India (3)

Are you looking to make a difference in the communities you visit? You’re not alone. Socially-responsible travel is becoming increasingly significant to today’s globally connected travelers.

On a recent trip to Jordan with Tourism Cares, Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA joined a group of travel industry representatives to explore the new Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan. It maps out a trail of 12 stops with hands-on local experiences that help contribute to the communities, such as learning the craft of traditional weaving at the Bani Hamida Women’s Weaving Project, which boosts women’s rights and livelihoods in the area.

Through stops like this, Terry and some USTOA members witnessed firsthand how tourism can lead social change and it inspired USTOA to ask the question – what are some ways our members are positively impacting the communities they visit around the world? We asked a few tour operator member executives this question as well as why impactful travel is vital to the destinations you visit. Here’s what they had to say:

 

Robert Drumm, President, Alexander+Roberts 

Our guests are culturally inquisitive and passionate about gaining a deep understanding and appreciation of the places they visit. As their tour company, I believe it’s important for us to support the people, culture and natural wonders of these far-flung lands. By giving back to these communities, we are ensuring their sustainability and the opportunity for future travelers to enjoy the same experiences as our guests.

One way we give back is through our partnerships with properties like the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve in South Africa. By selecting this luxury eco-lodge for our guests, we are supporting the Grootbos Foundation, a non-profit organization that empowers the local community through education, training and enterprise development. On this same South African adventure, we also make a per-guest donation to the Tintswalo Rhino Extreme Campaign, a project working to end poaching in the Manyeleti Game Reserve where our travelers go on safari.

 

Paula Twidale, Executive Vice President of Collette

Travel is our gateway to the world allowing us to experience a vast array of cultures. Exploring destinations is enriching, but also helps fuel the local economy, adding to its sustainability.

It is essential to open our minds to discovery and diversity in local communities off the beaten path. Touring, interacting and learning allows us to see the world through a different lens while contributing to local infrastructure. Tourism Cares to Jordan provided me this opportunity.

Social responsibility is a core value at Collette and we empower our employees to care for the world we live in by giving back. Every employee is allowed four volunteer hours per month to make a difference locally or internationally. Whether it is volunteering at a shelter, feeding the hungry, building a school in Cambodia or providing access to water in South Africa; every effort yields results and a renewed faith in the future. I feel blessed to be able to travel and make a difference in the lives of others.

 

Ulla Hefel Böhler, Global CEO of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold

Guests on many Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold itineraries can personally visit projects we support through our TreadRight foundation. These initiatives promote economic empowerment, sustainability and conservation in local communities around the world, from Australia to Canada. As a company we are committed to sustainable and impactful tourism, in order to ensure that the environment and communities we visit remain vibrant for generations to come.

On behalf of all USTOA members, Terry Dale and the USTOA team are proud to continue its support of Tourism Cares and its efforts to unite the travel industry and help destinations in need. In 2018, Tourism Cares visited South Florida in the wake of last year’s devastating hurricanes and also will return to New Orleans for ongoing recovery efforts and celebrate the city’s 300th anniversary.

 

Visit https://ustoa.com/blog/transformational-travel/ for more USTOA member examples of travel that transforms.


indian-spices-165907088Credit: Cox & Kings

Food is truly the language that crosses all borders. Culinary experiences are an integral part of any trip, and for some it’s THE reason they globe trot. While the classic foodie countries like France and Italy are must-visit destinations, culinary-centric trips are available throughout the world.

USTOA members offer itineraries worldwide with hands-on culinary experiences and, of course, plenty to taste. Below is a “morsel” of what members have to offer travelers. But be warned…you might not want to take this virtual culinary world tour on an empty stomach!

Food and Wine Adventures by Disney-rsCredit: Adventures by Disney

Travelers can start their foodie trek with a trip down the Rhine River through France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland with AmaWaterways for wine-focused tours and tastings at each port, or an adult-exclusive food and wine food cruise with Adventures by Disney.

ms Emerald - Lyon exterior-rsCredit: Tauck

Want to linger in France a little longer? Join Europe Express* and save 10% on a trip with experiences like a dessert or chocolate class, or visit a family-owned farm in la Camargue for a farm-to-table banquet lunch a Tauck river cruise.  Guests on Viking River Cruises can hunt for truffles for a homemade lunch during a stop on its river cruise from Bordeaux to Saint-Emillion.

2001-391857-01Credit: VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations

Next travelers can head south to Italy, truly an epicurean’s treasure. Bike through Piedmont and discover the birthplace of Italy’s slow food movement with VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations. Or, learn to make pizza in Rome with Perillo’s Learning Journeys.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACredit: Intrepid Travel 

Heading towards North Africa and the Middle East, a lesser known culinary adventure awaits on Alexander+Roberts’ trip to Morocco with experiences like a tour of the famous Essaouira Fish Market and a lunch of freshly caught fish and oysters from a lagoon in Oualidia. Intrepid Travel also offers guests an off-the-beaten-path look at food in Israel and Palestine as they break bread with the Druze folk in Buq’ata and taste wine in the Negev desert.

TasteOfJapan_SushiPreparation PHOTO CREDIT Avanti Destinations- rsCredit: Avanti Destinations

India is up next on this foodie trip around the world to learn how to make Indian bread, or ‘chappati’, at a local family’s house with Pacific Delight Tours, or savor a vegetarian “satvik” meal in the sacred city of Varanasi with Cox & Kings. Next head to Thailand for adventures like dinner in a local night market famous for fried insects with Asia Answers, then a private sushi making lesson at a local home in Japan with Avanti Destinations*.

Peruvian Ceviche with King PrawnCredit: Goway Travel

For the dessert course of our culinary world tour, let’s head to the Americas beginning with an exotic pisco cocktail class in Peru with Goway Travel.  Further north in San Francisco is Flavors & Murals of the Mission Tour with GOGO Worldwide Vacations, which combines a tasting tour of the trendiest parts of the city with its legendary murals and street art.

No matter your palette, USTOA members know that food unites us all. Want to start planning your next culinary adventure? Find your dream vacation here or visit https://ustoa.com/travel-agent-directory for a list of USTOA certified travel agents who can help.

 

*Please contact your local travel agent to book with this tour operator.


westminster-abbeyPhoto Credit: Europe Express

There are few things that draw international excitement like the British royal family…especially in the U.S. Our fascination with the monarchy is reflected in American news, television shows, and even our travel. This year marks two royal occasions sure to consume our minds, the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s third baby in April, and the highly anticipated wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (a US citizen!) in May.

USTOA’s tour operator members offer trip itineraries that let you follow in the footsteps of the royal family with behind the scenes tours, visits to landmarks like Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace, and accommodations fit for a king…or in this case the Queen.

Don’t just watch The Crown, start crossing off your royal-family bucket list with a trip to the UK and the must-see recommendations below:

KensingtonPalacePhoto Credit: Collette

The royal newlyweds will call Kensington Palace home like Prince William and Kate, and their mother, Princess Diana, before them. See how the royals live with a stop at the Palace with Collette, Europe Express, and Classic Vacations, or visit the English countryside where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are rumored to be house-hunting. Explore the Cotswolds on foot with Country Walkers or visit Badminton House, the private country estate of the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort with Abercrombie & Kent.

Windsor  AM (1321380)Photo Credit: Audley Travel

An official residence of the Queen, Windsor Castle is a top destination for royal watchers. You can tour this British landmark and site of the upcoming royal wedding with operators like Adventures by Disney, Viking River Cruises, and more. During your visit, check to see if the Royal Standard is flying signaling that the Queen is at home.

Tower of London clock AM (1321361)Photo Credit: Audley Travel

Other must-visit stops on your royal-themed trip include the Changing of the Guard outside London’s Buckingham Palace with Audley Travel, a visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official Scottish residence, with Insight Vacations, a local-guided tour of Westminster Abbey, site of royal weddings for generations, with Globus, and the chance to see the priceless Crown Jewels at the Tower of London with CIE Tours.

London_FlagsPhoto Credit: Insight Vacations

It’s a year of royal celebration! Plan yours now with one of these trips, or use USTOA’s Find Your Dream Vacation tool to discover additional itinerary options.


Are you the kind of traveler who seeks vacations to the “less-explored” destinations each year?  Let the members of the United States Tour Operators Association help answer that question.

Each year, USTOA members forecast hot trends the top up-and-coming destinations that provide the opportunity to have deeply engaging experiences before they appear on everyone’s travel bucket lists.

Vietnam_01_HanoiStreets

Credit: Avanti Destinations

Moving up one spot from last year, Iceland was named the number one emerging destination for the year. Rounding out the five leading destinations were Colombia, Vietnam, Greenland,and Laos. From visiting the hidden caves of Kong Lor in Laos to meeting locals in an Inuit fishing village in Greenland, USTOA members offer “live like a local” experiences across these up and coming destinations. For more inspiration, check out the following sample itineraries.

Iceland – Visit 2018’s most popular emerging destination with Alexander + Roberts’ “Adventures Across Iceland” seven-day itinerary. Guests will spend time with farmers, fishermen, and micro-brewers along the rugged northern coast to learn about their daily lives and traditions. The trip also features a search for the Northern Lights, a chance to sample fresh “Earth-baked”bread from the ground, among other excursions. Available on select dates through January 2019. Visit www.alexanderroberts.com for pricing.

Colombia – Goway immerses guests in one of South America’s most colorful destinations during its eight-day “Essential Colombia” tour. The journey south features a visit to the town of Zipaquira famous for its underground salt cathedral, along with a full-day journey through the stone paths of the sacred village of Pueblito. Guests also will discover the diverse city of Cartagena with plenty of free time to explore the city and discover its captivating views. Daily departures available from $2,845 per person. www.goway.com

Vietnam – A mix of culture, heritage, and stunning landscapes awaits guests on Wendy Wu Tours’ “Classical Vietnam Premier Tour” trip. On this 18-day itinerary travelers will drift on the emerald waters of Halong Bay, discover the secret tunnel network of Cu Chi, and explore the water bound world of the Mekong Delta. Guests also will travel to the Thien Mu Pagoda temple before a workshop to learn about ‘Truc Chi’, paper made from bamboo pulp. Available March 2 and October 26, 2018 from $6,420 per person. www.wendywutours.com

Greenland – Lindblad Expeditions brings guests on an adventure to the far reaches of the Artic on its “Exploring Greenland and Canada” itinerary. Adventurers will explore Greenland’s fjords and the Ilulissat Glacier, a UNESCO site and a part of the Greenland ice cap. Highlights also include cruising the famous Northwest Passage and observing whales, polar bears, and other arctic wildlife. The 16-day trip is available in August of 2018 and 2019 from $13,990. www.expeditions.com

Laos – Discover the lesser-known country of Laos with Audley Travel’s “The Hidden Heart of Laos” itinerary. Guests on the 16-day trip will discover the mysterious giant stone jars of Phonsavan, the hidden caves of Kong Lor, and the scenic waterfalls at Kuang Si. The trip also includes the chance to interact with the locals of the 4,000 Islands area in southern Laos. Available throughout 2018 from $4,355 per person. www.audleytravel.com

 

Find more trips to these emerging destinations and more using USTOA’s “Find Your Dream Vacation” section at https://ustoa.com/dream-vacation/.


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.


 

Happy New Year! And welcome to 2018…it’s shaping up to be a great year in the world of travel.

So what’s ahead? Each year, USTOA conducts an annual travel trend and forecast survey of the association’s active tour operator members, monitoring business trends, top travel destinations, and more.  For the hottest destinations to visit, check out the results of the latest survey to start planning your dream vacation in 2018.

Gullfoss (Falls)

Where are travelers going?

Rising to the top of this year’s emerging or “off-the-beaten-path” destinations for 2018 is Iceland, moving up from last year’s runner up position. Colombia followed in second, with Vietnam named as third.

When asked for the top five “hot” international destinations in 2018, members named Australia, Spain, followed by Iceland and Italy in a tie for third place, France and Japan. Domestically, USTOA members predict California, Florida and Hawaii (tied for second), New York, Alaska and Nevada (tied for fourth) and Washington DC will be most popular for clients this year.

Members were also asked to name the destinations/sites most “at risk” from disappearing (from over-tourism, climate change or other factors) that travelers should see now. The top three chosen were Antarctica, Cuba and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

 

Who’s traveling? 

Family travel proved important to member business with more than a quarter (28%) of tour operator members reporting that families represented anywhere from 10-25% of their annual passengers. Family travel also ranked third among the most popular types of travel in 2017.

Additionally, roughly half (46%) of those surveyed reported a growth in solo travelers in 2017 over 2016 with 39% of polled members saying solo passengers grew by 10-25%.

These encouraging results across the board could not be possible without the support of you, our valued travel agent partners. On behalf of all the members of USTOA, thank you for your continued help.  We are thrilled to continue our partnership in 2018.

What are you waiting for?

Based on the results, 2018 is the year to keep your New Year’s travel resolutions. Looking for more inspiration? Visit our Why We Travel page for videos discovering not just where fellow travelers have chosen to go…but why they travel. Visit USTOA’s Dream Vacation Itinerary Finder to find your dream vacation today.

 

Need help planning your next trip? Visit www.ustoa.com/travel-agent-directory to find a USTOA certified travel agent near you.

Cheers to 2018!


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.


By Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador

 

Portugal - Marvao

Marvao 

Portugal is European elegance and medieval mythology, culinary excellence and fabled wine-making tradition, granite ramparts, endless rivers, and temples of skulls and bones. Portugal is a nation of quixotic charms, one best explored on foot, at a pace that allows for a deeper appreciation of people, place, and culture (not to mention wine – delicious, bottomless barrels of wine). With two feet and a heartbeat, I set out with Country Walkers on an expedition from one end of this Iberian playground to the other, on an adventure that was truly immersive, experiential, and fully Portuguese.

Portugal - Parque Natural de Serra de Sao Mamede

Parque Natural de Serra de Sao Mamede

Portugal - Castelo de Vide 3

 Castelo de Vide

Portugal - Castelo de Vide

Castelo de Vide

Portuguese is a lyrical language, and the most common refrain is bem-vindos, or welcome. I heard bem-vindos day after day, no matter where we wandered on our walking tour. We were welcomed at cobblestone cafes in the historic heart of old Porto. We were welcomed by local farmers when wandering through the cork forests of the Parque Natural de Serra de Sao Mamade. And we were welcomed by the happy people of the cozy, red-tiled village of Castelo de Vide. In part, we were welcomed wherever we went because Portugal is a friendly, vibrant nation – but the fact that we spent so much time on our feet, trekking from one destination to the next, allowed us a unique opportunity to travel deeper into the essential nature of the Portugal experience.

Portugal - Quinta Nova 2

Quinta Nova

Portugal - Quinta Nova

 Quinta Nova

Portugal - Douro

Douro

We had time to wander Arraiolos, a postcard perfect little village known for exquisite tapestries, made locally since the Middle Ages and based on Iranian designs. We spoke with artisans, explored shops and museums, and even had an opportunity to thread some needles ourselves (pro-tip: don’t use your thumb as a thimble). Out among the sun-splashed vineyards of the Douro Valley, we wandered into medieval-era orchards on the sprawling Quinta Nova grounds, plucking from the trees oranges, pears, and cherries. And Country Walkers made time for long, leisurely dinners, the sort people have been enjoying in Portugal for centuries. We dined out among the stars, were entertained by local concertina virtuosos, and feasted on national fare, like amêijoas à bulhão pato, a type of clam stew, alheira sausage, notable for including proteins other than pork, and, of course, delicate bites of famed Iberian ham. Fabulous table wines accompanied every meal, while port put an exclamation point on each evening; we sipped on wines from legacy producers and craft artisans like Dow’s, Cockburn’s, Taylor’s, … and more.

Portugal- Herdade do Esporao

Herdade do Esporao

Portugal - Evora

Evora

My Country Walkers experience was a throwback affair, a glimpse at travel in Europe as it may have been a generation ago. It was an opportunity to disconnect, enjoy the countryside of the rolling Douro and the rugged Alentejo, and immerse myself fully in the unique tapestry of local life. I felt welcome with every step, and can’t imagine traveling through Portugal in any other way.

Portugal - Douro (2)

Douro

Interested in learning more about Flash’s journey?  Read more about it on AFAR.com the USTOA blog and check out Country Walkers’ Portugal: Porto to Lisbon.

Flash is a journalist, photographer, and author based in Wyoming. His work has been published by AFAR, GQ Magazine, USA Today, Voyeur Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Get Lost Magazine, Celebrated Living, Asian Geographic, Food and Travel, American Cowboy, and more. Flash is the reigning 2016 SATW Bill Muster Photographer of the Year.