Big Five Tours & Expeditions is renowned for customized, luxury soft adventure travel to more than 45 destinations worldwide. Our mission is to turn dreams into reality. We offer customized luxury travel for individuals and small groups. Our journeys are tailor-made to satisfy the discriminating tastes of our guests to any of our exotic and exciting destinations.
After a day of exploring Cairo’s glorious past, spend an evening learning about Cairo’s active present. You have been on the move all day with your Egyptologist, discovering the epic monuments of a civilization that arose more than 5,000 years ago; from the breathtaking Pyramids of Giza and the great Sphinx, to King Zoser’s Step Pyramid at Sakkara.
But what about the people?
This evening, you get a look at Cairo the way Egyptians see it. Your host this evening is Farah Abouseif, who will pick you up in her car. This is a personal outing as if you were going out with a friend who lives in the city. The drive starts with Tahrir Square. You have the unique opportunity to talk politics, which is normally discouraged when traveling in foreign countries. But right now with Farah, it is permissible. Discuss the revolution, what happened, how it was and what it is like now.
Farah will also tell you what it is like for her, as an Egyptian female, and for other women in Egypt in general today. Travel through the downtown area to Zamalek, a nice district and home to Sequoia, a relaxing restaurant with comfortable couches and overstuffed chairs, low wooden tables, draped canopies and soft light. Savor fusion Mediterranean cuisine from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Morocco, Turkey, Greece and Italy in simple elegance, where conversations flow easily. You talk about your journey and experience, and compare Egypt to your home and to other countries that you may have visited. The topics vary depending on what interests you most.
Cairo is complex and not easy to understand. But this evening is all about giving you a personal look at the culture and the society of the city, and the way Egyptians see it as well as the history and the monuments, many of which are around underdeveloped areas. You meet Egyptians, who are relatively open-minded, exposed to Western education and culture. Conversations range far, from politics and economics, to entertainment and lifestyles.
This very special and personal evening can be added to any Egypt itinerary that includes Cairo.
What child, or adult for that matter, doesn’t like a puppet show?
Puppetry is one of the oldest art forms and thought to have originated some 4,000 years ago. Societies from ancient Egypt and Greece to the Middle East and India had their versions of puppet shows. Archaeologists have even discovered a terracotta doll capable of manipulation by a string that dates back to 2500 BCE, which suggests that puppets may have been used in the Indus Valley Civilization.
Puppetry in Indonesia goes back to about 800 CE. The term for puppetry, wayang, is derived from the Indonesian word for shadow, bayang. Wayang kulit, shadow puppetry, is a type of storytelling that originated on the Indonesian island of Java. It thrived at the royal courts of Java and Bali and in rural areas as a popular form of entertainment as well as to communicate ideas. It spread to other islands including Lombok, Madura, Sumatra and Borneo, each developing local variations. The puppets vary in size, shape and style. There are two main types of puppets: the three-dimensional wooden puppet (wayang klitik or golèk) and the flat leather shadow puppet (wayang kulit) projected in front of a screen lit from behind.
Shadow puppets present a singular form of narrative theater that makes use of light and shadows. The puppets are made of water buffalo hide and mounted on sticks, which can be made of water buffalo horn, wood or bamboo.
The puppet master, dalang, manipulates the puppets behind a large section of white cloth or screen with a bulb or an oil lamp used as a light source, capturing the shadows on the screen. In times past, puppeteers were regarded as literary experts who communicated moral and aesthetic lessons through puppetry. Wayang stories use characters from a variety of sources including indigenous myths, historic epics and heroes from Persian tales. Some of the plays also included local events or gossip. The repertory and performance techniques were transmitted orally within the families of puppeteers, musicians and puppet-makers.
Puppet shows remain popular in Indonesia, but have had to undergo some changes in style and subject matter to compete with today’s video and digital world.
Wayang puppet theater has been recognized by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
You can add a visit a puppet-making shop in Solo to see how this amazing art form is created on any exploration of extraordinary Indonesia.
As you meander the streets of a vintage city like old Cartagena, Colombia, take time to notice the details – plant-strewn balconies, antique cracked windowsills, the intricate doorways with sometimes massive doors and… the door knockers.
Yes, antique door knockers adorn the doors of many older period houses and mansions. Cartagena is known for door knockers, aldabas, which were used to indicate the status of the residents inside. The larger and more elaborate the aldaba usually signaled wealth and referenced status. Lizards, for example, were associated with a family’s royal Spanish heritage.
The use of these attention-getters is said to date back several thousand years to ancient Greece. Doors replaced hangings for improved safety and privacy. Spartans would simply yell to alert the homeowner of their presence. The more sophisticated Greeks such as the Athenians adopted for the use of a door knocker.
But not just a door knocker.
Upper-class Greeks had slaves whose sole purpose was to answer the door. In fact, the door-opener slaves were chained to a heavy ring attached to the door in order to greet guests. If the slave fell asleep, the visitor rapped on the door with a short bar of iron attached to a chain. Evidently, some people took to using the bar as a weapon to attack the householder so property owners turned to new technology.
The knocker evolved into a heavy ring fastened to the door by a plate to serve as both knocker and handle. Early designs were based on statues that stood in front of old Greek houses. These statues were created with distorted, grotesque features, and were thought to be useful to banish malevolent spirits and witches. Churches were the exception as they had no such statues outside. They had a holly water stoup by the entrance of the church’s main door that they thought was enough to deter malignant spirits.
Good luck door knockers were used to insure good fortune to the dwelling, and were said to have magical or healing properties. These door knockers were crafted using a motif of good luck charms including horseshoes, stars, suns, angels and flowers. Many intricate door knockers are in the shapes of human heads or mythical beasts.
One popular shape is a hand. This is often seen in Muslim countries, and is thought to symbolize the Hand of Fatima protecting the house from evil as well as showing that the occupants of that house followed the Muslim faith. It was also assumed that there were different knockers, one male and one female, to avoid women opening the door to a man. Each knocker made a different sound, so the woman would know when to open the door.
Elaborate or plain, door knockers around the world have been used to symbolize hospitality and good luck as well as to serve as a warning or to ward off bad spirits. So be sure to keep an eye out for these striking door adornments in the old town sections of Cartagena and Quito as well as in colonial towns such as Colta and Ingapirca in our newest President’s Pick: Ecuador & Colombia Exploration.
First, a note: Since the beginning of this blog, no other issue that we have explored here has more closely aligned with one of our tours than does this one. At the risk of seeming self-serving, it is important to understand that even before we knew about TOFTigers, we developed our Precious Journeys® India: Saving Tigers precisely for this reason.
Now, on to the blog.
Saving Tigers In India Tour
Tyger, tyger burning bright… She is absolutely gorgeous as she steps noiselessly out of the brush and onto the trail. The largest member of the cat family, the Bengal tiger walks casually past disappearing into the jungle as silently as she appeared.
An encounter like this is something most us will sadly never experience. She is one of a shrinking global population of tigers in the wild, estimated to be around 3,890, according to the World Wildlife Fund. This is down some 97%, from around 100,000 at the start of the 20th century.
These graceful creatures once ranged widely across eastern Eurasia. They could be found from the Black Sea, to the Indian Ocean, and from Kolyma to Sumatra. Over the last century, tigers have lost a massive 93% of their historic range. Today, they are limited to 13 countries in Asia and the Orient, including India Bhutan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Russia.
Major reasons for the population decline include habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation and poaching. The extent of area occupied by tigers is estimated to have declined a whopping 41% just since the mid-1990s.
These territorial animals are apex predators, preying mostly on ungulates such as deer and bovids. Tigers are solitary but still social animals, and need large areas of habitat to support their prey requirements. But they are indigenous to some of the more densely populated places on earth, which has, of course, lead to significant conflicts with humans.
Big Five has joined with the nonprofit organization TOFTigers in its global campaign to support wildlife conservation on the Indian subcontinent through better planned and more sustainable tourism practices. TOFTigers seeks to plan and promote the best practices of nature tourism both inside and outside protected areas.
“We decided this platform was needed, because so far the only response has been to ban all forms of nature tourism in India,” says Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five. “A ban is not the answer. We believe our partnership with TOFTigers is the right avenue to do our part in preserving what is left of the endangered species in India.”
Experience and research show that responsible wildlife and nature tourism can provide an invaluable platform to support and sustain parks, wildlife conservancies, buffer zones and local communities. It can also play an important role in poverty eradication through education and employment. It is critical that local communities become stakeholders, rather than conservation victims, in the battle to save India’s forests and wildlife. Join us on TOFTigers.
We just completed one of our most compelling national rituals – the annual battle between worthy challengers which millions of us wait impatiently for throughout the season. This super rite of passage comes with a tiny promise tucked inside that spring may not be far away (well, maybe not this year).
We thought we’d take a look at a Superbowl of a different kind – the Superbowl of nature’s super bowls, if you will – craters!
Formed by the very forces of the nature, these massive depressions come in a smashing variety of shapes. Impact craters form when meteorites or asteroids strike the earth. Calderas are the remnants of volcanic activity, usually the result of very large explosions that open up the magma chambers below the volcanos allowing them to empty and collapse. Shield volcanoes are created from fluid lava flows that spill over in all directions from a central summit vent or vents that build a broad, gently sloping flat, domical-shaped cone.
The Earth Impact Database by the Planetary and Space Science Centre at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, lists the number of confirmed impact craters around the world at just 190. Not as many as you might expect. But a source has noted that there are about 1,500 volcanoes (not all have craters) that have been active over the past 10,000 years, with some 600 active during the current period through recorded history. About 50 to 60 active volcanoes erupt at least once a year. There is some evidence, however, that suggests that millions of volcanoes may have existed dating back to the origins of earth.
In Africa, Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is, of course, the reigning star with the highest point on the continent at 5,895 meters/19,341 feet. But its remnant caldera does not match that of Kenya’s Empakai Crater, 3,200 meters/10,500 feet, for sheer good looks. This is one of the most beautiful craters in Ngorongoro Conservation Area and measures about eight kilometers/five miles in diameter. From the rim, you enjoy fantastic views into the craters’ lush green floor, a large portion of which is covered with a lake with a wall rising 300 meters/984 feet.
Because of the altitude, the area is often shrouded in mist that when mixed with the green lake creates an almost enchanted atmosphere. The views from the trail into the crater are spectacular, and on the way, you may encounter buffaloes, bushbucks, blue monkeys and birds such as sunbirds and turacos. You may also find waterbucks and elands when you reach the lakeshore. From the northern and eastern side, you can see the dramatic cone of the still active volcano, Oldoinyo Lengai. On clear days, you can see even further to the Great Rift Valley and Lake Natron. If you love hiking, think about including this remarkable environment as you plan your Kenya safari adventure.
New Zealand’s has its share of craters in the Taupo Volcanic Zone on the southern end of the North Island. Mount Ruapehu, also simply called Ruapehu, is an active stratovolcano at the southern end of this volcanic zone. Its most recent major eruptions were between 1995 and 1996 with more activity in 2007. It is within Tongariro National Park on the North Island a short distance Lake Taupo.
The largest active volcano in New Zealand, Ruapehu has the highest point on the island and encompasses three major peaks: the highest is Tahurangi, at 2,797 meters/9,177 feet, followed closely by Te Heuheu and Paretetaitonga. The deep, active crater is between the peaks and the crater’s lake sits on top of the vent, making it subject to change as the activity of the volcano changes. Activities on the mountain range from skiing to ice climbing to hiking. Consider including this active volcano as part of an outstanding New Zealand journey.
Colombia’s Purace Volcano is a 4,750 meter/15,543 feet dormant volcano situated in the Purace National Park. In the southwestern region of Colombia, it faces the Pacific Ocean to the west. Most of the park is over 3,000 meters/9,843 feet high. Two of the highest peaks are Purace and the Pan de Azúcar, both well over 4,500 meters/14,764 feet. Both mountains offer easy hiking opportunities. To reach the summit of the Purace Volcano, one of Colombia’s most beautiful, you need only your trekking gear and water-proof clothing. You enjoy spectacular views of Popayan’s valley and other Coconuco Range volcanoes from the summit on clear days. Purace’s crater is 500 meters/1,640 feet wide. The park also contains the sources of four of Colombia’s greatest rivers: Magdalena, Cauca, Caqueta and Patia. You can incorporate a volcano hike into this lush environment on our 19-day Volcanoes of Latin America.
Don’t wait for next season or next year to set out to find your own Superbowl challenge… The rewards are worth far more than a trophy.
Seems a little unlikely, I know, but necessary. Last year, we launched galapagos.com, a site dedicated to making sustainable travel in Latin America more easily understood and applied, and it includes rankings for individual countries.
Galapagos.comwill soon be joined by a partner site that will serve the same purpose for Africa, including our rankings of individual countries. Why, you ask.
Africa is unique in all the world. The second most-populous continent covers six percent of Earth’s total surface, and is home to 16% of the world’s human population that includes a variety of distinctive cultures. It also encompasses the world’s largest combination of density and free-ranging wild animal populations. That makes its conservation, preservation and environmental issues completely different from anywhere else on earth, and they must be confronted with unique approaches and solutions.
Even though the concepts around conservation have been talked about in Africa for years, the necessary actions have not always been as forthcoming. With so many different narratives out there, how do you plan an authentic African journey if you care about sustainable travel?
Add to that, the way we travel in Africa has completely changed from previous generations. Once there was a hierarchy of sorts for safari travel. First timers usually traveled to Kenya and Tanzania, while seasoned Africa hands ventured into countries such as Botswana and Namibia.
Not so today. First time travelers are just as likely to go gorilla trekking in Uganda or to meet the Bushmen of South Africa. That makes it more important than ever that we offer you an easy, understandable approach to sustainable travel in Africa.
So…. Keep your eye out for the new (oops, I almost spoiled the surprise), coming soon.
What if we asked Big Five’s CEO and CFO (aka Ashish’s parents, aka The Founders) if we could change our name to Big Six Tours? After all, we are often asked why we still call ourselves Big Five since we do so much more than just Africa.
It will come as no surprise that they responded with a resounding “no.” Especially, they pointed out, since the company has been doing just fine for 45 years as Big Five Tours & Expeditions.
Okay. We get it – some things just shouldn’t change. But where you want to travel is not one of them. It is our job to make sure we keep track of the changing expectations of our travelers, and alert them to upcoming trends in travel.
So what destinations are trending with our travelers? We see six standouts that they are intrigued with – Nicaragua, Northern Peru, Uganda,Ethiopia, Chile and Colombia. Each of these countries offers our senses new opportunities to experience the world in all its radiant uniqueness.
But why these destinations? Look beyond. Our guests are adopting our attitude of “What box?” They do not want to be prodded into the predictable. They want to stretch their boundaries, and try something new. In Nicaragua, they can climb the youngest and one of the most active volcanos in Central America and swoop down its slopes on an ash board; and spend time at Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge on a hidden bay where snorkeling, diving, sailing and whale watching happen year round.
In Peru, they look north beyond fabled Machu Picchu to ancient Peru and the Tombs of Revash high in the hills of a cloud forest on the edge of a limestone cliff. And they engage with untouched communities as well as enjoying exclusive activities such as the behind-the-scenes access at Leymebamba Museum in laboratories where bio-archaeologists are preserving and cataloging the Laguna de los Cóndores artifacts.
Uganda, of course, is home to the legendary mountain gorilla. Only a handful of people on this planet will ever see this magnificent and intelligent animal in its natural environment. Those who do report that the sometimes-arduous trek to spend just a moment in the company of a family of gorillas is a unique and, in some instances, life-changing experience.
Ethiopia beckons the adventure traveler, and is only now beginning to take its place again on the international scene with places such as Axum, renowned for its cathedral of St. Mary Zion, where legend has it, the original Ark of Covenant is housed; several standing monolithic stelae; and the ruins of Queen of Sheba’s palace.
Beyond the great Atacama Desert, Chile presents an array of other options well off the tourist beat such as the fascinating region in Northern Chile with its isolated villages set amid striking mountain landscapes; horseback expeditions to the roof of the Andes; ancient petroglyphs, some dating back 4,000 years, make this an intriguing exploration; and the caves of Pichasca, a ceremonial site reported to have some of the oldest traces of human settlement in this region.
We have been fans of Colombia for some time now. This year, it promises to be even more exciting as we delve deeper into this small but dynamic nation to discover places such as San Juan of Pasto, called the “Surprise City of Colombia.” Known in Colombia for its impressive religious architecture and for Pasto’s Carnival, with traditional parades commemorating the arrival of the Castañeda family, a colorful cast of characters who arrived in 1929. Although their destination was unknown, the family is portrayed as outlandish characters who travel with all their luggage and kitchen utensils to prepare food anywhere along the way. In the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tierradentro Archaeological Park, travelers enter an incredible subterranean world of galleries and tombs that are called “hypogeum.”
We may not change our name, but our urge to change, explore and learn continues to evolve. And those who are lucky to be endowed with that ‘gypsy spirit’ will always look to the next horizon and the one after.
Apparently, the Whitsunday Islands, a collection of continental islands off the central coast of Queensland, Australia, should have been named the WhitMondays.
In 1770, English explorer Captain James Cook sailed through a passage he named “Whitsunday’s Passage”, which he did in honor of Whit Sunday, a Pentecost holy day in the Christian tradition. Based on his journal date, Cook believed that the passage was discovered on Sunday of the feast of Whitsun. As the International Date Line had not yet been established, the day of discovery was, it turned out, actually Whit Monday.
Regardless of the day, Cook sailed his ship, the H.M. Endeavour, into one of the most beautiful tropical paradises in Australia. Cook wrote: “The whole passage is one Continued safe Harbour, besides a Number of small Bays and Coves on each side.” He noted that the land “looked green and pleasant.”
Some 560 miles north of Brisbane, this group of 74 islands sheltered behind the Great Barrier Reef were originally inhabited by the Ngaro people and the Gia people (from the Birri Gubba language group). The Ngaro are among the earliest recorded groups in Australia. Often called the ‘Island People,’ their territory expanded north – south along the island chain. They also inhabited the coast of the adjacent mainland. In their occupation as maritime hunters and gatherers, the Ngaro became well known as skilled navigators.
During the mid-1800s, the Whitsunday Group first attracted the attention of the pioneers on the mainland coast, and soon grazing leases were granted. It was not until the 1920s that some began to see the islands as a place to attract visitors. Early ‘dreamers’ built galvanized iron huts for guests. Cruise ship passengers rowed ashore for tropical fruits, tea and scones. The first day trippers from the mainland arrived on the island aboard the weekly mail boat.
Today, the most notable islands in the main Whitsunday group are Dent, Hamilton, Hayman, Hook and Whitsunday. This playground offers a vast menu of opportunities for adventure and exploration as well as relaxation. You are free to explore the islands, their history and historic settlements as well as a staggering marine ecosystem.
Time is a subtle thief. Even, when we love something, time often slips in the door, and before we realize it, the deadline is here…. or worse, passed. That is especially painful when the thing we’ve missed is something we love to do, like vacations.
New places and people, exciting things to do and new sights to see. Why then do we habitually put off making decisions about our next adventure? We are busy, period.
Nearly a half century since computers began to infiltrate our lives, and, in spite of stunning technological advances, we are busier and more harassed than ever. Work is decidedly more efficient, but we remain overwhelmed. Time is the new luxury.
What’s the remedy?
Find the experts who can take over the things you simply do not have the time to do. We can help.
Since the holidays, we created a complete Chile adventure on 24-hour notice; set up a Colombia tour for a client that included a myriad of details including reassigning guides in just 48 hours; set up a safari in Tanzania for clients that decided to go just two weeks prior while on a holiday break; and managed to snag the last state room for a journey on the Irrawaddy River along with some of the last rooms in the city hotels with three weeks notice, and assign one of our top guides in Myammar.
Pulling off the nearly impossible in record time is what we do so well so often. If time has snuck up on you that doesn’t mean it is too late. Check out the Top Five Destinations we are helping procrastinators travel to today. Then call us… tomorrow.
It’s ok. You can admit it if you are a procrastinator.
With the launch of the newest in the Star Wars chronicles – The Last Jedi – just around the corner, we thought it only fitting to acknowledge the first aircraft to truly open up the skies to the future… the biplane.
In the early 1900s, the idea of the biplane must have seemed as outlandish to the people then as the concept of an X Wing starfighter seems to us today.
The Wright brothers designed and constructed the Wright Flyer, (also called Flyer I or 1903 Flyer), with two main wings stacked one above the other. This became the first successful heavier-than-air, powered aircraft.
The biplane configuration was first developed from the box kite, invented by the Australian Lawrence Hargrave in the late 1880s. By 1896, Octave Chanute, a French-American aviation pioneer who later advised the Wright brothers, was flying biplane hang gliders.
By the start of the First World War, biplanes were preferred over monoplanes because of the monoplane’s structural failure issues. From 1914 to 1925, most new aircraft were biplanes. But by the 1930s, better structural techniques, superior materials and the pursuit of greater speed made the biplane obsolete.
Yet, biplanes remain a crowd favorite today at airshows across the globe. Indeed, modern biplane designs still exist in specialist niche roles such as the aerobatic stunt planes seen at airshows and in competitions, and for agricultural purposes.
If you have been lucky enough to fly in one of these heroic planes, you know the feeling of soaring in an open cockpit with the wind in your face and the ground rushing past, seemingly close enough to touch at times. It is a personal and even intimate experience; indeed, the antithesis of the enclosed, crowded cabin of a modern aircraft with its recirculated air.
Now, imagine flying in a biplane above the African wilderness! Yes, the biplane has returned to Kenya. You can soar in one of the only two open-cockpit WACO biplanes in all East Africa.
With a helmet and goggles, you can revel in fantasies of Out of Africa or create your own! You can capture this thrilling experience above the landscapes of Lewa Wilderness in northern Kenya. Savor a classic aerial safari on one of our Kenya adventures such as Kenya Highlands or Classic Kenya Flying Safari.