By Megan Murphy, AFAR Ambassador

 

1. Main Image

Africa changes you forever, like nowhere else on Earth. I heard that time and time again from friends, colleagues, and fellow journalists who were touched by the magic of safari. But only now that I’ve been on a Kenya Private Safari with Monograms do I whole-heartedly understand how true that sentiment is.

The extraordinary continent can invigorate your soul, pull at your heartstrings, and change you in many ways—but time spent there can have the most positive impact if you fully embrace the experience. Here are a few ways you can make the most of your African adventure to help ensure that you are forever changed, in the best way imaginable.

 

Be Present. Be Grateful.

Going on safari may be a once in-a-lifetime experience, so make it a point to soak up every wondrous moment. We live in a technology-driven world, and I encourage any traveler to go on a “digital detox” while on their trip. Sure, you’ll want to snap photos of the fascinating animals and magnificent landscapes, but powering down the phone and turning off the Blackberry (you won’t get WiFi during most game drives anyway, which is a good thing!) is invigorating. You’ll want your eyes wide open to all the amazingness.

Greet your days with gratitude and wonder. Appreciate the beauty of untouched nature. Breathe in the clean, crisp air deeply and consciously. Be fearless and awe-inspired. Cherish every sunrise and sunset and Kenya’s dramatic, ever-changing skies. Slow down and get on “Africa time.” Soak. It. All. In.

2. Spectacular sunrise over Mount Kenya in Ol Pejeta

3. Taking a moment to reflect upon Kenya's beloved Northern white rhinos who have recently passed

 

Embrace the Local Cuisine

There’s no better way to experience the true culture of a place than through its food. I was pleasantly surprised by the culinary offerings, which were always fresh and flavorful and abundant. Meals included a bounty of tropical fruits, well-prepared vegetables, freshly-baked breads, fragrant Indian-influenced dishes, and decadent desserts, along with local dishes like chapati (doughy flatbread), ugali (cornmeal cake), sukuma wiki (flavored collard greens-kale mixture), nyama choma (assorted roasted meats), and Kenyan goat stew. Being on safari is the perfect time to try something new. Be open minded. And, who knows, you may just come home and miss having curry-spiced chickpeas and roasted tomatoes for breakfast. I certainly do.

4. My first Kenyan breakfast at Nairobi Serena Hotel

5. Vibrant lunch spread at Sand River Masai Mara

On the drinks front, vibrant, freshly-squeezed paw paw (papaya) juice brightened up my mornings. And savoring a daily cup or two of Kenyan coffee (often ranked amongst the world’s best for a reason), which was served with cinnamon-spiced cakes and butter cookies, was such a delight. I fell in love with the coffee’s rich, intense aroma and distinct fruity flavor; of course, I picked up a few souvenir bags to brew at home.

At dinner, why not choose a South African wine? Or try a Tusker beer—I became a big fan of this refreshing pale lager made in Kenya. And my favorite way to cap off the night? Slowly sipping Amarula. Enjoy this sweet cream liqueur made from the African Marula fruit straight over ice, poured in your coffee, or within a dessert-like cocktail. Maisha marefu! (“Cheers!” in Swahili)

6. Savoring a glass of lovely South African rosé

7. Loved trying locally-produced beverages like refreshing Tusker lager

 

Take a Stab at Swahili

Speaking of Swahili… get down with some basics. Kenya is an English-speaking country, since it was colonized by the British, but Swahili is the national language of Kenya, and is spoken by many African populations. Learning new languages—even a few simple words and greetings—is part of the fun of traveling and a great sign of respect to the locals. A warm jambo (hello) goes a long way. As does tafadhali (please) and asante sana (thank you very much).

My favorite commonly-used phrase is hakuna matata (no worries)any fans of “The Lion King” will get a good chuckle out of that one. I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear every time I heard, or uttered, that problem-free philosophy.

Fun fact: Don Hahn, the producer of “The Lion King,” arrived in Kenya the same day as I did. He originally came to Africa in the early 90s with a team of sketch artists to observe the animals in their natural habitat and get inspiration for his Disney blockbuster. Many of the characters’ names in the film are real Swahili words including simba (lion), rafiki (friend), and pumbaa (foolish).

8. Spotted so many young simbas during my safari

9. Glorious sunbeams peeking out from an overcast sky

 

Get to Know the Locals

Meeting people with a different cultural perspective is always an enlightening experience. Engaging with local residents, and getting to know their customs, traditions, and values, is a fascinating way to expand your level of understanding of the world. I went into my solo safari thinking I’d want to hang with fellow travelers, but found myself drawn to the Kenyan people—they were absolutely lovely, warm, and genuine. Ask questions. Extend compliments. Be open.

Chatting up the bartender at Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge in Lake Nakuru led to an introduction to Kenyan Cane rum and the best mojito I’ve ever had in my life. And I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my wonderful, knowledgable, and funny Monogram’s driver-guide, Julius—I learned so much during our time together, which I will always cherish. Connecting with locals was one of the best parts of my journey, and I even made some Kenyan rafiki along the way.

10. Having a laugh with my wonderful Monograms driver-guide, Julius

11. Kenya will forever hold a piece of my heart

 

Utilize a Reputable Tour Operator

Without help from the experts (like Monograms), planning a great safari itinerary is nearly impossible—especially if it’s your first time in Africa or you’re going solo. There’s an overwhelming amount of destinations to choose from, and many different types of accommodations and modes of transportation to fit your needs and budget. A trusted tour operator who specializes in African safaris will be able to handle all the details so you can have the best adventure.

I never thought I’d travel to Kenya alone. But I am so glad I did. Monograms took care of everything—from the entire trip itinerary and location transfers to meals and accommodations—to really make it a hakuna matata experience. All I had to do was enjoy every single second and let the African magic happen.

 

Interested in learning more about Megan’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out Monogram’s Kenya Private Safari.

An adventure lover at heart, Megan is a food/bev and travel writer based in New York City. She has contributed to AFAR, Bon Appétit, Clean Plates, Eater, Eat This, Not That!, Fodor’s, Food & Wine, PopSugar, Thrillist and more, and runs her own website. Megan is happiest when embarking on new travel and dining experiences with her beloved family and friends, but also really enjoyed her solo safari.


By Megan Murphy, AFAR Ambassador

 

1. Main image option

Acclaimed travel writer Brian Jackman once said, “Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all.” I can now say with certainty that after being bit—hard—by the safari bug, I will never, ever be the same.

As an impassioned animal lover and enthusiast of travel and photography, I have wanted to go on safari for as long as I can remember. So when the opportunity to turn my dream into reality—by going on a Kenya Private Safari with Monograms Travel—presented itself, I excitedly jumped at the chance to cross the African adventure off my bucket list.

The trip itinerary started and ended in the bustling city of Nairobi, with a full week in between spent in three distinct safari destinations—each renowned for its scenic landscapes and unique wildlife. Every year, thousands of travelers head to Africa with hopes of spotting the famous “Big Five” game animals—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo—and this expedition didn’t disappoint. I never expected in my wildest dreams to get up close and personal with so many magnificent creatures. Here are a few animal-centric highlights from my Kenyan journey.

1. The world's last two remaining northern white rhinos, both female, are protected at Ol Pejeta

 

Ol Pejeta Conservancy

After meeting my Monograms driver-guide, Julius, we were off to our first game destination: Ole Pejeta Conservancy, a 90,000-acre preserve situated on the equator at the base of majestic Mount Kenya, Kenya’s highest mountain. For three days, Sweetwaters Serena Camp was my home base. This luxe tented retreat in the middle of Ol Pejeta is situated directly in front of a highly-popular watering hole. At any given time, day or night, guests can peek right outside their tent or the lodge restaurant and view dozens of animals staying cool with some sips, a quick dip, or a roll in the mud.

 

I learned all about how Ol Pejeta has one of the highest densities of wildlife in Kenya and prides itself on being at the cutting edge of conservation innovation. It’s home to two of the world’s last remaining northern white rhinos and is the largest black rhino sanctuary in east Africa. Exciting morning and afternoon drives through the extensive plains of Ol Pejeta brought me smack in the middle of a bounty of Africa’s most iconic species including elephants, giraffes, hyenas, lions, rhinos, and zebras.

 

8. Ol Pejeta is the largest black rhino sanctuary in east Africa

2. Reticulated giraffe flashes his dark tongue at the water hole

3. Family of African elephants, the largest land mammals on earth

4. Spotted hyena—also known as _laughing hyena_—scavenges for food

5. Grevy's zebras are the rarest of the three species of zebra

6. Ol Pejeta Conservancy is home to six resident lion prides

7. Lovely lone lioness lounging at dusk

 

Lake Nakuru

Our second safari location was Lake Nakuru, a lush wetland region rich with swamps and diverse wildlife, and perhaps best known for the huge migrations of flamingos that descend upon the area throughout the year. As a young girl, I was obsessed with ’mingos, so my inner child was tickled pink over seeing these fabulous flocks.

 

Game drives in Lake Nakuru included non-stop sightings of Cape buffalos, huge hippos, graceful impalas, beautiful birds, and many more. Groups of boisterous baboons and vervet monkeys offered never-ending entertainment—I could’ve spent all day watching these playful primates groom each other, act mischievous, and monkey around.

 

One warm, sunny afternoon, we drove up to Baboon Cliff, the national park’s most popular lookout point, for incredible panoramic views of sparkling Lake Nakuru. A famous scene in the movie “Out of Africa” was filmed at this picturesque location.

 

8. Entertaining vervet monkeys are often seen playing and grooming each other

1. Lake Nakuru is home to more than a million flamingos

2. Baboon mama nurses her newborn baby

3. Herd of male impalas surrounds a single female

4. Hungry hippo shows off his teeth in an aggressive display

5. Greater blue-eared starling about to take flight

6. Large eland takes a break from grazing to flash a smile

7. Cape buffalos are among Africa's most dangerous animals

 

Maasai Mara

Finally, we arrived in Maasai Mara, Kenya’s most famous game area. Part of the Serengeti ecosystem, this world-renowned wildlife reserve is located in southwestern Kenya, along the Tanzanian border, and boasts a strong permanent population of animals. “The Mara” (as locals call it) is renowned for its annual wildebeest migration and resident big cats—cheetahs, lions, and leopards. The expansive savannah wilderness features miles upon miles of rolling hills and grassy plains, which is ideal for nature viewing.

 

The game drives in the Mara were absolutely thrilling, and I spotted more animals than you can even imagine (there were many “pinch me” moments). But I was most fascinated by the fearless felines. I still get the chills thinking about the rare encounter I had with an alluring leopard whose beauty was otherworldly, and I spent an entire morning observing a large pride of regal lions—including cubs, mamas, and older males—playing, napping, roaring, and hunting. The big cats completely took my breath away.

 

8. Leopard intensely gazing with fierce amber eyes

1. Small lion cubs have spots on their legs and underbellies

2. Playful lion cubs having a chase on a beautiful, sunny morning

3. Big papa lion wakes from his nap to flash his golden eyes 4. Topi gazelles flaunt striking multi-colored markings

5. The Maasai ostrich—the largest and fastest bird in the world—strolls through the plains

6. Maasai Mara is the famed location of the annual wildebeest migration

7. High up in a tree, an elusive leopard guards his fresh kill

 

Nothing compares to getting up close and personal with Africa’s animals in their natural habitat. The Monograms Kenya safari exceeded all expectations of wildlife viewing—and it was an experience that will forever be engrained in my heart and soul.

 

Interested in learning more about Megan’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out Monogram’s Kenya Private Safari.

An adventure lover at heart, Megan is a food/bev and travel writer based in New York City. She has contributed to AFAR, Bon Appétit, Clean Plates, Eater, Eat This, Not That!, Fodor’s, Food & Wine, PopSugar, Thrillist and more, and runs her own website. Megan is happiest when embarking on new travel and dining experiences with her beloved family and friends, but also really enjoyed the solo safari experience.

 


By Ben Schuyler, AFAR Ambassador

Can I be honest? In my early years of travel photography I didn’t have much interest in visiting Europe. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where nature was a stone’s throw in any direction. That accessibility made it the topic of much of my early work. Growing up my family’s version of a summer vacation growing up was hopping into our minivan, driving mostly forgotten highways, eating at roadside diners, and stopping to read every historical placard we could. The places to be explored in my very own part of the country felt endless. Why would I need to spend all kinds of money getting to a place full of people, buildings, and (what I thought was) very little nature. How wrong I was.

My wife and I are newly married, having tied the knot in early June, and we struggled to peg down a honeymoon destination. There was a list of criteria that needed to bet met before we’d settle on a location: it couldn’t be overly touristy, it MUST have great food, and it should be easy to navigate. A large cruise would never be something that either of us would ever suggest, but our interest was piqued when an opportunity to travel the Seine from Paris to the mouth of the river for a week with boutique river cruise line U By Uniworld came up. Each ship had a maximum capacity of 120 guests and focused on “iconic sites, hidden gems and authentic adventures.”

IMG_0489

IMG_1127Having never traveled along the Seine and only once passing through France on a rushed and unorganized work trip a few months before, I came into this region green. However, where I’d once feel concerned about going to a foreign destination with very little planning done, I found relief in the loosely structured itinerary our “U Hosts” provided. During any given day, opportunities to explore a small town or neighborhood on your own or with a small group during an excursion were plentiful.

IMG_0951

IMG_0794

Paris was a combination of so many of the things that get my gears going while traveling and shooting. Much like the ever-changing landscape from one natural environment to another that I’d grown up capturing, the diverse variety of architectures and art was eye candy for this photographer. History breathes out of every corner. The smell of fresh pastries and pungent Camembert poured from quant shops on Montmarte. World class galleries lined the streets of Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Modest cafes serve delicious chilled wine in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The magical and allure of the city was no falsified story.

IMG_1022

IMG_1111

Our journey from Paris took us through the Normandy region of France, all the way to the brackish waters of the Seine and English Channel. Each town along the way offered its share of charm and history. Rouen gave us our most delicious meal, perfectly prepared Ossobucco from La Couronne. Giverny took us back in time to the days of Claude Monet as we bicycled its narrow streets. The Cliffs of Étretat rivaled the most beautiful shorelines I’ve ever seen. There was something to appease every travel desire I possess.IMG_1498

As we shared with friends about our adventure, there’s no doubt that there’s more to be seen and explored in each town we stopped in. Of course, we didn’t see everything we’d like to in Paris. However, traveling the Seine by river cruise was undoubtedly the best way to see the amount of France we did in the time we had.

 

Interested in learning more about Ben’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com, the USTOA blog, and check out U by Uniworld’s The Seine Experience.

A Pacific Northwest native, Ben has spent his life drinking coffee, hiking the Cascade Mountains, and breathing the salty air of the Puget Sound. Ben’s inspiration includes dirt roads, flora, and fauna, and his photographs capture a sense of adventure in warm colors that produce an ambient nostalgia. He recently traveled America to document mobile living: When the Road Is Home.


By Ben Schuyler, AFAR Ambassador

There’s no doubt about it—something really is so romantic about being in Paris. It’s the “city of love” after all, but I’m not talking so much about affectionate romance. I’m talking about the city’s ability to take you to a different reality, to transport you to a different time. As a travel photographer, I find myself experiencing the “losing of oneself” to a place fairly often, but my experience in Paris and the surrounding villages along the Seine River were in a league all their own.

IMG_2141

My wife and I chose Paris as our honeymoon destination, as so many other newly married couples do. We had originally entertained the thought of venturing to a tropical beach for a week doing nothing but drinking Pina Coladas to excess and eating endless amounts of fish tacos, but ultimately chose to seize the opportunity of travelling the Seine with U by Uniworld—a boutique cruise line geared towards the “young at heart” – after reading more about their trips. Our time to travel was limited and we wanted to cover as much ground as possible since neither of us had ever been to this area of France. I’ll be honest that taking a cruise wouldn’t usually be of interest to me, but the ability to see so many places without being surround by huge amounts of fellow travelers hooked us.

IMG_0667

We embarked on our journey with a small list of recommendations from friends who had been before. Aside from those select places our schedule was at the mercy of our “U-Hosts”, incredible culture guides from the cruise that led our excursions or connected us to an incredible cast of experts on different significant topic. From a list of over a dozen “U-Time” options, we chose a handful of activities that related to our interests in food, art, and the outdoors.

IMG_1840

IMG_2324

On the top of my personal list of places I’d long wanted to visit were the cliffs of Etretat—beautiful limestone cliffs towering over the shore of the English Channel. These stone monoliths have been topics of lore from Viking ages to the modern times. Standing on the edge of the shore felt like staring off at the end of the world. Monet had painted these cliffs on numerous occasions, attempting to freeze these scenes in time. My wife and I walked along the sun-bleached stones, picking up a few to bring home as earthen souvenirs.

IMG_1404

While traveling to the coast, we weaved through the Normandy region—an area known for its biological diversity and rich farming conditions. Manoir D’Apreval—an organic apple orchard specializing in producing organic cider, Pommeau, and apple brandy. Each sip was a refreshing taste of the history of this land.

IMG_1331

IMG_1328

IMG_1242

Rouen shone as one of the gems on the Seine. Each corner revealed layer after layer of history and beauty. Gros-Horloge, one of the oldest astronomical clocks in France, sits in the middle of the old city and has been running since the middle ages. The Rouen Cathedral features a nightly light show at 10pm telling the story of the new creation and Viking invasion of France. Julia Childs once called her dining experience at famous French cuisine restaurant La Couronne “the most exciting meal of my life,” which we affirmed with our meal of gazpacho and veal.

IMG_1531

The romance of the Seine is undeniable and endless and best experienced with open hands. Find the few things you HAVE to see, and with the rest just let their ancient stories draw you in.

 

Interested in learning more about Ben’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out U by Uniworld’s The Seine Experience.

A Pacific Northwest native, Ben has spent his life drinking coffee, hiking the Cascade Mountains, and breathing the salty air of the Puget Sound. Ben’s inspiration includes dirt roads, flora, and fauna, and his photographs capture a sense of adventure in warm colors that produce an ambient nostalgia. He recently traveled America to document mobile living: When the Road Is Home.


By Tanveer Badal

I’ve visited Rome twice before, so I’ve already experienced much of the city’s treasure trove of sights—though seeing mind-blowing ancient structures like the Colosseum never gets old. But for my third visit, I was determined to experience Rome like a local. My goal was to literally live out the classic phrase “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” for over a week. So I based myself in the cuore (heart) of Rome’s centro storico at Hotel Rinascimento, where I could fully immerse myself in the culture and lifestyle of this timeless city.

To kick things off, I joined Perillo’s Learning Journeys’ immersive “Live Like a Roman” tour. Italy has a rich tradition of food and Rome is filled with some of the country’s best gastronomic delights, so eating and drinking is of a major part of the hands-on experience. On the itinerary was a Twilight Trastevere Food Tour, a cocktail crawl of Rome with local expert and influencer Maria Pasquale (a.k.a. Heart Rome), lunch at the Palazzo with the Italian countess Violante, and even a pizza- and gelato-making class. And, of course, in between activities I had plenty of opportunities to try every kind of Italian delicacy—from delectable supplì (fried risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella) to the city’s famed gelato—all on my own.

The following is a photo journey of some of my favorite dining and drinking experiences in Rome:

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-2

Da Enzo Trattoria, a busy Trastevere neighborhood restaurant frequented by both locals and in-the-know tourists, served up one of my favorite dishes of the trip: Pasta Amatriciana. Hungry Romans arrive in droves for lunch, as you can see here. I went on a weekday without a reservation and was fortunate snag a table after waiting only about 15 minutes.

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-4

An Italy fact I’d never known: Different types and shapes of pastas come from different regions of the country. Da Enzo Trattoria’s Pasta Amatriciana is a classic dish named for the Italian town of Amatrice with a spicy sauce based on guanciale (cured pork cheek). The cured meat has a taste similar to bacon–and is absolutely delicious.

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-6

At the counter stands Stefania Innocenti, the fourth-generation owner and baker behind Biscottificio Innocenti in Trastevere. At one point, as our group surrounded her while sampling a platter of delicious cookies, she almost seemed to tear up while talking to us. Our guide, Rishad Noorani from Eating Europe Tours, translated: “Seeing all you people enjoying my food just makes me so happy. I don’t do it for the money. I do it for this!”

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-7

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-9

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-16

Sipping an Aperol spritz while people-watching at a sidewalk cafe became my daily indulgence in Rome.

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-23

I learned to make Roman-style pizza via InRome Cooking classes–and I can’t wait to test out my new skills at home.

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-11 rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-12

On the Trastevere Twilight Food Tour, we stopped at the Antica Caciara salumeria (delicatessen) to sample buttery porchetta washed down with beer. This old-school deli has been operated by the Polica family since 1900 and is a Trastevere institution. 

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-24

During one magical afternoon, lunch was served up with one of the best views of Rome. This airy terrace tops Palazzo Taverna, the family house of chef and entertainer, Violante Guerrieri Gonzaga.

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-18

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-17

One of the most exciting nights out on the town was with Rome local expert Maria Pasquale, also known as Heart Rome. Here, Maria sips an experimental cocktail served in a tea cup at the boutique hotel DOM.

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-15

If you’re looking for nightlife away from the well-trodden tourist path, head across the river to Trastevere and follow the crowds–Trastevere locals party late into the night.

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-20

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-19

rome-food-tour-tanveer-badal-22

The Jerry Thomas Project, an intimate speakeasy that’s been named one of the 50 best bars in the world, capped off our tour. Reservations are a must and it’s worth it, I promise!

Interested in learning more about Tanveer’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com, the USTOA Blogand check out Perillo’s Learning Journey Live Like A Roman itinerary.

Tanveer is a travel, hotel, and lifestyle photographer who has explored more than 50 countries. Some trips have led him to photograph luxury hotels on the Amalfi Coast or the Riviera Maya, while others have taken him on long treks in the Bhutanese Himalayas or in search of lemurs in Madagascar. Follow his ongoing travels on Instagram or check out his travel portfolio.


By AFAR Ambassador Tanveer Badal

rome-tanveer-badal-3

rome-tanveer-badal-6

As a travel photographer, I’ve had the privilege of visiting over 50 countries. And as I’ve become a more experienced traveler, I’ve found myself no longer interested in just crossing places off a bucket list or filling my passport with as many stamps as possible. Instead, I’m more interested in getting to know my favorite places more intimately. For example, I’ve been to India multiple times and would go back in a heartbeat. A few months ago, I re-visited Morocco on another Afar + USTOA assignment, and recently, I had a chance to return to Italy for the third time.

On previous trips, I’d only spent a couple of days in Rome before moving on to other parts of the country such as the Amalfi Coast or Venice. I’d breezed through the must-see sights such as Vatican City and the Colosseum. So this time, I wanted to do Rome differently and really try to dig a little deeper into this beautiful city. I joined Perillo’s Learning Journeys, and the company created a custom itinerary for me to actually “live like a Roman.”

Through Learning Journeys, I signed up for week-long Italian language lessons at Scuola Leonardo da Vinci. Later, I discovered this was the same school that Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, had attended and wrote about in her well-known memoir. After experiencing the school myself, I understood why. Each morning, I would stand shoulder to shoulder with other Romans and order my cappuccino and cornetto from a cafe and then walk into class in an actual Italian palazzo (i.e., a palace). How cool is that? My class of a dozen included a range of foreigners, from a 19-year-old Thai student to a 70-year old retired Australian man. And within this spectacular setting, our teacher, Marta, seemed straight out of a classic Italian movie–she was intelligent, beautiful and charming.

rome-tanveer-badal-1

rome-tanveer-badal-2

Scuola Leonardo da Vinci

And actually I did visit the Vatican Museum and the Colosseum again. But this time, Perillo’s Learning Journeys set me up with guides that could have been art history professors at Ivy League colleges. I felt like I experienced these sights for the very first time, and in my mind I could envision ancient Romans living in the city as the stories and paintings were explained. I learned, for example, where Michelangelo had painted a self-portrait in the Sistine Chapel (as St. Bartholomew, a saint who’s identified as being skinned alive) and that Julius Caesar once walked across the same Ponte Cestio bridge that I nonchalantly crossed into the Trastevere neighborhood. I have a whole new appreciation for “tour guides” after this trip. The word “guide” barely does their job justice. They’re more like historical storytellers.

rome-tanveer-badal-4

rome-tanveer-badal-5

Another reason I wanted to live like a Roman was simply to take better photographs. People love to say “you can’t take a bad photograph in Rome.” But what they really mean is you can’t take a bad postcard photo. That’s not something I was interested in — taking the same beautiful photo that everyone else has taken a million times over. In fact, taking a good, original photo in any famous city is incredibly difficult. Instead, I wanted to capture a slice-of-life scene of Rome, moments that would invoke a sense of mood or texture and take me right back to the city. You can’t do that if you’re just in Rome for 24 hours following the well-beaten tourist trail.

Each day after my Italian class was over, I’d go on long walks with my camera in hand, and try to capture Romans going about their daily lives — reading a newspaper in a sunny square, walking their dog, drinking espresso… Through these walks, I discovered that my favorite part of Rome is the Trastevere neighborhood, a place I’d only casually visited during my previous trips.

rome-tanveer-badal-9

rome-tanveer-badal-13

rome-tanveer-badal-14

Ultimately, I found myself not even needing to look at my Google Maps app to find my way around. Instead, I would look for “that Osteria” where I needed to take a left, which would then take me to Piazza Navona; or I realized that if I followed Via di Torre Argentina, a street lined with Italian leather goods shops, it would ultimately lead me to the Pantheon.

What I’m mostly excited about after my Roman experience with Perillo’s Learning Journeys is that the next time I come back to Rome (and I certainly hope I do) I’ll have all these lessons and experiences under my belt, and will feel at least a little bit more like a local. I’ll know how to get from the airport to the city center and then how to find that amazing restaurant near the Trevi Fountain where I had the best cacio e pepe of my life. I’ll know how to make my way between Trastevere and Rome’s historical center without consulting a map constantly. That, to me, makes travel so much more rewarding that crossing another place off the bucket list.

 

Interested in learning more about Tanveer’s journey? Read more about it on AFAR.com, the USTOA Blogand check out Perillo’s Learning Journey Live Like A Roman itinerary.

Tanveer is a travel, hotel, and lifestyle photographer who has explored more than 50 countries. Some trips have led him to photograph luxury hotels on the Amalfi Coast or the Riviera Maya, while others have taken him on long treks in the Bhutanese Himalayas or in search of lemurs in Madagascar. Follow his ongoing travels on Instagram or check out his travel portfolio


By Rhiannon TaylorAFAR Ambassador 

 

RT_myanmar (41 of 97)-rs

If you’ve been following along, I’ve just started on my tour of Myanmar with Abercrombie & Kent. Sanda, our guide, is the heartbeat of our trip. Effortlessly accommodating our dietary requirements and comfort, engaging us with her incredible knowledge of Myanmar, it’s sights and it’s history.

Picking up where I left off, our group has just hopped on board Sanctuary Ananda to cruise up the Irrawaddy River.

 

Day Four, Five and Six:

RT_myanmar (40 of 97)-rs

RT_myanmar (76 of 97)-rs

Cruising along the river is very peaceful. Our rooms are generous in size and come with balconies to relax on during the afternoons. The food is excellent with the chef offering both Burmese and Western options and even offers cooking demonstrations. There’s a full day cruising and you can spend it on the top deck in the plunge pool, sunbaking, in the library or in the spa.

RT_myanmar (57 of 97)-rs

At night, the boat comes in to port and we visit the U-Bein Bridge – said to be the oldest and longest wooden bridge in the world. We all take a boat ride around the bridge at sunset, which is quite spectacular and Sanda surprises us with Champagne.

RT_myanmar (55 of 97)-rsf

RT_myanmar (54 of 97)-rs

On our last morning we disembark and head in to Mandalay, visiting a gold workshop, where men beat gold by hand in to gold leaf. This gold is then sold to the temples and pagodas for decoration and restoration of the Buddha.

RT_myanmar (68 of 97)-rs

Another highlight in Mandalay is a visit to the Kuthadow Pagoda, otherwise known as the Worlds Biggest Book. Comprised of over 700 marble slabs of Buddhist teachings, they are housed inside white temples and it’s one of Myanmar’s most beautiful sites.

 

Day Seven and Eight:

RT_myanmar (82 of 97)-rs

RT_myanmar (81 of 97)-rs

Our group makes its way to Inle Lake, a 44 square mile freshwater lake in the Shan State. Over 70,000 people live on the lake boarders, in villages comprising of stilted houses. It’s a unique way of life, with boat as the only means of transportation.

RT_myanmar (97 of 97)-rs

RT_myanmar (80 of 97)-rs

We stayed at the Aureum Palace, which is a stunning resort made up of overwater villas that have views to the other side of lake. It serves as a great base for day trips to nearby villages where we witness the local thriving businesses of fishing, cigar making and the rare art of lotus weaving. Lotus fabric is used by high end designers such a Lora Piano and is a painstakingly slow process of hand rolling fibre out of the lotus flower stalk. The result is a beautiful, linen-like fabric that keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

RT_myanmar (85 of 97)-rs

RT_myanmar (88 of 97)-rs

RT_myanmar (93 of 97)-rs

Last day:

Flying out from Inle Lake, we come back to Yangon and enjoy our final evening with a walk around. It is the most sacred of Pagoda’s in Myanmar for the Buddhist people and it is one of the largest, gilded in gold and sitting over 99 metres tall. Sanda surprises us again, this time with reserving 1000 candles around the base of the Pagoda for us to light. It’s an incredibly spiritual time and quite magical to see our candles flickering once they are all lit. It signifies the end of our journey and our tight-knit group is sad to see it end.

On the final morning we say our goodbyes. Sanda has gone above and beyond to ensure we have had an immersive experience in Myanmar, whilst also catering to our comfort. I wouldn’t have explored the country any other way.

 

Interested in learning more about Rhiannon’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com, the USTOA blog,  and check out Abercrombie & Kent’s Myanmar and The Irrawaddy

Australian photographer Rhiannon has a curated aesthetic for capturing design, food, and lifestyle. Her work has taken her around the world, with assignments in Sri Lanka, the U.S., New Zealand, and South America. Her popular blog, dedicated to experiential luxury resorts and lodges, is regularly updated with Rhiannon’s point of view on fascinating destinations.


By Rhiannon TaylorAFAR Ambassador 

 

RT_myanmar (18 of 97)-resized

Myanmar (Burma) is a destination that has often been forgotten to the rest of the world. It’s slowly been putting itself on the map for travelers who want to get off-grid and is one of the few countries left that offer truly authentic and mostly tourist-free experience.

Not to be ventured in to lightly, it is a country that requires expert local knowledge and planning. Forget public transport, or asking a local for directions; Myanmar is a country that doesn’t see a lot of tourism and the best way to visit is by booking with a tour company that has complete understanding and connections with the local people.

RT_myanmar (7 of 97)-resized

RT_myanmar (11 of 97)-resized

RT_myanmar (13 of 97)-resized

I chose Abercrombie & Kent’s “Myanmar and The Irrawaddy” tour for my visit as it encompassed a mix of luxury accommodation, a river cruise, local experiences and sightseeing.  This ten day itinerary started in Yangon, with an Abercrombie & Kent representative meeting me at the airport arrivals gate and whisking me to the comforts of the Sule Shangri-La Hotel to rest before meeting my group and commencing my tour the following day.

Our journey together went a little like this.

 

Day One:

RT_myanmar (3 of 97)- resized

Following breakfast in the Sule Shangri-La’s Horizon Club (an exclusive area for premium rooms), our group meets for the first time and we are introduced to Sanda, who is one of Myanmar’s most sought after guides. Born and raised in Yangon, she obtained a bachelor degree in Chemistry before following her passion in to the travel industry. She instantly makes our small group of five feel like family and soon we were on our way to the Reclining Buddha at Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda, a 213-foot-long statue with an expressive enamel face and huge feet.

Lunch is at a local restaurant where we are treated to a traditional tea-house menu, consisting of deep fried snacks, roti and curry. Here we discover that Burmese food is much more subtle in flavor than its neighbor Thailand.

RT_myanmar (27 of 97)-resized

In the afternoon we meet with a local astrologer who delves into the future decisions in our lives. Astrology plays an important part of life to the Burmese and influences their decisions on all day to day matters such as marriage, religion, prayer and even diet.

As the sun goes down, our group makes its way to Le Planteur; one of Myanmar’s finest restaurants serving up Indochine-style cuisine, overlooking the water. It’s a magical evening and sets the tone for the trip.

 

Day Two and Three:

RT_myanmar (17 of 97)-resized

A short flight and we’re in Bagan, a city with over 2000 Buddhist Pagodas and Temples. Buddhism is a way of life for the Burmese and Bagan is an incredibly spiritual city.

RT_myanmar (28 of 97)-resized

RT_myanmar (30 of 97)- resized

RT_myanmar (29 of 97)-resized

Here, our group visits a small village and we are able to interact with the local people. It’s our first time being able to converse with the people of Myanmar (through our guide Sanda), and they’re friendly and welcoming to our curiosity.

We checked-in to the Aureum Palace Resort, a five star luxury hotel that boasts an infinity pool overlooking a vista of pagodas. It’s the only hotel in the temple region and is simply stunning.

RT_myanmar (26 of 97)-resized

Weather permitting, guests are can take a hot air balloon ride over Bagan. Unfortunately during my trip we didn’t get the right wind to permit a ride so we visited the viewing tower at our hotel at sunset. It’s a spectacular view, over a seemingly endless landscape of pagodas.

RT_myanmar (24 of 97)-resized

RT_myanmar (37 of 97)-resized

Another highlight of this region is a visit to a lacquer workshop (the same one Barack Obaa visited on his trip to Myanmar), which makes by hand everything from teacups to chests of drawers and is a great place to stock up on unique souvenirs.

On the last evening we board Sanctuary Ananda, a small luxury boat, which takes us on to the next part of our journey: The Irrawaddy River.

RT_myanmar (62 of 97)-resized

Check back soon for the second part of this blog post on my Abercrombie & Kent tour in Myanmar.

 

Interested in learning more about Rhiannon’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out Abercrombie & Kent’s Myanmar and The Irrawaddy

Australian photographer Rhiannon has a curated aesthetic for capturing design, food, and lifestyle. Her work has taken her around the world, with assignments in Sri Lanka, the U.S., New Zealand, and South America. Her popular blog, dedicated to experiential luxury resorts and lodges, is regularly updated with Rhiannon’s point of view on fascinating destinations.


By Tanveer Badal, AFAR Ambassador 

 

essaouira-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-1174

One of my favorite things to do when traveling to a new destination is to take a morning walk. My first-day plan is almost always the same: arrive, unpack, have a nice dinner, and go to bed early. Then, I’ll get up as the sun rises and start walking, without a specific agenda or address. I usually save the museums and palaces for later in the day. In the morning, everything is fresh and clean, the temperature is ideal, and it’s a good way to see local people go about their day. Plus, the light is beautiful.

essaouira-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-

My favorite place to go in the morning is the market—whether it’s a vegetable market, flower market or in the case of Essaouira, Morocco, the vibrant fish market on the port. Luckily, Alexander+Roberts had arranged for a walking tour of the city, so I was able to gain insights into what I was seeing and experiencing in addition to taking photographs.

essaouira-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-1132

The first thing you notice about Essaouira are the seagulls. They’re everywhere. “Seagull Airport,’” said my guide from Alexander+Roberts, Mr. Hicham, pointing to a small island across the port where thousands of gulls were roosting. The port was packed and the fishermen were so busy that they barely noticed our group snapping shots of their every move. Our group hopped over muddy puddles on the street, made way for large trucks to get through and covered our noses when the smell was fish was overwhelming. But we were in good spirits and didn’t mind going a little out of the comfort zone for the payoff of an amazing local experience.

essaouira-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-1271

essaouira-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-1178

Our visit coincided with the peak of sardine season. We saw dozens, maybe even hundreds, of small blue boats pulling in their catches and getting packed into trucks to be shipped to other parts of the country and abroad. The sardines are used for soups, stews or just grilled with salt. There were also eels, shrimp, crab, lobster, and dozens of types of fish. A row of blue painted food stalls at the entrance of the market displays the full selection and from there, you can handpick the seafood you want to eat and it’ll be cooked to your choice. I had seafood at each meal of my time in Essaouira, and didn’t mind it a bit. We had fish kebabs on skewers during our last meal at Il Mare, overlooking the Essaouira port we had just walked through. A bunch of us agreed it was perhaps the best meal of the trip so far, topped off with an unexpected and delightful chocolate cake.

essaouira-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-1108

essaouira-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-0968

I decided to come back to the port one more time, to capture it in the warm, late afternoon light. I watched a boat pull-in carrying some really big fish. It took several people to just load it from the boat to the small tuk-tuk-like vehicles with a truck bed in the back. Upon closer look, I realized they were carrying sharks. This time there were no tourists around, so the locals quickly recognized me snapping shots at the scene. I caught someone saying in Arabic that I was a “professional,” and the crowd parted so I could get a better view. Some of the young men even smiled for photos. It was a strange feeling because here was a thing these fishermen did every day, catch big fish like sharks from the sea and transport them in the bed of a truck, like it was no big deal at all. They did this in order to make a living, while I was the passing tourist taking photos. This is one of the reasons I love Morocco. You can visit the treasures in palaces and go shopping in the touristy souks — and you should — yet there’s still plenty of everyday life and culture to be experienced in other areas as well.

 

Interested in learning more about Tanveer’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com the USTOA blog and check out Alexander+Roberts’ Morocco…From Sea to Sahara

Tanveer is a travel, hotel, and lifestyle photographer who has explored more than 50 countries. Some trips have led him to photograph luxury hotels on the Amalfi Coast or the Riviera Maya, while others have taken him on long treks in the Bhutanese Himalayas or in search of lemurs in Madagascar. His wife, Kelly, a travel writer, often joins him on these adventures.


By AFAR Ambassador Tanveer Badal 

 

fez-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-0142

This October, I had a chance to travel to Morocco with luxury tour operators Alexander+Roberts as an ambassador of AFAR magazine. This was my second visit to a country I’d already fallen in love with during a trip in 2014. One of the reasons I was particularly excited to return was to get a chance to further explore the ancient labyrinth of the Fez medina, the oldest walled-in part of Fez, Morocco that was built somewhere between 789 and 808 AD as the capital of the Idrisid dynasty. The last time I was here, I spent a week getting lost in the medina—sometimes deliberately, sometimes not—but I felt I’d only scratched the surface of the 9000+ alleyways, narrow streets, and lanes. As a traveler, I don’t know if it’s ever possible to really get to know the medina, but I had to come back and explore. The walled city is a UNESCO site and is considered the world’s largest car-free urban area. If you’ve ever walked the lively yet ancient streets of Varanasi, India or Venice, Italy, the Fez medina is a similar experience.

fez-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-0895

As a photographer, entering the medina is love at first sight. There’s just so much action happening all at once. I pushed my back against the wall to let a donkey carrying hundreds of gallons of water bottles pass me with inches to spare; peeked into an open door to watch sparks fly from a blacksmith’s workshop; took in the aroma of lamb and prunes cooking in a tagine pot right there on the street. There’s no point in trying to remember the twist and turns you take as you walk the streets; you can get confused in minutes. The best thing to do is to hire a local guide to lead you through the maze. (After all, I wanted to get blissfully lost, but still have a way to get back easily).

fez-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-0696

fez-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-0338

Alexander+Roberts had arranged for a local guide to show me locations that went beyond the guide books. My guide, Mohammed, is one of these residents of the Fez medina. He seemed to know everyone we passed. He took me away from the crowded souks filled with tourists and plastic souvenirs to a much quieter part of the medina. At one point, as I was composing a photograph in a teeny alleyway barely large enough for a single person to walk through, I heard the scraping of several sets of sandals against the cobblestone. Suddenly a handful of children wearing hijab and colorful backpacks walked through my shot, smiling and giggling. After passing me, they looked back and waved to see if I would take their photo.

fez-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-1086

Unlike the more popular and heavily touristed medina of Marrakesh, I’ve found the Fez medina to be more residential, a place where everyday life happens right in front of you. Since the residents live in such closer quarters, you can literally peek through the doorways and get a glimpse into their life — women cooking, men getting haircuts, children kicking around a soccer ball. In fact, more than 150,000 people choose to live here. One of the reasons I love exploring the medina is that it’s as far away from my everyday life in Los Angeles that I can imagine. And yet, everything just feels totally natural.

fez-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-0311

fez-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-0215

fez-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-0253

fez-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-1016

Mohammed took me to Quranic madrasas (Islamic schools), pointed out the remains of an ancient arch, and the view of a mosque slicing through a tiny crack between alleyways. “Everyone in Fez knows Mohammed. If you’re missing your wallet, in five minutes, Mohammed will have your wallet back,” another guide from Alexander+Roberts, who had connected me to Mohammed, told me.

fez-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-1014

fez-morocco-afar-ambassador-tanveer-badal-

After my photo walk with Mohammed, we shook hands and said our goodbyes. “Next time you’re in Fez, you ask for Abdullah,” he said. “Who’s Abdullah?” I asked. “Me!” he said. “I thought your name was Mohammed?” I asked, confused. “Oh no, that’s just easier for tourists.” I shook hands with Mohammed and promised that we’d meet again, “Inshallah!”

Interested in learning more about Tanveer’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com and check out Alexander+Roberts’ Morocco…From Sea to Sahara

Tanveer is a travel, hotel, and lifestyle photographer who has explored more than 50 countries. Some trips have led him to photograph luxury hotels on the Amalfi Coast or the Riviera Maya, while others have taken him on long treks in the Bhutanese Himalayas or in search of lemurs in Madagascar. His wife, Kelly, a travel writer, often joins him on these adventures.