How to do Sustainable Camping

Camping provides access to beautiful hiking and fishing sports, making it the ideal way to escape from the daily chores so you can unwind and relax.

It is important to keep the environment in mind though – and that’s where sustainable camping comes in.

There are a lot of things you can do to make your stay at a campsite eco-friendly.  

Sustainable camping tips
Sustainable camping tips

Related Read: Camping Survival Tips for Adults

Top tips for sustainable camping

Let’s have a look at the things you can do to minimize the damage on the environment when camping:

Use solar energy 

When camping in a motor home, portable solar equipment creates pollution-free electricity and therefore it is an excellent clean alternative. They can provide power for a number of devices such as radios, chargers and lights.

If you want to have a shower in the great outdoors why not use a solar shower? It is as simple as filling a water bag in the morning so that you’re ready to wash in the afternoon. 

Here’s a few great solar-powered camping gadgets:

These are all great gadgets to add to your sustainable camping kit!

Take your litter with you 

Campsites have huge problems with waste, therefore if you go to a campsite make sure you throw away all the litter you have produced. Instead of adding to the litter problem, try to leave the campground in better condition than you have found it. This is crucial because it can take months or even years for litter to decompose. Also try not to leave food, as this attract animals to the campsite for a snack.  

Have a safe fire 

Most campsites have fire restrictions you should pay attention to, whilst other campsites even have their own fire rings you can use. When choosing wood go for fallen timber instead of cutting wood off trees.

When you can’t make a fire because of safety restrictions you can use camping stoves to cook, lanterns to provide you with light and extra clothing to keep you warm.  

Wash it green

If you keep the environment in mind and bring reusable cutlery then also wash it green. Instead of using toxic detergent, you should try to use biodegradable soaps. Also remember that liquid waste should not be emptied into a river, but onto vegetation or dry ground.  

Green equipment 

Nowadays caravan dealers choice in camping materials, so choose wisely. When it comes to sustainable camping you can consider the following idea’s:

Choose a tent that is completely made out of recycled materials. If that’s a bit too expensive for you, have a look at pre-owned tents or eco-friendly tents at a sporting goods store.

There is also a broad range of eco-friendly sleeping bags. Whatever choice you make, be sure to look at the materials before you decide to buy a tent or sleeping bag.

Check out these great camping spots in the US:


How to Get Tickets to View da Vinci’s Last Supper Painting, Milan

Milan, in Northern Italy, has so much more to offer than the boutiques and football, its roads are steeped with history, and there are so many churches and cathedrals to see and absorb the culture.

Milan also offers relaxation from all the sightseeing strains in the way of its many spas. Or take a gondola trip around the labyrinth of Milan’s canals, something which this Italian city is less well known for. There is no shortage of things to enthrall and captivate in this admirable place.

Or, you can witness the painting of The Last Supper by Da Vinci.

Painting of The Last Supper by Da Vinci
Painting of The Last Supper by Da Vinci

Experiencing the painting of The Last Supper by Da Vinci

It has to be noted that one of the unmissable attractions of Milan, is Da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper. This has always been one of the most famous paintings in the world since its creation in the 15th century. Interest has risen even more significantly since the publication of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code in 2003.

Tickets for the Last Supper are very popular, and sell out quickly, often weeks in advance, so it is advisable to book your Last Supper tickets early if you intend to see this world famous controversy for yourself. Only a certain number of people can visit the Last Supper masterpiece in one day, so as to preserve it, so make sure you don’t miss out.

The Last Supper painting is kept in the Santa Maria delle Grazie (Holy Mary of Grace – Wikipedia) church. The church itself is a alluring tourist attraction and definitely worth a visit. It is one of the most grand churches of the Lombard Renaissance, and took 20 years to build.

It is worth looking at the various tours which operate around Milan, and combine the Last Supper tickets with some other fun excursions to make the most of your day. Other interesting things to do include La Scala Opera House, the world renowned opera house, and Corso Venezia, a fashionable street.

This tour by Get Your Guide, includes the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in central Milan and Milan’s renowned opera house, La Scala – plus, guaranteed tickets to see the painting of The Last Supper.

How to get tickets to view da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan?

The famous Last Supper fresco of Leonardo Da Vinci in Milan is notoriously difficult to access for viewing, as the number of visits is limited and people book months in advance.

If you’ve not booked in advance and arrive in Milan to find that there are no tickets left, what can you do?

It turns out that there are still possibilities to see the masterwork, albeit, at a slightly higher cost.

The only way visitors to Milan can see this masterwork without advance reservations is to book a guided tour.

One way is to go to a Milan Tourism Point and book the LookMi tour or the LookMi Light tour. These tours include a visit to the Last Supper every day except on Monday. With the Milano Card (buy it here), you get 10% off on the tour’s price.

Another possibility is the three-hour Autostradale bus tour or the ATM City tour.

The Autostradale Look-Mi tour departs from Piazza del Duomo in front of the Cathedral, near MacDonald’s, at 9.30 am, lasts three hours and includes Cathedral – Gallery – Scala – Sforza Castle – Last Supper – Arch of Peace – Arena – Monumental Cemetery. The price includes transportation from and to main hotels, entrance fees to monuments, and the guided tour. Online booking from the Autostradale website. You are eligible to a 10% discount with the MilanoCard .

The ATM tour operates from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9:30 a.m. in Largo Cairoli (opposite the Castello ) and ends at about 1:00 in Piazza Duomo. The website gives a schedule. Info line 02 48036999. There are also tours, albeit with a slightly different program, but include the Last Supper, on Wednesdays (1pm) and Friday/Saturday (2:15 pm).

On the Internet you may find other tours at different costs, e.g. at 24Milano and Zani Viaggi , Viator, and TicketItaly.

Yet another possibility is to book at least a few days in advance with Last Supper Tickets. You can not book here more than three days in advance.

To pay the normal entrance fee of 6.50€, you’ll have to make a reservation the official way, at the Vivaticket website, months in advance! The availability of tickets changes rather a lot over time, so come back to the site regularly (you may just have luck).

On site there are guided English language tours at 9.30 and 3.30 (3.50 euro extra fee). To book this guided tour, you first need to get tickets for one of the two periods and then contact the call center (02 92800360) to book the guide.

Book your Last Supper tickets early

Remember to purchase your Last Supper tickets before your trip to ensure you don’t miss anything.

Discover more of Leonardo da Vinci’s Milan by exploring more of his work throughout the city, including the Sforza Castle, Biblioteca Ambrosiana and Museo Poldi Pezzoli.


What is Travel Insurance? And Why You Need It

Travel planning isn’t all about booking flights and hotels, it includes a few boring aspects….one of them being travel insurance.

What is travel insurance you might ask?

Travel insurance is one of those things that you have to have, but hope you’ll never use.

If you’re a traveler that loves to count every penny then travel insurance is probably not high on your list, as you won’t reap any immediate benefit from your purchase…but trust us, you’ll be happy you got it should anything go wrong on your trip! Travel insurance will save you A LOT of pennies when you have to make use of it.

There are different travel insurance options available, some travelers may be happy with a general policy, while others prefer a tailored package provided by companies such as World Nomads.

Various cover options include trip cancelation, luggage protection, emergency medical expenses, and emergency medical transportation.

What is travel insurance?
What is travel insurance, and why do you need it?

What is travel insurance?

Travel insurance includes various types of cover for your travels. Here are the main things that travel insurance includes.

Trip Cancellation/Interruption

This is the most basic coverage and covers most events that would result in you not being able to take your trip.

Examples include but are not limited to: Sickness, Injury, Job Change, and Financial Distress (bankruptcy) to either yourself or any of your travel companions. A good policy may also cover Delays, Terrorism, Political Change, Supplier Cancellations and Natural Disasters.

Single Occupancy Coverage

If you have arranged for double occupancy accommodation and your partner cancels or has to change their plans, you can get the required “upgrade” covered by insurance.

Trip Delay / Missed Connection

Any delay that is out of your control can entitle you to compensation.

Legal Assistance

This coverage can provide access to local legal experts in the event you get caught in any legal misunderstandings.

Accident / Medical Expense

Any procedures or treatment performed during your trip or potentially as a direct result of an event that occurs on your trip. This segment of coverage can sometimes include a minor amount of Dental care as well.

Note that SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance now includes cover for Covid-19. As with any other illness on the cover, all medical expenses will be covered – as long as you didn’t contract the virus before taking out the insurance. Testing for COVID-19 will only be covered if deemed medically necessary by a physician. The antibody test is not covered, as it is not medically necessary.

Pet Coverage

If you are bringing your pet (this is generally restricted to a cat or dog) they can be covered for emergency medical expenses.

Emergency Evacuation

This coverage is necessary for trips where you may not be near medical facilities and you may need transport like a helicopter or express train to get to a proper medical facility.

Accidental Death & Dismemberment (AD&D)

If an event causes the loss of any body part (dismemberment), you can be compensated according to standard fee schedules. The other portion of coverage is self-explanatory.

Baggage Coverage

If your baggage is lost or delayed, you can get reimbursed for necessities as well as clothing and other personal effects.  Some plans will cover items that include laptops and electronic devices.

Our recommendation is to ensure that you at minimum purchase Trip Cancellation/Delay coverage since that covers any major trip changes. Some Medical plans will continue your coverage while you are traveling abroad so the Accident/Medical Coverage, Emergency Evacuation, and/or AD&D coverage may even be redundant for some travelers.

However, the medical coverage you get from a travel insurer can be of much better quality, and can put you as a traveler at a lower risk of having to pay up-front for exorbitant medical fees before being reimbursed.

Additional coverages should be subscribed at the travelers discretion.

Questions to ask oneself before deciding on coverage include:

  • Is my time away flexible or do I have a strict schedule?
  • Does my plane ticket guarantee I make it to my destination? (i.e. Budget carries like Ryanair do not)
  • What is the airline policy on lost/delayed baggage?
  • Will I be in an urban setting or will I be far away from civilization? (Evacuation potential)
  • Does my home country and the country I’m visiting have a strong relationship? (Legal Assistance)
  • Who will I be traveling with? Is my traveling partner a potential flake that may end up costing me money?
  • Do I need specific insurance, like volunteer abroad travel insurance.
Buying volunteer abroad travel insurance
Buying volunteer abroad travel insurance

10 Reasons why you need travel insurance

1. Emergency medical care

You never know when you could get sick or injured while on a trip. This is especially important if you are taking part in adventurous activities like hiking, snowboarding, surfing, or scuba diving.

With travel medical coverage, you won’t be paying a huge medical bill. You’ll also have assistance services –  in your own language – to locate a suitable medical facility and arrange transportation.

2. Luggage protection

You never know when you’re luggage will get lost on the plane, get stolen while traveling on local buses/trains etc., or get damaged while in transit. This includes not only your clothes in your suitcase but your precious equipment such as camera, laptop, cell phone etc.

If your luggage is delayed, travel insurance will reimburse you for each day you are without it, and if it’s stolen you’ll be covered to be able to replace your items.

3. Cover if your trip gets canceled

There could be a number of reasons why you have to suddenly cancel a trip — illness, family emergencies, work responsibilities, or another emergency comes up and you can no longer go. You never know what life is going to throw at you.

With trip cancelation coverage, you’ll be able to recover your expenses for these covered reasons and more.

4. You miss your connection or your flight is canceled

If you are traveling a route that requires more than one flight and you happen to miss your connection for whatever reasons, many travel insurance policies will cover you for those missed connections. The same goes for if your flight is canceled.

5. Adventure and sports coverage

If you are planning on doing any adventurous activities or participate in any sports, this cover will be extremely important for you. World Nomads covers a number of different activities including those in the snow, water, air, on land, and a variety of sports.

Whether your scuba gear gets stolen or you get injured while windsurfing, you’ll be covered.

6. Working or volunteering abroad

You can get tailored travel insurance if you’re going to be working or volunteering aboard, you’ll then be covered for anything that happens to you while on the job. Specific covers include for child care, general farm work, hospitality, restaurant, teaching, admin work, ski instructor, and even for office work.

7. Assistance with emergency prescriptions

If your prescription medication gets lost, stolen, or runs out, there are travel insurance covers that will assist you with filling in an emergency prescription. This is an important cover if you’re on any vital medication!

8. Your travel company goes under

What happens if you book the most amazing trip with a tour company months before you’re due to leave on the trip, then just before something happens to the company and they close down? Some travel insurance companies will help you recoup your expenses already paid and help you book another trip.

9. Losing your documents abroad

This is possibly every travelers worst nightmare. A good travel insurance policy will help you replace your documents and assist in getting you home.

10. A natural disaster or terrorism act

Should a natural disaster such as a hurricane, earthquake, or flood occur or an act of terrorism happens wherever you are, you’ll want to get home. A travel insurance policy will assist in getting you home safely.

Also, if these should happen in your destination before you leave and have to cancel your trip, you’ll also be reimbursed for your expenses.

Where to get travel insurance

World Nomads

For a good travel insurance, we strongly recommended World Nomads. They are a well-known and trusted brand among many frequent travelers, they offer good value for money, flexibility, availability to claim online while you’re still away, offering coverage for a range of adventure activities, provide up-to-date travel safety alerts through their World Nomads Travel Safety Hub, and even allow you to buy a World Nomads policy if you’re already traveling.

Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travelers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.

Note that World Nomads does not cover travel to countries with a COVID travel ban, so familiarize yourself with the exclusions (read more about their Coronavirus cover here). Nonetheless, getting travel insurance is extremely important to get while travelling in a pandemic.

Get a quote from World Nomads below:

All in all, the rates for full coverage Travel Insurance are very reasonable given you choose the right provider. It is well worth getting full coverage if you can. You will be very grateful for the options full coverage provides should your trip not go as planned. 

We have seen many trips be interrupted by unforeseen circumstances (even before Covid-19), and a good quality travel insurance plan, such as the one offered by World Nomads or SafetyWing, that covers everything is often the savior of a spoiled vacation. 

Knowing what you are paying for and what your plan includes is important, and we hope the breakdown of each aspect of coverage helps you next time you are researching and purchasing travel insurance.


Corcovado National Park Hike: A Jungle Hike for the Whole Family

Kids and adults love a good adventure!

If your planning a family getaway that will excite the kids and amaze the parents, Corcovado National Park on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula is sure to delight everyone.

It’s exciting for families to explore the heart of a tropical jungle together, and to see exotic wildlife in it’s natural habitat.

One of the things to do in the park is to do a Corcovado National Park hike.

This blog post shares our experience of hiking in Corcovado National Park with kids.

Corcovado National Park hike, Costa Rica
Corcovado National Park hike

About Corcovado National Park

The Corcovado National Park is located on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. While the park is one of the more remote in the national park system, Corcovado provides excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. 

Flora and fauna in the Corcovado N.P. 

National Geographic called Corcovado National Park the “most biologically intense place on Earth” and this is no exaggeration. All four of the monkeys species found within Costa Rica (Mantled Howler, Squirrel Monkey, Spider Monkey and White-faced Capuchin) exist in large numbers throughout the park.

  • Two crocodilians (the occasionally large and saline tolerant American Crocodile and the small Spectacled Caiman) persist within all of the park’s major waterways, as do Bull sharks.
  • The Jaguar population within the park is the healthiest in all of Central America, however it is still extremely unlikely for a visitor to spot one (most locals have never seen them either.)
  • Many other elusive cats call the park home as well, including the Puma (which is slightly smaller and more arboreal in Central American than in the United States, probably due to competition with the Jaguar,) Ocelot, Jaguarundi and Margay.
  • The park is one of the last strongholds of the Baird’s Tapir and there are hundreds within decent proximity from Sirena Station, usually found lounging in the shade or in shallow pools of stagnant water.
  • There are dozens of snake species present, many of them venomous, including the Fer-de-lance (also known as terciopelo or “Costa Rican landmine”,) the Bushmaster, the Eyelash Pit Viper, and the Coral Snake.
  • The largest snake within the park is the non-venomous Boa Constrictor.
  • Numerous other small mammals and reptiles are common within the park including, but by no means limited to, the White-nosed Coati, Sloth, Tamandua, Giant Anteater, Basilisk, and Ctenosaur.
  • Birds include the highly endangered Scarlet Macaw, the Tiger Heron, Black Vulture and the Toco Toucan, among hundreds of others including the critically endangered Harpy Eagle.

Getting there by bus

Regular bus service is available to Puerto Jimenez. Passenger truck service from Puerto Jimenez to the southern entrance at Carate occurs on a biweekly or greater basis.

The journey generally takes between 3-5 hours by road depending on weather, traffic conditions. 

Getting there by 4WD

All roads on the Osa Peninsula exhibit the disrepair characteristic of Costa Rica outside of the main tourist destinations. The road from Puerto Jimenez to Carate require a 4WD vehicle as it is a gravel road with several required river fordings.

It is recommended that this drive should only be attempted during the dry season. Note that Carate is next to the beach. Take care not to pass Carate as it is poorly marked. Parking is available by paying the store/bus stop which is Carate.

4WD Taxis are available for the passage from Puerto Jiminez to Carate. They are easy to find on the main strip of Puerto Jiminez. 

Fees and permits

Permits must be reserved in advance. You must have a permit to stay overnight at Sirena. In practice, the Park often allows campers with their own food to enter without advance reservations and prepayment, but during busy times of the year even the camping areas are filled, especially Sirena Ranger Station.

Sirena is the only ranger station that offers dormitory lodging and hot meals in addition to camping. La Leona, San Pedrillo, and Los Patos offer only camping with no food service.

It is possible to secure park permits directly from the Ranger Station in Puerto Jiménez. They also do accept credit cards now (visa/master).

Corcovado National Park Hike

Hiking in the tropical rainforest together as a family can help to build a foundation of love for the outdoors and create family experiences that will be remembered over a lifetime.

Hiking in the tropical rainforest jungle with kids and young adults is different experience than with a group of only adults. Kids hike slower, their perspective is from a place closer to the ground. Kids are curious and have many questions about the new environment. There is a real joy in discovering the jungle from a young persons point of view.

The most important consideration in undertaking a long hike with children is to keep them engaged and interested through out the hike. One great way to keep them engaged is to keep a list of all wildlife encountered, and then to review the list together over dinner.

Related Read: Bird Watching Tips for Costa Rica

Both kids and adults will be amazed at the number of different species that they found in the forest. There are many games that can be played on the trail together to keeps kid’s engaged, another good one is to pick a letter and search for things in the jungle that start with that letter. For example, the letter is M, and they spot Macaw, Monkey, Motmot, Morpho, etc. 

It’s important to remember that kids and young adults have different abilities and stamina and parents need to honestly assess if it’s both physically and psychologically possible for their child to make a major multi-day hike to Corcovado’s Sirena Biological Station or if a shorter day trip is more appropriate. Evaluate your child’s ability to walk on their own for 6-8 hours, and be sure your kids enjoy hiking and exploring.

Corcovado National Park hike details

The best seasons for doing the Corcovado National Park hike are the dry season from mid December through April and the beginning of the Green Season in May, June and July. From mid August through mid November is the thick of the rainy season. The park is closed in October due to inclement weather. 

Park reservations are necessary to enter the park, even for day trips, so be sure to arrange your reservation through the park office or your guide before hand. 

Two great hikes for families into Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park both start at the La Leona Ranger Station, accessed from the small town of Carate. A third option is to charter a plane from Puerto Jimenez to fly you into the park.

1. Day trip to Rio Madrigal for kids age 6 and older and adults who prefer shorter walks

This hike starts in the morning at the La Leona Ranger Station, and takes hikers 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) to Rio Madrigal. Along the trail, look for scarlet macaws, monkeys, morpho butterflies, mushrooms, and other flora and fauna.

While this hike can be made without a guide, guides are recommended as they can spot, share and explain the natural ecosystem and animals to the entire family. Bring a picnic lunch and your swimwear for a refreshing river swim and then hike back out to the La Leona Ranger Station in the afternoon.

2. Multi-day adventure (3 or 4 days) to Sirena Biological Station for kids ~12 years old and up and adults who enjoy serious hiking

This multi-day hike also starts in the early morning at the La Leona Ranger Station and takes hikers 17 kilometers (10 miles) from La Leona to Sirena Biological Station. Along the trail your guide will point out a wide range of flora and fauna from the forest floor all the way up into the rainforest canopy. This hike should not be made without a family friendly guide, as there are several river crossings and beach outcrops to navigate in collaboration with the tides.

Day one is spent hiking to Sirena Biological Station, the middle day(s) are spent exploring the network of trails around Sirena, and can include river swimming, waterfalls, and nature walks, and the final day is spent hiking out to La Leona Ranger Station.

3. Charter a plane into Sirena Biological Station

A third option for families not able to hike into Sirena Biological Station is to charter a plane from Puerto Jimenez (seats 6) to fly in / and or / out of the park. This option skips the day long hike, and offers amazing aerial views of the Osa Peninsula. The landing on the grass airstrip in the middle of the jungle is another experience you’ll not soon forget. 

Hikes along the La Leona Trail meander from beach to forest, so be sure to bring plenty of water (3 liters per person is recommended), a hat and good sunscreen for this expedition. 

Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica
Corcovado National Park

Tips before the hike

  • Get your kids outdoors often to look around for the small stuff – insects, fungus, birds.
  • Let kids participate in practicing their hiking skills before the big trip. 
  • Share maps, pictures of animals, insects and plants found in the tropical rainforest.
  • Express and share your own sense of excitement with your kids.

Tips during the hike

  • Bring plenty of snacks to eat and water to drink.
  • Give kids their own daypack or camelpack filled with water, emergency whistle, flashlight and snacks.
  • Emphasize fun: spotting exotic wildlife, funny plants, or river swimming is always fun.
  • Embrace the pace set by the kids, stop often to let kids rest, watch, and fuel up.
  • Take lots of pictures to remember the fun.
  • Let kids be kids and be prepared to change the plan if it’s not working.

What to bring on the hike

  • Plenty of water
  • Snacks for hike in / out
  • Hat & swimsuit
  • Comfortable lightweight clothing
  • Sunscreen & sunglasses
  • Closed toe, ankle high footwear
  • Insect repellent
  • Camera / binoculars
  • Sheets / tent for Sirena
  • Flashlight / other essentials

Related Read: Must Have Hiking and Camping Gear

More Tips for hiking safely in Corcovado National Park Costa Rica

Drinking water

The water at the ranger station is potable, but if you are concerned, bring some type of water purifier. The park recommends you carry 1.5 liters of water for the La Leona and Los Patos hike, but I’ve seen my guests drink this within the first 2 hours. Know your self and your water needs, dehydration and heat-exhaustion are common illnesses in the park.

Sunscreen

It’s recommended to use sunscreen, a hat, and long sleeved shirt on the hike from Sirena to La Leona. While much of the hike is through the jungle, there are long stretches along the beach that benefit from sun protection.

Insect Repellent

Recent outbreaks of Dengue Fever in Costa Rica are a concern. Currently there is no Malaria to be worried about. Also, bug spray helps with the sand flies and no-see-ums…

Solo Hiking? No

It’s best to hike with a guide or a hiking buddy. There are several tricky river crossings and tricky rocky ocean/beach crossings that need to be navigated at low tide…

Don’t hike off-trail

Each year people try to bushwack their way to discovered areas of Corcovado, and each year the local community has to preform rescue missions to find them when they go missing. For your safety and the safety of others, it’s best to stick to the marked trails.

No Swimming

Crocodiles and Bullsharks rule the ocean here and love to swim at the mouth of rivers. In addition, the currents and tides are quite powerful.

River Crossings

Cross carefully and quickly, and never risk crossing the rivers at high tide or during heavy rain.

Snakes

Watch where you step and touch. There are Fer de Lance and other poisonous snakes in the region. Be especially careful around rivers and streams where they come to eat frogs, especially at night.

Ants

Seemingly harmless, their bites sting for up to one hour…

Peccaries/Wild Pigs

There are two different species of peccaries in Corcovado, the Collared and the White-lipped Peccary. They run in packs and can be very aggressive. If threatened by a group of peccaries, climb a tree until you are six feet or higher off the ground.

Is the Corcovado National Park hike worth it?

While it’s really a hike vs a stroll through the park, Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park hike is an experience of a lifetime. Corcovado is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity and has been described by National Geographic as the most “biologically intense” place on earth.

A trip into Corcovado will be a trip your family will never forget.


Visiting Damaraland and Spitzkoppe, Namibia

It was the 30th day of my amazing African adventure and I couldn’t believe I had been driving around this continent for a month now! After visiting so many amazing places already, next up was visiting Damaraland and Spitzkoppe.

On this day, we left the spectacular Etosha behind and travelled onward through the desert, to Damaraland and Spitzkoppe. As we departed Etosha we were fortunate enough to be greeted by a few more animals, waving us off on our journey. We saw a male lion, with two more far off in the distance (binoculars were necessary at this point!), some ostriches, zebras and giraffes.

Visiting Damaraland and Spitzkoppe was part of the Serengeti, Falls & Cape Town Overland: Sunsets & Safaris tour with G Adventures.

On route to Damaraland and Spitzkoppe in Namibia.
On route to Damaraland and Spitzkoppe in Namibia.

We even witnessed some springbok “spronking” (a comical four-legged jump).

A springbok “spronking”.
Photo found on Google as I didn’t manage to capture this hilarious moment, but this is a springbok “spronking”!

Starting the journey to Damaraland and Spitzkoppe

Our journey was a bumpy one, and with 70% of Namibian roads being dusty and uneven, we wouldn’t return to paved roads until we reached South Africa. We stopped off to see some enormous termite mounds, and although they weren’t of much interest to our Aussie travel friends because they can be seen in Australia too, I found them fascinating.

There are five types of termites:

  • The “workers”, who build the mounds. They are sexually immature, blind, wingless and the smallest of the three.
  • The “alates”, who are winged and have no purpose in the group. They simply hatch and fly.
  • The “soldiers”, who protect the mound, have sharp jaws and defend their colony.
  • The “queen”, who has the longest lifespan of any insect in the world, with some queens reportedly living up to 30 to 50 years. They are the only ones who lay the eggs and so the future of the mound depends on them. If the queen does die though, her daughter can take over.
  • The “king”, who mates with the queen for life and fertilizes the eggs.

All termite mounds in Africa lean to the west because of the sun and the wind, there are 3,100 species of termites and millions live in each mound. Aardvarks and other animals attack termites for food and the local people will also eat the alate and soldier termites, as they are full of protein and are delicious when fried, according to our CEO and guide Wellington. As well as a food source, the locals use the soil from the mounds to build houses.

Termite mounds in Namibia.
It’s amazing to think that such tiny creatures can create this massive mound!

We also saw the national plant of Namibia, Welwitschia mirabilis. Endemic to the Namib Desert, it can live up to 2,000 years and grows sideways.

The Welwitschia mirabilis - the national plant in Namibia
The Welwitschia mirabilis – the national plant in Namibia

The final stop before reaching Damaraland

Our final stop before reaching Damaraland was a national monument: Namibia’s Petrified Forest.

Here we were taught about a phenomenon that began around 280 million years ago, when the end of the Ice Age caused an enormous flood. Trees were uprooted and ended up in Namibia, where they were buried underground and changed form due to the penetration of minerals caused by pressure. They had become petrified, meaning they were now trees made of stone. As a result of erosion, the trees reached the earth’s surface and were discovered by two farmers in the 1940s.

The Petrified Forest National Heritage Site in Namibia
The Petrified Forest National Heritage Site in Namibia
The Petrified Forest National Heritage Site in Namibia
The Petrified Forest National Heritage Site in Namibia

Learning about the Damara culture in Damaraland

Once we arrived into Damaraland, we took a tour of the Living Museum to learn about the lost culture of the Damara people. Though they no longer live in the traditional manner, the tour aims to keep the culture alive for future generations. We watched singing and dancing and the men demonstrated their fire starting ability, which we were told was a skill they needed originally, in order to impress a woman into becoming their wife. We also entered the women’s workshop, where they were creating jewelry and knickknacks out of materials such as ostrich egg shells, seeds and porcupine spikes.

We learnt about the traditional medicines and the Damara peoples’ resourcefulness in their creation of tools. For example, they would use springbok horns to make weaponry for hunting that could also be used for pipe smoking.

Their clothing was made from goat leather and we observed a game they played for hours and would take very seriously (which I’d seen played in Zanzibar), called Bao. This would be used to teach their children how to count in the Khoekhoe language. 

The Damara people in Namibia
Our friendly guide, Sharon
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia

A tour of Twyfelfontein

The following day began with a tour of Namibia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Twyfelfontein. Afrikaans for “doubtful fountain”, there is a spring here which seldom receives rainfall (hence the name), but it is best known for its multitude of prehistoric rock engravings.

These were made during the early Stone Age and depict hunting maps, footprints, waterholes and animals, including giraffes, elephants, ostriches and rhinos. Some of the artists must have been nomads because there were even animals such as penguins and seals, which would’ve been found elsewhere.

The engravings were made using quartz stones and were discovered in 1921, but it was never clear exactly when they were made, with historians predicting anywhere between two to six thousand years ago. Thought to have been the work of Bushmen or Nama artists, there are more than 2,500 rock carvings and paintings in the area.

Twyfelfontein - Namibia's first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site
Rock engravings in Twyfelfontein - Namibia's first World Heritage Site
Rock engravings in Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein - Namibia's first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein - Namibia's first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site

From Damaraland to Spitzkoppe

It was now time to leave Damaraland and travel south towards Spitzkoppe. En route we made a few pit stops and the first of which was at a village populated by Herero people.

We were encouraged to explore their markets, as tourists buying their handmade wares was their main source of income. I bought a beautiful bag and we gave the children water. Our CEOs told us that it was important not to give them food or sweets, as we don’t want to encourage a begging culture, we cannot give them the same tomorrow, and they may not be able to brush their teeth after eating sweets.

Wellington also referred to the saying:

‘give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime’.

This phrase stayed with me and is something that it seems G Adventures feel strongly about because they support so many worthwhile enterprises which do exactly this.

Shopping in markets in Namibia
I bought my bag from this lady’s stall. Her dress was exquisite!
Shopping in markets in Namibia
Giving the children water from our tap at the back of the lando

We passed Brandberg Mountain, which at 2,573 metres, is Namibia’s tallest mountain. We also stopped to meet some Himba people, who are indigenous and have an estimated population of around 50,000 living in northern Namibia.

Wellington told us some information about this fascinating group, whose ancestors can be traced back to the early 16th century. They carry out arranged marriages from the age of 10 and their perception of wealth is reflected in the number of cows that they own.

They wear special contraptions around their ankles to protect them from snake bites and they make their own natural hair extensions, sun cream and mosquito repellents. Women are not allowed to use water for washing, as traditionally there were many great droughts and only the men were permitted to use this scarce commodity.

Therefore, the women used (and still use) smouldering charcoal which they would mix with herbs and wash in the smoke produced. Similarly, the men engage in polygamy but the women are forbidden from doing so.

Brandberg Mountain on the way to Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Brandberg Mountain
A Himba lady and her two sons
A Himba lady and her two sons

Arriving in Spitzkoppe

As we arrived into Spitzkoppe we noticed its many granite peaks in what seemed like every direction, as they stand out dramatically from the flat surrounding plains. It was beautiful to walk around this almost-700-million-year-old area, and we spent the rest of the day climbing and exploring the breathtaking landscapes in the Namib Desert.

Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Spitzkoppe in Namibia

Just before the sun set, we clambered up one of the peaks and watched from above, listening to the bird song and gazing at the natural beauty around us.

Sunset in Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Sunset in Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia

Click here to view my 360° virtual tour of sunset on one of Spitzkoppe’s peaks!

In the evening, we enjoyed each other’s company around the campfire, singing and stargazing at the incredible night’s sky.

Stars in Spitzkoppe
Stars in Spitzkoppe
Nighttime in Spitzkoppe
Nighttime in Spitzkoppe
Nighttime in Spitzkoppe
Nighttime in Spitzkoppe

Next up, we ventured to Swakopmund, where we would be exploring the Namib Desert by board instead of foot.

Thinking about exploring Namibia? Check out the Namibia tours offered by G Adventures – many include visiting both Damaraland and Spitzkoppe.


Discover Leonardo da Vinci’s Milan

Milan is certainly a powerhouse of fashion, finance, and furniture – but art destination?

Really?  

Apart from The Last Supper and the Duomo, Milan’s list of artistic blockbusters seems paltry when compared with those of Rome or Florence, but delve a little deeper and you will discover a city that played a significant role in the life of one of the greatest geniuses in world history: Leonardo da Vinci

You need to experience Leonardo da Vinci’s Milan

From 1482 until the French invasion of 1499, Leonardo worked for the tyrannical Regent Ludovico (later Duke of Milan). You can see how significant this phase of Leonardo’s life was with a tour of some gems associated with his time in Milan.    

Leonardo da Vinci’s Milan

The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie 

Don’t make the mistake of arriving in Milan expecting to drop in and see the painting of The Last Supper.

You will need to book weeks in advance for a 15-minute group visit. It’s worth it though.

Years of meticulous restoration have brought back to life the essential drama of Leonardo’s version of the disciples’ reaction to Christ’s announcement that one of them will betray him.  

Painting of The Last Supper by Da Vinci
Painting of The Last Supper by Da Vinci

Sforza Castle 

Take a break from the crowds at Santa Maria delle Grazie and take your time appreciating Leonardo’s magnificent ceiling of mulberry trees in the far corner of the main building at Sforza Castle.  

There are several museums at the castle, but the most fascinating for fans of Leonardo are the picture galleries, which house many late 15th-century paintings from the city.  (And the mulberry trees, of course).  

Biblioteca Ambrosiana 

Established at the end of the 16th century, this library and picture gallery houses Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus notebooks, a collection of some 1,200-odd pages that offers the most extensive insights into his unique mind. It covers his working life from the age of 26 in 1478, until his death in 1519.   

The exhibit is shared with the Bramante Sacristry at Santa Maria delle Grazie, and covers everything from notes on how to view an eclipse to a list of India’s rivers.  The library’s amazing art collection also includes Leonardo’s only known portrait painting of a man: The Musician.  

Entry is €15 (or €20 if you want to visit the Codex Atlanticus exhibit in the Bramante Sacristry of Santa Maria delle Grazie as well). Here’s a guided tour of both Ambrosiana Gallery & Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus.

Museo Poldi Pezzoli 

For a museum that contains such a superb collection of furniture and paintings, the Museo Poldi Pezzoli is remarkably free of visitors.  

Mainly from the high Renaissance, the collections include works by Botticelli, Pollaiolo, Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, and Piero della Francesca, as well as some paintings by Andrea Solario, who worked with Leonardo. You will also see the delightful Mystical Marriage of St Catherine by Bernadino Luini and a Virgin and Child by Giovanni Boltraffio, both of whom worked with and were probably trained by Leonardo.  

Pinacoteca di Brera 

The principal picture gallery in Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera is as good as the Accademia in Venice and the Uffizi in Florence, but the crowds are far smaller.  

It’s hard to pick a highlight, but among the standouts are some wonderful 15th-century Venetian paintings that Leonardo must have seen, including Madonnas by Bellini and Mantegna.  

Leonardo’s Horse at San Siro 

When is a Leonardo sculpture not quite a Leonardo sculpture? When it is made in the 20th century based extensive research into the sketches and notes made by the Renaissance giant.  

The massive bronze horse at San Siro is a full-size cast based on the commission Leonardo received in 1482 from the Duke of Milan as a monument to the duke’s father.   

The biggest equestrian monument in the world, it’s free to view in the peaceful surroundings of Milan’s racecourse. There are options for public transport to get here.  

The Navigli

You don’t need to enter any church or museum to see one of Leonardo’s greatest contributions to Milan.

The innovative system of sluices designed by Leonardo for the city’s network of canals allowed Milan to develop into one of Italy’s largest inland ports, despite the absence of a main river. The canals became so integral to the city that some areas almost looked Venetian.

Walk in the footsteps of da Vinci

Explore all of Leonardo da Vinci’s Milan with this three-hour art tour that walks in the footsteps of Da Vinci. See the famous portrayal of the Last Supper, check out the Atlantic Codex at Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, and admire the Il Musico painting.