 1536 by a Spanish conquistador, Valparaiso is a UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrated for its improvised urban design of late 19th century hillside structures and seaport architecture. The most glorious buildings were constructed during its heyday, when it was a major stopover for ships sailing between the Atlantic and Pacific. Immigrants from Britain, Germany, and Italy poured into the city during this boom, each bringing its distinctive culture and architectural styles into its own hillside neighbourhood. When the Panama Canal opened in 1914, the ships and the people stopped coming, but the city remains Chile’s second most important port and today is affectionately known as “Little San Francisco” for its many hills.
Its historic center is a maze of winding cobbled streets, all of it overlooked by towering cliffs crowned with richly textured suburbs. These hilltop residences are linked to the barrios below by steep stairways or by ascensores, or funiculars. No matter how you decide to ascend, you’ll marvel at spectacular vistas, but riding the funicular is rightly heralded as Valparaiso’s most distinctive and thrilling experiences.
Though they are traditionally called elevators, only one of the city’s renowned funiculars runs in a true vertical direction. The rest carry visitors and locals alike up angled tracks. The original ascensores, introduced in the 1880s, ran on steam. As many as 28 have operated since and about a dozen still operate. Fifteen have been declared National Historical Monuments as local organisations work to ensure that they continue to play an active role in the city’s rich heritage.
Chile’s Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on earth. Yet it is teeming with beauty and plenty of surprises. Our Discovery Tours small group takes you to its fascinating heart, where you’ll gain remarkable insight into its wildness, its history, and its culture. Here’s what we find most fascinating about this mysterious place. We look forward to sharing it with you during our new Natural Wonders of Bolivia & Chile small group tour.
This vast desertscape stretches for some 49,000 square miles between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean.
Scientists believe the Atacama saw no significant rainfall from 1570 to 1971. Further, they call it the oldest desert on earth—at least three million years old!
The landscape has been compared to that found on Mars, so much so that movie crews have used it to stand in for the Red Planet and NASA has tested out some of their Mars rovers on its terrain.
The metallic-blue lakes of Miñiques and Miscanti were once one large lake, until lava flow from an eruption of the Miñiques volcano separated the two. Today, they occupy a starkly beautiful landscape that is home to flora and fauna found nowhere else.
Remarkably, about a million people call the Atacama Desert home. The vast majority of them live along the coast. But inland, people still eke out a living in tiny villages such as Socaire, Machuca, and Toconao. The latter boasts a welcoming market of textiles made from alpaca and other handicrafts, as well as a striking bell tower that is pure Atacama in its architectural style.
With its clear skies, high elevation, and freedom from light pollution, the Atacama is one of the world’s best spots for stargazing. As conditions permit, you’ll visit an observatory and turn your gaze skyward with an astronomer.
At the desert’s edge, a 12th-century pre-Inca fortress provides remarkable insight into an ancient civilisation while the site of Tulor, with its circular dwellings, lets you imagine life here as long as 2,000 years ago.
Geysers, hot springs, mud pools, and fumaroles steam and bubble and burst forth from the earth at the Atacama’s El Tatio geyser field, the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and the third largest in the world.
Wind and time have sculpted the jagged contours of Moon Valley and Death Valley, a pair of geological wonders rich in vast breathtaking landscapes and colours.
A great way to experience a destination when travelling is by food. Eating and dining out says so much about a country’s history and culture, and Vietnam is no exception. You’ll discover delicious dishes and a range of eating experiences, from street vendors through to fine dining restaurants.
If you’re planning a trip, be sure to add these five dishes to your gastronomic checklist:
1. Cà phê
While not a food, Australians are known for their love of coffee and the Vietnamese version is a must try. Drip-filtered, this strong coffee is sweetened with condensed milk and can be enjoyed either hot or cold. Indulging in a coffee from one of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh’s many cafes is a great way to soak up the bustling city atmosphere.
2. Bánh mì
There is a reason why Anthony Bourdain called it “the perfect sandwich”. Made with a warm, crusty baguette, bánh mì is typically filled with pickled vegetables, cucumber, coriander and either meat, egg or tofu. Finished with a spicy sauce and mayonnaise or pâté, this cheap and tasty dish can be enjoyed at any time of the day.
Perhaps the most celebrated Vietnamese dish – and rightly so – slurping down phở is a real treat. This wonderfully light and fragrant noodle soup is built around a flavoursome beef broth. Fresh herbs, lime, chillies, onions, sauces and bean sprouts are usually served on the side, allowing you to customise to your own liking.
4. Bánh xèo
Translating to “sizzling pancake” you cannot go wrong with an order of bánh xèo. This thin and crispy pancake is made from a rice flour batter, flavoured with turmeric and stuffed with bean sprouts, pork, prawns and fresh herbs. Be sure to dip in the sauce provided for a flavour explosion!
5. Spring rolls
The fan favourite; you cannot leave Vietnam without tasting spring rolls. Multiple times. Order these fresh (Gỏi cuốn) or fried (Chả giò) and filled with either meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu or a combination of various ingredients. These make a great light meal or are the perfect appetizer.
If you’d like to experience the flavours of Vietnam, join us on our 11 Day Classic Vietnam and sample all these specialties for yourself. Be sure to ask your local guide for some tips!
It’s been almost a month since my wife and I returned from our 9 Day National Parks of Canada with Lake Louise tour with Gate 1 Travel and we are still reliving it in our minds over and over again. We met and befriended many incredible fellow travellers on this tour. Here are the Top Ten reasons we will be back with Gate 1 very soon:
10) Bang for the buck.
And while we’re tossing out cliches, this wasn’t our first rodeo either. We are both ex-airline and travel agency employees. We are veterans of over 40 previous packaged tours throughout the world. All with competing tour operators. In our experience none of the other companies featured such value for the consumer. Unlike their competitors, Gate 1’s listed price was the price we paid. No hidden extras or misleading advertising. It was especially nice not having to put up with the up-selling of optional excursions during the actual trip. We’ve been on tours where one is made to feel uncomfortable because the side trips required everyone to sign-up and pay or no one goes.
Best of all, by paying with a cheque or bank transfer rather than credit card we saved another 5% off the advertised price. Who else does that?
9) So simple to arrange.
Gate 1’s website reservation process was straight forward and simple. Everything was easy to understand online and didn’t require numerous phone calls to put things into motion. When I did speak to a representative on the phone they were always patient and helpful.
8) Joining a new family.
Who would’ve thought that we’d return from vacation having made scores of new friends along the way? Not only did we share new experiences with folks from all over but we came home with lasting friendships with people that share our same love of world travel. It was impossible not to become buddies spending so much time having fun together.
7) First class accommodations.
Upon arrival in Edmonton we were treated like welcomed guests. This was a first. On our previous tours we often felt like the hotel we were staying in saw us as discount visitors not worthy of the same treatment as their paying guests. The hotels we stayed in were modern and well-equipped. WiFi worked well in all of them. Comfortable queen sized beds with clean bathrooms were the norm. Having hot water for the morning shower was never an issue. Most had indoor pools and hot tubs.
6) Knowing where you’d be staying each night.
With other tour operators we often found our hotel reservations changing multiple times before and even during the trip. Not only were the Gate 1 hotels the same establishments as advertised but they were all conveniently located. No hour long bus rides to get to the center of action. Each evening we could easily and safely leave our hotel to explore the nearby attractions.
5) Clean comfortable and modern transportation.
Our tour involved quite a bit of travel between stops in the Canadian National Parks. Our bus rides never became uncomfortable or felt too long. There was plenty of leg room even for this guy who was recuperating from recent knee surgery. We could hear every announcement made by our tour manager over the P.A. System. The ride was always smooth and comfortable. A rather unique and very efficient system of seat assignments on the bus had couples changing seats every day. No arguments over being up front or on the “good” side of the bus. I didn’t have to line up to be first on the bus every morning. Best of all, our bus had cup holders which were filled every morning with fresh bottles of spring water.
4) A courteous and cordial bus driver.
Charlotte was more than happy to satisfy the various needs of our tour group. She was always first off the bus in order to lend assistance to those needing a little help. She drove smoothly and professionally throughout the trip and always kept her smile. She never lost her cool even with some of the clueless rental RV drivers posing a threat on the parks’ roads. When someone on the bus spotted an elk, moose, long horn sheep or other wildlife she was willing to safely pull over so that we might get photos.
3) Great dining options.
Unlike other tour companies that provide you with minuscule Continental breakfasts, our Gate 1 tour offered us a sumptuous full breakfast each morning serving real orange juice and not Tang. My cholesterol level rose on this vacation because of all the bacon and eggs I was able to enjoy each morning. Instead of packaged low cost dinners reminiscent of a college dining hall we were free to eat where and what we wanted for dinner. Our extremely knowledgeable tour manager seemed to know every eating establishment along our route and kindly offered suggestions. She directed us to many of the local specialty dishes and adult beverages.
2) A smooth comfortable pace.
As I mentioned, my mobility was somewhat hampered by my meniscus repair surgery yet for the most part I was able to enjoy all the highlights of the trip. For those that wanted to walk more there were ample opportunities to hike up a ridge or descend into a canyon or even circle a lake. Meanwhile others in the group could visit a shop or just relax on a bench soaking up the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. When my wobbly knee began to fail me near the end of the trip I was able to take a seat on the bus while the group hiked down to a waterfall.
1) The most incredible tour manager imaginable.
Whether you call them a “tour guide”, “group leader”, “travel coordinator” or “local expert” we have never met anyone more helpful, exuberant, knowledgeable, proud of her heritage or as professional as our tour manager, Karen Frey. The woman never stopped working at keeping us happy throughout the tour. Her organisation was immaculate. She was never frazzled despite a couple of minor hiccups beyond her or Gate 1’s control (temporary power outage in one town and snowy weather elsewhere). She taught us, made us laugh, and kept us safe throughout the trek. Karen’s contributions toward our enjoyment of this tour convinced us to sign-up for five more Gate 1 tours over the next year and a half.