Maasai Mara

Lion King lovers rejoice! The Maasai Mara is celebrated for its stunning grassland landscapes, the Big Five animals that traverse its more than 1500 kilometers, and its annual Great Migration of wildebeests, zebras and gazelles traveling from Tanzania’s Serengeti in the south. The Mara makes for an excellent safari holiday because it is fairly compact (as compared to the Serengeti’s 30,000 kilometers) and biodiverse, meaning you can generally see a lot of different animals within a few days. The Mara has all of the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and water buffalo), giraffe, zebra, various species of gazelle, crocodile, hippo, baboon, cheetah, hyena, wildebeest and more.

The best time to visit the Mara is during the Great Migration, which takes places between July and October. Note that July and August are winter in Kenya, and while the days will be warm (20s Celcius) the nights and early mornings will be cool. Also, be prepared to book in advance and pay high season rates!

Most safari camps and resorts will organize flights from Wilson Airport in Nairobi to the nearest airstrip in the Maasai Mara. Flights run back and forth daily between the Nairobi and the Mara, and should be included in a full board accommodation package.

The Maasai safari guides are amazing, and a good guide will make all the difference in a great and truly fantastic experience. Make sure to tip your guides well, this is their livelihood and most of them are sending money home.

Bring cash for tips! There are no money machines and it will likely be difficult for most camps to exchange foreign money. You may also have to pay a daily reserve fee per person in cash.

EAT

Full board will be included in most safari camp and resort packages, and will provide for three meals a day. Traditional Kenyan food has many Indian influences, and is fresh and healthy. A few things to definitely try:

Chapati Fried bread influenced by the Indian subcontinent. Eat it with everything.

Mandazi Another fried bread, this Kenyan treat is most similar to a doughnut.

Sukuma Wiki Delicious boiled greens. Similar to collards in the United States.

Ugali This starchy staple is common across Kenya and often the side dish to richer stews and curries. It is a mixture of finely-ground cornmeal and water.

DRINK

Try the local Kenyan beers. Our favorites are Tusker Lager (the most popular across East Africa) and White Cap Lager. Nothing beats an ice cold Tusker at the end of a long, dusty safari run.

PLAY

Safari This is the real reason for a trip to the Maasai Mara, and take advantage of the 2-3 safari trips that your camp will plan daily. Most will start off in the morning very early, from 5:30 or 6:00am, have breakfast on the road, and head back to camp by 11:00am for guests to have lunch and relax by the pool or in the shade during the midday heat. Go out again late afternoon for a magical experience at dusk, as the animals are generally most active during the cooler parts of the day.

Shopping The Maasai people create truly stunning handicrafts. Larger resorts and camps may have items for sale, but if not you can swing by the Maasai Market in Nairobi once back in town. Keep an eye out for beaded jewellery and wall hangings, the plaid and striped traditional shuka blankets, and woven baskets and wall hangings.

STAY

Our advice is to choose a camp that has a few amenities (pool, common area, etc.) to keep you busy during the quiet afternoon time between safari. We loved the four star Mara Intrepids camp, run by the Kenya Heritage Hotels group. Tent accommodations were luxurious, we enjoyed the pool during the day, and the staff were fantastic. We have also stayed at Virgin’s Mahali Mzuri camp, which was stunning and a true glamping experience, though it will cost you a pretty penny!

Friends have also recommended Kicheche Mara North, Mara Plains and Porini Lion camp.

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Phuket

A tropical island in southwestern Thailand on the Andaman Sea, Phuket is prized for its clear beaches, jungle trekking and high-end resorts. It is well positioned as a gateway to smaller, surrounding islands, with ferries leaving daily to the Phi Phi Islands, Similians and James Bond Island.

Winter is the best time of year to visit to avoid monsoon season. The water is calmer and clearer between November to January.

If you want the freedom and mobility to explore the island on your own, scooter rentals are popular. We recommend only renting through your hotel, versus a local shop in town, to guarantee a fair price and to avoid thievery.

Tuk tuks are another popular way to get around. Be prepared to negotiate price up front and never accept the first offer.

EAT

Kata Beach One of the more popular beaches on the island, Kata is a great for restaurants and nightlife, and has a handful of spots right on the beach. It is more sophisticated than its seedier cousin, Patong Beach.

Mama Seafood Casual little restaurant serving up fresh seafood and overlooking sleepy Nai Harn beach.

DRINK

Kata Beach As mentioned above, Kata has a good nightlife scene and beach bars.

Nai Harn Reggae Bar Chill, laid-back spot with live music.

PLAY

Karon Beach One of the larger beaches on the island, it has a long strip of sand and is more commercialized than Kata Noi and Nai Harn.

Karon View Point South of Kata Noi beach, this view point has lovely vistas of the jungle, ocean and sunset.

Kata Noi Beach A smaller, quieter beach south of Karon.

Nai Harn Beach A quiet beach at the tip of the island that is a bit off the tourist track. Consistently ranked one of the prettiest beaches in Phuket.

Phuket Weekend Night Market The largest market on the island, it runs Friday through Sunday evenings.

Promthep Cape Watch the sunset and snap a few photos.

Walking Street Located in Phuket Town, this old Sino-Portuguese has interesting architecture and is a popular shopping area.

STAY

Most of the luxury resorts are on the northern part of the island. These are a good bet for relaxing away from the hustle and bustle. Angsana Laguna Phuket is well known for its long pool that snakes throughout the resort.

If you care less about staying in a five star resort, we recommend staying near Nai Harn beach. Check out the four star All Seasons, an Accor hotel.

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the sleepy gateway town to the Angkor “Temple City”, a complex of 9th to 15th century temples built during the Khmer Empire. Angkor is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the world famous Angkor Wat.

Apply for an e-Visa through the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in advance of travel.

Take the temples at your own pace over two to three days. Visit the temples first thing in the morning and spend the afternoons at the pool or exploring Siem Reap. Passes to Angkor Archaeological Park must be purchased on-site in cash, in either USD, Euro or Cambodian Riel. One, three and seven day passes can be purchased.

Tuk tuks are an easy way to get around Siem Reap and Angkor. Ask your hotel to help confirm a driver for the duration of your visit, or negotiate directly with a tuk tuk driver in town.

USD is near universally accepted across Cambodia, and most payments must be made in cash. Always, always negotiate! Cambodians haggle and initial prices quoted to tourists will be nearly double the actual value.

Cambodia experienced a brutal civil war in the 1960s-70s at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime. During the war two million Cambodians were killed by execution, starvation or disease, and millions more fled the country to resettle abroad. Before visiting, consider reading Loung Ung’s memoir, First They Killed My Father, to better understand what the country has been through and how far it has come today.

EAT

Haven Gorgeous little restaurant. Haven is a social enterprise that hires and trains disadvantaged youth and orphans as wait staff in the restaurant.

Marum Marum has a similar concept to Haven and is run by an NGO that works with street children. The restaurant features a handicrafts shop on site. Recommended by a friend.

Viva Mexican Restaurant Tasty Mexican and super cheap margaritas near Pub Street.

DRINK

Angkor What? Visit this infamous dive on Pub Street for $2 Singha beers, and then move along.

Asana Bar A cocktail bar housed within a traditional, Khmer-style wooden building. Recommended by a friend.

Miss Wong Old World, Shanghai-style cocktail bar. Recommended by a friend.

PLAY

Angkor Archaeological Park Do not miss temples include Ankor Wat (arrive before dawn to watch the sunrise), Ta Prohm (featured in Tomb Raider), Bayon and Banteay Srei (carved with pink stone, it is several miles north of the others and known as the lady temple).

Cambodian massage or reflexology Check out the local spas in Siem Reap as the services are very affordable!

Quad Adventure Cambodia A fun way to see the countryside and surrounding villages by ATV.

Siem Reap Night Market Haggle for your wares!

STAY

We recommend staying in the city center or within walking distance, as Siem Reap is quite small.

Finnish Lapland

The northern-most region of Finland, Lapland is home to Santa Claus, birch and pine forests, the polar night and midnight sun, aurora borealis and miles of stunning, Arctic wilderness.

Flights run direct between London and Ivalo airport during the winter months, and there are several flights a day between Ivalo and Helsinki. In winter an airport shuttle bus drops off and picks up passengers to and from the most popular resorts and hotels. Arrange this service directly through your resort.

Winter is magical in Lapland and the best time to see the northern lights, but temperatures regularly reach as low or lower than -35 degrees Celcius. While most hotels supply an outer layer and waterproof boots, do pack several base layers and hats, gloves and scarves.

Lapland is home to the Sami, the only indigenous people of Northern Europe. The National Museum of the Finnish Sami, located in Inari, is a tribute to the history and culture of the Sami people, and their Arctic home.


EAT

Be sure to try these traditional Finnish foods:

Blueberries, cloudberries and lingonberries Finnish forests are full of berries and free for the picking.

Munki This doughnut is sugary, pillowy goodness.

Reindeer Native to Finland, reindeer are semi-nomadic and forage through the Lapland forests for their food. Try this lean meat sautéed or in stew.


DRINK

Lapin Kulta A light, local lager popular on draft.

Lapin Panimo A craft beer microbrewery in Rovaniemi. Try the dark Aihki beer which goes down smooth but warms the fingers and toes.

Laplandia Aureus vodka Try the cloudberry flavor.

PLAY

Aurora hunt and camp on the Russian border An aurora hunt by van to and from the Russian border, with a stopover at a cozy campsite at the border. Wilderness Hotels can help book this trip through a partnership with Northern Lights Village.

Frozen Lake Husky An incredible, seven kilometer husky sled safari through the forest. Organize this half-day excursion directly through Wilderness Hotels. The dogs were friendly, gentle and well cared for.

Sauna A Finnish pastime. There is no greater way to warm up after a few hours outside!

Show-shoeing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, etc. Try it all! Book directly through your resort.


STAY

We stayed at Wilderness Hotel Muotka, about 30-45 minutes south of Ivalo airport, and loved it. The resort was remote and surrounded by taiga forests, the accommodations cozy (get a room with a sauna!), the food healthy and the staff excellent. We booked all excursions directly through the resort.

Wilderness Hotels and Safaris have three other sister resorts in Lapland.

Big Sur

The mystical California coastline between Santa Barbara and Carmel-by-the-Sea is a blend of dreamy mountains, jagged clliffs, stunning vistas and zero cell phone service. Connected by Route 1, this is the road-trip of a lifetime.

Big Sur is book-ended by Santa Barbara and Carmel-by-the-Sea, both worth stopovers on their own. Santa Barbara has incredible wine bars and Carmel-by-the Sea is an adorable storybook town.

EAT

Brass Bear Brewing and Bistro Craft beers at a casual eatery in downtown Santa Barbara.

Deetjens Restaurant

Nepenthe Enjoy dramatic views over lunch.

DRINK

Dawn’s Dream Winery Family-owned winery in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Area 5.1 Cool winery in Santa Barbara.

PLAY

Bixby Bridge The emblem of Big Sur.

Elephant Seal Vista Point Just outside San Simeon, park and get out at this view point to observe elephant seals sleeping on the beach.

Esalen Institute Hot Springs This healing center offers public bathing in its hot springs between 1am and 3am every night. Reservations must be made day-of, and are released each morning on their website at 9am.

Hearst Castle Located in San Simeon, book a tour or admire from afar.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Home to redwood trees and good for hiking.

Pismo Beach Spend a morning here and admire the beautiful, monarch butterflies.

Point Lobos State National Reserve Spend a morning or afternoon at this wild reserve.

McWay Falls An 80-foot-tall waterfall flowing year-round into the Pacific Ocean.

Solveng This Danish-style town is a delightful stop along the way from Santa Barbara to Pismo Beach. Visit any local pastry shop.

STAY

Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn Rustic, country-style inn and cabins. Recommended by a friend.

Ragged Point Inn Absolutely amazing views.

Treebones Restort Yurt-style glamping. Book way in advance. Recommended by a friend.

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