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Will It Actually Help to Offset the Carbon Footprint of My Holiday?

Carbon offsetting – the counter arguments

Offsetting carbon emissions from your holiday with us is just one way at World Expeditions to address our carbon footprint. The first – and most important – step is to reduce the emissions produced by our trips to begin with.

In November 2019, we launched our 100% Carbon Offset initiative. This means that we compensate for the carbon footprint associated with all trips offered by World Expeditions (including trips of World Youth Adventures, Australian Walking Holidays, Tasmanian Expeditions, Great Canadian Trails and Adventure South).

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 providing safety considerations are 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.

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.

 

So, while we agree that carbon compensation is not the solution to climate change, it is an important step in the right direction. And 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. For every kilogram of carbon produced, we invest money on your behalf into projects that reduce or remove carbon elsewhere.

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

 

Additional Sources

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.

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.

India's West Bengal: a cultural heritage that sets it apart

Forlorn palaces cling defiantly to their once-glorious pasts, and the half-ruined mosques and mildew-covered tombstones of East India Company employees are reminders of an era when Murshidabad was as large and rich as London. Now paddy fields and mango orchards have consumed most of what was once the flourishing capital of Bengal.

About 10 years ago, I composed a bucket list of places I wanted to visit in India after three decades of traversing all corners of the subcontinent. Murshidabad was always near the top of my list and I wasn’t disappointed.

Cossimbazar Rajbari in India's West Bengal |  <i>John Zubrzycki</i>The Cossimbazar Rajbari is a fine example of European and Indian architecture

Getting to Murshidabad is an entertaining journey in itself. The Hazarduari Express leaves Kolkata at the civilized hour of 6.50am. Baul singers, whose devotional songs reflect their blend of Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi beliefs, move between the carriages along with hawkers selling toys, snacks and colourful pieces of cloth. Chai sellers strain their brew through tannin-stained muslin sieves. My breakfast is two cups of their syrupy concoction and some freshly roasted peanuts.

Murshidabad’s story is one of conquest and commerce. It’s capture in 1757 by Robert Clive laid the foundations for British rule in India. Its silk merchants were among the richest traders in the world. When Clive plundered the Nawab of Murshidabad’s treasury, there was so much gold and silver in its vaults he expressed surprise at his own ‘moderation’ for not taking more than he did.

This is West Bengal at its best. Green and serene. A bend on a narrow road that winds its way through mango groves and paddy fields suddenly reveals an overgrown graveyard, a 17th-century mosque or the palatial mansion of one of a Jain trader.

With the exception of Kolkata and the tea-scented hill station of Darjeeling, West Bengal has been left off the itineraries of foreign travelers and tour companies. I’ve never understood why. There are no monuments rivalling the Taj Mahal and its mostly flat riverine topography means there are no forts to dominate the horizon. What it does have is a rich cultural heritage that sets it apart from the rest of India.

The Bauls, those itinerant mystic minstrels who entertained me on the train to Murshidabad, are based around Santiniketan. The name of the town means 'abode of peace' and it was here that Nobel laureate, poet and artist Rabindranath Tagore founded the Visva Bharati university, where today many of the classes are conducted in the open air under vast spreading banyan trees.

Bengal’s temple architecture is also unique. A scarcity of stone means that the temples are covered in beautifully sculptured terracotta plaques, while the structures themselves are intriguing mix of styles reflecting influences from Bengal, Orissa and the Mughal period.

There are a few of these temples scattered around Murshidabad as well as a Dutch cemetery and a beautifully restored Armenian church giving the town a strong multicultural mix.

Interior of the Katra Mosque, Murshidabad |  <i>John Zubrzycki</i> Armenian church in Murshidabad |  <i>John Zubrzycki</i> Wasif Manzil, Murshidabad |  <i>John Zubrzycki</i>

For me, Murshidabad’s most magnificent building is also its most neglected, the 18th-century Sripur Palace. It was once the home of Krishna Kanta Nandy, who was rewarded with vast landholdings for saving the life Warren Hastings, the future governor of Bengal.

From the outside, the palace looked so forlorn I expected an empty shell. Instead, I discovered a majestic courtyard framed by a hundred pillars topped with lotus motifs and joined by exquisite carved archways brought all the way from Benares.

A wide balcony from the second storey looks down on an overgrown courtyard. Anywhere else this would be a major tourist attraction; instead, its wealthy Kolkata-based owners are happy for it to rot in the tropical heat and humidity because they have never forgiven the government for taking away their ancestral lands.

Interior of the Sripur Palace |  <i>John Zubrzycki</i>The interior of the Sripur Palace

Sripur Palace’s days are clearly numbered, making it another reason why Murshidabad should be near the top of every traveller’s list to explore.

Words by historian, writer and former diplomat in India, John Zubrzycki. Join him in November 2020 where he will be escorting a special West Bengal tour.

About the writer

John Zubrzycki worked in India as a diplomat, consultant and foreign correspondent and has spent years searching out its hidden gems. He is a best-selling author and has written three books on India, the latest being a history of its magical traditions. He also writes feature articles for Australian and Indian news outlets. He has more than 40 years of travel experience in India and considers the northeastern states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to be his favourite part of the subcontinent.

As Seen in The Sunday Times: A Cycling Trip Through Jordan
When journalist James Stewart was on his cycling trip in Jordan, one of the first things he wrote back to us was commenting on the great guide and lovely team. Initially having expected a hard-core trip with seasoned cyclists on a mission to outdo each other, the group was actually very well matched. 
 
In his article he describes the Jordan away from air-conditioned coaches, instead, being a place for off-road adventures. Check out some of his tweets from while he was travelling below or read the entire article in The Sunday Times (published on 31 March 2019*). 
 
That's the other reason I was intrigued by this trip - it schedules time for sights.
 
*You may be asked to register before being able to read the online article. 
 
Jordan By Bike scenery Jordan By Bike day walk Ancient ruins and cliffs of Petra |  <i>Rachel Imber</i>  Local man in Petra, Jordan |  <i>Rachel Imber</i> Cyclist on the Jordan By Bike trip Sunset in the Wadi Rum, Jordan |  <i>Gordon Steer</i> The fabled Treasury at Petra |  <i>Jordan Tourism Board</i> Enjoy magnificent sunsets when visiting Jordan's Wadi Rum |  <i>Richard I'Anson</i> A donkey at Petra |  <i>Rachel Imber</i>
 
 
Overtourism: how to avoid contributing to it

While the word 'overtourism' has only recently been coined, even shortlisted in Oxford Dictionary’s 2018 Word of the Year, it’s a term that has put how we travel and where we choose to travel in the spotlight.

Travel writers in recent years have made the most of the social media driven concepts of the ‘Top 10 Best Places’, or the ‘Absolute Bucket List of Must-See Destinations’, ultimately driving tourists in their droves to just a handful of iconic landscapes, cities, cultural attractions or monuments. To top it off, the ‘selfie’ epidemic and travellers’ insidious desire to capture and share the most “Instagrammable” destinations, attractions and experiences has further narrowed demand.

Such influences have over-stimulated tourism to particular destinations, causing ‘overtourism’ which, according to the Oxford Dictionary definition, has negatively affected local environments and historical sites, as well as reducing quality of life for residents.

Japanese locals at Kinkakuji |  <i>Felipe Romero Beltran</i>

Tourist numbers have been growing exponentially for decades, fuelled by cheap flights and the world’s burgeoning middle class. This has seen 1.3 billion of us travelling in 2017 – a staggering jump from 25 million in 1950, and the number of tourists worldwide per year is tipped to reach 1.7 billion by 2030.

Impact of overtourism

The European summer saw overtourism in Barcelona reach a tipping point, with residents joining mass protests for its government to better manage the influx of travellers as a result of unsustainable tourist numbers. Services were no longer available for locals, but instead catered for tourists and short-term holiday apartments, making it difficult for residents to find a place to call home.

Ultimately, the concern is that such tourist hotspots were losing their identity – and what attracted the tourists there in the first place. The problem is being felt in other European countries, such as Venice and parts of Croatia, as well as Thailand, Indonesia and Australia’s iconic Uluru.

While people may gravitate towards “bucket list” destinations, a better and pleasurable way to travel is to seek out lesser-known places and unique and alternative ways to explore those destination.

The ideal approach is to travel more responsibly, being more socially conscious of one's impact when entering fragile environments, and being more aware of the footprint left behind when engaging with different cultures and visiting their homeland.

Whose responsibility is overtourism anyhow?

Governments need to take control to regulate and better manage tourist numbers to ensure that their tourism industry is sustainable – bringing benefit to people today without compromising the future.

Peru’s government has stepped in to protect Machu Picchu by limiting the number of permits issued each day. In 2017, the small island nation of Palau became the first country modify its immigration policy and made it compulsory for all tourists to sign an eco-pledge called the ‘Palau Pledge’.

School group exploring Machu Picchu in Peru |  <i>Drew Collins</i>To protect Machu Picchu, Peruvian authorities issue 500 permits each day to walk the classic Inca Trail

There are numerous other regulatory mechanisms that governments and the industry can adopt to ensure tourist numbers are sustainable and at an individual level, we can each control our own footprint and avoid contributing to the problem.

5 ways to alleviate the pressure of overtourism

Travelling sustainably and being a part of the solution is to be mindful of the impact you have on the environments and cultures you come into contact with when you travel. Here are five ways to counter overtourism and embrace a more Thoughtful Travel experience.

•    Head off the beaten track. Steering "off the map" and away from well-trodden trails is a style of tourism World Expeditions has advocated since its inaugural Nepal trek in 1975. Choosing an adventure that goes beyond the crowds and into a more remote area will help counter overtourism and give travellers a better opportunity to forge greater connections with local people and their ways of life.

Thinking of heading to Vietnam's famous Sapa valley? Head to the country's remote north of Ha Giang instead with equally spectacular rice terrace views that escape the crowds and encourage more intimate local encounters. Check out 10 more "out there" treks that will take you on a truly remote wilderness adventure.

Enjoying the view after a day on the trail in western Nepal |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i>

•    Travel to popular destinations in the off-season. Popular attractions and destinations crowded with visitors negatively affects the experience for travellers and locals alike. If you plan to head to a place you know is popular, head there during its off-peak period which will see significantly less tourist numbers with a better chance of more meaningful encounters and enjoying the beauty of nature with fewer crowds.

It will also save you the big bucks on airfares and accommodation, and you'll benefit from more availability when it comes to getting permits for activities such as mountain gorilla and chimp jungle trekking in Uganda or visiting iconic sites such as Machu Picchu.

•    Explore popular destinations differently. A destination's popularity can come at a price, so it's worthwhile seeking out unique ways to enjoy it. Spend less time in city centres and extend your travels into rural communities, head to popular attractions either earlier in the day or later in the day to skip the crowds, or venture on more remote adventures that avoid busier trails, or which go beyond the classic routes.

Stunning turquoise waters of Tilicho LakeVenture off in the Annapurnas and marvel at the turquoise waters of Tilicho Lake

Some suggestions include: camping by remote sections of China's Great Wall hosted by local families, exploring the other impressive Inca ruins with rare views of Machu Picchu, or trekking north of the classic Annapurna Circuit to more wilder zones with unforgettable camping views of the striking Tilicho Lake.⁣⁣ Want more ideas? Here are ways to see UNESCO's newest World Heritage sites differently.

•    Smaller is better. Avoid big tour groups and larger cruise ships which have a larger environmental impact. When travelling in small groups, there’s more likelihood of animal encounters, more intimate experiences with locals and it makes it easier to control waste management, especially in remote regions.

With the chance to meet like-minded people, a small group of no more than 16 people provides opportunities for personal and immersive interactions, while your guide and support staff are attentive to your safety and comfort. It also means your group can access services and sightseeing attractions more easily than mass groups and enjoy small, local restaurants, cafes and accommodations. Read the 5 benefits of small group tours.

Pilgrims with traveller at Shah-i-Zinda, avenue of mausoleums, Samarkand |  <i>Richard I'Anson</i>

•    Opt for alternative destinations. Choose to travel to beautiful, lesser-known destinations whose economies need assistance. Turkmenistan, Bhutan, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, Belize, Mongolia, Guyana and Tajikistan are among some of the most least visited countries around the world, according to IndexMundi. By avoiding popular sites and attractions this will help take the pressure off delicate environments already overwhelmed by travellers. View this list of 10 lesser-known hiking trails that avoid the crowds.

Engaging with villagers that rarely encounter trekkers |  <i>Lachlan Gardiner</i>

•    Book with an ethical tour operator that focus on responsible and sustainable adventures. When selecting travel arrangements, ensure that the company you choose employs local staff and provides safe and fair working conditions. Consider whether it selects small, locally-owned accommodation which are eco-friendly. How does it support local communities? World Expeditions' sustainable travel practices and commitment to supporting local communities at every level of the operation continues to underpin the way in which innovative and sustainable adventure itineraries are created. Plus, travel knowing that your trip is 100% carbon offset.

When visiting environments rich in wildlife and home to fragile and pristine ecosystems the importance of travelling responsibility is vital.

Remember you are holidaying in someone else’s home, be respectful and mindful of this at all times; think about ways to contribute to the local economy, which encourage communities to preserve their traditions, and experience local cafes, restaurants, grocers and markets, avoiding multinational or even national chains.

It’s all about visiting destinations more thoughtfully and leaving a positive influence in the special places visited, protecting what is delicate and minimising the impact of our presence.

Climbing Bolivia’s Mountains with Mountaineer Simon Yates

A new action-packed expedition in Bolivia’s mountains – the perfect mix of challenge and exploration

Long-standing World Expeditions trip leader Simon Yates will return to South America in 2020, on a new thrilling expedition that will aim to conquer five peaks in the breath-taking High Andes of Bolivia, amongst which are three above 6,000m. 

The new itinerary in Bolivia provides the perfect mix of challenge and exploration with five great climbing objectives – including the highest volcano in the country, the perennially snow-covered peak of Sajama (6542m), which is situated in the northern Cordillera Occidental. Following a sound acclimatisation schedule and two full days of alpine skills instruction, the group will commence climbing.
 

Summit five peaks in the breath-taking High Andes on this Bolivia expedition

Enjoying an al fresco lunch with the scenic Condoriri Valley as a backdrop |  <i>Anthony Bohm</i>
 
Despite being technically graded as ‘Intermediate Mountaineering Expedition’, the trip can also be joined by beginners with an excellent level of fitness and experience trekking at altitude (as a minimum).

Simon Yates first visited the country in 2012, when he led the inaugural departure of the Summits of Bolivia trip and has been keen to go back ever since.

About his upcoming Bolivia expedition, he said: 

I found Bolivia very special on my previous trip and I am really looking forward to the ascent of Sajama, which as well as being Bolivia's highest volcano, is also its highest peak.

In addition to the Cordillera Real, Bolivia has many high volcanoes, which is what makes this itinerary a trip like no other. In just three weeks you get the chance to climb three 6,000m volcanoes. This truly is an action-packed expedition!

Best known for his harrowing expedition in the Andes as documented in the award-winning ‘Touching the Void’ book, Simon Yates is one of the most accomplished mountaineers of his time. He has been at the forefront of exploratory mountaineering for over three decades and has successfully guided groups to the summits of peaks across the world, from Nepal (Ama Dablam, 6,856m) and Kyrgyzstan (Peak Lenin, 7,134m) to Alaska (Denali, 6,145m) and Argentina (Aconcagua, 6,960m).
 

Triple Peaks of Bolivia with Simon Yates 

Exclusive with World Expeditions. 20 days. 14 June – 3 July 2020. The trip includes accommodation, most meals, internal transfers, safety and climbing equipment and permits. Trip joins and concludes in La Paz.
                              
In addition to the new itinerary with Simon Yates, choose from more than 30 mountaineering expeditions, from Mont Blanc in the Alps to Aoraki/Mount Cook in New Zealand.
 
Buy tickets for Simon Yates in London
Cocktails at 10am in the High Andes

When I first embarked on this journey, never did I think I would be sitting in a bar at 10 o’clock in the morning with a cocktail in hand and nothing to do but watch the world go by.

The last 20 days have been go, go, go, taking in and exploring all that Peru has to offer, all the must do experiences that many have on their adventure lists. The iconic sights of the Peruvian tick list as many would see it, squeezed into less than three weeks.

Sitting here with a Chilcano in hand, is like taking a huge sigh of relief. Originally not on my Peruvian tick list, but added on recommendation, here I am now reflecting on the journey so far and enjoying a fabulous cocktail to boot.

A stop at La Raya 4335 metres, the highest point on the Cusco to Puno Train |  <i>Natalie Tambolash</i> A stop at La Raya 4335 metres, the highest point on the Cusco to Puno Train. Photo: Natalie Tambolash

This particular day started when we were transferred to Wanchaq Station in Cusco and boarded the Titicaca train bound for Puno at 6.40am. When I first learnt of this train journey, all I knew was that it travelled through the High Andes. It was an alternative to travelling on the local bus and was deemed “fabulous” and “a highlight” by those that had gone before me. It lived to these expectations and so much more.

As I sit here, I feel like I am in a Michelin star restaurant on wheels with ever changing spectacular scenery going past the window. The service is impeccable from the moment we first arrive at the station in Cusco to the time we depart the train at the other end in Puno some 10 hours later.

Main meal is served. Fresh, local Peruvian cuisine |  <i>Natalie Tambolash</i> Main meal is served. Photo: Natalie Tambolash

Everyone on-board provides you with the most attentive service from remembering your food allergies, to what coffee you like, to taking orders for several tables at a time without writing anything down. Just like a fine-dining restaurant.

The bar car at the back of the train |  <i>Natalie Tambolash</i> The bar car at the back of the train. Photo: Natalie Tambolash

On-board, the carriages are bright, spacious and plush, exuding that little bit of romantic luxury and transporting you to another era. What I would imagine of the Andean Explorer.

There is a bar carriage where drinks and snacks are served (the best banana chips and crisp corn kernels you will possibly taste) and where at 10am and again in the afternoon, there is dancing, singing and fabulous entertainment by local dancers and a great local Peruvian fusion band (think Peruvian flute music combined with classic rock).

Morning entertainment on the train |  <i>Natalie Tambolash</i> Orient Express Andean Explorer train travels from Cusco to Puno |  <i>Tambo Treks</i> The bar car at the back of the train |  <i>Natalie Tambolash</i>
 

There is also a viewing carriage at the back of the train where you can park up as you please to take in the spectacular scenery of the High Andes.

The journey also comes with a complete meal service which yes, will rival most top restaurants of the world, serving up a delicious entrée, main and dessert. Even the fussiest eaters of our group were well impressed.

All this was topped off with an afternoon tea service complete with petit fours and delicious tea.

Along the way the scenery out the window was nothing short of spectacular. Up here in the High Andes, the mountains are so close, you feel you can reach out and touch them.

The train rolled through local farms and villages where everyday life was on display, and made a stop at the highest point on our journey at 4335 metres at La Raya where everyone took the opportunity to stretch their legs, take in the crisp clean air and see what was on display at the local market.

The colours of the landscape changed at every bend, from fresh greens in the valley, to white peaks of the Andes ranges, to pink and yellow hues of the Peruvian farms.

What I didn’t expect to see on this journey of luxury and relaxation was chaos. But rolling into the city of Juliaca provided just that - along with a multitude of laughs and photo opportunities.

Andean boy and his little friend in La Raya |  <i>Natalie Tambolash</i>Andean boy and his little friend in La Raya. Photo: Natalie Tambolash

 

It seems that the train line rolls right through the busy Juliaca market and right through the middle of stalls that sell everything you could possibly think of - from books, to car parts, to buckets and everything in between.

Then you head through the busy main streets and over what probably is the Juliaca bakery, with its fresh bread in baskets lying on the train tracks as our train hurtles across the top of it. It is the thing of TV documentaries, yet here we are having a laugh in the midst of it, not quite believing our eyes but also thinking, only in Peru.

Sunrise on Lake Titicaca |  <i>Nigel Leadbitter</i>Sunrise on Lake Titicaca. Photo: Nigel Leadbitter

As dusk settles in, we round the banks of the famous Lake Titicaca, seeing outlines of boats permanently moored with the low waters of the lake, and the setting sun casting shadows across the reed islands.

With our journey drawing to a close in Puno, on the edge of Lake Titicaca, you realise that what started off as a long ten-hour day, has ended in the best way: living in the moment high up in the Andes.

Words by Natalie Tambolash who travelled from west to east across Peru. You can add this train journey to your Peru itinerary or opt for a train upgrade from Cusco to Puno.

Morocco to France: On the couch with Mary Moody, gardening guru and author

Author, gardener, botanist, grandmother, journalist, speaker, traveller and tour guide. From her line-up of titles, you can guess that Mary Moody loves to keep herself busy. And despite having her life turned upside with the loss of her beloved husband and half-sister, she’s managed to break new ground pursuing a life of adventure.

We chat with the Mary on her love of travel and the best ways to experience Morocco and France. Mary has exciting tours lined up for 2020, including an impressive Ladakh trek, a botanical journey through Central Mongolia, an introduction to Morocco's culture and Atlas mountain scenery, and a culinary and walking Camino experience in France.

You have a natural passion and affinity with the locals wherever you travel. What is your secret to getting to know the locals?

I find connecting with children opens the way to establishing an affinity. I always carry picture books with photographs of Australian animals and stop whenever I see groups of children - sit down in the dirt and share with them. The wonder in their eyes – their joyful response – is magic. Their parents are always just as fascinated.

Often leading trips with a botanical perspective, what has been your most unusual botanical discovery?

In Yunnan, in southwest China, we were hunting for the famed but rather shy blue poppy (Meconopsis sp.). We heard that a documentary film crew from the UK were also looking for it and this intensified our efforts. I am thrilled to say we spotted it first!

What's a tip travellers can do to make the most of their trip?

I tell my group to relax and go with the flow and let go of 'pampered' expectations. It's healthy for us to occasionally step a little outside our comfort zone and to challenge ourselves. I believe trekking not just physical – our mental strength is what will get us into the camp site every afternoon. I also tell them to stop and look around as often as possible – it's not a race and if you try and be the first to arrive in camp you probably have seen very little along the way.

You’ve travelled and led intergenerational trips – bringing your grandson on a Nepal trek. What's different about this style of travel?

Often children in the first world countries have sedentary and over-protected lives. Taking them into another culture, walking with them in the mountains and seeing their horizons open, is just amazing. It's a life-changing experience and it also helps grandparents and their grandchildren to forge a special bond that would be difficult to achieve in any other setting.

You’ve lived in France for extended periods of time doing some writing – when did you first discover your passion for travel and experiencing other cultures?

My love of adventure travel was actually inspired by World Expeditions who invited me to escort botanical treks in the Himalayas during the period when I was a presenter on Gardening Australia. I was so drawn to the spectacular beauty and the alpine flora of these mountains that I have returned dozens of times, and never tire of sharing this joy with others.

What do you love most about showing people around the southern corner of France?

Rural France is glorious, and the region where I take my tour is like stepping back in time – with medieval villages and historic chateaux. This region of France is largely unspoiled because it has never been overdeveloped. So, you get a real sense of history and the continuity of people’s lives.

I like to explore history and culture with some gentle walks between villages and some outstanding private gardens. It goes without saying that the food and wine are superb, and [on my tour] we sample the very best of regional cuisine.

What historic site is a must-visit in France?

The pilgrimage township, Rocamadour. Wandering through this small yet beautiful cliff top village is amazing – carved into a rock face above the river Lot. Eleanor of Aquitaine made pilgrimages there in the 11th century and it’s considered to be one of France’s top sites to visit. It’s an unforgettable experience.

Have you always loved walking? What are your top tips for getting the most out of walking trips?

Good shoes are always important; and I tell people to just take their time walking and soak up all the sights and sounds around them.

On my Morocco trip, I believe we will see much more of the country on foot than in a vehicle. The day walks are not difficult (like a trek can sometimes be). We will stay in villages and walk through glorious countryside, seeing how the locals live.

What is it about Morocco that excites you the most?

Everything excites me about Morocco, which is so close to France where I spend quite a bit of my time. When I took a trip there, I was blown away by the history, architecture, gardens and mountains.

The trip I designed with World Expeditions is based on my favourite destinations from that visit, and I know others will love it as much as I did.

The markets are endlessly fascinating; a labyrinth of stalls with everything from ceramics and brassware to rugs, fabrics and clothing. The food, of course, is absolutely delicious and I even discovered some local wines (from Meknes) that were outstanding. A feast for the senses.

Morocco is home to some incredibly beautiful and elaborate Islamic gardens, some of which you will be visiting on your trip. What is so special about these gardens and what kind of plants will you be looking out for?

Interestingly enough, Islamic gardens are as much about their design as about the plants. Often based around a courtyard with a central fountain, the gardens have fantastic mosaics and plants that can withstand the hot, dry climate. I particularly love the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech which was inspiration of Yves Saint Laurent. It’s extraordinary!

You’ve led trips to Nepal, Morocco, China, Mongolia, India and France – do you have a favourite destination?

Like so many people, I fell in love with Himalayas at first sight. That was in northern India trekking in the Harki Dun Valley which is superb. To me, all the countries that run along these ranges are incredible (I haven't been to Tibet or Pakistan but would love to).

Your latest book, The Accidental Tour Guide, is part memoir/part travel adventure on love, loss and discovery. Why do you think it is important for people to write their personal or family memoir?

So many people have led fascinating lives and have a great story to tell. I really enjoy giving them the skills and the confidence to get their own story or their family memoir onto the page because it’s such a satisfying process. And people just love reading other people’s life stories, so I can also help them find a way to get their stories out into the world.

But writing can be daunting when there is so much to deal with – should I tell the whole truth? What will other people think? Are there legal implications?

It took me five years to gather the courage to write The Accidental Tour Guide.

Working through all these issues and developing positive strategies to keep the momentum going is important, and I teach such techniques at my writing workshops.

Traveller stories: the world's southernmost hike

The trail was rough, yet pristine. It was rigorous, yet rewarding and I was able to connect with nature in an entirely new way.

The Dientes Circuit on Navarino Island or Dientes de Navarino was a hike that was on the top of my must-do adventures, a route that leads travelers to some of the most remote and magical spots of Chilean Patagonia.

I was staying in the town of Puerto Williams (the southernmost town on earth), which is not far from Dientes de Navarino. The town offered many adventure activities, such as kayaking, biking, horseback riding and, of course, trekking.

The Dientes de Navarino circuit was four days long and is recommended for hikers who are physically fit and mentally strong. Fair warning: it's possible to experience vertigo on this hike and therefore it’s important that trekkers come fully prepared and up for a challenge.

Beautiful lake views on the Dientes Circuit on Navarino Island |  <i>EcoCamp Patagonia</i>

But it was such a wonderful and fulfulling challenge for me. The adventure began in a forest full of Nothofagus, native trees of the region. They stood tall and proud around me as I marvelled at their beauty.

We walked through the forest at a brisk pace, travelling uphill towards Cerro La Bandera. At the top, we were welcomed by a jaw-dropping panoramic view of the Beagle Channel, Puerto Williams and Argentina's Ushuaia.

We spent some time taking in this fabulous scenery before pushing on to Laguna el Salto, where we made camp next to a beautiful waterfall.

The next morning, we began our climb to the top of another hill and a viewpoint of the Cape Horn archipelago. We passed by Paso Australia and Paso Los Dientes, finally arriving at Laguna Escondida where we camped for our second night. This overnight stay was a beautiful back to nature experience, surrounded by ñire trees and a stunning view of Cerro Gabriel.

Vibrant colours trekking Los Dientes de Navarino circuit in Patagonia |  <i>EcoCamp Patagonia</i>

The following two days were the most challenging, but also the most rewarding. We travelled to Paso Ventarron, a spot with strong winds and navy blue lagoons. We also hiked to the front of the Lindenmayer Mounts, ending at Lake Martillo where we camped for the last night for a well-deserved rest.

On our final day, we reached a steep slope which we descended from with the help of our guides. To my relief, I managed to get down without any problems.

After a long and challenging journey, we finally made it back to our driver, who greeted us with enthusiasm and a refreshing beer.

This adventure was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and something I will never forget. I was surrounded by all types of special creatures and plant life, such as condors, magellanic woodpeckers, beavers, lichens, miniature forests of mosses and liverworts.

Trekking the pristine Los Dientes de Navarino circuit in Patagonia |  <i>EcoCamp Patagonia</i>

It’s crazy how small you feel when surrounded by such an enormous piece of paradise. I highly recommend this trek for any fellow nature lovers and trekkers out there, it was a fantastic and refreshing experience, both physically and mentally!

From its jagged summits to its mysterious lagoons and mossy pathways, Dientes de Navarino is one trek that just can’t be missed.

Words by Keila who travelled on the Dientes Circuit on Navarino Island.

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Great Canadian Trails specialises in active holidays in Canada. With both guided and supported self-guided options available, our unique itineraries draw upon some of Canada's most inspiring parks, trails and landscapes from coast to coast.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/HUM.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Humac Challenge"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Huma Charity Challenge</div>
Huma enables those with adventurous spirits to challenge themselves and make a difference for a cause close to their heart. Travel, fundraise and meet life-long friends on one of Huma's meaningful and unique challenges around the world.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/SHX.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Sherpa Expeditions"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Sherpa Expeditions</div>
Sherpa Expeditions is a specialist in self guided and guided walking and cycling holidays in the United Kingdom and Europe. Detailed route notes provide a definite guide to places in Europe for active walkers and cyclists.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/TAS.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Tasmania Expeditions"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Tasmanian Expeditions</div>
Tasmanian Expeditions is the most experienced operator of treks and adventure travel holidays in Tasmania. We own and operate the most comprehensive range of adventure holidays available across Tasmania's varied landscapes.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/UTX-new.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Utracks"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>UTracks</div>
UTracks are the active European holiday specialists. Whether you prefer cycling or walking, 2-star or 4-star, small groups or self guided, land, river or sea – UTracks can help you to explore Europe exactly the way you want.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/WYA.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="World Youth Adventures"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>World Youth Adventures</div>
World Youth Adventures is our specialist division dedicated to organising tailor made overseas school group adventures. Specialists in Service Learning projects, choose from more destinations than any other school group provider.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/YOM.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Yomads"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Yomads</div>
Yomads offers adventures for the 20s and 30s on six continents. Designed as a way to bring young and likeminded travellers together, Yomads caters to those interested in lightly structured and active trips that allow freedom to roam and explore.