Destinations

May 18, 2015

Sextant, Compass, and GPS

Did you know the Galapagos Islands belong to Ecuador… and Ecuador has the equator running smack through it? Yup, Zero Latitude.

What better place to feed your fascination with the whole idea of aligning stars, managing agriculture, calculating time and distance, and navigating directions? Imagine hanging out right where the center of the world is, under the Southern sky full of stars you might never have seen before (unless you’ve been to South American before!). Learn about navigational forces and sundials. Be astounded at how the ancient civilizations perfected their skills. Straddle the equator! Then after hiking, treasure hunting, and star gazing in the highlands, fly out to the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of the mainland.

In these volcanic islands you’ll still enjoy star lit skies at night, but from a completely different landscape than the mainland. Swim, hike, and kayak amongst breathtaking wildlife , bioth at your feet and soaring overhead.



April 24, 2015

Why You Should Travel to Italy

 

 

A picturesque scene from an Italy family vacation
If you haven’t decided where to go on your next family vacation, we can help with that. There are many reasons why you should travel to Italy. There’s a history lesson at every turn, offering new ways to explore centuries-old Etruscan villages; Roman ruins; medieval walled towns; and Renaissance cities that boast some of the world’s most revered artistic treasures. Italy also boasts an astonishing 50 UNESCO World Heritage Sites — 46 cultural and four natural.
Italy has no shortage of breathtaking natural landscapes, either. Its Mediterranean coastline stretches for miles, showcasing rugged cliffs, hidden coves, jutting fjords and harbor towns. From the Italian Alps and lakes region in the north to the verdant vineyards and olive groves in the central region to the volcanoes of the south, it is incredibly beautiful.
Another reason why you should travel to Italy is one that you’re probably already familiar with: the food! Pasta, pizza, fresh seafood, rich pastries, refreshing gelato and so much more have helped to make Italian cuisine a favorite for families everywhere.
We love Italy and know what a great destination it is for families. That’s why we’ve put together our Southern Italy: Volcanoes and Islands program that we’re débuting in 2016. The area from Naples south along the Amalfi Coast to Sicily is full of sights that are perfect for families to explore. The scenic coastal region is known for dramatic cliffs and medieval villages. There’s also ancient Pompeii, the Roman city that was buried under the ashes after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Your kids will love hiking to the top of the now-dormant crater and wandering through the wonderfully preserved ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

 Family hiking on an Italy family vacationSpeaking of UNESCO sites and volcanoes, our Southern Italy family vacation boasts two of the country’s four natural UNESCO sites — the Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago north of Sicily, and Mount Etna, the country’s largest volcano. Both destinations are included on our trip, and your family can discover them in a variety of fun ways: from a kayak, on foot and from a boat. You can also swim and explore the islands’ sea caves. We’ve also factored in some free time for you to pursue your own interests in this amazing area.

Our General Manager, Jim Kackley, explains — in a nutshell — why you should travel to Italy. “Italy is such a wonderful destination filled with warm people, great food and incredible history. Many of us have been there without our kids, and now it is time to take them to see some of this wonder.”

 

 



March 25, 2015

What’s a Rafiki?

 

Rafiki” means friend in Swahili!

Ellie,_Grace,_Savannah_Ian_and_Henry_with_the_mentor_in_the_Taurus_mountain_hike

Did you know that each Thomson Family Adventure—with eight or more guests—is accompanied by a rafiki*? Our rafikis work with our guides; their main purpose is to enhance the overall trip experience, and especially to engage the children in their new surroundings. We used to call these companions “mentors,” but the job title didn’t convey the rich benefits of this staff member. We settled on rafiki as an acknowledgement of our flagship destination, Tanzania—and so you would ask “what’s a rafiki?”

Depending on the trip, the rafiki may be local to the destination, or may be American. While the job description may vary with each trip, there are some constants to the work. In essence, a rafiki is the “fun person” on board who provides lots of opportunities for recreational and bonding activities, especially among the children. A rafiki comes prepared as a resource, always offering a fun activity or great information.

 

Barnard_Galapagos_group

A rafiki’s job is:

• To provide kid-friendly enrichment activities for up to an hour each day, enhancing the overall trip experience
• To provide organized fun for kids that helps them get to know each other
• To provide things for kids to do during delays, flights and long bus trips
• To give parents the chance to relax and enjoy a stress-free trip because their kids are engaged in interesting activities that help them appreciate other cultures.

A rafiki is not:

• A babysitter. While there are times when the rafiki will supervise the children, he or she is not there to discipline or take over parental duties.
• A tour guide. The local guide is the trip’s expert on the country visited. Any questions about the itinerary or the country should be directed to the guide. This includes food and lodging issues, concerns about excursions, and questions about local culture or native flora and fauna.

Here’s what past travelers had to say about their rafiki friend:

 

Mentor_and_Grace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TANZANIA:

“The guides and rafiki were exceptionally wonderful and very kind! They answered all our endless questions… This is the best trip I’ve had”

–Jennifer Wineman: 12/22/14

 

“Our favorite part of the trip was the animals and hanging out with the rafiki and other kids. We were glad to have the rafiki along as he was willing to discuss political and social issues.”

–Maguire: 07/25/14

 

“Hooking us up with two other families with kids the same age may have been the highlight of the trip. They all bonded well, facilitated by the rafiki. This was appreciated and the rafiki was really good at this work.
–Rosentreter:  07/25/14

“The rafiki was wonderful. He was smart, informative, warm, and great with all ages. He was committed to ensuring a great experience for us all. He was fun to be around, funny, adventurous, attentive, and patient, all with a good sense of humor.”

–Lori Rafkin: 12/21/12

 

ECUADOR:

“Our rafiki made our trip perfect and so easy. She was smart, helpful, energetic, and highly knowledgeable. Do not underestimate the rafiki as a big part of the trip’s success!”

–Freeman: 02/19/11

 

“Our rafiki kept the kids happy and taught them a lot in a very fun way. She was great.”

–Smith-Barr: 02/19/11

 

“Our rafiki very much enhanced our overall travel experience with activities and games. He became part of our family.”

–Doug Listman: 12/21/11

 

COSTA RICA:

“The rafiki was good and especially helpful with the kids.”

–Jeff & Shari Grimes:  06/16/12

 

“Our rafiki was great with the kids, enthusiastic, and energetic.”

–Zilkha: 02/18/12

 

 

SMITHSONIAN:

“The rafiki initiated and anticipated… a great help and enhancement to the trip. She was really a pleasant surprise, how having a rafiki made a better vacation both for the kids and adults.”

–Barb Barney:  07/05/14

 

“It was a wonderful trip. The guides and rafiki made it especially nice. Would highly recommend the trip and hope others got the same guides and rafiki.”

–Linda & Leland Foster: 07/13/14

 

“The rafiki was the nicest and smartest person in the entire world.  She was so nice and I am sad to say goodbye to her. She (and the other family) made the trip.”

–Trip Gorman: 12/26/14

 

“Our guide, rafiki, and photographer went above and beyond to help the children bond with each other and make the activities fun. They enabled the adults to have a great time also.”

– Whitman: 03/15/14

 

*NOTE: There are no rafikis on our Trips with Teens and 20-Somethings, and certain custom and private trips.



November 5, 2014

Glacial Lakes

By: Beth O’Donnell

You know that gorgeous green-blue color of the lakes in all the pictures from the Canadian Rockies?   It is even MORE beautiful in person!  And the color comes from the sediment of the glaciers, called “glacier flour”.  What happens is glacial erosion causes tiny particles of bedrock to enter the meltwater (water released by melting glacial ice).  This enters the rivers which flow into the glacial lake and create colors ranging from milky white to bright turquoise.  This phenomenon is particularly observed in the Canadian Rockies.  See this for yourself on our newest itinerary – beginning in July 2015!

lake with trees

Lake



October 27, 2014

Futbol in Argentina

Futbol 2By: Noemi Gamel

While we were in Buenos Aires, we decided to go to a futbol (aka soccer to you Americans) match. Tristan loves futbol but had never been to a live game before.

Argentina has the reputation for having some of the most devout and passionate futbol fans in the world. In fact, that might be an understatement. When we posted on FaceBook that we were attending a game, our futbol-fanatic Salvadorian friend commented, “I bow down to your courage.”

To avoid the complex ticket buying process, we went with a tour group whose sole purpose is to buy tickets and escort tourists to futbol matches. Our guide, Santiago, confirmed that Argentinian fans have a checkered past: due to violent outbursts during games, the government no longer allows “away” fans in the stadiums. Imagine attending a sporting event in the states and only the home team was allowed to have fans in the stands. Needless to say things were a little different. Also, no alcohol is permitted inside the futbol stadiums.

Without the fear of fistfights or lynchings (though we were advised which team to cheer for), we attended the game with cautious optimism. Santiago reassured us constantly, but also insisted on the group (made up of non-BA Argentinians, Australians, and us) sticking close to him. We had a blast! The kids enjoyed their snacks of sugared peanuts and “gaseosa”, which is essentially soda. We were up in the “cheap seats” but the energy of the stadium permeated all the way up to our stands.

The enthusiasm emanating from the crowed was unrivaled. This was a rival match between two of Argentina’s top teams and the fans sang and cheered non-stop during the entire game. Like a unified choir, they sang out and danced coordinated chants. It was impossible not to be infected by their energy.

The fans, though energetic, were polite and well behaved. Of course, the armed police may have done a lot to quell passions. In the end, we had a great time and Tristan is eagerly awaiting his next game.

Futbol 3

Futbol 1



October 20, 2014

Iguazu Falls

By: Noemi Gamel

Kara and Tristan by the falls

Kara and Tristan by the falls

There is something magical about waterfalls. Perhaps it is the power they convey, the crystalline beauty of the curtain of water, or the deafening roar they produce.  You can imagine our delight to witnessing arguably the most spectacular waterfalls in the world, in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina.

When we first entered Iguazu National Park, I felt like we were in an Argentinian version of Disney World. The place felt commercial, very well organized and clean. There was even a little train to take us around the park. All concerns that we were going to be met by a mechanical band of bears melted when I turned the corner and caught my first glimpse of Iguazu Falls.

Words cannot describe the majesty and beauty of this wonder of nature, but Chris’s photos sure do. Almost 300 individual waterfalls merge together to create Iguazu Falls, resulting is a waterfall that is taller and twice as wide as Niagara Falls, with 3,300,000 gallons of water flowing over the falls every second!

Kara and Tristan loved getting as close as possible to the falls in the lower paths to get drenched by its mist. I have to admit we were coming up with some pretty gruesome speculations of what would happen to the human body if one were to fall on the rocks below.  It is no wonder there is a strict rule forbidding parents from carry their children piggy back on the paths near the falls.

The view from the upper paths was equally stunning, but more crowded. The tour buses arrived around 10 am, so we were very glad we had arrived early to enjoy the views with some semblance of solitude.

Iguazu Falls 4

The falls from above

Iguazu Falls 2

Iguazu Falls



August 19, 2014

Wait! I Thought I Spoke Spanish!

This week’s post from the Gamel family’s yearlong journey around the world, written by Noemi Gamel, with photography by Chris Gamel:

Practicing local Spanish at the market

Practicing local Spanish at the market

While traveling through Peru and Bolivia, I have experienced some comical results using my native Mexican Spanish in South America. Just as my British friends look at me quizzically when I say “y’all” and I do not understand them when they say “lorry” instead of truck, I am finding that different colloquialisms can cause confusion in Spanish.

When we first arrived in Lima, Peru to start our Round the World trip, I went to a small Mercado (market) to find dinner items. I found tomatoes, bananas, bread, and cheese. In Spanish, I asked the woman if she had “aguacates” or avocados. She looked at me as if I had asked for chilled monkey brains. I described the avocado as a black vegetable with a “hueso” (which literally translates to bone) or large seed inside. She said she did not know what I was talking about.

I panicked at the notion that we would not eat avocadoes for 5 weeks while in Peru. My panic struck further when I thought that maybe there were no avocadoes in South America! The horror!

At a restaurant the next day, I found out that avocados are called “paltas” in South America and that they are green, not black. I also found out that the large seed inside is called a “pepa” or “semilla.” I can only imagine what that poor woman at the market in Lima thought about the crazy Mexican-American asking about a black vegetable with a bone inside!

I also found out that “ya” means “yes” or “certainly”. In my native Mexican Spanish, “ya” translates to “be quiet” or “stop it”. It is not a nice phrase. I was jarred by how often Peruvians and Bolivians say “ya” until I realized it was a positive, friendly term.

The lesson learned? Not all Spanish is created equal. And don’t punch the waiter when he says “ya” in Peru or Bolivia.
In future blog posts, I will list some useful Spanish phrases to know when traveling through Latin America, except Brazil of course, where they try to confuse you by speaking Portuguese.

Have you ever had a comical experience due to a misunderstanding withregional language? Share it with us in the comments below!



August 13, 2014

An Abbreviated Guide to Seasonal Galapagos Wildlife

125

A blue-footed booby performs his ritual mating dance on North Seymour

If you’ve heard of the Galapagos Islands, you probably know they’re famous for their spectacular wildlife, as unique as it is abundant. This staunchly protected archipelago was Charles Darwin’s ecological playground – the place where he made discoveries that led to our modern understanding of evolution and natural selection.

So, in terms of wildlife, which months are best for seeing which animals? There’s no bad time to visit the Galapagos, but here’s a quick breakdown of some key seasonal wildlife trends:

January:
Green sea turtles begin laying eggs on the beaches of the Galapagos, land birds start their nesting process, Isabela Island’s land iguanas begin their reproductive cycles, and adult marine iguanas become brightly colored.

February:
Flamingos start nesting on Floreana Island, marine iguanas nest on Santa Cruz, and nesting season for Galapagos doves is at its peak.

March:
Marine iguanas nest on Fernandina, the waved albatross begins to arrive on Española, and the snorkeling is excellent – waters are warm, and tropical fish can be observed right next Galapagos penguins.

April:
Española sees a massive influx of waved albatrosses, and they start their courtship. Giant tortoise hatching season ends, green sea turtles and land iguanas begin to hatch, and visibility is high for snorkeling around the islands.

May:
North Seymour’s blue-footed boobies begin courting, sea turtles are still hatching at Gardner Bay, Punta Cormorant, and Puerto Egas, and most of Española’s waved albatrosses start laying their eggs.

June:
Santa Cruz Island’s famous giant tortoises migrate from the lush highlands to the drier, warmer lowlands in search of nesting sites, and nesting season begins. The frigate birds of North Seymour start to puff up their red neck pouches in order to attract mates.

July:
Blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, and other birds around the Galapagos perform courtship rituals and breeding/nesting activities.

August:
Galapagos hawks court, Nazca boobies nest on Genovesa, and migrant shorebirds arrive on the island, where they’ll stay until March. The giant tortoises of Santa Cruz return to the temperate highlands, and sea lion pupping (birthing) season begins.

September:
Galapagos penguins are very active on Bartolomé, sea birds are active at their nesting sites, and sea lions throughout the islands are abundant, playful, and competitive.

October:
Lava herons start nesting, Galapagos fur seals (actually a type of sea lion) begin mating, and blue-footed boobies raise their chicks.

November:
Sea lion pupping season continues, and the adorable pups swim playfully next to snorkelers.

December:
Giant tortoise eggs begin to hatch, and green sea turtles begin mating. With the start of the rainy season, the Galapagos Islands become beautiful and green, as the plants in dry zones produce leaves. The first young waved albatrosses fledge, and the weather in the islands is ideal.



August 12, 2014

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Another post from the Gamel family’s year around the world:

Why would anyone wake up at 4:30 in the morning? There are only three
good reasons I can come up with:

1) Your  child is sick.

2) A job-related emergency.

3) To watch the sun rise over the majestic scenery of Machu Picchu.

The enigmatic ruins came into view as our bus wound up the
mountains. With that first glance, I understood why Machu Picchu is one
of the seven wonders of the world. Not only are the ruins an architectural
masterpiece, but the city still has a mystical quality that is palpable.

If you go to Peru, you must see Machu Picchu. If you do not hike the Inca
Trail to get there, take the earliest bus available at 5:30 am to get there
in time for sunrise. Take a boxed lunch so you are not in a hurry to get
back. Stroll through the ruins, sit facing Wayna Picchu while the sun
hits your face, and feel the energy in the rocks. Book your train out of
Aguas Calientes in the late afternoon so you can spend as much time as
possible in this wondrous place.



August 4, 2014

A Few Handy Galapagos & Ecuador Tips

130The cornerstone of many a traveler’s bucket list, the Galapagos Islands archipelago provides a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any nature or wildlife enthusiast. And the gorgeous, culturally rich, and vastly underrated Andean highlands of mainland Ecuador deliver family adventure memories unparalleled by any other place on earth.

A trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos is much different from anything else most people have done before, and travelers may find themselves wondering how and what to pack for such a journey.

Firstly, forget fashion – dress on a family adventure to Ecuador and the Galapagos is casual, and functionality is key. You may want to pack one or two nicer outfits for dinners, such as a dress or skirt for women and khakis for men. Otherwise, bring comfortable, lightweight, and fast-drying clothing with fabrics designed to wick away moisture. While days can be warm and sunny, nights tend to be cooler, so it’s imperative to dress in layers and to always have some dry clothes available – camping or outdoors stores like L.L. Bean, Patagonia, EMS, and REI tend to carry some great stuff for this. Footwear is awkward and bulky to pack, so you’ll want to avoid bringing too many pairs, but count on one pair of boots/shoes getting wet or muddy during the day and have a dry pair available for the evening. Some essential items to bring along include: an assortment of plastic and zip-lock bags to keep gear clean, dry, and sorted; plenty of sunscreen; a wide-brimmed hat; plenty of socks and underwear; bathing suit; comfortable, sturdy walking or hiking shoes; a fleece or light jacket; and water shoes or similar shoes that will be safe and effective for wet landings in the Galapagos. Also, you’ll certainly want a camera for all the spectacular wildlife and scenery you’re sure to come upon!

In addition to smart packing, another useful way to prepare is to get at least a basic grasp of some common Spanish words and phrases:

Buenos días = Good morning (said before noon)
Buenas tardes = Good afternoon (said after noon)
Buenas noches = good night (said after 5 or so)
= Yes
No = No
Hola = Hello
Hasta luego = See you later (literally “until later”)
¿Cómo está usted? = How are you?
Por favor = Please
Gracias = Thank you
De nada = You’re welcome
¿Habla usted español? = Do you speak Spanish?
¿De dónde es usted? = Where are you from?
Los Estados Unidos = the United States
¿Qué hora es? = What time is it?
¿Dónde está el/la…? = Where is the… ?
¿Cuánto cuesta esto? = How much does this cost?
Muy caro = Very expensive

If people speak too rapidly for comprehension, try saying, “Más despacio, por favor,” which means “Slower, please.”

There are many more helpful tips to help you get the most out of a family adventure to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands – just call and ask (800-262-6255). And remember, space is limited, so book soon!