Posts Tagged ‘family adventure’

July 14, 2015

Explore Italy’s Volcanoes

When you think of Italy what comes to mind? Is it pasta, wine, Shakespeare, the Vatican, pizza, gelato? While these do all shout Italy— you may not think to say volcanoes. Interestingly enough, you should! Southern Italy and especially the islands are a hot bed (no pun intended) for volcanic activity. Italy is home to over a dozen volcanoes, most of which are dormant. Currently there are three active volcanoes in Italy: Mount Etna, Stromboli, and Mount Vesuvius. Since they are the only active volcanoes in the country they are by far the most interesting! These volcanoes are fun, filled with activities, and offer unique education experiences making them great places to visit on a family vacation!

Mount Etna

After a hike on Mount Etna! Photo: M. Tomasello

After a hike on Mount Etna!                Photo: M. Tomasello

On the Eastern Coast of Sicily, between the cities of Catania and Messina, sits Mount Etna. At just under 11,000 feet tall, this is not only the tallest active volcano in Italy but on the entire European continent. To add to Etna’s ambiance, it is also the one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Staying in Catania and hiking the slopes of Mount Etna is a great way to learn how volcanoes play an integral role in their environments. The volcanic ash from Etna has made the soil incredibly fertile, boosting the agricultural output of the area, specifically, enhancing the production of vineyards and orchards. With all of its recent activity and because of the nearby population, Mount Etna has been named one of 16 Decade Volcanoes by the United Nations and it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

Mount Stromboli

A Stromboli Eruption Photo: C. Migeon

A Stromboli Eruption Photo: C. Migeon

For the last 2,000 years, Stromboli, one of the eight Aeolian Islands, has been in a continuous eruption. This isn’t as scary as it sounds. Stromboli regularly erupts in intervals that can last as long as minutes or hours. These are small bursts of lava fragments, ash, and stone blocks that spray a few hundred meters into the air. These eruptions are almost always explosive but there are times when a lava flow occurs. You can hike on Stromboli to see the “Stairway of Fire,” the path that lava takes to the sea, an incredible opportunity that no one should miss. Another great feature of Stromboli is its picturesque coves that are perfect to go swimming in!

Mount Vesuvius

Vesuvius from the coast Photo: E. Cali

Vesuvius from the coast  Photo: E. Cali

 

Probably the most famous of Italy’s volcanoes is Mount Vesuvius. Vesuvius reached international and everlasting fame after its eruption in 79 AD that buried and destroyed several Italian cities, including Pompeii. The eruption in 79 AD spewed molten rock and lava upwards of 20 miles into the air which caused much of the destruction. The ruins of Pompeii are well preserved and a popular destination for travelers to mainland Italy. The last major eruption of Vesuvius was in 1944, making it the only volcano in mainland Europe to have erupted in the last 100 years. Vesuvius is to be respected and admired. There are great trails on its slopes and it’s a great fixture to have in the backdrop of a picture!

Italy’s volcanoes are only part of the country’s beauty and personality. Taking a vacation to the islands and volcanoes of Italy is educational, fun, and exciting. Take a look at our Italy family vacation itinerary or give us a call today to plan the next amazing vacation that your family will have!



July 7, 2015

What I’ve Seen: South Africa

We are getting ready to launch a new family trip to South Africa and thought it would be a good idea to let you in on the experience! A member of our team, Claudia, went to Cape Town and out on safari to learn all she could about South Africa. We asked her a few questions about her trip to give you an idea of what your next family vacation might look like!

Here's Claudia and her friend Ivy at the Cape of Good Hope

Here’s Claudia and her friend Ivy at the Cape of Good Hope

Can you give us an overview of your trip to South Africa?

I spent two wonderfully busy weeks there in late April, early May. We stayed 5 nights in glorious Cape Town, one night at Grootbos in the scenic Western Cape, three nights in bustling Johannesburg (a.k.a. Joburg) and four nights in the bush. We drove six-and-a-half hours from Joburg to Timbavati Game Reserve, which provided great perspective from the Highveld to the Lowveld.

South Africa has a troubled history that’s not too far in the past; could you still signs of this as a traveler and did it affect your trip in any way?

I was amazed how far the country has progressed since apartheid. For example, in 1950, the South African government banned marriages between whites and people of other races. The Population Registration Act of 1950 provided the basic framework for apartheid by classifying all South Africans by race, including Bantu (black Africans), Colored (mixed race) and white. A fourth category, Asian (meaning Indian and Pakistani) was later added. In some cases, the legislation split families; parents could be classified as white, while their children were classified as colored. In December 2006, South Africa became the fifth country in the world, the first in Africa, to allow legal marriages between same-sex couples. Pretty impressive! (The ban on interracial marriages was lifted in 1985.)

What was the best part of this trip for you?

Wild dogs spotted on Safari

Wild dogs spotted on Safari

It’s difficult to pick my favorite part of the trip, as there was something special in each location. Cape Town is unbelievably beautiful and the bush (safari) is tough to beat with opportunities of being a stone’s throw away from rhinos and wild dogs. For me, Joburg was an unexpected highlight. I had the opportunity to visit a few inspirational museums that exhibit and display the hardships of apartheid in a way that leaves you craving to learn more about this tumultuous period. In addition to perusing the museums, I was able to explore two townships – Soweto and Kliptown – two very different communities all striving for the same thing – a better life. The people of Johannesburg are prosperous people and the spirit of entrepreneurship is everywhere.

What part did you like the least?

Flying. I’m not a big fan.

South Africa isn’t typically thought of as a safari destination but you went on one there. How was it?

Stopping for a sip of water!

Stopping for a sip of water!

Actually, South Africa is a popular destination for safari-goers. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to experience a handful of safaris in Tanzania, which is completely different than the safari experience in South Africa. In Tanzania, it’s like stepping into Noah’s Ark. You’ll see hundreds and hundreds of wildebeest, zebra and antelope and the vastness of the country is grand; whereas, in South Africa, the experience is intimate. You’ll see a few rhino, wild dog and lion in an up-close and personal way. The experience is quite exhilarating! I truly feel like people seeking a 10-plus day trip filled with extraordinary wildlife viewing should consider our family safari to Tanzania. If you and your family are seeking a little bit of everything – including marine life – family South Africa is the trip for you.

Would you take your kids or niece and nephew on this trip?

You betcha! I have a poster pinned on my cork board at work that reads, “Seek Adventures That Open Your Mind”.  South Africa will open your mind! South Africans are strong, curious and aware people. The older generation had to be this way in order to survive, and it’s places like South Africa that the next generation must experience to understand how history has shaped the world we live in today. Apartheid cannot be forgotten.

What about your parents or grandparents?

You betcha! South Africa is very diverse. Come learn about the Land Big 5, the Marine Big 5, South Africa’s turbulent history, its vibrant cultures, and tasty wines all while being awed by its surrounding natural beauty!

Did you feel culture shock at any point, why? If not, why do you think you didn’t?

I did not and that’s probably due to my trips to Tanzania and other underdeveloped countries in the world. There are considerable differences between the US and South Africa, but I never felt inconvenienced. I could connect to WiFi at the hotels, I could easily access money at ATMS and I had no problems conversing with people in English as is commonly spoken throughout Africa, along with 11 other official languages.

Did you feel safe in South Africa? Whether it was your time out on safari or walking around Cape Town?

The Gardens at Kirstenbosch in Cape Town

The Gardens at Kirstenbosch in Cape Town

Truthfully, I never felt unsafe or in harm’s way. I may have had my adrenaline rise as a pride of lions walked by our safari vehicle, but I never felt unsafe.

How were the flights getting to and from South Africa?

My international flights were smooth. I flew roundtrip on Delta Airlines. On the outbound flight I flew from Boston to Cape Town via Amsterdam, a flight I’m very familiar with. On the return, I flew from Joburg to Boston via Atlanta, the largest airport hub in the world. The flight from Joburg to Atlanta was slightly under 17 hours long.

Is there something about South Africa that you could really only know from being there? Something you won’t find in a guide book?

The entire experience. To learn, read a book. To experience, go travel.

The view from famous Table Mountain

The view from famous Table Mountain

There you have it— South Africa in a nutshell! If you have any lingering questions just give us a call and we’ll be happy to answer them for you and set your family up with an incredible vacation experience!



June 16, 2015

Machu Picchu: What You Need to Know

There is a reason that Machu Picchu is on the bucket list for almost all travelers- it’s quite marvelous. The stone architecture of this deserted city is fascinating and after you remember that this entire complex was built before the invention of any machinery, it becomes that much more impressive. Although a well-known site, here are a few things you should know before embarking on your trip to Peru and the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

Background

Machu Picchu is a 15th century Inca site found just outside of Cuzco on the edge of the Sacred Valley. The complex was abandoned around the 15th century and remained hidden until 1911 when an American historian, Hiram Bingham, came upon the ruins and spread the word about what he had just found. There is no definitive answer as to why the city was abandoned or what it was used for in the 15th and 16th centuries. All we know is that the mystery is part of the fun when exploring the ancient grounds!

Be Ready for an Early Start

Waking up early to start your exploration of Machu Picchu is essential to making the most of your time there. Machu Picchu is popular and gets very crowded throughout the day. The earlier you can get there the more you’ll be able to see before the congestion gets too bad. Don’t get set on the idea that you and your family will have the ruins to yourselves, but getting there early does give you more options and less of a crowd!

Sites Not to Miss

There is a lot to see in Machu Picchu and it’s good to go in with a plan because it can be easy to get overwhelmed. A couple of the main sites you won’t want to miss are Huayna Picchu and the Gate of the Sun. These are two of the more popular landmarks that are sure to be full of people. If you want to see incredible sites that see a significantly lower amount of traffic…

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How to Get Away from the Crowds

You can hike Machu Picchu Mountain or go to the Temple of the Moon. Machu Picchu Mountain is at the end of the complex opposite Huayna Picchu and sees fewer visitors. This is because the trail is a tougher climb and at 1,640 feet, the peak is twice as high. For those inclined and able, this is an opportunity that should not be missed! The Temple of the Moon on the other hand is tucked away in a set of caves hidden away from the main site. Taking the time to find it will give you a unique Machu Picchu experience that not many people have.

Now you have the basic information to get excited about your next family vacation to Peru where you and your family will make the memories of a lifetime hiking around Machu Picchu!



June 12, 2015

Four Unlikely Places for Great Wildlife Viewing

Taking time to explore the wildlife in countries can be an amazing experience. We share this world with beautiful creatures that live in the forests, jungles, mountains, and oceans. Seeing animals in their natural environments is breathtaking. Once you have seen some of these places, the importance of conservation efforts and responsible travel can’t be ignored. Viewing wildlife on a family vacation isn’t just good in the Galapagos and Tanzania. Here are four places that aren’t traditional destinations for wildlife and they are all part of North America!

Baja

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Baja is the western most part of Mexico, just to the south of California. If ocean and marine life is of the slightest interest to your family, then Baja must be on your bucket list of places to visit. Baja is the best of the best when it comes to life below the sea. The Sea of Cortez is home to the largest variety of whales in the world and every year gray whale mothers and their calves migrate to Magdalena Bay where they come close enough to visitors that you can touch them! This isn’t even to mention the thousands of fish that swim in the waters- and sea lions!

Panama

OD 9

When you neighbor Costa Rica it’s hard to compete in the wildlife department but, Panama does very well. It is home to over 200 mammals, 200 reptiles, 150 amphibians, and 900 birds (the most of any Central American country). Darien National Park in Panama is one of the best places to go bird watching in the world. A few of the birds that people travel to see are the harpy eagle, quetzals, macaws, parrots and toucans. Panama also has a great monkey population in spider monkeys, white-faced capuchins, squirrel monkeys, and the Geoffroy’s tamarin which can’t be found anywhere else in Central America.

 

Cuba

When thinking of Cuba, it is hard to think of it as a place great for a wildlife adventure. But the truth is that Cuba has the most animal species in all of the Caribbean. One of the more fascinating animals in Cuba is the bee hummingbird. Many believe that this is the smallest bird in the world, just over 2 inches long and weighs less than an ounce! The locals say it is a symbol of love and call it a “zunzun.” Cuba is also home to crocodiles, flamingos, butterfly bats, reef sharks, and the emerald humming bird and much more!

Canada

Big Horned Sheep

While hiking in the Canadian Rockies you are bound to see some incredible and massive animals. Numbering in the thousands, there are plenty of opportunities to see elk. These creatures are majestic and you may want to get as close as you can to them, but remember they are wild and you need to stay at least a couple of hundred feet away. Your family will also have the chance to see mountain goats and bighorn sheep in action climbing the sides of mountains! There is also a scarce population of wolves and cougars that are rarely seen. Canada is truly a wild adventure and these animals only help add to the ambiance!

Taking your family vacation to any of these destinations is bound to be filled with excitement and great wildlife. Get out there and see the beauty that nature has to offer!



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



January 29, 2014

The Power of Soccer Balls

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The soccer balls arrive in Peru!

 

Soccer is a universal game around the world; we see it everywhere we go.  Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Brazil – soccer is a language that needs no translation. (In Tanzania the kids often use an old balled up sock for a ball, and even barefoot they can score the heck out of the American kids).  So it is no wonder when guests of Thomson Family Adventures traveled to Peru in August they saw a huge need for decent equipment.

On their return to Maryland, Karen Druffel and the Elkridge Youth Organization (EYO Sports)  began a fun project to deliver their generous donations to the village they visited. Due to issues of customs and taxes we knew we couldn’t just send 10 soccer balls in one batch – and so we parcelled them out to our future travelers to take them in suitcases  to our local colleagues in Peru, who then took them to the kids. Thank you to everyone for your part in this glorious gift of generosity.

See their joy!

 

 

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October 25, 2013

The Wild Wonders of Brazil – Part Two

 

Jaiburu, the largest stork in the world, nesting in the Pantanal

The Pantanal. I know you’ve never heard of it, but this is the coolest place you’ll ever go. I’ve ruffled a few feathers here in the office with my suggestion it just might be more awesome than the Serengeti….

For starters, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland covering as much as 75,000 sq miles, 80% of which is submerged during the flooding season. All of this water nurtures an astonishing collection of flora and fauna. Without the dense jungle of the Amazon, your ability to actually witness this population is guaranteed. Imagine 1000 different kinds of birds, 300 types of mammal, 480 reptile species…. right in your back yard.

On the drive from the city of Cuiaba to the lodge we didn’t have to go far before stopping to gasp at  hundreds of caiman and storks and egrets, just enjoying life right there on either side of the road. When I arrived at the lodge a Hyacinth Macaw swept in as if to greet me.. A wild one. Hundreds of birds – cardinals, parrots, finches, chacalacas,  currasow, herons, jacana – flit through the property. Five paces outside my cozy room was a marshy pond overflowing with caiman and capybara. One of those capybara kept moseying on over to the pool area for a nap on the warm pavement. And all around was an open vista of fields, with towering termite mounds, palms, and many trees in brilliant bloom. Somewhere out there were deer and tapir and bats and jaguar and puma and armadillo and giant anteaters, and I got to see many of these species over the next couple of days. This is magic-land!



August 29, 2013

Unreal Wildlife & Volcanic Terrain

My second day in the Galapagos began with a romantic Latin pop song, very gradually increasing in volume as it came over the ship’s speakers.  Just as I slipped peacefully out of my sleep and acknowledged that the music wasn’t simply a soundtrack to my dream, the ship coordinator softly informed the passengers that this was our 6:45 wakeup call, and breakfast would be ready in 15 minutes.

After a nice buffet breakfast in the main dining area, we prepared for the 10-minute panga (a small, motorized boat) ride to Puerto Egas on the island of Santiago. It didn’t take long to notice that this island was drastically different from anything I had seen on Santa Cruz. We spent about an hour and a half walking along a shoreline characterized by volcanic black sand, lagoons, and lava rocks, all harboring a magical array of birds, mammals, reptiles and crabs.

Sea lions lounged on the rocks and the sand. Galapagos marine iguanas rested on top of each other and made their way into the water, while brightly-colored Sally Lightfoot crabs scurried all around them. Fur seals (according to our expert naturalist guide, actually a type of sea lion, as opposed to true seals) kept each other company on rocky ledges overlooking pools of sparklingly blue water. Blue-footed boobies and American oystercatchers scanned the surface of the water for tasty sea life, yellow warblers and Darwin’s prized finches hopped around nimbly, and a mockingbird actually flew out of a nearby tree and landed on top of the backpack of a man in my group.

The scene was astounding, and unlike anything I had ever seen before. At this point, I was still utterly amazed at the fact that I could stand a foot away from any animal here and evoke no reaction of fear of defensiveness whatsoever.

After our guided walk, we descended upon a peaceful little beach and spent about an hour snorkeling. I saw vibrant schools of tropical fish, and legitimately almost crashed straight into two massive sea turtles by accident as they swam contently and occasionally breached the surface. Another optional snorkeling excursion a bit later in the waters around the famous Pinnacle Rock presented us with an ocean floor populated by starfish far bigger than I knew existed.

With the day’s snorkeling behind us, we made our way to the island of Bartolomé. As I was quickly coming to expect, this island was starkly distinct from the ones before. Its relatively recent formation is resoundingly evident, with fascinating, Mars-like terrain stretching vastly and only very new pioneer plants growing out of the volcanic ash covering the hillsides. Natural, black and gray rock structures stick out dramatically and beautifully all over the place, and the groove marks left by lava flows cut through the compacted ash.

We trudged up about 400 steps to the island’s scenic lookout point, and the heaving and panting was more than worth it. The iconic Galapagos view provided was absolutely stunning, with glassy blue waters surrounding the piece of the island that juts out, with Pinnacle Rock looming proudly on the right side, and the much larger island of Santiago in the background.

The group returned to the ship, and an unforgettable day was capped off with a delectable churrasco-style barbecue buffet and some stargazing on the top deck.



August 23, 2013

Fearless Tortoises and Endless Craters

Santa Cruz is only one of the 14 islands in the Galapagos archipelago, but this island alone harbors an incredible diversity of landscapes and ecosystems. A drive up into the highlands of Santa Cruz to see the giant tortoises that make their home here was my first activity, and it absolutely set the tone for my unbelievable Galapagos adventure.

Our pangas pulled into the rocky shore, and we stepped out amid cacti and bone-dry, gnarled shrubs baking in the sun. Here, we boarded a bus and started the drive up into the highlands. I can’t begin to describe how quickly and dramatically the landscape began to change; the forested mountain terrain grew lusher and lusher as we reached higher elevations, and it soon looked like we had reached a completely different island than the one we had only recently disembarked at.

Within ten minutes, the air coming in through the open windows was substantially cooler. The dry plant life of sea level gave way to lush, tropical vegetation. We made our way up through misty mountains, passing secluded houses with roosters and banana and guava trees in the front yards, and started to come upon small farms and grazing cattle. The place was like a one-stop microcosm of all the beautiful green places in the world, where jungle meets farmland and tropical meets comfortably temperate.

After the half-hour bus ride, we set off on a leisurely walk through the giant tortoise habitat. These gentle creatures were roaming slowly all around us, some as old as 100 and quite enormous. They spend the first part of their lives trying to make their way up into these highlands, so we were really exploring the tortoises’ land of milk and honey. The most striking thing about these tortoises (even more evident in the iguanas, sea lions and birds of the Galapagos) is their total lack of any kind of fear of humans.

Unlike anywhere else on earth, you can stand a foot away from an animal in the Galápagos Islands and it won’t show the slightest bit of apprehension, because they have been so perfectly protected that they don’t associate the human form with any kind of threat. We’re not their natural predators, and tireless efforts have gone into making sure these islands represent only the natural circle of life and evolution, so they’re perfectly content ignoring our presence and going about their business.

On the way back down from the highlands, we stopped off at the site of “Los Gemelos,” or “The Twins,” which are two vast collapsed volcanic craters. We stepped off the bus and started walking down a path surrounded by lush moss and scalesia trees (found only in the Galapagos) when, all of the sudden, the earth opened up. The path dropped off into a deep sea of rich vegetation, bordered by a sheer rock face stretching all the way around. The mist made its way across the crater and sent shivers down my spine and I thought to myself: “This is just day one.



August 16, 2013

I wish I wasn’t in the Aisle Seat…

Flying to the Galapagos Islands

That’s a thought I never expected to cross my mind, but I realized a few days ago that to be two seats away from the window on a flight into the Galapagos Islands feels like a tragedy. Before I left for this trip to Ecuador, my highly general expectations associated wildlife with the Galapagos, and scenery and culture with the Andean Highlands – it didn’t take long for me to learn that the striking landscapes of the Galapagos are most definitely not to be overlooked as a huge part of what makes this natural paradise so extraordinary.

As we flew over the islands, it looked like someone had combined Mars and the US Southwest and plopped the result into the middle of the Pacific. Still, looking down on these arid, craggy, cacti-dotted masses of hardened lava on a deep blue backdrop, I had no idea just how unique this undisturbed ecological sanctuary would prove to be.

Once the flight touched down, it was evident that this place was going to waste NO time establishing itself as a destination like no other. After a 5-minute shuttle from the airport to the dock I was about to embark from, the sea lions of the Galapagos greeted me with a nice initiation to the next few days of my life. I hadn’t even boarded the small boat (called a “panga”) that would take me to the ship I would be staying on when I almost tripped over a sea lion lounging – carefree as could be – on the dock. A few moments later, a few more sea lions hanging out on the rocks beneath the dock started up a symphony of playful barks. Not a bad how-do-you-do from the most well-preserved ecosystem on earth…