My Top 10 – Best Value Summer Travel Experiences (03.07.13)
On Wednesday I attended the ABTA ‘Travel Matters Conference’ at Millbank Tower overlooking the River Thames, across the river from the British Secret Intelligence Service building.
The Conference brought together 200 senior travel industry figures and I was invited to represent the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), of which Nomadic Thoughts is a member.
Whilst there were a number of poignant presentations and debates on the state of our travel industry I was particularly interested in Chief Executive of The Midcounties Co-operative, Ben Reid’s talk on this year’s buying and selling trends. In addition to clients booking holidays later than normal, the overriding importance of ‘value for money’ appears to be at the forefront of most people’s minds.
So as I left Millbank it got me thinking …. what do I think is particularly good value in the travel market today?
On reflection I have come up with my ‘Top Ten – Best Value Summer Worldwide Travel Experiences’. Focusing on the balance between ‘value for money’ and ‘exceptional experience’, these are my suggestions. I have factored in seasonal prices, climate and the over all experience in relation to their value for money:
1. Best Value Boat Trip: Traditional Dahabiya Nile Cruise Sailing Boat, Egypt.
With Egypt experiencing political upheaval, the quiet, calm and relatively unvisited Upper Nile region is not only one of the most authentic, but also best value cruise experiences. Visitor numbers are understandably down, as too are prices – which start at £ 100 per night (with meals & excursions).
2. Best Value City: Bangkok, Thailand.
In addition to offering the cheapest accommodation (5 Star starting at £ 45 per night), an air con taxi from one side of the city to the other will cost no more than a few pounds …. and don’t forget you can get free condoms at ‘Condoms to Cabbages Restaurant’ (floral display above).
3. Best Value Train Ride: Trans Siberian Express – China/Mongolia/Russia.
One of my all-time favourite train journeys. The memory of this 9,300km (5,722m) journey across Mongolian grasslands, taking in the enormous expanse of Lake Baikal and array of onion-domed churches has stayed with me for years. Travelling during our mid-summer months you will enjoy long evenings, flush meadow scenery and all things Dr Zhivago. Prices for this 6/7 day journey (Beijing to Moscow) start at £ 600 (soft sleeper); £ 400 (hard sleeper); £ 300 (2nd Class).
4. Best Value Heritage Site: Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa.
I visited Robben Island three years ago and came away humbled and impressed in equal measure. With the world’s attention on Nelson Mandela, Barrack Obama’s visit to Robben Island this week highlights how remarkable this site is. Entrance fees, which include the boat trip from Cape Town (£15 per adult; £ 7 per child) allow visitors a 3½ hour tour of the Maximum Security Prison with an ex-political prisoner guide.
5. Best Value Flight: Tortuguero rain forest to San Jose, Cost Rica.
A remarkable flight in that you can charter a private plane to pick you up from the heart of the Pacific Coast Tortuguero rain-forest and fly you across outstanding jungle scenery to the capital San Jose. You fly over the high mountain ranges of the Parque National Volcan Poas in a small private 4-passenger-plane for approx £50 per person. My family and I still giggle at the memory of our Thunderbirds-like journey through the clouds across such stunning wilderness.
6. Best Value Meal: Golden Temple Amritsar, India.
Aside from Amritsar being one of the best places to visit in the Indian monsoon season (June- October), the amazing Golden Temple welcomes all visitors with a free meal. Cooked for up to 100,000 people per day, the food is fresh, feisty and free (although we do recommend you give a donation). Certainly we loved it when we visited.
7. Best Value Luxury Beach: Mauritius.
With the northern hemisphere summer months coinciding with Mauritius’ ‘low season’, there are excellent airline and hotel promotions. You will find Mauritius much better value than most of the traditional European summer beach locations. Flights and seven nights accommodation (with meals) starts at under £1,000 (with meals).
8. Best Value Homestay: Lake Titicaca, Peru.
As the Andes and Alto Plano weather reaches its most agreeable, the world’s highest navigable lake opens its doors to visitors. Staying in one of the stupendously located homestays it is, to my mind, one of the most exciting ‘local homestay experiences’. I loved it, as you not only get to stay in one of the world’s most impressive water-side locations, but directly contribute to the local economy. Prices start at under £50 per night (with meals).
9. Best Value Adventure Activity: Sand Dune Jeep-Surfing, Oman.
It might be hot … but it is fantastic fun … as you slide down the 100 metre high sand dunes with only the early morning dawn and canopy of stars around you. The 4×4 jeep excursions and desert camps start at £ 100 per person, per night. I can still hear the screams from my kids as they played aeroplanes down the highest sand dune.
10. Best Value Wildlife Experience: Trekking in search of Silverback Mountain Gorillas, Uganda/Rwanda.
As the East Africa Migration reaches a crescendo of animals and tourists, why not slide westwards to probably the most remarkable wildlife experience I have encountered. If you are lucky, for approximately £ 400 you might share a 3,000m high tennis-court-sized patch of jungle, with a 230kg male gorilla. In addition, the dry season (July-September) is one of the best times to track gorillas.