Israel – Dead Sea Tour

Daniel and Jacqueline from Gomio, Ryan from HostelBookers, Dave from Clink

Daniel and Jacqueline from Gomio, Ryan from HostelBookers, Dave from Clink78

Towards the end of 2012, I was hanging out at the ‘Gomio World Hostel Conference‘ in Jerusalem. As I flew in a few days prior, I managed to meet a few of the other early arrivals and check out the sights of Israel. You cannot go to Israel and not see the Dead Sea! I remember being a young boy in Australia, hearing about tales of my friends parents floating on ‘magic’ water while on holiday… with water so salty it stung the eyes… and mud so rich in minerals it soothed the skin. It’s one of the sights that has been on my bucketlist for the longest time, so I was wrapped to finally get the opportunity.

As the majority of conference delegates were staying at Abrahams Hostel (the host property), they were kind enough to organise any tours we wished to participate in. They have a full tours desk inside the hostel – check out their tours operation and choices here:

http://www.abraham-hostel-jerusalem.com/en-us/activities/tours.aspx

The Dead Sea is the lowest spot on the face of the earth, and a natural health spa. Abrahams do a half day tour, which was a popular option for many delegates – a great half day escape! Trading in the cold start of winter in London for a warm sunny Dead Sea experience was definitely a highlight of the trip. Abraham’s Tour Bus takes you there and back, it’s an easy cheap option… you take a lunch or can buy snacks there. The driver doubled up as a bit of a guide and told us a few tales of Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and points of interest along the way – including the Mount of Olives and its churches.

The drive isn’t too long (40mins) and once there, it’s pretty much free time to lounge in the sun, have some mud fights and float in the Dead Sea! I definitely recommend to swim out over the rope buoy barriers and into the lake properly, as you really do get a better outlook as to just how big the area is. You can even see the bordering country – Jordan… and its tourists enjoying the same day you are on the other side of the lake. The lake is huge and we saw just one small part of it – nothing fancy, just a chilled spot with minimal fuss…. it was kind of ‘non touristy’ in a way – no built-up hotels or health spas where we were, which made the experience seem a little more natural, as mother nature intended.

Dip in the Dead Sea

Dip in the Dead Sea

Here’s 10  cool facts I learned about the Dead Sea:

  1. The Dead Sea is a saltwater lake – not a sea
  2. The Dead Sea is 3 million years old.
  3. Water flows into the Dead Sea from streams and rivers, but does not flow out.
  4. The climate of the Dead Sea region is sunny, warm and dry all year round.
  5. The high mineral & salt content of the water make it impossible for fish or plants to live
  6. The Dead Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world (33% salinity)
  7. You lay on the surface and float – you can’t drown. The high salt content makes you buoyant
  8. Egyptians used mud from the Dead Sea in their mummification of the deceased
  9. The minerals in the Dead Sea all naturally occur within our bodies.
  10. The unique salt in the Dead Sea treats acne, psoriasis, hives, cellulite, dry skin, dandruff, stress & muscle aches….and much more.

I had a great time in Israel and only wish I could have spent more time checking out the rest of the country, its sights and some kibbutz’s. I did mange to get across the border to Jordan to see Petra too… but I will leave that for another post!

You can reach Jerusalem by an airport shuttle bus from Tel Aviv – the most common way. I flew with Easyjet

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5 things to do in Zadar

Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia 5 things to do in Zadar e1306849489872 5 things to do in Zadar

Zadar, Croatia isn’t a particularly large city; A few nights of easy enchantment along the waterfront Riva, glowing sunsets which light up the polished white flagstone and you get in to the swing of things pretty quickly. But what makes Zadar special is the fact it is a springboard, a base for exploring the national parks, the archipelago and the hip summer festivals in the vicinity.

Guest blogger Ryan Bennett shares 5 things to do in Zadar…

1. Zadar Old Town

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This is the nicest part of Zadar. Great food and nice bars, which are starting to become trendier as the nightlife improves. There are also some good sights to get snap happy over. A tourist info spot in town provides maps to help mark your way around the old sites/churches. However, it is the newer sites that will most likely catch your eye… and ears!

The old town, although connected to the mainland, is also accessible by the Trogirski bridge which gives the illusion that this area is an island. Here you will find the now famous Zadar Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation. The organs are built into the steps and rely on the waves and wind to create their music. Relying on the sun, the Salutation is a huge solar panelled dial which creates a light show at night. Interestingly, they are both designed by the same architect and provide a unique addition to Zadar’s seafront boulevard. From here, soak up the sunset. Alfred Hitchcock even referred to Zadar as having one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world.

Hostels in Zadar

Our top-rated hostel in Zadar is Hostel Elena. Wonderfully located just 30m from the Riva in the Zadar Old Town. It is also near the university so there are plenty of studenty bars and cafes around. They have air-conditioning in the 4 or 6-bed dorms where you have access to your own personal locker. Find other hostels in Zadar.

2. Zadar Festival Circuit

Time your visit to coincide with one of the many summer festivals held in the seaside village of Petrčane, about 20 minutes from Zadar. It all kicks off with The Garden Festival in July, quickly followed by multi-day festivals Soundwave, Electric Elephant and Stop Making Sense. The festival site is located within the grounds of a hotel. It features a Tiki Bar and beach terrace with views of the sea, Barbarella’s Discotheque (a famous 1960s club), a main stage and plenty of chill-out zones made up of sofas dotted among the surrounding pine forest. Book yourself in to one of the infamous boat parties that whisk you and your mates out for daytime sessions with onboard DJs. Far more relaxed than Ibiza and, being out of the Euro zone, it’s cheaper too!

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3. Plitvice Lakes

A UNESCO World Natural Heritage listed site, it is the oldest national park in Southeast Europe and the largest national park in Croatia. You can visit the Plitvice Lakes from Zadar from the main bus terminal, or you can organise a day tour. Once there, expect breathtaking scenery all year round. The park is filled with natural lakes of almost Technicolour turquoise, lush meadows, meandering paths and waterfalls. Ferries transport you across the lakes and there are many different tracks to walk. You will need a whole day here. Peak summer day tickets cost €15 and include transport on the bus service and the electric boat ferry.

4. Kornati Island National Park

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You survived a festival boat party and now want to unwind beat free! The archipelago around Zadar offers some of the most beautiful sailing stretches and you should not miss the chance to get out on the water. Sit back and chill, get a tan, let the crew rustle you up a lunch and soak up the sights while sailing the stunning Dalmatian coast. “On the last day of the Creation God desired to crown his work, and thus created the Kornati Islands out of tears, stars and breath” – testament to the beauty of some of the now uninhabited 147 islands, although the establishment of vineyards, olive groves and grazing land means a few visitors. Truly a sailor’s paradise. Boat tours depart from Zadar marina daily.

5. Krka Waterfalls

If you are tight on time you might have to choose between the Krka Waterfalls and the Plitvice Lakes. Krka has two main upsides: it is closer to Zadar and you can swim in this national park. There is a larger section roped off that you can enjoy, protecting you from the heavy cascading falls. It’s easy to walk around and it is also a breeding ground for over 40 varieties of butterfly – an amazing sight if you come at the right time of year.

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There are seven waterfalls; Skradinski buk has an average flow of 55 cubic metres of water a second. Home to 222 species of bird, Krka is also one of the most important ornithological areas in Europe and at the hawk training centre, you can catch demonstrations with the magnificent birds. One of the best ways to get to the park is to drive to Sibenik. Here you catch a boat up through the Saint Joseph channel and arrive about an hour and a half later. Alternatively, get to Skradin where boats run every hour to the national park. Take your swimming costume and some good walking shoes. Summer peak tickets cost about €10.

Bolivia – Pampas tour from Rurrenabaque

Piranha, dolphins, toucans, anacondas, sloths, cayman and monkeys are just some of the animals you will get to see if you do this tour! It was easy to organise from La Paz through Kanoo Tours. They have a few agencies and are hugely popular for independent travelers.

We booked through the agency not far from the Witches Market, but there is one in Loki Hostel too. Kanoo affiliates themselves with the best agencies for all their tours, so they really do get you in with the better companies and guides.

As we were in La Paz, we needed to get to Rurrenebaque to get the Pampas tour underway. So, a 45 minute flight south across the Amazon Jungle was required in an 18 seater Cessna – fun!

This was all part of the package we booked, which is why we opted to get it all organised through Kanoo. You can, of course, organise flights yourself to Rurrenabaque (through Amaszonas) and then just choose an agency for a Pampas Tour from there. There are heaps to choose from, so you can pretty much go the next day if it’s not high season. We got booked in with Dolphins Tours, a reputable and Eco-friendly agency.

            

It is recommended that you stay a night in Rurrenabaque either side of the tour – even more if you have the time and want to chill a while. There are loads of backpackers in this town year round, so you will definitely meet and mingle with ease. We stayed in the cheap and cheerful Los Tucanes, a favorite for people on a budget. There are cool but basic bars, cafe’s and restaurants in this small town BUT limited ATM service, so take enough cash with you.

 

The tour we chose was a 3 day version in April. I am so happy we came at this time of year (wet season), as you see the Pampas for what it is renowned for. Basically, you have the dry and wet seasons. Dry means you have a jungle to walk through, wet means it is flooded a few meters high and you get around on powered canoes across the unique river system that is the Pampas!

As the season was coming to an end, we were blessed mostly with sunny weather too – so win-win all round. To cap it off, this is THE season and perfect time of year to see the native Pink River Dolphins, who come in to breed / birth. They were everywhere and provided a truly remarkable experience. Being able to swim with them safely and see them up so close was amazing.

To get an idea of what this tour is like – it’s no frills, but you are safe and get looked after at the lodgings. We had a cook, who fed us well… she even cooked the piranha we caught!

Food is basic, you get simple pastas, rice and veggie dishes… but there is ample. It probably helped that our tour group was very small – one of the nights there was just the 2 of us there with the workers, pretty amazing to have a whole communal lodge (on stilts) to yourself  in the middle of a flooded jungle!

You can hear howler monkeys, bats and frogs…. and mosquitos… but don’t worry, there are nets provided and you bring your own repellant. We didn’t really get attacked by mozzies too bad… just the odd playful bite from the dolphins – yes, dolphins! They are curious and like to swim right next to you and let you know they are there.

The tour and structure is pretty relaxed, you do everything the itinerary says day by day and get to see cool birds, animals and nature. Being out in the open, powering down temporary rivers on the look out for photo ops and adventure is really exciting and a trip you won’t forget in a hurry!