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First Time Travelling to South America – a Holiday of a Lifetime

Generally, Janet and her three travel companions embark on one big holiday every two years. This time, they opted for a South America travel experience. For some of them it would be their first time and none of them had been to Ecuador or the Galapagos Islands before. 
Read on to get an idea of what their active trip, that started with a summit of Ecuador’s highest peak and finished in the waters of the Galapagos Islands shared with seals, was like.

 

How did you prepare for the first part of this trip in Ecuador?

The preparation was interesting and we really did start increasing our activity from about six months before the holiday in South America. Firstly, our daily morning 3-mile run up a substantial hill got longer and longer until we were running 5 or 6 miles a day, 7 days a week. In addition, there were plenty of sessions on the rowing machine or out on the river rowing in the afternoon during the summer months leading up to our Summits of Ecuador and Galapagos - Bike, Hike & Kayak trips. 
To really boost our hill work we took a ten-day break in the Cairngorms to tune up - this was really useful and prepared us for walking six to eight hours per day carrying a backpack. We topped all this off by running the Henley Half Marathon in October.

The best bit was when a seal actually came nose to mask with me; literally touched my mask and then swam around me like a cat winds its way around your legs.

Rewarding walks in Ecuador |  <i>Janet Dutton</i>

 

What were your expectations of the active part of your South America travel experience? 

Some expectations of the Summits of Ecuador part were exceeded and some were surprising. Everyone knows the weather in the mountains is fickle but it really is fickle in Ecuador, often experiencing four seasons in several hours. 

Mist

We did have a lot of mist on the summits which was both a curse and a blessing. Not being a natural at heights and sheer drops I found it quite comforting not to be able to look down some of the drop-offs, but it did not lead to many beautiful shots of the surrounding mountains.  

Accommodation

The accommodation generally exceeded expectations and it felt like the hotels had been handpicked for their location and attractiveness. 

Altitude Sickness & Acclimatisation

As a sufferer of altitude sickness, I was very concerned that I would step off the plane in Quito and 30 minutes later I would be laid up somewhere with a screaming headache. I was very, very surprised that I did not suffer at all until coming down from 4,000 metre on the trek – when I was not 100 per cent for literally one hour or so. Our acclimatisation plan to have a couple of extra days really did pay dividends. That extension was one of the highlights of the trip, we went north to Otovala and onwards to Kilatoa which were both interesting and enjoyable despite the weather (raining). 

The second bout of altitude sickness was at Mt Cotopaxi (5897m) and, in hindsight, if that had been just one or two days later, I would have probably coped much better. As it turned out the weather was horrendous on summit day and most trekkers turned back with just reports of a handful of people actually getting to the summit.  

Grade of the Trek

Generally, the trekking was tough, very tough in parts, and whilst we could keep going I could not meet the deadlines required for both ascent and descent on the mountains over 6,000 metres. I nevertheless enjoyed the trek to the refuge.
You should prepare yourself for conditions outside of your control so don't get wedded to summitting every mountain as health and safety must be the first priority and hopefully some enjoyment too. One member of our party took on another volcano near Banos and perhaps that should be part of the itinerary as either a named trek or a backup if Mt Cotopaxi is not accessible.

The unique coastline of the Galapagos Islands |  <i>Janet Dutton</i> Stunning Ecuador |  <i>Janet Dutton</i> Meet giant tortoises on your Galapagos holiday |  <i>Janet Dutton</i> A misty day in the forest |  <i>Janet Dutton</i>
 

 

What is the most memorable moment of your South America tour?

The snorkelling in Galapagos was just amazing and so was the flight between the islands. I was also taken with the giant tortoises, which were unbelievable and the seals sleeping on park benches everywhere. The water was cold, so whilst most people wore short wetsuits, I would recommend either taking your own or hiring a full wetsuit. The snorkelling was not for beginners as you had to be pretty self-sufficient and a competent swimmer. I also enjoyed the Devil's nose train journey to Sibambe in Ecuador [>> Find all trips in Ecuador].

I think the best bit was when a seal actually came nose to mask with me; literally touched my mask and then swam around me like a cat winds its way around your legs. I could feel her whiskers on my arms and legs and it was amazing. I was less sure about the five sharks that were basking three metres below us (which was fine) but then they all started to move in our directions, which caused some concern - we all froze until they passed by.

Our acclimatisation plan to have a couple of extra days really did pay dividends.

How would you describe the trip in five words?

Once in a lifetime experience.....

 

What point of advice would you give to other travellers that are thinking of travelling in South America? 

  • •    Ensure you are fit enough to enjoy the trekking, ours was graded exploratory trekking

  • •    Don't beat yourself up if you don't make the summit of the mountains over 6,000m this is just two days of a long holiday, there are other mountains to climb

  • •    If possible, plan in time for alternatives that are achievable, less subject to weather conditions and can be equally enjoyable

  • •    Stay flexible, things will and have to change

  • •    The guide knows best

  • •    If you are not a strong swimmer and you are going to Galapagos, take some swimming and snorkelling lessons - you really don't want to miss out on this opportunity to swim with seals, turtles and sharks

  • •    Anyone suffering from sea sickness should take appropriate medication for snorkelling trips as the boats are very fast and very bouncy

  • •    Take good warm clothes and waterproofs

  • •    We hired kit and it was of a very high standard

  • •    Take a good number of small domination US dollar notes, they will be useful

  • •    Some restaurants in the Galapagos wanted 7% extra for use of a credit card

  • •    The tea is dreadful, if you are a tea lover take your own tea bags. There were not tea/coffee making facilities in any of the hotels (except Refuges)

  • •    There are long periods driving between national parks, take some reading material

  • •    In Quito, stick to the pedestrian areas as some parts of the city are quite heavily polluted 

  • •    Go to the Quito museum, it is free and first class - it explains the social, political and geographical history, there is also a good art section

Furthermore, when you are visiting several countries in South America in one tour, be fully aware you are constantly moving around. The longest we stayed in the same hotel was three days. Your packing has to be minimal and organised otherwise chaos will ensue. Take several sizes of rucksacks to accommodate differing needs, eg. a very big, medium and small rucksack. Pack light and be prepared to do laundry.

Where would you like to go next?

Canada is next on my list of places to visit. 

Keen to explore South America as well? 

Janet combined the Summits of Ecuador and Galapagos - Bike, Hike & Kayak trips with three of her friends. Other popular places to go to in South America include:
Spend time exploring the coast of the Galapagos |  <i>Janet Dutton</i>
The Great Himalaya Trail: Meet The 2020 Trekkers

It's Himalaya trekking at its best. The epic trail returns for its 10th anniversary

The Great Himalaya Trail, one of the best treks in the world, heads out on Monday 24 February 2020 for its 10-year anniversary.

Let us introduce you to this year’s participants who will be trekking in Nepal for five months, from east to west – Tania from Australia and Manu from France.

Australian trekker on the 2020 GHT Makalu Sherpani Col, the second section of the GHT French trekker on the 2020 GHT
 

When did your love for the mountains and the great outdoors start?

Tania: Many family holidays as a child involved trekking with a backpack and sleeping outdoors. Fortunately, this appreciation continued throughout the years enabling me the opportunity to dream, contemplate and muse without question whilst interpreting nature in its purest form.

My introduction to Nepal and the Himalayas was in 1997 with the successful summit of Mera Peak, inspiring me to seek out similar encounters and igniting a passion for adventure and the mountains.  

Manu: I have been a big fan of mountains since I was eight-years-old. Living in France, my parents used to take me to the Pyrénées or the Alps every year to hike – and I kept doing it ever since! I am going on multi-day hikes twice a year and I often take to the mountains.

I have completed the Te Araroa Trail, a challenging 3,000-kilometre trek that crosses New Zealand from north to south, walked most of the GR5, the Grand Traverse of the Alps, and last year I hiked in Canada’s Banff and Jasper National Parks for two weeks.

Mt Everest framed by prayer flags from the summit of Gokyo Ri |  <i>Greg Bradley</i>

How did you first hear about the Great Himalaya Trail?

Tania: I became aware of the Great Himalaya Trail via social media in 2018. At that time I was unable to explore further due to commitments, however in 2019 trekking the Great Himalaya Trail in 2020 became a consideration and here we are today about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.

Manu: Nepal was calling me! I was looking to find a big trek in the Himalaya. It only took one search on Google and I quickly found out about the Great Himalaya Trail.

The trails of the Annapurna region are dotted with small villages |  <i>Peter Walton</i>

Why did you decide to join such an epic trek?

Tania: Our day to day happenings can at times seem overwhelming. Trekking for me is taking a moment to pause, to breathe, to be still, to listen and to just live. I chose to undertake the Great Himalaya Trail as a personal journey to quietly reflect upon my recent and incredible 18 months where I had the great honour and privilege of fostering and caring for a precious baby who in now living with family.   

This motivated me to reconnect with the stillness, balance and harmony that nature has in abundance and commit to the physical and mental challenge that the Great Himalaya Trail demands.

Manu: When I finished the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand, I knew it wouldn’t be long until I go for another big trek in the future. My only concern was to find one with mountains only.

Everest is the mother of all mountains and the Great Himalaya Trail is a perfect match for my next adventure because it combines remote backcountry, perfect for disconnection, and human interaction with Nepal’s culture.

A steady incline on the trail above Namche Bazaar |  <i>Mark Tipple</i>

How did your family and friends react when you told them about it?

Tania: Family, friends and many others that I have met during my training, both in and out of the gym, have been incredibly supportive. The Great Himalaya Trail is not every person’s journey, and that is totally OK – it is at the present my journey.  

Manu: They were happy but also scared as the high altitude will be a new dimension for me. But they were happy and relieved to find out I am joining a team this time!

The verdant valleys leading to Rara Lake in Nepal's far western region of Dolpo |  <i>Robin Boustead</i>

How are you preparing for the Great Himalaya Trail?

Tania: Training has been a combination of cardio, aerobic and free weights.  I have been utilising the local gym (stepper in particular), home gym with my BFF Michelle and local cliff top trails. There have certainly been memorable trekking moments both exhilarating and confronting. During these times I endeavour to focus on what’s right in front of me (mostly my feet) and tell myself to just take one step… and then another… and to keep going one step at a time.  At times we are pushed to challenging our own limits, and yet we don’t really know what they are until we do.

Manu: I’ve been training mainly by doing lots of different sports. For the past year, I have been playing squash 4 to 5 times a week, which is very good cardio exercise. I run 3 times a week and I often go on rides with my bike to build endurance. This month, I am also doing a special training course in the Alps on mountaineering skills.

Basking in the sun in Lhonak |  <i>Michelle Landry</i>

Finally, what are you looking forward to the most on the trek? And what the least?

Tania: My expectations of the Great Himalaya Trail are humble, nonetheless I eagerly look forward to embracing what can only be described as an enriching and unforgettable experience.

I am looking forward to all 7 stages of the trail taking me through majestic landscapes and mountains both transparent and unpolluted, matched only by the beauty and nature of the Nepalese themselves. During the more difficult and exhausting periods, I hope to draw strength from every person that has touched my life and take them along with me one step at a time.

Manu: I am looking forward to being amazed with the scenery of Nepal, meeting and interacting with the locals and living simple – going back to the basics, focusing on the vital needs, the remoteness offering a complete disconnection from the world.

I can’t wait to meet the team and start the first section of the trek… but I am not looking forward to the cold temperatures. It will be hard being away from all friends and family so when we finish the trail, on 22 July, the first thing I will do is speak with them (and have a hot shower!).

The Great Himalaya Trail is the ultimate trekking holiday in Nepal and the 2020 trekkers will 'report live' on this experience of a lifetime on the Great Himalaya Trail blog.

Find out more about what makes the Great Himalaya Trail one best adventure holidays in the world, join one of the seven sections that depart this year or plan ahead and book the Full Nepal Traverse for 2021!

Base camp on Lobuche East with Cholatse towering above |  <i>Tina Lacey</i>


 
How to get the most out of your Antarctica trip

Which Antarctica do you want to see? The one where you are surrounded by steep icebergs? The one with clumsy young penguins and playful seal pups? The one where the sun never sets? Or the one that the early polar pioneers set their foot on?

Antarctica is a bucket list destination of many, but to get the most out of your once-in-a-lifetime trip you have to answer one key question: which is the main reason you want to go to Antarctica?

“I want to see spectacular icebergs”

During the long winter months (April-October), the water around Antarctica freezes, expanding dramatically the size of the continent. Come spring and this ice starts to break up, creating the most spectacular ice sculptures and icebergs you can think of. November marks the beginning of the season promising you will get to experience Antarctica in its most pristine, ‘raw’ form. 

“I want to cross the Polar Circle”

Not all voyages to Antarctica cross the Antarctic Circle. At a latitude of 66°33’ degrees, this is the hemisphere’s northernmost limit where you can have 24 hours of continuous sunlight (21 December) or darkness (21 June). Given that the further south you go, the more sea ice you come across, try to travel later in the season for more favourable ice conditions.

“I want to see penguins in action”

With 17 different species of penguin found on the sub-Antarctic Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, sightings are guaranteed throughout the season. But if you want to see the animals in full swing visit in January and early February: most species lay their eggs in early spring, so as penguin chicks begin hatching and their parents head to the water in search of food for the young ones, you will see the colonies at their busiest.

“I want to make as many landings as possible”

All travellers to Antarctica want to spend as much time on shore as possible – but this is the world’s coldest and windiest continent, so all landings and excursions are subject to weather conditions. To maximise your chances, avoid going too early in the season: as summer progresses, bays will be free of snow, more landing sites will be accessible and the lack of ice will allow for easier exploration.

“I want to follow in the footsteps of the great polar explorers”

Antarctica has drawn explorers for centuries and many voyages give you the chance to ‘revisit’ the continent’s history. Depending on the itinerary, sites you may visit include: Elephant Island, home to 22 of Shackleton’s men for four months, and Grytviken, the explorer’s last resting place; the historic huts of Scott and Borchgrevink; and Dundee Island, where the first flight to Antarctica landed.

“I want to experience the midnight sun”

The midnight sun is a natural phenomenon observed south of the Antarctic Circle, as well as north of the Arctic Circle, when the sun doesn’t set, resulting in consecutive 24-hour periods of daylight. In Antarctica, it reaches its peak on the day of the summer solstice (21 December), when the pole has its closest angle to the sun, so if your trip is around this date it will be bathed in permanent sunlight.

“I want to avoid seeing too many other ships around”

Throughout the season, all ships work hard to avoid each other in order to offer the best possible experience. However, if you like the idea of having Antarctica (almost) all to yourself, plan your trip towards the end of the season. March is the last summer month, when days start getting shorter (though you can still expect up to 15 hours of daylight) and temperature gradually drops. However, you will notice fewer vessels around so, if you think Antarctica has become too popular, it is the quietest time of the year to visit.

“I am looking for extreme adventure”

Shore excursions are no longer the only way you get to experience Antarctica. If you want to give yourself a challenge, you can explore a pocket of the Antarctic Peninsula through hiking, snowshoeing or climbing. Alternatively, take to the water and go kayaking, snorkelling or even diving through the clear (but icy!) Antarctic waters. Some itineraries also include an option to camp on ice, while the truly adventurous can follow in Shackleton’s footsteps, crossing South Georgia from King Haakon to Stromness.

“I want to spot large groups of whales”

Antarctica is home to eight species of whale, which can be found throughout its waters during the summer months. Although seeing a whale breaching out of the sea never fails to amaze, February and early March are considered the peak time for ‘whale spotting’: in preparation for starting their migration north, the mammals travel in large pods, making the sightings all the more impressive.

“I want to go where very, very few go”

The remote Ross Sea, at the very heart of Antarctica, welcomes a limited number of visitors. Discovered by Sir James Clark Ross in 1842, it is the largest marine protected area on Earth but the window of opportunity to visit is very narrow and you must plan in advance: it is accessible only for two months every year, when the ice thaws, and most itineraries are about 30 days long. The voyage includes visits to the huts of Shackleton and Scott, as well as abundant wildlife encounters, such as Emperor penguin rookeries.

“I want to see the Aurora Australis in Antarctica”

Aurora Australis is the Southern Hemisphere’s equivalent of the Northern Lights but, because there is less land mass the further south you travel (and therefore fewer viewing spots) they are more elusive. They occur during the winter months (April-October), when Antarctica is off-limits, but if seeing them is high on your wish list, travel at the very end of the season and you may be lucky!

Why one visit to Mongolia is never enough

When I think about Mongolia I conjure up open spaces and vast steppes with views to distant mountain ranges, and the friendly horse-riding nomads who live in yurts and tend to their mixed herds of goats, sheep, cattle and camels during the summer months. This is an accurate overview, yet there is so much more to discover about this amazing landlocked alpine country that it remains, for me, an exciting, remote and unspoiled destination.

I first visited nine years ago, trekking in Western Mongolia with a local botanist from the University of Ulaanbaatar.

With horsemen and camels carrying our gear, we ascended the side of a glacier and photographed on rocky screes some of the most exquisite high-altitude perennial plants I have ever seen.

I fell in love with Mongolia back then and vowed to return, however it took nine long years before I was in a position to assemble another group and set up a trek, this time around the forests and lakes of Central Mongolia. It was an astonishing experience.

The capital city had changed dramatically during those years, with new modern glass buildings amid the sturdy Soviet-era architecture and the precious remnants of an ancient Buddhist past. Once more we were focussing on the botany of the region, yet there were so many visual and cultural riches be embraced. 

Initially our vehicles took us cross country to a small township for few nights to celebrate the famous Naadam Festival. I had missed this annual spectacle the first time around and wasn’t sure quite what to expect – although I was told the locals dubbed it ‘the three games of men’: wrestling, archery and horse racing. 

We found ourselves in a comfortable modern hotel with excellent food and after lunch we wandered down to the showgrounds to find the entire town and surrounding villages had turned out in colourful national dress and in high spirits. I could never have imagined sitting with rapt fascination for hours, cheering with crowds as the burly (and scantily clad) wrestlers gradually eliminated each other in a contest that was as much about brain as brawn.

We rose before dawn to stand at the finishing line of a horse race where the jockeys we all under the age of thirteen. We were pleasantly surprised that there were now female archers in the competition, and that their skills were equally to the men. It was an unforgettable two days.

Then upwards we travelled to a high valley with seven lakes where we walked for days and camped in glorious locations exploring out in search on of new and interesting plants. The bird and animal life were also fascinating and we loved the herds of Mongolian horses that galloped around our campsites in the evenings, sticky-beaking as horses always do.

The lakes and forests captivated us as we walked, talking and learning so much from our local guide and botanist (also both women) and our enthusiastic support crew.

One night they treated us to a concert of local folk music around a bonfire. One of many magical moments. 

On our way back to the capital, to prepare for our flight home, we stopped in a National Park in search of the rare wild Petrowski’s horses that had become extinct in the wild, but have now been re-established from a breeding program using animals from our own Dubbo Zoo and a similar zoo in Germany. To see these rare creatures now back where they belong sent a shiver up my spine.

Mongolia, I’ll be back. 

Words by author, gardener and avid traveller Mary Moody, who will be escorting a botanical journey through Central Mongolia including the Naadam Festival.

Rhodo heaven in the Annapurnas

Words and images: Kathy Ombler

In my Wellington garden I have five rhododendrons. One is healthy. Every year it blooms a lurid pink; a shade I don’t even like much. The other four are struggling, looking set to join several predecessors who for reasons unbeknown to not very green fingered me have long departed to rhodo heaven. Go well, I say.

Because last April I found that rhodo heaven. Close, in a way, to heaven itself, 3000 metres high on the Annapurnas, those grand Himalayan peaks that soar from sheer gorges and steep valleys, their lower slopes lined by terraces and dotted with blue-roofed villages, all linked by ancient, worn, stone-step pathways. That’s where I found rhododendron heaven; beneath the snowy summits entire forests, blazing red, pink, cerise and more, blended with white magnolias, and sweet-smelling daphnes.


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Our group of 9 trekkers was supported by a head guide, trekking guide, two cooks, six porters and a Sirdar (boss of the porters and cooks). From left: Prasant (guide), Kathy, Govinda (trekking guide) and Dhobra (Sirdar).

Trekking is big in Nepal, and Annapurna is one of the country’s biggest trekking regions. Popular routes climb to Annapurna Base Camp, or trail around the entire range on the Annapurna Circuit (now more of a half circuit given new air and jeep access to the town of Jomsom). Or they take a shorter hike to Ghorepani Village then climb with the pre-dawn crowds to capture the mountain sunrise from Poon Hill, the overwhelmed ‘Instagram’ spot of the region.

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Sunrise across the Himal. Prominent on the left is sacred Machapuchare, or Fishtail, reportedly the home of Hindu god Shiva and banned from climbers.

During its long history of organising trekking tours throughout the Himalaya, World Expeditions has worked with local villagers and guides to develop itineraries away from these well beaten trails. For accommodation they have built relationships with remote farmers and lodge owners, and in places established their own, exclusive tented camps. Cooks travel with the groups. This lessens the risk of food-related illness, while their use of gas stoves avoids the need to cut rhodo forests to fuel cooking fires (increased trekking has increased demand for firewood here).

Plastic drink bottles are a no-no, everyday the guides boil water for trekkers to replenish their own refillable flasks or camel backs. The company hires local porters, and rewards them with both wages and trekking gear.

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Our porters climb through Ghorepani Village.

For the trekkers there are many positives: avoiding the masses, being kinder to the land, supporting local employment, opportunities to learn about local life, not getting sick and all the time of course enjoying that landscape drama; those massive white massifs and, draped around their lower flanks, the world’s largest rhododendron forest.

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At lower altitudes we trekked through cultivated terraces.

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Good morning Dhaulagiri (8,167m and the world’s 7th highest mountain). Looking across Kali Gandaki, the world’s deepest gorge, from Kopra community eco lodge.

 
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Rhododendron forests vie for attention with the Dhaulagiri massif.

Hiking in the Caribbean: Introducing the ‘Nature Island’ of Dominica

Waitukubuli National Trail is the first and only long-distance walking trail in the Caribbean

 

Dominica has a vast network of hiking trails that suit all interests and levels of ability. Most trails traverse through diverse natural habitats such as rainforest, montane thicket or elfin woodland, which makes the scale and diversity of hiking in Dominica unique to the Caribbean region.


World Expeditions has relaunched its tour featuring the island’s iconic Waitukubuli National Trail. Colin Piper, CEO Discover Dominica Authority, explains to us what makes the ‘Nature Island’ the top destination for a walking holiday in the Caribbean.

The start of the Waitukubuli National Trail at Scotts Head in Dominica

 

Where exactly is Dominica?

Different from the similarly named Dominican Republic, English-speaking Dominica (pronounced 'Domineeka') is an island country in the West Indies, between Guadeloupe and Martinique. Although there is no direct service from the UK or Europe, the island is easy to reach. It is only a short flight from other popular Caribbean destinations such as Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbados, as well as the Express des Îles ferry, which connects Dominica with Martinique, Saint Lucia and Guadeloupe.

Hiking the Waitukubuli National Trail in Dominica

 

How is Dominica different from other islands in the Caribbean?

Dominica offers the ultimate alternative, secret Caribbean escape – with black sand beaches and mountainous landscape making the perfect place for trekking through breathtaking scenery and wild nature. Over the years it has differentiated itself as a holiday spot for adventure seekers, nature lovers and anyone who loves hiking in the Caribbean, an image that was firmly established following the launch of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

Hiking the Waitukubuli National Trail in Dominica

 

What is the Waitukubuli National Trail?

The Waitukubuli National Trail is the first and only long-distance walking trail in the Caribbean (Waitukubuli is the name of Dominica in the indigenous Kalinago language, meaning “tall is her body”). It is 115 miles long and crosses the entire island, from the southern fishing village of Scott’s Head to the scenic Cabrits National Park on the northern coast. It is divided into 14 segments of various lengths and difficulty, however each section is designed to be completed in one day.

Hiking the Waitukubuli National Trail in Dominica

 

What is the scenery like while trekking?

There is a reason why Dominica is nick named the ‘Nature Island’. Along the way, hikers encounter a varied canvas of contrasting landscapes, from rugged mountains to green rainforests, dramatic gorges to spectacular waterfalls, and coastal cliffs to rivers with crystal clear waters. Along the island’s trekking paths, you might spot endemic Amazonian parrots native to Dominica – the Sisserou and Jaco – along with over 150 other colourful species.

Hiking the Waitukubuli National Trail in Dominica

 

What is the weather like?

Dominica has two seasons: dry (November-May) and rainy (June-October); however, rain can be expected any time of the day, even during the dry season. But these are short bursts of warm, tropical rain (the locals call it “liquid sunshine”), after which the sun comes out again. It is the reason why Dominica is one of the most verdant islands in the Caribbean.

Waterfalls on the Waitukubuli National Trail in Dominica

 

Are there any other popular treks on the island?

If you love hiking in the Caribbean, Dominica is a walker’s paradise with a vast network of hiking tracks throughout the island. If your heart is set on exploring on foot, Dominica’s signature walk is the day hike to the Boiling Lake. It is not part of the route of the Waitukubuli National Trail and will take you through the volcanic caldera of the Valley of Desolation to the second largest boiling lake in the world!

Day trek to Dominica's boiling lake through the Valley of Desolation

 

What other activities can you do in Dominica?

There is certainly more than trekking in Dominica! You can go snorkelling along the Champagne Reef, named for the bubbling waters rising from volcanic thermal springs on the ocean floor; enjoy a boat trip down the mangrove-lined Indian River, where scenes of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies were filmed; take a Caribbean cooking class and learn how herbs and fresh organic products are used in Caribbean cuisine; or take a short boat ride to see the world's largest toothed animal, the mighty sperm whale, in its natural habitat along Dominica’s west coast.

Whale watching in Dominica

 

Any surprising facts about the island?

Dominica has, of all the Caribbean islands, got the largest indigenous Carib Indian population, named Kalinago. If you would like to learn more about the island’s unique heritage and experience the local culture, make sure you visit Touna Kalinago Heritage Village. Founded by a former Kalinago chief, it is a living village that was created to introduce visitors to the traditions and customs of Dominica’s Kalinago people.

Dominica is the only island in the Caribbean with an indigenous Carib Indian population, named Kalinago

 

>>> If you feel inspired to go hiking in the Caribbean, read more about how you can Trek the Waitukubuli National Trail.

>>> If you want to get a taste of the 'Nature Island’ but are not ready yet to Trek the Waitukubuli National Trail, you can visit Dominica as part of Caribbean Experience: Antigua, Montserrat, Dominica & St. Lucia, the first-ever island hopping trip offered by World Expeditions in the Caribbean.   

 

ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF DISCOVER DOMINICA AUTHORITY

Will it help to offset the carbon footprint of my holiday?

Unsure about the benefits of offsetting the carbon emissions from your holidays? Read on for the counter arguments to the sceptics.

In November 2019, we launched our 100% carbon offset initiative. We know that many people are unsure about the role of carbon offsetting in the bigger picture of global decarbonisation. Often this leads to scepticism. With assistance from the experts at South Pole, read on to find out how we address common arguments often made to discredit carbon offsetting.

#1: We should be reducing carbon emissions, not offsetting them!

Reducing emissions must be the first step in any responsible carbon offsetting programme. However, because we don’t live in a zero emissions world (...yet!) and some carbon is produced by almost everything we do, offsets can help bridge the gap between today and a low-carbon tomorrow.

Low-carbon alternatives to flying, electricity generation and other activities associated with travel and tourism are being developed. But for now, the two approaches – reduce and offset – must work together, not against each other.

Our Positive Impact Projects, such as the Hydropower China Project, supports local communities through employment. |  <i>South Pole</i> Our Positive Impact Projects support conservation projects in Victoria's Annya State forest land in Australia. |  <i>South Pole</i> Our Positive Impact Projects, such as the Bac Lieu Vietnam Wind Project, supports local economies and their sustainable development. |  <i>South Pole</i> Our Positive Impact Projects, such as the Kariba REDD+ forest protection in Zimbabwe, supports local communities and their sustainable development. |  <i>South Pole</i> Our Positive Impact Projects, such as the Kariba REDD+ forest protection in Zimbabwe, supports local communities and their sustainable development. |  <i>South Pole</i> Our Positive Impact Projects, such as the Hydropower Project in China, supports local economies and their sustainable development. |  <i>South Pole</i> Our Positive Impact Projects, such as the Bac Lieu Vietnam Wind Project, supports local economies and their sustainable development. |  <i>South Pole</i>
 

#2: By paying somebody else to reduce emissions, carbon offsets enable ‘guilt-free’ pollution

The argument here is that carbon offsets provide a ‘licence to pollute’ – allowing individuals and organisations that purchase them and carry on with business as usual without changing their emissions-intensive behaviours.

However, this is not true: accepting a price on carbon creates an incentive to reduce emissions to keep costs down. On top of this, there are many other benefits aside from emission reductions that carbon compensation projects create. We’ll come to those later.

#3: Carbon offsets remove the incentive to reduce emissions or decarbonise carbon-intensive activities, like flying

To offset unavoidable emissions, organisations can buy carbon credits. As more and more people, businesses and industries adopt emission reduction strategies, the price of carbon is driven up further. Pricing carbon helps incentivise emission reductions and drives innovations in low-carbon technology for emissions-intensive activities – like flying.

Speaking of flying, a new source of demand for carbon offsets is imminent as the aviation industry will be required to cap emissions at 2020 levels – as set out by the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA, learn more about that here). This will drive up the price of carbon even further, thereby encouraging the industry to develop low-carbon alternatives to flying.

#4: Carbon offsetting schemes do not work and emission reductions may have happened regardless

This argument is most commonly made about the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which was established by the Kyoto Protocol to allow countries to meet emission reduction targets by purchasing carbon credits – called ‘certified emission reductions’ (CERs) – from projects in emerging economies.

The CDM has been scrutinised because its actual effect on global emission levels is hard to prove. Some argue that the emission reductions claimed under the scheme would have occurred even without it. This is where the concept of ‘additionality’ comes in.

Additionality is a mandatory component for carbon offsetting projects. It ensures that emission reductions claimed by projects are actually ‘additional’ to what would occur in a ‘business as usual’ scenario. Moreover, the CDM and standards that have followed – like Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Gold Standard – have been subject to ongoing review for over a decade to ensure additionality is achieved. As a result, methodologies and verification procedures are continually improved.

What further is indisputable is the billions of dollars in investment that the CDM and carbon markets drive into climate action. The CDM has thousands of registered climate protection and renewable energy projects, which would never have been established without the finance created by the carbon markets. The CDM also provides a framework for continuing climate action; the Paris Agreement includes a similar mechanism that will allow countries to meet their nationally determined contributions using offsets: Article 6.

#5: Emission reduction projects are bad for local communities

It is unfortunately true that there have been reported cases where emission reduction projects have had negative consequences for local communities. However, not all carbon credits are created equal and these cases are the exception, not the norm.

The best way to ensure that carbon compensation does not affect communities negatively is by doing the research. Source for example carbon credits from reputable project developers with projects certified by robust, best practice standards.

World Expeditions Travel Group purchases carbon credits from leading sustainability solutions provider and project developer, South Pole. All of South Pole’s climate protection projects are certified under robust certification standards like the Gold Standard and VCS. Besides, community engagement is a key step in the project development process. First of all, projects must be approved by local stakeholders in both the development and implementation phases. On top of that community consultation is performed on an ongoing basis throughout monitoring and verification cycles. Not only do these projects reduce emissions – they also create real, positive co-benefits for the local communities in which they operate.

The bottom line 

So, while we agree that carbon compensation is not the solution to climate change, it is an important step in the right direction. It’s a step that we can take right now to drive finance into climate protection projects and help bridge the gap between today and a low-carbon future.

When you travel with World Expeditions you can do so with the knowledge that we have calculated the emissions produced by your land arrangements. And this does not come at any additional cost to our travellers. 

For every kilogram of carbon produced, we invest money on your behalf into projects that reduce or remove carbon elsewhere.

We compensate for the carbon footprint associated with all trips offered by World Expeditions (including our other specialist brands, World Youth Adventures, Australian Walking Holidays, Tasmanian Expeditions, Great Canadian Trails and Adventure South).

How are the carbon emissions from my holiday offset?

The first – and most important – step is to reduce the emissions produced by our trips to begin with. When developing your itinerary, ingrained into the process is an investigation of the least carbon intensive mode of transport or accommodation available on the ground. Once we have identified that option, and with safety considerations met, we use it. However, no matter how carbon conscious we all are, travel invariably has a carbon footprint – whether it be from road transport or electricity from accommodations. To help address this, we compensate for the remaining unavoidable emissions by financing emission reduction projects around the world.

Positive Impact Projects you will support

We currently support these four renewable energy and reforestation projects by offsetting our carbon footprint:

Additional sources:

   •   You've just bought yourself an active holiday, and wonder if carbon offsetting the flight will help? Read the article here
   •   Vogue Australia (25 November 2019): "Carbon offsetting is the new black"
   •   What are carbon credits? Watch this video by South Pole

Trekking into the long-forbidden Kingdom of Mustang

A new road to Upper Mustang is near completion, meaning things in the region will change dramatically. Here's why now is the time to visit.

People from all walks of life are drawn to Nepal to experience the incredible Himalaya but very few have stepped foot into the once-forbidden Tibetan Kingdom, Upper Mustang.

A remote and isolated high-altitude desert north of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna, the small kingdom regarded as Nepal's "Little Tibet", is home to charming rustic villages, farmlands of barley and buckwheat, Buddhist monks, women in beautiful and unique traditional dress, untouched gompas, ancient forts and palaces, nomad camps and rugged mountain landscapes flanked by snowy peaks.

“It’s one of the last places to find pure Tibetan Buddhist culture, which makes Mustang a really special destination,” says veteran trekker Margie Thomas, who has been leading treks to the region since 2014.

Tourism is strictly controlled and limited, with $50USD-a-day permits (for a minimum of 10 days) required to enter Upper Mustang. Consequently, you see very few tourists heading up there even at festival times; a rare gem in the Nepalese Himalayas.

Incredible views of the Kali Gandaki as you make your way into Upper Mustang |  <i>Margie Thomas</i>

“I think it makes it for a much more authentic experience. You are very much immersed in the local psyche,” says Margie.

“You’re included in what’s going on locally, so nothing’s over-run by Westerners or tourists with big camera lenses pushing locals out of the way, that sort of thing, which to me is pretty special anywhere in the world these days.”

Inside the forbidden kingdom

The greatest attraction, according to Margie, is the fact that very little has changed within the kingdom, which maintains a traditional way of life and unique Tibetan Buddhist culture dating back centuries.

“There are three main gompas inside the walled city of Lo Manthang, one of them is called Thubchen gompa. It’s a massive Buddhist assembly hall, and I have never seen anything like it in all my travels in the Himalaya. Thubchen Gompa has been painstakingly restored over several decades, and the wall paintings there are unbelievable,” says Margie.

Private puga at Tsarang Gompa in Mustang |  <i>Margie Thomas</i>

“Millions of dollars have been spent on this restoration, and I’ve been fortunate to get to know some of the head restorers and count them as friend, including the wonderful Italian art restorer and conservationist, Luigi Fieni. Luigi is a passionate, enthusiastic Italian who has overseen and driven this project for the American Himalayan Foundation for 20 years. He takes my clients around, gets them up the scaffolds, shows them exactly how all the work’s been done and takes us to the backroom where they’re mixing the paints.”

“They use mineral paints so they’re mixing up things like lapis lazuli and other semi-precious stones in the age-old tradition. They buy these stones from all around the world, grind them up and use them to restore these sacred wall paintings – it’s absolutely incredible detailed work which many local Lobas have been trained by Luigi to undertake.”

Loba restorers at Thubchen |  <i>Margie Thomas</i>

Another highlight is exclusive access into ruins of an old royal palace in Ghami.

“It took four years before I was invited to visit  that old palace,” Margie explains, “but when we went in there were incredible paintings on the walls, which have been there for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years… it’s just gobsmacking.”

Travelling by Tibetan pony

Upper Mustang is horse territory, and riding unique Tibetan ponies is the way people in Mustang have moved around for centuries.

Beautifully decorated in traditional Tibetan blankets and handwoven bridals, riding the traditional Tibetan ponies does not require previous horse-riding experience and all ponies are sure-footed and beautifully trained. Their pony men bring a wealth of experience with them.

Clients approach pass on horseback |  <i>Margie Thomas</i>

“We usually use the horses for the long uphill hauls and get off at the pass and walk down, or when crossing rivers. It really adds an incredible dimension; the colour, the way the horses look and you’re also elevated and relaxed so you’re not watching your feet all the time. You can just daydream a bit, look at the landscape, and take photos. The horses have their pecking order, and they all just calmly trot along in a group.”

As described by Margie, riding through that landscape is like riding through rural Tibet a thousand years ago. You take the ponies on a day trip up to Chosar, riding from Lo Manthang to Chosar on the Upper Mustang Pony Trek trip.

“The pony men also add a great deal of richness to the trip because they become your friends along the way and you learn a lot about their life, what their aspirations are and what their families have done. There have been pony men and horsemen in those families for generations,” says Margie.

“We have one pony man for every two clients, so we are very well looked after, and every client has their own horse. You can get on and off that horse as often as you like. Some of the clients have said that they want to walk the whole way, but believe me, they didn’t because the horses are just fantastic fun.”

A new route in Upper Mustang

With a new road leading up to Upper Mustang almost complete, Margie predicts that things in the region will change dramatically. Now is most definitely the time to visit.

“That road will run from China to Nepal and beyond to the Indian border, so that’s going to have a huge impact… but still there are ways to get off the road.”

“With World Expeditions, we’ve refined the itinerary and instead of following the usual trekking route we are going way out to the east now, via remote settlements like Yara and Luri where there are no vehicles. It’s quite a strenuous trek on the way back, but you are getting way off the beaten track and have the horses as backup on the long uphill hauls.”

Published 31 December 2019.

On the couch with Margie Thomas: Nepal’s Upper Mustang

One of the last places on earth to find untouched Tibetan Buddhist culture is in Upper Mustang. It’s a unique corner of the Nepalese Himalaya. Here’s why this region and its people hold a special place in Margie’s heart.

Veteran trekker Margie Thomas has undertaken numerous treks in the Nepal and Indian Himalaya, but Upper Mustang is an area that has captured her heart time and time again.

“Upper Mustang is just so different from anywhere else in the Himalaya. It’s sort of similar to Ladakh but is far more untouched, and far, far fewer tourists go there.”

Where it all began: first impressions of Mustang

Lonely Planet author Stan Armington, who was one of the first Westerners to go into Mustang when it opened its borders and an old friend of Margie’s, invited her to visit Mustang with him back in August 2013 and it left her spellbound.

It was really like one of the last bastions of pure Tibetan Buddhist culture outside Tibet.

"Because it’s just 40 kilometres inside the border of Nepal and Tibet, it's remained untouched by the Chinese as there was no way that they could infiltrate and breakdown the culture. So, there’s a rich Tibetan Buddhist culture up in Lo Manthang.”

“It was an amazing trek up there," Margie recalls. "We trekked all the way up along the Kali Ghandaki, the deepest gorge in the world, and across a breathtakingly beautiful remote high-altitude desert... The countryside was absolutely spectacular, and we visited many small settlements, villages and nomad camps including the old royal capital of Tsarang, on the way to Lo Manthang.”

“It was summer, so the harvest was on. So, in this vast, barren landscape there were fields of pink and green and mustard... it was so beautiful.”

Stunning views are to be found at every turn on our Upper Mustang Horse Trek |  <i>Sandra Shrubb</i>

Upper Mustang opened its doors to visitors in 1992; however, this isolated and remote northern region still remains largely unexplored by foreigners.

I think the great attraction is that, up until last year, you really saw very little change from the 14th century.

"Lo Manthang and much of upper Mustang is as it was; hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. I just do not see that anymore. It’s also because its cultural horizons focus toward Tibet, rather than Kathmandu. The lack of tourists is another big plus; things have changed slowly up there.”

Completely captivated by the culturally rich and deeply spiritual place, Margie was determined to revisit Upper Mustang and within a year she returned for a second time, taking a trekking group with her. This time in the company of Australian/Tibetan musician Tenzin Choegyal, whose family had escaped from Tibet when he was a small child. They retraced her first trip and, at Lo Manthang, arranged for Tenzin to perform for the locals inside the walled city.

“All the locals came to hear Tenzin’s concert and they absolutely loved it. It was a beautiful night in the walled city, and the King and Queen were looking down from their window over the village square, listening to Tenzin’s haunting music. It was quite magical.”

It was Margie’s extraordinary journeys among these remote communities and her experiences in such a relatively untouched region that inspired her to continue to trek to Lo Manthang with World Expeditions, which she has been leading annually since 2017.

Margie is looking forward to returning with a newly devised and rarely trekked route on her Upper Mustang Pony Trek in 2020.

“There are some long hard days – eight-hour days – so it’s not a soft option. You’ll get the best of both worlds. You’ll have a remote trek, particularly with this new route coming back through Luri and Yarra and out through Tetang and Chhusang on the banks of the Kali Gandaki. Thankfully, there are no vehicles out there.”

The trek is graded a Level 5 by World Expeditions, which is the same as a trek to Everest Base Camp… but you’ll almost have the place to yourself. You might only see a dozen other tourists.

Meeting the royal family

Margie’s connections extend to that of royalty – the nephew of the Last King of Mustang, Tsewang Jonden Bista.

“Tsewang, being part of the royal family, has been wonderful in opening doors for us that very few tourist have been opened for, so we’ve had access to all sorts of unique, off-limit places and old palaces.”

Private puga at Tsarang Gompa in Mustang |  <i>Margie Thomas</i>

“The experience has been quite remarkable; going into his home and meeting other members of his family. The King – although not recognised by the Nepalese government, is revered by the Lobas in Upper Mustang. We met him and his son on our previous trek, so again, we had an insight into royal life and into many aspects of the villagers’ lives, which just aren’t accessible to other travellers.”

Charitable support for a Chosar school

Behind each trip Margie's embarked on to Mustang, she would raise funds for a little school out in Chosar, located about two hours northeast of Lo Manthang. The school provides free education and food for around 25 students who are from very poor and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Village women in rarely seen traditional dress worn at festival times, Chosar village, Upper Mustang. |  <i>Margie Thomas</i>

“I was enamoured by then, and what happened on that trip was I got to know more local people and I could see the need up there for support, particularly for the children and for education. Many of the children just know the local dialects, so no knowledge of Hindi or Nepali, sometimes, let alone English. Without those language skill they really are hampered in terms of employment later on.”

“I talked to World Expeditions and said, what can we do? Could I put a group together and raise funds through the World Expeditions Foundation? And that’s what I’ve been doing every year since."

We’ve raised significant funds over the years. We usually average about $10,000 (AUD), but in 2019, we’ve raised more than $13,000.

“We received one generous donation of $2000 from a family trust and with that money we put solar panels on a hostel (Himalayan Children's Care Home) for children from Upper Mustang. 75 children now have access to hot water. They’re down in Pokhara but believe me, it gets very cold during winter in Pokhara. Previously the children had cold showers or a weekly bathe in the river. So people have been incredibly generous in making this happen.”

In addition to these projects, Margie’s philanthropic efforts have helped provide funds for female students at a small nunnery in Tsarang, for Amchis (traditional Tibetan medics and healers) who provide essential support for residents in these remote areas, as well as provide an annual donation to the cave monastic school at Gharpu.

“The main benefits I’ve seen is in the confidence in the children at the Chosar school. Their English language skills have grown enormously, because they’ve been able to employ better teachers and more teachers, and bringing tourists there regularly also helps because they’re interacting with Westerners and practicing. The confidence in those children through better education has been really the most remarkable change I think.”

So, what's Margie’s advice for travellers to get the most out of their travels?

“An open mind, an open heart, along good sense of humour are the top three, definitely. It’s hard not to have those in Nepal because the people are so wonderful… Just open yourself to the experience. To quote Stan Armington, ‘Nepal is here to change you, you’re not here to change Nepal’.”

Jordan, a cinematic landscape

Want to experience Mars on Earth like Matt Damon in The Martian; marvel at the magical land of 'One Thousand and One Nights' like Disney’s Aladdin; or to charter your own epic desert adventure in the same location as the Star Wars IX movie? Here are five of the best adventure tour ideas to take in Wadi Rum's mesmerising landscapes – as seen on the big screen.

Walk the best sections of the new Jordan Trail

The recently completed Jordan Trail is a continuous 400-mile trekking route that traverses the entire country through diverse landscapes and terrain, from rugged cliffs, beautiful forests and enchanting ‘wadis’.  From the forested Ajlun Reserve in the North to the crystal waters of the Red Sea in the South, the trail's breathtaking scenery is interspersed with archaeological monuments that showcase the country’s illustrious past.

Breathtaking views from the summit of Jabal Umm ad Dami in the Wadi Rum |  <i>Sue Badyari</i>

This Jordan Trail Highlights trip allows those short on time to experience some of the best parts of the Jordan Trail, including climbing Jabal Um Ad Dami, the highest peak in Jordan, where you will be rewarded with majestic views of Wadi Rum’s dramatic desert landscapes across to Saudi Arabia in the distance.

Explore Jordan from north to south on two wheels

Following a mix of quiet roads, scenic trails, dirt tracks and even caravan paths, Jordan by bike takes in some of the country’s most sought-after visitor experiences – from covering yourself in mud and floating on the Dead Sea to spending a full day at Petra and sleeping under the stars at a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum.

The Temple of Hercules  sits above the city of Amman |  <i>Jordan Tourism Board</i>

Further highlights include enjoying scenic views from the summit of Mount Nebo (where Moses looked across at the Promised Land), riding to Dana Biosphere (Jordan’s largest nature reserve), admiring 2,000-year-old frescoes at the little known Little Petra (discovered comparatively recently - in 2010), taking in the vibrant atmosphere of capital Amman and relaxing on a boat ride at the Red Sea.

Spend the night at a futuristic dome in the heart of Wadi Rum

Are you looking to sleep somewhere more memorable than the four walls of a hotel room on your next trip? Experience Jordan’s ‘Valley of the Moon’ in comfort, sleeping under a blanket of stars at a futuristic dome in the heart of Wadi Rum, surrounded by remote sand dunes and rugged mountains.

Martian Dome Tent external view Martian Dome Tent balcony Martian Dome Tent views from the room
 

Combining modern style comforts with an authentic desert experience, the living quarters of each dome tent feature individual air-conditioning, private bathroom, hot water as well as a separate viewing terrace.

Cross Jordan from Dana to Wadi Rum on foot

Jordan’s landscape is astonishing and the best way to fully appreciate this biblical land is on foot. The route from Dana to Petra is considered one of the finest multi-day hikes in the region. In the company of a local guide and Bedouin crew, you will trek from Dana Nature Reserve through remote canyons and alongside near-vertical gorges, experiencing wilderness camping in breathtaking oases.

Boulders in Dana Nature Reserve, Jordan

At Wadi Rum, climb to the famous rock arch at Burdah Bridge and trek through the rugged Rakebak Canyon – harsh and inhospitable, the raw but spectacular landscape of the land of Lawrence of Arabia is superb for exploration.

Tick off the very best of Jordan on a whirlwind tour

The Kingdom of Jordan has an overwhelming array of historical and geographical sites. Joining in capital Amman and with convenient daily, year-round departures, our Best of Jordan itinerary is ideal for anyone short on time as it ticks all the highlights of the country in just five days. Tour the dramatic Wadi Rum by jeep, a favourite location for international film productions, from Lawrence of Arabia to Star Wars; explore the iconic monuments of the Red Rose City of Petra  made famous by Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; see yourself floating in the world famous Dead Sea, the lowest point (on dry land) on Earth; and walk along the ‘Street of Columns’ as you wander through the preserved Greco-Roman ruins of Jerash.

First glimpse of Petra's Treasury (Al-Khazneh) |  <i>Alan Fieldus</i> Floating in the Dead Sea, Jordan |  <i>Jordan Tourism Board</i> The well preserved Roman city of Jerash, Jordan |  <i>Jordan Tourism Board</i>
Braving the snows of Mount Kilimanjaro

The wind is so strong, so loud, that I can’t even hear myself gasping for air. My hood flaps and slaps against my face as the wind tries to tear the clothing right off my body. A constant barrage of frozen icy pellets batters my clothing.

My nose and cheeks, the only exposed part of my body, sting in the freezing conditions, although both are fast going numb in the biting cold. And all around it is pitch black, save for our headlamps, trying desperately to illuminate the way ahead. But all I can see is a swirling wall of white. I pull my head further back into my hood. The temperature has plunged below -15°C, but with this gale, the windchill must be twice as cold.

My headlamp illuminates the two nearest climbers, Christophe (Tophe) and Abraham. They sit slumped in the snow, their hands stuffed into their armpits to stay warm. A little further down the slope, I can just make out the three others; Kim, Seraphine and Musa. But the wind whips up the snow so much that they appear as little more than dark shadows. Their headlamps are pointed downward; they, too, are huddled together against the relentless wind.

I’m the only one of our group to remain standing. Sitting down would expend too much energy. Besides, I just want to keep going. What’s the point of just hanging around in this weather? It isn’t getting any better.

A pea sized chunk of ice smacks against my sunglasses. I know there are others on this mountain. Somewhere, out there. But we haven’t seen any other headlamps for a while. I peer up and down the slope. Nothing.

How far into these swirling depths could I really see anyway, I wonder? Have we wandered off the trail? Our lead guide, Abraham, seemed to know where we going. But then, how could he really know the way, given the white-out conditions?  I guess the only way is up, I resolve.

A sudden intense gust of wind unbalances me, and forces me to take step backward to avoid toppling over. Finally Abraham climbs to his feet. “Time to keep moving,” he yells. Despite being only a few metres away, his voice is quickly is lost, carried away in the wind. The others sluggishly climb to their feet; together we continue our slow progression upward. With nothing to do but inch our way ahead, my mind wanders. Just a few days ago, our adventure had started out in such glorious sunshine.

The adventure begins

A week earlier, Tophe (a high school buddy), Kim (a friend from university) and I had all arrived separately in the central African nation of Tanzania. Now, we all sat together in a hotel bar at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro – Africa’s highest peak, at 5895 metres – deep in conversation with Abraham about our impending climb up the mountain.

The three of us had joined a World Expeditions six-day summit climb of Kili, approaching via the rarely-frequented Rongai Route. I was the group’s least experienced, having never climbed much beyond 4000 metres. But for the others, too, this climb would take them higher than they’d ever been. Despite having read the climb’s track notes, we still had dozens of unanswered questions to pepper Abraham with.

“How cold will it be on the summit?”
“Will we be able to breathe?”
“Will we suffer a pulmonary edema?”

Abraham responded to our concerns with the calm of a man who’d heard these questions many times before. And he had. At 45 years of age, he’d spent more than half his life working on the mountain.

Starting at age 18, he’d worked his way up from porter to cook to assistant guide to lead guide, improving his English and guiding skills along the way. We were at least in safe hands.

At 8am the following morning, we climbed into a 4WD for the two-hour drive to the climb’s actual start. The weather was warm and glorious. We wore shorts and t-shirts, and took photos of the bulbous volcanic summit of Kilimanjaro.

Roughly 80% of the mountain’s famed snows have melted over the last century, and its glaciers face extinction.

Looking at Kili now – on this balmy day, with the summit bathed in sun and just a small, almost forlorn patch of snow splashed across one slope – there was no reason for us to suspect this unhappy thaw wouldn’t continue. Little did we know.

Rongai Gate

When we reached Rongai Gate (1910m), our hike's start, the scene before us wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. A small army (16 to be exact) of porters, cooks and guides were busily sorting, weighing and packing gear for several groups departing at the same time. And then I learnt, no, all this – the pots, pans, gas cylinders, portable toilet, etc – was just for us.

Abraham explained that while climbing Kili is possible with far smaller entourages, with Tanzanian unemployment hovering around 70%, locals need the work.

It’s lucrative, too; the wages paid during our six-days of hiking roughly equate to several months of paid work elsewhere. It all delivers significant financial benefit to workers’ families. Abraham is a case in point; his wages earned on the mountain allowed all his children to graduate from high school, with two completing university.


Acclimitisation

The first few days were uneventful and relatively easy. We first passed through farms – grain, corn and banana plantations – before entering temperate forest, where monkeys would peer down on us from high in the trees. Eventually, the forest gave way to smaller scrubby bushes and then ever-starker moorlands. These early days were short, with just three to five hours of actual walking, often at what felt like an excruciatingly slow pace.

“Pol-ee, pol-ee” (slowly, slowly) our guides would yell at us as they tried to maximise the time we had for acclimatisation. We climbed above 3500 metres on our second night, and by our third night at Mawenzei Tarn (4330m) I surpassed my highest previous altitude.

The vegetation was now limited to low scrubby bushes and spiky and ragged grasses. Huge swathes of the mountainside were bare dirt and rock. Then the sun disappeared behind the clouds. We never saw her again, at least not until we came off the mountain.

The rain started soon after. Just beyond Mawenzi Tarn, we undertook an additional 300-metre acclimatisation climb. The altitude was getting to me. By the time we stopped, beneath the stunning Hans Meyer Peak, I thought my head was going to explode. It felt like a hammer was being taken to my temples.

Despite the spectacular surrounds, all I could think about was getting to lower ground to ease the unbearable pounding. That night, Abraham suggested I start taking Diamox (a blood thinning tablet that helps alleviate the effects of altitude). Why had I waited so long? By the next morning the headaches had vanished, never to reappear.

The night before the night to remember

While we amused ourselves around camp at Mwenzi Tarn, the weather worsened. Constant drizzle became a torrent of rain, hail and sleet. Our camp became a labyrinth of small rivers. Mounds of slushy hail piled up on the ground.

By morning, conditions improved slightly and we crossed the final stretch of high desert terrain toward Kibo Hut (4700m). By now, all vegetation had disappeared.

We crossed an enormous expanse of volcanic ash, an endless plain that led us toward the base of the final crater.

Kibo Hut, nestled among boulders at the start of the steepest ascent up Kili, is where several of the different routes up the mountain all converge. This would be our final rest before our own summit attempt.

That night the three of us met Abraham for a final briefing. He explained that over the previous 24 hours, heavy snow had fallen on the mountain. While we’d slept in our tents at Mzenzi Tarn the night before, thirty or so climbers had set out for the summit; only four made it. The rest were forced back by the wind and snow and bitter cold.

Abraham wasn’t sure how we’d fair tonight. We were hikers, not mountain climbers. This meant no-one, including our guides, carried any specialised climbing gear. No crampons. No ice-axes. No ropes. We returned to our sleeping bags for a few hours of restless sleep, unsure what lay ahead.

The night to remember

Just before midnight, my alarm sounded. Even in our protected camp site, sheltered behind a huge boulder, wind battered our tents. I pulled on my down jacket and crawled out into the darkness.

Heavy snow was falling. And it wasn’t nice fluffy powder; instead, the snow fell as tiny, wind-blasted ice pellets. It seemed like we were being shot at with a BB gun.

We gathered together in a cooking tent for a last gear check. I tried forcing some food down – I’d completely lost my appetite days earlier – before we headed out into the storm.

A few other groups headed out simultaneously; we found ourselves behind a long line of climbers. It was slow going.

The path zigzagged up the mountain, although so much snow had already fallen it was difficult to know whether we were even on a path.

I simply placed my foot in the footprint of the climber in front and assumed that whoever was at the front knew where they were going.

As the minutes dragged into hours, for some of those ahead the wind, the snow, and the altitude became too much to endure; a slow but steady trickle of climbers pulled away from the group and turned around.

We eventually overtook the ever-dwindling group of climbers ahead, and found ourselves ascending alone, at times wading through deep, thigh-burning drifts of snow, at other times slip-sliding our way upwards on slick ice.

We moved agonisingly slowly. At one point, I slipped, fell forward, and dug my walking stick in the snow for balance. It snapped clean in half. I was spent. We were all spent.

The wind was screaming now. Even so, above the wailing maelstrom I could hear Kim yell, “I f***** can’t f***** see f***** anything!”

But she was not alone; none of us could see anything. Our sunglasses – our only eye protection – did little to stop the ice bullets snapping against our faces and eyes. Someone asked Abraham if we could rest. “No,” shouted Abraham. “No shelter here”. But soon after, he called a halt. Our group slumped to the ground. I was the only one to stay standing – sitting required too much energy.

Gilman's Point

Finally, the first light of morning arrived, illuminating our surroundings. We still couldn’t see much – everything was a white-out – but the outline of larger boulders started to appear in the swirling snow.

Around 8.30am, we climbed a final steep slope and large timber sign loomed before us: Gilman’s Point, 5685 metres. We’d reached the volcano’s crater.

From here, the summit was just a few kilometres away, a mere 210 metres in vertical gain. Up here, however, beyond all semblance of protection, the wind raged at new levels.

Full of fury, it roared headlong into anyone who dared stand upon the crater rim. Never have I experienced such power and force.

Abraham pointed in the direction of the way forward. I turned to look. The exposed flesh of my face felt like it was being bitten by thousands of ants as icy pellets blasted me. And I couldn’t see a thing.

Actually, that’s not true. What I could see was this: the wind literally tearing Musa’s poncho from his body, the shreds of blue nylon disappearing into the swirling snow.

Christophe and I retreated behind the sign. Abraham and Musa sought protection lower down, while Kim and Seraphine were yet to reach us. “Do you want to keep going?” I yelled. I was desperately keen to continue, despite the weather. We’d come all this way; the end was tantalisingly close.
 
“If you do,” Tophe shouted back.
“This is the worst weather I’ve ever been in,” I screamed.
Tophe just nodded, his head already buried in his jacket.

Another group of two climbers appeared with their guides. They stopped for a few minutes, snapped some photos and then disappeared back off the crater. When Kim reached us, we all took shelter behind a boulder. I asked Kim if she wanted to keep going. “No,” she said. “I can’t see anything. I’m freezing cold. I’m turning back.”

Abraham seemed torn. He knew I was keen to continue. But he also said there were upcoming sections with considerable exposure. “We don’t have the right gear,” he warned. “No crampons. No ropes.” He went on, explaining that a slip and a tumble could see things become quickly dire, with rescue in these conditions virtually impossible.

And so, at 5685 metres, the highest I’d ever climbed, we turned back. I knew this was the right decision. As clichéd as it sounds, the mountain will always be there. There’ll always be another day to summit. But deep down, I was shattered.

 

We’d travelled so far – flights, hotels, six days of hiking, thousands of dollars in costs – and now, with the end so near, we were turning back.

I wondered whether we’d (whether I’d) given up too easily. But I reconciled this with the conditions we’d faced. Continuing simply wouldn’t have been safe.

I’d been in this position before. So close, yet impossibly far. I’d have to wait for that other day. As we spent our last night on the mountain at Horombo Hut (3720m) returning via the Marungu route, we learned that not a single climber had reached the summit that day.

Abraham explained that in all his years of guiding, he’d never experienced conditions as bad as we had. Nor could he remember a time when no climbers were able to summit. The weather gods had not been kind.

The following morning, as we left the mountain, the sun came out and climbers once more were making their way toward Africa’s highest peak.

But for me, when I looked back up, I knew I had unfinished business. One day, I swore, I’d be back to summit Kilimanjaro.

Need to know: There are at least seven established routes up Kilimanjaro. The less-visited Rongai Route is an 8-day journey, including 6 days/5 nights on the mountain. All World Expeditions Kilimanjaro guides attend regular first aid training, including recognising and treating the adverse effects of altitude on the body. Although the actual hiking isn’t too difficult (moderate to challenging), the altitude is certainly a factor. (And as we discovered, very occasionally, so too the weather). The best time for climbing is June-July or September-February; we climbed mid-March.

Words by Roland Handel. This edited article is republished from Wild Magazine Australia Issue 172.

Top 10 under-the-radar adventure destinations for 2020

As we gear up to celebrate our 45th year of pioneering off the beaten track itineraries, discover what made our current list for the ultimate active holiday in 2020 in alternate destinations.

These little-known treks and historic trails are some of the biggest adventure secrets. You may be surprised what destinations make it into our top 10 most under-the-radar destinations for 2020.

Ethiopia's Simien Mountains

The Simien Mountains offer superb trekking with stunning scenery, imposing escarpments and the chance to spot unusual wildlife such as Gelada baboon; and it’s this combination of culture, history and natural beauty that places Ethiopia in our top 10.

Why it's under-the-radar? Few people realise the depth of history and beauty that define Ethiopia. The Simien Mountains, in particular, deliver a sense of isolation amidst a grand landscape punctuated with the calls of rare wildlife. Expect to see few trekkers on this wilderness trek.

 

How to best experience it: Our Ethiopia Simien Mountains and Beyond adventure, combines a 10-day camping-based trek among the region's spectacular escarpments with a journey across a land dotted with rock-hewn churches, medieval castles and ancient obelisks reflecting a culture dating back more than 3000 years.

Kyrgyzstan's Turkestan Range

This Central Asian region is emerging as an adventure traveller’s paradise and the picturesque Turkestan Range in Kyrgyzstan is going to be a magnet for active adventurers to the region. Often referred to as the 'Asian Patagonia' because of its stunning sheer rock formations and sense of true wilderness, the landscape is strewn with crystal clear glacier fed streams and lakes, lush fir tree forests and alpine meadows providing feed for herds of grazing yaks. Turkestan's mountains and valleys definitely deserve a spot on the podium.

Ridge between Dzhalgychy and Orto-Chashma gorges The Ak-Tash camp at 2,700m. The towering sheer rock peaks of Asan (4,230m), Usen (4,378m) and Piramidalnyi (5,509m)
 

Why it's under-the-radar? Entering the heart of the Pamir-Alay mountain system, the newly opened trail opens up this largely unexplored region. It traverses some of the region's most remote and unspoilt landscapes, where travellers can experience true solitude in its wild beauty.

How to best experience it: The 14-day Ak-Suu Turkestan Range Trek follows mountain trails through this beautiful area, with a backdrop of sheer rock, snow-capped walls and no one in sight.

Georgia & Armenia's Transcaucasian Trail

We've been saying for a while that the new Transcaucasian Trail is trekking’s next big thing. On the borderlands between Europe and Asia, the new Trail will extend more than 3000 kilometres (1875 miles), connecting more than 20 national parks, endless UNESCO listed sites and protected areas in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, collectively known as the Southern Caucasus.

The Trancaucasian Trail will introduce you to the real Georgia

Why it's under-the-radar? Few have stepped foot on this recently opened trail that is scenically stunning and historically fascinating.

How to best experience it: Already gaining applause from TIME Magazine and Forbes Magazine, the Transcaucasian Trail Hikes in Georgia and Armenia can be experienced separately or jointly.

China's Rainbow Mountains of Zhangye Danxia

Once again, it’s the combination of stunning natural landscapes and cultural and historical highlights of an overlooked region that put this destination on the list.

Why it's under-the-radar? You’ve heard of the Rainbow Mountains of Peru, or Ausangate Mountains, but probably not China’s Rainbow Mountains. With an equally astonishing range of colours, China’s Rainbow Mountains are relatively unknown and it’s this that places them in the top 10 list for 2020.

The Rainbow Mountains of China's Zhangye Danxia The towering rock formations of Binggou Danxia Geopark Zhangye Danxia, China's Rainbow Mountains Jiayu Guan and the Qilian Mountains The Qilian Mountains form the border between Qinghai and Gansu provinces.
 

How to best experience it: The 6-day Rainbow Mountains and the Mati Temple includes historical highlights such as the fortresses of the Southern Qilian Mountains, on the remote, western part of the Great Wall of China and the Mati temple carved in the Linsong Mountain.

Japan's Kumano Kodo

The dual pilgrim certificate, available in conjunction with the widely known Spanish Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail, is helping spread the word about Japan’s World Heritage Kumano Kodo pilgrim trails but, as yet, they remain largely off most international visitors’ itineraries.

Hikers on the cobble lined Nakahechi route Kumano Nachi Taisha and falls in the spring 'Haraido-oji', a purifying door on the approach to Kumano Hongu Grand Shrine Bathers enjoying the hot spring waters at Kawayu Onsen Hosshinmon-oji, a gate of spiritual awaking on the Kumano Kodo hike Panoramic views on the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Hike
 

Why it's under-the-radar? Approximately only about 200,000 people walk the Kumano Kodo trail each year, most of whom are Japanese. It remains relatively unknown internationally.

How to best experience it: The self-guided 10-day Kumano Kodo Coast to Coast Hike takes the pilgrim route and offers support of all logistics like accommodation and luggage transfers.

Jordan Trail

Another new trail, which loosely follows an ancient trade route stretching from Egypt to Aqaba and on to Damascus, is the recently completed Jordan Trail.

Why it's under-the-radar? As yet widely unknown, the 650 kilometre and 40 day trail crosses the entire country through diverse landscapes and terrain, from striking cliffs and rugged ‘wadis’ to archaeological monuments, placing this destination at the top of our list.

Wadi Rum's desert landscape at sunrise |  <i>Richard I'Anson</i>

How to best experience it: The 10-day Jordan Trail Highlights takes in some of the best section of the trail, as well as the country’s highest point, the ancient city of Petra, the world’s lowest point in the Dead Sea and the unforgettable Wadi Rum.

Newfoundland Canada’s East Coast Trail

Traversing towering cliffs and headlands, sea stacks, coves, and deep fjords, these natural sights give this destination its long-established reputation as one of the world’s most spectacular coastlines. The 300 kilometre (187 miles) trail is a series of 26 wilderness paths and is the ultimate eastern hiking experience in Canada.

Why it's under-the-radar? Not many realise the opportunities to explore more remote sections farther south such as beautiful Flamber Head Path and to the impressive sea arch at Berry Head. Walking the trail combines stunning scenery with opportunity to visit charming colourful coastal fishing villages and enjoy the hospitality of bay-side communities.

 

How to best experience it: The 10-day East Coast Trail takes in many of the trail’s highlights, providing transfers, guesthouse and B&B accommodation and luggage transfers. There is a real possibility of whale, puffins, moose, or iceberg sightings while on the trail; but encounters with genuine, story-telling local hosts are guaranteed!

Nepal's Gokyo region

Perhaps it was the widely distributed images of crowds of mountaineers on the high trails above Everest Base Camp earlier in the year that has stimulated fresh interest in alternative treks in the Everest region but, whatever the reason, we see it as a good thing.

Why it's under-the-radar? In spite of fresh interest, trails around the Gokyo Lakes remain the region’s biggest secret. The trek to Gokyo and up the Renjo La Pass, in particular, breaks away from the main Everest Base Camp trails and enters a picturesque and more tranquil valley, offering classic postcard views of snow-capped mountains and the vibrant turquoise waters of Gokyo Lake.

Amazing views as we trek above Gokyo Lake |  <i>Monika Molenda</i> Blue skies overhead as we approach the summit of Gokyo Ri |  <i>Angela Parajo</i> Happy group of trekkers atop of the Renjo La, Nepal |  <i>Scott Cardwell</i> Trekkers walking towards Renjo La trekking past first Gokyo lakes |  <i>Angela Parajo</i> Breathtaking mountain views from the top of the Renjo La |  <i>Angela Parajo</i>
 

How to best experience it: The 17-day Gokyo and the Renjo La trek is ranked by our staff as the best trek in the Everest region as it takes trekkers off the beaten path and to inspiring views of Mt Everest well away from the crowds.

Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail

When mentioning Nepal, it's hard not to note the epic 150-day Great Himalaya Trail which commences in the country's far east in the Kanchenjunga region and traverses the country to the high plateaus on the Tibetan borderlands in the far west. Along this 1700 kilometre trail (1063 miles), trekkers encounter some of the wildest and most remote mountain environments imaginable.

Having operated the Great Himalaya Trail for 10 consecutive years, we remain the only company globally to do so. Trekkers can see all of Nepal's 8000-metre peaks while baring witness to a village life where its culture has remained intact for centuries, earning it a deserving spot in the top 10.

Capturing the mountainscape along the GHT |  <i>Ken Harris</i> Trekking the early stages of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail |  <i>Ken Harris</i> Beautiful landscape while crossing the Thorong La on the Great Himalaya Trail |  <i>Ray Mustey</i> The elusive Red Panda spotted on trek along the Great Himalaya Trail |  <i>Ken Harris</i> Spectacular mountain views along the Great Himalaya Trail |  <i>Ken Harris</i> Early stages of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail |  <i>Ken Harris</i> Kanchenjunga South Base Camp |  <i>Michelle Landry</i>
 

Why it's under-the-radar? Because of the physical challenge involved in tackling a trek of this duration; nonetheless, it's a life-changing adventure. In such remote conditions, trekkers have unparalleled opportunities to meet locals who can go for months and sometime years without seeing overseas visitors.

How to best experience it: We’ve crafted seven stand-alone stages that can be completed individually or trekked together to make up the full traverse.

Pakistan's Karakoram Ranges

From K2 base camp, through the awe-inspiring Concordia ranges and to Gondogoro La, the Karakoram ranges reveal an unrivalled collection of what many describe as the most spectacular mountain scenery on earth.

Why it's under-the-radar? A just-launched trek to the inner Karakoram in Pakistan takes a route along the legendary Baltoro glacier to the '"throne room of the Gods". It's tough, rewarding and truly off-the-map.


How to best experience it:
Take on an expedition of a lifetime in the presence of mountaineering legends and highly experienced mountain guides and trekking crew. Our Ultimate K2 Trek and Karakoram Exploratory Trek offer fully-serviced wilderness camping, including specialist high altitude porters.

World Expeditions wins Best in Adventure Travel

In recognition of our sustained “Big Adventures, Small Footprint” travel philosophy we are absolutely thrilled to receive the Adventure Travel Wholesaler of the Year for 2019 at The Travel Awards in Sydney.

We dedicate this award to all the porters, trip leaders, sirdars, cooks, office staff, consultants and every single member of our global team who work tirelessly to ensure that our travellers receive the high-quality adventure travel holiday’s that we promise to them.

The timing of this award is serendipitous as we celebrate our 45th year of pioneering adventure next year and with the recent announcement that all our trips are 100% carbon offset as of November 2019.

World Expeditions wins Adventure Travel Wholesaler of the Year for 2019 at The Travel Awards in Sydney

Operations Manager, Sarah Higgins, who accepted the Award, said the culture of pioneering new adventures remained a focus at World Expeditions:

Since 1975, when we became the first Australian company to offer commercial trekking holidays in Nepal, we have continued pioneering adventure holidays all over the world.

"World Expeditions was the first company to offer walking holidays in Japan and Tibet and cycling in China, India and then Vietnam,” she said.

“In Australia, we pioneered rafting the Franklin River and trekking the Larapinta Trail, and our pioneering philosophy continues today with our constantly evolving range of remote treks in places like Pakistan and India and with our most challenging trip – the 150-day, 1600km Great Himalaya Trail across Nepal, departing next year for the 10th consecutive year.”

The Adventure Travel Wholesaler category recognises travel companies that package together unique adventure travel holidays to remote or exotic locations and/or taking part in physically challenging outdoor activities while on holiday and was judged by more than 50 of Australia’s most experienced travel industry alumni. It’s an honour to be acknowledged for the long-held policies we have in place to preserve the places we visit, so future travellers can also enjoy them.

World Expeditions crowned Best in Adventure Travel at Industry Awards

Among our many achievements and awards in the past 44 years, we are particularly proud of our:

   • Responsible Travel policies, including our porter welfare policies which help to raise the working standards of porters in Nepal; the development of our child safe travel policy; and our industry-leading Animal Welfare Code of Conduct.

   • 100% carbon offset adventures all of which support renewable energy and reforestation projects across the world.

   • Progression to eliminate single use plastic from our trips.

   • Community Project Travel programs giving travellers the opportunity to give back.

   • Charity brand, Huma Charity Challenge, raising over $6 million for Australian charities.

   • Youth brand, World Youth Adventures, giving thousands of students the opportunity to help underprivileged communities all over the world, following UN Sustainable Development Goals as guiding principles.

   • World Expeditions Foundation fundraising $70,000 towards delivered project works in Nepal.

Awards such as this provide a wonderful reminder to our whole team, and to those who choose to travel with us, that the path less travelled is, for us, the right path.

Best long-distance trails & treks around the world

Plan for a longer holiday, put your mind onto 'airplane mode' and seek out these remote places only accessible by foot at a more relaxed pace to truly connect with the wilderness.

It's all about travelling less and seeing more. Seeing more of the beautiful wildlife, admiring natural landscapes few others ever will, interacting with local communities who rarely see westerners and setting yourself on a path of self discovery and personal achievement, all while leaving a small environmental footprint on your BIG trekking adventure.

Experience more of the destination within a destination on these world-class long-distance walking holidays which will see you switching off and reinvigorating yourself in some of the world's most remote and sublime wilderness locations.

Bhutan Snowman Trek

Undertaken by only a handful of trekkers each season, it’s our most challenging Bhutan trek.

How long is it? Around 250km
Duration of trek: 27 days
Difficulty: Graded 8 – Exploratory trekking. Designed for experienced adventurers seeking a challenge.
Start and end point: Paro

IMG_9115 |  <i>Soren Kruse Ledet</i> IMG_9169 |  <i>Soren Kruse Ledet</i> IMG_8531 |  <i>Soren Kruse Ledet</i>
 

What makes it special? Crossing 11 passes over 4500 metres in some of the most isolated regions of Bhutan. You’ll absorb magnificent mountain views, explore hidden valleys and bask in the serenity of high-altitude lakes. You may even encounter fresh tracks from the elusive snow leopard like our 2019 trekkers!

When to go:
October. This is an ideal time to appreciate Bhutan’s autumnal colours and experience sublime mountain views. A number of cultural and religious events occur during October, including the special Jomolhari festival.

Transcaucasian Trail

Be one of the first to experience the recently opened Transcaucasian trail brimming with history and scenic brilliance.

How long is it? Once completed, it will extend more than 3,000km in length through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, connecting more than 20 national parks and protected areas.
Duration of trek: While the full route is still being developed, you can trek sections of the trail in Armenia and Georgia over 18 days, the only two countries adequately mapped so far.
Difficulty: Graded 5 – Moderate. Designed for those with reasonable fitness and health and who have a relatively active lifestyle.

Hikers enjoying the lower Caucasus. Enjoy fantastic, fresh meals during along the Transcaucasian Trail |  <i>Breanna Wilson</i> Traces of medieval architecture remain throughout the country |  <i>Julie Haber</i> Wilderness hiking along paths less trodden, Transcaucasian Trail, Armenia |  <i>Breanna Wilson</i> A local lady makes lavash, a flatbread eaten throughout the South Caucasus |  <i>Breanna Wilson</i> Views over the Georgian town of Kazbegi to Mt Kazbek in Caucasus region Hiking to Ushguli in the Svaneti Valley |  <i>Julie Haber</i> The beautiful architecture of Old Tbilisi
 

What makes it special? The Caucasus is among the most inaccessible mountains in the world and the newly opened trail is anticipated by hiking enthusiasts as the next big thing in trekking. Delight in the scenic panoramas of mountains, rivers and glaciers that await you in Georgia, or head to historic Armenia along the Caucasian Silk route exploring ancient monasteries and stunning mountain landscapes.

When to go: May to September

Ultimate K2 Trek

The Karakoram range of Pakistan offers celestial isolation amid a constant backdrop of towering peaks and breathtaking glacial landscapes.

Duration of trek: 25 days
Start and end point: Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan region
Difficulty: Graded 8 – Exploratory trekking & entry level mountaineering. Designed for experienced trekkers comfortable travelling in adverse weather conditions, preferably at altitude. Expect remote and poorly defined trails and challenging moraine walking.

 

What makes it special? Find yourself surrounded by the highest concentration of 8,000-metre peaks on the planet. From the "Throne Room of the Mountain Gods" to the Baltoro glacier (one of the longest glaciers in the world outside the polar regions), it's not hard to see why Pakistan's Karakoram ranges have captured the imagination of trekkers and mountaineers for decades.

Glacial stream on Concordia |  <i>Soren Kruse Ledet</i> Excited to be on the Vigne Glacier |  <i>Soren Kruse Ledet</i> Enjoying the well earned views in Pakistan's Karakoram mountains |  <i>Michael Grimwade</i> Cloudy sunrise over Pakistan's Karakoram |  <i>Michael Grimwade</i> Early morning colours high up near K2 Base Camp |  <i>Michael Grimwade</i> Taking time out to enjoy the magical Karakoram views |  <i>Soren Kruse Ledet</i>
 

In addition to trekking to the base of the world’s second highest peak (8611m), the legendary Gondogoro Pass promises one of the most dramatic mountain vistas anywhere on Earth. Our K2 trekking expedition is one of the finest high altitude scenic treks on offer with few travellers in sight.

When to go: June

Nepal’s Great Himalaya Trail

From east to west, encounter some of the wildest and most remote mountain environments imaginable.

How long is it? Winding between the largest mountains and remotest communities on the planet, the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) will ultimately connect five Asian countries (Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan) spanning 4500km.

Duration of trek: 5 months to complete the full Nepal traverse, or trek sections ranging from 18 to 34 days.
Start point: Kanchengjunga, Nepal's far east | End point: Yari Valley, Nepal's far west
Difficulty: Graded 9 – Intermediate Mountaineering Expedition. Designed for experienced multi-day trekkers who have hiked at altitude. Basic mountaineering skills are recommended as is a love for the outdoors and perhaps most importantly, a positive attitude.

Trekking the early stages of Nepal's Great Himalaya Trail |  <i>Ken Harris</i>

What makes it special? A true exploratory experience, it takes in spectacular vistas of all of Nepal’s 8,000-metre peaks, whilst giving trekkers the opportunity to experience remote cultures in hidden corners of the country and spreading the benefits of tourism in isolated communities.

 

When to go: The full GHT departs in February and concludes in July.

Larapinta Trail

One of Australia’s ‘Great Walks’, the Larapinta Trail is one of the world's most remarkable desert walks.

How long is it? 223km
Duration of trek: 14 days from end to end. Broken up into 12 sections, you can also choose to trek certain sections ranging from 3 days to 12 days, guided or self-guided.
Start point: Old Telegraph Station, Alice Springs | End point: Mt Sonder
Difficulty:
Graded 6 – Moderate to Challenging. Designed for seasoned walkers who can manage to walk around 6 to 12 hours a day. On some days, you’ll be walking up to 30kms.

What makes it special? Follow the spine of the West MacDonnel Ranges to trek over remote ridges and canyons, cool off in beautiful waterholes, walk through beautiful river red gums and marvel at vividly-coloured mineral ochre pits.

 

One of the biggest surprises about trekking across Australia’s Red Centre is the diversity of its terrain and the wildlife you’ll encounter. From endless desert plains to colourful palettes of yellow, purple, red and blue wildflowers, the area is home to more than 767 species of flora and over 180 unique species of birds.

Considered a highlight is the exhilarating trek up Mt Sonder (1380m) – one of the highest peaks west of the Great Dividing Range – where you are greeted with an unforgettable sunrise.

When to go: The trekking season runs between April and September when walking conditions are most favourable with clearer skies and splendid stargazing opportunities. Hit the trail in April, May or September to witness wildflowers in full bloom, or enjoy cooler and more favourable temperatures between June to August.

John Muir Trail

Considered one of the finest hikes in North America, this iconic US trail traverses the stunning Sierra mountain range from Mt Whitney to Yosemite.

How long is it? Around 340km
Duration of trek: 23 days
Difficulty: Graded 7 – Challenging. Designed for experienced adventurers who have completed multi-day hikes with a full pack (up to 20kgs). Days can involve up to 10 hours of exercise (hiking around 10-24 km per day) in very remote and rugged terrain.
Start point: Cottonwood Lakes, California | End point: Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, California

Ultimate camp scenery, just over Donohue Pass, California |  <i>Ken Harris</i> John Muir Trail, California |  <i>Ken Harris</i> Striking, high altitude scenery of the John Muir Trail |  <i>Ken Harris</i> Native flora on the John Muir Trail, California |  <i>Ken Harris</i> The Sierra Nevada's's densely-forest valleys |  <i>Ken Harris</i> Pristine landscapes of the high Sierra, USA |  <i>Ken Harris</i> Picturesque rest stop along the JMT |  <i>Ken Harris</i>
 

What makes it special? Cross 3000 and 4000-metre mountain passes, walking among alpine peaks, glacier-gouged canyons, forested valleys and crystal-clear lakes. Sections of the trail will see you venturing far off the beaten track and over the course of the trip, you will have gained over 12000 metres in ascents (averaging about 600m per day) – an epic yet rewarding challenge to add to your trekking wishlist.

When to go: July to September

Jordan Trail

Cross Jordan on foot along this recently established trail dubbed the ‘Inca Trail of the Middle East’.

How long is it? 650km and a 40-day trekking route crossing the entire country. You can experience a taster of some of the best parts of the Jordan Trail on our highlights trek.
Duration of highlights trek: 10 days
Difficulty: Graded 5 – Moderate. Designed for walkers who are comfortable trekking in warm conditions and up and down hills. Expect up to 6-9 hours of walking a day at a steady pace, often on unmarked trails.
Start point and end point: Amman

What makes it special? Let dramatic desert landscapes, striking cliffs and rugged ‘wadis’ unfold on this cross-country trek. The full trail stretches from Egypt to Aqaba and on to Damascus, incorporating ancient paths to archaeological monuments, including the Red Rose City of Petra and historical ruins of Jerash and Ajlun, which showcase the Kingdom’s illustrious past.

Wadi Rum's desert landscape at sunrise |  <i>Richard I'Anson</i>

Those short on time can experience some of the best and lesser known parts of the Jordan Trail on the highlights tour – from the forested Ajlun Reserve in the north to the crystal waters of the Red Sea in the south. The hike up Jabal Um Ad Dami, Jordan’s highest peak, is a climatic way to end the trek with majestic summit views of Wadi Rum’s Mars-like landscapes across to Saudi Arabia.

When to go: March to June, September to November

Canada's East Coast Trail

Explore the outermost reaches of North America on one of the world's top coastal hikes.

How long is it? Around 336km
Duration of highlights trek: 10 days hiking almost 89km
Difficulty: Graded 5 – Moderate. Designed for walkers who have a good level of fitness. A bonus if you enjoy exploring rugged coastlines.
Start and end point of highlights self-guided trek: St. John's, Newfoundland

 

What makes it special? Enjoy ocean splendours from the shore while traversing towering cliffs and headlands, sea stacks, coves, and deep fjords. Canada's East Coast Trail is a series of 25 wilderness paths along Newfoundland's dramatic and rugged Avalon Peninsula; ranked the world's top coastal destination in 2016 by National Geographic.

Along the way, enjoy picturesque bay-side communities, abandoned settlements, ecological reserves, and a special lighthouse picnic. There is also a real possibility of spotting whales, puffins, moose, or even icebergs. Discover this exciting part of Canada on foot on one of our many walks that take in sections of the East Coast Trail.

When to go: June to October

Australia's Great Tasmanian Traverse

An epic adventure walking, rafting, flying and sailing across Tasmania from north to south – this is the ultimate bucket list adventure Down Under.

How long is it? Approximately 300km
Duration of adventure: 39 days
Difficulty: Graded 7 – Challenging. Designed for healthy and fit adventurers. All adrenaline-seekers apply! Treks may involve carrying a full pack between 18 and 22kg. Be prepared for potential variable weather conditions.
Start point: Launceston | End point: Hobart


What makes it special?
Okay, it's not purely a walk but it is definitely worthy of this list. The traverse combines four of Tasmania's greatest multi-day treks (which reach the summit of its highest and most iconic peaks) and a thrilling rafting experience on the iconic Franklin River, rated by many as the world's greatest wilderness rafting trip. Explore Australia's island state from the quiet rural communities of the north to the wild and isolated reaches of the south, completing the Coast to Cradle Trail, Overland Track, Frenchman's Cap Trek, Franklin River Rafting and South Coast Track.

Encapsulating the pristine scenery that Tassie is so well known for, the five-week expedition takes in Australia's wilderness frontiers which cross remote parts that have remained untouched for centuries.


When to go:
Departs February

Larapinta trek wins Brolga's ecotourism award for third time

World Expeditions were awarded for the third time since 2016 for its ongoing commitment to provide an outstanding trekking experience, at minimal impact on the environment, on its iconic Larapinta Trail walk in Australia's Red Centre.

Our most popular Larapinta Trail walking experience, Classic Larapinta Trek in Comfort, has scored a BIG win in sustainability receiving the ‘Best Ecotourism Product’ at Northern Territory Tourism’s 2019 prestigious Brolga Awards.

This is the third time the Classic Larapinta Trek in Comfort has won the coveted Brolga Award, having previously been named 'Best Ecotourism Product' in 2016 and 2017.

The category recognises outstanding ecologically sustainable tourism products, with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that foster environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation.

“Sustainability has been at the heart of our operations since we pioneered the trek back in 1995,” says Michael Buggy, the General Manager of World Expeditions’ domestic brand, Australian Walking Holidays who operates our iconic Larapinta treks.

The Larapinta campsites offer stylish and comfortable facilities in an outback wilderness |  <i>Caroline Crick</i> Our guides taking time out on the Larapinta Trail |  <i>Oscar Bedford</i> Guides prepare fresh meals each day Trekkers relaxing on the porch of their campsites |  <i>Shaana McNaught</i> The Larapinta Semi-Permanent camps have a stunning lounge with great views over the Ranges |  <i>Chris Buykx</i> Walker enjoying view from Counts Point |  <i>Andrew Bain</i>
 

Our four architecturally designed, semi-permanent campsite facilities incorporate sustainable technologies such as water-free toilets, solar lighting systems and a hybrid grey water disposal system designed for the arid environment.

“It’s been a huge commitment to deliver the standard of accommodation we do in a remote area, while remaining focused on complete sustainability and we acknowledge the support of NT Parks and Wildlife and the Indigenous Land Council in receiving this Award,” says Michael.

World Expeditions launched a series of architect-designed, semi-permanent campsites on the Larapinta Trail in Australia’s Red Centre in 2013; a new, fourth campsite began operations earlier this year.

In additional to the camps use of sustainable technologies, the sites deliver previously unavailable levels of comfort to walkers in a climate known for its temperature extremes. Colours, building materials and the overall style blend in with the surrounding environment aesthetically, while the structures are designed to allow the land to recover during the off-season, maintaining the idyllic natural setting of these wilderness sites.

 

As well as the Classic Larapinta Trek in Comfort, there are more than 10 Larapinta walking options (shorter, longer, escorted, self-guided, as well as geared for families and dedicated women’s departures) currently available on the trail.

The award comes at an auspicious time with all World Expeditions trips becoming 100% carbon offset and will directly support renewable energy and reforestation projects across the world.

It's such thrilling news with 2020 marking our 25th year on the Larapinta Trail.

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