Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Your next holiday - Afghanistan?

Believe it or not Afghanistan was a popular destination for the adventure traveller. In fact Top Deck - one of the original overland companies - cut a route through Afghanistan on their London to Kathmandu trip using converted double decker buses in the 70's. A very turbulent and often violent period since then halted all but the most intrepid traveller crossing the Khyber Pass but can it make a come back? Personally I think so. Ok, not in the very near future but I'm confident that in my life time countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan will be safe to travel to. This desire of mine isn't anything so pretentious as a want to "tick off" dangerous countries there are some real travel gems in this corner of the planet - ancient cities, powerful history and incredible scenery. After travelling through Pakistan and reading engrossing books such as "The Great Game" my interest in Central Asia is burgeoning on obsession. I'm not the only one who believes that these wondrous places will once again welcome the traveller, the Lonely Planet has just released a guide book to Afghanistan. You may shake your head in disbelief but travel fashions change with time, just think when the Top deck double decker was passing through a safe Afghanistan Vietnam was the last place you would want to holiday.

From Travel Mole
Welcome to Afghanistan, warts and all

LONDON – It may be one of the world's most volatile nations, but that has not deterred Lonely Planet from releasing its first ever standalone guidebook to Afghanistan.

Researched and written by Afghanistan specialist Paul Clammer, the book also contains a special chapter on safety written by a Kandahar resident and former military officer.

Lonely Planet says the guide is a necessity for anyone thinking of going to the country, "and is therefore primarily designed for businesspeople and representatives of non-profits or NGOs who are travelling to Afghanistan for work or aid".

"The guidebook aims to help travellers stay safe and get the most out of their time in the country, but also provides interesting reading for independent travellers and armchair travellers who are curious about the state of the nation."

The author spent seven weeks on the ground conducting research, travelling from Kabul to Herat and Mazar, all by road, stopping in many remote towns along the way.

"It's hard to think of a more demanding country to write a guidebook about than Afghanistan," says Clammer. "It's a nation with a broken infrastructure and serious security concerns. But the rewards are incredible.

"Despite the recent history, the Afghans are the most amazing and welcoming people on the planet, and the scenery from the mountains to the deserts is sublime.

Earlier this year, Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler visited Afghanistan for his book, Bad Lands: A Tourist on the Axis of Evil.

Afterwards Wheeler wrote, "Perhaps surprisingly, I had a great time in all my 'Bad Lands' and – apart from a little uneasiness in Afghanistan and Iraq – I was never particularly concerned for my safety. North Korea was easily the weirdest: a place alternating between horror and comedy, a Stalinist theme park, a gulag run by Monty Python."

If it's travel it's Travel Light - www.travellight.co.za

Travel Light Reading
Lonely Planet's first stand-alone guide to Afghanistan includes a chapter on security by U.N. Senior Security Advisor Rodney Cocks. Click here or on book to buy

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Peru - Lares Trek

Trekking to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail has to be one of the best treks in the world. Full of history, scenery and fulfillment it is no wonder that it has become very popular amongst travellers in recent years. So popular in fact that the Peruvian authorities who control the Inca Trail have restricted the numbers of permits issued to travellers to 500 per day - this includes porters and guides. This sounds plenty but the Inca Trail is so popular at the moment that permits are sold out months in advance. So you have your heart set on trekking to Machu Picchu but you cannot get a permit for the Inca Trail? is there an alternative? Travel Light are pleased to say YES... The Lares Vally.

Lares Valley Trek

Here's how Tucan Travel describe the Lares Valley trek "The Lares Trek is an exceptional alternative to the Inca Trail and it is so far off the beaten track that it has changed little over the past 500 years. Encompassing original Inca routes, spectacular scenery, thatched stone and adobe houses with herds of llamas, alpacas and their shepards roaming free. The Lares Valley is an authentic journey into ancient Inca civilisation, it is amazing that is has escaped the attention of mainstream tourism to date.

A great alternative to the Inca Trail then? Yes, except for one thing - The Lares Valley trek does not finish at the Sun Gate over looking Machu Picchu like the Inca Trail trek. It finishes close by but you will take a bus to Machu Picchu for a guided visit. Maybe not perfect but the Lares Vally trek has been getting some great reports from travellers liking it's "off the beaten track" feel and lack of crowds. It's not as commercialized as the Inca Trail and could easily become a major Peru highlight once word spreads on the bush telegraph.

So what do you need to know about the Lares Valley Trek?

Here's a list of FAQ's from GAP Adventures

How long is the Lares Trek and how many hours do we hike per a day?
The Lares Trek is 33 kms ( 20.5miles) long and depending on which campsites are used the approximate hours hiked per day are: Day 1: 5 hours Day 2: 8 hours Day 3: 4 hours

How difficult is the Lares Trek?
The Lares Trek is considered a moderate hike. It's not a technical hike but the altitude may affect some individuals. We recommend purchasing a wooden walking stick while in Peru as it will help with your balance and reduce the load on your knees. We ask that you not use a metal tipped walking stick as it can harm the fragile environment along the trail.

Is altitude sickness common? And how high is the Lares Trek?
It's impossible to predict who will be affected by altitude. Your ability to adapt to high altitude is determined by your genetic makeup and has little to do with fitness or health. Most people will have no problems as long as they take the time to acclimatize properly. A full day spent in Cuzco (3249m), taking it easy and drinking plenty of water, is usually enough for most people. The highest point you will reach while hiking the Lares Trek is 4550 meters.

Is it possible to skip the Lares Trek even if the tour includes it?
Yes! If you do not wish to hike the Lares Trek please advise us at the time of booking (it is very difficult to make these arrangements once you have already confirmed). If you choose not to hike the trail you will spend two nights in Cuzco and then take the train to the town of Aguas Calientes for the third night. You will rejoin your group at Machu Picchu the next morning.

When do we reach Machu Picchu and how much time do we spend there?
You will reach Machu Picchu early in the morning on Day 4. You will be met by a local guide who will take you on an informative 2-hour tour of the ruins. After the tour you will have a few hours of free time to explore the area on your own before the group travels by bus to Aguas Calientes where we catch the train back to Cuzco.

Do porters carry our luggage while on the Lares Trek?
No, llamas, pack mules and/or horses will be provided to carry your personal items. You will still need to bring a day backpack to carry any essentials you might want or need, such as water, snacks, camera, sweater, rain jacket, etc.

How cold does it get on the Lares Trek (will I need to bring hats and mitts)?
The high altitude means it can get quite chilly, especially during the Andean winter (May - September) when the temperature can drop to below zero degrees (Celsius) at night. It can still be cool at other times of the year and so we recommend bringing thermal underwear and a warm sleeping bag. You can purchase warm, inexpensive and locally made hand-woven hats and gloves in Cuzco.

What type of accommodation is used on the Lares Trek?
Three-person tents are used to accommodate two same-sex travellers for the first two nights. The third night will be spent in a simple hotel in Aguas Calientes. There are a few places where permanent but very basic toilet facilities exist and when they are not available our team will set up portable toilet tents. Trekkers are provided with a bowl of hot water (and a hot drink) every morning in their tent.

Is a sleeping bag and mat included?
Sleeping bags are not included and so we recommend bringing a compact three-season sleeping bag. A popular alternative is to rent a sleeping bag in Cuzco, which is done locally. They are clean, warm and cost approximately USD$10 (for all three nights). Some renters may choose to bring a sleeping bag liner or sheet. Foam mats are provided however some travelers also bring their own self-inflating mat (ie. a Thermarest).

Is purified water available on the trek?
Bottled water can be purchased on day 1 of the Lares Trek and you will be provided with clean boiled water every day of the trek.

What type of food will we get on the Lares Trek?
Our cooks prepare excellent high-energy meals appropriate for a trek of this nature. The menu usually includes pasta, rice, chicken, fresh fruit and vegetables and a variety of oatmeal, eggs and other breakfast foods.

SAVE R500 per person* on the Peru Panorama 15 day tour

*subject to availability and dates of promotion

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Expedition Cruising - Explorer

One of the most important aspects of your expedition to Antarctica is the ship that will take you there. Again for Travel Light small means beautiful. A smaller ship can get to places the larger vessels can't and with enough space on the zodiacs for all passengers you won't find yourself waiting in line to get your experience. Travel Light recommends GAP Adventure's ship Explorer, here's why

Few experiences match the adventure of shipboard travel - and none equal the exhilaration of sailing to the world's most remote and wild shores aboard our superb expedition ship, the legendary Explorer.

Expedition - the word conjures up images of the great explorers of old like Shackleton, Amundsen and Magellan who mapped the earth, and the modern scientific pioneers of today, who delve into its deepest scientific mysteries.

A voyage aboard G.A.P Adventures' M/S Explorer is an expedition in the truest sense of the word. Explorer goes where other ships cannot, where only a ship of her caliber could. At only 75 meters in length and equipped with an ice hardened double hull and a fleet of robust zodiacs, she is a go-anywhere ship for the go-anywhere traveller. With a veteran crew of polar mariners and an experienced expedition team of marine and avian biologists, geologists, historians and naturalists, these adventures are voyages of discovery to the far reaches of the globe with a quest for knowledge and authentic cultural and natural experiences as the driving forces.

Since 1990, G.A.P Adventures has specialized in a unique brand of small group adventure travel experiences. We strive to show you the real world, by taking you off the beaten track to the heart of the destination and to meet the locals who call it home. If you have a sense of adventure, a lust for life and a curiosity for culture, you will quickly find yourself addicted to the G.A.P Adventures Expedition style of travel. Explorer and her staff share this passion for new experiences and a history of off the beaten track exploration. We look forward to adding to that history in your company.

Cabin Re-Classification
We are pleased to announce exciting changes to our Expedition program aboard the M/S Explorer. Beginning with our April, 2008 departures, we will be modifying the way in which we classify our cabins, effectively reducing the number of categories from 8 to 5. We have made this decision in response to valuable feedback from our past travellers and agent partners who have encouraged G.A.P Adventures to align more closely with the classification system employed by the mainstream Cruise segment. Cabins images and descriptions are below.

Cabin Categories (effective April 2008)

Category 1
1 upper berth; 2 lower berths. Ensuite shower facilities. Porthole*.

Category 2
1 upper berth; 1 lower berth. En suite shower facilities. Porthole*.

Category 3
2 Twin lower berths. En suite shower facilities. Porthole*.

Category 4 (shown in photo)

2 Twin Lower berths; En suite facilities with shower; small window

Category 5

Lounge area; Queen bed; En suite facilities with showers; 2 picture windows; updated décor, TV/VCR; Amenities Program.

*Porthole will be covered during rough weather

IAATO Approved:
In April of 2006 G.A.P Adventures became a full member in IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators). IAATO was founded in 1991 to advocate, promote and practice safe and environmentally responsible private-sector travel to the Antarctic and now represents about 95% of all annual tourists to Antarctica. In 1996 IAATO developed an independent Onboard Observer program to ensure that companies applying to become members meet their detailed and extensive regulations for visiting Antarctica. This past Antarctic season G.A.P Adventures carried one such observer onboard their M/S Explorer and met IAATO standards. Subsequent to this, G.A.P Adventures was voted in as full member to IAATO at their 17th annual meeting. IAATO developed a set of Guidelines for tourists to Antarctic, which were subsequently adopted by the Antarctic Treaty parties as part of their Environmental Protocol. It is both GAP's and IAATO's hope that our passengers will return home with a basic understanding of the continent and will be ambassadors for the Great White Continent.

Become Part of History...
The travel market is awash with shipboard travel options, but none compare to the experience of a journey aboard what polar adventurer, Sir Wally Herbert, called "the explorer's Explorer". Explorer was the first passenger ship to travel to Antarctica and the first to voyage south of the Antarctic Circle. Explorer was also the first passenger ship to make the journey through the Northwest Passage, the infamous, ice-covered Arctic waters connecting the Pacific and Atlantic. She has blazed a marine trail around the globe, earning accolades from passengers, ship enthusiasts and professionals alike - most recently from National Geographic Adventure magazine, which ranked our Antarctica adventures among their Top 25 Adventures of the Year.
"The most travelled vessel with the most varied record of natural wonders anywhere on the high seas."
- Keith Shackleton -

The Expedition Style of Travel...
Explorer travels in a yearly cycle from the icy realm of the great white continent, Antarctica, then across the oceans, making stops along the way to remote locations, before heading to the islands of the North Atlantic and Arctic. These destinations have inspired the bold explorers of old for centuries, and today inspire the modern wanderlusted traveller seeking a unique and authentic adventure experience. The imagination wanders at the very sound of their names, calling curious travellers to come experience unique ecosystems, stunning landscapes and fascinating cultures and histories.

A day onboard an Explorer expedition could have you tracking a pod of minke whales by zodiac in Antarctica, viewing polar bear on the ice off the bow in Spitsbergen, or exploring the deep fjords and remote Inuit villages of Greenland's rugged coastline. The focus of our time aboard Explorer will be on wildlife, culture, history and scenery, and on learning about our surroundings under the tutelage of seasoned experts such as marine biologists, naturalists, historians, anthropologists, geologists and photographers.

The Original Expedition Ship...
Dubbed "The Little Red Ship", Explorer was specifically designed for the rigours of expedition travel as well as the safety, comfort and convenience of her passengers. She was the first (and we still feel the best!) expedition ship ever constructed, not a converted freighter or research vessel. Her compact size, shallow draft and ice strengthened double hull were specifically designed for challenging marine environments and exploratory travel while her cabins and common areas were conceived for passenger comfort and enjoyment. All of Explorer's public areas were designed to hold everyone on the ship in one sitting; so there is no need for multiple meal and lecture shifts. Small, agile and stalwart, she is a go-anywhere ship for the go-anywhere traveller! And because Explorer is our ship, we are literally at the helm so we can ensure you'll experience a high caliber journey while benefiting from the affordable pricing you have come to expect from G.A.P Adventures.

Explorer Quick Facts
* lounge and onboard library
* fully outfitted lecture hall
* small gym, sauna and pool
* all cabins with private bath and outside view
* dining room serving international cuisine
* medical clinic and onboard doctor
* gift shop
* topside observation deck with 360-degree unobstructed view
* double, ice-hardened hull ice rating 1A1 ice A
* large fleet of Zodiacs with clean 4-stroke engines

Book all your unique adventures and travel experiences with the experts Travel Light

Antarctica Expedition Cruise FAQ's

We spoke to GAP Adventures one of the world leaders in Antarctic expedition cruises and asked them some frequently asked questions about taking a trip to Antarctica. Here's what they say

What ship do you use for your Antarctica programs?
We have recently taken ownership of the Explorer, the world's first purpose-built expedition cruise ship designed specifically for polar destinations. Triple, twin and single cabins are available and all feature private facilities and a porthole or window. The lecture hall, lounge and dining room are large enough to accommodate all 108 passengers. The ship also features a small gym and plenty of viewing space on deck. For more information on our ship check out the post above this blog entry.

When is the best time to visit Antarctica?
Antarctica can only be visited during the summer season which lasts from November to March. November is best for viewing penguin rookeries while March is a good time for whale watching.

Where does the ship depart from?
The ship departs from Ushuaia, Argentina. Flights typically arrive in Ushuaia via Buenos Aires. If you are a resident of Southern Africa please contact an adventure specialists Travel Light for a quote for a full antarctic package.

Do you have tours that combine Antarctica with a visit to Patagonia?
Yes, our Antarctica and Patagonia Experience does exactly that. If you are looking for this and other options please contact one of the Travel Light Adventure Specialists for further details.

How long are the shore excursions?
Shore excursions are typically 2 to 3 hours long and there is at least one a day (depending on weather).

What type of outerwear is required in Antarctica?
We recommend you bring a warm winter jacket, waterproof pants, tall Wellington boots, hats, mitts and anything else that would make you comfortable in cold weather. There are places in Ushuaia where outerwear can be rented however there is no guarantee that items will be available (and so we recommend you bring it with you). For more information please download the tour dossier.

Can outerwear be reserved in advance?
We cannot reserve outerwear in advance. It can sometimes be arranged at your Ushuaia hotel upon arrival however we cannot guarantee that the items or the items in your size will be available.

Is seasickness common?
All our Antarctic voyages cross the Drake Passage, notorious for rough seas. We recommend bringing seasickness medication and if you are unsure which type to bring please consult your physician.

Book your Antarctic Expedition through Travel Light

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