Join an elephant patrol in Indonesia

Wildlife lovers have plenty of reasons to head up to Gunung Leuser, but for many the big draw is the chance to see one of the world’s rarest animals, the orang-utan, whose existence is threatened by the continued felling of its habitat. There are only three places to stay, but you’re free to explore the jungle by boat, foot, or on the back of one of the seven elephants who are used to patrol the area and deter loggers. Whether you see an orang-utan or not, it’s a world few get to experience.

Join an elephant patrol in Indonesia

Meet a moose in Algonquin, Canada

Just four hours from Toronto, by direct train, and you’re in 7600 square kilometres of maple hills, forests, rocky ridges, spruce bogs, and thousands of lakes and streams. There are plenty of activities all year round, from dog-sledding exhibitions in the winter to canoe trips in the summer, and Algonquin is one of the best places in the world to hear a wolf howling, or see moose and beaver from the comfort of your canoe.

Meet a moose in Algonquin, Canada

Come face to face with alligators, Florida

Considered one of the most important wetlands in the world, the Everglades is a vast sodden expanse at the southernmost tip of Florida. You’ll be convinced grasses in the water are snakes and you’ll probably jump the first time your foot hits a branch underwater, but the sensation will quickly become less noticeable as the magnificent wildlife monopolises your attention – plus there’s a great lunch of fresh seafood and locally grown salad to look forward to once you return to dry land.

Come face to face with alligators, Florida

Track bears in British Columbia

On a Great Bear Nature Tour on the northwest coast of British Columbia, you’ll have an excellent chance of witnessing the grizzly bear’s natural feeding frenzy. Tours are based at Great Bear Lodge, a small floating cabin in Smith Inlet and, from late August to October, bears are drawn to the salmon-spawning streams. There may be as many as thirty bears at any one time, and this is also the best time of year to see the beguilingly cute cubs.

Track bears in British Columbia

Watch the zebra migration, Botswana

For millennia one of the largest wildlife migrations in Southern Africa was the return from the Botswana saltpans to the Boteti River, but because of drought the river has not run since 1991 and the last pool dried up in 1995. To combat this, a camp called Meno a Kwena has built pumps that fill three water holes in the river bed. Sleeping in tents at night and studying tracks in the morning, the elevated position of the camp affords a great view of the thousands of animals which come to the pool to drink.

Watch the zebra migration, Botswana

Visit Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa

For centuries elephants roamed freely across Maputuland, the region that straddles the border of South Africa and Mozambique, but their numbers collapsed during the Mozambique civil war. Now, after twenty years, the Tembe Elephant park is thriving, and close encounters are not uncommon for visitors. The safari camp’s facilities are standard for South Africa, but what sets Tembe apart are the thrilling game drive in the experienced hands of local guides.

Visit Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa

See the rare sitatunga deer, Zambia

The best time and place to spot a sitatunga, Africa’s elusive swamp-dwelling deer, is at dawn and up a tree – more specifically the Fibwe tree hide in Kasanka Park. As the morning mists clear across the papyrus swamps below the hide, visitors watch the sitatunga taking to the water early to avoid leopards and other predators. Yet the water also has dangers, and some visitors to the hide can spot the snouts of crocodiles floating log-like amid the reeds.

See the rare sitatunga deer, Zambia

Save the chimpanzees, South Africa

You can drop in for an hour-long tour or stay for a week or more at the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Eden, helping to monitor behaviour or record the sounds the chimpanzees make when communicating. Experts reckon our closest relative will be extinct within their natural habitats in as little as a decade, so spend some time here and help prevent this from happening.

Save the chimpanzees, South Africa

Track wild dogs in the Limpopo, South Africa

The Endangered Wildlife Trust is a non-profit organization in the Limpopo region that has worked to ensure wild dogs’ survival for over three decades. One of their successes has been to show farmers that wild dog-tracking is a viable form of ecotourism that can protect the dogs while benefiting local communities. During the day guests are led by a trained conservationist on 4WD tours that allow them to observe the dogs roaming in their natural habitat and nights are spent in the thatched Little Muck Lodge.

Track wild dogs in the Limpopo, South Africa

Track red foxes in Vålådalen Nature Reserve, Sweden

From the Vålådalen mountain station at the foot of Ottfjället, two Swedish biologists run shoeing tours through the hilly, pristine forests of the Vålådalen nature reserve. Covering 6-10km a day and camping out at night, you’ll investigate tracks of red fox, moose, reindeer, otter, and mountain hare and learn about survival techniques in the wild.

Track red foxes in Vålådalen Nature Reserve, Sweden

Become a game ranger in South Africa

Few jobs have as romantic an image as being a game ranger. If you’ve got a few weeks or more to spare, then stay at a former farmhouse at Kwa Madwala Game Reserve, looking out over a small lake with resident hippos and crocodiles and see if you’ve got what it takes to be a ranger: tracking lions and hyenas on foot, tagging and releasing birds of prey, or counting antelope populations from a microlight.

Become a game ranger in South Africa

Walk with the Chacma baboons, South Africa

Most of us would imagine that going for a stroll among baboons would be about as sane as going for a swim with a crocodile – yet the charity Baboon Matters propose just this. They believe that if people develop a better understanding of baboons then they will be less likely to consider them as pests, and so they take tourists up into the hills where they can observe around thirty individuals, who, far from aggressive, regard their visitors with curiosity or just carry on as if you weren’t there.

Walk with the Chacma baboons, South Africa

Join the Sami Reindeer Migration, Norway

The unique opportunity offered by Norwegian tour operator Turgleder is definitely not a made-for-tourism experience. The Sami use one or two snowmobiles to carry equipment but otherwise their technique for herding reindeer has not changed for centuries, so expect to eat and sleep like them in their lavvus (Sami tipis), cook over an open fire, and go ice-fishing for food.

Join the Sami Reindeer Migration, Norway

Wake up with meerkats, South Africa

Meerkats are normally shy creatures, yet thanks to Grant McIlrath (know as “Meerkat Man”) there is a spot just outside Oudsthoorn where an insight into their world is possible. The meerkats are used to McIlrath and so if you drive out with him before dawn you’ll have the opportunity to see the meerkats bobbing up and down, sunning themselves and foraging for food – all before your stomach has rumbled for breakfast.

Wake up with meerkats, South Africa

Track cheetahs on foot, Namibia

Based on the 223-square-kilometre Okonjima guest farm, Africat funds a programme to rescue cheetahs captured by farmers. They then care for them with a view to possible reintroduction to the wild. Guests stay in luxurious thatched chalets, and thanks to the radio collars used to monitor the shy and endangered big cats, the cheetahs are easy to find. In some places the guides will even take you to around ten metres to watch a pair of cheetahs devour a kill.

Track cheetahs on foot, Namibia

Meet mountain gorillas, Rwanda

Finding a mountain gorilla in the wild takes patience and skill as there are only about 680 left in the world, yet one of the best places to have a go is the Parc National des Volcans in the far northwest of Rwanda. This is home to half of the entire population of mountain gorillas and Rwanda Ecotours organise trips to see the gorillas, so all you need to do is decide between a one-day trek or a six-day hike.

Meet mountain gorillas, Rwanda

Go dog-sledding in Svalbard, Norway

In Arctic conditions it’s difficult to get quickly from A to B without some form of assisted transport, yet the noise and air pollution caused by snowmobiles hardly does the fragile environment any favours. Dog-sledding, instead, is the answer – a green, viable alternative which allows you the chance to protect the Arctic wilderness while keeping an eye out for polar bears, seals, polar foxes and the northern lights.

Go dog-sledding in Svalbard, Norway

See wildlife in Gabon

The jungles in Gabon not only have the highest diversity of tree and bird species anywhere in Africa but are also where wildlife of the equatorial rainforests tumbles out onto its Atlantic beaches: you’re just as likely to see hippos playing in the surf as you are elephants and buffalo roaming along the beach or humpback whales cavorting offshore.

See wildlife in Gabon

Koala spotting, Brisbane

One of the best places to spot koalas is in the eucalyptus forest surrounding Brisbane. The only catch is that these animals are notoriously shy and very well camouflaged – so if you’re with a guide who knows their hangouts your odds of seeing one will be much improved. They’ll soon have you peering through binoculars, looking for freshly stripped branches and tell-tale claw marks, and with luck you’ll spot the culprit diligently chomping its way through the forest canopy or dozing way up above.

Koala spotting, Brisbane

Watch wildlife in bed, Sri Lanka

The Heritance Kandalama lies surrounded by thickly forested hills and a shimmering lake, looking as if it is on the verge of being reclaimed by the forces of nature. So seamlessly does it blend into the rock face into which it is built that you can hardly see it from the other side of the lake. There’s plenty of wildlife to see and guests can take part in a nocturnal snake hike – although if you’d rather see snakes during the day you can check out the hotel’s own animal rehabilitation centre.

Watch wildlife in bed, Sri Lanka

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path fringes Britain’s only coastal national park, which has resisted the onslaught of the twenty-first century in all but a few hotspots such as Tenby and St David’s (and even these remain remarkably lovely). Get out and stride along part of the 186-mile trail and you’ll soon appreciate this evocative and spectacular edge of Wales.

Long golden surf beaches easily rival those of California; the clear green seas are the habitat of seals, whales, dolphins, sharks and, in summer, exotic species such as sunfish and even seahorses. Further offshore, you’ll spot islands that are home to internationally important seabird colonies. You can wander atop the highest sea cliffs in Wales, bent into dramatic folds by ancient earth movements; and in the hamlets, harbours and villages you pass through along the way, there are plenty of charming pubs and restaurants at which to refuel.

This variety is one of the best things about the coast path, which offers something for everyone – and not just in summer. The off-season can provide the thrilling spectacle of mighty Atlantic storms dashing thirty-foot waves against the sea cliffs as you fight your way along an exhilaratingly wind-lashed beach, whilst the next day the sun could be glittering in a clear blue sky with seabirds wheeling and screeching overhead. Take time out from your hike to relax and enjoy views across the Atlantic, which, other than the occasional lighthouse dotting the horizon, have remained unchanged since St Patrick sailed from Whitesands Beach to Ireland.

To walk the full length of the path takes up to two weeks and, surprisingly, involves more ascent than climbing Mount Everest, but even just a half-day outing along the trail is worth the effort and acts as a reminder that Britain boasts some of the finest coastline in the world.

For more info, go to www.pcnpa.org.uk.

 

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If you want to try eating snake in Vietnam, there’s one place to head – Le Mat snake village near Hanoi. The restaurants here specialise in the art of serving snake in an elaborate theatrical show. Feeling brave enough? Here’s what to expect. 

When the man bringing your meal to the table is missing most of his fingers and the main ingredient is not only still alive but also long and writhing and – hang on, is that a cobra? Well, that’s when you know this is no ordinary dining experience. Eating at one of Hanoi’s snake restaurants is as much a theatrical performance as a meal out.

The decor is way over the top. From a grungy side-street you enter a world of exuberant woodwork with mother-of-pearl inlay glowing in the lantern light. Bonsai plants are scattered artfully while off to the side glass jars containing snake wine hint at what’s to come.

snake wine/liqueurs. vietnam.

When everyone’s settled, the snake handler – he with very few fingers – presents the menu. He kicks off with cobra, the most expensive item on the menu (and a choice photo-op), then runs through the other options, all very much alive and hissing. Traditionally, your chosen snake is killed in front of you, though it will be dispatched off-stage if you ask. The guest of honour (lucky you?) then gets to eat the still-beating heart.

The Vietnamese say it contains a stimulant and that the meat is an aphrodisiac. The jury’s out on both counts, however, because of the copious amounts of alcohol everyone consumes. By way of an aperitif you get two small glasses of rice wine, one blood red, the other an almost fluorescent, bile-ish green… which is in fact exactly what they are.

Beer Hoi, (close up). Hanoi, vietnam.

Things get decidedly more palatable as the meal starts to arrive. In a matter of minutes your snake has been transformed into all manner of tasty dishes: snake soup, spring rolls, dumplings, fillets, even crispy-fried snake skin. Absolutely nothing is wasted. It’s washed down with more rice wine, or beer if you’d rather, and to round things off, some fresh fruit and green tea – with no snake sorbet forthcoming.

 

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Deep in the Swedish birch forest your mind can begin to play tricks. As the shadows lengthen and a chill creeps into the pine-scented air you’re reminded of the folk tales that originated here, from gnomes and trolls to the siren call of the Tallemaja or “Lady of the Woods”. But there is one much-mythologized creature very much alive in the forest – the varg or wolf.

Once thought to be in league with the Devil and all but wiped out across Scandinavia by the 1960s, wolves have staged a remarkable comeback. There are now around two hundred spread across the wilds of central and southern Sweden, all descendants of a single pack from Finland. Your best chance of encountering them is in the forests of Bergslagen, just a couple of hours from Stockholm, and home to the country’s predator research centre. Here you can track wolves with local experts, spending the night in a cosy tipi or lavvu, lulled to sleep (or not) by the howling of the pack.

The camp’s location depends on where wolves have been spotted in recent days – they can cover up to 60km in a day so it’s crucial to find the best spot. After a short lecture by scientists at the research centre, it’s time to head out on the prowl. Close encounters are rare, as wolves are notoriously shy and can smell humans from 3km away, but you are almost guaranteed to find fresh paw prints and experience the eerie sense of being watched. As dusk descends it’s time to hike back to the warmth of the tipi in time to hear the wolves howl. Clambering into your sleeping bag, it’s hard not to feel a shiver as this bizarre aria begins – a mournful yet comforting sound, once heard across Europe and now, perhaps, set to return.

The “Howling with wolves” two-day tour is offered by www.naturetravels.co.uk, with regular dates in summer and others available on request.

 

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Emperor Penguins breeding, Antarctica

As the Antarctic winter draws in at the end of April, Emperor Penguins begin the long march inland to their breeding grounds. There, they mate, before taking turns to insulate the egg while their partner travels up to 80km to fish. Back in the colony the penguins huddle together to protect the eggs from temperatures below -50 degrees celsius; only a small fraction of chicks survive each year.

Emperor Penguins breeding, Antarctica

The salmon run, North America

From October to December each year, millions of adult salmon will travel thousands of miles from the Pacific Ocean to the place of their birth: mountain streams across British Columbia and Alaska, where they themselves will spawn. Fighting their way against the current, up waterfalls and through rapids, their astounding migration attracts hordes of grizzlies, eagles and wolves.

The salmon run, North America

Turtles nesting, Trinidad and Tobago

An estimated fifteen percent of the world’s leatherback turtles drag themselves out of the sea to nest on Trinidad’s beaches in May and June. Females come to the beaches to nest several times during the season, laying up to one hundred eggs at a time; night patrols are just one of the conservation efforts now in place to ensure the survival of this endangered species.

Turtles nesting, Trinidad and Tobago

Bower birds nest building, Papua New Guinea

To win a mate, the male bower bird takes home-making to the extreme. Each year, between September and February, they go about constructing an elaborate nest. Twigs form the basic structure, but these showoffs like to add colourful flowers and shells; they even incorporate discarded, cans, coins and plastic if they can find them.

Bower birds nest building, Papua New Guinea

Flamingos, Lake Nakuru, Kenya

Recently the levels of algae in Kenya’s Lake Nakuru have been declining, making the astonishing number of flamingoes who arrive to feed on it a rare spectacle. These graceful birds use their long legs to paddle out into the lake, feeding off the alage and other small organisms; they get their pink colouring from pigments in crustaceans.

Flamingos, Lake Nakuru, Kenya

Bluebells, UK

Come April, shady woodland floors across the UK burst into colour. This cobalt blue and lilac carpet is a classic image of British springtime, and it’s estimated that over half of the world’s bluebells are found in the country. There’s just a short window of a month or so to see them; most displays are over by the end of May.

Bluebells, UK

The sardine run, South Africa

Picture, if you can, a billion sardines, their skin glinting as huge shoals swish through the ocean. Diving, lunging and charging through them are whales, sharks and seabirds, eager to make the most of the glut. You can catch the spectacle from May to July, as the sardines move north into the sub-tropical seas off South Africa’s Wild Coast.

The sardine run, South Africa

Autumn colours, New England, USA

The start of October heralds the arrival of New England’s glorious autumn foliage. Leaves throughout the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont gradually turn from green to gold and amber, covering the low-lying hills with a medley of rich colours. This seasonal wonder now attracts hordes of visitors, jokingly referred to as “leaf peepers”.

Autumn colours, New England, USA

The Severn bore, UK

The River Severn has the second greatest tidal range in the world, and as the highest tides surge inland they’re funneled into wave by the narrow river channel. The largest bore waves coincide with the spring and autumn tides; the highest have reached nearly three metres and surfers regularly gather to ride as much of the 25-mile stretch as they can.

The Severn bore, UK

Monarch Butterfly migration, Mexico

Monarch butterflies start to leave the USA each year in October, flying south in their millions to hibernate. Each generation somehow manages to return to the same tree used by their parents, covering Mexico’s Oyamel Fir forests in a magical blanket of black and orange. You can watch them at the El Rosario Sanctuary in Michoacán, but many of their natural habitats are now under threat.

Monarch Butterfly migration, Mexico

Northern lights, Scandinavia

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are caused as solar particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere: each element produces a different colour. You can spot them in the skies above Sweden, Finland and Norway from October to March, where they illuminate the sky in a magical display of flickering, smokey colours. There’s no way to predict when they will occur: seeing them is all down to luck.

Northern lights, Scandinavia

Desierto florido, Atacama Desert, Chile

Once every few years around September, Chile’s barren Atacama Desert bursts into flower. It’s a natural marvel known as the desierto florido, or flowering desert. The spectacle only occurs in years when there has been an unusually high level of rainfall, which awakens dormant bulbs, and is thought to be connected to El Niño.

Desierto florido, Atacama Desert, Chile

Starling murmurations, Somerset Levels, UK

The Somerset Levels are home to an impressive range of UK birdlife, but come autumn, the humble starlings are the most remarkable. At dawn and dusk thousands of birds congregate in swirling mass known as murmurations, ducking and diving in a giant, rippling cloud as they fly to and from their roost.

Starling murmurations, Somerset Levels, UK

Caño Cristales, Colombia

Variously known as the liquid rainbow, river from paradise or river of five colours, Caño Cristales in Colombia’s Serranéa de la Macarena national park is one of the world’s most unusual waterways. From July to December (between the wet and dry seasons) the river is awash with pink, green, yellow, blue and red hues caused by the plant Macarenia clavigera, which flourishes on the river floor.

Caño Cristales, Colombia

Wildebeest migration, Tanzania and Kenya

Perhaps the best-known migration on the globe, the sight of over a million wildebeest, zebra and gazelles charging across the Serengeti is deserving of the title “the greatest show on Earth”. The wildebeest cover nearly two thousand miles in total, dodging lions and crocodiles as they go. A good time to see them is in June or July as they cross the Mara River.

Wildebeest migration, Tanzania and Kenya

Blue-footed boobies mating, Galapagos Islands

Vying for the title of the Galapagos’ most adorable creature, the iconic blue-footed boobies put on an enchanting display as they breed between June and August. Lifting each bright-blue foot in turn, the males strut around in a bizarre dance routine, making a whistling sound to gain their chosen female’s attention.

Blue-footed boobies mating, Galapagos Islands

Red Crab migration, Christmas Island, Australia

Thought to number over 100 million, Christmas Island’s land-lubbing crabs take over the island in October and November as they migrate up to five miles to the coast to breed; they’re so numerous that roads are closed to let them cross. Around two weeks after mating, each female will release tens of thousands of tiny eggs into the ocean.

Red Crab migration, Christmas Island, Australia

Spotted Lake, Canada

Near Osoyoos in British Columbia, the mineral-rich Spotted Lake undergoes a transformation each summer. As the water evaporates, minerals are left behind in a strange lilly-pad-like pattern of concentric circles. Each one is a different colour, reflecting mineral deposits which range from magnesium sulphate to titanium.

Spotted Lake, Canada

Orcas carousel feeding, Norway

Up to nine hundred orcas, better known as killer whales, arrive in Lofoten’s fjords between October and January to feast on herring. They’ve developed an ingenious way of hunting, known as carousel feeding, where they herd the herring into a ball by releasing a “net” of bubbles before slapping them with their tail, stunning or killing up to fifteen fish at a time.

Orcas carousel feeding, Norway

Red tides, Florida, USA

These ominous blood-red tides are caused by a large accumulation of algae in coastal waters and are especially common along the coast of Florida. While disconcerting, only some are harmful to marine life: these are known as HABs, harmful algal blooms, and can even pose a risk to humans.

Red tides, Florida, USA

Perched on the edge of Booderee National Park’s spectacular cliffs, the ruins of Cape St George Lighthouse offer an excellent vantage point for spotting whales and dolphins in the waters below. Rough Guides writer Sara Chare went in search of nature’s elusive giants.

Standing on the viewing platform at the Cape St George Lighthouse in Booderee National Park, I hugged my cheap and newly-bought binoculars to my chest and turned towards the rich-blue sea.

The park is situated on the New South Wales coast, less than three hours south of Sydney, and is jointly run by Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community and the Australian National Parks Authority. Covering an area known as the “bay of plenty”, it is home to the only Aboriginal-owned Botanic Gardens in Australia, over eight hundred hectares of marine park and dazzling white-sand beaches.

Booderee beach, Sydney, Australia

Between September and November, the park’s rugged cliffs are one of the best places on the southern coastline to see migrating whales; magnificent Humpback and Southern Right whales pass by with by their young, on their return journey from breeding grounds off the Queensland coast.

I had arrived towards the end of the recommended whale-watching window – between 11am and early afternoon – in the hope that there would at least be some dolphins kicking about. The day was warm and windy, the dark blue ocean flecked with the white of breaking waves. Sea birds wheeled overhead, and grasses rustled above the sound of the sea.

Next to me a man was intently surveying the ocean, a zoom-lens camera dangling from his neck. “There have been twenty whales in the last two to three hours, and a couple of common dolphins”, he informed me. I strained my eyes looking hopefully into the distance, but all I could make out was one solitary, white sailing boat amid the foamy seas.

Booderee National Park, Australia

Disheartened, I turned my attention to the lighthouse. It was built here in 1860 to aid navigation, as a result of the number of shipwrecks near Cape St George in the nineteenth century. This turned out to be a poor spot to site a beacon; the light was not visible to ships approaching from the north and only barely visible to those coming from the south. Yet despite the lighthouse’s failure to prevent wrecks, it wasn’t until nearly forty years later that a replacement was established in a better position.

Today, the skeletons of the lighthouse buildings themselves are fairly intact, the large, thick sandstone blocks bearing up well against the elements. Of the tower, very little remains except for the base; only a mound of weathered rubble faces the sea, interspersed with bright green grass fringed by the odd tree.

My tour of the site complete, I took one last, long look over the waves. I tried not to be too disappointed. After all, I should have arrived earlier.

Booderee National Park, Lighthouse, Australia

As dusk softly drew in, I made to leave. Glancing out to the sea for the last time, I searched for something resembling a breaching whale, but only saw a family on the beach below and a group of cyclists stopping to catch their breath.

Suddenly, as I turned, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, a spot of grey, a curved back and then a fin. There they were: three bottlenose dolphins fairly near the shore, taking advantage of the food brought in by the tide. I stood, smiling as I watched them make their way gracefully through the water, surfacing less and less frequently until they finally struck out for the open sea.

Now, I was ready to leave.

Various local companies provide dolphin and whale-watching boat trips in the area. If you want to explore more of the country, buy the Rough Guide to Australia. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.  

Dark, dreary and cold in Europe and North America, February often feels like a long drag before spring arrives. Yet it’s a fantastic time to travel. Warm, balmy weather and riotous carnivals beckon below the equator, while chillier climes should be embraced for snow-fuelled activities and unique wildlife watching opportunities. Here are our tips on the best places to visit in February.

Be a Big Kid at Harbin’s Snow and Ice Festival, China

In February the weather is cruel here with temperatures plummeting well below -30°C. Yet winter is when Harbin is most alive; every January and February this northern Chinese city hosts one of the world’s largest snow and ice festivals. Transformed into a frozen fairytale kingdom, Sun Island is packed with snow-tube pistes, while hundreds of illuminated ice sculptures fill Zhaolin Park: intricate full-sized temples, ferocious dragons and massive buildings decked out with elaborate stairways and slides that beg to be clambered over. At the festival’s finale, fireworks are accompanied by an open invitation to smash down the sculptures with pickaxes.

Track wolves in Yellowstone National Park, USA

America’s first national park is arguably one of the best places in the world to see these elusive beasts. During the summer the park is choked with hordes of would-be Attenboroughs, yet in the winter you’ll have the place more or less to yourself. Yellowstone is stunning in February, transformed into a frosted world of snow-blanketed valleys, frozen creeks and bubbling geysers. Plus, this is an ideal month for wolf tracking; packs move at lower elevations, drawn down to hunt shuffling herds of elk, and the wolves are more visible, their lean, dark bodies clearly silhouetted against the pristine white snow.

Scuba diving, Andaman Islands, India

Scuba Dive in the Andaman Islands

Near-deserted beaches, untouched reefs and remnants of an intriguing past increasingly lure visitors to the Andaman Islands, a remote tropical outpost cast 1000km off India’s east coast. This is paradise for scuba divers and in February things couldn’t get much more perfect – blue skies, balmy weather and crystal clear waters can be enjoyed before the summer’s heavy rains and cyclones threaten. These reefs boast some of the world’s most abundant marine life; rainbow-coloured corals flourish while iridescent fish, manta rays, loggerhead turtles and reef sharks fill the waters.

Party in Brazil

Rio might get most of the attention but Carnival’s frenzied excitement infects every city in Brazil, making February an unforgettable month. Prior to Ash Wednesday, Brazilian bacchanals take over the country as months of feverish preparation explode into pure unbridled hedonism. Salvador, Olinda and Recife are just a few of the places swept up in the excitement. The air pulsates with booming sound systems from hundreds of street parties, gigantic floats accompanied by flamboyantly costumed dancers riot through city centres and glitzy, licentious Carnival balls extend well into the early hours. When it’s all over, the country nurses its collective headache before perking up to plan the next year’s extravaganza.

Carnevale, Venice, Italy

Have a ball in Venice, Italy

Venice is suffocating in summer, yet winter here is magical. Empty streets, low-slung mists and icy canals re-establish the city as the capital of romance. Head here for Valentine’s Day, or wait until the end of February for the Carnevale. Refined and extravagant, this is the highlight of the Venetians’ social calendar, when the city becomes an endless catwalk of elaborate costumes and intricate masks. Kitted-out locals pose in the piazzas or run errands decked out with traditional black coats, white masks and tricorn hats. Quieter canals become runways for processions of elaborately-decorated gondolas, while grand dinners and masked balls fill the nights.

Dance with devils at Oruro Carnival, Bolivia

For one week a year, prior to Ash Wednesday, this sombre mining city explodes into Bolivia’s most spectacular party, promising bizarre parades, massive water-fights and enthusiastic drinking sessions. The main event, Entrada, is a huge procession of brass bands and grotesquely-costumed dancers that is so large it can last up to twenty hours. Among the profusion of stomping demons and cavorting she-devils, the fiesta’s highlight is the diablada (the dance of the devils) waged by Lucifer and Archangel Michel. After the festivities there isn’t much to see in Oruro, but February’s rains mean that the surrounding Andean countryside is at its most beautiful, blanketed with lush grasses and wildflowers.

Tea Plantation, Darjeeling, India

Explore Darjeeling’s tea plantations, India

Perched on a mountain ridge, 2200m up in the Himalayas, Darjeeling is surrounded by sculpted tea-plantations, lush forests and soaring snow-capped peaks. On the cusp of the tourist season, Darjeeling is relatively quiet in February. It’s also free from monsoons, and the area is exceptionally beautiful as the landscape shakes off its winter slumber. Clear skies and cool temperatures make this an ideal time to explore the Buddhist monasteries that pepper the area, trundle through the hills on the endearing Toy Train or launch an expedition to Sandakphu for magnificent vistas of Everest.

Get cultural in Oman

In the summer (March to October), Oman is oppressively hot, with blistering temperatures easily soaring above 40°C. February, meanwhile, promises pleasantly warm days and breezy nights. This mild climate is perfect for roaming around Oman’s dramatic landscapes of vast rolling dunes, rugged mountains, plunging canyons and quiet coastlines. There’s also a host of burgeoning cities to explore. Throughout February, the Muscat Festival holds Oman’s capital captive. This fascinating blend of arts, culture and tradition fills Muscat’s theatres with shows and concerts, while the Oman Food Festival and Muscat Fashion Week also draw in great crowds.

For more ideas on where to go when, check out the Inspire Me page. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Rising from the edge of the Chalbi desert in northern Kenya, the wild hill country of the Mathews Range offers a different kind of safari experience. Sally Beck visited the Kitich Camp, as featured in the Rough Guide to Kenya, to get acquainted with the local wildlife.

Landing on a private airstrip in a retro 1958 Cessna at the foot of Kenya’s Mathews Range is quite a rush. It’s a tricky manoeuvre which involves dropping down over a ridge and flying to the opposite end of the red earth airstrip, before executing a tight turn and coming in to land. As a passenger, sitting up front next to the pilot, the one thing you must not do, tempting as it is, is put your foot on the dual control brake. Do that, and you’re likely to veer off into the scrub.

Ngelai is the last strip of parched plain in the Kenyan landscape that you encounter before heading by 4WD upwards into the green canopy that is the blissfully isolated Mathews Range. Climbing steadily, you bump your way through the odd Samburu village, where little children wave happily at you and the flora turns greener by the mile.

Our destination is Kitich Camp, an intimate, six-double-bedded-camp, complete with silver medal eco rating, in the heart of the forest.

In the open-air “lounge”, safari chairs covered with sheepskin overlook a floodlit glade where, if you’re lucky, elephant, buffalo and bushbuck emerge from the forest at dusk to drink from the stream.

Mathews Range, Kenya

On the way to my luxurious canvas tent, I heard the low rumble of an elephant from somewhere in the lush indigenous forest. A pied kingfisher began an impressive acrobatic display above the stream that ran a few feet away from my “front door”, and as we slept, a large male lion woke the others with its throaty call, close-by.

Kitich, the Samburu word for Place of Peace, accurately sums up this remote paradise, which scientists refer to as “Sky Island”.

Unlike most safari treks, which you spend observing wildlife from inside a jeep, Kitich is explored on foot. A pride of lion won’t walk ten feet away from you like they would in the Maasai Mara, but they will be there. Their paw-prints can be seen everywhere, as well as those of a leopard. Neither will you get close to a herd of elephant, but butterflies the size of dinner plates or small as daisies and red and black Turacos swoop across your path. With binoculars, you can study a troop (or congress if you want to get scientific) of baboons in the distance.

Escorted by three native Samburu, carrying spears and a gun – just in case – and Stefano Cheli, the camp’s owner and knowledgeable guide, we walked through the tall grass into the unknown. We passed thorny acacia, mountains of elephant dung and scattered bird feathers – a sign that a big cat had fed recently.

Kitich Camp, Mathews Range, Kenya

Armed with a rifle, the elder Samburu, Thomas, took the lead. He was watching mainly for buffalo, which present the most danger to pedestrians in these parts. At the rear was Touson, wearing an impressive headdress indicating he is a young warrior. Then Stefano disappeared from view only to jump out again hollering like a warthog. For one tense moment Touson crouched, spear poised, ready to throw, before we all dissolved laughing.

We saw more droppings – of all kinds – which revealed so much. We could tell that a lion had feasted on a buffalo by the undigested fur and hoof, and that elephants digest only forty percent of the grass and leaves they eat, because their droppings are full of straw. And when a hyena’s droppings are white, it shows that they’ve recently eaten bone.

We passed ancient cycads, wild orchid and a white fungi that looks like a sea-shell. Thanks to protracted stays by professional botanists, our Samburu guides know the Latin names for pretty much everything.

Just as I began to flag, a river with its own plunge pool came into view. It was complete with sisal rope dangling tantalizingly from a tree screaming “swing on me”, which I did, before allowing tiny fish to give me a free pedicure in the shallows. In another clearing, a picnic lunch appeared, complete with pudding, cheese and wine.

Elephants, Mathews Range, Kenya

Back at camp, after an al-fresco shower, I sipped sundowners of Tusker beer and the local cocktail dawa – vodka, honey, lime and mint – by a campfire, examining our collection of porcupine quills and bird feathers. Stefano explained how this whole place, once owned by olive oil magnate Julian Bertolli, would disappear if tourists stopped coming. The income we generate shores up the local economy. “Otherwise the Samburu would chop down the trees and use it to graze their cattle,” he says. “All this would be lost.”

A scientist recently found 150 undiscovered plants at Kitich Camp; in addition to the 380 species of birds, the butterflies and insects, it’s an ecosystem that suggests the forest has been there for millions of years and hopefully, will be for several million more.

For further information contact www.chelipeacock.com. For a tour operator package including international flights contact www.exceptional-travel.com.
If you want to explore more of this rich country, buy the Rough Guide to Kenya. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

After a search for the most captivating, exciting and beautiful travel photography, the Travel Photographer of the Year Awards announced their final winners last week. Here is a selection of our favourite images from this set of talented photographers.

Eagle hunter, Alti Region, Mongolia

Eagle hunter, Alti region, Western Mongolia. TPOTY Simon MorrisBy Simon Morris | www.tpoty.com

Powell Point, Grand Canyon South Rim, USA

Powell Point, Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona, USA. TPOTY Gerard Baeck By Gerard Baeck | www.tpoty.com

 A woman serves butter tea in her home in Laya, Bhutan

Laya, Laya Province, Bhutan. A woman serves butter tea in her home TPOTY Timothy Allen By Timothy Allen | www.tpoty.com

Emma Orbach playing the harp in her mud hut in Pembrokeshire, Wales

Emma Orbach playing the harp in her mud hut in Pembrokeshire, UK TPOTY Timothy AllenBy Timothy Allen | www.tpoty.com

Japanese Macaques, Jigokudani Yaen Kōen, Japan

Japanese Macaques, Jigokudani Yaen Kōen, Yamanouchi, Shimotakai District, Nagano Prefecture, Japan TPOTY Jasper DoestBy Jasper Doest | www.tpoty.com

Nepali New Year festival, Bhaktapur, Nepal

Bisket Jatra – the Nepali New Year festival - Bhaktapur Nepal TPOTY Jovian SalakBy Jovian Salak | www.tpoty.com

Lionesses hunting, Chief’s Island, Botswana

Lionesses hunting, Chief's Island - Okavango Delta, Botswana TPOTY Ed HetheringtonBy Ed Hetherington | www.tpoty.com

Northern Lights, Kirkjufell, Iceland

Northern Lights, Kirkjufell, West Iceland TPOTY James WoodendBy James Woodend | www.tpoty.com

Lioness defends her kill from vultures, hyenas and jackals Masai Mara, Kenya

Lioness defends her kill from vultures, hyenas and jackals Masai Mara, Kenya TPOTY Nicolas LotsosBy Nicolas Lotsos | www.tpoty.com

 Phuket, Thailand

Twila True's home, Phuket, Thailand TPOTY Justin MottBy Justin Mott | www.tpoty.com

Cheetah cub and mother, Masai Mara, Kenya

Leopard cub and mother, Masai Mara, Kenya. TPOTY Marco UrsoBy Marco Urso | www.tpoty.com

Altai Mountains, Mongolia

Altai Mountains. Bayan-Olgii Aimag, Mongolia TPOTY Tariq SawyerBy Tariq Sawyer | www.tpoty.com

Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India

Kumbh Mela, one of the world’s biggest religious gatherings, Allahabad, India. TPOTY Roberto NistriBy Roberto Nistri | www.tpoty.com

Lionesses hunting, Chief’s Island, Botswana

Lionesses hunting, Chief's Island - Okavango Delta, Botswana. TPOTY Ed /HetheringtonBy Ed Hetherington | www.tpoty.com

A spear gypsy spear-fishing in the Andaman Sea

A sea gypsy spear fishing on the Andaman Sea. TPOTY Cat Vinton By Cat Vinton | www.tpoty.com

Amazon rainforest, Brazil

Amazon rainforest, Amazonas, Brazil TPOTY David LazarBy David Lazar | www.tpoty.com

Camel racing, north of Wahiba Sands, Oman

Camel racing, north of Wahiba Sands, Oman TPOTY Jason Edwards By Jason Edwards | www.tpoty.com

Kolkata Skateboarding Club, Kolkata, India

Kolkata Skateboarding Club, Kolkata, West Bengal, India TPOTY Gavin GoughBy Gavin Gough | www.tpoty.com

A grain seller, Jaipur, India

A grain seller, Jaipur, India. TPOTY Merissa Quek By Merissa Quek | www.tpoty.com

Pokot tribe, Amaya village, East Pokot, Kenya

Pokot tribe, Amaya village, East Pokot, Kenya. TPOTY Roberto Nistri By Roberto Nistri | www.tpoty.com

The Flatiron building, New York City, USA

The Flatiron building, New York City, USA TPOTY Tom Pepper By Tom Pepper | www.tpoty.com

Masai Mara, Kenya

Masai Mara, Kenya TPOTY David Lazar By David Lazar | www.tpoty.com

This competition is now closed. Check back later to find out the winner.

Camping in the UK can be a gruelling affair, what with the high chance of rain and often low temperatures – not to mention the rocket science-like fiasco of constructing your nylon home for the night. So, we’ve teamed up with Forest Holidays to offer you a night off (actually, four nights off) to enjoy the freedoms of the forest without the effort.

From bike rides and pony trekking in Yorkshire to zip wires and walking trails in Cornwall, there’s so much to see and do in the UK’s beautiful countryside. If you want to win a four-night stay in a luxury forest cabin – complete with hot tub and panoramic forest view – at any one of the eight spectacular Forest Holidays sites in England and Scotland, follow the instructions below.

How to enter

For your chance to win, all you have to do is log in or sign up to the Rough Guides Community and write your answer to the question, “What is your worst camping disaster?”, posted here, in no more than 80 words.

The prize is for a four-night mid-week stay (Monday to Friday) for up to four people at any Forest Holidays location in the UK. The prize does not include travel costs, meals, spending money or any incidental expenses and it must be taken by 31 October 2014, excluding all school holidays and bank holidays (see Terms & Conditions for specific dates). All dates and locations are subject to availability. The winner will be chosen at random and will be notified by email by 31 December 2013. See a full list of Terms & Conditions here.

Special offer for Rough Guides readers: Save 10% on cabins at Forest Holidays for holidays in 2014. Simply quote ROUGH13 when booking at www.forestholidays.co.uk (0845 130 8223). Offer expires 31 December 2013. Forest Holidays’ timber and glass cabins come in a variety of sizes suitable for families, couples and groups of friends (from one to four bedrooms).

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month