Yes, it's 2019.
As a business, we are (hopefully) about to embark on our busiest time of the year, which really runs from early January until at least mid-April as Spring Break, Summer trips and those early to Christmas 2019 planning book their various travels. Regular readers will know that we travel a lot ourselves, attempting to inspire others to stretch their boundaries, both literally and figuratively. This year will be no different, though we have adapted our personal travel plans for 2019 to align closer with our busy and quieter periods. This means the first half of the year will only feature shorter weekend break type trips, whilst from June onwards our more serious and longer explorations will occur, culminating in what will be around 4 weeks in Africa in November. Oh my are we excited for that!
This week, a lot of new brochures landed in our mailbox, and I was particularly struck by an A&K Around the World Safari offering, mainly because the photos are gorgeous. I usually like to emphasise the connection it is possible to make with locals on our travels, engaging in conversation and some serious eating, but I honestly believe that this is also possible with animals. My encounter with an elephant back in 2009 in Chiang Mai, Thailand remains one of my most cherished memories and affected me deeply in ways I could not have imagined.
Here are 5 amazing species you can connect with in their natural habitat around the world.
*All photos this week are courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent.
1. Snow Monkeys - Japan
Joshinetstu Kogen National Park in Nagano, Japan is home to the Japanese macaque or snow monkey. Declared a conservation area for these primates in 1964, the park allows them to have a refuge within their natural habitat. Best time to visit? Winter, as this is when the snow monkeys really enjoy their hot springs spa sessions (above). You can even take a dip just a few feet from them.
2. Lemurs - Madagascar (above)
If you head to Andringita Protected Reserve in the SE of Madagascar, which is one of 24 such areas on this large island, you can encounter up to 13 of the country's 60 "types" of lemur. These animals are unique to the island and display a range of interesting behaviors from singing like a whale (the indri) to pirouetting across the sand like a ballet dancer (the sifaka). I think number one on my list to see would be the Hairy-Eared Dwarf Mouse-Lemur.
3. Gorillas - Uganda/Rwanda
Both Uganda and Rwanda have incredibly strict conservation guidelines today with regards to gorilla trekking, and it is therefore strictly monitored and very limited in the numbers allowed to partake. On my bucket list is the Rwanda version where the 600 remaining mountain gorillas (above) of the Parc Nationale des Volcanes can be discovered. They are on the edge of extinction, but it gives some comfort and reassurance to know that if you do book an official trek, your presence is contributing in no small way to their continued survival.
4. Giant Panda - China
It would be a minor miracle to encounter a Giant Panda in the wild, so this isn't exactly a natural habitat encounter, but the Giant Panda Breeding Center in Chengdu, China has a remarkable conservation program running here. The pandas have a huge, lifelike natural habitat and there are programs open to the public that allow you to become an assistant keeper for the day, working with an expert to help feed these amazing creatures and observing them without barriers.
5. Whale Sharks - tropical waters all over the world
As the largest species of fish on the planet at up to 40ft in length, the whale shark is on the must-see list of most scuba divers, though it can remain elusive. Australia, Maldives, Belize, Philippines, Galapagos Islands and Mexico are all possible destinations to swim with them though you may have to pick the right month. Ningaloo Reef, close to Exmouth in Western Australia is perhaps the most popular site on earth for close up encounters (above) with peak time in May.
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