Adventure travel continues to be popular and is definitely not just for gap year students. Luxury hotels in South Africa, Tanzania and Myanmar are opening their doors and encouraging international travelers to experience some amazing adventures, cosseted by five star hotel standards, yet immersed in a totally different culture.
Packing advice is to travel light and leave behind a lot of those high-tech gadgets which are part of our everyday westernized lifestyle. The challenge is could you really do without the following essentials?
E-readers – designed to save space and weight in luggage, they are far more stealable than books, you need to recharge them and, on a charitable note, you cannot leave them behind for the locals to enjoy. Better take a couple of bestsellers and trade them with fellow guests before giving them away.
GPS – another useful gadget, especially if you like Geocaching, but they attract thieves like magpies to gems. A compass may be less likely to break, is definitely cheaper and with a map you will understand far more about the local terrain.
Ipod – space saving and familiar, but music does isolate you from the foreign sounds that are part of any trip – the babble of local languages, wails from the muezzin or the quiet sounds of unseen inhabitants in the rainforest.
Translation Software – there are some great translation software packages including an iPhone app that overlays English onto foreign writing. Unfortunately users say it is useless on menus, so perhaps the good old dictionary, phrase book and a smile may get you further in the end.
Personally I leave behind the things that distract and take everything that may enhance my trip. How about you?
by Gillian at Luxique Luxury Hotels
It seems that newlywed couples are increasingly looking for something different from the beach and luxury hotel option when arranging their honeymoons.
Darren Noel, the Commercial Director at the specialist wedding site hitched.com, says many are preferring breaks that mix culture with luxury. “Culture combined with a luxury hotel and excellent food can make for a very exciting and unforgettable honeymoon,” said Mr Noel. He quoted Dubai as an example.
A survey by 101honeymoons.co.uk also found a yearning for more adventurous breaks, such as staying in luxury tented camps in India.
The poll also found that more and more newlyweds were taking the ‘maximoon’ option, which sees couples booking luxury hotels in several exotic destinations as part of a round-the-world trip.
Mr Noel suggested that if the honeymoon booking were left to the groom this summer, brides could find themselves boarding flights to South Africa – the soccer World Cup begins there on June 11th.
by Andy Moreton
Book your honeymoon through Luxique – we have the top luxury hotels worldwide.
One of the more bizarre travel stories of the past week was in the Daily Telegraph, which reported that Chechnya was to market itself as a ‘Swiss-style’ ski resort to attract Russian and foreign tourists.
As the Telegraph’s Moscow correspondent, Andrew Osborn, observed:
“If the plan succeeds, it will be one of the most radical makeovers in the history of global tourism. The southern Russian republic is better known for suicide bombings, kidnappings and two brutal wars than for après ski parties and designer ski wear.”
The President of the troubled region, Ramzan Kadyrov, said he thought the small mountainous republic had huge tourism potential. He and his advisers have earmarked a scenic area called the Argun Gorge for a large ski resort to include a luxury hotel, mid-priced chalets and a spa complex.
“We have a good climate and wonderful scenery,” said Mr Kadyrov. “We have places that, when equipped with the necessary infrastructure, will be in no way inferior to Swiss resorts.”
Russian tourism experts believe Chechnya does have potential, but say personal safety issues mean the bold plan is ahead of its time. That’s a view echoed by the Foreign Office in London. It advises against all travel to Chechnya, saying terrorism and kidnapping remain a serious threat.
by Andy Moreton
I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone organised a parachute jump from the world’s tallest building – the Dubai tower I wrote about last week.
Omar Al Hegelan and Nasser Al Niyadi, two experienced base jumpers, leapt from 2,716 feet (828m), taking just one-and-a-half minutes to reach the ground at speeds up to 136 mph.
Al Niyadi, who already holds a world record for the first Mount Everest sky dive, described the feat as ‘the best experience ever’.
“When we were at the top of the building I was thinking ‘this is crazy’. I was a little nervous but I wanted to jump from the highest tower in the world to record an achievement for my family and for my country,” he said.
Originally named the Burj Dubai, the tower was renamed Burj Khalifa in tribute to Dubai’s financial rescuer – its oil-rich neighbour, Abu Dhabi (Sheikh Khalifa is its President).
When news of the sky-dive appeared online, one message board contributor suggested:
“If its economy continues as it is, it will not be long before we see the royal family of Dubai jumping from the top … without a parachute.”
by Andy Moreton
See the over-the-top phenomenon that is Dubai – Luxique offers a selection of a dozen of the finest luxury hotels in Dubai City.
Booked your holiday for 2012? What about something a bit different – outer space for instance.
It’s reported that the first hotel in space will be open for business and accepting tourists within three years, with the help of $3 billion (£1.8 billion) of funding from a wealthy anonymous space enthusiast.
The Galactic Suite Space Resort - a single pod in orbit 280 miles above the earth and travelling at more than 18,000 miles an hour - will have two astronaut-pilots and welcome four guests at a time.
The guests will have a three-night stay preceded by an eight-week training course on a tropical island. And, despite the fact that a return ticket will cost around 3 million euros (£2.7 million /$4.4 million), more than 200 people have reportedly expressed an interest and 43 have already made a reservation.
During their stay, guests will see the sun rise 15 times a day and travel around the world every 80 minutes. They’ll wear Velcro suits to enable them to crawl around their pod rooms by sticking themselves to the walls like Spiderman.
Xavier Claramunt, the Chief Executive of Galactic Suite Ltd and a former aerospace engineer, said the project would put his company at the forefront of an infant industry with a huge future ahead of it.
He forecast that space travel would become commonplace in the future. “It’s very normal to think that your children, possibly within 15 years, could spend a weekend in space,” he said.
by Andy Moreton
I wrote in April about a group of intrepid travellers who’d ventured into Iraq on an organised tour.
Now the Iraqi authorities are making a concerted effort to market the country as an up-and-coming tourist destination.
A delegation has come to London this week to attend the travel industry’s showcase event of the year, the World Travel Market (WTM) exhibition. It will be the first time Iraq has attended such a gathering for more than ten years.
WTM chair Fiona Jeffery said that in the past, tourism had played a major role in helping to regenerate a number of countries affected by war. “It may be in its infancy, but Iraq has the potential to become a viable tourism destination, just like Vietnam, Cambodia and, closer to home, Croatia and the other former Yugoslavian countries,” she said.
The specialist adventure travel firm Hinterland Travel is the only European company currently offering escorted tours. Managing Director Geoff Hann said:
“Obviously there are security problems in the country and the infrastructure is poor. But Iraq appeals to entrepreneurial and adventurous travellers who wish to see something special.”
The chairman of the Tourism Board of Iraq, Hammoud al-Yaqoubi, gave a flavour of what might attract tourists back:
“The ancient cities of Babylon and Ur are key sites, whilst Baghdad was for centuries the intellectual capital of the Islamic world, leading in astronomy, literature, mathematics and music.”
“According to some historians, the Garden of Eden is 50 miles north of Basra, the city from which Sinbad set sail in The Thousand and One Nights. With 5,000 years of history, Mesopotamia [Iraq] is the cradle of civilization,” said Mr al-Yaqoubi.
by Andy Moreton
Warning: those of a nervous disposition might want to look away now …
The Sears Tower in Chicago has recently opened ‘The Ledge’ - glass viewing balconies that jut out four feet from the 103rd floor, 1,353 feet up.
For those brave enough to enter one of the boxes with their transparent walls, floors and ceilings, there are unobstructed views of the Windy City. “It’s like walking on ice,” said Margaret Kemp, from California, her heart still pounding even after stepping away from the balcony. “That first step you take – [you think]‘am I going down?’”
David Roeder of the Chicago Sun-Times said:
“The Ledge delivers. The effect is spectacular even on a cloudy and drizzly day. All enclosures have visible pins and connections, so the eye has a reassuring reference point that you’re in a real structure. But it takes a certain trust in unseen architects, engineers and construction workers to take that first step overlooking perdition.”
by Andy Moreton, with Nina Douglas
For more details about the Sears Tower Skydeck and to buy tickets online, go to www.theskydeck.com. And Luxique has a range of luxury hotels in Chicago, including the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, the Ritz-Carlton Chicago and the Park Hyatt Chicago.
Zoos have long been an attraction for tourists and city residents alike. But what about a zoo where you’re encouraged to climb in with dangerous animals?
Some extraordinary holiday snaps have been appearing from visitors to the zoo at Lujan, 42 miles out of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires: a woman sitting on the back of a lion, another bottle-feeding a young tiger, a 12-year-old boy getting close up and personal with a brown bear.
The zoo says it’s dedicated to the conservation of endangered species and adds that no-one has ever been injured through its interactive policy. The manager, Claudio Nieva, said: “We feed the animals so they aren’t hungry when a human is in the cage.”
But the animal protection charity, The Born Free Foundation, has condemned the zoo and urged tourists not to visit it.
The Foundation’s CEO, Will Travers, commented: “The zoo is, in my view, placing the lives of its visitors at great risk by encouraging them to have ‘close encounters’ with dangerous, potentially lethal, wild animals. Anyone who has any knowledge of big cats will understand that they are wild animals and, as such, are unpredictable.”
That doesn’t seem to have bothered various travel bloggers who’ve tried it. One said it was her best zoo experience yet.
by Andy Moreton
As well as the zoo, Lujan’s attractions include a large neo-Gothic Basilica, to which more than six million people make pilgrimages every year, many walking from Buenos Aires. Tour companies in the capital will arrange a day’s visit to the area and, of course, Luxique has the pick of luxury hotels in Buenos Aires.
Among the many possibilities heralded by the election of President Obama is the re-opening of Cuba to American trade and tourism.
Although it lies only 90 miles from the southernmost point of the United States, Cuba is the only country in the world that Americans are banned from visiting as tourists. Exemptions are made for some journalists and academics with special permission from the State Department, while many other travellers flout the ban by flying via Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas.
Now Congress has introduced a bill that would allow all Americans to travel there. If passed, it would represent the most far-reaching revision of the restrictions imposed by Washington on the Caribbean island nearly 50 years ago.
The US imposed sanctions on travel and trade in 1962, three years after Fidel Castro took power. The US argument was that denying Castro revenue from trade and tourism dollars would undermine the Communist government.
One of the arguments put forward by members of Congress today in favour of lifting the ban is that Americans are free to visit other countries regarded as Communist, such as China and Vietnam.
But opponents argue that flooding Cuba with tourist dollars would only shore up the regime run by Raul Castro, who took over from his sick brother last year.
A thaw in relations seems increasingly likely. President Obama recently agreed to ease restrictions imposed by his predecessor, allowing Cuban-Americans to visit annually rather than once every three years. And the President is attending the Summit of The Americas in Trinidad later this month when new relations with Cuba are expected to surface.
What have Americans been missing? Well, according to the Lonely Planet travel guide, “Cuba, as well as having the usual Caribbean attractions in abundance … has one of the world’s most exciting (and bloody) histories, extraordinary musical and dance traditions all of its own and a rich national architecture that never ceases to astound.”
by Andy Moreton
The first group of western tourists to travel through Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 have been reflecting on their visit.
The three-week trip by five Britons, two Americans and a Canadian was organised by a British adventure tour operator. Tina Townsend-Greaves, from Yorkshire in the UK, said some of the highlights of the tour had been seeing the remains of the ancient famed city of Babylon, one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces and locations in Baghdad.
“We didn’t have any security guards with us - we just travelled on the minibus, the eight tourists along with a driver and a translator. We kept a very low profile and we didn’t have any concerns about security,” said Ms Townsend-Greaves.
“There were some difficulties, but we had the opportunity to meet local people - we went into the shops and teahouses and people were very gracious.” The difficulties she referred to might have included the 10-hour road trip north from Basra to Baghdad, which was punctuated by 40 checkpoints. Or the sudden cancellation of a visit to the recently restored National Museum.
Iraq, part of a region known as the cradle of civilization, has countless archaeological and religious sites but decades of war have shut the doors to foreign tourists.
Apparently, none of this pioneering tour group could get travel insurance and all took up the adventure despite stern warnings from the Foreign Office in London.
by Andy Moreton