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From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, Take Photos Leave Footprints

Fairytales, Castles, and Communism – Lake Bled, Slovenia

By Scott Dicken Once upon a time there was a lush, fertile valley and in the very centre of that valley was a small hill. The hill, which sat in the middle of the green pastures, was the favourite gathering place of fairies who liked nothing more than to spend their time dancing around its base. The fairies lived a happy, peaceful existence until, one fateful day, a group of shepherds arrived. As you can imagine, the shepherds were keen to use the fairies’ lush, green pastures as grazing land for their herds. The fairies took umbrage to this most obvious invasion of their peace and, after a bit of a conflab, opted to flood the entire valley. To this day the only part of the valley that remains visible is ‘Fairy Rock’ – the small hill around which the fairies danced. This, according to our guide, is the legend of how Lake Bled came to be. To the uneducated, myself included, the fairies sound like a bunch of morally repugnant individuals whose parents never taught them that ‘sharing is caring’. Also, flooding an entire valley because a few sheep ate some of their grass seems like a hasty over-reaction.  Nonetheless, the results of their endeavours are now Slovenia’s primary tourist attraction, and a setting that retains the charm and beauty of a fairy tale. Albeit, a fairy tale later supplanted by the less whimsical arrival of communist dictator, Tito, whose one-time residence now provides the lake with 5-star accommodation. The lake is nestled amongst Slovenia’s Julian Alps, and was actually formed as a result of glacial erosion (in a story that isn’t quite as mystical and enchanting) and is the home of the Church of Mary of the Assumption. The church is the highlight of a visit to Lake…

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10 Reasons to Make Namibia your next Vacation Destination

By Scott Dicken Stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, and plenty of adventure. Namibia has it all. Despite having spent over three months in this otherworldly country, I can say I haven’t seen even half of what Namibia has to offer. It’s also one of the easiest and safest of the African safari destinations to self-drive. As a result, companies catering to visitors who want to ‘go it alone’ are becoming ever more prevalent, catering to everything from budget camping to 5-star luxury. But what makes Namibia the ideal destination? Below are ten great answers to that question. Climbing some of the World’s Biggest Sand Dunes Dune 45 is one of the more popular dunes to climb in Sossusvlei National Park and stands at a daunting 85m high. But at 325m high, Big Daddy is the biggest dune in town and offers spectacular views from the top. …..And then Sandboarding Down Some of Them in Swakopmund Swakopmund is a small town on Namibia’s west coast, and is regarded as the country’s capital city of adventure sports. Given its abundance of sand dunes, one of the most popular local activities is sandboarding. My one piece of advice on sandboarding is to not be fooled by anyone proclaiming that sandboarding is easier (or the landing softer) than snowboarding. Having nearly cracked my head open like a ripe coconut, I can safely say it isn’t! Other sports you might want to give a go are dune quad biking, land yachting, surfing, wind surfing, paragliding and sky diving. Enjoying Wonderful Food at Every Turn Namibia hosts an eclectic mix of cuisine; from the locally inspired biltong and potjiekos, (bush stew) to the colonial influences of German cuisine. In Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, you could choose to visit the Namibian Institute for Culinary Education (NICE) for dinner,…

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Take Photos, Leave Foot Prints

By Scott Dicken Costa Rica: A Wildlife Loving Paradise Costa Rica accounts for only 0.03% of the earth’s surface, and yet it manages to pack an enormous estimated 4-6% of the world’s biodiversity into its tiny patch of land. It’s for this very reason that most people visiting Costa Rica spend a significant portion of their time searching for the country’s famed wildlife. If you’re in the minority group of tourists who plan to drink Mai Thais on the beach with your eyes closed, then stop reading now. In this article I’m going to show you how to make the most of your wildlife experience in Costa Rica, and what you might see on your travels. Costa Rican Wildlife Costa Rica sits in the top 20 most biodiverse countries on earth and is home to a whopping 500,000 species. Admittedly, 300,000 of those species are insects, but that still leaves a staggering 200,000 animals for you to discover. While some of those animals are notoriously difficult to sight (our guide in Tortugero hadn’t seen a jaguar in ten years of working there), other species are spotted with more regularity. For example, you stand a great chance of sighting: two and three toed sloths; coatimundis; dolphins; caimans; American crocodiles; monkeys (most notably capuchins and howlers); dart frogs (the tourist ambassador of Costa Rica); toucans; turtles; basilisks and bats. If you’re lucky you might see a tapir or an anteater. If you have a few months or years to spare, and remote survival skills to rival Bear Grylls, then you might (just might) see jaguars, ocelots, pumas, jaguarundi, margays, ocelots, and little spotted cats. Costa Rica’s Best Wildlife Destinations Just as if you were going on safari in Africa, you’re likely arriving in Costa Rica with a good idea of which animals…

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The World’s Most Beautiful Travel Destinations

By Scott Dicken Every now and then I’ll come across articles online that proclaim to identify the “World’s top tourist attractions”, “place to see before you die”, or “the ultimate bucket list destinations”. They always catch my eye, and I inevitably spend the next 30 minutes combing through the submissions to see which I’ve already visited, and where I should add to my own personal, ever-growing, bucket list. In the interests of travel journalism or, more accurately, having succumb to classic click-bait, I’ve decided to take a deeper dive into 10 of the destinations one recent report identifies in an effort to analyze just how accurate I think their list is. And so, with no further ado, here are 10 of the World’s most beautiful travel destinations, together with my thoughts on their inclusion on the list…. Venice, Italy: Undeniable Romance and Crowded Canals Ah, Venice…Probably one of my favourite city destinations anywhere in the world, and undeniably one of the World’s most beautiful travel destinations. You simply can’t fail to be taken in by the romance of it; from the luxurious settings that house its museums and cultural attractions, to the watery transport arteries that move its population and tourists from place to place. Everything has been designed to exude opulence, romance, and indulgence (don’t even get me started on Italian cuisine). If you can get past the crowds with some careful planning (the shoulder seasons in April and October provide some respite from the crowds whilst still having a good chance of reasonable weather) then Venice is truly one of the most remarkable cities on earth. Dubai, United Arab Emirates: The Over-priced Concrete Jungle I’m not sure I’d personally classify this urban jungle one of the World’s most beautiful travel destinations! Lumbering skyscrapers, overpriced meals, preening socialites, and…

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“Over-Touristed” Destinations: What are your Alternatives?

By Scott Dicken All Photos by Scott Dicken  “Over-Touristed” Destinations: What are your Alternatives? It happens to the best of us: you spend months researching holiday destinations and tourist attractions. You sit online fawning over photos of picture-perfect vistas and iconic sights devoid of crowds. You spend thousands of dollars on flights and hotels hoping for the perfect vacation. And then you arrive. That iconic sight you had your heart set on is teeming with droves of tourists all clambering for the perfect photo opportunity. Ticket lines stretch for miles. Hawkers and unlicensed tour guides are crawling all over you trying to offload everything from cheap trinkets to “the best tour in town”. With this in mind, and based on an assumption that you don’t want to spend a two-week vacation fighting off other tourists for the best photo spots, what are your options? In this article I look at some of the worst-offending destinations and alternatives that, whilst mirroring the charm or grandeur of their more famous counterparts, benefit from the absence of the tourist hordes. The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt The pyramids have long been known to be challenging when it comes to the sheer numbers of tourists that visit, keeping control of those tourists, and the borderline harassment exerted by hawkers and guides. Online images inferring that the site is hundreds of miles from civilization also bely the fact that you can take pictures of them from inside a nearby KFC! None of this is to say you should never visit the Pyramids – they truly are one of the most awe-inspiring sites a traveler can behold. But what if you’re looking to witness something akin to the Pyramids of Giza but without the nearby KFC? The Overrated Tourist Attraction Alternative: The Nubian Pyramids of Meroe, Sudan…

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Take Photos, Leave Footprints

By Scott Dicken Nepal: An Adventurer’s Playground! In April 2015, Nepal was hit by a devastating earthquake that measured 7.8 on the Richter Scale, killed nearly 9,000 people, and left approximately US$10 Billion of damage in its wake – about a third of Nepal’s GDP! This, twinned with the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, might lead you to ask, ‘is this the right time to visit Nepal’? My response is simple; as soon as COVID-19 conditions permit, the answer is a resounding YES! Nepal continues to be negatively affected by a slow recovery of its tourism market; and any visiting tourist is directly contributing to the country’s recovery with every dollar spent in restaurants, hotels, and with local tour operators. None of this is to suggest that this is a transaction solely benefitting the country’s recovery; it’s just a positive side-effect of visiting a country that’s steeped in history, culture, and religion, and can quench the thirst of even the most ardent adventure traveler. Below are five reasons to move Nepal to the top of your bucket list. History Nowhere is the cultural and religious history of Nepal more evident than in the Kathmandu Valley, which just so happens to be the gateway to a Nepalese adventure! You’ll likely want to divide your time equally between the Valley’s three main cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan; cities that are all within an hour of each other. Pretty much everything you touch in Kathmandu Valley is part of a World Heritage Site, so it isn’t just me alone opining its virtues; UNESCO seem to agree! With a vast array of temples, palaces, monuments, shrines and museums the Valley has it all, and can easily occupy the average tourist for a 4-day stay (and a history buff, much longer)! Scenery I think it’s fair…

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Safari in the Deserts of Dubai

By Scott Dicken Safari in the Deserts of Dubai I’m not a massive fan of Dubai. For me, it’s lost 95% of its old-world Arabian charm and replaced it with nothing but high-rise metal, concrete, and a glaringly obvious penchant for ‘one-upmanship’. Secondly, experiencing Dubai is particularly challenging if you’re on a budget. Paying outrageous prices for average experiences that you could have in any other large city feels like a complete waste. There was, however, one exception to this general disappointment. An experience that, while still pricey, I would gladly recommend to anyone visiting the United Arab Emirates. The Dubai Desert Safari. Typically taking place in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, a 225-sqaure-kilometer nature reserve about an hour’s drive outside of the city – close to the border with Oman – a Desert Safari provides a fantastic opportunity to escape the concrete jungle, spot some Emirati wildlife, and learn a little more about local culture – certainly more than you’ll learn in the pricey elevator ride up the Burj Khalifa! 5 Top Tips for your Dubai Desert Safari At first glance there are a bewildering number of Desert Safari options. Choosing between them can prove dauting. However, your choice will likely amount to what activities you want your safari to include. Here are some of the main activities available and some suggestions for which tour operator you could opt for: Dune Bashing: Probably the activity most people opt for, dune bashing is essentially driving up and down dunes in a 4×4 at high speed – often resulting in the fear that the vehicle is going to roll (it never does!). Not all tour operators offer dune bashing on their itineraries and some claim, somewhat justifiably, that it doesn’t exactly fit the type of activity that should be taking place…

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Visiting Victoria Falls: Africa’s Natural Wonder

By Scott Dicken Visiting Victoria Falls: Africa’s Natural Wonder You can hear the Falls before you’re close to seeing them. A gentle murmur slowly transitioning to a deafening roar as a fine mist generated from the world’s largest curtain of water soaks you through. There’s no doubt that Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, is a riot for the senses. Whether it be from the Zambian or Zimbabwean side of the border, a visit to Victoria Falls is a highlight for any Southern Africa tourist itinerary. But what should you know before you go, and what are the top facts and history behind Africa’s most famous natural landmark? Read on to find out! Take Photos Leave Footprints Top Victoria Falls Facts Although most people associate Victoria Falls with its “discovery” by David Livingstone, the area surrounding the Falls has been the site of numerous settlements dating back as far as 3 million years ago. That said, it wasn’t until Livingstone, a Scottish missionary exploring the Upper Zambezi between 1852 and 1856, was introduced to the Falls by the Makololo tribe that it came to the collective conscience of the Western world on November 17, 1855. Until that time the Falls were known by their local name, “Mosi-oa-Tunya”, which translates to “the smoke that thunders” and is still the name of a National Park on the Zambian side of the Falls. But on that fateful day in 1855 the Falls got their better-known name in honor of the British Monarch of the time. Here are the Take Photos Leave Footprints top 10 facts about the Falls: Together with the Aurora Borealis, Rio de Janeiro harbor, the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest and Paricutin Volcano in Mexico, Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural…

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Oman: The True Gem of the Arabian Peninsula

By Scott Dicken Oman: The True Gem of the Arabian Peninsula From the bustling Arabic marketplace of Mutrah Souk where fragrant frankincense wafts through the air, to the beauty of the country’s forts, mosques and turquoise sheltered waters of the Musandam Peninsula, Oman caters to all tastes. It’s capital Muscat, once a pivotal Middle East trading port, is often overlooked by tourists opting for the glitzy opulence of nearby Dubai and Abu Dhabi, completely missing Oman’s timeless Arabic charm. Heading out of the capital city offers a chance to experience a traditional Bedouin way of life in small villages tucked into the base of the Hajar mountains or dotted amongst the country’s many wadis. If you’re looking to visit a country steeped in mysticism that is cultivating a dynamic new market for tourism then you’ve come to the right place. Here are my top 5 reasons for visiting the beautiful country of Oman: Diversity of Landscape For photographers, Oman truly is the land of plenty. From the never-ending red sands of the ‘empty-quarter’ that spans Oman, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the UAE, to the Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) range, Oman has a dizzying diversity of landscapes that capture the imagination and will enliven any holiday slideshow. In just a few days you have the opportunity to visit deserts, mountain ranges, sparkling seas, towering fjords, otherworldly canyon wadis, and the deep ocean-side sinkhole; Bimmah. The Middle East automatically conjures images of Bedouin tribes crossing vast deserts by camel, but Oman’s lush green valleys and rolling mists of the Southern Dhofar region stand in stark contrast. Culture Muscat is the perfect place to get acquainted with the culture of Oman. Muscat Old Town houses the opulent ceremonial palace of Sultan Qaboos, the Al Alam Palace in addition to the surrounding Mirani and…

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Lukla: The World’s Most Dangerous Airport

By Scott Dicken Lukla: The World’s Most Dangerous Airport It seemed as though this day had been forever in the making. I’d spent months on the gym’s stair climber trying to rid myself of my ‘extra baggage’. I’d endured the stares of the gym’s native population who had undoubtedly pondered why I was working up a sweat whilst wearing a high altitude mask that made me look like Bane from Batman. I’d abstained when given the mouthwatering opportunity to have a second serving of Christmas Dinner. Yet now it all felt worthwhile. Here we were sitting in Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport waiting to board our flight to Lukla; the gateway to Everest. There isn’t much to do at Tribhuvan airport except nervously ponder the quietly impending existential crisis going through any sane mind. Those dark thoughts, only to be broken by shuddering bursts of “garble garble, flight to mountain” over the intercom, are entirely rational as demonstrated below. As I watched my wife nervously pace across the floor, I myself succumbed to the inevitable: I began to ponder the reasons why one might be nervous about flying in to this particular airport; reasons I had refrained from disclosing to my wife: Reason One: The airport’s vital statistics. Never before have I heard such a frightening list of reasons why an airport shouldn’t be operational. At an altitude of 9,101 feet, Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary Airport is the 36th highest airport in the world. Its runway is 1,729 feet long which, to provide a comparison, is 7.5 times shorter than London Heathrow’s Northern Terminal. The runway has an 11 degree slope, meaning one end is 200ft below the other. The landing end of the runway is a solid cliff face and the takeoff end is a 2,000ft vertical drop in to the valley below….

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