Why the Green Season is Great in Africa

By Lion World Travel

We are letting you in on a safari secret – the Green Season! If you have no idea what the Green Season is, that is ok, Lion World Travel will fill you in. Suffice to say, if you have been wanting to get the best value in luxury safaris, the Green Season is the answer you seek. 

What is the Green Season? 

The Green Season is also known as the wet season, or rainy season, in Africa. Its timing varies from East Africa to Southern Africa, and it can be the best time to take a safari.  

When is the Green Season? 

In East Africa (including Kenya and Tanzania), you have the short rains that often start in November, and then the long rains that usually start in April.  

In Southern Africa (including Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe), the Green Season can run from about December to March. Of course, anything to do with weather is unpredictable, and the timing of the rains fluctuates every year.  

You may think that these warm, rainy months would be an unfavorable time of year for travelers to go on safari. However, many safari connoisseurs will argue that traveling during the Green Season perhaps the best times to visit. Want to know why? 

Baby Zebra by Kate Berg 

“Having been to Africa during both High Season and Green Season, I can say they are equally amazing in different ways. They each have their own charm. It is less expensive during the Green Season; it is less crowded and best of all, there are lots of baby animals.” - Lucille Sive, CEO Africa Division, The Travel Corporation 

Top Reasons to Travel to Africa during the Green Season 

#1 – All the Baby Animals 

Without a doubt, this is a huge reward for visiting during the Green Season. The rains signal to the animals that food will soon be in abundance. This means it is the best time to have babies, so the wide-open plains of Kenya and Tanzania are filled with adorable cubs, pups, calves, foals and fawns.  

This abundance also draws in the predators, such as lions, who follow the large herds of zebras and wildebeest in search of their own meals. It is a time of abundance for all animals. If someone is particularly keen on seeing the big cats of Africa on their safari, there is a good chance of seeing the “thrill of a chase” during the Green Season in East Africa.  

Similarly, the Green Season is a great time in southern African countries to spot babies, from giraffes to buffalo to zebra, it is their natural cycle to give birth during times of plenty and forthcoming rains are a time to celebrate for all in the animal kingdom. 

#2 – Fewer People 

Amazingly, with the arrival of new animals, there are fewer travelers. While Africa is known for its wide-open wild spaces any time of year, during the Green Season travelers often feel like they have access to their own personal wildlife paradise. In East Africa, for example, it is possible to be out driving on safari for a couple of hours before coming across another safari vehicle. 

At Elewana Serengeti Migration Camp – No Crowds, Except the Animals! 
#3 – It is Turning Green 

Arriving on safari when the Green Season is underway means being blessed with a more colorful safari experience. Some, or most, of the classically dry scrublands and grasses will have come to life and turned green. For photographers, this can make for some more lively, high contrast images. 

Kudu in Chobe National Park, during the Green Season by Red Hunt

“On one trip to Africa I visited Tanzania and Botswana at the start of their Green Seasons. In the Serengeti, we were surrounded by zebra and wildebeest as far as we could see, and not another safari vehicle in sight, it felt truly special! What I noticed most on that trip were the colors coming to life. It wasn’t all dry and dusty like on my previous trip. Vegetation was coming to life, the smells were different, and it really made photography more exciting. The kudu photo above was one of my favorite shots taken during that Green Season trip.” - Red Hunt, VP Marketing, Lion World Travel 

#4 – Stretch Your Dollars Further 

At Lion World Travel we are all about Affordable Luxury, and the Green Season enables everyone to get a little extra value for their money. During peak season, prices are at their highest. During low season, you will get a better value. If your or your clients are flexible on timing for a safari, planning a safari for the start or end of the Green Season can mean being rewarded with the combination of optimal wildlife viewing and lower prices. 

#5 – The Migration is Always in Motion 

Did you know that the migration in East Africa never stops? Since the seasonal rains vary, the enormous herds of zebra and wildebeest are always on the move. So, no matter what season, if someone is planning to visit both the Serengeti in Tanzania and Maasai Mara in Kenya, they will likely witness the greatest migration on earth. 

#6 – Perfect Timing with Holidays 

With the Green Season covering the coldest months of the year for Americans, anyone yearning for more warmth should consider a Green Season safari. The timing is perfect to escape for part of winter. As vacation days can be limited, having the Green Season cover popular holidays from Thanksgiving through to spring break, means travelers, including families, have lots of opportunities to turn holiday time into safari time. 

With great rates, fewer travelers, and cute baby animals to see, who wouldn’t want to visit Africa on a safari during the Green Season? 

For more than 56 years, Lion World Travel has been focused on offering the best Affordable Luxury Safaris. Making safari dreams come true during the Green Season, or any season, Lion World can work with you and your clients to create a custom safari experience for any budget. Our travelers have come to expect exceptional wildlife encounters, five-star service, and the best safari experiences. Visit lionworldtravel.com to see our full selection of African Safaris. 


A Taste of Southern Cooking

Hospitality on a Plate

By Cindy Clarke, senior travel writer for Tauck

Culturally diverse with a storied history that speaks volumes about the people who created it, southern cooking is best described as “hospitality on a plate” alluding to the abundance of comfort food you’ll find on menus in Savannah and Charleston. Think shrimp and grits, an iconic dish in the coastal Carolinas and Georgia, buttermilk biscuits smothered in gravy, she-crab soup and fried chicken that only southern cooks have mastered, cornbread, collard greens and crustaceans perfectly prepared, and you’ll be in the right food aisle. And forget counting calories. We’re talking pure indulgence here, with taste trumping will power in every bite.

Aptly nicknamed the “Hostess City,” it is no surprise that Savannah is home to some of the South’s best dining experiences, with recipes passed down and refined through the generations. Dressed in American history and draped in Spanish moss, Savannah is awash in cobblestone charms, antebellum mansions and gardens full and fragrant that make the city eye candy all by itself. Art, in all its incarnations, enhances the cultural feast showcased here.

You can stroll down streets your eyes walked first in films like Forest Gump or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. You can wander in wonder in museums, cemeteries and squares – 22 of them – dating back centuries, and you can ride trolleys and horse-drawn carriages past stately homes, parks and landmarks that chronicle the city’s storied past from the Revolutionary and Civil wars. And while you’ll cover a lot of ground – and history – during your explorations, you won’t go hungry.

Parties are a favorite pastime in Savannah, both inside gracious dining rooms and outdoors in springtime gardens abloom with flowering azaleas. Brunch and picnic menus typically boast sweet succulent oysters, locally harvested, and roasted to perfection. Savannah red rice, fried chicken, ham sweet potato biscuits and jalapeno cornbread often follow, with traditional favorites like Georgia peach cobbler with blueberries, peach ice cream and pecan praline bars sweetening the line up. Evening menus may include old-time favorites like Corn Pudding, Rice and Peas, Fried Green Tomatoes, Jumbo Lump Crabmeat and Beef Tenderloin with Madeira Sauce, all Savannah staples you may find at a number of great eateries all over the city.

Local seasonal ingredients reflect Charleston’s “sense of place” in the Lowcountry, where the roots of southern cooking run deep and the fertile fields, forests and waterways that surround the city provide ample sustenance all year long. Its food heritage reflects the cultural influences of its residents, African slaves and their Gullah descendants, French Hugenots and English aristocracy from centuries past, and culinary stars and rising chefs from around the world today. Award-winning restaurants, housed in historic homes and repurposed buildings, have creatively blended lowcountry cooking with high-brow haute cuisine to tempt taste buds with the complexity of flavors and spices that make this multicultural city one of the top food destinations in America – and the “#1 Top City in the US in 2020” by the readers of Travel + Leisure.  

The irresistible allure of Charleston, palmetto-lined streets, ballast-stone alleys, rainbow row houses, grand mansions and carriage rides, inevitably whets your appetite for discovery in more ways than one. So while you’re here soak up the tales of the town with its golden rice, a mainstay from its colonial day economy; a bowl of gumbo, a.k.a. okra soup to the folks who live here; fresh from the sea oysters, served raw, stewed and steamed; and its signature she-crab soup, created in a private home when dining in was in fashion. Then raise a timeless toast to its culturally infused cuisine with the city’s magnificent Madeira wines, long aged and locally produced, as you drink in history with every sip.

Founded in 1925, Tauck is a world leader in upscale guided travel, with more than 150 land tours, safaris, river cruises and small ship ocean cruises to 70+ countries and all seven continents. In each of the last 23 years, Tauck has been honored in Travel + Leisure magazine’s annual “World’s Best Awards” celebrating the very best in luxury tours, cruises, hotels and more. Tauck resumed operating its Southern Charms – Savannah, Hilton Head & Charleston itinerary in March 2021.


Celebrating Women’s Month: Top female-led experiences with Contiki Cares


By Contiki

Contiki is the world’s leading youth travel company, offering over 350 annual trips for 18-35s, and bringing together travelers from all corners of the globe to discover new cultures and a little part of themselves along the way.

At Contiki, we believe firmly in the importance of travelling sustainably and consciously, and that’s what Contiki Cares is all about. It’s our commitment to protecting the communities we visit, the wildlife we interact with, and the planet we all share.

We build travel experiences into our trips that give something back. From learning about local cultures and ethical experiences, to funding for local communities, our aim is to leave places better than we found them – and to empower our travelers to do the same. 

We’re proud that so many of the experiences we offer are led by such inspirational men and women across the globe. To celebrate Women’s History Month this March and the International Women’s Day theme of #ChooseToChallenge, we wanted to share a round-up of our favourite Contiki Cares female-led experiences. These are just some of the brilliant women who challenge the status quo and are creating change where it matters.

The Dhonk Centre – India

Divya Khandal is the female-founder of The Dhonk Centre, a cooperative that provides former poachers and their families with skills, training and alternative employment to tiger poaching. Community is at the heart of Dhonk, and Divya has created a real opportunity for growth in her home of Ranthambhore. Now, its members have an alternative, ethical means to provide for their families through the creation of handcrafted products that preserve Indian artistry and culture.

Not only does Divya’s work challenge the traditional role of women in India, it uplifts those around her. She’s been successful in creating a network of micro-entrepreneurs and changemakers with a strong focus on education and employment opportunities for young girls and women. When you visit Dhonk you can support this network by investing in their products, interacting with the local community and learning more about the great work of Divya and others.

Visit Dhonk on Eternal India.

Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco – Peru

Founded by Nilda Callanuapa in 1996, the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC) is a traditional weaving centre in Cusco, Peru. It’s been pivotal in its preservation of Peruvian culture, offering employment to local men and women to maintain the importance of this 10,000-year-old practice.

Nilda was determined to maintain her own cultural heritage while also seeking employment opportunities for the locals – in particular, women and young girls –  and this is something she’s successfully achieved. Today, CTTC is female managed, operated, and founded, and its focus is on keeping indigenous traditions alive by teaching the younger generations how to weave. CTTC also provides a place where local weavers can sell their crafts, creating revenue streams for the community in multiple ways.

Visit the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco on Peru Uncovered.

The Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Co-operative – Jordan

The Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Cooperative was established in 1993 by the Noor Al-Hussein Foundation, a non-profit that seeks to combat employment disparity amongst the women of Jordan. Its aim is to teach and equip Jordanian women with new skills and business opportunities, and to ultimately achieve their own financial independence.

Iraq Al-Amir is entirely managed and run by local women and has also provided handicraft training for more than 150 women from local villages. Handicrafts sold in the gift shop and online provide them with income, which has in turn allowed the community to continue growing; merchandise expertise is another skill that’s enabled the Co-operative to expand its offering to food services. When you visit, you’ll have an opportunity to meet these women, learn more about their craft and show support through purchase of products. Crucially, this ripple effect of women helping women has begun to change the lives of both families and single women across Jordan.

Visit the Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Co-operative on Israel and Jordan Uncovered.

Uncle Nearest – USA

Premium whiskey brand Uncle Nearest launched in 2017 in Tennessee and is now the fastest‐growing independent premium whiskey brand in American history. And there’s a fascinating story behind how it came to fruition.

As a writer, Fawn Weaver set out to learn more about the story of Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green, in the hope to create a film around his largely unknown involvement in the creation of the American whiskey brand, Jack Daniel’s. In doing her research she soon discovered that Nearest Green, a former slave who worked on the distillery, was actually the master distiller at Jack Daniel’s. Weaver’s brand both honours the legacy of a hidden voice within Black history and establishes one of her own. Her team is comprised exclusively of women, including members of Nearest Green’s family, and she is also the first African American to lead a major spirit brand. You can learn all about the story and support the legacy when you visit the distillery. 

Visit Uncle Nearest on Southern Stars.

Flourish Forever – USA

Founder and high school student Siena Mills created Flourish Forever to combine her passion for people and the environment. Cognisant of the fact food insecurity can affect many communities throughout the USA, she wanted to find a way to tackle this head on – namely by addressing some of the barriers to accessibility, like income and education.

Siena saw community gardens as a great way to provide support on both an individual and collective level. And so, Flourish was born. The family-run organization in Los Angeles, California, focuses on community empowerment, equality, and resilience by providing much-needed access to fresh, affordable food. Siena and her team are working towards creating even more thriving community food gardens and introducing healthy eating habits across the USA. You can visit this project with Contiki’s Best of USA trip, or read about our other conscious travel trips here.

Visit Flourish on Best of USA.

Head to the six-two x Contiki blog to discover more great experiences and stories like these, and Contiki Cares for more information on our other travel experiences


Vote for a Chance to Win a Trip for Two in the USTOA Bucket List Travel Bracket Sweepstakes 

Entrants Vote on Bucket List Travel Experiences in Nearly 40 Destinations for  the Chance to Win a Trip for Two with a USTOA Tour Operator Member

USTOA has launched the USTOA Bucket List Travel Bracket Sweepstakes where travelers will have the opportunity to vote daily through March 31, 2021 on the most inspiring destination experiences around the globe. 

Participants will be entered to win a vacation for two, valued up to $10,000, to the destination that champions the bracket with a USTOA tour operator member. 

HOW IT WORKS 

US residents ages 21 or older can enter the USTOA Bucket List Travel Bracket Sweepstakes by voting on 64 featured travel experiences among 32 match-ups that span nearly 40 destinations across six continents. A new round of voting starts every Monday and Thursday through March 31, culminating in a champion bucket list travel experience named on April 1. 

Travelers can cast votes once per day as the brackets advance. Every vote is an entry to win a trip for two to the bracket champion destination with a USTOA tour operator member of their choice. The vacation prize value is up to $10,000. 

WHERE TO GO? 

The bucket list worthy experiences featured in the bracket are merely a sampling of the exhaustive collection of travel, adventure, and cultural experiences that our 142 different tour operator brands offer to a wide variety of destinations across all seven continents. Find your dream vacation here.  

MORE INFORMATION 

The sweepstakes opens today for the first round of voting which closes at 11:59pm ET on Sunday, March 14, as the brackets advance to a new round of 32 destination travel experiences across 16 match-ups. New brackets advance every Monday and Thursday until the final two destination experiences are revealed on March 29. The destination experience that champions the bracket will be unveiled on April 1, and the grand prize entry winner will be selected on April 5, 2021.  

Good luck and happy voting! 

Vote Here! 


Castellfollit de la Roca in Catalonia, Spain
Photo courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Spain is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, with 15 national parks, 52 biosphere reserves, 40 designated natural spaces, 15 geoparks, and dozens of starlight reserves. It is a destination that offers sustainable tourism experiences, where travelers can be confident that they are traveling to protected areas and preserving the natural habitat. The landscapes themselves vary from mountainous and rugged to endless expanses of white sand beaches, and even marshy areas teeming with wildlife. Here are five ways to get your sustainable, fresh-air fix in Spain.

1.National Parks

Spain is home to 15 National Parks. Ten of the parks are located on the southwestern Iberian Peninsula, four in the Canary Islands off the coast of northwestern Africa, and one in the Balearic Islands, an archipelago off eastern Spain. Plus, four of the parks are also UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

Adventure is abundant at each. At the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park there are more than 200 bodies of water, including streams, rivers, and lakes. Marine and terrestrial wildlife can be found at the pristine beaches of the Galicia Maritime-Terrestrial National Park, located in the northwestern community of Galicia. Dozens of ecosystems exist in the Doñana National Park in southern Spain, from marshland to lagoons, pine groves to dunes, and cliffs. Picos de Europa National Park spread across the provinces of Asturias, Cantabria and León, is home to brown bears and the Iberian wolf, with a skyline of impressive rock formations.

Roque de los Muchachos Astronomical Observatory. Garafía, La Palma Island (Canary Islands)
Photo courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

2. Starlight Reserves

Home to dozens of starlight reserves, Spain is a leading destination for astrotourism.  Clear skies and little light pollution result in worthy hours to watch the constellations. Plus, several hotels offer star charts, educational materials, and even have a telescope on hand for visitors. Small towns, like the ones on the Canary Island of La Palma or outside the Sierra Morena mountains in Andalusia, are ideal places for stargazing with zero distractions.

3. Biosphere Reserves

Spain counts 52 Biosphere Reserves, the most out of any country in the world. From the snowy Alto Bernesga Biosphere Reserve in the Green Spain region to the lakes of the La Mancha Húmeda Biosphere Reserve south of Madrid, there are endless miles of wide-open spaces teaming with wildlife. Travel by horseback through the Dehesas de la Sierra Morena near Seville or spot native flora and fauna like giant lizards in the La Gomera Biosphere Reserve on the Canary archipelago.

Fuente de Piedra Lagoon in Andalusia, Spain
Photo courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

4. Natural Spaces

Travelers can find businesses and organizations committed to protecting the ecosystem in 40 Natural Spaces accredited by the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism. Travelers with a sustainability mindset can visit these spaces and be confident that they are contributing to the preservation of the natural landscape. A comprehensive list of all the protected rushing rivers, parks, nature reserves, biospheres, and many more, that are invested in having a planet-friendly impact can be found here.

5. Geoparks

Spain’s 15 Geoparks reveal the history of the Earth through spectacular landscapes, fossils, and rock formations that are millions of years old.

The world’s largest collection of jellyfish fossils can be found at the Sierra Norte de Sevilla Geopark in the central region of western Sierra Morena. Several wineries now populate the area around Central Catalunya Geopark in the heart of Catalonia, while guests can eat food cooked by lava at the Lanzarote and Chinijo Islands Geopark. Although the northeastern Conca de Tremp Montsec Geopark was once under the sea and later the home of dinosaurs, there is now a sightseeing train that runs through the mountains.

A virtual look at all the nature-based experiences Spain has to offer
Video courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Insight Vacations’ nine-day Country Roads of Andalucia offers a bird-watching tour with a naturalist guide for a chance to see rare species in Doñana National Park.

The ten-day Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon itinerary from Europe Express visits multiple parks, including Montserrat Natural Park. Contact your travel advisor to learn more.

At the top of Montserrat Natural Park with Europe Express
Photo courtesy of Europe Express

Spain is a destination filled to the brim with hidden gems in nature, culture, and cuisine. Mediterranean beaches, green National Parks, historic towns filled with contemporary art, and fresh seafood paired with world class wine make it a top pick for American travelers. When travel resumes, it is at the top of our bucket list.

Find more travel tips, news, and inspiration by visiting the Tourist Office of Spain.

Plan your visit with a tour operator by visiting www.ustoa.com/dream-vacation/Spain


The White Village of Casares in Andalusia, Spain
Photo courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Along Spain’s southern coast is the large region of Andalusia, made up of eight provinces with Seville as the capital city. Two of these provinces, Malaga and Cadiz, are famed for the prettiest historic architecture: Pueblos Blancos, translated to White Villages. Here are the most picturesque places to go in each area.

Malaga

The city of Malaga in the southern coastal province of Malaga is the largest city on the Costa del Sol and the birthplace of Pablo Picasso. Travelers who are soaking up the sun on the Mediterranean beaches and tasting the fresh seafood would be smart to venture inland for a few days. Whitewashed houses occupy the streets of villages further inland from the Costa del Sol, but still within driving distance.

The top small towns outside the city to view these historic homes include Ronda, Frigiliana, and Casares. While Ronda offers a 98-metre-high bridge for breathtaking views, Casares has an Arab castle at the top of its village, historically home to Iberians, Phoenicians, and Romans. Frigiliana still has a view of the Mediterranean while sitting up in the hills, offering narrow streets and passageways that evoke its Moorish past.

Beaches, foods, and white houses along the Mediterranean
Video courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Cadiz

In the southwestern province of Cadiz, an entire white villages route takes travelers through 19 different towns in the area. Here’s a full list of the stops: Arcos de la Frontera, Bornos, Espera, Villamartín, Algodonales, El Gastor, Olvera, Torre Alháquime, Setenil de las Bodegas, Alcalá del Valle, Prado del Rey, El Bosque, Ubrique, Benaocaz, Villaluenga del Rosario, Grazalema, Zahara de la Sierra, Algar and Puerta Serrano.

There is much more to see than these picturesque homes in each small town. Leather workshops line the streets of Ubrique, while Ronda is known for its organic wine. Popular foods throughout the area include pastries like buñuelos and traditional mollete bread rolls. Artisanal cheese and other handmade goods are always nearby.

This route also takes you through some natural parks in the provinces, including the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park, Los Alcornocales Natural Park, and the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. Spend a few days hiking or walking along the ravines in between your city walking tours.

#SpainWillWait until you can visit the white villages again
Photo courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Feeling inspired? Visit the white-washed houses on Collette’s Spain’s Classics & Portugal 15-day tour of coastal views and citrus groves, historic walking tours and boat rides, and much more. Select departure dates are available between May and November 2021, starting at $3,449 per person.

Or, contact your travel advisor to add a full day sightseeing tour of Ronda and Setenil to your itinerary through Europe Express. This guided walk through the white houses is followed by a visit to a bullfighting museum and then a local winery.

Spain is a destination filled to the brim with hidden gems in nature, culture, and cuisine. Mediterranean beaches, green National Parks, historic towns filled with contemporary art, and fresh seafood paired with world class wine make it a top pick for American travelers. When travel resumes, it is at the top of our bucket list.

Find more travel tips, news, and inspiration by visiting the Tourist Office of Spain.

Plan your visit with a tour operator by visiting www.ustoa.com/dream-vacation/Spain


The seaside town of Cudillero in Asturias, Spain
Photo courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Green Spain is a region in Northern Spain that earned its name for its dense forests, lush pastures, and wet, temperate oceanic climate. Stretching along the Atlantic coast between the borders of Portugal and France, vibrant cities line the green coast.

Four autonomous communities make up the Green Spain region, which include Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country. Here is just a sample of the beaches, foods, museums, and parks that travelers can discover in the area’s smaller historic cities.

CANTABRIA

Santander

In Cantabria, the city of Santander sits on Sardinero beach near the Magdalena Peninsula. Strolling through the city, you might spot penguins playing in a small marine park near the water and small fish markets serving calamari.  Historic mansions line the streets and the bay. Enjoy the smell of the ocean by walking on the sand down the coast.

Altamira

Approximately 21 miles from Santander sits the Altamira Cave, which holds some of the most famous prehistoric cave art and charcoal drawings in the world. The Altamira National Museum and Research Center reconstructs the original cave and offers information on the origins. Afterwards, it is a short drive to Santillana del Mar, a beautiful village of medieval towers and Renaissance palaces.

Travelers enjoying a treat above the Bay of La Concha in San Sebastián, Basque Country
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

BASQUE COUNTRY

Bilbao

The port city of Bilbao in the Basque Country, the eastern most autonomous community, and home to cobblestone streets, local artists, and small bars serving pinchos. The “Seven Streets” in the old town are the origins of the city with a medieval layout. The streets link the Cathedral of Santiago and the La Ribera Market, one of the largest covered markets in Europe.

Famous for its contemporary art and architecture, Bilbao is home to the Guggenheim Museum as well as the Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao. There are 30 other art galleries that surround the Albia gardens in the heart of the city. Funiculars, like cable cars, take travelers up and down Mount Artxanda for a panoramic view of the city. For a different perspective, there are boat rides that ride along the river for a look at the city’s architecture.

San Sebastián

Located on the Bay of Biscay is the city of San Sebastián, with a seafront promenade, sandy beaches, and vibrantly colorful sunsets. There are several fine dining restaurants credited to its 19 Michelin stars. Popular pinchos, include anchovies, seafood, and mushrooms. Live music, modern bars, and five-star cuisine line the wide streets, along with shops nestled into the 19th century architecture.

A city tour through San Sebastián, Basque Country, with Insight Vacations
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

ASTURIAS

Picos de Europa National Park

Although the Picos de Europa National Park spans multiple regions, it is a popular place to visit while in the Asturias area. Here, travelers can visit the two Lakes of Covadonga, which include Lake Enol and Lake La Ercina, and are perfect for hiking.

Oviedo

The churches of San Miguel de Lillo and Santa María del Naranco in Oviedo are some of the best example of pre-Romanesque Asturian art. Traditional cake shops here serve carbayones or moscovitas, popular and traditional pastries. It is also home to the 9th-century Foncalada fountain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gijón

Spending a few hours in Gijón is worth it for a visit to the small fishing neighborhood of Cimadevilla, with cider houses, traditional foods, and perfect sunsets over the bay. San Lorenzo beach is also a top spot to stop, with historic Roman baths and the Church of San Pedro nearby.

A local group dinner in Oviedo with Insight Vacations
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

GALICIA

Ribeira Sacra

In the farthest western community of Galicia, the area of Ribeira Sacra is home to monasteries dug into rocky mountains across more than 60 miles. Cliffs and trees line the horizon with wineries dotting the countryside. Travelers can even explore the area by taking a catamaran trip down the Sil and Miño rivers or riding in a hot air balloon.

Santiago de Compostela

In Santiago de Compostela, explore the old town and its cathedral before stopping at a restaurant for octopus, empanadas, pork shoulder, or some delicious seafood. The city is home to the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art and the park of San Domingos de Bonaval. Nearby, the Cíes Islands, which the Romans regarded as the islands of the Gods, are accessible by boat each summer.

See each distinct area of Green Spain in this short video…

The ‘Green Spain’ Region
Video courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Explore Oviedo and Gijón, on Insight Vacations’ Northern Spain 11-day itinerary filled with fine wine, local produce, and art tours. Departure is available on select dates between April and October 2021 starting at $3,146.

Spain is a destination filled to the brim with hidden gems in nature, culture, and cuisine. Mediterranean beaches, green National Parks, historic towns filled with contemporary art, and fresh seafood paired with world class wine make it a top pick for American travelers. When travel resumes, it is at the top of our bucket list.

Find more travel tips, news, and inspiration by visiting the Tourist Office of Spain.

Plan your visit with a tour operator by visiting www.ustoa.com/dream-vacation/Spain


Paella dish of rice, seafood, vegetables and spices from a Europe Express tour
Photo courtesy of Europe Express

Spain is world-renowned for its wine culture, olive oil farms, and traditional dishes like tapas and paella. Famous Spanish restaurants and chefs are experts when it comes to the healthy Mediterranean diet, and each region boasts its own specialty. Here are ten gastronomic experiences to check off your foodie bucket list on your next trip to Spain. 

A small tour enjoying wine and pintxos in Spain with Europe Express
Photo courtesy of Europe Express

1. Volcanic Wine

While travelers can experience Spain’s distinct wine culture through tastings, tours, and even yoga classes in a vineyard, they can also visit a volcanic winery in the Canary Islands. Farmers have built these vineyards by carving out holes in the volcanic gravel, where the vines flourish and eventually produce sweet and white varieties.

2. Calçots

These long, white, mild onions are barbecued and served with a sauce called salvitxada. It is a culinary tradition in Catalonia to throw on a bib and dig in by eating with your hands. On the last Sunday of January, the Great Calçotada festival takes place in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia as a sociable and delicious ritual.

3. Queimada

Queimada is a drink based on marc, a liquor distilled from pomace leftover from winemaking, that is accompanied with a ritual preparation. At Galician bars, the bartender will light the liquid on fire while stirring the drink with a wooden spoon and speaking a spell out loud to ward off evil spirits. 

People sharing pintxos on an Insight Vacations trip
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

4. Pintxos

Similar to Spanish tapas, pintxos are the types of snacks from Northern Spain, particularly the Basque County, that are eaten as an appetizer before dinner. The difference in pintxos from tapas is that the food is spiked through a skewer, typically with a piece of bread as well. Pintxo translates to “spike” or “skewer” in English. An insider tip: it is pronounced pinchos.

5. Sardines

The best way to try sardines is either on a boat or at a beach bar on the Costa del Sol, where the fish is skewered onto bamboo sticks and grilled over a fire. This delicious way of preparing, serving, and eating sardines has been popular since the 19th century.

6. Manchego

This delicious cheese is made with sheep’s milk and matured over a long period of time, ranging from one month to two years. Local cheesemakers produce it in three varieties: soft, semi-cured, and cured.

7. Olive Oil

The province of Jaén is home to 60 million olive oil trees that produce 20% of the world’s olive oil. Visit an oil mill or a museum, hike through the groves, join a tasting, or even spend the night on an oil estate.

A paella cooking class on an Insight Vacations tour
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

8. Paella

This Spanish rice dish, paella, originated in the city of Valencia. Travelers can grab a seat at a seaside restaurant and taste the seafood, vegetables, and spices. Cooking classes are a fun and interactive way to learn about the dish that often include boat rides and local market visits to find the ingredients yourself.

9. Cocido

The comforting and warm Cocido is a long-simmered stew. Each region has its own twist on the classic recipe, but famously, there are four main ingredients: broth, chickpeas, vegetables, and meat. A celebration of the dish is held throughout Madrid in February and March when restaurants come together to offer an entire Cocido Madrileño Route.

10. Caldereta De Langosta

Also known as a casserole of spiny lobster, the Caldereta De Langosta is a Mediterranean dish that is best found in the village of Fornells, known as the temple of this recipe. It is so popular that making a reservation at a restaurant that serves it is recommended. 

Learn to make your own paella on the Collette Spain’s Classics & Portugal, which includes a visit to a traditional fisherman’s home, known as a barraca, for a paella-making demonstration and authentic lunch.

Nadine, a local guide for Collette, takes travelers virtually to a traditional paella lunch
Video courtesy of Collette

Globus offers tapas tastings and wine pairings on their 14-day Spanish Fiesta itinerary, bringing travelers along the Costa Del Sol, through Madrid, and more. Or, go to a traditional paella dinner in Valencia on Globus’ 9-day Best of Spain itinerary from Madrid to Barcelona.

Travelers dine like a local in Torremolinos, Spain with Insight Vacations
Video courtesy of Insight Vacations

Spain is a destination filled to the brim with hidden gems in nature, culture, and cuisine. Mediterranean beaches, green National Parks, historic towns filled with contemporary art, and fresh seafood paired with world class wine make it a top pick for American travelers. When travel resumes, it is at the top of our bucket list.

Find more travel tips, news, and inspiration by visiting the Tourist Office of Spain.

Plan your visit with a tour operator by visiting www.ustoa.com/dream-vacation/Spain


5 Questions to Ask: Make Your Next Trip Animal-Friendly

By Dana Santucci, EF Education First, and Ben Williamson, World Animal Protection

Photo Credit: EF Education First

Travelers increasingly seek unique experiences that they couldn’t get anywhere else. However, many tourists, whether they’re with a group or adventuring on their own, choose activities that put animals and wildlife at risk, even if they don’t do so intentionally. Younger generations tend to be more conscientious of animal welfare when making travel decisions, but there’s room for improvement among travelers of all ages.

Travelers and travel providers alike have a responsibility to leave destinations just the way – or better than – they found them. In the context of animal tourism, this means understanding that there’s more power in proactively protecting, promoting and facilitating animal welfare than there is in holding, petting or otherwise exploiting an animal.

In 2018, EF Education First (EF), became the first international education company to launch a global collaboration with World Animal Protection, a leading international nonprofit dedicated to animal welfare. We’ve worked together to remove activities from our travel experiences that don’t meet these animal welfare standards, including shows that involve animals and excursions that involve activities such as riding, petting, holding, feeding or swimming. We’ve also committed to educating our staff, Tour Directors and travelers about the importance of animal welfare, common misconceptions and how to recognize violations.

There are plenty of ways to see the world while contributing to its resiliency. For example, you can visit responsible elephant sanctuaries in Thailand and meet with “mahouts,” or elephant caretakers, to learn about their role in Thai culture; protect sea turtle habitats and vulnerable eggs in Costa Rica; or learn about overfishing and track endangered dolphins in the Amazon River.

Instead of swimming with dolphins, volunteer to help with reef restoration, as this EF Educational Tours student did in the Dominican Republic. Photo Credit: EF Education First

Whether you’re participating in an operator-led tour or are venturing out on your own, here are the top five things we at EF ask ourselves to make sure our trips are animal-friendly, and that you can use to make sure yours are, too:

  • What is the venue’s intent? A good rule of thumb is that if a venue offers guests direct interaction with animals, it doesn’t have wildlife’s best interest at heart. Look for venues dedicated to conservation, rehabilitation and ending mistreatment.
  • Are the animals well cared for and comfortable? Reputable venues will abide by the Five Domains of Animal Welfare, which state that animals must be given positive experiences and be free of pain and suffering. Animals have good lives under human care when they enjoy good physical and mental health; have balanced and varied nutrition; and are in an environment that allows them to express the widest possible range of natural behaviors.
Training elephants to accept humans on their back is a cruel process that breaks the animals’ spirit. Instead, consider visiting a sanctuary where you can help with their care and learn from local experts. Photo Credit: EF Education First
  • Are guests allowed to pet, ride or take selfies with animals? Prioritize venues that allow animals to exhibit natural behavior (such as grazing and wandering) and do not rely on exploitative animal entertainment such as animal shows, riding, petting or holding. People participate in these activities out of a love for animals, but don’t see the extreme mistreatment and abuse that go into them.. 
  • Is this activity an ethical gray area? Some venues, such as aquariums and zoos, run the gamut on animal care and facility standards. If you can’t see animals in a more natural environment, compare the facility against the Five Domains of Animal Welfare and prioritize venues whose conservation and rehabilitation efforts have been thoroughly vetted.
  • Have you done your research? Just because a venue says it’s a sanctuary doesn’t mean it’s an animal-friendly destination. Look beyond the venue’s website and do your own digging, such as looking for references to chains or petting activities in past customers’ reviews.

It has been an honor for our organizations to collaborate and develop these industry-leading standards, and we hope other travel organizations will adopt comprehensive animal welfare standards too.  We all have a role to play in making sure our travels do not harm the animals that live in the destinations we visit. Before you book your next trip, make sure you check out additional resources, such as World Animal Protection’s guide on how to be an animal-friendly traveler and elephant-friendly tourist guide. By researching, educating ourselves and changing habits, we can make the world a better, safer place for all its inhabitants.

About EF Education First

Dana Santucci is Vice President for EF Education First and has worked for EF in a variety of capacities over more than 25 years. She has held senior positions in EF Go Ahead Tours, the organization’s adult travel division, as well as with EF Educational Tours and EF Explore America, both of which cater to educators and student travelers. Currently, she sits centrally and oversees a variety of special projects related to EF’s mission of opening the world through education. She serves on the executive board of directors for the USTOA and is the recent former Chairperson of the USTOA.  

EF Education First (EF), founded in Sweden in 1965, provides culturally immersive education through language, travel, cultural exchange, and academic programs in over 100 countries around the world.  EF’s mission is opening the world through education. Learn more by visiting https://ef.com. 

About World Animal Protection

Ben Williamson is the U.S. Programs Director of World Animal Protection, a global animal welfare organization with offices in fourteen countries. Its mission is a world where animals live free from suffering. Ben oversees World Animal Protection’s five U.S. campaign areas (Wildlife. Not Entertainers; Exotic Pets; Pigs; Chickens; and Meat Reduction), and his areas of expertise include animals in entertainment, exotic pets, factory farming, vegetarian/vegan issues, cruelty to animals and humane education. Ben has nearly a decade of experience working for animal protection in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

World Animal Protection has moved the world to protect animals for more than 50 years. World Animal Protection works to give animals a better life. The organization’s activities include working with companies to ensure high standards of welfare for the animals in their care; working with governments and other stakeholders to prevent wild animals being cruelly traded, trapped or killed; and saving the lives of animals and the livelihoods of the people who depend on them in disaster situations. World Animal Protection influences decision-makers to put animal welfare on the global agenda and inspires people to change animals’ lives for the better.


The Advantages of Small Ship Cruising

By Emerald Waterways

What inspires you to travel?  Is it adventure, culture, food, relaxation, interaction with the local communities, peace, or all of the above?  A small ship cruise is about all of these vacation goals and delivers them on a personal level, with no queues to stand in for buffets, no long lines to embark or disembark, simply no waiting and, therefore, less stress.

Imagine this:  a straw hat on your head, sunglasses shading your eyes, a gauzy flowy summer chemise blowing in the breeze, a drink in your hand and your feet resting on the lounge chair as you gaze to the shoreline, taking in the charming harbor coming into view.  You realize with a start that soon you’ll be strolling ashore, ready to tackle the day to discover what lies ahead.  This is small ship cruising!

What exactly qualifies as a small ship?  Typically, a small ship is considered one that has fewer than 500 guests. (Some lines consider their ship small if it’s under 1500 guests, which doesn’t seem so small at all).  In the case of the small ships in the Scenic group portfolio, Scenic Eclipse is 228 guests or less, while the recently announced Emerald Azzurra will welcome just 100 guests.  With more space per guest, these two beauties will attain unmatched comfort and luxury for those that sail them.

A yacht or small ship is a more intimate experience, both on board and on shore.  Public spaces are laid out in such a way that you never feel crowded or closed in by other guests.  You almost have the feeling of being in a guest house, with relaxed, comfortable lounges and inviting outdoor spaces with plenty of room for everyone.  When you ask what makes or breaks a cruising experience, it’s the crew that go out of their way to make a connection and to ensure that you have the best trip possible.  You’ll become well acquainted with the staff and crew.  They’ll know your name, remember which table you prefer, whether you prefer an intimate dinner at a table for two or if you’re more likely to join those new friends you just made.  They’ll know which drink you prefer when sitting on a lounge chair overlooking the sea and which one you prefer pre-dinner in the cozy lounge.  Your travel partner prefers his coffee black and cappuccino is your choice – they’ll know!  You’ll always feel like you are their number one priority.  You’ll leave your small ship feeling that you’ve made new friends, not only with the other guests but also with those staff members who delivered your trip of a lifetime.

The destinations are unique with small ship or yacht cruises.  They can enter pristine harbors where larger boats cannot, and will not, as these larger ships will overwhelm the location and have to shuttle their guests by tender to shore.  For the lucky few on a really small ship, you’ll be able to not only visit the bookend must-sees, like London, Dubrovnik, Barcelona, Lisbon, Athens, and Venice, for example, but you’ll also be able to put down anchor and perhaps even swim off the back of your vessel onto a remarkable beach like you’ve never seen before, most notably lacking in visitors.  Or perhaps you’ll take a zodiac for a short trip to shore, only because the harbor that you’ve pulled into doesn’t have substantial docking facilities.  Whatever you do on a small ship, the smaller the better, you’ll never have long lines, you’ll be free to leisurely embark and disembark.

With a small ship you can have everything included or opt for a line that gives you choices to tailor your adventure.  If you want discovery, opt for a line with fewer inclusions, to make the experience uniquely your own.  Take a bike and go off the beaten path.  Dive off the swim platform and be one with your surroundings.  Walk alongside your guide, taking in the local points of interest and then branch off on our own, meandering until you find something that suits your fancy – perhaps a lunch at a local taverna, sip a glass of locally sourced wine, chatter with the purveyor of the local coffee shop to learn about their daily life.  It’s all up to you how to spend your time.

If you prefer the surety of all-in-one pricing and are looking to up the adventure and discoveries, lines like Scenic Eclipse go above and beyond to include everything AND give you choice.  Choose from a daily menu of excursions or simply choose to indulge in the onboard amenities, perhaps a day in the spa, or reading a book in the observation lounge.  Feel like getting some exercise, check out the yoga lounge or take out a paddle board and go for a swim off the swim deck.  Take a tour of the wheelhouse where the captain will be happy to answer your questions.  As small expedition ships up the ante, look for bells and whistles like helicopters and submarines!

What’s for dinner you ask.  Of course, food is always an important part of your vacation so be sure to read the reviews to see if your small ship fits your culinary style.  Do you want multiple dining venues, which are usually only available on the bigger ships?  The Scenic Eclipse is unique in that it has more space per guest than any other ship of its kind.  Scenic Eclipse, while being a small ship, offers 10 dining venues, each with its own unique story.    From Koko’s sushi and teppanyaki to Lumiere’s fine French cuisine, there is something to please every palate.  On smaller yachts which tend to be slightly more relaxed, the options won’t be as plentiful but there will always be great food and choice at every meal. 

Destination is always paramount and small ships offer many options, with many of the options off the beaten path.  Whether it’s the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Adriatic, Yukon & Alaska or the Great White Wonders of the Arctic and Antarctic, you’re sure to find the next great adventure with a small ship cruise.  So, what are you waiting for?!  You surely won’t be disappointed and you surely will be looking for your next small ship adventure sooner than later!