Elephants in the Masai Mara National Park in Kenya.

The Ultimate African Safari Packing List

Wondering what to pack for African safari? It can be a daunting task if you don’t even know where to start. Don’t dither – we’re here to help you out with our ultimate African safari packing list and in-depth guide. 

Most of the times it’ll be hot, so think about lightweight and breathable clothing, and excellent sun protection. African landscapes are also dusty, which is why people prefer neutral colors. You know, dust wears better in neutral colors than vibrant tones.

Also, the classic bush colors, like the khaki and military green help you to blend in the environment while on a walking safari, sitting in a game drive vehicle, or other activities outside the car. Then again, temperatures can drop at night, so a good sweater or a jacket is essential to keep you warm.

The most critical rule-of-thumb is: keep it simple and light! Otherwise, you’ll have problems with the micro aircraft to remote destinations where they have strict weight limits for luggage. And if you lack something of importance, you can probably buy it when you’re in Africa. Just do your shopping when you’re in the bigger cities, and you’re going to be well equipped.

Now, everybody knows that the devil is in the details, so let’s get into it!

*This post contains affiliate links. If you use them, there won’t be any additional costs for you, but we may receive a small commission, which helps us keep up this blog. 

Views into the great African plains, near Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge in Kenya.

Best Safari Clothing

Practicality and comfort should come first when you are packing your safari wear. Fashionable and colorful prints aren’t going to impress anyone, but being neutral will help you get closer to the animals.

Think about these principles when you’re packing for your safari outfit:

• Comfortable clothes for long journeys on safari vehicles
• Lightweight, breathable fabrics and neutral colors
• Long sleeves (for arms and legs) to prevent sunburn and protect the skin from insects
• Something warm for the evenings and early mornings

What exact clothes to pack will vary depending on your destinations and the time of year you are traveling. But what is consistent across most of Africa, is the intensity of the sun. One of the most essential pieces of garment to fight the scorching sun is an excellent safari hat!

If you’re traveling on the rainy season, consider taking a right, lightweight rain gear. The rains during this season are generally of the thunderous kind, pouring down torrentially for an hour or two before the skies will clear again. However, if you’re in the open ground, these moments can leave you thoroughly drenched, if you’re not prepared – and sometimes even if you are. But a great Gore-Tex jacket like this will save you from the worst. 

And when you go on the early morning game drives before the sun rises, it will be a bit chilly – just as it may be in the evenings. Be prepared with a piece of warmer clothing, too, like a warm jacket or a fleece.

A pack of hippos in Masai Mara, Kenya.

Why Neutral Colors Are Recommended for an African Safari Clothing

You may immediately think of the “classic” safari tourist look; someone dressed from head to toe in matching khaki safari outfit, like straight out of a movie. You can do that, too, but just remember that is isn’t a fashion show and whatever you wear, think practicality first.

There are three good reasons for the monotone colors. On game drives, the animals don’t see you, they see the safari vehicle. The 4x4s are usually a dull green or soft khaki, which helps them seem less threatening. So, it doesn’t matter so much what you are wearing, but it’s always better if you can blend in with the car. Also, it isn’t advisable to wear bright, flashy colors even on game drives, especially not blue.

But when you are going on a walking safari or a horse riding safari, it’s a whole another story. Then you will be entering the wild animals’ kingdom, and when you’re on foot or on horseback, they will see you. Bright colors will stand out, and that alerts animals to your presence and can potentially be even dangerous, especially when encountering the larger animals. This is why you should always wear neutral colors on these occasions and blend into the landscape. It’s safer and being discreet is going to help you get closer to the animals.

Most safari landscapes are also very dusty, especially in the long dry season and you can’t avoid getting the dust everywhere, and dust wears better on neutral colors.

A black rhino in the Masai Mara Conservation Area, Mara Triangle, Kenya.

What Do You Wear on the Evenings?

Basically, anything you’d like and anything you have brought in your lightweight luggage. Evenings are enchanting times, as you’ll probably have dinner outside on a deck or a balcony while listening to the sounds of the wildlife and watching the fantastic blanket of stars above.

Even on the most luxurious lodges, there are not any policies on what to wear. You are still on a safari, remember. After the days’ activities and dusty game drive, you will want to have a shower and change clean clothes for the evening, though.

You can wear a bit more relaxed or even a bit fancier clothes if you want to, but don’t overdo it – this is the wilderness, not the Ritz. Pack for comfort and remember that in the evenings the temperatures will drop significantly and it’s the prime time for the mosquitoes, too.

What to Wear at the Beaches in Africa?

Swimsuits are generally okay and acceptable on the beaches, but nudity is not. Also, it’s not usually ok to walk around villages and beachside towns in swimwear, especially in Zanzibar and along the Kenyan coast. However, sarongs are fashionable, and you can pick one up from almost anywhere around the coastal areas. There is a beautiful selection of bright colors and patterns available.

A paradise beach in Zanzibar Island, Tanzania

Best Safari Shoes

Comfortable, closed footwear is the one to take with you. Aim for the most comfortable, yet a lightweight shoe for here, too. Sneakers, runners, gym shoes, etc. are all adequate for game drives, if that is all you are doing.

If you’re also doing a walking safari, then a bit stronger footwear is recommended, and then we’re talking about the bulkier hiking boots. The terrain is unforgiving and harsh, filled with rocks, spikes, roots and everything in between. Also, many tiny insects are buzzing around the ankle level, and you can get bitten if much skin is exposed.

However, if walking is not a primary part of your itinerary, you can entirely get by with lighter, yet sturdy and comfortable boots. But if you’re doing a lot of walking, be prepared with the sturdy, but heavier hiking boots.

We have been on several safaris and what we usually bring is our trusted and brilliant HAIX Black Eagle Athletic mid 10 Desert boots – they have it all: waterproof Gore-Tex, lightweight, the most comfortable ever (on long day’s hikes, too!), heavy-duty made by military standards. These shoes are very hard to beat as superb travel shoes!

 

Best Safari Travel Bags

The best bags to take are backpacks, not those bulky and big, hardshell luggage. Those hardshell travel cases take too much space, and you may not even be allowed to take them to the smaller bush aircraft where space is insufficient.

We have always used our 65L backpacks, and when packed moderately to keep it as lightweight as possible, we have been fine.

As a general backpack for a daypack, the best one I’ve used so far is the 22L Hazard4 Second Front Backpack (as Coyote Brown, though). It has a great, separate hydration/laptop back-pocket (fits even most 17” laptops), unbeatable expansion options with MOLLE webbings all around the pack and its usability is top-notch. The Coyote Brown color is also perfect for the dusty African landscapes because the dust won’t ever show on it!

Made out of the extra tough, 1000D Cordura fabric, it’ll take more beating than you can imagine and still come out just fine. The material is also pretty water resistant, but I always recommend a separate rain cover. Military grade quality will guarantee that this pack will hold on with your every adventure!

Zebras in the Masai Mara National Park in Kenya.

What Gadgets and Electronic Devices to Pack on an African Safari?

Take the necessities you will need. Remember to pack the chargers of your laptop, camera, eReader, tablet and take the adapter, as the electric socket is probably different from the ones in your country.

*A reading tip: If you have your eReader with you, my top recommendation for you to read would be “The Obstacle Is The Way” by Ryan Holiday!

Apparently, the camera is the most important for a lot of us on an African safari. What kind of camera to take, what lenses, etc. depends on how serious a photographer you are.

If you are like me, who takes her photography to professional levels, you will at least pack your camera body/bodies, one prime lens, one zoom lens, and one telephoto lens. Good tripod, spare batteries, several memory cards, and external hard drive are also must-items to accompany your laptop with your favorite photo editing software (like Lightroom and Photoshop).

A good photography backpack that fits you perfectly is also essential and I’ve recently found that my new Shimoda Explore 40 photography backpack is just superb! It’s the best photography backpack I’ve ever owned and I expect to carry it with me for many years to come on every adventure ahead.

I just made my change from the DSLR to the mirrorless system and bought my first ever Sony camera body!

In my photography backpack, there is now a Sony A7RIII and a Metabones V adapter, because I still have these Canon lenses: EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM, EF 50mm f/1.8 STM. With this set, I can get a vast variety of shots, though if I could change something, I would take more lens reach, preferably up to the 600mm (I’m working on that).

For audio recording, I have the Zoom H2n recorder, and for my camera I have a lightweight Rode VMGO video mic. A GoPro is something you won’t necessarily need on an African safari, but I’ve used it, for example, to record some time lapses of the fantastic African starry skies and sunsets/sunrises. We have the Hero4 Silver model which is great with the rear display.

Always a good idea to pack on an African safari is some spare AA and AAA batteries, as these may not be readily available, especially when you are out in the bush.

Don’t Forget Your Headlamp or Flashlight – Your African Safari Savior

And the last, but certainly not the least, is a small flashlight or a headlamp! Believe me, you will need it during the pretty regular power cuts that are common in Africa. Some smaller lodges and bush camps also may not have a generator running all night for power so the electricity may not work for certain times of the day. For example, the power may be cut at 10 pm in the evening and then resume at 6 am. With your own, reliable light source you won’t be left in the dark.

We have relied upon the Maglite PRO+ Mini flashlight and the Black Diamond Storm headlamp. Both are absolutely amazing and will give you enough light to do practically anything.

The legendary African sunset in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.

Toiletries and First Aid Kits to Add to Your African Safari Packing List

Every lodge and camp will have at least a basic First Aid kit on hand, but it’s still a good idea to have your own, small supply of the most needed health and hygiene essentials.

Make sure to include at least the following in your own First Aid Kit:

• Antiseptic gel and/or cream
• Antibiotics
• Antihistamines (for bug bites and allergic reactions)
• Painkillers (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.)
• Band-aids
• Diarrhea medication
• Cold and flu medication (just in case)
• Any prescription medicines you take
• Small scissors
• Antiseptic wipes
• Safety pins
• Coal tablets (if you have them)

Then do not forget mosquito repellant (the most effective ones have at least 30% of DEET), sunscreen (preferable SPF 50+), and malaria pills (if needed).

What you’d like to take as your personal toiletries, is a matter of choice. A travel-sized shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, moisturizers, toothbrush, toothpaste, and some sanitary products (for us ladies) are some of what you will want to take.

Pack For a Purpose

Nowadays many lodges and safari camps support their local community initiatives in and around the National Parks, reserves, and conservation areas. And if you’d want to make a positive difference during your time in Africa, you can check out if you can bring any supplies that will help these local projects. Most of the times they are, for example, medications, clothing, school supplies, etc.

Check out Pack For Purpose for lists of specific projects and requests from lodges and safari companies around Africa, and you can check out the best packing suggestions for the items, too.

If you think that we missed something critical on this ultimate safari packing list, then just tell us in the comments, and we can make some add-ons if needed!

And if you’d want, here you can check out a more item specific post about what gear and gadgets we’ve been packing on our African safaris.

But there you have it, the ultimate African safari packing list!

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Wondering what to pack for a safari? Check out our ultimate African safari packing list and get excited about your adventure! #safari #packinglist #Africa


Sudan, the last male northern white rhino in the world in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in February 2016.

Farewell, Dear Sudan, the Last Male Northern White Rhino! We Won't Forget You.

Sudan was an icon for the conservation world, and he also had a huge, positive impact on the conservation efforts for many other species than just rhinos. And because he holds a special place in my heart, I felt the need to write something for his memory right away when I read the sad news yesterday. 

When I woke up yesterday morning and opened my social media, I saw a message that I wouldn’t have wanted to see.

I saw an update by the Ol Pejeta Conservancy telling that Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino in the world, had passed away on the 19th of March, 2018, and I felt a tear escape from the corner of my eye.

Sudan and one of his six caretakers, James, in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in February 2016.

Why This One Rhino Was So Important?

Sudan was the last male of his species walking on this Earth and with him died a bit more hope of the survival of the northern white rhino. His passing is also a grim reminder of the unsustainable actions of the humankind – about how we are affecting our environment. Human is the cause of the sixth mass extinction which is going on as we speak and the time to stop it is running short.

All is not lost yet, though, even for the northern white rhino. Sudan’s daughter, Najin, and her daughter Fatu are now the only two left alive, and they remain at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

However, the only hope for the preservation of this subspecies now lies in developing in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques using eggs from the two remaining females, Najin and Fatu, stored northern white rhino semen from males and surrogate southern white rhino females. We genuinely hope that the scientists will succeed in this project and we won’t lose yet another great species to extinction.

Najin and Fatu, the last female northern white rhinos in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Sudan was also important for my spouse and me personally because we met him in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in February 2016. On the same visit, we also had the rare privilege to meet the little Ringo the Rhino, who already passed away in July 2016 due to an illness. Saying that they both had a massive impact on us, feels like an understatement.

When we met Sudan and Ringo, we realized how gravely sad it is that so many species are under severe threats because of the irresponsible actions of humans. We also realized how much we wanted to help somehow and contribute to the wildlife conservation.

Conservation has always been close to my heart, and I’m very passionate about it, but after meeting Sudan and Ringo, it felt like I had finally found my true calling. I’m still searching for the ways to best make my contribution to this vital cause, but I’m sure that I will find my way. I always do.

Sudan had a positive influence on hundreds of thousands of people, and I’m sure that anyone who met him will not forget that encounter.

Me with Sudan in February 2016 in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino in the world in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in February 2016.

Meeting Sudan in February 2016

I’ll always remember how I felt when we stepped into Sudan’s enclosure in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. I remember how I felt huge respect, slight fear, and keen interest all the same time towards this beautiful and magnificent animal which was standing right there, just a few meters from us.

Despite his limitless power and robust presence, he was very calm, and a tranquil atmosphere surrounded him. One of Sudan’s six caretakers, James, was with us and he told us that we could approach him from his right side, which was his better-seeing eye’s side.

I will never forget how it felt to be so near to such a big animal and I was even petting Sudan while he was calmly eating his dinner! It was one of those moments I will remember for the rest of my life and a moment that I still cannot adequately describe with words.

Today, I feel so privileged that I had the chance to meet distinctive Sudan when he was in good health. He indeed was the charming bachelor all the articles about him always told.

I also feel despondent because I know how significant a loss to the world his passing really is. But he was the best global ambassador for wildlife conservation that we could’ve hoped for and certainly he won’t ever be forgotten!

With his legacy of how much he raised the global awareness of the conservation issues, he will continue to positively impact this cause even after his death.

A Tribute to Sudan

May your spirit carry on, like the wind that shakes the trees.

Remembering Sudan the Last Male Northern White Rhino

As sad as his death is, we also must remember that Sudan was already 45 years old, and he had severe age-related complications in his last weeks, so his passing didn’t come as a total surprise to the world. Of course, we all hoped that he would still recover. But even though he lost the battle to the illness, he was a fighter until the end!

And when his health deteriorated quickly in his last 24 hours, his caretakers in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya made the only right decision; to let him go.

No animal should never suffer unnecessarily, and we as humans are responsible for that. We have the responsibility of the animals, wild and domestic, until the end. We owe them that they can leave this world with dignity when their time has come.

People all over the world are mourning of Sudan’s death, but we as humans are responsible for that all he was, and all he represented will be remembered and that his legacy will not be forgotten.

Sudan raised global awareness of the plight of so many species under severe threats and awakened many people to take action towards a better future. That indeed is something to remember!

We certainly won’t forget him, as he held and will always hold an extraordinary place in our hearts, just like little Ringo the rhino does. And we hope that you won’t forget him, either. Thank you for reading this and thank you for sparing a thought for majestic Sudan.

Please, read more about Sudan and his legacy at Ol Pejeta Conservancy. 

And if you’d like to help, on the Ol Pejeta’s website you can donate to support the IVF research that will help to ensure that one day in the future, northern white rhinos will once again roam freely in their natural habitat.

Now, it’s time to say goodbye to one of the greatest rhino ambassadors of all time. You were one of a kind. Thank you for everything. 

Rest in peace, Sudan, our friend. ♥ 

#RememberingSudan

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Sudan was an icon for the conservation world, and he also had a huge, positive impact on the conservation efforts for many species than just the rhinos.


Hittavainen the bear looks into the camera. Kuusamo, Finland.

A Night of Bear Photography in a Hide in Kuusamo, Finland

We had just arrived at Kuusamo, a robust wilderness area in Koillismaa, Finland, and I was extremely excited. Despite this being my home country, I had never visited this part of it before. Kuusamo is famous for the large amounts of brown bears living in the area, and we had come to photograph them from a forest hide.

I had heard lots of stories about this area in my childhood. My grandfather and grandmother used to visit here every year, for as long as I remember. They loved fishing, and Kuusamo with its surroundings is also very famous for its excellent fishing possibilities on the many crystal clear rivers that run wild in almost every corner of this province.

After all those stories, though for other reasons, I was finally here. I’ve always loved the forests, and this area seemed like a perfect example of a classic wilderness with the pines, spruce, and forest ponds. I imagined almost seeing the bears already, observing from behind the trees. As it is said that most of the times, the bears can see you, even though you can’t see them. Despite being such big creatures, they are masters in hiding.

A portrait of a bear called Hittavainen, Kuntilampi, Kuusamo, Finland.

Driving to the Hide Cabin, Close to the Russian Border

We were picked up in the afternoon from our hotel. Our driver was Pekka, the owner of the bear photographing company – a fit man maybe in his late forties or early fifties, who had a cool hat like the Crocodile Dundee and a general presence of an experienced bushman. It was about 20-30 minute’s drive to the location of the hide, and we had a nice chat with Pekka during the journey. He told interesting facts about the bears and about how he had known most of the individuals we were probably going to see tonight for several years. It sounded like the bears were his friends, and I’m sure they were. He respected the bears, and he seemingly had a special bond with them.

The hide was a beautiful wood cabin in front of a small forest pond, only 2 km from the Russian border. There were photographing and sleeping spots for eight people. However, tonight there were going to be only three other people and us. We prepared our gear while Pekka went to pick up the others.

When everyone was ready, Pekka told that he was now going to put tonight’s food servings in place for the bears. Soon we saw from the cabin’s window how Pekka dragged a cow’s carcass with a quad to the other shore of the pond and spread a 10 kg bag of dog food all around the pond. More often the bears are served fish, but tonight was one of those fancier dinners. Everything in place, then it was just waiting for the bears to arrive at the scene.

Hittavainen the bear with her three cubs at Kuntilampi, Kuusamo, Finland

The Bears Came in Large Numbers

It wasn’t even for approximately fifteen to thirty minutes when the first bears arrived at the spot.

It was exhilarating to have the first sighting of a bear when it suddenly appeared from the middle of the pine trees. It raised its big, brown head and sniffed the air. The smell of the food had attracted it to the spot, and it went straight to check out the cow’s carcass.

Soon after this first male, came a bear we all had been waiting for: a beautiful female bear with her three, adorable cubs! Pekka had a name for her; Hittavainen. He had seen many litters by her during the 11 years he had owned the photography hide. Her cubs were carefully waiting in the bushes when she inspected the area, and when they emerged from their hiding to the open area, we just let our shutters sing on a continuous mode.

The evening had barely started, and we had already seen several bears – this was going to be a great night and an awesome photography opportunity!

Bears at Kuntilampi, Kuusamo.

Briefly About the Bear in Finnish Mythology

When the first bear walked out of the forest and went straight to the carcass, I could easily understand why the bear is so respected in our Finnish culture and mythology. The bear had such dignity, glory, and beauty in its presence that it has truly deserved its moniker; “the King of the Forest.”

The bear (Ursus Arctos) is also Finland’s national animal, and it has a significant role in the old mythologies; it is the oldest Finnish god known to be worshipped thousands of years before Christianity ever reached this far north. The bear was also connected to shamanism and sometimes thought to be the spirit of a shaman. I remember my grandmother, too, always saying that the bear is a magical animal. I honestly believe her now. She inculcated a deep respect for the forest into me, and maybe that’s one reason I still feel so unique and calm whenever I am in a forest.

The legends tell that the bear (karhu in Finnish) as a sacred animal, was born in the heavens at the Ursa Major (or Plough or the Big Dipper), the great star constellation in the Northern hemisphere. Finnish people are the tribe of the bear, and according to the old myths, the bear is our ancestor. During the centuries its role has faded, but today the bear is still respected in Finland, in many different forms. For example, just in Helsinki, there are more than fifty bear statues in approximately kilometer’s radius from the Senate Square.

This bear was called Mörkö (which means "Boogeyman" in Finnish). He visited us several times during the night.

Spending the Night at the Bear Hide

The night this far north in Finland during the summer doesn’t get dark at all. Earlier in the summer, the sun doesn’t even set at all. This gives perfect opportunities to wildlife photographers to take incredible pictures of the majestic forest wildlife.

At the cabin, we had comfortable amenities to just sit and watch one of the most spectacular nature shows around here. The cabin also had a tea/coffee pot and gas stove, so we could also make ourselves a cup of tea every time we wanted to.

I kept a sighting diary during the whole night and while writing this, I kept checking up my notes from the night.

Through the whole night, bears just kept coming to eat the meat and the pellets. On the best of times, there were totally of nine bears eating the carcass at the same time! During the night, many same bears kept coming and going around the hide. Pekka had told us the names of many of the bears and when they emerged from the forest we were almost always able to name some of them.

A bear enjoying a night swim at Kuntilampi, Kuusamo, Finland.

Hittavainen with her three cubs visited several times on the carcass, and we had plenty of great photo opportunities. Mörkö (which is a Finnish word for “boogeyman”) was another easily recognizable bear with a broad, blond fur collar around his neck and we saw him, too, many times during the night.

Also, in addition to the bears, all the time there were also several white-tailed eagles sitting on the treetops around the pond. They were observing and patiently waiting for their turn to feed. At one time I counted the white-tailed eagles sitting around, and I got sixteen of them altogether! The white-tailed eagle is a big and beautiful bird whose wingspan can be over 2 meters.

In the middle of the night, one of the bears decided to go for a swim in the pond. The scene was just magical – it was dusk, and just a little bit of fog was floating around the pond and the forest around us. And then there was the bear, swimming back and forth in the small lake, seemingly enjoying itself to the fullest!

I decided to sleep for a few hours when I just couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, and I’m sure that I did miss some excellent shots while asleep. But then again, I had already got some superb ones, so I allowed myself a little rest.

And when I woke up very early in the morning, around 4 am, I woke up to the sight of yet another, a previously unseen bear eating away at the now almost gone carcass. After making myself a cup of tea, I continued to watch the bear, and I took a few frames, too.

At about 5.30 am Hittavainen came back with her cubs, too, and she bossed around a bit as to make the scene safer for her cubs. Around seven Pekka came to pick us up and drove us back to our hotel.

The experience as a whole was amazing. Even on those brief moments when there were no bears in sight, I enjoyed just sitting in front of the one-way glass window, drinking tea, and listening to the silence of the forest. It was just me and the wilderness around. And I have to say that this was one of my best birthdays ever! Not to forget that we saw well over two dozen bears during the night, it was nothing short of fantastic.

Hittavainen came really close to our hide and I'm sure she smelled our scent.

The Best Time For Bear Photography in Finland

Approximately the best time of the year to photograph the bears in Finland is around June and July. During the midsummer months, the cubs are still small, and the bears will willingly come to the feeding spots.

Later in the autumn the bears can be deeper in the forests eating berries and won’t necessarily come to the feeding spots in such high numbers. However, they do still come, as late as even to the end of September. I would still recommend going either in June or July, for the best possible opportunities. During the winter the bears are hibernating, but if you happen to be visiting in Finland and the Kuusamo area during the winter time, there are still plenty of things to do.

The bears mostly come from the Russia’s side of this wilderness area. Metsähallitus, a government organization of forestry in Finland, collared fifteen bears in 2009 as to study their living habitats and movements. During the research, they discovered that the area of Kuntilampi and Kuntijärvi, where the photography hide of Karhu-Kuusamo is located, was actually the westernmost location where the bears visited. So, this eastern borderland in the north of Finland is no doubt the best area for spotting the wild brown bears around these longitudes.

Seeing the brown bears in the wild was an exciting and an extraordinary experience for me. And I’m already looking forward to maybe returning one day and seeing how things have been for Hittavainen and her offspring.

And if you like wildlife photography, you will love this bear photography opportunity – I encourage you to come and experience it yourself!

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Photographing bears through the night in a hide in the Finnish wilderness in Kuusamo.


Ringo the rhino on the 15th of February, 2015, at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Ringo the Rhino – in Memoriam (Video)

We had the privilege to meet cute, little Ringo the rhino in February 2016 in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. We will remember him and all the joy he brought to us for the rest of our lives. 

Ringo was an abandoned southern white rhino calf that was saved in 2015. During his short life, he inspired numerous people all over the world with his playful antics and utterly irresistible charm.

It is notoriously difficult to raise wild-born rhinos in captivity, and little Ringo too fell ill in 2016. After two weeks of sickness, Ringo sadly passed away on the 19th of July in 2016, his loyal and devoted caregivers on his side.

I remember when the sad news reached us. We were in Medellín, Colombia, at breakfast in our hotel and I happened to read the news on my phone. Maybe because we had met Ringo in person, and he had made such a powerful impact on us, I felt especially sad, and a tear escaped from the corner of my eye.

But because we certainly weren’t the only ones who had been touched by the joyous spirit of this little southern white rhino, we want to ask everybody to celebrate his life instead of being just sad that he is no longer with us.

We would like people to remember him as he was – a happy and playful, little rhino, who by simply being himself, undoubtedly helped to raise awareness about the plight of all rhinos in Africa.

So, to honor Ringo’s legacy on this World Rhino Day today we wanted to make this special video and remind all of you to help save the rhinos of this earth!

We still have time, but we have to act now. Let every day be a rhino day!

We want to say special thanks to Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Ombeni African Safaris for this extraordinary experience.

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We met adorable Ringo the Rhino in Kenya in 2015. This is for his memory and important legacy for the conservation efforts for all rhinos.


A beautiful view from the Abai Lodge's deck to the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Borneo

Kinabatangan River Cruise in Malaysian Borneo: Everything You Need to Know

Are you planning a Kinabatangan River cruise? Read on to learn how to compare Kinabatangan River cruise packages and tour companies and consider whether you’d like to take an independent tour. We share our tips and tricks on finding wildlife on river cruises and reveal other exciting things to do in Kinabatangan River!

This article has been thoroughly updated in January 2019

Our Experience of Kinabatangan River Cruise: Day One Without Orangutans and Proboscis Monkeys

Our boat flowed through the trees hanging on top of one of the tributaries of Kinabatangan River. Threes grew on the river benches, but they had begun to reach out to the water, and now they made like corridors and portals out of themselves. We glided through them slowly, keeping an eye out for animals. We were on a morning cruise – a part of our Kinabatangan river cruise package – and the jungle was all around us.

There were only four of us and our guide who steered our small boat. I knew that somewhere above us, we were observed by the long-tail macaques and proboscis monkeys that call this place home. They certainly knew how to hide from the eyes of the visitors if they wanted to because we could spot only a few among the thick branches of the trees.

But wildlife watching is always like this, you don’t have any guarantees. What you need, is a sharp gaze and a bunch of luck, and you can have the time of your life amidst the jungle. Though now it seemed that this was going to happen on another day. And eventually, it did.

Morning mist at the Kinabatangan River in Borneo.

Day 2 of Our Kinabatangan River Cruise: Orangutans, Pygmy Elephants, and Proboscis Monkeys

On our second day in Kinabatangan River cruise, we managed to see six orangutans and several herds of proboscis monkeys. We just had tough luck on day one! Lesson learned: always book longer than 1-night/2-day Kinabatangan River cruise package! The second day of our Kinabatangan tour was incredible: we explored two different areas, Abai and Sukau, and cruised down the Kinabatangan River for hours and hours.

While having a coffee in between river cruises, our Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge’s guide came to us with urgent news: the pygmy elephants had been spotted down the river a few hours ago, and we should try going after them, even though they were pretty far away. They could also anytime venture back to the forest from the shores of the river, so there were still no guarantees.

However, our excitement went through the roof, and we couldn’t believe our good luck! Just a bit earlier we had almost given up on the hope of seeing the famous and endangered Bornean pygmy elephants here in the Kinabatangan River because they are so rare and sometimes nobody sees them in months.

Now we just had time to prepare our camera gear before the departure. We noticed how unusual this incident was, as even our guides were extremely excited about the elephant sighting.

Soon we sat in the boat which rapidly made headway through the water, trying to catch up with the elephants who were about half an hour’s journey away. On the way we didn’t stop for anything because this was our only chance to meet the Bornean pygmy elephants – we had to try our best.

Catching Up With the Bornean Pygmy Elephants: Photographer’s Dream

Our guide got constant information updates to his walkie-talkie and after about 45 minute’s journey, our boat curved over a steep river bend. Behind that turn, in the middle of the high vegetation, were several, small elephants feeding on the grass!

A small herd of maybe 10-12 Bornean pygmy elephants was calmly eating on the river bank, undisturbed by the boats and humans who watched them in admiration and awe.

There were already about four boats beside us, but luckily we were able to get a pretty good spot to observe and photograph the elephants. I felt like a kid in a toy store when I raised my camera, looked through the viewfinder, and started shooting away.

Rare Bornean Pygmy Elephants at the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo

It was a very rare treat to see these endangered pygmy elephants in the wild. So, from time to time I just sat back and enjoyed the experience.

Photographing Pygmy Elephants in Kinabatangan River

Photographing these rare and distinctive creatures was not easy – they stayed among the thick vegetation and just suddenly popped out their gray heads, backs, or trunks from the middle of the tall grass.

One baby elephant was lying in the waterline, still safely amidst the grass, but every once in a while popped out its head and watched us curiously. I think the elephant observed us just as carefully and interestingly as we watched them.

We were incredibly lucky to have this experience to observe the Bornean pygmy elephants here in their natural habitat. It was a rare treat, indeed, and I knew that this was one of those “once in a lifetime” –moments, that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Even though I love photographing things and trying to capture the feeling of the moments I encounter, sometimes I want to put the camera away for a while and just live the moment – absorb the surroundings into myself and feel the life around me. This was one of those moments. As much as I enjoyed photographing, I enjoyed lowering my camera while standing in the boat, and just peacefully watching the elephants.

How To See Bornean Pygmy Elephants on Kinabatangan River Tour

So how you can optimize your chances to meet the Bornean pygmy elephants? If you hear their location, take your gear and jump on the boat, don’t stop on your way to photograph anything else, not even orangutans, just go! Bornean pygmy elephants are so rare to see that take the chance if you have it!

Make sure that you book your Kinabatangan River cruise package from a tour operator who is willing to cruise down the river to the pygmy elephants – they are usually far from Sukau area, so it takes both time and money to reach them.

A rare Bornean Pygmy Elephant in the bush at the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo.

The Situation of the Bornean Pygmy Elephants

The Bornean Pygmy elephants also really were as cute as they were said to be; baby-faced and much smaller in size than, for example, their African counterparts that we had met before.

Their tails are so long they sometimes drag on the ground as they walk, relatively large ears, plump bellies, and they are more gentle-natured than other Asian elephants – from which the Bornean Pygmy elephants are also genetically different.

DNA evidence has proved these elephants were isolated about 300,000 years ago from their cousins on the mainland Sumatra and Asia. The sad truth is that there are only about 1500-1600 individuals left in the world and the conservation efforts to keep the population alive are vital to the survival of this extraordinary species.

One of the primary threats to these elephants is the loss of continuous forests, as it is a grave threat to many other species in Borneo, too.

Logging, expanding agriculture, and the palm oil plantations are all reducing contact between the elephant subpopulations, as well as shrinking the forest areas available.

I hope that the Bornean Pygmy Elephants’ cause won’t get overshadowed by the more famous species, like the orangutans. I hope their plea will also receive much importance and attention. They are a high conservation priority, yet they still remain the least-understood elephants in the world.

Bornean Pygmy Elephant in the bush at the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo.

How to See Proboscis Monkeys – The Nose Monkeys – And Other Creatures by Kinabatangan River

Generally, morning cruises offer the best chances to see orangutans in Kinabatangan River. Depending on your lodge, morning cruises depart before or right after sunrise, around 5.30-6AM. We were lucky to see many orangutans during the day, as well. Proboscis monkeys are pretty easy to spot during the day, as well.

We saw several proboscis monkey populations during our boat trips along the Kinabatangan river. They hang out in the treetops, but you couldn’t see many of them without binoculars. The proboscis monkeys are native to Borneo, and they indeed were one of the most interesting-looking monkeys I’ve ever seen.

The good thing is, they are relatively easy to spot, so there’s an excellent chance to see them during a Kinabatangan river tour. As we saw several herds of different sizes, I was also got reasonably good opportunities to photograph them. But without a relatively long zoom lens, you won’t have that many good shots.

On many occasions, we parked our boat under the trees and observed the monkeys sitting on the branches. The alpha males always have the most prominent noses. And the bigger the nose, the more respected the male proboscis monkey is and the more popular he is among the females.

What Animals You Can See in Kinabatangan River?

Orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and pygmy elephants are the species that everyone yearns to see on Kinabatangan River cruise. We saw also kingfishers, eagles, crocodiles, different kinds of snakes, and many birds we don’t recall. We got up and close with macaques and water monitors at our lodge. During night cruises and guided night walks, it’s possible to see civets, slow loris, and owls.

A baby proboscis monkey with its mother at the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo.

Wildlife Spotting on Kinabatangan River Cruise, Borneo

Seeing wildlife in Borneo is not the same thing as spotting wildlife, for example, in Africa. Animals are fewer here and maybe even more sparsely scattered, even though they live in much smaller areas. The environmental conditions are also very different. Bare this in mind, while you are in Kinabatangan River or elsewhere in Borneo and you won’t get disappointed.

There still are so much to see, and the Kinabatangan River area is one of the best places for wildlife spotting. So, when you are here, you are in for a treat. You will see lots of long-tail macaques and other small monkey species, loads of different birds, and even forest pigs. There is always life around you, also though you may not see it all the time.

Check out where to find the best orangutan sightings in Borneo – in Kinabatangan River and other orangutan destinations!

You can take several boat cruises daily and in between them, hang out on your lodge’s terrace, sip a cold drink, and just watch the river run slowly by only a few meters away.

And don’t miss the dashing sunsets when the sky discolors in tens of different shades of red and orange while listening to how the river carries the sounds of the jungle right to you.

Why Should You Go On a Kinabatangan River Cruise?

It is true, that the slice of the forest along the shores of the Kinabatangan River is shrinking as we speak, which is a severe problem to the fauna and flora of the whole region. When we saw the situation by ourselves on the spot, it made us very sad. It also made us to really understand the severity of the condition.

But all is still not lost, and by visiting the region, supporting the conservation organizations and their continuous work in protecting the forests and its wildlife, you can cast your voice on behalf of the conservation.

On the Kinabatangan river, there still is a fantastic world of its own, filled with unique creatures and wonderful experiences. There still is tranquility and some pure magic in sitting in a small boat in the middle of the river and trying to spot different animals among the trees and dense vegetation. And if you’re as lucky as we were, you can still even see the endangered Bornean pygmy elephants!

And after you’ve experienced all this by yourself, I could almost guarantee that you too will agree that this region with all its flora, fauna, and diversity, is worth conserving for the generations to come.

Check also our ultimate Borneo itinerary, to get some great ideas for your trip!

Other Things To Do In Kinabatangan River

During our Kinabatangan River cruise, we also participated in the Abai Tree Planting Project, the Pelacongan Bondok Abai Rukee. We both made a donation to the cause and planted a tree to the shore of the river. Acts like these are small, but when significant numbers of people do them, they will matter in the long run.

You can also add Gomantong Caves to your Kinabatangan tour. It’s the largest cave system in Sabah area, consisting of 9 caves. The biggest caves are called Simud Putih (White Cave) and Simud Hitam (Black Cave). Gomantong Caves are located in Kinabatangan district, a short drive away from Sukau area.

Many lodges have boardwalk hikes in the surrounding rainforest, which allows you to take independent jungle walks. Spotting birds and trying to find orangutans on our own was among our favorite things to do in Kinabatangan!

Kinabatangan River Package Tour vs. Independent Trip

It’s certainly possible to arrange an independent tour in Kinabatangan River if you’re looking for a cheaper backpacking experience. Good news: there are decent budget lodges right at the banks of Kinabatangan. The downside: you’d need to organize road transfer to Sukau area if you don’t have a rental car, as there’s no public transport. Also, road transfer takes away the fun of spotting wildlife during the boat transit. We saw several orangutans on boat trip from Abai to Sukau area when we changed lodges.

If you’re visiting Kinabatangan River independently, book your accommodation in Sukau or Bilit area. Cheap guesthouses in Kinabatangan don’t have air-con – and it’s unbearably hot there. Usually, meals and river cruises are charged separately, so it makes sense to calculate total expenses in advance so that you can compare the price of independent Kinabatangan trip with the tour packages.

Most upscale lodges in Kinabatangan River are owned by tour companies, so if backpacking is not your preferred mode of travel, we highly recommend booking a guided Kinabatangan tour package, which includes all boat transfers, wildlife watching boat tours, accommodation, and meals. There are many affordable options available.

How To Find the Best Kinabatangan River Cruise Package For You

  • If you want to maximize your chances of seeing orangutans and proboscis monkeys on Kinabatangan River, book at least 2-night/3-day Kinabatangan River tour package. Notice that we recommend spending those 3 days solely on Kinabatangan River. Many tour packages include visits to Sepilok’s Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center, which is great, but those visits deserve a day of their own.
  • Compare the content of tours, not only prices. Check that when you compare tour operators, their tours are similar. For example, compared tours should have as many nights on Kinabatangan River (lodges in Sepilok or Sandakan are much cheaper than lodges by the banks of Kinabatangan).
  • Ask many questions and check if the tour companies answer them. For example, if you’d like to see the rare pygmy elephants, ask whether the tour company is willing to ride towards the sighting if it’s further away from the lodge.
  • Know what you’re getting: check if the lodge (and your room type) has air-con (it’s hot and humid), are all meals included, how many wildlife river cruises are included, does the lodge have hiking trails or does the package include rainforest hike, etc.
  • Check the area. Most lodges are located in crowded Sukau area, which doesn’t feel like real wilderness. Wildlife watching is great nearby Sukau, but if you’d like to see more pristine areas, we recommend staying one night in Abai or other location further away from the bustle of Sukau village. There are roads in Sukau, whereas as Abai is only accessed by riverboats.

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Take a boat ride to the Kinabatangan River in Borneo and keep an eye out for the Bornean Pygmy Elephants and Proboscis monkeys.


A Bornean Sun Bear called Loki in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center in Sabah, Malysia

Making Friends with the Tiniest Bear in the World – the Bornean Sun Bear

A pair of dark eyes and a golden-colored snout with a pink nose tip peeks at me from the middle of the branches and leaves. Its black fur is harder to spot from the lush tree, but when I see the shiny, golden, crescent-shaped fur collar around its neck, I will perceive the tiniest bear in the world – a Bornean Sun Bear – is the one who’s peeking on me.

Every bear individual has a unique fur collar like us humans have our fingerprints, and that’s how their keepers will know who’s who. We are visiting at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, where there are 44 rescued ex-captive or orphaned sun bears living in the center’s area today.

They look incredibly cute and cuddly, especially because they have a tendency to hang their long, pink, and thin tongue out of their mouth most of the time. Sun bears are also known as a “honey bear” because of their particular appetite for honey or a “dog bear” because of their small size.

Sun Bears Are Under Many, Serious Threats

The killing of sun bears is strictly prohibited under all wildlife protection laws in Southeast Asia. However, little enforcement of such legislation occur, and conservation priorities vary by country. The Bornean Sun Bears are listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN, but they are still under a severe and continuous threat.

Despite the strict sanctions against their capture, sun bears are often illegally held as pets. Many of the sun bears living in the BSBCC (Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center) in Sepilok are confiscated from private persons. Individuals who break the Malaysian law by imprisoning a sun bear can get a fine of up to RMY 50,000 ($15,000) and five years in prison.

More public education against capturing sun bears could do magic to this problem and this is one of the things the BSBCC is trying to achieve, but they have a long road ahead with the limited budgets and most of their funds are coming from donations.

The Bornean Sun Bears are also often victims of poaching; parts of their gallbladders are still highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine. These little and shy bears can also get attacked by other animals, like big cats.

But the worst threat to their survival is the deforestation. The Bornean Sun Bears are vitally dependent on the forest, but much of Sabah’s rainforest has been cleared for palm plantations. And even thought the government took action in 2013 to protect large tracts of land as a last-ditch effort to save at least some of Southeast Asia’s few primary rainforests, the clearing still continues. Also, many conservation groups fear that these protected areas are far from enough.

When driving in Sabah you will see a palm tree row after another, as far as the eye can see, and you can vividly imagine what that has meant for all the different species whose living habitats have disappeared with the deforestation. The fragments of land that has been left untouched by the palm oil industry or the logging for hardwood are way too small to provide a suitable habitat for most of the species – the Bornean Sun Bears being one of them.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center – A Sun Bear Haven

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) was opened to the public in 2014 after a long-term project of its founder, Dr. Wong Siew Te, a wildlife biologist, a tropical forest ecologist and a sun bear expert. With his tireless desire and effort, he raised funds and built the first bear house from scratch with a budget of just $4000. Fortunately, BSBCC’s partners; Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Wildlife Department, and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) have significantly helped them over the years to achieve what is standing today.

When we were visiting in Sepilok, I was more excited to meet the sun bears than the orangutangs, to tell you the truth. The bear’s faces had some distinctive features, and their presence was somehow sympathetic. I loved watching them foraging on the forest floor, as well as trying to spot them from the canopy.

These guys were not the easiest to get photographs from, though. But I enjoyed the challenge and still managed to get some decent shots from these gorgeous fellas. The center has two viewing platforms from which you can observe the sun bears while they are roaming the forest around.

However, raising funds for this relatively unknown species is not easy. The Bornean Sun Bears are not familiar to the vast masses, and the attention of the big NGOs and their campaigns often go to the more flashy fauna, like the orangutans, elephants, or rhinos. So, every cent counts and no effort is too small to help this teddy bear-like and cute creatures on their way through the center’s rehabilitation and reintroduction programs back to the wild.

Luckily the BSBCC is in Sepilok next to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. So, when visitors come to see the famous orangutans, they can also visit The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center and get to know these lovely, small bears who hang in the tree branches, roam the grounds in searching for honey combs, and are as curious about you as you are about them.

Critical Work and Research at the BSBCC Center in Sepilok, Borneo

At the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center in Sepilok-Kabili Forest Reserve, the researchers and staff are reintroducing the bears back to their natural habitat, and they have the largest forest enclosures of any sun bear center. All the bears looked to be in excellent condition and above all, they seemed euphoric roaming around in their forest.

The BSBCC’s goal is to eventually release the bears back into the wild after they’ve learned some vital skills they will need to survive, like tree climbing, nest building, self-defense, and foraging.

Unfortunately, some bears are too traumatized to be released back into the wild. But the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center will provide a permanent home for these bears, and they can live happily for the rest of their lives in the center’s care.

Increasing the knowledge of sun bears is also important; they are the least researched bear species in the world. Their low numbers, difficult terrains, and shy nature has made the research much more challenging. So, the bears at the BSBCC also provide much-needed opportunities to researchers to study these little bears.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center also does the essential work of educating the people about the animal welfare and conservation, and promoting awareness of sun bears where it’s needed the most – locally. In collaboration with other NGOs they have outreach programs for schools, and also for plantations where they go to talk with the workers.

How You Can Help to Protect the Bornean Sun Bears?

The Bornean Sun Bears have critical roles in the well-being of the forest environment, and they always belong to the wild! You can help the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center’s crucial work in many ways. You can adopt a sun bear on their pages where you can pick your favorite bear to sponsor, or you can make a smaller donation and buy, for example, a pot of honey, a hammock, or medical supplies for the bears. You can also participate in their volunteer programs if you want to make a personal difference and have an experience of a lifetime.

And if you happen to visit Borneo and the Sandakan/Sepilok area, be sure not to miss a visit to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center! Spend a memorable afternoon with these shy, but adorable, little bears and please leave a donation. Nothing is too little an effort, and everything counts. The Bornean Sun Bears deserve more attention, and they sure left a heart-shaped mark in my soul!

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Making Friends with the Tiniest Bear in the World, the Bornean Sun Bear


Charles Bridge at night in Prague, Czech Republic.

The Day We Were on the Worst Ghost Tour Ever in Prague

The dusk had already begun to descend when we were hanging out in the front of a tour company’s office in Prague. Only two other couples were coming on a Ghost Tour with us tonight, so we were waiting for quite a quality tour. The famous Astronomical Clock was just a few meters away, and there was anticipation in the air.

A woman nicknamed “Mandarin” came out of the office, wearing a black robe and carrying a wooden cross decorated with skulls, and introduced herself as our guide for tonight. Prague is quite famous for being a very haunted city with many restless souls and spirits wandering about in its alleys.

It’s said that just in the center area of the Old Town there are approximately over 40 “known” ghosts. And whether you are a believer, a skeptic, interested in the supernatural and unexplained, or just looking for a good, old-fashioned scare, learning about the darker side of Prague is fascinating. Nobody even knows how haunted Prague actually is, but there are plenty of ghosts for sure.

Starting Our Prague Ghost Tour

Darkness had already fallen, and the lights of those iconic, old street lanterns of Prague were casting strange shadows into the streets. We started walking after Mandarin towards our first stop, which turned out to be about 100 meters to the square of the Astronomical Clock. She told us a short story about the Butcher’s Young Apprentice who didn’t even want to be a butcher, but who ended up being the best one of them all.

The tale was interesting, but unfortunately, I missed a lot of it because Mandarin had a pretty quiet, thin voice and she seemed to lack any passion for the storytelling she was performing. Good storytelling is always a big part of a thrilling ghost hunting tour. If there’s not any passion, it affects the atmosphere and makes it dull and uninteresting. I was disappointed, but thought that I’d still give her a chance – maybe it would get better when she’ll “warm up.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t. We were led from one site to another during the hour which the tour lasted, accompanied by the same, mundane storytelling. We visited the sites and were told some of the most famous ghost stories of Prague, like “The Angry Turk from Ungelt and his murdered bride” who killed his bride in jealousy. “The Murdered Nun” who was bricked into the wall of St. Agnes cloister for breaking the convent’s rules, and the tale of the old, Jewish Cemetery, where skeletons rose from the graves to play cards with a man who needed someone to play with but who ended up losing his soul.

I couldn’t help but think about how much more thrilling these stories would’ve been if told properly with passion and dedication. I remembered the ghost tour we once took in Edinburgh where the guide was excellent; she believed in her craft and excited everyone as much as the haunted sites themselves. This tour was just a pale shadow of that experience. We would have wanted to get our fair share of Prague ghost stories, but now we were getting just a handful.

The Legend of the Golem of Prague

The legend of the Golem of Prague is perhaps the most famous ghost story from Prague. It’s also a bit sad story. During the era of Emperor Rudolf II, the majority of Prague’s Jews were continuously being attacked and therefore lived in fear. A Rabbi called Judah Loew was about to change this. He asked for an answer to the problem from the heavens and got it in dreams. Rabbi Loew eventually deciphered his dream answer, and with two assistants, his son-in-law, and his pupil the Rabbi created the Golem to protect all the Jews. According to the Kabbala, he made him out of the clay from the banks of Vltava River and recreated him with a special ritual involving the four elements; fire, water, air, and earth, and reciting Zirufim (special Kabbalistic formulas or spells).

There are several stories of how to wake Golem alive, but in most of them, the Golem needs a piece of written parchment inserted into its mouth or chest. In the parchment Rabbi Loew placed into his Golem’s mouth was written “Shem Hameforash, ” and the Golem came to life.

Rabbi Loew named the Golem “Joseph, ” and it did its duty. Some stories tell that the Golem was so terrifying that eventually, the rulers of the city of Prague promised to bring an end to the persecution and attacking of Jews if only the Rabbi would deactivate his clay creation. However, other stories tell that the Golem eventually went amok, started to spread havoc and it had to be destroyed.

Either way, Rabbi Loew dutifully recalled the Shem Hameforash, and with it, the principle of life by removing the parchment from the Golem’s mouth, and it went back to the lifeless piece of clay from which it had been created. The clay figure was then hidden in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue, and the place was forbidden to enter for eons to come.

When the Old-New Synagogue was explored centuries later, no Golem was found in the attic, but the legend still remains. From our guide, Mandarin, we heard a version that the Golem was broken into pieces and bricked into the outer wall of the Old-New Synagogue. I guess that like in most of the ghost stories, there are as many versions, as there are narrators.

This myth is just unusual in that it’s supposed to have happened in a particular year – 1580. And the Golem “Joseph” was said to be pretty indistinguishable from a human being, it just lacked the ability to speak. Then again, we owe to the pop culture our traditional image of Golem – a bit clumsy lump of clay, only distantly figured as a human. But which one you think is more accurate?

This story was still the most entertaining of all the stories we heard that night.

CHECK OUT A VIDEO FROM OUR GHOST TOUR! Put the sounds on!

Also, check the part at about 1:10-1:12 and tell us what do you think flashes in front of the camera lens?! Maybe it actually was an orb?

The End of Our Prague Ghost Tour

We had originally booked this tour supposing that we’d also go underground during it, as like it had advertised in the flyers. We had another disappointment there. We did go underground, but just for the ending of the tour and quite a tacky ending that was.

We went through an ordinary looking, wooden door and descended a few stone stairs into some kind of cellar. The organizers had decorated it with ghost puppets and skeletons, and it was pitch-black dark. Our guide, Mandarin, showed the way with her flashlight and I had my GoPro with a shooting light attached to it. Like throughout the tour, Mandarin seemed very irritated of my filming and didn’t hide her irritation at all. Unpolite behavior, if you ask me since it was absolutely not forbidden to film the tour in any of their ads, neither mentioned so on their website. She even refused to talk a couple of times during the tour, if she saw that I was filming! That’s also why my video material from this tour is a bit scarce and poor quality. I’m sorry about that.

The apex of this tour was the cellar where we stood in a semi-circle around Mandarin, and she asked us for our preferred way to die. We had five choices to choose from. Everyone was made to pick one, and she drew a tally into the flap board standing beside her while telling us that Death could lurk anywhere and attack anytime. Then her colleague emerged from the shadows behind us wearing a black, hooded cloak, a skeleton mask, and a scythe he knocked to the ground.

This didn’t scare me, but maybe one woman in our little group jumped a bit. A bit funny ending, yes, but not scary. If the general atmosphere of the tour had been better, maybe the end scaring would’ve worked better, too. It’s all about the psychological scare, after all.

Do Your Own Ghost Tour Around Prague With A Map

So, would I recommend this tour for someone wanting to experience some of the darker sides of Prague? No, I wouldn’t. One of the best perks of the trip was the copy of the Prague Ghost Map, where all the 42 ghost spots are marked on a map.

We will be adding a copy of the map here soon, so check back here again!

Save your time and money and embark on your own, private Ghost Tour around the Old Town of Prague. I bet you will get more out of it, can spend as much time as you want on every site, and above all, choose the spots you like to visit.

And pay a visit to the Prague Ghosts and Legends Museum on Mala Strána side of the Vltava River. We didn’t have the time, but maybe next time we will go there, too. It seemed it would’ve been time better spent than this “ghost tour” we were in.

Prague once was the capital of the alchemists, occultists, and other esoteric orders of Europe, especially in the 16th century and a longtime home for the still undeciphered “Voynich Manuscript” and for the “Codex Gigas” (also known as the Devil’s Bible). So, this ancient city still holds some dark secrets, I’m sure.

Are you ready to uncover those secrets and embark on your own Prague ghost tour?

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The Day We Were On the Worst Ghost Tour in Prague. But we may have caught a strange phenomenom on the video. Read our report and see for yourself!


Canoe safari in Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia

Gift Guide For Travelers For Valentine’s Day (Or Any Other Day)

Have you ever wondered what on earth to buy as a gift for the traveler in your life? I bet you have. We decided to put together this little gift guide to help you out on that task. You don’t have to wonder anymore, just pick something out of this list and we guarantee that the receiver of the gift is going to be happy. 

There are hundreds of suggestions for holiday gifts for travelers, but we still wanted to give yet other alternatives to those. These would be some of the best gifts for international travelers, too. Even though, I say so myself.

These items are practical above all, yet they also aim to be as light-weighted, as possible.

Ever wanted to pull out your notebook and write down some important things but the weather won’t allow you to? Never have that problem again when you have a weatherproof notebook to which you can write to even when it rains!

Rite in the Rain has this awesome set which comes with a storage pouch and all-weather writing pen or you can get an alternative notebook with the same quality from here (3 notebooks/set). 

Rite in the Rain waterproof writing notebook

Annoyed by the mosquitos? I bet you are. We are, too. With this mosquito repellent bracelet, you can get rid of them very easily! It’s 100% guaranteed to stop mosquito bites and the only natural mosquito repellent bracelet guaranteed to work. Put this into your wrist the next time you go to a mosquito infected area and be safe! But still, don’t forget to take your malaria medication.

invisaband mosquito repellent bracelet

This watch is a true all-rounder for the outdoor person and adventurer in your life! Suunto Core has an altimeter, barometer, and compass, among a huge number of other functions to help you on your adventures around the world!

I can speak out of experience – I’ve had this watch with me for several years now and it has been a great help in many situations. For example, I can check sunset and sundown times for the best photography opportunities. Just to mention one advantage. I wouldn’t give up this watch for anything!

suunto core all black

The Olloclip 4-in-1 iPhone lens broadens your smartphone photography opportunities by leaps! It has a fisheye lens, wide-angle lens, and macro lenses of 15x and 10x. Only your creativity is the limit when you have this attached to your iPhone. A must-have for the smartphone photography lover!

Olloclip 4-in-1 iPhone lens

One of the most convenient ways to read books on the road is to have them all on your Kindle device. The new Kindel Paperwhite has a 6″ high-resolution display, built-in light, and Wi-Fi. You can choose black or white.

kindle paperwhite

Also, get a cool cover for your Kindle reader, so it will stay safe from the scratches and bumps on the road! This is the thinnest and lightest PU leather cover with auto sleep/wake and it fits all Kindle models.

kindle cover

Can any traveler really manage without an all-around multitool in her/his backpack? The answer is no! We have always trusted to the famous Swiss-made Victorinox Multitools and they’ve never failed. This Explorer model has all the basic things you’ll need or you can get this cheaper-priced alternative, though it will be just as good and useful. 

victorinox explorer

If you don’t want to carry a traditional multi-tool in your pocket, you can alternatively get a credit card-sized one that fits into any wallet, but which has a remarkable amount of functions to help you out. For example, this 11-in-1 multitool comes in five colors and is also a true mini-survival tool.

11-in-1 multitool in five colors

And the last – but in no way, the least – is a classic; a paracord bracelet. There are literally hundreds of applications to use paracord. You can get yourself this true survival gadget to help you on your adventures or you can make your own bracelet, lanyard, belt, hammock, or anything you come up with!

Paracord is one of the most versatile things you can have with you on your travels! And it can even save your life sometime, really.

paracord bracelet with whistleparacord 550

 

We hope that this gift guide gave you some cool, and maybe some unconventional, ideas for the perfect gift for a traveler. However, these gifts would work for virtually anyone. Hopefully, you found yours!

 

*Disclosure: The links on this page are “affiliate links”. This means that if you click on the link and purchase the item we will receive a small commission. There are absolutely no additional costs to you and regardless, we will only recommend products that we personally use and/or believe will add value to our readers!

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Check out some perfect gift ideas for the adventurers and travelers in your life. For the Valentine's – or any other day of the year!


Two girls walking in the street in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Touring Around Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Goma is a buzzing border town in the eastern part of Africa’s biggest state; the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On the other side of the frontier is Gisenyi in Rwanda. This border isn’t easy to cross, but when you can do it, don’t skip the chance to get to know the town of Goma on your way to Virunga or Nyiragongo.

Goma is the capital of the province of Northern Kivu, on the Northern shores of the Lake Kivu. Further east in this province there has been (and still is, just in a minor scale) ongoing conflicts between guerilla groups and government troops. So, unfortunately, that area is still mostly a no-go for travelers. But it’s still perfectly safe to visit Goma.

A woman walking in the street in Goma, DRC, in front of a wall made out of the volcanic rock, left from the last eruption of Nyiragongo.

Goma is only about 20 kilometers away from the most active volcano in the world – Nyiragongo. During the last big eruption of Nyiragongo in 2002, the lava flow reached all the way to Goma. A fissure 13 km long opened in the southern flank of the volcano and reached the outskirts of Goma in a few hours.

Lava streamed from three spatter cones at the end of the fissure and flowed in a stream of 200 to 1000 meters wide and 2 meters deep through Goma. During the eruption, 400 000 people were evacuated from the city across the Rwandan border to Gisenyi. The lava also covered the northern end of the runway of Goma’s International Airport and reached all the way to Lake Kivu.

You can still see the remnants of the lava, big piles of volcanic rock, everywhere around Goma.

But not all of it is a useless waste; people have even used it to build fences.

Everywhere around Goma there are still piles of the volcanic rock, left from the last eruption of Nyiragongo in 2002.
In Goma, many fences are built out of the volcanic rock, too.

Goma Tour is Something to Remember

In the center of a traffic circle, just across the border with Rwanda, stands an enormous, golden-colored statue of a man with a chukudu.

It was quite a communistic-like statue in its grandiloquent way – a pretty odd feature to see in the middle of Africa. Made me feel like that I suddenly wasn’t in Africa anymore.

A communist-styled statue stands in a roundabout in the middle of the center of Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Two girls walking in the street in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

You can take all walking Goma tour, too, if you want. However, it may be a bit riskier sometimes. So, depending on your guide, the areas you’re going to visit, and the gear you bring with you, I’d consider whether to take a tour in a car or by foot.

Most of the time of our Goma tour we were touring around in a car, accompanied by our guide, Tresor, and our driver. Tresor was telling us comprehensive details about Goma while we tried to take some decent photographs from the open window.

The reception wasn’t always friendly. Sometimes we saw unsatisfied expressions when people noticed my camera. And on the occasions when we were on the streets, I saw that Tresor was looking around efficiently all the time.

I almost said to him that I could take care of myself just fine, but decided not to, and instead, I concentrated on shooting some decent frames.

But people’s faces weren’t all gloomy, sometimes we also confronted some warm smiles and pure interest.

A couple walking in the street in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Chukudu – Eastern Congo’s Traditional Transport

The boy in the picture below is riding a chukudu. The chukudu is a two-wheeled vehicle, handmade out of wood and used for transporting various freight in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Chuduku is a native transporter of the eastern Congo.

The chukudu usually has a bulky frame, two small wheels (often of wood, sometimes wrapped with rubber), handlebars, and a pad for the rider to place their knee on while propelling the vehicle with their leg. On a downhill, the rider stands on the deck like a kick scooter. On the flat ground, the rider can put one knee on the deck and push the ground by the other foot.

In 2008, chukudus were selling for as much as US$100 with a cost of materials of nearly US$60. Also, in 2014 they cost $50 to $100 and were used to earn up to $10 per day, in an area where most people live on less than $2 per day. So, they aren’t cheap, but they make lives much easier for the poor people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

A boy riding on a chukudu, a traditional two-wheeled vehicle.
A typical traffic scene in Goma, DRC.

While chukudus rule on the lava-torn, bumpy, and muddy roads of the outskirts areas, scooters swirl on the paved roads of Goma. Motorcycle taxis seemed to be the top mean of transport for the local people, and there was a guy on a scooter with an extra helmet on their hand on almost every corner.

The office of the Doctors Without Borders organization behind the barbed-wire fence in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Around the NGOs and the Army Headquarters in Goma

Outside of the center of Goma, there are countless houses behind tall fences, topped with barbed wire. Most of them are the headquarters of different NGOs. We drove by the HQ of the “Doctors Without Borders,” among others.

However, all of the buildings weren’t of NGOs. Further on the outskirts, there were also many military outposts. Some of them were of the UN (part of the MONUSCO project), and some were of the Congolese Army.

The presence of soldiers was imminent in Goma. I remember when we once stopped by in a local shop to buy some more water and all of a sudden, three UN soldiers popped in – in full combat gear. I didn’t quite know which one to feel; secure or unsafe.

On the other hand, it made me feel more secure but then again, the presence of the UN military made it crystal-clear that they were there for a reason.

A moto-taxi is a popular way to get around in Goma, DRC.
A moto-taxi driver waits for clients on the outskirts of Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Stopping By at the Harbor Area of Goma

We also drove by the Goma’s harbor area, which is usually one of the shadiest areas in any city, in any town, anywhere in the world.

Here in Goma, it seemed pretty quiet, but the general atmosphere in the area right beside the harbor seemed like a place I wouldn’t necessarily want to wander in alone.

After our Goma tour, we went to grab some cold beers. Our guide, Tresor, and Dan, our local tour manager, took us to a local bar made in a small shack-like house – a place we never would’ve found by ourselves. We had a good time sharing a drink, and in the end, visits like these are some of the most interesting ones to have during your travels.

You can stop for a day or two in Goma on your way to climb the volcano Nyiragongo or to see the mountain gorillas of the DRC. But if you ever have a chance to go to Goma; go! It will be an experience to remember.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Virunga National Park and Mount Nyiragongo are now closed to tourists at least to the end of 2018! 

But you can still go to visit Goma and other parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and taking a Goma tour will still make you see a bit more original African city.

At the small harbor area of Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Join us in touring around the border town of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


An arched hall in Buda Labyrinth, Castle Hill, Budapest.

Exploring the Sinister Legends of the Buda Castle Labyrinth

The narrow stairway is going steeply down into the insides of an old house in the Castle Hill in Budapest. The thick smell of mold in the air presses against my face when I carefully ascend the wooden, creaking stairs.

These walls around me are so old that they would have a hundred stories to tell about what has happened inside the stone halls during the centuries. It has served as a shelter and hospital during the World War II, and during the Turkish era it was used mainly for military purposes, but some part of it also as a harem.

Today my friend and I are going under the ground of the Castle Hill to this labyrinth with colorful, yet a dark history, which in the 15th century held its most famous prisoner; Vlad Tepes, better known as “Vlad the Impaler” – the paragon of Count Dracula.

The labyrinth is a part of a complex series of caves and cellars beneath the Castle Hill and is about six miles long in total. The part which we can visit today is only a one mile long, though it felt like much longer. The entrance to the “Labirintus” was a bit hard to find, and it eventually was a little doorway behind one corner on the Castle Hill.

Inside the Labyrinth of Dracula

When I managed to mentally get past the play created by the human-sized puppet scenes built around the place, the general atmosphere was quite intense. The corridors were narrow, the sound of the water dripping from the ceilings was everywhere, and the mental pressure created by the sheer nature of the labyrinth cast an intrigued feeling.

I would have left the puppet scenes out. The labyrinth was very sparsely illuminated, and the signs showing the right way were few. The labyrinth has a ghostly atmosphere and the thought “what if I get lost?” did occur to me a few times. For children, this place may be a bit scary, but in a good way. However, I would’ve just loved this place as a kid.

The air was thin and pressing, and the little lights cast dubious shadows around the corners. I caught myself looking in the dark corners a bit more carefully, as I tried to tune myself to see beyond the shadows in my ghost hunting quest. But I had no luck, unfortunately.

There were also short stretches of corridors totally dark, so I grabbed my cell phone to cast some light on my path. However, if you don’t have any light, take walking in the total darkness as an adventure, but step carefully.

Spooky installations in the depths of the labyrinth of Dracula.
Spooky installations in the depths of the labyrinth of Dracula.

The Dark Legends of the Labyrinth of Dracula

There are several legends about this labyrinth. But maybe the most interesting one is the one including Vlad Tepes. He was betrayed by the Hungarian King Matthias, who was supposed to be Vlad’s ally in his task to protect the Christian Europe from the Ottomans. But King Matthias was conspiring with the Turks and abducted and imprisoned Vlad Tepes in the depths of the Castle Hill. It’s uncertain how many years Vlad Tepes was captured in here, varying from a few years to more than ten. Also uncertain is, whether Vlad was tortured here or not, but after his release, he eventually became the impaling and torturing monster of which history reckons him.

Another legend tells that Vlad Tepes died here and that his body is buried in the Buda Labyrinth, but his head elsewhere. So, who knows, maybe under the stone placard where the carving says: “Dracula,” actually rests Vlad the Impaler, guarded by the little Gargoyle.

There are at least five different legends about Vlad the Impaler’s death. However, the actual location of his grave is still unknown. The site said to be his final resting place on an island monastery of Snagov, just outside of Bucharest, houses no human body, only bones of horses.

In the 19th century a ghost named as the “Black Count” reportedly haunted the labyrinth, so maybe there is the connection to Vlad Tepes? Then again, the “Black Count” can also be the spirit of an impoverished count from the 1800s who lived in Budapest and was an ally of bandits, allowing them to hide in the labyrinth for money.

Dive into the depths of Buda Labyrinth with us, if you dare! 

The Restricted, Mysterious Sections of the Buda Labyrinth

There are also sections in the labyrinth that are restricted nowadays. Like a “world shrine” in one cave and a vine-covered fountain, that flows with wine in another. Why the wine flows endlessly in this “Wine Fountain of Mátyás” and why it even exists is a mystery. And even deeper in the labyrinth there are also stone humanoid statues, the most famous one of them is known as the “Shaman of Two Faces.” Are these artifacts extremely strange, or what?

Unfortunately, the sections which hold i.e. the fountain and the humanoid statues are closed to the public. Why? We don’t know. What we do know is, that there was a sudden closure of the labyrinth in the late summer in 2011 when the police reportedly stormed the caves and evacuated the labyrinth without any explanations, why.

Had they found something harrowing in its depths? And if so, what exactly had they found? If some people know, they haven’t told a thing. Also, the whole staff of the labyrinth was replaced after this sudden closure. Very mysterious, I’d say. Since then the caves have been open to the public again but as a very restricted version.

An Entertaining Visit Beyond the Surface of Budapest

Although Vlad Tepes was a prisoner here only for a short time, his legacy has been capitalized in full. But I still felt tingling to see his actual cell in the depths of the labyrinth. And then, on the other hand, the “Coffin of Dracula” or the “grave of Dracula” were a bit too much for me. But I liked the little, white Gargoyle statue guarding his “grave” – it looked just ghoulish enough for the greatest Vampire Count of all time.

The labyrinth is an entertaining way to spend a few hours beneath the ground of Budapest and a little lesson in history on the side. Also, now and then, I couldn’t help of thinking is the labyrinth haunted? With so many centuries behind it, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. I didn’t see anything, but I did walk through a couple of suddenly cold spots during my wandering in the labyrinth. But then they were gone as quickly as they had emerged. Strange, isn’t it?!

However entertaining this visit was to the Buda Labyrinth, I still have to admit that when we ascended the creaky stairs back to the ground level, and into the daylight, I was thrilled to breathe clean air again. And all the mold, dampness, and ghosts down below stayed behind.

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Under the Castle Hill in Budapest lies a labyrinth, over six miles long. These caves have a colorful history, including Vlad Tepes, the paragon of Dracula.


The entrance of the Capuchin Crypt in Rome, Italy.

6 Highly Unusual Things to Discover in Rome and Florence

When you’re visiting the iconic cities of Rome and Florence, you can explore some extraordinary places. Don’t settle for the obvious — go for the more hidden and lesser-known sites.

The Stranger Things in Rome

If you’re starting your tour from Rome and want to go underground to the catacombs, don’t miss the Catacomb of Priscilla, located under Via Salaria. This site is not as crowded as the more popular catacombs, but you can see perhaps the world’s oldest known image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Staying underground, you can carry on to the Capuchin Crypt in the church of Santa Maria della Concezione Dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto. The bones of 3,700 monks remain buried here in interesting compositions in four different chambers.

Continue to Largo di Torre Argentina, a temple complex that also has part of the Theatre of Pompey. Julius Cesar died on the temple’s stairs during his stabbing in 44 B.C. Today, this place is also inhabited by over 250 cats, giving it its nickname the “Cat Sanctuary of Rome.”

Peculiar Stops in Florence

First, head to see the eerily realistic anatomical wax collection of La Specola, part of the Museum of Natural History in Florence. The museum is one of the oldest museums in Europe. Opening in 1775, it was one of the earliest science museums open to the public.

La Specola houses not only the taxidermy form of a hippopotamus that the Medici Family supposedly kept in their garden but also extraordinarily realistic wax models of humans and their intestines. Some of these gutted wax women depicted in “semi-erotic” poses were the favorites of the Marquis de Sade.

In the Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza Della Signoria hangs two huge, detailed globes designed by Giorgio Vasari for the Medici Family. One is for the earth, and another is for the heavens.

The Medici Hall

You’ll also find the famous Medici Hall of Maps in Palazzo Vecchio. Fifty-four maps made in the 16th century, inspired mostly by the Ptolemy’s “Geographica,” decorate the walls. Vasari also built the Vasari Corridor, a secret walkway for the Medici Family to travel between their two offices in Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti. This secret passageway is accessible only by appointment, so make advance reservations.

Finally, pay a visit to the History of Science Museum on Piazza dei Giudici. At the museum, a glass egg holds the middle finger of one of the most remarkable pioneers of science, Galileo Galilei. Ninety-five years after Galileo’s death, somebody removed the finger from his body.

After traveling around for a few hundred years, the finger came to its eventual home at the Florence History of Science Museum. The finger is a strange piece to see in a museum. Even though the church labeled Galileo as a heretic in 1633, his finger has been treated like a saintly relic through the centuries. I think some great irony exists here.

Unusual Things in Rome and Florence

These destinations offer brief examples of the many lesser-known sites you could visit in Rome and Florence. If you dig a little deeper, both of these otherwise well-known cities can offer you much more than the most famous sites that everybody else visits.

Getting between the two cities are relatively easy and can take 1,5 to 3 hours by train. Check GoEuro.com’s train timetable page here which has all the information you need for travel between the two cities.

As Florence and Rome are popular tourist destinations throughout the year, it is best to book accommodation as early as possible. For example, Booking.com has a great selection.

A chapel inside of the Catacomb of Priscilla.
A chapel inside of the Catacomb of Priscilla.


Horseback riding, in San Agustin, Colombia

Chasing the 5000-Year-Old Statues on Horseback in San Agustín, Colombia

Ancient statues and tombs, built approximately somewhere between the 6th and 14th centuries, spot the hillsides around San Agustín in Colombia. The best way to explore these mysterious carvings is by horseback.

I was adapting to the movement of my horse, galloping through the muddy roads to see some ancient statues spread on the hillsides of San Agustín, a little town in the department of Huila, Colombia.

The wind had a crisp blow even though it was a sunny day. I smelled the familiar scent of the horses, heard the creaking of the leather saddle below me, and I felt pure happiness. It was just me, my spouse, and our guide, a local man around his sixties with wrinkles around his face and a soft voice, on our brisk horses traveling from one archeological site to another.

For me, this was the perfect way to spend a day. We encountered other travelers only a few times, on foot and on horseback, but mostly we got to keep all the sights to ourselves.

The worst of the crowds have still not found this beautiful place, even though this vast area around San Agustín is said to be one of the most important archeological sights of whole South America.

Exploring the Archeological Sights of San Agustín on Horseback

Definitely, the best way to explore the archeological sights of El Tablon, La Chaquira, La Pelota, and El Purutal is by horseback. All these four sites are part of the big San Agustín Archeological Park. You can also do the tour by foot, but then it’s going to take at least double the time than with horses.

It took us about 4-5 hours to visit all the four sites, and there were pretty comfortable roads where you could also occasionally gallop a bit. The tour cost 140 000 COP (Colombian Pesos) for the two of us as a private tour. That was equivalent to approximately $48.25 (at the time of writing this).

I think we could have been able to haggle the price down a bit if we would’ve tried, but sometimes the few extra thousands of pesos mean more to the locals than they mean to you. Your money will also straightly benefit the community, but the decision is always yours.

We were also happy to notice that we had good horses. They seemed to be well cared for, and they were fast, too. However, we specially asked for fast and fiery horses because we have more than 10 years of riding experience and then you’ll appreciate the challenge.

But rest assured, most of the horses are really reliable and even if you’re not an expert rider, you can definitely go on this tour. Your guide will match you with a gentle horse, and you can even travel just by walking or by trotting only a little. You can also hook yourself up with a group instead of a private tour. Then the price would be approximately 50 000 COP / per person ($17.25). So it’s possible for anyone to experience this magical place by horseback.

Riding from One Bewitching Statue Site to Another in San Agustín

The first site we encountered was El Tablón, where three statues, each over one meter in height, greeted us from under a wooden roof. Between them, the fourth one had been conquered by time and had fallen on its back to the sandy ground. Each of the figures had been carefully carved into a light gray stone, representing some familiar deities like the Pacha Mama (Mother Earth).

One of the characters we came across many times during our time in San Agustín was the “Aguila” (Eagle) who held a snake at its peak. Aguila stands for wisdom, and it seemed to be a vital deity among the mysterious societies who built this monumental site nowadays called the San Agustín Archeological Park.

La Chaquira was the second site, and it was different from the other three. After about a 15 minutes ride we came to a little restaurant built like a pit stop on the riding route and left our horses in its yard. Our guide waved us to follow him. Behind the restaurant were some stone stairs on a steep hill and we started to descend towards a stunning lookout.

On our way down we could see the Rio Magdalena running about 200 meters below us as a narrow stream in the gorge, in the midst of the green forests. The skies were clear, and we could see all the way to the end of the horizon. We stopped many times to take some photos of this beautiful scenery, as to remember it better.

Check out the video about our horseback riding tour! 

Boards were missing from the wooden stairs every once in a while, and I could see the drop in between almost too clearly. No matter how beautiful the scenery in front of me was, I also had to concentrate on watching my step. Even the planks which were still in place had cracks in them. The stairs in their slowly crumbling state made me feel like the place would’ve been long forgotten, even though we weren’t the only people there.

“Look, here you can see the carvings in the rock,” our guide said.

I turned my eyes to the direction where he was pointing at, and I saw the fascinating faces in the stone. Here they were exposed to the elements all the time with no shelter. However, I made a mental note that they looked like they wouldn’t have had any erosion.

After admiring for awhile the views and the rock carvings from the observation decks, we climbed back up to the restaurant to have a moment’s rest. When we got back to the saddle, our horses felt refreshed, and we were ready to gallop again towards the next site.

In La Pelota, we met the familiar figure of Aguila, the Eagle again. It was under the roof with two other figures. One of them was a human, but the other had fallen face down, so we could only guess what it was representing.

Our longest ride was to the last site called “El Purutal.” It’s also the main attraction of these four locations. We rode about 20-25 minutes via paved and unpaved roads. Our guide trotted even on the tarmac, and when the horse’s hooves were clipping against the asphalt, I always felt bad. Through all my youth when I was a semi-professional rider, I was always taught not to trot on the tarmac because it’s harsh for the horse’s joints. Here in Colombia I just had to tolerate it.

There was an additional, 3000 COP/per person admission fee to El Purutal. In a little, wooden shack was a guy selling snacks and water and collecting the entry fees. We left our horses in the comforting shade of the trees and continued the short hike to the statues on foot. Behind a green, little hill emerged another roofed statue site, and we saw some colors flickering from the shadows under it.

In El Purutal there are the few colorful sculptures, which have been preserved until today. Most of the colorful ones have lost their attractive coloring during the centuries. So it’s a rare treat to still see them here in El Purutal. The two, fiercely looking statues bearing red, white, black, and yellow colors stand guarding the graves of which one is excavated, revealing the structure of the tomb, made out of slabs of stone.

Spending the Day in the Saddle in San Agustín Archeological Park

Half of the fun of this tour was riding in the tranquil countryside with good horses, but even if you wouldn’t have much interest in archeology, these prehistoric statues will arouse your imagination. They sure woke ours! Maybe it was the mystery that surrounds them and their origins – something that even the best archeologists haven’t yet been able to figure out.

During the day we rode from one sight to another, sometimes on the mud roads and sometimes on the tarmac when cars, tractors, and motorcycles rushed by us. Locals smiled and waved to us many times when we rode by their houses and various dogs accompanied a part of our journey.

It was as much a calming day for my soul as it was an adventure to explore the centuries-old, beautiful statues hiding on the hilly scenery. Unfortunately, our guide wasn’t able to tell us much about the statues, but he managed to spill just enough information that it got me even more excited about this exquisite archeological site.
I just wished that my Spanish wouldn’t have been so broken that I definitely missed a part of his story.

The horses in San Agustín were notably better cared for and in a better shape than the horses we saw in Tayrona National Park. They also had reasonably good saddles and bridles, which made riding pretty comfortable. But still being in the saddle for many hours takes a toll on your leg muscles.

However, that’s a small price to pay for an exciting day that will take you through the centuries, to the heart of a long-lost civilization, who thrived here thousands of years ago and made hundreds of intriguing guardian statues on their graves.

Map of San Agustin, Archeological Park, Colombia.
Map of San Agustin, Archeological Park, Colombia.
One of the few colorful statues in San Agustin Archeological Park, Colombia.
One of the few colorful statues in San Agustin Archeological Park, Colombia
A colorful statue in el Purutal, San Agustin Archeological Park, Colombia.
A colorful statue in el Purutal, San Agustin Archeological Park, Colombia.

Practical Tips:

  • A private riding trip costs 70 000 COP/per person (booked through our hotel, Terrazas de San Agustín.) Group tours will cost approx. 50 000 COP/ per person. You can haggle a bit if you want to.
  • Book through your hotel or via the official tourist office on the Calle 5. Do NOT book via the several touts in town who will try to charge you approx. 200 000 COP for a private tour!
  • Duration is about 4-5 hours.
  • Horses are in good condition, with good equipment.
    Also rapid, a bit more challenging horses available.
  • Wear comfortable pants with minimal seams and good shoes.
  • Don't forget a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water!

Tickets to San Agustín cost 30 000 COP/per person from Popayán and Neiva. Several companies drive the route with public minibusses; i.e. Taxi Verde, CooTrans, Sotracauca, etc.

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Hop on horseback and go explore the 5000-year old statues of the UNESCO Site of San Agustin Archeological Park in Colombia.


8 Best Tips for Successful Day Tripping to Tallinn, Estonia

If you find yourself in Helsinki and not knowing what to do, you can always hop on a cruise ship and go over the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn. It only takes 2,5 hours, and the Estonian capital has much to offer to entertain you for several days.

Several boats are cruising between these two cities, but most of the people use either Tallink or Eckerö Line, the former being slightly quicker to cross the sea.

You can do lots of fun things in Tallinn, depend on what you prefer, but here some of the best picks, if you ask me.

1. Don’t Be Late at the Harbour and Buy Your Ticket Online

Don’t do like we usually do when Niina and I are going to Tallinn: we are taking the last possible tram to get to the harbor in time. Thus, we are always second guessing are we going to hit or miss the boat. Instead, go to Olympiaterminaali (the harbor from where the boats are leaving) in time!

You have to be there at 8 AM – the latest, if you’re traveling with Eckerö Line. If you’re late, you’ve missed your check-in and boarding, and they won’t let you in anymore. And they are strict about this! Take the tram number 9, it goes right to the front of the terminal and takes about 15 minutes from the main Railway Station in the center of Helsinki.

If you’re going with Tallink, you have a bit more flexibility. But don’t push your luck too much.

A convenient way is to buy your ticket online – but i.e. Eckerö Line still demands that you have a printed confirmation of your reservation to show at the check-in desk. So, in some cases, it may be better to just walk in the terminal and buy your tickets from the counter.

2. Have Your Own Snacks Onboard

The buffets onboard are over-priced, so do yourself a favor and take some snacks with you. If you pack i.e. some beef jerky, raw snack bars, and bananas into your backpack, your journey will be a breeze.

These boats are also notoriously famous for people getting drunk, unfortunately. Many people are going to Tallinn just to buy some cheaper booze, and onboard you can certainly notice it by just looking around. There are also more quiet areas on the boats, so grab a seat in one of those places and you’ll be better off.

3. Walk to the Old Town at the Center of Tallinn

When arriving in Tallinn, you can just walk from the harbor to the heart of the town. It only takes about 20 minutes, and you’ll arrive at the beautiful, historical center of Tallinn – the Old Town.

Medieval walls still surround most of the Old Town, and when you’re zig-zagging through the narrow streets, you’ll feel like you would be in the middle of some fairytale.

Old Town Square in Tallinn, Estonia.

4. Take a Bite of Tallinn’s Flourishing Food Scene

There are lots of great and trendy restaurants in Tallinn, serving delicious and moderately priced food. New places are born all the time, but to mention some of the best ones we’ve eaten in, I’d recommend stopping by to F-Hoone, Von Krahli Aed, or Rataskaevu 16.

The first represents a bit more modern cooking, while the other two serve pretty traditional, but extremely good-quality food.

The latter, Rataskaevu 16 (which is also its address) is located in a building which has absolutely intriguing – yet also maybe a bit hair-raising – story. If you look closely at its uppermost floor’s windows, you’ll notice that one of them is not a real window, it’s just a painted replicate.

The legend goes that the actual window was bricked shut, after the Devil himself had had a wedding party in the room behind that very window. This house is also still said to be one of the most haunted ones in Tallinn. You can see the window on the picture below, the upper left-hand corner one.

6. Breathe the Medieval Atmosphere of the Old Town and Sip Craft Beer

The picturesque Old Town surrounded by the medieval “Walls of Tallinn” holds most of the restaurants and bars and attracts the tourist hoards, but you can still find peaceful parts along the narrow streets if you just venture a bit further away from the central square.

At the central square there are usually people dressed in Medieval costumes, selling crafts, and handing out flyers of the nearby, Middle Age -themed restaurants. If you have to visit one, stop by at the III Draakon, a little Medieval Bar to sip a pint of local brew.

Then you can continue to have another pint to the world-famous Depeche Mode Baar. As the name suggests, they’re playing only Depeche Mode music and the decoration is made accordingly.

Craft breweries have taken some wind beneath their wings in Tallinn lately, and you can taste the results in various bars around the town. I’d encourage trying out the small brews instead of the big, industry ones; you can find some real gems among beers.

But if it’s just coffee that you want, one of the most atmospheric cafés with good coffee is called Kehrwieder.

Also, at Christmas time, there is a cozy and atmospheric Christmas market at the Old Town Square.

Patarei Prison and Sea Fortress, Tallinn, Estonia.

7. Go Out of the Center and Visit an Old, Haunted, Soviet-Era Prison: Patarei

Take tram number 2 and get off at the Kalaranna 2 stop. Alternatively, you can walk here from the center, though it’ll take more than 30 minutes. Admission is just 3€, if you go independently, and you can spend all the time you want in the middle of crumbling walls, rotting furniture, and cells of which some still bear their former inmate’s stuff.

Eerie? Oh, yes! You can check out all the most shivering rooms and daunting pictures from our detailed adventure report from the Patarei prison in here.

8. Visit the Trendy Neighborhood – Kalamaja

And since you’re already almost there, just continue a bit further, and you’ll come to Kalamaja. This neighborhood is one of the trendiest in Tallinn and has lots of great restaurants and bars.

You’ll have a feeling of the days gone by amidst the wooden houses, some in great shape, some in a more or less crumbling state, creating a kind of romantic atmosphere.

Board Your Boat Back to Helsinki or Book a Hotel and Stay Another Day

Again, be on time at the harbor – at least 45 minutes before your boat’s scheduled departure!

But if you’d like to spend another day exploring Tallinn, you can always book an excellent hotel from the center and regain your strength. You can also book cheap boat&hotel combos beforehand from many travel agencies.

These deals usually offer great value for your money, and pretty nice hotels are included. Many times these deals offer the hotel really cheaply, compared to rates when booked separately. You can book one or several nights’ stays this way.

These are some of the best things to do in Tallinn, according to us. But if we have missed something, don’t hesitate to comment and tell us what would you like to see in Tallinn!


The Murchison Falls itself, Uganda

The Mighty Murchison Falls and its National Park in Uganda

Murchison Falls National Park is the biggest national park in Uganda. It’s also one of the oldest; already in 1926 it was known as a game reserve set to protect the savannah grasslands. Most known of all by its gorgeous, namesake Falls, where the mighty river Nile tucks itself through a 7-meter wide hole in the rock and continues its journey through the whole African continent.

Murchison Falls National Park was officially established in 1952. This is one of the places in Uganda of which Winston Churchill spoke so fondly about. It’s no wonder that he loved it. We loved it too; it’s lush, green riverbanks where elephants and hippos silently grazed, and the trees were buzzing with birdlife.

This is also the place where Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn filmed one of their iconic movies; “The African Queen” and where Earnest Hemingway crashed his plane and was severely injured.

Taking a Nile River Cruise

One of the best ways to enjoy this lushly green national park is to take a river cruise along the Nile River. Observing from a boat gives you an entirely different viewpoint to the wildlife on the river banks.

It took us over three hours to do the cruise along this White Nile river. During the cruise, we lost count of how many animals we saw. But it felt like there was something to see around every corner. We also got as close as the strong current allowed us to see the Murchison Falls. They were still far, but you could still see the thundering power of this famous waterfall.

We encountered elephants grazing on the banks and lots of hippos floating around, popping their heads sporadically in and out of the water. There were lots of little holes on the rocky shores along the river; brightly colored kingfishers had dotted them with their nests.

 

On our way back we saw an extraordinary large crocodile laying on the riverbank, partly covered by the tall grass. But we could still see that it was huge – at least 4 or 5 meters tall and thick as a block of a century-old tree.

It was a really disturbing thought that the crocodile could have easily destroyed our boat if it would’ve wanted to. But luckily it was just sleeping peacefully – I think. We could still sense that our captain didn’t go any closer than what seemed a quite safe distance and kept the boat’s motor running all the time.

Of course, you can also do traditional game drives by 4x4s in Murchison Falls National Park, but I’d still recommend taking at least one boat ride. You won’t regret your choice. On the traditional game drives, you can see giraffes, lions, kobs, elephants, and many other interesting species.

Murchison Falls National Park has an incredibly vast biodiversity and wide array of animal species. The park has grasslands, wooded savannah, tropical forests, wetlands, and open water covering approximately 39 ha at an altitude of more than 600 meters. There are 109 species of mammals and 476 species of birds calling this place a home.

The Spectacular Power of the Murchison Falls

In Murchison Falls is also the famous place where the river Nile pushes itself through only a 7-meter wide gorge in the rocky walls, creating a massive and respectfully looking waterfall, giving its name to the whole National Park. It plunges 43 meters below, to a spot that’s called the “Devil’s Cauldron.”

The origin of the White Nile lies in Uganda, near the town of Jinja, where you can do adventurous white water rafting, too. But here in Murchison Falls it puts up the best show and creates a sight truly worth seeing.

The best place to see Murchison Falls’ power is to go visit the top of the falls. You can drive pretty near and then take a little path up to the top of the falls. The walk doesn’t take more than 10 minutes or so, nor it is demanding.

There are no fences, despite on the main viewpoint, so be careful not to step too close to the edge. You wouldn’t survive the dive if you’d fall over. The roar of the water is thunderous, and you can feel in your body the enormous, rumbling power with what the water rushes through the narrow gorge. Here the Nile river continuously rages as all-white.

The air is so moist that it looks like it’d be foggy. The supports made of rock that remind us of a bridge which once was there, still stand on both sides of the 7-meter wide gap. The rocks near the falls are permanently wet and slippery, so tread carefully.

“Many people have jumped from there to their deaths”, our guide told us. Which, despite being a grim detail, I could wholly imagine because it would mean certain death. But we were there to admire its beauty, not to risk our lives getting too near to the edges.

Standing on the verge of the Murchison Falls I honestly felt myself small beside the Mother Nature, who showed me its immense power in the waterfall. Moments like that always makes me respect the nature even more.

And imagining that I was treading on the same grounds as Hemingway once walked, gave me a feeling of groovy nostalgia.

Tips for Visiting the Murchison Falls National Park

The climate is tropical and hot, and because Murchison Falls is located near the equator, it makes the temperature quite uniform throughout the year. So it’s quite pleasant to visit at almost any time of the year.

Just make sure you cover your cameras and other equipment properly or have waterproof cases on them, or otherwise, you will risk them getting seriously wet and probably damaged at the falls. A tripod for photographing the majestic Murchison Falls would be a good idea, too.

If you are in Uganda, my best tip would be not to skip a visit to this beautiful and lushly green National Park!

Have you visited here? What did you think? We’d love to hear your experiences about Murchison Falls National Park!

*Disclaimer: We were touring around Murchison Falls National Park with Mamaland Safaris, but all the opinions and views are entirely our own. 


Cigars in a cooling room in Esteli

How to Buy Cigars in Estelí, Nicaragua

When you’re visiting Estelí, the cigar capital of Nicaragua, I’d recommend buying some cigars with you. Cigars made here are world-famous and even if you don’t smoke yourself, they make for a perfect souvenir for someone who does.

Estelí, a small town in the Northern Highlands of Nicaragua, produces some of the world’s best cigars. So if you find yourself here, like so many other travelers do on a hunt for the perfect “tube” to enjoy upon, take a short plunge into the world of cigars. We put together a little cigar buying guide for you, just to make things a bit easier.

Get Yourself on a Cigar Tour to Visit a Factory

The most convenient way to buy some top-quality cigars is to go on a guided cigar tour to some of the many cigar factories in the area. The town is spotted with them, though not all of them are providing tours.

You can ask around for yourself, or stop by into a café called Treehuggers. It’s a popular place to hang around and their staff can arrange you a cigar tour if all else fails. The downside is that they’ll probably arrange your tour to one of the biggest factories.

We opted for visiting one of the smaller ones, called GGi. You will often get better prices in the small factories, so I would recommend favoring them. Also, in them the making process is still hand-made from start to finish, making it more genuine, whereas the process is already more industrialized in the big factories.

If you would fancy a visit to the GGi Cigar Factory, you can ask from Esther at the B&B Villa Riviera. She knows some of the staff and can arrange you a tour. We paid $6/pp for a private visit and got excellent and thoroughly tour with our guide,  Darwin. You can check out our whole cigar tour experience with a video from here!

In the smaller factories your guide will most likely speak only Spanish, but even though our Spanish is hardly only passable, we managed alright. So don’t be afraid – just go.

Prices and Qualities of the Nicaraguan Cigars

The quality of the cigars here in Estelí is just superb. This little town became the refuge of some the best Cuban cigar makers during the Cuban revolution in 1959, and the craftsmanship of cigar making came to stay.

When you’re looking to buy some highest quality cigars, you can just stop by to any factory you see and ask are they able to sell you some. Some factories can only sell bulk, and some may produce everything to export only. But for example from the GGi, you can even buy just one cigar if you like.

But if you are looking to buying in bulk, I bet that negotiating deals straight with the factories on-site would be your best bet if you’re hunting for a bargain price.

The prices are just unbeatable when you buy the cigars straight from the factory. Even buying them from a store in the centre of Estelí may already double the price, at least. And comparing the factory’s prices to the prices they have for these cigars in your home country; it’s probably five to six times more.

We bought several different sized and shaped cigars to taste from the GGi. They cost $1/piece. Only the most unique ones cost $2/piece. That’s pretty cheap, isn’t it?

First, decide whether you want a stronger or a lighter tasting one, thick or thin. They produce so many different sized, shaped, and tasting cigars that you will likely get confused. They even have their own models for ladies at the GGi.

Transporting Your Goodies

This will be the most problematic phase. Ask them to pack your purchases as air-sealed as possible. Then they won’t have lost all their delightful aromas when you get back home. If you don’t happen to travel with a humidor in your bag (like you probably don’t), your best bet may be to bring lots of re-sealable mini-grip bags, for example.

And if you are not planning to take them back home, just sit back on a comfy chair in the evening, take a glass of the spectacular, Nicaraguan rum (Flor de Caña), and smoke one enjoying all its extent in the most calmly manner as possible.

Is there something that we have missed? If you have some new tips, please don’t hesitate to tell and comment below!

Hopefully, there was some helpful information here to get you started, if you are looking to buying cigars in Nicaragua.

GGi cigar factory, esteli, nicaragua
GGi cigar factory entrance


Winning My Fear of Water at White Water Rafting on the Zambezi River in Zambia

The town of Livingstone at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe is one of the adventure capitals of the world. You can do everything from bungee jumping to horse riding, but one of the must-do activities is white water rafting. The Zambezi River has some of the world’s best rapids even on a scale of professional rafters. And even though I’m afraid of water, I had to try it out.

What Rafting Company to Choose for This Ultimate Adventure?

My spouse and I had been watching the white water rafting videos from YouTube for awhile before our trip. Sometimes I felt terrified watching the zodiacs flip over into the raging, white river, and sometimes I felt excited knowing I’d be there soon, to experience it myself.

Many different companies provide the white water rafting activity in Livingstone, and they all seem quite equal. Safety was the number one priority for me because of my fear of water. After comparing the companies’ web pages for awhile, we chose to go white water rafting with the Safari Par Excellence (SafPar). They seemed the most trustworthy and they had the best Trip Advisor reviews, which backed up our decision.

Getting to the River and Starting Our Adventure

While we were in Zambia, we had such a hectic schedule to visit as many places as we could and during all the hassle I almost forgot about the rafting. But the day finally came, when we were about to go to the SafPar office and join our group on the Zambezi river. I felt the tingling at the bottom of my stomach, and I wasn’t sure about was it a good or a bad one.

Soon we were all sitting at a prepping hall where the SafPar personnel showed us the security video and gave us a thorough safety prep with all the details of what to do in what situation on the river. We had a quite big group altogether so there would be three boats on the river. We were the only women in our boat crew, with four other men and our skipper, a cool guy nicknamed “Babyface”. (It was us, two quite fit looking guys from the US, one Swiss guy, and two older men from Russia.)

Next, we were adjusted by our life vests and helmets. I still felt like my stomach would want to turn over, but I refused my sudden urge to want to escape. Instead, I decided that since I had come this far, now I just had to pull this through. It was no time to run away anymore. On the contrary: it was time to conquer my fear and do something truly out of my comfort zone!

We stepped into a bus that took us to the riverfront starting point. During the short bus ride, my hands were shaking uncontrollably. I was so afraid. But when we reached the riverfront and were taking group pictures with our paddles lifted into the air in high spirits, I suddenly realized that the shaking had stopped. I guess at that point I had mentally decided to survive this adventure, no matter what.

Carrying our paddles, we walked down a short, little path down to the river, where our zodiacs were already waiting for us. The starting point was on a very rocky and steep shore and it took awhile to get everyone onboard. At this point, I was just entirely focused on doing the task and getting to the finish line in one piece at the end of the day. I wasn’t scared anymore.

Learning the Ropes of White Water Rafting

Babyface kept a quick-learning course of paddling for us before we got to head out towards the rapids. We learned to obey the different orders of who paddles and how, and how to duck and cover into the boat. Then we all jumped from the boat into the chilly river, as to “get the feeling of the water”.

Only one of our team of seven managed to climb back to the boat as like we had been described to do. It was hard, and I couldn’t get up from the water, no matter how I tried. I just didn’t have enough strength in my arms nor the right technique. So Babyface picked me up from my life vest, as he did all the others, too.

We got the hang of the paddling in the same rhythm quite soon and started our journey towards the raging rapids. I felt only concentrated while the others were quite jolly.

Tasting the Zambezi River

The sun was shining from a cloudless sky and the temperature climbed near +38C. Zambia offered us a perfect weather for a white water rafting day. We had successfully cleared the first three rapids; Babyface had given us good directions and we had sailed through them like a breeze. Then came the fourth one and caught us by surprise.

We had ducked into the boat in the middle of the white waves and I was holding on the rope on the side of the zodiac when in a fraction of a second I realized that we are flipping over! The next thing I realized, I was still holding on my paddle in the other hand, and on the rope by the other to our over-flipped zodiac and we were drifting in the river. I had caught a mouthful of the Zambezi water, was coughing it out, and I couldn’t see my spouse anywhere.

Before I had time to worry, she was suddenly beside me, and we were both struggling to get back into the boat. The rapid itself was already far behind us. Babyface lifted us back onboard and only then I realized how scared I had actually been, and how happy I was that the situation was now over.

However, Niina was now more scared than I. She was shaking all over for some time because she had been caught under the flipped-over zodiac for awhile with one of the American guys, before getting out (of there). She had briefly panicked. Luckily nothing had happened and they were both fine. But it reminded us how dangerous adventure this can potentially be. Anything can happen, and even though we knew it from the start, it made us a bit vary.

So cautious precisely, that when we were having our lunch break on the rocky shores of the river at half point of the day, we were thinking about cutting our full day rafting tour there. But eventually we decided to go all the way and I’m happy that we did. I’m so bad in quitting that I would’ve regretted it later, for sure.

It still took us some time to relax again, but eventually we even started to enjoy the ride. Looking at the beautiful cliffs on both, Zambian and Zimbabwean sides, while paddling on the river was occasionally also a soul-soothing experience. And I had got, even more, determination for trying to survive as many rapids as possible without flipping over again. And I think I shared that feeling with the rest of our team. And we did manage to go through almost all of them without falling over! All but one rapid notoriously called “Oblivion.”

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Calm Before the Storm – a Rapid Called “Oblivion”

We cleared a rapid after rapid and gained some confidence along the way. We also had a relaxing break, had all our zodiacs attached and were rowed by our security boat onward on the quietly flowing river. Sitting back on the boat in the bright sun and watching the beautiful river bed flow by I had a hunch that there was still something coming our way. Something big and dangerous.

And then it was ahead of us – the notorious rapid called “Oblivion” where practically everybody flips over. Babyface gave us detailed directions and dropped us the information that on the third wave everyone usually flips over and we should all let go of the boat. This instruction sank into everyone’s mind, but instead of getting us scared, it made us more determined, if possible.

Even I wasn’t afraid, now I knew at what point exactly I should inhale my lungs as full of oxygen as possible and just hope for the best. I also made a special mental note not to hang on to the boat this time. And then we started to paddle into the thunderous rapid.

We paddled frantically through the first wave. Then through the second before reaching the third one. I took a very deep breath immediately when I heard Babyface shouting: “Get down!”. At the next moment, I was falling head first into the white waters of the Zambezi.

At first, I saw only water in front of my eyes when I held my breath and was carried by the strong currents. On the next moment, I was lifted to the surface by the wave and immediately started to scan my surroundings. I noticed that our boat was drifting very far away from me, as were all my other teammates. Somehow I had been left behind.

Remembering the instructions from the prepping at the SafPar office I just tried my best to stay in the middle of the current. Eventually, I would reach the others. Then all of a sudden I saw a rescue kayak just behind the guy and me telling me to grab the saving loop of the kayak. Hanging on the kayak, he paddled me to our zodiac in no time. I was the first one lifted back onboard by Babyface and we then paddled to collect the others, who were further away.

Other boat had already picked everyone else from the river and I waved to my spouse when we approached. She seemed relieved seeing me being alright. Everything had happened so fast that I didn’t have time to scare nor think too much.

Mission Accomplished!

After this rapid it was all just smooth riding on the waves until the end of our rafting adventure day. Everyone was in one piece and seemed to be pretty proud of our lucky day. I felt incredible – I had survived something that I wouldn’t have even dared to imagine to do some years back! You may call me self-sufficient now, but I think I proved that you really can do anything, if you just want it bad enough and be determined. You can conquer your fears, don’t let them keep you from doing something you desire!

We rode back to the SafPar office in an open truck through the rural villages of Zambia. The children ran towards and after our truck when we passed through their village, waving and shouting: “Hello, hello!”. This time, we were the attraction instead. During the ride, I thought I probably won’t be going white water rafting again shortly, but I didn’t think: “Never again.” It was a challenging adventure but I made it.

Disclaimer: We thank Safari Par Excellence (SafPar) for providing us with this awesome experience. But all the opinions and views expressed here are totally our own. Also, the photos of us on the river by the courtesy of SafPar.
We were touring Zambia with Maxmas Travels/Zambian traveller.


White Water Rafting on the Zambezi River, Zambia [VIDEO]

When in Livingstone, one of the world’s adventure capitals, don’t miss the ultimate adventure – white water rafting on the Zambezi River. Afterward, you will definitely have incredible stories to tell.

This has certainly been one of the most adrenalin-infusing adventures we have ever had. One of the scariest ones for me, as well. Because I’m actually afraid of water, I was terrified at first.

However, it was my idea from the beginning to go for white water rafting, so I knew that I just had to pull this through. And eventually, I did!

This adventure is not for the faint-hearted, but I can tell you that it’s really worth it! This most intense white water rafting in Africa offers amazing sceneries, challenging rapids, and a really rewarding experience. I don’t have the words to describe the feeling I had at the end of the day; the accomplishment and the winning of my fear just felt inexpressibly great.

But check out the video and enjoy the views!

Here’s the detailed blog post about our white water rafting, so make sure to check it out, too!

*Disclaimer: Part of this footage of us on the river by the courtesy of Safari Par Excellence/SafPar, which also provided us this amazing white water rafting adventure, but all our opinions remain entirely our own.


Courtyard inside the Forbidden City, Beijing, China

The Forbidden City – a Nest of Ghost Stories

I’ve often heard that the Forbidden City in Beijing is one of the scariest places in China. When I was there, I didn’t think so, but I still have some tingling memories of my visit.

The Forbidden City (Zijin Cheng, 紫禁城 in Chinese; literally “Purple Forbidden City”) has over 600 years of history of assassinations and plotting behind it, so no wonder that it’s also said to be occupied by several ghosts. When I was walking inside its tall and wide walls, I wasn’t familiar with this folklore – unfortunately. But if I ever go there again, I will look at the Forbidden City with entirely different eyes.

Famous Forbidden City Ghost Stories

One of the most famous Forbidden City ghost stories tells about a weeping woman, dressed all in white. Another one is about flute music being heard during the dark hours of the night from the empty city. Or is it really empty?

Also, one especially intriguing story is about ghost dogs that have been seen running in the narrow corridors at the edges of the labyrinth that is the Forbidden City. Ghost stories about animals are always unusual and intriguing. I would’ve loved to see those dogs when I was there.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see any ghosts or ghostly apparitions during my visit. But what I did experience was a feeling of strange nervousness, like someone – or something – would’ve been watching me all the time. I felt a “presence” of a kind. My grandmother filled my imagination with ghost stories when I was a kid, so I didn’t really think so much about it then. Because of her, I’ve never been afraid of ghosts.

Back in those days I also only had a “point-and-shoot” film camera, no fancy DSLRs. But I managed to get something out of those grainy photos and did some tricks to a few of them shown here. Unfortunately, I didn’t find that one particular, strange photo where there was something odd in the frame that wasn’t there when I took the picture. If I ever find it, I promise to update it here!

The Tianmen Gate to the Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Ghosts in the Chinese Tradition and Folklore

Ghosts are taken very seriously in the Chinese culture. According to the Chinese tradition, you should avoid ghosts at all cost. Superstition also lives wide and well in China. Even Confucius said: “Respect the ghosts and gods, but keep away from them.”

Maybe the most noticeable tradition is the two “gate-keepers” always standing on practically every doorstep. These two demons are guardians and their job is to keep evil spirits from entering through the door.

Also, all the doorways in Forbidden City have those high steps you have to carefully step over. I remember someone in our group asking about them and our guide told: “They are there because ghosts can’t jump and they’d be trapped inside the one room.”

Ghosts have a remarkable status in the Chinese culture; depending on the classification, there are nine or ten different types of ghosts in the Chinese folklore.

A room inside the Forbidden City, Beijing, China

One Core Legend About the Forbidden City

The legend tells that the Forbidden City is cursed and has been since the day it was officially opened by its builder, the Ming Emperor Yongle in 1421. The “Evil Emperor” slaughtered over 2800 people in his harem when trying to suppress an alleged sex scandal in New Year’s Eve when the official opening ceremonies were held.

A few years after that horrendous incident a fire ravaged the Forbidden City, burning over 250 buildings to the ground and killing numerous people. Despite the place being covered with lucky charms, they didn’t prevent the destruction. The Emperor Yongle sank into depression thinking that it was a punishment for his actions and he died in 1424.

Thousands of people have perished inside the walls of the Forbidden City after that, so you’d think that the place is overpopulated by spirits. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. I leave that for you to decide.

Most of the Forbidden City is also still off-limits to visitors; the majority of its 720,000 square meters area remains closed to the public. Why, exactly?

Is it because it’d be too expensive to maintain all the sectors for visitors? Or is it because it’d be too dangerous because of the spirits inhabiting the place? We will never know.

What we do know, is that it’s strictly prohibited to be inside the Forbidden City at night. They will always close the gates at 5 pm, sharp. That time is said to be the most mysterious and that many scary phenomena would appear. Doesn’t that arouse your imagination or what?!

Tell us about your experiences! Have you visited the Forbidden City and seen some ghosts?


Niina catching her tigerfish in Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia

Catching the Iconic Tigerfish on the Zambezi River in Zambia

Catching the famous tigerfish on the Zambezi River is one of the fishermen’s dreams. Last time I had been fishing was with my grandpa when I was a kid, but when we had the chance to go tiger fishing in Zambia, we embraced the opportunity.

The Thought of Tiger Fishing

It was seven o’clock in the morning and the sun had already risen over the great Zambezi River. We sipped strong coffee and ate a hearty breakfast as to survive our day ahead. We were going out fishing the famous tigerfishes twice today – in the morning and in the afternoon.

My first feeling was somewhat amused at the thought that we’d be going out on a small boat to the Zambezi with some live baits and spinning rods, to catch some fish. It also brought dear memories into my mind. When I was a kid, I used to go fishing with my grandpa all the time and he taught me to be quite an expert in using the spinning rod.

But those days were long gone and nowadays I didn’t have a clue about fishing anymore. I hardly even knew how the tigerfish looked like. However, I felt curiously excited and thought that if I had once known how to do it, I’d remember it again. And our boat was already waiting for us down at the wooden dock of the Redcliff Lodge.

Our little boat was packed with equipment and off we veered to the Zambezi River. I felt the wind and the speed of the boat on my face and I thought of how my grandpa would have been more than excited about this kind of adventure and I suddenly felt so happy.

Holding the Spinning Rod Again

We had the privilege of having the boat for just the two of us, with our guide and instructor onboard. We traveled to the upper stream and after about fifteen minute’s ride, our guide stopped the engine and began to prepare our fishing rods. “This will be a good spot. There are lots of fish here”, he said.

I felt a funny tingle in my spine when I took hold of the fishing rod and listened to how should I throw it as far as possible towards the open river water. The Zambezi River isn’t very broad here but there are lots of “shady”, perfect spots for the fishes to lurk in.

I quickly got a hold of the fishing rod and the wheel. I messed up the fishline only once. I just needed a couple of practicing throws and I remembered – after all these years. My grandpa would’ve been proud. So there we were, on a tiny boat in the middle of the Zambezi River in Africa, shucking tigerfishes. We soaked in the tranquil atmosphere and realized how soothing experience fishing can be.

Catching Our First Tigerfishes

Niina had to practice a little bit more of the throwing of the fishline, but that was no disadvantage since eventually she was the first to catch an iconic tigerfish. I was busy dodging her hook, whirling through the air, and all of a sudden there was a catch at the end of her line.

That put out an adrenalin rush through our veins when she started to reel the beast into the boat, trying to obey our guide’s instructions. I quickly grabbed our camera and took photos as proof, while Niina was struggling with her rod. It sure didn’t seem like an easy task. In fact, it was so hard that I had lost mine a few moments earlier. The fish had just struggled itself loose when I didn’t manage to reel in properly. But this time, it looked like Niina would succeed.

Our guide tried to give instructions on how to reel and how to give loose to the tigerfish – to exhaust it. He helped Niina with the rod and when the fish was near enough the boat, he grabbed the net bag. The tigerfish looked enormous when it was jumping and battling against the hook in its mouth. “Fish of this size put out the strongest battles,” our guide told us while he managed to pick it up from the water.

The tigerfish splashed onto the boat’s floor and it truly was big! I watched with amazement while he lifted it with a scale that showed: 4,5 kg. Despite its size, what scared me more was the sheer size of its teeth! They looked like a row of white, bone knives, needle-sharp. Getting bitten by them would definitely hurt a lot.

After posing with the tigerfish in a traditional fisherman-style, we released it back to the river. The “monster-with-the-needle-sharp-teeth” swam quickly away and dived under the surface, disappearing from our sight.

Redcliff Lodge has a strict “catch and release” –policy, which I appreciate. They will only keep the fish if it has got so badly injured during the catch that it won’t survive anymore. According to them, this happens very rarely.

Check out the video about catching a tigerfish!

Round 2 of Tiger Fishing on the Zambezi

We got back ashore around 11 am and chilled a bit while waiting for our filling lunch. At 2 pm we were ready to go off again. I started to understand how some people could do this for days; go fishing in the morning, spend some laid-back time in-between, and then go again in the afternoon, only to be back when it’s almost dark – just in time for dinner. It was very relaxing in its own, distinct way.

Our guide and boat awaited us and, this time, we had some sundowner beers packed, too. This time the owner of the Redcliff Lodge, Hugo, joined us. He had earlier told that we were a bit of a rarity; he had never had an all-female “group” before. We were pretty surprised since I could wholeheartedly recommend this for anyone. It had been such fun.

Water was splashing over the sides of our boat when we traveled again upstream, towards the best fishing grounds between the high, red cliffs, where our lodge has got its name from. Occasionally we were floating between two countries; on the left shore was Zambia and on the right there was Zimbabwe.

The current of the river carried our boat pretty rapidly, so from time to time we had to start the engine and go back upstream. We had to try a few different places before finding a spot where the tigerfish began to snap.

Between the sandstone cliffs, we uncorked a couple of beers, sat back, and listened to the sounds of the river. Meanwhile waiting for the fish to catch our alluring baits, we could spot hippos nearby, popping their heads in and out of the water. You can’t mistake the sound of a hippo, after all.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have as good luck as we had in the morning with the tigerfish. We did manage to get some catches, Niina got two and I got one, but they were all much smaller monsters than Niina had caught earlier.

However, that was hardly a drawback. The thrill of catching a tigerfish, lifting it to the boat, and releasing it back to the river felt just as exciting every time. And spending idle time admiring the beautiful, African landscapes unfolding before our eyes with all its wildlife, was more than rewarding, too.

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Sundown and Tall Stories on the Zambezi River

After watching the dusk finally descending and sun starting to slowly go down the horizon while sipping our local, Mosi –beers, we left back towards our lodge. When we approached, we saw Chico running to the dock to greet us a welcome back. He is the owner Hugo’s little Jack Russell terrier – super-friendly, energetic, and a cute dog that is an essential part of the lodge’s warm heart and soul.

Wrapping our fishing day up in the bar after the hearty dinner, with Hugo, Chico, and a couple of Mosis was a great ending to an exciting day. It had been exciting in a different way than in what we are used to, but it turned out that we enjoyed every minute. Even if you’re not a fisherman, I dare say that you would enjoy some leisure time like this. Not to mention the tall stories you can tell back home about the fish with the monster teeth that you caught!

Redcliff Lodge is situated in the Zambezi Valley, on the northern bank of the Zambezi River, and between the village of Luangwa and the gorgeous Mpata Gorge. Lake Cahora Bassa in Mozambique is not so far away in the East. Lower Zambezi National Park’s eastern boundary is only about 10 km away. You can even take a boat ride to the National Park if you like. Though you will have to pay the ZAWA (Zambian Wildlife Authority) Park Fees, if you go there.

We would love to go back to Redcliff Lodge sometime. It felt like a home away from home. And if you’d like a great place to try out some thrilling tiger fishing, this would be a perfect spot.

Sunset in Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia
Sunset in Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia

*Disclaimer: We were hosted on a tour around Zambia by the Zambian Traveller/Maxmas Travels, but all our views and opinions are entirely our own.


The old Bokor Palace and Casino under renovation in Bokor Hill Station, Cambodia

The Strange Charm of the Bokor Hill Station in Cambodia

Near the coast side town of Kampot in Cambodia is a cluster of old, abandoned buildings closely related to the recent history of Cambodia. This haunting place is the Bokor Hill Station, consisting of many crumbling buildings scattered around a hilltop area.

 

Bokor Hill Station was originally built by the French colonialists as a refuge for themselves from the hurling of Phnom Penh. It consisted mainly the Bokor Hill Resort & Casino (also called Bokor Palace), shops, post office, a church, and the Royal Apartments (a little summer palace).

Construction and History of the Bokor Hill Station

The construction of Bokor Hill Station started in 1921 and lasted for 9 months. It’s told that 900 workers were killed during the construction, but the French thought it was worth the sacrifice.

What the locals are saying about this place is that; “the ghosts there are many.” And after visiting these decaying facades of glory and colonialism, I’d say it’s true without a doubt.

Bokor Palace was the center of amusement, gambling, and whoring for many years. It was abandoned by the French for the first time in 1940, during the first Indochina war.

One of the stories goes, that many of the unfortunate gamblers who had lost too much at the casino threw themselves off the extremely steep cliff behind the old casino building. Not all of them were suicides, either. The dropping off the cliff was a certain death. I remember how I felt dizzy when I peeked over the stone wall into the depth unfolding below.

The second and the final time the Bokor Hill Station was abandoned by the French was in 1972 when the Khmer Rouge took it over and made it one of its bases. It also remained as one of the last strongholds of Khmer Rouge, as late as to the early 1990s.

A New Life Emerged in Bokor Mountain

Cambodian government owns Bokor Hill, but it was leased for 99 years to a company called Sokimex Group. This company had plans from the start to make this place a real resort paradise again, starting from the construction of a new tarmac road.

A new casino and mega resort have already been completed. Also, a golf course and a full renovation of the old casino was included in the plans.

When we were visiting the site, they had already begun the renovations of the old casino, the Bokor Palace, and it was full of construction racks and workers.

Unfortunately, it had also lost its old, haunted, and rotting charm. We went inside for a brief exploration, but couldn’t climb upstairs or do anything more thrilling. We were too late already.

I’ve heard since, that nowadays the Bokor Palace still stands as an empty shell, but the exterior has gone through a tacky “renovation.” It’s a shame. I also think that the ghosts, of which this place is said to be full of, aren’t so happy about the renovation. They should have let it be and crumble away slowly in the course of time.

However, the surroundings of the old casino remain as haunting as ever. The overgrown grass enveloping the sporadic, decayed columns, standing alone. The almost collapsed wall separating the hilltop and the vertical fall behind. When I walked towards the stone wall, I could almost imagine how the desperate gamblers have stood at the brim of the fall, before jumping into their doom.

And when the eerie mist started to gather around, I felt an urgent desire to leave. It’s was like suddenly being in the middle of the Silent Hill. Creepy? Oh, yes! Interesting? Yes, that too, but I think I would’ve not wanted to stay there at night.

The Ruins Still Left on the Bokor Hill Station

Despite the old casino being already “renovated”, the other buildings which the French built in the 1920s are still left virtually untouched. Some of them are totally collapsed, though, like the post office.

There is the Catholic church standing secluded on the roadside. The roof is almost collapsed, as is the interior, but it looks thrilling when the sun shines through to the stone altar in the middle of the main nave.

The former summer palace of King Sihanouk called “Black Palace,” is another building made out of the same red, crumbling stone. This place still has the feeling of the old days inside it.

The ceramic tiles have partly fallen off the walls. The roof looked like it could collapse on you, suggesting that you may not want to go upstairs if you don’t want to misstep and fall through. All windows were long gone, the holes offered stunning views down to the valley and the town of Kampot.

In one room the walls were full of writings of people who’ve visited here. I have to admit, that I carved our names in there, too. I usually never do that, but maybe I did now because there was some symbolism; the walls won’t stand forever. Just like we, they will one day crumble down and turn to dust.

On one hill there’s also a small, Buddhist temple. There was an old monk who blessed us for the rest of our journey. I still remember that moment in the tiny room, thick with incense smoke, and the old man sitting alone in the corner. Not much light came through the windows and the atmosphere was so tranquil.

We didn’t have a mutual language, but in that brief moment, I experienced some real understanding and even something mystic. I felt peace. It’s funny, how some transient and random moments will stay with you through the years like they would’ve happened just yesterday. This was one of those moments for me.

The vertical drop behind the old Casino, Bokor Palace, in Bokor Hill Station, Cambodia
The vertical drop behind the old Casino, Bokor Palace, in Bokor Hill Station, Cambodia
Behind the Bokor Palace and Casino in Bokor Hill Station, Cambodia
Behind the Bokor Palace and Casino in Bokor Hill Station, Cambodia

How to Visit the Bokor Hill Station?

All these buildings are scattered around the Bokor Hill in different locations. To visit them all, you’ll need to either hire a scooter or a taxi to drive you around.

We were staying in Kampot while visiting here and I’d say it was by far the most convenient way. If you want, you can also stop by for a day visit, like from the nearby town of Kep.

Reserve the whole day to explore around. There is a beautiful waterfall where you can sit in the shadows during the day and chill out. Best enjoyed if you bring along some snacks. Watch the Buddhist monks walking by and gather your strength before continuing your exploration.

The Bokor Hill is definitely worth a visit, even though the primary interest, the old Bokor Hill Casino & Hotel, is gone.

Have you visited here? What did you think about the Bokor Hill Station?