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EXPLORER

The Escape Issue

FINDING SPACE IN THE ATACAMA DESERT OVER THE CRATER RIM IN TANZANIA TREADING LIGHTLY IN SLOVENIA

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Intimate Galapagos

Yacht Isabela II

Wildlife observation

The beauty of Galapagos is in the details: otherwolrdly landscapes, rich underwater life, and of course, intrepid wildlife that knows no fear of humans. Yacht Isabela II, with its 20 guest cabins, promises a close-up and convivial experience of this unique world. The perfect, intimate space for exploring Darwin’s islands in comfort and exclusivity, its laid-back atmosphere and deluxe amenities delight guests who enjoy adventure and discovery. Explore the coast with your guides on our pangas, glass-bottom boat, or kayaks. Or get wet and snorkel! Enjoy top facilities and equipment, delicious meals, and safe and stimulating expert-planned expeditions on the islands. On board, allow our well-knit and long-standing crew to indulge you with special surprises.


Wildlife observation - Rabida Island

Being in a smallish group makes it much easier to be close with the wildlife--- Joe B. TripAdvisor 2017 review

Kayaking

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Glass-bottom boat


CONTRIBUTORS

Editor Heather Richardson Sub-editor Kirsty Page Design She Was Only shewasonly.co.uk

Sarah Gilbert Travel Writer Sarah is a globetrotting freelance writer and photographer based in London. She contributes to a variety of magazines, newspapers and websites, including Wanderlust, The Guardian and Lonely Planet online. She’s visited 66 countries and counting, and feels just as at home in a luxe resort in the Indian Ocean as she does in a wooden hut in the Amazon rainforest.

Mary Novakovich Travel Writer Mary is an award-winning travel journalist who writes regularly for British newspapers including The Guardian, The Independent and The Daily Telegraph. She has been visiting Croatia, where her parents were born, since she was a child, and goes back whenever humanly possible. Her love of the country has been put to good use in writing Croatia guidebooks for Insight Guides and Berlitz.

Illustrations Lauren Crow Other contributors Photographers Ken Spence and Niels van Gijn Travel enquiries enquiries@jacadatravel.com jacadatravel.com UK +44 2037 335 698 US toll-free +1 877 967 0096 HK +852 2110 0537 Advertising heather@jacadatravel.com Cover image The Atacama Desert, Chile Supplied by Explora Atacama

Ronan J. O’Shea Travel Writer Ronan is an Irish writer and journalist based in London. A former music journalist, he now writes travel and hotel features for numerous publications including The Explorer, Escapism and the New York Post. He worked for many years as an English teacher in the Czech Republic and in addition to his travel work, he has written features on politics, food and mental health. When not writing features, he concentrates on fiction writing.

Richard Mellor Travel Writer Richard is a London-based writer specialising in travel, food and anything newfangled. He writes for The Times, Metro, The Guardian, BBC and Broadly among others. Initially starting his career in public relations for travel companies, Richard soon realised that he preferred writing about foreign shores to showing them to smug journalists, and quickly swapped sides. He's never regretted it, although his accountant remains angry.

The Explorer is published quarterly by Jacada Travel Online jacadatravel.com/the-explorermagazine Address London 144 Liverpool Road, London, N1 1LA, UK Hong Kong 29/F Wyndham Place, 40-44 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong​

Heather Richardson Editor/Travel Writer Heather is the editor of The Explorer and an award-winning travel writer. She has had the travel bug ever since her first big trip to South America at age 18, which included six weeks in the Amazon rainforest and a stint in the Galápagos highlands. She has recently moved from London to Cape Town, where she spends a lot of her free time running around Table Mountain or being decidedly less healthy in the Winelands. 04

CONTRIBUTORS

Lily Bunker Latin America Expert Lily’s Latin America expertise began with an eight-month-long trip from Cuba to Argentina. She explored spectacular beaches in Mexico, learned to scuba dive in Honduras and hiked around the lush, green volcanic landscapes of Guatemala. In South America, she found the Inca culture fascinating and was continually blown away by the incredible scenery that she visited from the Peruvian Andes to the Bolivian salt flats.

Cape Town Suite SP7C6, Somerset Square, Highfield Road, Cape Town 8005, South Africa Connect #JacadaTribe #JTExplorer @jacadatravel


CONTENTS

“It would be madness to have hundreds of boats on the water at the same time. It would ruin everything.” 34 — Ronan O’Shea explores Slovenia

24 Out of This World

44 Dubrovnik – An Escapist’s Guide

54 Unexpected Ngorongoro

62 Flying High

Sarah Gilbert discovers a multitude of ways to get lost in the otherworldly expanse of Chile’s Atacama Desert.

Dubrovnik expert, Mary Novakovich reveals her insider tips on how to beat the cruise crowds in Croatia’s most popular city.

Richard Mellor tries to get off the beaten track during a stay in the two newest lodges around Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater.

Heather Richardson talks to Khin Omar Win and Brett Melzer about taking travellers to the skies of Myanmar and Chile. CONTENTS

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CONTENTS

BOARDING CALL 10 Briefing The latest news from the world of luxury travel

“I think it’s important for wildlife photographers to tell a deeper story with an image” 16 — Photographer George Turner

ARRIVALS 66 Hot Tickets What to book now and where to travel now

14 The List

68 Ask the Experts

Top products for long-haul flights

Travel experts answer some of your questions

16 A Thousand Words

69 Letters from the Field

George Turner tells us how he transformed an idea into a photograph in Tanzania

Donna and Peter report on their trip to Chile

18 Hotel of the Moment Michelle Lloyd-Adams reviews South Africa’s Leobo Private Reserve

71 Giving Back Lily Bunker visits the Costa Rican charity Kids Saving the Rainforest 72 The Five-Q Travel Interview Adventurer Leon McCarron answers five questions about his life in travel

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DEAR TRAVELLERS ISSUE 7

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scapism is a theme commonly linked to travel, and one of the reasons so many of us love to visit remote areas and otherworldly landscapes. Feeling like we’re in a world so different to the one we usually inhabit is liberating. It allows us to function differently, opens our eyes and physically puts a distance between us and the stresses we might experience in everyday life. But that idea of ‘the escape’ needn’t be restricted to finding vast, open spaces or little-visited countries. In this issue of The Explorer, we also look at places that attract many – sometimes too many – travellers, and show you how to escape in even the busiest of settings. Dubrovnik expert Mary Novakovich reveals her tips on how to explore Croatia’s most popular city and avoid the cruise-liner crowds with smart insider know-how (page 44). Richard Mellor was nervous about the amount of other tourists he’d find in Ngorongoro Crater,

Tanzania, but discovers that the two newest lodges make getting off the beaten track much easier (page 54). You might have noticed that this issue has been given a makeover. Do you like it? Let me know! We’ve got new regular sections too, including A Thousand Words, which tells the story behind a photograph that caught our eye (page 16), and travel advice from the globe-trotting experts at Jacada Travel (page 68). We also catch up with people who provide the experiences we travel for: Khin Omar Win and Brett Melzer have spent the last couple of decades working in Myanmar, Bhutan and Chile, providing award-winning accommodation and bird’s-eye views from hot air balloons for travellers in these far-flung places (page 62). I hope you enjoy this latest issue of The Explorer and that it inspires an escape of your own. Keep exploring!

HEATHER RICHARDSON Editor heather@jacadatravel.com EDITOR'S LETTER

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Boarding Call 10 Briefing 14 The List 16 A Thousand Words 18 Hotel of the Moment PAGE TITLE

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BRIEFING Openings and news in the luxury travel world.

TAJ SWARNA OPENS IN AMRITSAR, INDIA Taj Swarna Amritsar, opened on 14th January. The hotel – the newest in the Taj collection – is located in the city centre and features 157 rooms and suites, a gym, pool and Jiva Spa, plus restaurants and a lounge offering boutique rum and Cuban cigars. The Taj is close to Amritsar’s famous sights, such as the Golden Temple, one of Sikhism’s holiest shrines, and Jallianwala Bagh, a walled public garden, which was the site of the 1919 massacre that is commemorated within the grounds.

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NEW APP TO LAUNCH AT MAJOR ART MUSEUMS, INCLUDING THE LOUVRE A new app that will allow guests to scan artwork with their smartphone and instantly read about the background of a piece, will launch a limited service at several major art museums, including Paris’ Louvre and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum in late May. The app is called Smartify and has similarities to the music identifier app, Shazam. It is currently free to download. smartify.org.uk

FLIGHTS Cathay Pacific will fly direct from Hong Kong to Christchurch, New Zealand In December, Cathay Pacific will launch its first direct flights from Hong Kong to Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. The route will be between 11 and 12 hours, one of the airline’s longest flights, and will take off three times a week from 1st December until 28th February 2018. Kenya Airways will fly direct from Nairobi to Victoria Falls Kenya Airways will fly direct from Nairobi, Kenya to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe three times a week from 18th May. Flights are scheduled for Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. This route is also linked to Cape Town, with Kenya Airways being the only airline to fly direct between Victoria Falls and Cape Town.

NEPAL ANNOUNCES PLANS TO PROTECT SNOW LEOPARDS The Government of Nepal has announced the introduction of the Snow Leopard Conservation Action Plan 2017-2021. The plan aims to ensure at least 100 snow leopards of breeding age live in each of the leopard habitats of Nepal by 2020, and was made in conjunction with the 12 countries across the snow leopard range. It will cost an estimated US$3.15 million and will involve the creation of safe wildlife corridors and a reduction of poaching incidents.

THE UN LAUNCHES ITS CLEAN SEAS CAMPAIGN Following the World Oceans Summit in Bali, the UN launched its Clean Seas campaign on 23rd February, which aims to tackle plastic pollution. The initiative will target the use of single-use disposable products (such as straws, plastic bags and coffee cups) and microplastics in cosmetics (such as microbeads in face scrubs). Indonesia – which, after China, discards more plastic into the sea than any other country – has already pledged to reduce its marine garbage by 70% by 2025, allocating up to US$1 billion a year to the issue. cleanseas.org

Qatar’s new flight to Auckland, New Zealand, is the world’s longest On Sunday 5th February, Qatar Airways launched its first flight to Auckland, New Zealand from Doha. The return leg clocks in as the longest commercial flight time in the world, at 17 hours and 30 minutes. The journey from Doha is 14,534 kilometres (9,031 miles) in distance and takes 16 hours and 20 minutes.

BLUE PLANET II WILL AIR LATER THIS YEAR After the huge success of the BBC’s Planet Earth II, which was watched by an average of 10.15 million people when it first aired, the channel has confirmed that Blue Planet II, the sequel to the award-winning Blue Planet, will show this autumn on BBC One in the UK. Sir David Attenborough, back as narrator, revealed that the crew had spent four years filming for the seven-part series. bbc.com BRIEFING

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GREAT PLAINS CONSERVATION OPEN FIRST PERMANENT STABLES IN THE MAASAI MARA Great Plains Conservation has announced the opening of the first permanent riding stables in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. The stables and the 16 horses will be available to anyone staying in the Mara Conservancies or the Maasai Mara National Reserve, providing they are over 14 years old and are competent riders. Guided rides will be available in the morning and afternoon for US$250 per ride.

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THE SILO OPENS IN CAPE TOW Cape Town’s newest luxury hotel, The Silo, opened its doors on 1st March, a longanticipated development on Cape Town’s waterfront. On the uppermost floors of a refurbished grain silo – Africa’s tallest building when it first opened in 1924 – the hotel features 28 individually designed rooms and one lavish penthouse, floorto-ceiling convex windows, signature bathrooms, a rooftop bar and pool and incredible 360° views of Cape Town.

SOUTH AFRICA AIRPORT TO TAKE DOWN IMAGE OF LION CUB PETTING In response to concern raised by Blood Lions, Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport will take down an image used in a South Africa Tourism campaign that shows a family petting lion cubs. Lion cub petting has long been considered a form of irresponsible tourism by conservation groups. Following the decision, a Blood Lions spokesperson said: “These actions will go some way to ensuring that South Africa starts reclaiming its reputation as a promoter of ethical wildlife tourism.” bloodlions.org BRIEFING

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The List.

Long-Haul Flying

Top buys to make long-haul flights as comfortable as possible.

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Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones $349.95 bose.com

Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream $22 elizabetharden.com

3 Travalo Milano Perfume Atomiser $38 travalo.com

4 This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray $29 thisworks.com

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5 Tumi Pax On-The-Go Packable Jacket/Neck Pillow $195 amazon.com

6 Catherine and Jean Alexis Eye Mask - Tropical Leaves (with or without lavender) ÂŁ18-20 / $22-25 catherineandjean.com

7 The Travelwrap Company Herringbone Pashmina in Peregrine $318.50 thetravelwrapcompany.com

THE LIST

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A THOUSAND WORDS

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They say a photograph is worth a thousand words, but what does it take to capture one worthy of such a statement? Photographer George Turner tells Heather Richardson how he captured this image of a cheetah in Tanzania.


Where was this shot taken? It was taken in the Ngorongoro area in Tanzania, near a camp called Olakira. When was it captured? It was about five o’clock in the afternoon. The light was going very quickly, and it was also changing very quickly. I had to almost guess what my settings were going to be. Tell us about the photograph Cheetahs are not in a great place – there are less than 8,000 left in the wild. I think it’s important for wildlife photographers to tell a deeper story with an image, which can be quite difficult. In this case, my aim was to show the vulnerability of the species, but I wanted some backlight to light up the raindrops, so there was some hope in the image, too. I was very specific about what I wanted. How did you get it? We’d been in the Serengeti all day. On our way back, you could hear the thunder rumbling and see the rain hammering down in the distance. In front of us we could see a storm brewing, too. So, I was getting massively overexcited. Suddenly we saw a cheetah on the horizon. She was a long way away and moving at a fast pace. In that part of the reserve, you can go off-road, which was amazing because if we weren’t able to, I just wouldn’t have got the shot. With her were two cubs, which aren’t in the photo as they were too far behind. As we were driving up to her, I was getting very excited because the conditions were perfect: I had the backlight I wanted, I had the raindrops. The problem was she had her back to us – we just had to hope that as we got closer she would look around. All the rainwater was collecting where my guide, Oleé, had the canopy over him. When we stopped the car, all the water came off like a waterfall and made a massive crashing sound. She probably looked around for about half a second. Luckily, the framing was ok. Then she and her cubs went sprinting off. And that was it. The technical details Nikon D5 / 500-mm lens / ISO: 1,200 / Aperture: 4 I had to be sure that my settings were perfect first time. And they weren’t quite perfect – which in the end added to the shot. I was zoomed in from such a distance, if I’d moved two millimetres to the right, the cheetah would have been out of the frame. I shoot hand-held all the time, so I had to stay incredibly still, focus right between the eyes and I had about half a second to get it. The moment I saw it on the back of my camera, I knew that I’d gotten what I wanted, which very rarely happens in this industry. That’s the euphoria of wildlife photography. George is a former ad-man turned wildlife photographer from the south of England. He works with various tourism boards, brands and charities creating content inspiring others to get involved with conservation. @georgetheexplorer / georgetheexplorer.com A THOUSAND WORDS

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HOTEL OF THE MOMENT

LEOBO PRIVATE RESERVE

Leobo Private Reserve is not a typical South African lodge. Located three hours’ drive north of Johannesburg, it is a reserve of 20,000 acres (8,000 hectares) in the scenic Waterberg mountains. Built by an English family as their home in South Africa, the lodge and observatory have recently become available to visitors, but only on a sole-occupancy basis. Leobo stands out for its beautiful scenery, attentive service, unusual features (yes, we said observatory), and most of all, for the vast array of activities – where else can you try paintballing from a helicopter? Michelle Lloyd-Adams went to play. How do you get there? We arrived at Leobo after a private 45-minute helicopter flight from Grand Central airport, which is 30 to 40 minutes from Johannesburg airport. You can also drive from Joburg, but we took advantage of the lodge’s helicopter – although that did mean I had to pack light! What was your first impression? As we flew in, we were greeted by a whole herd of giraffe – it seemed like they’d come out to welcome us. A fantastic start for an area not known for its wildlife. 18

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What did you do during your stay? There is so much to do at Leobo, a lot of which is included in the room rate, such as hiking, fishing, quad biking, ancient rock art tours or kayaking down the river. An optional night in Leobo’s star bed (an open-air sleep-out) is also included. Astronomy is a big deal at Leobo as a personal interest of the owner’s. The Waterberg Observatory is part of the main house and equipped with two telescopes – one for looking at stars and planets, the other for looking at the sun (safely!). We were treated to a guest speaker, an astrologist, who gave us a guided tour of the night sky, which was fascinating whether you’re into astronomy or not. We saw shooting stars and even a passing space station rotating the Earth every 85 minutes. We did a lot of ‘eat-outs’ during our stay. For lunch one day, we drove to a tree house with its own built-in pizza oven and decks over the river. One evening, we drove out into the bush for 15 minutes, right into the middle of nowhere, where we found an upscale braai (a South African barbecue) dinner set-up with blankets to keep us snug.

This issue, we’re loving an unusual, exclusive lodge in South Africa’s Limpopo region. Michelle Lloyd-Adams reviews Leobo Private Reserve.


Leobo is known for its array of exciting activities, such as paintballing from helicopters.

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Left. The library, one of the lodge’s chill out zones. Guests are free to do as they like with their time at Leobo. Right. One of the lodge’s expansive bathrooms with views across the reserve.

A scenic helicopter flip took us around the reserve to admire the beautiful landscape from above. Just as the sun was setting, our pilot landed expertly on a narrow clifftop where sundowners and snacks were waiting for us. As one of my fellow travellers remarked, this wasn’t your usual biltong and nuts set-up – the lodge had prepared bites such as smoked salmon and crème fraiche canapés and honey-roasted cashews, made in the kitchen that morning. Of course, the stand-out experience was the paintballing. Three paintballers took to the sky in the lodge’s helicopter to target the rest of the team on their quad bikes. Everyone was geared up with overalls, helmets, goggles and breast plates for the ladies, with a game vehicle following for safety or if anyone got tired. If you’re with a group who aren’t up for it, the staff are always keen to make up the numbers. What was the highlight? The activities are the focus here and the paintballing was certainly the highlight. How was the food and drink? Copious! We were well fed and watered throughout the day, but it wasn’t over the top. Our first lunch when we arrived was a Mexican-style spread with lots of light food and cold dishes (it was very hot).

How did you find the service? This was one of my favourite things about Leobo. We were so well cared for, which I think is due to the lodge only taking private bookings. When we walked in for a meal, we were handed a hot, vanilla-scented towel, and greeted by name. We’d provided our dietary requirements before we arrived. I don’t like spicy food, so as the chef presented our first meal, he added, “Michelle, make sure you don’t have this dish, it’s very spicy – try this one instead.” It was the same throughout my stay; we were all advised according to any requirements we had. It really meant a lot. What sets this lodge apart? For me, it was the attention to detail and the attentiveness of the staff. It really was the best lodge I’ve visited to date. Who would this appeal to? Active people (though I’m not that active and I loved it), families, and anyone with a sense of fun. Need to know This is a year-round destination. Leobo is available for private use only, suitable for between two and 22 guests. For bookings or more information, contact travel designers Anton Noll (anton@jacadatravel.com, based in Cape Town, South Africa) or Joyce Choi (joyce@ jacadatravel.com, based in Hong Kong). HOTEL OF THE MOMENT

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Features 24 Out of This World 34 Balancing Act 44 Dubrovnik — An Escapist's Guide 54 Unexpected Ngorongoro 62 Flying High PAGE TITLE

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From soaring through the sky to crunching across expansive salt flats, Sarah Gilbert gets lost in Chile’s vast Atacama Desert.


This World

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he sun’s first rays brought about a dazzling transformation. The wall of still-smoking volcanoes turned from blues and purples to terracotta and ochre in quick succession. And between the roar of the flames, only the whistling wind pierced the silence. I held my breath as I watched the shadow of the balloon track across the ground. Drifting towards Moon Valley, my bird’s-eye view gave its corrugated cliffs and undulating dunes an unmistakably lunar-like quality. It’s no surprise that its rocky terrain proved a good testing ground for NASA’s moon vehicles. Eastern Safaris, the company that started out running balloon rides over the temples of Bagan in Myanmar, began operating Balloons Over Atacama last year. The world’s highest and driest non-polar desert, the Atacama’s otherworldly landscapes stretch

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for more than 1,200 kilometres across northern Chile. At dawn, eight of us had gathered in the chilly morning air and watched over coffee and croissants as fire breathed life into our wine-red balloon. As it expanded, a golden alicanto bird, a mythological creature of Chilean folklore that glows with a metallic sheen, slowly appeared, wings outstretched. Safety briefing over, we clambered into the wicker basket as a shaft of sunlight appeared over Licancabur’s perfect volcanic cone, before gently soaring into the rapidly lightening sky. Looking down, I could see unlikely patches of green among the barren landscape, a smattering of oasis-like villages fed by underground rivers and meltwater from the Andes. After we landed, with barely a bump, champagne corks popped and we were invited to pay our own respects to the land as we poured drops of bubbly onto the sand to honour Pachamama, or Mother Earth.


Left. The team prepare for take-off in the chilly early morning. Image: Ken Spence.

Below. The mythical alicanto bird on one of the balloons. Image: Ken Spence.

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A bird’s-eye view reveals the Atacama’s diverse terrain. 28

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I was staying at Explora Atacama, where the long, low buildings take their cue from the surroundings: whitewashed adobe, stone and wood, with blasts of colour from hand-woven blankets, and picture windows to take in the stunning views. Luxuries include a Hockney-blue pool set in a landscaped desert garden, a sauna and massage room, a top-notch restaurant turning local produce into gourmet fare and a well-stocked bar for sampling pisco sours and fine Chilean wine. Explora sits on the fringes of San Pedro de Atacama, where the atmospheric, dusty streets throng with tourists, there for the handicrafts and cafés, the pretty tree-lined plaza with its simple Andean church and the excellent archaeological museum. But, less hotel, more luxe base camp, its extensive menu of explorations is designed to reveal northern Chile’s most spectacular scenery without the crowds: half- and full-day hikes, journeys by bike and horseback, plus high mountain ascents for those who’ve acclimatised, to go where the tour buses can’t reach. From the air, I’d caught a white flash of the Salar de Atacama, the world’s third largest salt flat. Later that afternoon, I set out with a guide to explore its encrusted expanse, which stretches for more than 3,000 square kilometres. At close quarters, the compacted salt crunched like ice underfoot as we followed a track to the shores of Laguna Chaxa, a startling sweep of vivid blue on the otherwise barren landscape.

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“AS IF ON CUE, A FLOCK OF ANDEAN FLAMINGOS FLEW OVERHEAD IN STRICT FORMATION


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Despite the extreme conditions, the salar sustains a surprising variety of birdlife, including three out of the world’s seven flamingo species, the Baird's sandpiper and the puna plover. As if on cue, a flock of Andean flamingos flew overhead in strict formation. Others paced in the shallows, foraging for the microscopic but carotene-rich brine shrimps that give them their distinctive rosy hue. As the setting sun dipped behind Licancabur, the salt turned to liquid gold and the volcano and its neighbours a fiery orange, until a sliver of moon appeared and a plethora of stars began to glitter in the darkening sky. With its high altitude, clean air and lack of light pollution, the Atacama is one of the finest places on the planet for stargazing. The planets and stars of the southern sky are visible for all to see, including ringed Saturn and multi-hued Jupiter. The area is a major hub for astronomical research and home to a number of cutting-edge observatories, including ALMA, the largest land-based observatory ever built. But I didn’t have to venture far; Explora offers stargazing at its own private observatory using a 16-inch Meade telescope. With a laser pen, my guide mapped out the kiteshaped constellation Crux, as we zoomed in on the Southern Cross, from where you can track the south celestial pole – and the clarity was breathtaking. The following day’s hike saw me crisscrossing a rocky but surprisingly verdant landscape dotted with hardy pre-puna vegetation. I arrived at the Puritama hot springs to take a dip in the reed-fringed, jade-green thermal waters Explora-style, in their own private pool, complete with drinks and nibbles.

Later, some guests chose a two-wheel option to ride through the scrubby, buff-coloured desert, taking in an ancient settlement of the Atacameños, a pre-Hispanic desert people. I chose four legs; Explora’s on-site stable houses more than 20 horses, perfect for novices to expert riders. I rode out of the village with my guide, leaving behind the rough-hewn adobe farmhouses for an expanse of stone-strewn desert flanked by striated rock formations, sculpted by wind and time. The only cloud in the cobalt-blue sky was a distant plume of steam rising from a smouldering crater. With more time, you can visit the mountainous piles of rocks at Yerbas Buenas, where hundreds of petroglyphs – images carved and marked with red pigment – were made thousands of years ago by nomadic herders. See the geysers at El Tatio, best viewed just before sunrise, spouting scalding water amid snowcapped volcanic peaks, and watch golden vicuñas, wild cousins of the llama, their fleece once worth more than gold, grazing on the Altiplano. On my last evening, I stepped out into the darkness of Explora’s cobbled courtyard and looked up to see a silvery band arc across the sky: the brilliance of the Milky Way, so close I could almost reach out and touch it. Pack your bags Spend two weeks travelling from Patagonia to the Atacama, from $7,266 per person. For further information, contact Latin America travel designers Emily Opie (emily@jacadatravel.com, based in London, UK) or Jobi Chan (jobi@jacadatravel.com, based in Hong Kong).

Left. The Mars-like landscape of the Atacama Desert. Right. Horse riding is just one of the ways you can explore the area. OUT OF THIS WORLD

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BAL ANC ING ACT Little Slovenia is an increasingly popular destination, but the tourism board claims it will keep footfall to a minimum. Ronan O’Shea visits to find out how they plan to protect Slovenia from mass tourism. 34

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BALANCING ACT

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Above. Bled Castle overlooks the lake. Image: Ronan O’Shea. 36

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Right. Lake Bled’s island and church. Image: Franci Ferjan.


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or me, snow is something of a novelty, a rarity in my hometown. Arriving in Slovenia to discover it blanketed in the stuff, I’m already enthralled – and I’ve yet to get off the plane. I’ve come here to learn how the country plans to sustain such charm in the face of increasing visitors. It’s a battle many countries and destinations have lost, so I’m intrigued to find out how Slovenia will keep tourism at a boutique level. After meeting my guide, Petra, I’m driven directly to Lake Bled, not far from the capital Ljubljana. It’s everything a picture postcard should be, with snow-capped mountains, pristine water, a medieval castle atop the hill and a tiny island in the middle of the lake with a church. It’s this island we’re headed towards in a traditional pletna boat (not dissimilar to a gondola), only a few of which sail throughout the day, a purposefully sparse operation. The boatmen are descendants of a select few families from the nearby village of Mlino; a dictum dating back to Austro-Hungarian times protects the artisanal practices (and incomes) of local families. This is just one example of the Slovenian tourism board’s low-volume tourism model, which aims to make the country a ‘green, active, and healthy boutique destination for five-star experiences’.

In 2016, Ljubljana was named Europe’s Green Capital, which was successful in raising both the profile of the city and increasing environmental awareness. The tourism board now hope to extend this awareness of sustainable practices to the country at large. Slovenia is just shy of 8,000 square miles and Ljubljana has a population of 330,000. Overcrowding would be impractical and deleterious to the country’s picturesque landscapes and towns replete with beautiful cobblestone streets, narrow pathways and stunning architecture. A representative of the board tells me they have no interest in developing Slovenia as a ‘3S [sun, sand and sea] tourism destination’, but rather as an ‘exclusive boutique destination’. Petra believes the board’s approach is ideal for high-end travellers and the country as a whole. “We are only two million people,” she says, as we near the icy shores of Lake Bled, a handful of pletna boats bobbing up and down on the water. “It would be madness to have hundreds of boats on the water at the same time. It would ruin everything.” Having previously lived in Prague, the pretty centre of which suffers from overcrowding, I can see Petra’s point. When I first visited Bled seven years ago, it came as a welcome, tranquil respite from busy, industrial Milan, where I’d been studying. BALANCING ACT

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THE LEGEND SAYS GOD GAVE HIS LOYAL BELIEVERS THE LAKE AS THEIR OWN PIECE OF PARADISE

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The Bohinj Mountains. Image: Ronan O’Shea. BALANCING ACT

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What made that last trip so memorable was the sense of calm I found there. By Slovenian standards, Bled is a tourism hotspot and rising boat numbers would threaten the very things that attract people in the first place: beautiful, unspoiled nature, the tranquillity and an escape from the city noise many of us experience daily. Having ambled around Bled, we take the meandering mountain road towards Lake Bohinj. Bohinj loosely translates as ‘Gift from God’; the legend says God gave his loyal believers the lake as their own piece of paradise. Whatever the reality, it’s certainly a godly spot, the mountains resplendent in the winter sun, the water clear as glass. Here too, the low-volume, boutique appeal can be seen. While the winter season may partly explain the reduced number of visitors, Petra assures me that Bohinj stays quieter than Bled even at the

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height of summer – and the latter wasn’t exactly Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Riding a cable car up the nearby mountain of Vogel, I witness the stunning vista for hundreds of miles in every direction, and once more, I appreciate the peacefulness of this country. The lift is small enough to preclude hordes of skiers from taking to the slopes each day, and those who do (I opt to watch from the restaurant with a local beer and a plate of gulaš) won’t hit much traffic. It’s ideal for anyone looking to escape more crowded Alpine resorts. I hear a number of English voices on the lift back down and many locals bring their children here for their first taste of powder. The next day, I take a tour around Škocjan caves. With Europe’s largest known underground chamber, it’s a warren of stalactites, stalagmites, a rumbling river and vast expanses of darkness which leave me


Left. The shores of Lake Bohinj. Image: Ronan O’Shea. Above. A ski lift above Bohinj. Image: Iztok Medja. Right. Vogel, home to one of Slovenia’s ski resorts. Image: Iztok Medja. BALANCING ACT

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feeling like a character in The Lord of the Rings (one of the goodies, of course). The journey from cave to coast takes less than two hours, and that afternoon we reach Portorož (‘Port of Roses’) and Piran, two closely connected towns on the Adriatic famed for their Venetian architecture. While Petra relaxes in Kempinski Palace Portorož’s seawater pool, I take a stroll, lugging my camera (and heavy, boot-clad feet) up the hill to the Walls of Piran, parts of which date back to the 7th century. Italy’s Trieste lies in the distance. It’s hard to believe I awoke to the sight of snowy mountains just that morning. Over dinner that evening, I discuss Slovenia’s low-volume approach to tourism in further detail with my hosts at Kempinski Palace. The hotel embodies Slovenia’s boutique style. Built in the final years of the Austro-Hungarian period, it was one of the most luxurious spa resorts in the empire, attracting the great and the good due to its healing salts, for which Piran is world-famous, and its beautiful seafront. Enticing a moneyed, discerning clientele remains of key importance, no more so than at Restaurant Sophia, named after Sophia Loren, who stayed at the hotel in the 1950s. With elegant decor and high ceilings, it’s the perfect place for an upscale meal, and the local sea bass (baked in that famous salt) is worth the trip alone. From tranquil lakes to picturesque coastal towns, one of our last stops is the small village of Otočec, home to a 13th-century castle which has been a hotel for decades, welcoming guests from Nikita Khrushchev to Richard Burton and even a couple of James Bonds. With just 16 rooms, it’s everything I’ve come to expect from Slovenia: small, intimate and calming. When I check my camera later, I realise some of my photos from yesterday haven’t turned out as I’d hoped. It’s a shame, but I’m also happy to have an excuse to come back. With Slovenia ever-increasing in popularity, it’s a relief to know that – if the tourism board achieves its aims – my next trip will be just as relaxing and crowd-free. Pack your bags Sample the best of Slovenia on a nineday trip from $5,760 per person. To find out more, contact Europe travel designers Melania Siriu (melania@jacadatravel.com, based in London, UK) or Kit Wong (kit@jacadatravel.com, based in Hong Kong).

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IT’S EVERYTHING I’VE COME TO EXPECT FROM SLOVENIA: SMALL, INTIMATE AND CALMING


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Travel writer and Dubrovnik expert Mary Novakovich explains how you can experience Croatia’s ever-popular crown jewel without having to battle the crowds.

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t’s Croatia’s most-visited destination, and Dubrovnik’s intense beauty never fails to captivate. Medieval walls wind around the exquisite Old Town, its shiny marble streets lined with handsome, green-shuttered stone houses. The deep blue of the Adriatic Sea is a sparkling backdrop – a vivid contrast to the stark, barren mountains that rise up from the coast. But there are times when Dubrovnik’s popularity can get a bit too much. Cruise ships have been nonstop visitors to this Adriatic port for decades, dislodging thousands of people every day during much of the year. To add to the numbers, fans of Game of Thrones have also discovered Dubrovnik and are paying homage to the locations used in HBO’s fantasy drama.

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Stay one step ahead There are, however, ways of escaping the crowds. The first thing to do is to check the website of Dubrovnik’s Port Authority: portdubrovnik.hr will be your bible during your stay. It shows which ships are arriving every day, and – crucially – the number of passengers expected to descend on the city. If you see that several thousand people are expected to arrive on a certain day – up to 7,000 in high season – that’s your cue to steer clear of the Old Town until about 4pm. After that time, relative calm returns to the city. That’s when locals perform the Croatian version of the Italian passeggiata – the džir – and take a leisurely stroll up and down the Stradun, the gleaming thoroughfare that slices through the Old Town. It’s hard to find a more alluring high street in Europe than this marble-paved marvel. For the best introduction to Dubrovnik, take a walk around the city walls, nearly two kilometres of medieval fortifications that follow a crooked path around the Old Town. From here you can catch tantalising glimpses into everyday Dubrovnik life as you pass terracotta rooftops, colourful gardens and noisy playgrounds. The imposing sight of Fort Lovrijenac on the headland 46

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NEARLY TWO KILOMETRES OF MEDIEVAL FORTIFICATIONS FOLLOW A CROOKED PATH AROUND THE OLD TOWN

across the bay rears up on your right, and access to this massive 16th-century fort is included in your ticket. Save some energy for the 165 steps you’ll want to climb later. During the Dubrovnik Summer Festival in July and August, the fortress is a suitably brooding setting for performances of Hamlet. Bring a hat and plenty of water, as there’s no hiding from the sun while you’re up on the walls. It will take about two hours to do the fortifications justice, stopping along the way to savour glorious views of the Adriatic. Unless you want to share the walk with throngs of cruise passengers, come after 4pm when most people will have returned to their ships.


Left. The Dubrovnik Old Town walls from afar (top) and up close. This page. Dubrovnik’s cathedral, located in the Old Town. DUBROVNIK

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Discover secret beaches One of the sights you’ll spot during your walk on the walls is forest-clad Lokrum. Only a 15-minute boat ride from Dubrovnik’s Old Port, this tiny island of wooded trails and rocky beaches is a tranquil antidote to the busy Old Town. Bring a picnic with you as you explore the island’s shaded footpaths and the ruins of an old monastery. There’s a shallow saltwater lagoon that’s an inviting place for a relaxing dip. Bring swimming shoes (and possibly a sponge mat) if you want to splash about on the rocky beaches on 50

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the southern side. If you want to find (or avoid) the naturist beach, look out for the FKK sign. Back on the mainland, beach lovers will immediately spot the white pebbles of Banje Beach just beyond the Ploče Gate on the eastern side of the Old Town. This honeypot of a beach – which has a public area as well as sunloungers for hire – can be overwhelmed in the summer. But if you walk another 20 minutes further eastwards along the coast, you’ll see the steps leading down to Sveti Jakob Beach just beyond the church of the same name. Unlike many


THERE’S A SHALLOW SALTWATER LAGOON THAT’S AN INVITING PLACE FOR A RELAXING DIP

Croatian beaches, Sveti Jakob has a sandy area as well as the ubiquitous pebbles, and it’s considerably quieter than Banje Beach. It’s also one of the most beautiful in the region. North of the Old Town are the Lapad and Babin Kuk peninsulas, which are served by regular buses and where you’ll find most of Dubrovnik’s hotels as well as a greater choice of beaches. Lapad Bay can get busy, so carry on to Babin Kuk on the northernmost part of the peninsula. Stroll along the long winding footpath that leads to Copacabana, a family-friendly beach

with watersports on offer. If you’re in the mood for pampering and excellent cocktails, check out the Coral Beach Club next to Copacabana. For an easy day trip, take a boat from the Old Port to Cavtat, an enchanting little village on a two-pronged peninsula 17 kilometres southeast of Dubrovnik. Its palm-lined waterfront is an attractive sight as your boat approaches the quay. You’ll have plenty of restaurants and cafés to choose from, as well as beaches and a pleasant pine-shaded path that runs for seven kilometres around the peninsula. DUBROVNIK

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IN THE OLD TOWN, THE BEST PLACES ARE TUCKED INTO NARROW ALLEYWAYS AND NOT ALWAYS EASY TO SPOT

Above. Street-side dining in Dubrovnik. Far left. Old Town’s clock tower. Left. The city’s terracotta rooftops.

Wine and dine For fine dining with fabulous views, head to 360 Restaurant (360dubrovnik.com) set in a medieval arsenal overlooking the Old Port. Oyster fans can feast on celebrated Ston oysters at the Bota Oyster & Sushi Bar (bota-sare.hr). For innovative cuisine mixing Croatian and Asian, try laid-back Azur (azurvision.com) on a tiny street near the aquarium. There’s a similar Asian flavour to the creative menu at Pantarul (pantarul. com) in Lapad. As you walk down Stradun, you’ll be accosted by touts drumming up business for their restaurants on the parallel street Prijeko, which is up a steep flight of steps. Ignore them, as there’s only a handful of good-quality Prijeko restaurants. They include Nishta (nishtarestaurant.com), a rare vegetarian restaurant in Croatia; Stara Loza (prijekopalace.com), the classy restaurant attached to the equally smart Prijeko Palace hotel; the Italian-influenced Wanda (wandarestaurant.com); and the cosy Rozario (konoba-rozario.hr). Walk up another steep set of stairs to find adorable Lady PiPi at Antuninska 21 in the shadow of the city walls. As you wander along the southern side of the Old Town, you might see a sign reading: ‘Cold drinks with the most beautiful views’. Duck through the gap in the wall and you’ll find Buža Bar carved into the cliffs. As it’s one of the most popular places for a sundowner, you might have trouble squeezing in. For a setting just as magical, have a drink in the Cave Bar at Hotel More overlooking Lapad Bay. This natural cave was discovered during the building of the hotel, and the outside terrace is also a superb choice for a sunset drink. In the Old Town, the best places are tucked into narrow alleyways and not always easy to spot. D’Vino (dvino.net), a buzzing little wine bar, is just off Stradun near the Pile Gate. Convivial Dionysus Wine Pub is at Za Rokum 5 and, like D’Vino, it’s a good place for a crash course on Croatian wine. Pack your bags Discover the highlights of Croatia’s coast from Split to Dubrovnik over eight days from $6,757 per person. For more information and bookings, contact Europe travel designers Melania Siriu (melania@jacadatravel.com, based in London, UK) or Joyce Choi (joyce@ jacadatravel.com, based in Hong Kong). DUBROVNIK

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Unexpected Ngorongoro

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Crowd-loathing Richard Mellor braves one of Tanzania’s most popular safari destinations, the Ngorongoro Crater, and finds that the newest luxury lodges offer a welcome slice of seclusion.

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ah, I’d thought. Though an Ngorongoro Crater novice, I knew that this area – after the Serengeti – was Tanzania’s most prolific for wildlife and, therefore, its second busiest in terms of crowds. And, as someone who prefers experiences away from the herd (read: hates other tourists), that was enough to discourage me from visiting. Then, in 2016, came promising tidings in the form of two fresh accommodation options. The camps and lodges ringing the crater’s steep-sloped lip – none are permitted within the basin itself – are aligned in a U-shaped curve. Since last summer, however, that ‘U’ has been elongated at each end courtesy of two new lodges. Such

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extreme positioning isn’t a coincidence, either: The Highlands and Entamanu both emphasise crowd-avoidance and offerings that distinguish them from competitors in their marketing. I’d signed up in a hurry, and now here I am, hoping for seclusion. My first stop is Entamanu, the newest of all. The journey proves a test of my propensity for adventure: after three hours in the 4x4 travelling to Ngorongoro (pronounced ‘un-goron-goro’) are 45 bump-splattered minutes driving across high plains and forests of spindly acacia trees up what is essentially Entamanu’s drive. There are definite perks, however. In between the jerks and jags, guide Kakae and I encounter a mobile squadron of baboons, several preposterous ostriches


Top left. Safari drives in the crater. Image: Niels van Gijn. Bottom left. A wattled starling perches on the back of a wildebeest. Image: Niels van Gijn. Above. Giraffes can’t access the crater bowl due to its steep slopes. Image: Niels van Gijn.

and ten giraffes, spread out in a perfect, pylon-like line on a distant hillside, their hides glinting in the low sun. I gasp and grin; this is nature at its most magical. And something of an Entamanu exclusive: due to those sheer flanks, giraffes aren’t found in the crater itself. Yet we see a dozen or so every day. Entamanu’s eight roomy tents surround the main, multi-room mess hall. This has a dining room, where guests politely play a sort of safari sighting top trumps, and devour wholesome dinners and quality wine, as well as various cosy lounge areas heated by muttering fires; the nights up here are cold. Unsurprisingly, I prefer lazing in my digs, be it reading a book or simply listening to the wind’s constant, mediUNEXPECTED NGORONGORO

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“IT’S EMPTY AND

EERILY NOISELESS; EVEN THE WATER LAPS SILENTLY

Left. A male lion resting in the grass. Image: Niels van Gijn. Right. A young Maasai in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Image: Niels van Gijn.

tative ruffling of the canvas whilst snuggled under my four-poster bed’s thick duvet. There’s a similar sense of serenity on offer during the next day’s threehour walking safari around Entamanu’s barely-populated surroundings. As well as myself and a German family, our furtive group includes an armed ranger who looks like he hasn’t grinned in decades. The ever-smiling Kakae points out stillmoist buffalo poo before we watch a lioness through binoculars. It’s thrillingly immersive, as is what follows: drinks and the sudden African sunset. The enlarged, plummeting disc goes from yellow to orange to red to gone in rapid succession. Having cut my hiking teeth, I’m now fully ready for The Highlands’ signature

activities. Open since June 2016, this camp’s north-easterly position allows for day trips to Olmoti and Empakaai, two much narrower and less frequented craters in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. With limited time, I opt for Empakaai. To get there, we must drive through the dry, desolate Bauble Depression. En route, I return joyful waves from tough-looking Maasai child farmers before they return to thwacking their cattle. Empakaai’s crater is rather paradisiacal and dreamlike: a vividly green-coloured bowl of water, flanked by dense rainforest. The hike down is easy, bar a brief assault by leg-biting safari ants, and then we’re out on the wide, sun-baked shoreline. A flamingo flock braves the super-salty water, and a few more Maasai pass by. But otherwise, UNEXPECTED NGORONGORO

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it’s empty and eerily noiseless; even the water laps silently. Our ascent back up is hot and hard, even with the jungle shade. Sun cream runs into my eyes. A troop of blue monkeys swinging through the fig trees revive my spirits, and those aggressive ants let my ankles pass in peace. Back home, I explore The Highland’s unusual bedrooms. Instead of canvas, owner Asilia has opted for pods made from glass and wood, the transparent frontage offering uninterrupted valley views from your bed. A buffalo noses into sight as I laze in mine, apparently oblivious to the pyjama-wearing peeper nearby. There’s also a mezzanine level where kids can sleep, monochrome photos of tribespeople, enveloping decks and luxurious bathrooms. I had worried that the pods would 60

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seem incongruous on an African hillside, but they blend well into the woodland setting. That buffalo, still kindly weeding my veranda, certainly seems unfussed. I’m tempted to visit the local Maasai, a trip which, according to fellow guests’ descriptions, sounds far more authentic than most such experiences. Often, the ‘village’ isn’t a genuine one, elders speak suspiciously good English and everything feels far too stage-managed. Instead, I descend into the Ngorongoro Crater – technically a caldera, but pah, details – with new guide Ayoub. Despite supporting Manchester United, Ayoub is an excellent human being: kind, funny and sincere, as well as brilliant at spotting wildlife from hundreds of metres away. Driving the vast basin’s network of roads,

Above. The Ngorongoro Crater. Image: Niels van Gijn. Top right. Zebra and flamingos. Image: Niels van Gijn. Bottom right. A bedroom tent at The Highlands. Image: Niels van Gijn.


we spy two rhinos out on a romantic stroll, wallowing hippos, hyenas on the hunt for food, and vast gatherings of zebras and wildebeest, each using the other for mutual predator protection. The park is busy, as feared: A-list game, like elephants or lions, are routinely surrounded by five to ten cars carrying camera-toting tourists. At times it feels a little too circus-like. However, The Highlands’ proximate position means it can use the less populous Lemala gate, and its guests can loiter in the park for longer. As dusk nears, Ayoub and I happen upon the following scene: six lions, two cubs and one very, very dead adult hippo. Lions taking down a hippo is unusual, and for once Ayoub is as gobsmacked as me. Always the one who eats first, the pride’s thick-maned alpha

male lies beside the carcass; his ravenous relatives look on impatiently, fidgety tails seemingly belying their frustration. Watching in awed silence, Ayoub and I have this surreal scene entirely to ourselves. An impala unwittingly starts to approach, sees the lions, legs it. One of the younger males yawns. Ayoub shakes his head repeatedly. And I think, rather meanly: I’m glad no one else is here. Pack your bags Explore northern Tanzania on a ten-day safari from $6,966 per person. For further information and bookings, contact safari designers Tess van der Walt (tessa@ jacadatravel.com, based in Cape Town, South Africa) or Kit Wong (kit@jacadatravel. com, based in Hong Kong). UNEXPECTED NGORONGORO

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Flying High

The couple behind Latin America’s first commercial hot air balloon company, Balloons Over Atacama, cut their teeth ballooning in Myanmar and building a lodge in Bhutan before venturing to Chile. Heather Richardson chats to Khin Omar Win and Brett Melzer about living through history in Myanmar and how they settled on the Atacama as their new ballooning site. 62

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Right. Khin Omar Win and Brett Melzer, the couple behind Eastern Safaris.


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ack in 1997, Khin Omar Win and Brett Melzer met at a mutual friend’s dinner party in Yangon and fell in love. Myanmar (formerly Burma) had just opened after years of being closed to foreigners. Omar, who was born in Myanmar and educated in England, had been in the country for six months. Brett – born in Sydney and also brought up in England – had been in Myanmar for three days. “He came for adventure, I was looking to work in development, so we basically combined our interests and set up Eastern Safaris,” Omar says, speaking to me over Skype from their family home in Melbourne. Falling in love and setting up a hot air ballooning company – one that has now been running for 20 years – sounds very simple the way Omar describes it. “It just happened that way,” she laughs. “It wasn’t planned. It was young love and you don’t think about consequences.” They bought a balloon and shipped it over to Myanmar to launch Balloons Over Bagan, flying travellers over the magical, temple-strewn landscape. Back in the early days, they had one balloon and a crew of eight, carrying eight passengers a day. Now, they have a crew of almost 200, and last year 22,000 people flew on board their balloons. Most recently, in late September 2016, Brett and Omar launched Balloons Over Atacama. They had been invited to Chile’s Atacama Desert by friends in the local hotel industry. “When we first visited, we were completely blown away by the landscape we saw,” Omar says. “The Atacama is the driest non-polar desert in the world. Within it are communities that have existed since before Christ. It’s an amazing scene of harsh desert, blue lagoons lying over salt flats, the dramatic moon-like landscape of the Valle de la Luna, plus much more. To top it off, there are fantastic wines, great food and high-quality accommodation. So, it just ticked all our boxes.” In addition, it offered a combination of healthy tourism numbers and the chance to launch a sustainable operation. “Eastern Safaris has always focused on the long-term,” Omar explains. “For example, in the Atacama right now we are trying to work together with the communities, through capacity building and creating employment. The communities requested English training as a priority, so we have established and funded the first accredited English programme in the area, in partnership with the University of Santo FLYING HIGH

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Thomas. We go into the communities to work together and assess what their longterm aims are, and then we try and create our business around achieving some of those aims.” “The logistics of operating in a very remote and high-altitude desert have also been challenging,” Brett notes. “But we are used to those challenges. We’ve always chosen sites that are remote and unspoiled, so with that comes the challenges of the early years and setting up.” Their first lodge certainly prepared them for future challenges. Back in 2003, they had the opportunity to travel to the off-grid, far north of Myanmar and explore the rivers. “We brought a team of expert rafters and kayakers and we shot some film of the source of the Irrawaddy,” says Brett. “Because it was so remote and inaccessible, once you got in the raft there was only one way out – and that was ten or 11 days through these canyons and gorges. It just opened everyone’s eyes to the potential up there. It was a massive challenge, but we ended up choosing a site at the end of one of these rivers where you could raft, next to a Lisu village, and building Malikha Lodge.” After three tough years, they opened the lodge – which was hand-built entirely by local villagers – to international acclaim. Malikha was named one of the best new hotels of 2007 on Condé Nast Traveler’s Hot List, something that no other Myanmar lodge or hotel had achieved before – or has done since. But it wasn’t to last. “In the end, we weren’t able to defeat the politics associated with it,” Brett explains. “The military government at the time did not realise that the whole point of people going up there was to explore and get out and meet people – they thought we were just going to keep them in the hotel! But actually, all those people were out on mountain bikes and rafts, walking around and talking to people. It was a bit of a shock!” Having become somewhat depressed with the realities of running a hotel in military-ruled Myanmar, Eastern Safaris turned to The Kingdom of Bhutan next, opening the 12-room, luxury Gangtey Lodge. “We took our project team we had trained in Myanmar to a remote Bhutanese valley. Gangtey is a protected valley due to it being the roosting ground of the rare black-necked cranes, so it is untouched and feels authentically Bhutanese. It took 64

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IT WASN’T PLANNED. IT WAS YOUNG LOVE AND YOU DON’T THINK ABOUT CONSEQUENCES

Top. Balloons flying over Bagan, Myanmar. Above. The crew in Bagan.

three challenging years of construction, but when we opened in 2014, we were fortunate to win Travel + Leisure magazine’s Design Award and named one of the best new hotels of 2014 by Condé Nast Traveler, so it felt worth it,” recalls Omar. “I’m now going back to Burma with the same team to open a new hotel in Bagan. It's still very, very early stages,” she adds quickly. “Three years down the line.” Since their last lodge in Myanmar, a lot has changed. Omar and Brett were in the departure lounge at Yangon airport when they heard that Aung San Suu Kyi had been released after 15 years of being under house arrest. “We got a phone call from a friend of mine who works at the American Embassy,” Omar remembers. “She said to me, ‘Omar, you will never believe what has happened. Suu Kyi’s just been released!’ She lives down the road from us!” she exclaims. “And I was just gutted! It was the moment we had been waiting for for so many years and we were stuck in the departure lounge at Yangon airport. I could have cried.” “We lived through all this history,” Omar continues. “On reflection, it has been an incredible journey. It’s very rare to be in countries where so much happens and so much change occurs – to have been there through 15 years of military dictatorship, then the country first opening up, starting up the business, and to experience it closing back again, and then finally Suu Kyi being released, and suddenly we have a fledgling democracy – and it occurred peacefully as well. It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride, I have to say.”


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Arrivals 66 Hot Tickets 68 Ask the Experts 69 Letters from the Field 71 Giving Back 72 Five-Q Travel Interview PAGE TITLE

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HOT TICKETS The destinations and holidays you should be booking now.

PEAK SEASON IN THAILAND December 2017 to February 2018 Thailand is an ever-popular destination from December to February, and the top luxury properties fill up fast. Whether you’re considering travelling to the Land of Smiles for Christmas, a New Year’s Eve party or just some winter sun, make sure you book it soon.

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SECURE YOUR SPOT IN THE GALÁPAGOS

SPEND CHRISTMAS IN MEXICO

May to October 2017

December 2017

Galápagos cruises tend to book up between six months and a year in advance, so it’s handy to start thinking about your trip as far ahead as you can. The good news is that the Galápagos Islands are a year-round destination, so there’s some flexibility with when you can book.

Flip a traditional white Christmas on its head by travelling to warmer climes. Spend the festive season chilling with a cocktail by the Caribbean Sea, surfing on the Pacific coast or celebrating in buzzing Mexico City.

ITCHY FEET? Travel Now – April to June

NAMIBIA

BALI

BELIZE

April and May are two of the best months to visit Namibia with dry conditions, clear, dust-free visibility and lots of greenery following the summer rains. Explore the vast, open landscape that this country offers in epic proportions – photographers in particular will be in their element.

Make your escape before the school summer holidays and explore Bali during its driest months and at the very beginning of the peak season (June to September). Visit temples, detox on a spa break, tackle some of the world’s best surfing breaks and take advantage of great restaurants and cool bars.

April and May are good months to travel to Belize, being right at the end of the peak season. Here you can visit the famous Blue Hole, snorkel on the world’s second longest barrier reef and discover hidden Maya temples tucked away in the jungle. HOT TICKETS

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ASK THE EXPERTS Travel experts answer some of the most commonly asked questions.

Can I travel to southern and eastern Africa in one trip or should I split it up?

The answer to this question depends on how much time you have. I would normally suggest that these two regions of Africa – which are both very different – merit at least two separate trips. It is possible to combine them if you have enough time, especially now that Kenya Airways operate a route that links Cape Town, Victoria Falls and Nairobi. I’d suggest a minimum of two weeks to visit South Africa, Victoria Falls and Kenya. However, this would mean missing out a huge amount in both regions. A journey through southern Africa might include a couple of days in Cape Town and a side trip to the nearby Winelands; a Big Five safari in South Africa; driving across vast deserts to the unreal Deadvlei of Namibia; paddling down the waterways of the Okavango Delta; admiring the mighty Victoria Falls; embarking on a walking safari in Zambia; watching huge herds of elephant in Zimbabwe; or beach time on a private island in Mozambique. And that’s just scratching the surface of each country. In eastern Africa, the vast Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara are the sites of the Great Migration, and travelling between July and October means you might see the famous river crossings where thousands of wildebeest plunge across the Mara River, aiming to avoid the waiting crocs. Kenya is a hugely diverse country with mountains, deserts, beaches and savannah, alongside a number of striking 68

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tribes. Tanzania is home to Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, great lakes, the Ngorongoro Crater, wild chimps you can visit, and the idyllic shores of Zanzibar. Africa’s distances are enormous, something that is easy to underestimate for firsttime travellers, and every country deserves more than a fleeting visit. So, when people ask me if they can do southern and eastern Africa in one go, I always encourage them to focus on one region to start with. I know they’ll be back to experience more – Africa has that effect on people. Byron Thomas, Africa and safari expert How much should I tip when I’m travelling in other countries?

I always get asked about tipping. In Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, it’s not necessary to tip except in some high-end restaurants where they’ll add it to your bill – though New Zealanders will often add 10% to the total in restaurants or cafés for good service. In taxis, you can round up to the nearest dollar, hotel porters can be tipped a dollar or two if you like, and your guides won’t usually expect anything. However, if you did want to tip, it wouldn’t be considered offensive. Even in countries where tipping is expected, you should never feel like you have to tip if the service wasn’t great. If you’re unsure when you’re travelling, I recommend asking the front desk of your hotel or lodge. Katie Holmes, Australasia and Pacific islands expert

What is the clothing etiquette for temples or sacred sites in Southeast Asia?

Visiting temples is nearly always on the agenda for people travelling to Southeast Asia, and everyone wants to make sure they enter these sacred places in a respectful manner. For most temples in this region, covering your knees and shoulders is sufficient – long skirts for women and trousers for men, with T-shirts, or a shawl to cover vest tops. This is fine for those visiting the Angkor temples of Cambodia, for example. Visitors to Myanmar will often be required to remove both their shoes and socks when entering a temple. For this reason, I often advise people travelling with me to bring wet wipes, though you’ll also find these in our transfer vehicles. It’s easy to carry a thin pashmina with you so you can quickly sling it over your shoulders if needed. However, if you’ve forgotten to wear the right gear, most temples that are regularly frequented by travellers will have cover-ups to borrow or buy at their entrances, so you won’t be turned away. Your guide will also make sure you’re correctly attired; my guide in Vietnam was quick to buy me a $1 scarf when I wanted to visit Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum. Joyce Choi, Asia expert


LETTERS FROM THE FIELD Donna and Peter in Chile

Hi George and Susann, Just wanted to drop a line to tell you both what an incredible trip we had! Chile is a fantastic country and the people are so warm and friendly. I can see why you love that country so much, George. Everything went so smoothly and timely, we were worried about not having anything to worry about! For the first time in our various trips, we didn't have anything to fret over. The guides, drivers, meet-and-greet people were excellent in every way, both professionally and personally. We felt welcome and at home everywhere we went, and that's a priceless feeling, especially when you're in a country you've never been to before. We were also surprised and delighted with the notes you both sent at each destination. They were truly appreciated and reinforced the feeling that we were being well taken care of. We loved all the accommodations we were in - especially Awasi. Wow! What an incredible place that is. The staff, service, villa and view were all superlative and unlike any other place we've stayed in. And of course, Torres del Paine was my dream come true. We had perfect weather, so what more could we have wished for - except perhaps more time! Chiloe and Tierra Chiloe were also outstanding; it was hard to leave that island where everyone was so very friendly and the area so beautiful, even in the downpours we had daily. We met some wonderful people there, all of whom made our stay special. Santiago and Valparaiso were both such vibrant cities - we liked both of them. Valpo is very much like SFO in locale - hilly and by a port. The people are a lot more easy-going and friendly. SFO tends to suffer from big city syndrome, which thankfully both of these Chilean cities don't. All in all, we had a great time. Don't think we could have done this if it weren't for Jacada and all your help. Thank you for making our trip the best we've ever taken. George, we've got our sights set on Argentina (or maybe Iceland) next year, and hope you'll be able to work with us again if we do go. In the meanwhile, I wish you both a great year and success in all you do. Until we meet again... Warm regards, Donna and Peter P.S. Susann, the curanto was MUY BIEN!!!

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Clockwise from above. Phil and Chastin in the Blue Lagoon, Iceland; Olia in India; an aerial shot of Tanzania by Ankit; and the Arthur family in Iceland.

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GIVING BACK

KIDS SAVING THE RAINFOREST Last December whilst travelling through Costa Rica, I was able to visit the Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR) project. Located in Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, this wildlife conservation charity was founded in 1999 by Janine Licare and Aislin Livingstone, who were both just nine years old at the time. The girls noticed that the jungle was receding and that animals were suffering as a result, so they set to work trying to save the rainforest and its inhabitants. Initially, they attempted to raise money by selling painted rocks and papier-mâché art by the road, but soon realised they would need a bit more cash to save the jungle. So, they started working on their first conservation project: building monkey bridges. The ongoing monkey bridge project is one of KSTR’s success stories and has helped to restore the endemic titi (squirrel) monkey population. The bridges – which come in the form of thick ropes – are strung up across roads, so the monkeys can cross safely without risk of being hit by cars or electrocuted when climbing across the electric wires. There are around 3,000 squirrel monkeys left – a huge increase on the numbers recorded a few years ago, which put the population at around 1,200 to 1,500. Jacada Travel donate money through the Latin America Travel Association and that money has enabled KSTR to release the first squirrel monkey troop in Costa Rica. One of the released females now has a baby, and another of the troop is currently pregnant, all of which is good news for the squirrel monkey population. Today the charity – run by Janine’s mother, Jennifer Rice, who I meet when I arrive – still maintains the monkey bridges, alongside running a wildlife sanctuary and rescue centre. It is the only legal rescue centre focusing on the rehabilitation of wounded, sick or abandoned animals on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, with two full-

Latin America destination expert Lily Bunker reports on her visit to the Kids Saving the Rainforest centre on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

time biologists, a vet and a vet technician on site. The centre sees around 200 animals rescued every year with a 55% release rate (the average rate is around 33%). The animals that can never be released back into the wild due to being permanently disabled or having been raised in captivity, live in the sanctuary under the care of a full-time wildlife manager. There’s also an educational centre to teach people about the importance of protecting the rainforest. Private or group tours are available for anyone interested in the work of KSTR. I start my day by preparing meals for the rescued wildlife with some other volunteers, before we head out for feeding time with the keepers. Chip, Jennifer’s husband, tells me about some of the project’s successes and the amount of work and dedication it has taken to release these animals back into the wild. I learn how the animals end up here, which is usually through being injured or orphaned. The sanctuary takes in various Costa Rican animals, including sloths, monkeys, porcupines and parrots. They don’t let you handle any of the wildlife and most of the baby animals are off-limits to guests, as they need to have as little human contact as possible. After being shown around the sanctuary, you can have lunch and then, if you have time, take part in an activity such as swimming, foraging or even painting with the monkeys who love getting creative with fruit and vegetable dyes. The next project KSTR is focusing on is sloth conservation. Very little is known about sloth ecology and behaviour, so more research is vital before the animals can be effectively protected. The money Jacada Travel donate will be put towards this project. Jacada Travel support Kids Saving the Rainforest by donating a set amount of the profits from each trip to Latin America they plan. GIVING BACK

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THE FIVE-Q TRAVEL INTERVIEW

LEON MCCARRON Northern Irish adventurer, filmmaker, writer and motivational speaker, Leon McCarron answers our five questions about his life in travel.

Where was your last trip? My last big trip was to the Middle East – a 1,000-mile journey on foot from Jerusalem to Mount Sinai, with the aim of seeing another side of the region. What was the highlight?  It's very hard to choose, but I really loved crossing Sinai. I travelled with two Bedouin and a camel, and together we wandered through the vast desert and towering granite peaks of the peninsula. It was a real lesson in changing the pace of life – my companions, Musallem and Suleiman, taught me how to appreciate the slowness of walking, and the perspective that one gains from being somewhere so huge and empty. I loved it. What are your three travel essentials?  Camera, notebook and a hip flask full of whiskey! The first two are how I make my living, and allow me to share the stories I find with others. The whiskey is my luxury... What is the most memorable place you have visited?  From 2011 to 2012, I walked across China, from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia to Hong Kong and the South China Sea. For nearly seven months (and 3,000 miles), I got to see the country change – from desert to mountains, from sub-Arctic to sub-tropic, and from desolate wilderness to some of the world's biggest mega-cities. The diversity was incredible – it's a fascinating country, and every day it changed around me ever so slightly.  What is the greatest lesson you have learned from travelling?  Don't make too many plans! The most interesting things happen off the cuff. Also, in certain places, it's very important to shake out hiking boots in case there are scorpions inside; I learned that the hard way!

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FROM MAY 2017, JACADA TRAVEL WILL OFFSET 100% OF CARBON EMISSIONS FROM EVERY HOLIDAY BOOKED WITH US. WE'RE EVEN COVERING FLIGHTS YOU BOOK INDEPENDENTLY. That's just one way in which we're committed to making luxury travel as uplifting as we can - for you and for the planet. For more information about our carbon offsetting programme and all the other ways we give back, please contact leila@jacadatravel.com.

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EXPERIENCE KENYA WILDLIFE – TRIBES – MOUNTAINS – LAKES – LUXURY

WWW.JACADATRAVEL.COM LONDON - JONNY@JACADATRAVEL.COM / +1 877 967 0096 (US TOLL-FREE) / +44 203 7335 698 HONG KONG - JOYCE@JACADATRAVEL.COM / +852 2110 0537

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IMAGE CREDIT: JOYCE CHOI, JACADA TRAVEL

The Explorer - 07: The ESCAPE Issue  

Luxury travel, destination inspiration and epic journeys. 07: The ESCAPE Issue: Atacama Desert | Ngorongoro Crater | Slovenia | Dubrovnik

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