My To Do list

What’s in a bucket list? Or, on a bucket list?

I mean … I’ve never really had a bucket list. I’ve tried to have one, but the amount of experiences in this world I would love to have cannot be contained on one clear, succinct little list.

Instead, they flutter about the crevices of my mind, occasionally popping into my consciousness when an event, a person, a word, sparks them. For instance, I see someone’s post on Facebook about what they have just done, and BAM, I remember that is on my list.

I also don’t really have a list because right now, I don’t travel too much. I focus on my work with Lek and the elephants, so there is little time for me to daydream about skinny dipping in the Maldives or camping in the middle of no where and looking up at the Milkyway in front of a fire on a crisp fall night in the desert.

Sure, I say things in passing, mostly to the extent of “Oh, man. That [fill in the blank] would be SO cool to do. I need to remember that.” Then, I promptly forget what that activity is.

So, when push comes to shove, no. I don’t really have a bucket list in the sense of something I am ticking off per great adventure. But, I do have things in my life I would love to experience.

What are they?

The Northern Lights

Northern Lights in Sweden

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: Image Editor.

I think this one time, I might have actually seen the infamous wonder, but it was on an airplane coming home from Alaska. My eyes could have been playing tricks on me, but I swear, for a minute there, I thought I saw some dancing green and blue from out my little window.

Since, clearly, that was not enough to satiate my desire, I want to go back to Sweden and see the magical lights way up north. In doing some research, I think the best place to go would be Abisko National Park.

Antarctica

Because, why not? I’ve seen the pictures. I’ve seethed with polite jealousy at others’ trips down there, and the penguin and ice cap and serene, empty beauty. I. Want. It.

Mongol Rally

Oh, Mongol Rally. This little experience has tempted me for years. A car. A few people. And a trip from Europe to Mongolia to raise money for a charity. I mean, I can’t change a tire, but I know people who can. And, seeing all of that immense beauty of the world and culture? Come on. I have to do this. One day.

Cuba

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: Jodastephen

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: Jodastephen

Forget that Beyonce and her ostrich-elephant-python-every-other-endangered-animals-grossness-sneakers and Jay-Z just were there. There is something so incredibly romantic about the little country south of Florida. And, I want to experience it for myself. Before Americans are technically allowed in and, in my opinion, it loses its exotic luster.

Varnasi, India

Varnasi

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: nicocrisafulli

Two of my good friends, Mindful Wanderlust’s Cody and Giselle, went here on their recent travels before coming to Elephant Nature Park. India was never really on my list as one of the places that captivated me. I always thought of it as super crowded (and we all know I freak in crowds) and a country where the runs are about as normal as breathing.

Then, I learned about Varnasi and my entire opinion changed. I’d go to India just to visit here. Of course, once I arrived, I’d probably take a month or so and gallivant around the rest of the country (which everyone I know loves … so thinking I will end up loving it, too).

Why Varnasi?

To take from Wikipedia, this statement alone fascinates me:

“The city has been a cultural center of North India for several thousand years, and has a history that is older than most of the major world religions.”

The spiritual center of India sounds like a place I need to experience.

Camino de Santiago

I don’t really like climbing hills or anything, but the pilgrimage in Spain — the Camino de Santiago — isn’t only a challenge but an incredible way to see the more untouched beauty the country has to offer.

I have a few friends who have done it, namely Daniel from Canvas of Light, and his stories alone about the hiking, the camraderie, are enough to get me to push myself to do the month-or-so long trek.

Camp outside of Area 51

Living in Las Vegas as long as I did, I never made it near Area 51. And, I would have really liked to do so. Sure, there were loose plans discussed, but nothing ever came of any of it.

I love the desert, I love camping and being able to combine the two in a moderately eerie spot … yeah, perfect. Oh, and it has to be a crystal clear night so I can see all those beautiful stars.

Give Paris another chance

Paris

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: agaw.dilim

I went to Paris in 2002 and was underwhelmed, to say the least. I was 22, missing my boyfriend, at the end of my trip, and just wanted to go home. Instead of embracing Paris, I simply went through the motions. I rushed through school groups at the Louvre to see Mona Lisa. I took the metro to Moulin Rouge and took a photo outside. I didn’t even drink good wine or eat cheese because I think back then I was a) unappreciative of wine, and b) not a cheese snob — I hated cheese except on pizza. So, returning to Paris at 33 (or older) seems like something I need to do. I’d also like to explore the entire country since I didn’t get to do so on my last big visit to Europe.

Meditation Retreat at Doi Suthep

My friend, Lindsay, did a 10-day version of this recently and fell in love with it. I have this huge problem where I cannot get my mind to shut up, even when I really want it to. She learned how to meditate and got more connected to herself. And, I’d like to do the same. Ten days with no internet, only eating from 6 a.m. to noon, learning more about Buddhism and speaking with monks sounds like something that could really benefit me. 

Have meaningful experiences

So, this isn’t really a “place” or anything, but it is truly what I want from every moment of my life: meaningful experiences. Connections. And, mindful. When I first came to Thailand, I wanted to ride an elephant. Of course, I quickly learned how horrible that is for them, and instead now work to educate others on what they go through in the name of tourism. But, I also learned how my tiny little decisions can cause a ripple in the world. I want to do things in my life that are responsible, meaningful, and above all, kind.

My top 10 bucket list post is a part of Save Elephant Foundation’s blog carnival to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Elephant Nature Park. Elephant Nature Park is celebrating 10 years of success protecting the Asian elephant, educating tourists and tour operators alike that there is another way for us to interact with these wonderful animals. Please take a moment to visit their website, visit their Facebook, and connect with them on Twitter.

 

Responsible Tourism Travel Tips

Immersion Travel: be part of the community and not just a visitor

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Janella Domingo.

I travel most of the time. It’s my nature, it’s in my blood. I guess I inherited it from my parents, since they both love visiting different countries. Actually it’s a very tiring hobby and passion, yet it fills the void that keeps eating my heart everytime I yearn for something. Like a Polaroid camera, it flashes light in my eyes everytime my eyes start to close. You never know what’s behind you so I suggest that you learn to look back because something nice might just be right behind you.

Immersion travel

My Visit at Pantabangan – Dressing as the Locals Do

My latest travel was in the Philippines and I can definitely say that this was the best and most unforgettable experience I’ve had in a country. My mom is actually Filipina and she was the one who suggested that I visit our home country. I obliged without any second thoughts because I’ve heard that Filipinos are very nice and hospitable to foreigners, well actually I’m only half a foreigner since I have Filipino roots. Before I left though my mom told me something that actually made the trip unforgettable, she said, “When in Rome, act as the Romans do.” At first I was confused, I didn’t get what the cliché meant, but after a while, I realized that my mom was telling me to immerse myself among the townsfolk. And it was actually a good idea.

Immersion when travelling helps you become more comfortable with the country you are visiting. It gives you freedom to taste the lives of others and makes you more aware of the world that you are living in. also, it builds rapport with the locals and gives you more information on how they go through the day in their own unique ways. Six out of ten people will surely not try this, but if you are reading this, make sure you’re not a part of the 60%. You’ll just be neglecting yourself from the true beauty and purpose of life, and that is to live it.

During my stay in the Philippines, I was able to make some friends other than my cousins. My aunt introduced me to a few of the townsfolk and told me to go with them because they will be giving me a tour of our “barangay” or village. At first I was kinda hesitant to go with them since I barely know them, and to be honest I was afraid of immersing myself with the locals because they might make me do something that I do not like. Having no choice, I obliged and went with my aunt’s friends. They showed me around the metro and urban areas as well as the poor areas known as “squatter areas”. I was deeply moved by the situation these people where in because even though they do not eat three square meals a day, they still live their lives with a smile. I was able to talk to one of them and I asked him, “How do you do it? How do you keep smiling despite the poverty you are experiencing?”

The man’s reply blew me away, he said, “Well I still get to eat, why should I ask for anymore, I’m lucky that I’m alive! And I’ll be living my life to the fullest.”

Honestly I don’t know what came over me but after hearing that from a man who basically has so little in life, my fear of mixing in suddenly disappeared. The day after, I was singing, chatting, drinking and even eating “balut” with the townsfolk. And through that I have won their trust and hearts and earned a memorable place in the village.

Immersion is indeed the best way to experience something in life. Without it, your trip will lack something that no travel guide or package can give you, and that is an unforgettable experience.

About the Author:

Janella Giselle Domingo is a travel blogger from Expat Intelligence. Aside from blogging, she is also currently employed as a Chief Pharmacist at Wesleyan University Hospital and Cardiovascular Center.Despite of her busy schedule as a Chief Pharmacist, she never forgets to indulge in her wanderlust. Connect with her at facebook or drop a line at janellagdomingo@gmail.com.

Guest Posts Travel Tips

Dude, don’t get Locked Up Abroad …

National Geographic airs a fascinating program, “Locked Up Abroad,” that tells tales nightmares are made of: getting locked up while traveling. When I want to feel better about my travels, this is the show I watch. It’s one of those train wrecks of awful, where you want to reach out and shake people for the decisions they make.

You’ve probably read stories. Seen movies. Perhaps you’ve even done a double-take of what could happen if your momentary lack of good judgement resulted in being thrown in the slammer in a country where you didn’t speak the language and the embassy might not be able to be your knight in shining armor.

This week’s episode, which airs on Wednesday, May 23 at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific is one of those that makes you wonder what on earth people were thinking. “Black Palace of Horrors” tells the tale of Dwight Worker, one of only two people who have ever escaped from Mexico’s Lecumberri Prison. Back in 1973, Worker was busted in Mexico City for smuggling cocaine to the US via a fake shoulder cast. Once he was caught, he was locked up in the infamous Lecumberri Prison, also known as the “Black Palace.”

As it goes with being locked up abroad, his life sucked. He had to fight off being gang raped. He nearly died thanks to being stabbed. He even ended up being placed in the pysch ward (and why not? Life there was hell!). But, while he was there, he also met Barbara Chilcoate, a visitor. Like most modern day romances, the two fell in love and, together the love birds crafted one of the most jaw-dropping prison breaks. On his wedding day, in prison, he attempted to escape while made up as a woman.

Which makes me wonder … how far would I go to escape a life in the slammer in another country? Which leads me to the question, would I ever do something that lacks such udder judgement to end up there in the first place?

The truth …

I’m not going to lie. I have done some seriously stupid stuff while traveling in the past.When I was in my early 20s and thought I was invincible (or just didn’t think). Looking back … man, I was an absolute idiot.

Don’t want to get locked up abroad? I swear, it is common sense stuff. But, sometimes you need to read it to be reminded.

So … skip this stupid stuff:

1. Don’t do drugs in foreign countries. Seriously. Don’t. And, if my words of advice aren’t enough, at least do your homework and find out what the laws are should you get busted. These little dalliances can result in jail time in places that are not forgiving. Even countries you think are somewhat lax in their laws in regards to drugs … I knew someone in Croatia who got busted smoking pot. Ended up in jail. Sounds like a great way to have a vacation, yes? The Full Moon parties in Thailand? Just because everyone else is popping pills doesn’t mean you have to. I’ve heard horror stories from party-goers there and rumors of drug searches on the beach.

2. Keep calm. Drunken nights in bars can sometimes lead to aggression. Breathe deep. Walk away. Don’t fight.

3. Don’t be overly helpful. Meaning, if someone asks you to carry something for them, deliver something for them … just don’t. “Brokedown Palace” anyone?

4. Know the rules. Some places are far more conservative than others. Public intoxication. Skinny dipping. Mind your manners.

5. Do not ever, ever, ever joke about terror plots.

While this all seems like common sense (and it really is), there’s a reason shows like “Locked Up Abroad” exist: because people forget to exercise it.

Want real life stories to keep you on the straight and narrow while traveling? Tune in Wednesday to the latest episode of “Locked Up Abroad.”

Have you ever gotten locked up while traveling? Share your story below!

 

Travel Tips

Yoga for airplane travel

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Willow Withy.

When visitors first reach a destination, eyes are captive with a new view and a mind ruminating with the trip’s itinerary. Also upon arrival, when people check into his or her body, chance are they are sore and exhausted – especially for those who have taken long-haul trips.

With an adrenaline kick, the traveler has managed to lug those suitcases through a sea of people, sit still in cramped quarters and navigate through unfamiliar territory. Travel is not easy on the mind or body. Without wellness, a journey can feel like a long, painful detour from home.

Fortunately, there are some stretches which can be squeezed into a trek that will restore the body from stress, fatigue, neck, back and hip pain.

It’s all about you

Most pain can be avoided through the awareness of posture and body mechanics. Before every day’s journey be aware of alignment.  The basis for good posture is maintaining a “neutral spine.” A neutral spine retains three natural curves: a small hollow at the base of the neck, a small roundness at the middle back, and a small hollow in the low back. A neutral spine is neither rounded forward nor arched back too much while seated or standing.

That is ideal, but in reality we all know you’re slouching when your reach the terminal because you have one bag on your shoulder and a carry on is trailing behind. You slide down in your chair to get comfortable – completely wiping out all hollows in the spine.  Your neck is out of alignment while checking your phone/magazine/laptop/book/stalker from the next seat over.  Generally, your mind is probably not on your alignment until it starts to ache.

Basic poses to relieve aches

Cat Pose (Marjaryasana)

Draw your wrists directly below the shoulders and your knees directly below your hips.  On an exhalation contract your pelvis and the front of your rib cage towards each other, simultaneously expanding the back of your rib cage.

For a seated variation of Cat Pose begin with your legs parallel and your shoulders above your hips.  Then, hold onto your knees and contract your pelvis toward the front of the ribcage and expand the back of the rib cage while rounding the neck and lower back into a long curve.

Try pairing Cat Pose with Cow Pose …

Cow Pose (Bitilasana)

Begin in the same neutral position as Cat Pose – hands and knees below shoulders and hips.  On an inhalation, expand the front of the rib cage, arching the back, lifting the gaze and the sit bones upward.

 

Do the same motion in a seated modification.  (Maybe consciously add this stretch while checking if the seatbelt light is illuminated.)

 

Those suffering from tight hips and lower back pain caused from sitting for prolonged periods of time can be released in this dynamic king pigeon pose.

King Pigeon (Rajakapotasana)

This is a leg-option-only of the full pose. The benefits of this pose include a stretch to the thighs, groins, psoas, abdomen, chest, shoulders and neck.

Starting on all fours or in downward dog, slide your shin forward parallel to the front of the mat.  Let your sit bones slide down and extend the back leg.  Be mindful of keeping the shoulders and hips in alignment and try to avoid twisting to the path of least resistance.

The seated variation is my favorite “sneaky stretch” as you can easily use reading material in the hands as you hinge forward from the hip.

Half Lord of the Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

This twist energizes the spine and gives the digestive system a boost (we know the nutritional value of food on the road will put you in a calorie-induced coma).

This sounds complicated, but stay with me, it is easy and so rewarding.

From a neutral seated position (both sit bones rooted to the floor, shoulders lifted above the hips), place your left foot to the outside of your right thigh; the left knee will point to the sky.  If your sit bones can stay level try bending the right leg and pull the heel toward the left sit bone.  Reach your right arm over the shoulder then place the elbow on the outside of the left knee. On an inhalation lift or “grow” the spine upward.  On an exhalation twist deeper over the left shoulder.

 

In the seated modification, place one foot just above your bent knee.  Try twisting gently in both directions holding onto the foot or opposing knee for stability in the twist.

Refresh your body

These  traveling yoga tips will refresh your body and your mind and allow a yogic view of your new destination – experiencing everyday things as if for the first time in which nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.  Maybe the journey of movement within your own body will offer a fresh perspective.  While sneaking in a stretch maybe you’ll find another destination along the way, as Martin Buber says, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”

And if by chance your path leads you to Las Vegas I hope our paths will cross.

About the Author: Said to be one of the best instructors in Las Vegas, Willow Withy teaches private sessions and classes on and off The Strip. Willow brings an extensive knowledge of movement and body mechanics to her yoga teaching which allows her students to achieve a wide variety of goals ranging from therapeutic recovery and improved daily functioning to achieving higher levels of fitness and performance. Guests of any hotel can book private sessions with Willow. She teaches poolside classes, weather permitting, at the Four Seasons Hotel and at the Mirage Hotel. An especially unique yoga experience is available in the Dolphin Habitat booked through the Spa at the Mirage Friday – Sunday mornings at 8:30 a.m. She is a studio instructor at Sherry Goldstien’s Yoga Sanctuary and hosts a popular Happy Hour Vinyasa Groove on Friday nights. If you still can’t catch her she also teaches a few classes at Life Time Fitness in Summerlin and 24 Hour Fitness. Book a session or connect online. Stay updated with special events and daily inspiration on Facebook.

 

Guest Posts Travel Tips

Are you a stripper? And other questions about living in Las Vegas

Editor’s Note: I get asked a lot of random questions about what it is like to live in Las Vegas. I’ve been here for the better part of five years, and the questions never cease. This is an interview Lindsay  — aka Hogga — from The Traveller World Guide recently did with me about life as a Las Vegan. She’s also the brains and talent behind the hilarious Web site, Chicken Chunk. The questions are hers, the cartoons are hers. The reality of life in Vegas? All mine. Special thanks goes out to the most recent Worst Date of My Life, because had I not messaged her to ask her to draw a cartoon of the experience (yes, it was that ridiculous), this little fun would not have happened. Hope you enjoy!

Hogga: Are you a stripper? If you’re not, why? I hear they make mad cash. I would take my shirt off for a free slice of pizza!

D: No, not a stripper … yet. Although, now with the whole work-for-me thing (I recently quit my job), it could definitely be a possibility. I used to tell people I was a stripper when they asked me what on earth I did for work in Las Vegas. After they shot me that “yeah, whatever” look, I’d always fess up and say I was in PR.

H: How are you not dead yet? Or in more proper terms, do people who LIVE in Vegas party all the time or is that just the tourists?

D: Some of us party like we’re tourists. Most of us don’t. I’ve definitely have my days/nights of debauchery, followed by the misery of being hungover, wishing I was anywhere but Vegas. For the most part, us Las Vegans are pretty smart and know our limits in terms of no last call, free entry to the clubs and all of the other hook-ups you get as a local. Those who do party all of the time and live here a) work in the industry; b) refuse to get past the college party years, even though they are well past college age; c) have a death wish.

H: Do you live on the strip? Or above a strip club?

D: I actually live on Las Vegas Blvd., but not what is considered The Strip. Although I tell everyone it is for dramatic effect and general awesomeness.

H: Do you get yelled at my prostitutes on the street like in the movies? You’re totally friends with a transvestite aren’t you?

D: I don’t get yelled at by the prostitutes, but I do get harassed by the people pushing the escorts on The Strip. Sadly, I have no trannies in my life right now.

H: I tried to get some free shit from Vegas for when I go there in June. But they said “No, we hate you”. Why Vegas no like me? Do you get free shit?

D: I’ll get you free shit. Or, close to free shit with my magic key card for a bar that gives us pretty decent deals. Why do they hate you? I love you. They’re on crack.

Vegas *hearts* Hogga

H: I have a gambling problem. Seriously I’m not allowed to bring my cards with me when I go to the Casino. Living in Vegas, are you a pro? If so, could you give me some tips on how to not loose all my money?

D: Yeah, don’t gamble.

H: What are the guys like in Vegas? I’m single and easy when I’m drunk.

D: Oh, dear god. Guys in Vegas are a breed all of their own. I went on a date recently with one dude from another country (who had been here for 15 years). He rolled up to the bar super late, wearing sunglasses and a dirty, smelly suit and then proceeded to tell me all about himself for 90 minutes. When it came time for the bill, he acted all innocent and asked me what the protocol is for dates in America. Dick. And then there are others who aren’t that bad … but for the most part, this town is slim pickings. I always joke with my parents that if I want to get married and have kids, Las Vegas isn’t the place for me. But, I do like it here. In fact, I have at least 25 reasons why I love Las Vegas.

H: Is Vegas expensive? I’ve been told if I act like a high roller I’ll get lots of free stuff. But I’m a pretty bad liar and kinda lazy.

D: If you’re a high roller (or pretend you are), then you get heaps for free. Vegas can be expensive, but it can also be dirt cheap. Stick with me, Hogga, I’ll show you the ropes of cheap Vegas and how to survive a Vegas vacation.

Vegas on a budget.

H: If I came to Vegas, other than obviously wanting to wine and dine me, plus see me neked, what’s would you take me to do?

D: Hmmm. I’d take you downtown to the hipster bars and artsy stuff, out of town for fresh air and killer views, and to see “Absinthe” because it’s a nice mix of raunchy good times, roller skating and boobs. 

H: Question is the lastest – what would you feed me? I like food and I demand a good meal.

D: Whatever you want. My current favorite place is Le Thai in downtown Las Vegas. Inexpensive and delicious Thai food. Or, I’d take you to one of the restaurants I used to do PR for to get a cheese plate, wine and oysters. Game?

 


Guest Posts Travel Tips

Travel lessons from the Merchant Marines

Editor’s Note: Apologies for the lack of posts this week. I’m enjoying some gum surgery and medication, so in the meantime, enjoy this guest post from one of my favorite bloggers. And, if you want to contribute a guest post, feel free to contact me

I joined the merchant Navy when I was 16. From that age until 22, that was all I knew. Working hard, partying harder and constantly moving taught me a few things which are I have transferred to my travels now.

As a young buck in the Merchant Marines.

Six travel lessons for any traveler … courtesy of my time in the Merchant Marines

1. Explore everything.

I visited many exotic and beautiful places when I worked at sea. The problem? We always ended up going to the bar. When I look back, I feel so frustrated at all the opportunities I missed to go and explore more. Now when I visit a place, I like to explore as much as possible. Even if that amounts to simply taking a different walk home every day (although I often get lost).

2. The majority of people are good people.

We were at anchor for a month off the coast Martinique, a small island in the Caribbean. We had taken to driving our small rescue boat, a tiny boat with a small engine on the back, ashore every other day to enable us to see the coast, go fishing, go for a meal and other activities. Normally, we  tie the boat to a jetty. However, on this occasion there was no space for us. Rather then turn back, we decided we would just beach the boat and go get a meal. When we returned to our boat, left at the waterline two hours earlier, was now about 10-ft up from the waters edge. The tide had gone out and we were stuck. Or we would have been had it not been for about a handful of old women coming and helping us push it back into the water.

3. You will never have the perfect plan.

You cannot plan for everything when traveling.  There are far too many variables. The more you learn how to plan on the fly and cope with change, the better your travels.

Strawberry Jam

Creative Commons: WhitneyinChicago

4. There is no real cure for motion sickness.

I was once seasick for four days. I tried everything, but to no avail. If you suffer from motion sickness, you just have to ride it out! One tip though — if you do suffer horrific motion sickness eat jam sandwiches and drink lots of fruit juice and water. Hydration helps with everything and the jam sandwiches don’t taste that bad when they “come back.”

Anna Maersk in Harbor

Creative Commons: Tyler Haglund

5. Things take time.

This is probably the most important lesson I learned. Sailing across the Pacific takes around 10 days. Thats a long time. Sometimes bridge watch would get monotonous and the hours would seem to drag. If patient then you will truly appreciate that landfall when you first see it. A good way to deal with excess time on the road is to have a hobby. I like to write because it is portable, I can do it anywhere and it takes up loads of time.

6. Stress happens.

When you are around the Far East sometimes the radar screen just goes yellow. This is not from interference or weather or anything. This is, in fact, hundreds of tiny wooden fishing boats. Four hours of weaving through these small crafts is one of the most delicate and stressful things you can experience at sea. And everyone copes differently. My friend Alan used to simply chain smoke, I on the other hand would bottle it all up and then go for a hard gym session after my watch. How you deal with stress while traveling can make or break an experience.

So those are my lessons. They may work for you. They may not. But trust me on the jam sandwiches!

What lessons have you learned? 

About the Author: James Cook is a writer at OurOyster.com He has been travelling for the majority of his adult life and has just spent the last year in New Zealand. Our Oyster focuses on documenting his travel experiences, while at the same time providing practical information as well as budget travel tips. Currently James and his partner, Jade, are exploring all Australia has to offer. You can find him at Facebook and on Twitter.

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Think you’ve mastered these lessons? Try your hand and test it out travelling to Greece.

 

Guest Posts Travel Tips

Escape of the Week: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Less than a two-hour drive from the rolling hills of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, is Volcanoes National Park. Also known as Parc National des Volcans, it spans 77-miles in the Virunga Mountains.

The park is home to five of the Virunga Mountain range's eight volcanoes.

Bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, Volcanoes National Park is made up of lush rainforests, volcanoes … and gorillas.

It was the first park created in Africa and has overcome struggles to become the tourist attraction it is today. In 1992, it became a battlefield for the Civil War, halting it’s tours because of the dangerous times. It did not open to tourists again until 1999, when it was once again safe for visitors to explore the mountainous region.

Today, visitors come from around the world to catch their own glimpse of a family of mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. With eight family groups in the park, each day guides take visitors on treks up to high altitudes so they can enjoy an hour watching the families interact with each other. Treks to and from these animals can last anywhere from one to four hours, depending on the family’s location.

There are many rules to remember when trekking for gorillas, such as staying more than 7 meters from them at all times.

 

The treks begin with a climb through farmland.

 

En route to the next leg of the journey, children emerge from their huts and working to watch the tourists.

One little boy stands back from the others, watching trekkers from a distance.

The farmland, dotted with huts, provides an up-close look at life in the country.

After the farmland, trekkers enter the thick bamboo forest, where day turns to night and shoots tower high into the air.

The bamboo forest makes up 30 percent of the park's area.

And then … after a strenuous trek … come the gorillas.

The park was home to renowned gorilla research Dian Fossey. She dedicated her life to these creatures and is buried nearby the park's research center.

A gorilla poses for the camera.

There is only one silverback in a gorilla family, and he's the one in charge.

A mom and baby survey their habitat.

Planning a trip?

Only 64 visitors are given permits (which cost around $500 each for non-nationals) each day to trek for gorillas. To request a permit, people must go through the Rwanda Tourism Board and make reservations. For more information, e-mail reservations@rwandatourism.com.

For those trekking, it is important to pack right. Sturdy shoes and long pants (to protect against ant bites and nettles) are a must. Comfortable clothing (that can get dirty) and layers are ideal, as the climate will change from the base to where the gorillas are located.

Ruhengeri is located near the park and offers a variety of lodging options for different budgets.

Want a first-hand experience? Click here to read about my trekking adventure.

 

How do you get from place to place? There are plenty of options to get around,  like deciding on a cheap car hire on holiday.

 

Destinations Travel Tips