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Take a Break from Reality in Dubai – The Void

June 8, 2017

Dubai‘s known for pushing boundaries so where better to introduce a new form of hyper-reality.  Combining digital and physical worlds, guests are transported into Ghostbusters: Dimension – the question is though, is it worth your time?

Located on the shore of The Beach at JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence), The Void is hard to miss – brightly lit, perched on the edge of the sand, it doesn’t give many clues away as to what’s hidden inside.

The Void – What’s it all about?

THE VOID uses Hyper-Reality — a combination of physical sets, real-time interactive effects and virtual reality — and its RAPTURETM hardware to create sensory and emotional immersion. The RAPTURE series includes a head mounted display, a vest with 22 points of haptic feedback, a BACKTOPTM gaming computer, and the multifunctional Mark IV gun. Each stage is modular and built for experiences that are mapped digitally over the physical space.

In layman’s terms, guests get geared up in digitally-connected vests and helmets (that incorporate both headphones and digital virtual-reality goggles and make their way into a world that merges the physical with the digital.

As soon as the headsets are dropped, your friend standing beside you takes on a new form.  Each player pops up on the display as their chosen avatar, moving in time to their real actions.

When you reach for a door handle, you’ll feel yourself really touching one – only you’ll see a digital version of it (and a digital version of your own arm).  It takes a few minutes to adjust to the sensation, but once you do, you’re in for a great time!

With a vibrating proton blaster in hand, players make their way through this bizarre new world completing challenges as they go.

We weren’t certain of what to expect going into The Void.  It was our first experience of fully-immersive virtual reality and due to the secretive nature of the experience, there’s not a great deal of information available online.  Cameras aren’t allowed in the game itself and even if they were, it would be impossible to photograph the imagery you’d see through your headset.

We were pleasantly surprised by just how easy it was to move around through the experience – the gear itself was light-weight and the VR experience was well matched to the physical elements around us.  We were warned that some people feel a little disoriented or dizzy at the start but nobody in our group of four experienced this so I think it’s fair to say that most people will be unaffected by this.

 The challenges themselves were entertaining and though I won’t give too much away, there’s a part of the experience where the (digital) wall of a skyscraper falls away, leaving players afraid of heights clinging onto the handrail for dear life.  The scene felt incredibly realistic and was a real highlight of the game for me.

Hyper-Reality – The way forward?

Our experience at The Void was unlike anything we’d tried before and for that reason alone, it was absolutely worth doing.  The technology they employ is beyond belief and to step into the future for fifteen minutes was a real treat.

As we left, Nathan commented that he’d have loved for the experience to have run a little longer, which I think says it all.

The Void is a great addition to The Beach and a must-see stop on your visit to Dubai, the city of the future.


Should you want to visit The Void in Dubai, tickets are available online for AED110 per person.  Advance booking is suggested.  Guests must be 12 years of age or older and 120cm tall to participate.

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Virtual reality steps it up with hyper-reality in Dubai. An exciting tourist activity, make sure to plan a stop at The Void as you sight-see in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.Virtual reality steps it up with hyper-reality in Dubai. An exciting tourist activity, make sure to plan a stop at The Void as you sight-see in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The Void had us along to review their hyper-reality experience.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Athens Food Greece

Alternative Athens: The Tastiest Way to Get to Know Greece’s Capital!

June 6, 2017

Jade and her husband, Mark have decided that there’s practically no better way than to get comfortable with a city than to do so on a food tour – we couldn’t agree more!  Read on for their review of Alternative Athens and to gain a little insider’s foodie knowledge about this incredible city.

Walking to meet our guide outside the perfectly distinguishable Public store in Syntagma Square, I couldn’t help but marvel at how fond I had become of Athens and its quirks in just a matter of days. I found a new juxtapose on every corner. There is an undeniable scent of fresh Mediterranean air in an obviously overpopulated city, deposited from trees growing through narrow brick footpaths. Footpaths that were backed by the exterior of new and ancient buildings, none excluded from the marvellous jumble of spray-paint tagging and street art.

Remembering the countless times I had read comments similar to ‘you only need one day in Athens’ online made me contemplate the reason for this. I wondered if the Acropolis overshadowed mainstream tourists from looking past the city’s centrepiece. Or was it time-limited cruise ship itineraries favouring the islands, that tried to justify such an intense focus solely on their ancient structures? Perhaps something else?

Either way, by the time we reached our meeting point, my belly rumbling for it’s morning portions, my expectation grew. We’d been on a food tour before so with an idea of what awaited us and a hungry tummy it’s fair to say I couldn’t wait for our gastronomic exploration to begin!

Love food tours?  Check out our review of Wake Up Reykjavik in Iceland and Eating Italy in Rome too.

When I had found the Delicious Athens Food Tour online my attraction to the tour description was instant; specialty foods, all time Greek classics yet unknown to me and a chance to explore the ‘belly of the city’ with a local? Sign me up! Backed up by Trip Advisor Certificates of Excellence, glowing reviews and mentions in top media and publishing companies I knew this was how I wanted to see Athens.

What better way to explore a city than by its best cuisine?

Returning a smile from a new arrival nearby who fumbled in her bag for a laminated sign, I knew we had found our guide. Tania was quick to introduce herself with a warm and heartfelt ‘welcome to Athens and the morning tour’.

To our surprise and delight Mark and I had Tania to ourselves for the morning. We set off immediately, quickly chatting like old school friends catching up after travels.

Tasting Athens – Why Food Tours are the Best Way to See a City!

Not holding back, I endeavoured to sample everything offered.

Up first: Greek Coffee.

Sitting in a local’s favourite restaurant run since the 1960’s (and for the second time in my life) I had a mug of coffee. Surprisingly, I liked it! Brewed in a traditional Biriki made of Copper, I opted for the sweetest version (I hate to think how much sugar…) while hubby indulged in the full bitter flavour of a traditional coffee.

Tania explained how the drink was more often referred to as being Turkish; due to the 400-year Ottoman ruling in Greece many culinary traditions were now shared between the countries, their true origins lost in time. Guiding us on taking the last sip, Tania explained the ancient art of coffee fortune telling and helped us give it a try.

Our next stop saw us wander through an indoor gallery of upmarket restaurants before turning and stopping roadside at one of the many bread carts found around the city. We sampled a mid-morning Koulouri, mirroring local habits.

Reminding me of something between a pretzel and a bagel, the sweet, firm bread, looped in a large circle was tasty and easy to eat on the run. No wonder this was the Athenians mid morning go-to.

While discussing local Athenian lifestyles and sharing our own eating traits and favourite foods our adventure continued.

Stopping at a well loved whole foods and organic store we were taken to a table waiting with all sorts of treats ready for our inquisitive mouths. We sampled tasty cold pressed olive oils, a delicious vinegar made from sour cherries, feta served with olive oil and again with thyme honey (oh so rare and flavoursome) along with a beautiful smooth wine made from an ancient Greek grape, thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the 1970’s.

Before leaving we had a chance to look around the store. Check out these fantastic seasoning postcards I found. If only I could send them home to New Zealand!

Loukoum, the Greek version of a Turkish delight was up for trial for us.

We made our way to a store dedicated to products made from mastic; a resin gathered from a mastic tree produced on the Greek island of Chios. I loved the buttery texture of this Greek sweet (nothing like the chocolate covered Turkish delight produced by mainstream confectionary companies) but I am still unsure if I liked the flavour of mastic. It was unlike anything I had tasted before; one of those flavours where you need to go back to it another time (or more) before making your final decision.

Have you ever indulged in traditional handmade baklava?

Our next stop displayed trays full of different kinds of baklava sprawling through cabinet windows in an unsuspecting bakery. Layers of paper thin pastry and finely chopped nuts soaked in just the right amount of sweet honey to give a gooey bottom and crisp crunch on top. I wanted to pocket a handful of each tray! there were so many options to choose from – check out that chocolate baklava.

Incredible!

Having had our morning coffee boost, carbs, cheese and pastry it was time to get serious.

Our next stop was hyped by Tania as we walked; no matter what time of the day there could be a queue because the food was so good, an Athenian favourite. Souvlaki.

The best in town came from a relatively inconspicuous store, mid-block, fronting a pedestrian walkway with simple seating out front.  Able to purchase the meat sticks from the window on the street it oddly reminded me of a school canteen.

That souvalaki though! Beautiful tender bites of pork perfectly seasoned and the squeeze of lemon just topped it off. Had there not been more of the tour to go I would have gone back for seconds… and probably thirds.

To help burn off some of the food we had consumed before our next stop we diverted down a back alley to check out the meat, fish and veg market in Omonia.

Tania warned us before entering that it would penetrate the senses and boy was she right. It was loud, wet (so be careful underfoot) and it had all the expected odours. She also gave us a heads up that the traders might catcall young ladies who walked through, explained that is was harmless but checked we were comfortable to continue (of course we were). Now I can’t understand Greek but I could tell the difference between prices and products being yelled and the catcalling, I could only guess what they were saying, but we had a laugh about it and carried on our merry way looking at everything on offer.

Up next, my absolute favourite from the morning, we had a serving of bougatsa. Freshly made in the café we visited, we were lucky enough to see the chef’s effortless skill building the next batch for the oven. A custard, cream and semolina mix (flavoured perfectly with orange zest) was parcelled in crunchy, icing dusted pastry, I couldn’t get enough of it!

As full as I was, I ate it all and wanted more. Impressed with the dish, Mark and I grabbed a piece of bougatsa several times later in our trip, but none rivalled our first taste of this delicious pastry from that beautifully decorated café in the back streets of Athens.

Our final stop was at a local taverna where we sampled a beautiful honey soaked baked cheese dish sprinkled with sesame seeds and a platter of traditional dips. The baked cheese was gone in seconds (it was so tasty) and sampling the dips, I really enjoyed the tzatziki (yoghurt dip), but found the fava (puree of fava beans and olive oil) and melitzanosalata (eggplant salad) were full of flavour but not so much to my taste.

Walking Athens

Over and above tasting all the amazing food, we got an insider’s understanding of the underbelly of modern Athens. We discussed recent history and local practices as Tania confidently navigated us to each stop. Walks between stops were short and easy, occasionally dodging a cat, bike or car along the way.

As we walked we heard how internal migration patterns in Greece were changing and tired areas were becoming reinvigorated as new trends came and went through the city. Tania shared her love for all things Greek and what she liked about guiding – she had such a passion for sharing her culture with others that it was hard not to be moved.

During our journey there were other gems we saw along with way, like the tiny shop from where all of the bread carts selling koulouri were stocked. We walked through Euriopdies street and ogled all the dried meats, spices and herbs displayed in the shops, ducking in to take a closer look and smell. We meandered through Psirri and the Square of the Heroes, hearing about its Mafia-like history and recent gentrification. I desperately wanted to return for dinner at one of the quaint restaurants under the trees. We stopped for photos with a decorated Greek music cart, commonly featured in older Greek movies.

Tania enlightened us on just how much more there was to Athens than the ruins it was famous for and I was left wishing we had more time.

Ending in Monastiraki, a great place to explore, people watch and browse the bustling shops it was time to say goodbye. At our last stop Tania gave us a helpful map of Athens and promised to email us recipes so we could try our hand at making some of what we had sampled. As promised we received a easy to follow PDF by email and bougatsa is on there. I can’t wait to give it a go!

Needless to say our morning with Tania lived up to the hype and I have been recommending this tour to others wholeheartedly ever since.

Best done at the start of your trip so you can orientate yourself easily through the best parts of the inner city, I implore you to join Alternative Athens on their Delicious Athens Food Tour.

Mark on a map all of the restaurants and areas your fantastic guide will point out so you can continue your gastronomic adventure on your own.

I only wish we had more time to do so – there was just not enough room in my tummy to sample all of the food we wanted to pocket on the way!

Honestly, if you miss this tour you are missing out on some of the best secrets, tastes and gems Athens has to offer… and nobody wants that, do they?


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Check out the best food tours in Athens, Greece. Find the best restaurants, cafes and foodie secrets. Food, travel, architecture, great company, this sight-seeing trip has it all! Are you hungry for adventure?Check out the best food tours in Athens, Greece. Hidden hotspots, food, travel, architecture, great company, this sight-seeing trip has it all! Are you hungry for adventure?

Thank you to Alternative Athens for hosting Mark and Jade to review their Delicious Athens Food Tour.  As always, all thoughts are their own – as you can see though, they had a ball!

Accommodation Activities Dubai Expat Life Mid-Range Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

Stopping Over in Dubai – A Newbie’s Guide

June 4, 2017

Dubai truly is the epitome of luxury, the cars, the buildings, the hotels and the attractions.  It has so much to offer! If you haven’t visited or you are planning to visit read more to find out how to spend a weekend in Dubai.

Living as an expat in a different country is exciting but just like any other country, you get caught up in daily routines and life in general.  In the end, a lot of things are the same as they would be if I was still living in my home country.  I still spend the last day of the weekend frantically trying to get my lessons planned (only the day has changed from a Sunday to a Saturday), I still spend every day after school battling myself to get to the gym (only now the gym is in my building and I don’t really have any excuse – regardless though, I’m the queen of making them), I still spend the evenings cooking dinner and getting lunch ready for the next day and I still binge watch My Kitchen Rules.

Even though I live in an exciting and exotic location, life still goes on.

Every now and again though, I’m reminded of what an amazing place I do live in.  These moments are sporadic but they energise me and remind me to count my blessings.  In those moments, it strikes me just how lucky I am to be living this awesome life!

Dubai is one of places for me.

Every time we start to approach the Marina area and the high-rises emerge from the plains of sand I think how cool is it that I live in the UAE?!  It’s amazing that in around an hour and half I can drive to Dubai and experience all that this amazing city has to offer – people from all around the world dream of visiting and I’m lucky enough to have it on my doorstep.

Regardless of what brings you to Dubai, whether you live locally or are stopping off on the way somewhere else, this guide is for you.

Have fun, soak it all in and, when you’re done, waive the city goodbye, knowing that in a few years it will look substantially different – there’s nothing quite like it.

What to do in Dubai

Dubai is not short of fantastic things to do.  To some, this city is a shopping paradise but look beneath the surface and you’ll find it’s so much more than that.

The following are just some of my favourite ways to while away the time in this incredible city.

Sightseeing on the Water – Splash Tours

Splash Tours is a fairly new company based out of Dubai Marina that offer jet boat tours around the Palm and Dubai Marina – and man is it fun!  Before embarking on our journey we had imagined a tame, leisurely round-trip sightseeing tour.  The only thing we managed to get right was the round-trip part!

It was a thrilling adventure that had some of our fellow passengers white-knuckling the seats in front of them.  With the boat traveling up to 30 knots (around 55km/h), at times we felt like we were flying through the water.  If this doesn’t sound exhilarating enough, the twists, turns and 360’s definitely got the blood pumping!

The best part?  Not only were we jetting around The Palm but we were soaking up all of the iconic Dubai sights too.  With stops in front of JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence), Atlantis the Palm, and the Burj Al Arab (the first seven star hotel in the world), a speedboat tour from the marina is the perfect way to tick all of your touristy boxes.

Not sure what all the buildings are or have questions along the way?  Don’t worry, they’ll have you covered with their knowledgeable onboard tour guide.  Ours was more than happy to provide us with facts and interesting information along the way – we’ve never had so much fun learning before!

Most importantly, we didn’t feel in danger at any time.  The crew were professional and we felt safe and secure every step of the way.

My only advice, apart from booking this tour immediately, would be apply sunscreen before setting out as the Middle Eastern sun is strong and there isn’t a lot of shade on the boats.

Dubai Museum

Dubai hasn’t always been 100% glitz and glamour – far from it in fact.  To gain an insight into life before the Emirates discovered oil, head to Dubai Museum.  There you’ll develop a surprising understanding of the emirate all housed inside the oldest building in Dubai, Al Fahidi Fort.

The displays recreate the way in which people would have traditionally lived and worked in Dubai and also explore the previous uses of the fort.

It’s informative and interesting to see how Dubai looked before all the high rises – it certainly didn’t always look as it does now!

Souks

Dubai is known for its luxurious hotels and expansive shopping malls but to your average person, not so much for its traditional souks.  If you’re visiting this amazing metropolis, you’ll no doubt want a taste of Arabic culture though and there’s no better place to get it than at one of their traditional markets.

Located across from Dubai Museum, you will find the textile souk which is a little like stepping back in time.  This is a great place to pick up presents and souvenirs for your family or just to peruse the colourful and vibrant displays.  The textile souk is still full of fabric shops and tailors ready to create a masterpiece, along with stalls selling beautiful pashminas, bright glass lamps and your typical tourist souvenirs.

Friendly bartering is expected and the way to ensure you get the best bargain.

From the textile souk you can catch a long boat across Dubai Creek (they are frequent, inexpensive and leave once the boat is full).  Once on the other side of the creek, you will find yourself in Deria, the oldest residential area in Dubai.

The short walk from the docks had us questioning if we were still in Dubai!  This is a side to the city that is rarely seen – the buildings are run down, the markets sell various wares (trinkets, school bags, material, abayas and an assortment of goodies) and, unlike in the malls, the shoppers aren’t locals – chances are they’re either tourists or some of the many expats that you will find living and working in Dubai.

After passing the markets crammed with what feels like a thousand different ethnicities and being hounded by the shop assistants to snap up their best deals, you will find yourself at Al Souk Al Kabir.  Here there’s a perfume souk, spice souk and the infamous gold souk, so plenty of opportunities to test out your new-found bartering skills.

Pro tip – if you’re not interested in making a purchase, a friendly but firm la, shukran (no, thank you) will see you left in peace.

While I wasn’t in the market to purchase any jewellery (it was slightly out of my price range) it’s a great way to spend some time  If you are looking for something shiny to take home, you’ll want to note that each jewellery piece has their weight written on the tag – this will determine the price depending on the gold prices for that day.

Burj Khalifa Fountains

A trip to Dubai isn’t complete without a visit to the Dubai fountains!  They put on an incredible show every half hour from 6pm, at which time the fountains burst to life, dancing in time to the booming music.  The tunes normally alternate between English and Arabic.

The back drop of the Burj Kahlifa is nearly as mesmerising as the fountains themselves and it still astounds me how talented the technicians must be who create the sequence and how much time they must put into planning out these phenomenal shows.

The fountains get very busy and, at times, finding a good spot can be challenging, as everyone vies for the prime spot with the Burj Khalifa in the background.

Pro tip – Head into Dubai Mall where on the second floor you will find several restaurants that have fabulous views overlooking the fountains.

Brunch

This is one of the favourite past times of western expats living in the UAE and though you may think you know what brunch is, you may just find yourself surprised.  The term brunch is significantly different in the UAE.

Brunch here is an all-you-can-eat affair that lasts for around 4 hours and generally falls only on Friday afternoons (our weekend).  The hotels that host these events are often the epitome of luxury.  The food is  usually so incredible that it’s hard to hold yourself back and with an amazing selection of top-notch international cuisine, why would you?

If you find yourself in Dubai on a Friday I would recommend trying out this favourite past time for yourself.

More Time up your Sleeve?

If you have more time in Dubai there is a plethora of activities for you to explore, including but  by no means limited to the following:

  • No trip to the middle east would be complete without participating in a desert safari, you will find yourself absolutely enthralled or terrified while dune bashing in 4WDs, once at your desert camp you will have the opportunity to dress like the locals while eating Middle Eastern cuisine and participating in whole array of different activities.
  • For nature lovers, check out Green Planet or Miracle Garden – both might take you by surprise within the concrete jungle that Dubai is.
  • If shopping is more you thing (and let’s face it, this is Dubai) check out Dubai Mall (which has a huge aquarium in the middle of the mall), Mall of the Emirates (which also houses an indoor ski slope) and head to Outlet Village to try and get high quality brands at discounted prices.
  • Or for a dose of excitement, there are countless possibilities with Skydive Dubai, Dubai Parks and Resorts, Aquaventure, Wild Wadi Waterpark and Aventura just being the tip of the iceberg.

Getting Around

The fastest and most convenient way to get around Dubai is by taxi.  They are well priced but be sure to enquire if they know how to get to your location before departing – if not try another taxi.

In other parts of the world, it might be surprising to find taxi drivers unsure of their own routes but buildings shoot up so quickly here, roads change in a flash and many taxi drivers are new to the country, so allowances certainly have to be made in the UAE.

Uber is another option but this will be dependent on your internet access in order to book one.  I’ve found Uber to be just as fast and often cheaper so it certainly is a good option.

Whatever you do, try to avoid the unregistered taxis at the airport – jump in one that’s sign written as they’ll always use the meter and you’ll be sure to pay a fair fare.  That is, assuming you picked someone that knows where you’re going.

During peak traffic times, which can be hard work in Dubai, it may be quicker to take the metro.  Dubai Metro is made up of two lines and covers an extensive part of the city.  Make sure you purchase a ticket before boarding as these driverless trains don’t have ticket conductors onboard.

Where to Stay

For this weekend staycation we opted to stay at the Amwaj Rotana.

I have a soft spot for the Rotana brand as on moving to the UAE I was housed in the Park Rotana for just over a month.  It was my first taste of the luxury that you grow accustomed to in the UAE and the customer service blew me away.

I was very eager to find out if the Amwaj Rotana would live up to the exceptional customer service I’ve come to expect from the Rotana brand and they didn’t disappoint.

Location, Location, Location

The Amwaj Rotana is located in the heart of JBR (Jumeriah Beach Residence) which is a stone throw from The Walk – a beautiful part of Dubai.

The Walk is a stunning outdoor area with plenty of al fresco dinning, boutique shopping and a beautiful promenade that has plenty to offer with parks, carnival games, a free public beach and even an outside gym facility.  It’s a great place to spend a day or an evening, provided you don’t start to melt with the heat and humidity that Dubai is known for in the summer months.

Checking out the Amwaj Rotana

Amwaj Rotana was built in 2010 and is one of the largest hotels located in JBR.  It has 301 rooms and suites spread over 25 floors, with each of the modestly decorated rooms being bigger than your standard hotel room.  The enormous beds are so comfortable that you will find it hard to get up in the mornings and, incredibly, every room has a balcony with unobstructed views of the stunning Arabian Gulf and Palm Jumeirah.

The hotel facilities will ensure that you have a memorable stay.  Aside from the standard facilities offered by hotels, the Amwaj also offers a complimentary shuttle bus service to popular shopping malls in Dubai, a car rental service, an on call doctor and a hair and beauty salon.

Recreational activities include a fully equipped gym (with 24 hour access), a jacuzzi, sauna, spa, steam rooms and for the little ones, Flipper’s Kids Club.  My personal favourite was the pool which I was absolutely fell in love with.  Not only was the water perfectly refreshing but with its location on a bridge that spanned the road, you were literally swimming above Dubai’s traffic!

Without doubt though, the highlight of my stay was the level of customer service.  The staff were amazing, so friendly, professional and went above and beyond to make our stay a memorable one.  It was impressive how we were greeted by name everywhere we went in the hotel and in a city as big as Dubai, it’s a small touch like that that makes a hotel feel a little more like home.

How do you really judge a hotel though?  Everyone looks for something different in their perfect stay but I’m a real sucker for hotel slippers.  I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with them – I really need to stop collecting them as I have far too many knocking around home!

The first thing I usually do on arriving at a hotel is locate the complementary slippers, kick of my shoes and slide my tiny feet into them.  For this reason I’ve decided to accompany any accommodation reviews with Sarah’s slipper rating.

With that said, Amwaj Rotana slippers come in at 4 stars (out of 5).  The only factor letting them down is I have tiny feet (UK size 4) so the slippers were swimming on me.

Everything about this hotel hit the spot for us – from the comfortable rooms to the high-pressured showers and everything in between.

Did Someone Say ‘Food’?

Within the Amwaj Rotana, there are plenty of options for fine cuisine.

For our visit, we settled on Rosso, an authentic Italian restaurant.  Being a bit of a foodie, I was very impressed with the menu and the gorgeous outdoor setting, made all the better by a portable air conditioning unit.

Aircon outside – don’t we live in an amazing time?!

The wait staff were attentive, knowledgeable and eager to make sure our evening was one to remember. Their suggestions on what to order were spot on and the only disappointment we experienced all evening was not having enough room for dessert.

To start we shared a traditional antipasto which was absolutely gorgeous and included a selection of Italian pork cold cuts (hard to find in the UAE), mixed grilled vegetables, olives, melon, figs, and bocconcino cheese. This all came accompanied with parmesan, pesto and a scrumptious focaccia.

After our generous starter I was feeling full but with a mushroom and truffle risotto truffle I found it in me to push on through – someone’s got to do it, right?

I love truffles and can’t get enough of this tiny-but-expensive mushroom.  I usually find restaurants to be a bit stingy with the truffle but not in this case!  The risotto was full of rich flavour; it was creamy and cheesy and had truffle mixed throughout the whole dish – not just served on the top as many places do. I would wholeheartedly recommend this dish to anyone dining at Rosso’s.

I can’t wait to head back again to experience their scrumptious food, outstanding service and relaxed setting.

Dubai – Stop Over or Fly Through?

Is Dubai somewhere you should consider visiting?

Absolutely!  Whether you live locally, are on holiday or are making a quick stopover, Dubai has something to offer for everyone. It has glitz and glam that will wow you, inviting beaches, high end shopping and theme parks that rival some of the best in the world.

Above all where else can you experience a modern city with a traditional twist?

It’s a truly vibrant city that knows how to put on a good show!

The best time to visit is in the winter months where you can really experience everything the city has to offer without those hot rays beating you down.

So, next time you are flying through this international hub, think about making a stop to explore fascinating Dubai!  You might just surprise yourself.


Planning a trip to Dubai?  Pin this post!

Dubai: Your guide to the City of the Future. Iconic sight-seeing, delicious food, culture and the best places to stay - if you've never visited the UAE, this guide is for you!Dubai: Your guide to the City of the Future. Iconic sight-seeing, delicious food, culture and the best places to stay - if you've never visited the UAE, this guide is for you!Dubai: Your guide to the City of the Future. Iconic sight-seeing, delicious food, culture and the best places to stay - if you've never visited the UAE, this guide is for you!

Thank you to the Amwaj Rotana and Splash Tours for hosting Sarah for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Asia Eco Tourism Sri Lanka

Hiking World’s End: Sri Lanka’s Overlooked Scenic Gem

May 5, 2017
World's End Sri Lanka hike

Though World’s End at Horton Plains, Sri Lanka is not as well known as the towering Adam’s Peak, it is frequently ranked as the top hike in the country.   We took to the trail ourselves to find out more about this somewhat-hidden highlight.

Located within one of Sri Lanka’s many national Parks, Horton Plains would feel at home within the pages of a New Zealand nature book.  With gold-flecked grass, ferns and flax as far as the eye can see, you really could be excused for thinking you’ve somehow arrived in Aotearoa – fortunately for us though, this was 100% Sri Lanka.

World's End Sri Lanka hikeOne of the Best Views in Sri Lanka

If there’s one thing you visit World’s End for, it’s the spectacular views out over the surrounding valley and mountains.  Though this beautiful country is anything but short of great hiking tracks, World’s End is accessable to most people making it a great choice for holiday-makers.

The track itself completes a loop and can be approached from either side.  From the entrance, Mini World’s end (which is practically as beautiful as the main attraction) and World’s End is a 4km walk, at which point you continue through to Baker’s Falls (2km) and meander back to the start (3.5km).  All in all, the circuit is 9km of absolute beauty.

World's End Sri Lanka hike viewIt is worth noting that the sheer cliffs of Horton Plains lack railing.  Though hikers benefit from incredible unobstructed views that would be roped off elsewhere, you’ll need to keep an eye on how close you get to the edge.  With drops of 300 and 1,200 metres respectively, few people who come unstuck live to tell the tale.

World's End Sri Lanka hikeHiking World’s End – How Challenging is it?

Though Adam’s Peak is considered the most recognised hike in Sri Lanka, World’s End, its lesser known companion, is frequently recognised as the best one around… plus it’s a whole lot more manageable thanks to its relatively flat profile.

The hike itself is absolutely gorgeous and not particularly challenging.

Don’t get me wrong, this hike isn’t a walk in the park but if you have a moderate level of fitness, you’ll complete it without any problems. Even if you’re totally lacking fitness, you’ll still be fine – just take your time and consider skipping the walk down to the falls.

World's End Sri Lanka hikeLet’s Get Practical – What You Need to Know…

Though hiking boots wouldn’t go astray, World’s End is certainly manageable in trainers and comfortable clothes.

Throw a small bag on your back and whatever you do, remember your camera! If, like us, you have a drone, leave it behind though – they don’t allow them anywhere in the national park.

There is a small shop that sells snacks and drinks at the end of the hike but the Sri Lankan sun can be strong and though the walk isn’t particularly challenging you’ll still want to be well prepared.  We took a couple of water bottles each and some fruit to snack on… and then stopped by the shop for some celebratory roti and fizzy when we were done!

This national park is keen to protect its gorgeous wildlife as best they can and for this reason you’ll be made to disguard any unnecessary plastic before you start the hike.  You can save time by leaving anything you don’t need in the car (including the plastic labels wrapped around your water bottle).

To get into World’s End you will need to pay the entrance fee which is approximately 3000 Sri Lankan rupees (or USD20).  It’s not the cheapest of days by the time you pay for your ticket and transport (which we’ll talk more about below) but it’s absolutely worth it – presuming you’re not travelling on a budget, that is.

You’ll want to plan your route and timing around what you want to see out at World’s End too.  Not far into the walk you’ll be faced with the choice of turning left or right – left takes you to Mini World’s End first whereas a right turn will direct you to Baker’s Falls.  Both routes come with their own adventages and disadvantages but we’d recommend starting with Mini World’s End to ensure you get there before the mist sets into the vally.

Clear, unobstructed views out from the cliff-faces normally show themselves between 6am and 10am but as with everything in nature, there are no guarantees.  As a general rule though, the earlier you can make it out there, the more likely you are to be rewarded with clear views (though if you ask me, mist engulfing the valley would be pretty amazing too!)

World's End Sri Lanka hike viewGetting to Horton Plains

World’s End is smack-bang in the middle of a national park and because of this, normal cars are not insured to drive the roads.  This means that you’ll probably need to hire a local van or tuk tuk to get you into the starting point of the track.

We organised the required return transport through Red Dot Tours for USD50 and together jumped in the van from Nuwara Eliya.

Our departure time was bright and early in a bid to beat some of the crowds and the harsh midday sun.  Though we had planned to leave town at 5am, our drive to Nuwara Eliya took longer than expected and we connected with our driver just before 6am.

If you’re able to be in Nuwara Eliya closer to our scheduled time of 5am, we’d definitely recommend it. Yes you’ll have a hard time getting out of bed but it will be worth it to have the amazing lookouts to yourself!

Though we were originally a little hesitant to scrap our planned hike up Adam’s Peak in favour of World’s End, we could not have been happier with our decision.

Horton Plains was drop-dead gorgeous, an enjoyable, manageable walk and lets visitors have a little taste of New Zealand (without the hassle and expense of flying half way around the world).

It’s certainly worth juggling your Sri Lankan itinerary to swing by Horton Plains!


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Sri Lanka's best hike, World's End, takes in gorgeous views, bush, rivers, waterfalls and more. A must-do on your Sri Lankan itinerary! Looking for an easier hike than Adam's Peak? World's End is absolute natural perfection and the best part?  It's a hike that anyone can manage in two hours!

Adventure Dubai Middle East United Arab Emirates

Hanging on by a Thread: Reviewing Aventura – Dubai’s Nature Adventure Park

April 29, 2017

As summer’s oppressive heat descends upon the United Arab Emirates everyone starts heading inside, seeking refuge in air-conditioned havens… that generally means one of the Emirates’ mega-malls.

Not so fast though!

What if we told you that one of the best physical adventure activities in Dubai has adjusted their hours to allow adrenaline junkies to make the most of the cooler mornings and evenings?

Located not far from Dubai’s city centre, Aventura offers five rope courses amongst the natural Ghaff tree forest in Mushrif Park.

The variety of courses allow guests to push themselves regardless of their level of fitness or thirst for adventure.  From courses targeted at younger children and those not so keen on heights to ones that present a massive physical challenge high off the ground, there’s something for practically everyone.

Aventura High Ropes Dubai reviewSafety First

Having completed a number of high rope and climbing courses now (check out our review of Ras Al Khaimah’s via ferrata), we’re relatively handy with a carabiner but even if you’re not, you’ll have nothing to worry about at Aventura.  Thanks to the employment of CliC-iT smart carabiners it is impossible for any guest to be up on the course without being clipped in and though they take a little getting used to, the peace of mind is absolutely worth it.

The staff out on the course are well trained and with a comprehensive, hands-on training before you head out by yourself, chances are you’ll be feeling pretty confident.

It is also worth noting that the course is fairly exposed, being nested amongst the trees rather than sheltering beneath them – because of this we’d recommend taking plenty of sunscreen along with your glasses and a hat, especially if you’re visiting when the sun’s at its strongest (as we did – eeek!)

High Ropes for Everyone at Aventura!

Once your training starts you’ll have three hours to bounce around any of the routes that take your fancy.  Our group of four completed three courses in total (in addition to the initiation course), each with their own differences.

Explorador

With an average height of 3 metres, Explorador is the perfect starting point for your high ropes adventure.  The course isn’t particularly difficult but it’s a great way to find your feet and adjust to the carabiner system.  It also gives a good view out over the more difficult Aventura and Thriller routes, allowing you to plot your next course.

If you’re feeling a little nervous, this is definitely the place to start!

Aventura High Ropes Dubai reviewThriller

Running alongside Explorador, Thriller stands at an average height of 8 metres above the ground.  Described as having a low difficulty level but towering height, this is a course that will divide your group.  Physically it’s a walk in the park but if you’re afraid of heights it’s sure to challenge you.  Just remember, there’s no way you’ll ever come unhooked – this course is 100% mind over matter.

Once you’ve raced through Thriller you’ll be ready to test yourself in every sense of the word.  Aventura does a great job of that but if you’re short on time (or looking to escape the sun, as we were) then head straight over to the Extreme course.

Extreme

Aptly named, the most difficult course at Aventura is just as high as Thriller but also offers a massive physical challenge.

Seriously – this course is not messing around.

From wobbly rock-climbing walls to a 25 metre Tarzan jump.  Swinging cargo nets to pegs barely big enough to fit your feet on.  This is a course that will challenge every muscle in your body.  It’s hard work whilst still being tremendous fun – just make sure you skip arms at the gym the day before if you want any chance of making it through!

Though we came off the course with aching muscles and dripping from a number of hours under the hot sun, it was hard to wipe the smiles from our messy, wind-swept faces.

Next time you’re lining up a trip to the mall, why not opt for something different and head to Aventura to soak up a gorgeous Arabian sunset instead?

After all, the mall’s not going anywhere!

Aventura High Ropes Dubai review

Weekdays: Open from 2.30pm until 7.00pm

Weekends: From 8.30am until 10.00am (last briefing) + from 2.30pm until 7.00pm.

Summer timings are from April until end of June 2017.

Stay tuned to Aventura for their special evening sessions, running 7.00pm to 10.00pm.


Dubai's full of amazing tourist activities but here's one you won't have tried! Aventura Adventure park has something for everyone. Which course will you choose?

Thank you to Aventura and Tish Tash for inviting us along to review Aventura.  As always all thoughts are our own.

We suggest you take advantage of the new summer hours to keep out of Dubai’s crazy summer heat – we visited around midday and instantly wished we’d booked later in the day!

Adventure New Zealand

Anything But a Light Paddle: White Water Rafting Down the Kaituna River (and the Largest Commercially Rafted Waterfall in the World!)

April 22, 2017
Rafting the Kaituna River, Rotorua New Zealand

Kiwis sort of have a track record of being a little crazy, and white water rapids seem to bring out the worst of us as seen here and here, however could I really call myself a travel blogger if I didn’t jump on every opportunity to try out as many of the activities New Zealand has to offer?

Probably not.

So when my partner mistakenly tells me I would NOT be gate crashing a boys day out before his best friend got married (keyword here mistakenly), of course I jumped on board for white water rafting in Rotorua, before heading to Cambridge for the gorgeous wedding of our two friends.

I’m going to say it right away, I have not a single regret and thoroughly enjoyed the escapade, however it did leave me a little shaken.

I’m not the biggest adrenaline-junkie around but I do love giving things a shot.  I also have this strange habit of going gung-ho into these sorts of activities feeling no fear, but then once I actually experience them for what they are (e.g. a little bit dangerous) I’m left questioning my sanity.

I have to admit, this was definitely one of those times.

Rafting the Kaituna River, Rotorua New ZealandWe booked with Kaituna Cascades, a really fun group of guys, who look like they truly love their job. We signed up for their highest grade of rafting, a choice I thoroughly recommend.  It’s not overly exerting, it’s not particularly dangerous and the views are beautiful.

The trip takes you down (up?) the Kaituna river, through ‘historical’ rusty old power plants, beautiful inlets of water, cliff sides covered in classic Kiwi foliage and sends you careering through some stunning green water.

But let’s be real here – you’re not going white water rafting for a peaceful row through scenic vistas!

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re the kind of person looking for the next opportunity to be pushed around, thrown about, tipped upside down, and in one unfortunate instance, smashed pelvis-first into a rock.

Ok. Maybe you aren’t looking for that last experience – but don’t worry, I’ve got some tips at the end to hopefully keep you bruised-pelvis free…

For my first experience white water rafting, I would say this was definitely a good fit. While it has a pretty significant waterfall drop at one point (OK, it might just be the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world!), as white water goes this was pretty easy-going and a good starting point for anyone who, like me, might be afraid of getting the technique wrong.

When it comes down to it, there’s really nothing to it but to listen to your instructor and do as much shouting as you can – and you will shout!

But wait – what was that I said about a smashed pelvis??? Don’t worry, no bones were broken, just a serious bruise and that’s definitely avoidable.

Rafting the Kaituna River, Rotorua New ZealandWhile the guys at Kaituna were awesome and made sure they did the utmost to ensure we all had the best time that we could, I still ended up getting hurt. Which I suppose is what you risk – or even hope for – when doing something like white water rafting.

There were two spots on the trip where they said we could get out and swim; the first being a lovely gorge-like area of the river, and the second being um… right before a waterfall.

So that first one sounds great, right?! And it was. It was like being swirled around in a giant pool – a pool surrounded by nature and people laughing from exhilaration.

That last one, though? Um, not so great. We all jumped at the opportunity to dive back in the water after the fun we had in the gorge!  Just quietly, I think the instructor was keen to get us in too, as he didn’t manage to get us to flip the boat going down the big waterfall.

In retrospect, perhaps this wasn’t the most strategic place to get out of the raft though?

We all found ourselves careering towards the waterfall and despite the instructors’ best efforts to call us back to the boat, our swimming was no match for the current. In the end, one of us went down the waterfall by himself – a fairly scary experience I would say – while my partner and I were instructed to hold onto the side of the boat as it went down.

Now, I’m not an expert – as I said this was my first time rafting – but holding onto a boat as it goes wherever it pleases down a rocky waterfall? It was less than ideal.

Not only did we have the full force of the current, but also the full weight of the boat on top of us.  Both Michael and I were slammed against the rocks and then dragged across them.

Honestly, the experience shook me quite a bit and from there I was kind of keen to get out of the water.

Regardless of this, I thoroughly recommend the Kaituna Cascades guys and I absolutely recommend trying out white water rafting.  I’d just encourage everyone to be a little bit more wary of when you get out of the boat. Oh, and please, PLEASE don’t hold onto the side of a raft as it slams its way down a waterfall.

Just trust me on this one.


Off to New Zealand?  On the hunt for adventure?  Pin this post!

Find out what it's like to go over the biggest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. New Zealand, home of adventure sports should be next on your list! Rotorua, NZ

As this was a last minute plan, I didn’t have my GoPro on me but I would like to give a big shout out to Jacob Laukaitis who went down the river with us and got some awesome footage. He hasn’t put the clips into a Youtube video but when he does you can find them here, or see a bunch of his awesome travel shots on his Instagram account.

Activities Adventure Asia Sri Lanka

Taking to the Skies over Bentota – Paramotoring and Heli Flights in Sri Lanka

April 13, 2017

Whether you’re an absolute adrenaline-junkie or a little more on the cautious side, Bentota in Sri Lanka has you covered.  Paramotoring and helicopters will help you take to the skies – without breaking the bank but with all of the fun!

Though we’d unequivocally recommend giving both a shot, we’ll explain the differences between the two offerings so you can make the right choice for you.

Paramotoring with Sky Club

Paramotoring was what initially took us to Bentota – it was an experience that neither of us had tried before and looked like the perfect combination of excitement and absolute peace in the skies.  We’d both been sky diving before and I’ve paraglided in the past so between the two, we thought we had an idea of what to expect.

Suren and Natalie run Sky Club, the leaders (and only certified operators) in Sri Lanka and they are hands-down the only company to head up on a paramotor with.  They single-handedly brought this sport to the island nation and worked with local aviation authorities to ensure proper regulations were established.  Once they were given the go-ahead to begin flying, the couple trained ex-air force personnel and never looked back.

During the course of your flight, you’ll sit securely in a custom-designed cart.  The parachute above your head controlling your direction (flown by the expertly trained pilot of course) whilst the massive fan behind him decides the height at which you fly.

The whole experience was surprisingly calm – from the effortless takeoff to the smooth landing, there was never a point in time where either of us felt nervous (which says a fair bit as Nathan’s not a fan of heights).

These machines just feel like they were built to soar through the sky – probably because they were!

Even if you don’t think you’re brave enough, we’d urge you to give paramotoring a go – it’s surprisingly manageable, even for the most nervous of flyers and you’ll certainly be in safe hands with the Sky Club team.

Heli Flights with Skylark

Following our paramotoring session (and a quick dip in the ocean), we made our way over to the heli pad and before we knew it were racing over Bentota in what was to be a significantly different experience.

Can you tell from the next picture how we felt about it?

If paramotoring was surprisingly relaxed with stunning views out over the ocean, our heli flight was an adrenaline-inducing adventure that practically had beach-goers on the ground ducking for cover (in the very best of ways!)

In safe hands, we hopped into our ride for the afternoon, suited up with our headphones and took to the skies for the second time that day.

Our flight started with a relaxed tour of the surrounding area, taking in Sri Lanka’s famous architecture, buddha statues and lighthouses before whizzing over the beach in an exciting acrobatic performance.

I’m sure you could ask for the more mundane version of this flight but, really, why would you?

How to Get to Bentota Beach

Located on the stunning Bentota Beach, you’ll find both Sky Club and Skylark within easy reach of each other – you can walk between the two in less than five minutes or, if like us, you go from one activity straight to another, the helicopter will even drop you off right outside the paramotoring spot.  How’s that for a memorable transfer!

Many people choose to stay in Bentota (which is half way between Colombo and Galle) but more so opt for the beaches in and around Galle or the historic city itself.

Trains

If you too are based near Galle, there are many trains that connect the two regions – we found the train station staff to be friendly and helpful and the train system easy to navigate making it a great option.  Second class tickets were only 100 Sri Lankan Rupees each (less than NZD1 or USD0.65 each) and the ride took approximately an hour.  If you’re planning on making the trip, you’ll find train times departing here and returning here.

Helpful Hint:  The Aluthgama train station is less than a kilometre from Bentota so if you find more convenient connections there, don’t be afraid to walk down or catch a tuk tuk – it’s incredibly easy to find.

Tuk Tuk

Before making a move for the beach we checked in regarding the train departure time but managed to misunderstand the time we needed to be back – who knew 3.15pm and 3.50pm could sound so similar?

Left with the choice of either waiting around for two hours for the next train (and missing our snorkelling session at Jungle Beach) or hiring a tuk tuk straight away, we elected to head back to Galle ASAP.  The tuk tuk to get home set us back LKR2,000 in total – though it was a significant price hike over the train, it ended up worth it to be back ready for the afternoon activities we had planned.

Tuk tuks in the area are generally comfortable and safe and heading back by road, we managed to catch some sights we didn’t see on the train.

Though we didn’t intend to hail a tuk tuk for the ride home, the combination of train and tuk tuk ended up working well for us whilst still keeping the costs relatively low.

Two Very Different Experiences, Both Equally Worthwhile…

If you have the time and the funds (and let’s face it, adventure activities like these don’t come any cheaper whilst retaining stringent safety standards), we really recommend you give both of these activities a go.

Sitting in the open air as the paramotor glided above the heads of visitors below was a fantastic experience – serene with a touch of excitement, we couldn’t take the smiles off our faces.  This activity is relatively unique to the area too so it’s a great opportunity to try something new.

By comparison, the helicopter ride in Bentota is chock-full of excitement with tight turns and sudden drops.  It’s not for the faint of heart but is a great way to get your pulse going and to see a little more of the area as you fly further inland.

Why choose one though, when for the price of trying one of these activities elsewhere, you can do both over one of Sri Lanka’s most gorgeous beaches?

It was an easy decision for us!


Looking for adventure in Sri Lanka? Yes you are! Check out paramotoring and heli rides at Bentota Beach - the most affordable adventure activities around! Fly high over Sri Lanka. Bentota Beach offers the most amazing paramotoring and heli rides at affordable prices. Find out why we recommend you take to the skies...

Thank you to Sky Club and Skylark for so kindly hosting us both for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Asia Eco Tourism Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s Turtle Hatcheries: Why we arrived excited and left early & disappointed

April 1, 2017

Both Nathan and I are suckers for sea creatures.  From getting excited about spotting the tiniest little nudibranch whilst out on a dive to watching gigantic blue whales breach the surface of the ocean – we love it all.

It makes sense then that when we decided to come to Sri Lanka, a visit to a turtle hatchery was top of my list – I’d seen photos from friends and it sounded magical.

In my head I had imagined dozens of little baby turtles, tottling off down the shoreline, destined for the great blue and a life of freedom.  Sounds amazing, right?

I’d almost certainly over-romanticised the experience but in I went, hoping for a once-in-a-lifetime encounter for this animal lover.  What I left with was anything but.

The Writing Was on the Wall

From the moment I walked into the facility, I knew I’d probably made the wrong choice in visiting.

Dozens and dozens of babies were smooshed into a relatively little round tank and though I didn’t love it, it was easy enough to look past it when we heard that at most they would be there for three days before being released into the wild.

*Keep breathing Sarah, it’s not so bad*

Then we were invited to pick the babies up – again, I reconciled myself – with so many babies in the tank, chances are each one would only be held once before it finds its way to freedom (plus they’re so little, it’s easy to support them whilst holding them for a second or two).

And let’s not forget – they’re crazy cute!

*Okay, this is good*

… but that was where the positives stopped and the feeling of guilt started to set in.

We moved onto the next tank where a single adult turtle swam back and forth, back and forth, along the same far edge of the tank.

Would he ever be returned the the wild?  No, were were told – he was being held there to educate visitors.

Would we like to hold him?  You can take him out of the water and pose for photos, we were told.

It was at that point that the switch flicked for me.

This poor turtle must be picked up and passed around dozens of times throughout the day and when he’s not being shuttled from tourist to tourist for their next Instagram shot, he’s left pacing back and forth in his far-too-small tank, a sure sign of boredom.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Instagram as much as the next person (check us out if you’re not already!) but no photo should be at the expense of an animal’s wellbeing.

I’m not sure if things actually got worse at that point or if I had just decided that I didn’t want to be there anymore but from then on we saw more fully-grown turtles in tanks that were obviously too small for them and our ‘guide’ who was meant to be giving us a tour of the hatchery disappeared only to return to look over our shoulder.  We had hoped that we might have learned more about the work they were doing there, especially considering the 1,000 Sri Lankan Rupees we’d each paid (USD7 per person) for a guided tour but it wasn’t to be.

The feeding tank housed turtles for three hours a day (where unsurprisingly they spent time eating) but with three fully-grown turtles in the tank, there was very little room for movement.  Another tank housed one of these gentle giants in a space that was barely twice as wide as him.

Though I know the work they do here generally helps the turtles, we couldn’t help but feel sorry for the adults left behind – what kind of a life is that?

The offer was made to release a baby turtle into the ocean at an additional charge.  This was what I’d really come to do but suddenly as we stood there, we just knew we weren’t comfortable handing over any more money (1,500 rupees per turtle) to support this centre.

Photos online had shown dozens of turtles heading out to sea at once, each of them presumedly having a fair shot at survival.  The reality of sending two lone babies out into the ocean just didn’t feel the same – it’s a big world out there for two littlies by themselves.

Conservation Work?

Opened in 1996 to help promote responsible tourism, the turtle hatchery aids conservation by buying the turtle eggs from fisherman. This goes a long way towards discouraging them from selling the eggs…

Koggala Experience

Each night, when the sun goes down and the turtles have laid their eggs safety, locals dig them back up again.  We were told that in the past, men would sell turtle eggs to villagers that would eat them but thanks to the hatcheries buying them at an inflated rate, this is no longer an issue.  These eggs are now hatched, allowed to grow for approximately three days before tourists pay to set them free.  Thankfully any turtles that are not ‘purchased’ are released after hours by the hatcheries so of course the vast majority do make it into the ocean.

Though hatcheries aim to support turtle conservation, the benefits of their work have not gone unquestioned.  By removing and relocated the eggs, the gender of the babies can be affected (as the temperature plays a significant role in the gender outcome of eggs).  Allowing the babies to grow in captivity can also be detrimental to their overall chance of survival.

When the turtles hatch in their natural habitat, they head for the sea and swim for 48 hours non-stop, passing areas where most of their predators are. “But when they are hatched in simulated environments, they are put into tanks in which they swim for 48 hours. As a result when they are released into the sea later, they do not have the strength to swim past their predators and hence become easy prey.”

Upali Padmasiri, Wildlife Department Assistant Director

Final Thoughts

To be honest, both Nathan and I left feeling guilty and disappointed and we’re not the only ones.  Our friend Abbi at Spin the Windrose had a heartbreakingly similar experience months after our visit.

I’d love to say things are on the up but that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

Though I don’t doubt that setups like this obviously work positively in their conservation efforts, this felt more like a way to make money off incoming tourists than as a genuine means of turtle protection.  For us, it wasn’t so much about the cost of entry as the conditions that the adult turtles were kept in – we would have happily have paid twice the price had it been clear that funds raised were being reinvested into the centre to provide better homes for the turtles.

We visited hoping for a once-in-a-lifetime experience with Sri Lanka’s turtles but unfortunately left with a reminder that generally animals are better off left in the wild.

I know some friends have had amazing visits so it’s possible that we were just unfortunate in our choice of hatchery?  Maybe our expectations are different?  I’m not sure what to make of it but there is one thing I do know…

At least for us, we’ll stick to spotting turtles in their natural habitats.

If you would like to see turtles in the wild, they love riding the waves at Dalawella Beach.  We found half a dozen of so directly out from the rope swing.

This post is of course in no way affiliated with anyone and our thoughts are entirely our own.  Should you wish to visit (or avoid) this hatchery, it was the Sea Turtle Conservation Project & Hatchery, Koggala that we visited.

Have you been to visit the turtles in Sri Lanka?  If so, we’d love to hear of your experience and thoughts!


Unfortunately our visit to a Sri Lankan turtle hatchery was anything but what we'd hoped for. Find out what you need to know before deciding whether or not you too want to visit. Unfortunately our visit to a Sri Lankan turtle hatchery was anything but what we'd hoped for. Find out what you need to know before deciding whether or not you too want to visit.

Accommodation Adventure Asia Eco Tourism Mid-Range Sri Lanka

Adventure & Glamping in Sri Lanka – Not Your Average All-Inclusive!

March 29, 2017
Borderlands - Adventure glamping in Sri Lanka

An easy drive from Colombo you’ll find Borderlands, an all-inclusive Sri Lankan adventure camp in Kitulgala, the adrenalin-sports capital of the country.  We normally recoil at the word ‘all-inclusive’ when it comes to our travels but not this time!   Read on to find out why Borderlands should be a must-see on your visit to Sri Lanka…

It’s an amazing thing to leave a place feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

You’ve probably heard about the health benefits of practicing gratitude—how it can boost your mood, help you treat others better, improve physical health, and keep stress and fear at bay. Now, here’s a little trick for how to automatically infuse more gratitude into your life: Spend more money on experiences, and less on material objects.

Real Simple – Amanda MacMillan

Gazing through the shroud of netting out into the Sri Lankan jungle, you just can’t help but feel appreciative.  If experiences are where it’s at, then this one would be hard to top.

Layer after layer of a jungle, from the closest painted in hues of vibrant green, to the last few trees silhouetted against the sky, sitting high on the misty mountain – all laid out in front of us without having to leave our bed. The call of countless birds and lizards, the buzz of insects waking up, the river racing along below us.

How fortunate were we to have spent even a few nights in paradise like this?

Borderlands is about as far from a typical all-inclusive holiday destination as it gets.  Yes, for a set rate you’ll get a roof over your head (and a million dollar view to boot!) and all of your meals included.  Also included are two adventure activities a day with fully trained guides and free WiFi.  Unlike your average all-inclusive resort though, Borderlands has an overwhelming sense of character and a jungle outlook that just can’t be beaten.

Lounging in the chill-out area, we spotted a chameleon in the first five minutes of being there and throughout the day, magnificent eagles soared back and forth.  Even if you’re not on the hunt for adventure, Borderlands is a great choice in Kitulgala – it’s the ultimate in back-to-nature adventure in the true spirit of Sri Lanka.

Our room obviously wasn’t your standard hotel room but it was perfect for the location.  With plenty of ventilation and a fan, we didn’t get too hot and there was a partial sunshade to stop the morning daylight from streaming in – we went with it though, leaving it open so we could see the fireflies and birds out in the jungle.

Attached to our room was a partially outdoors ensuite (with a hot-water shower and toilet) and his and hers hand basins.  We also had a couple of tables, beanbags, fresh drinking water, electrical outlets and lights in our room – though it wasn’t fancy, it was more than adequate.

We’ve sometimes stayed in luxurious hotels and have come away less impressed than we did from Borderlands which says a lot about our experience there.  If you’ve got a good sense of adventure, this place is for you!

Food, Glorious Food!

We arrived at Borderlands a little unsure of what to expect when it came to meals but the food on offer was absolutely delicious!  Hearty and varied, every meal was one to look forward to and served up buffet style, there was plenty to go around.

Adventure is Calling

Though you can stay at Borderlands just to take advantage of the facilities and delicious food, we recommend you book in the full package including activities.  The team is known as being the most safety-conscious in the area (they were also one of the founding companies on the Kelani river) and their care and professionalism really shone through – if there’s one company you want to be pushing your personal boundaries with, it’s these guys.

White Water Kayaking

Our first activity started very quickly with a dunk in the water!  After jumping back in the kayak (and then falling out a few more times) we started to get the hang of keeping our balance in the whitewater.  The whole experience was a blast and with a river that’s currently a grade 2, it was the perfect introduction to kayaking in this environment – the right balance of challenge and security.

Borderlands - Adventure glamping in Sri Lanka kayaking

Advanced Canyoning

Having been on an amazing canyoning trip once in the past we had high expectations from this activity!  Did it stack up?

We started with a hike down to the canyon though gorgeous tea plantations and farmland, our guides stopping to show us a range of local produce (with a few tastings thrown in too).  Once we made it to the river, we received a full safety briefing and made our way to the first obstacle, as double rock slide into the cool water below.  After slipping and sliding down a few rocks we approached the first of our cliff jumps… at approximately 12m high, we decided to save it for the braver souls amongst us and scrambled down the rocks instead.  With another smaller jump (which was much more to our liking) and an abseil our canyoning adventure was almost over.

We had a great time up the canyon with our two guides (we weren’t kidding when we said Borderlands was safety conscious) but wished the experience was a little longer.  Considering they’re making use of the natural environment only 10 minutes from the campsite though, it’s a fantastic introduction to canyoning.

Mountain Biking

From a fitness point of view, mountain biking made the other two activities feel like a walk in the park.

I can’t even recall the number of times I mentally chanted this saying back to myself as we kept pedalling up that mountain…

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger”

– Nietzsche, 1888

Fortunately, our lovely instructor foresaw what was to come and had the Borderlands truck follow not too far behind us up the hill.  We made it about half way before stopping and hitching a ride with him!

At the top, we stopped for a while in an ancient cave, tried to spot the local bats and admired one of the region’s waterfalls – a gorgeous spot and a great chance to catch our breath!

With the choice of going off-road or following the path we took up, we elected to stick to the ‘road’ – better safe than sorry we decided.  With spectacular views and a comfortable pace headed back downhill, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we made the right choice.

Was it physically hard?  Yes.

Were we pleased we did it?  For sure!

Borderlands - Adventure glamping in Sri Lanka mountain bikingBorderlands is about as close to the perfect jungle experience as it gets.  Tropical and wild whilst retaining a touch of comfort and calm, we really couldn’t recommend it enough to those adventurous spirits amongst us.

Leave your hair dryer at home, come with a can-do attitude and get stuck in – you won’t regret it!


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An easy drive from Colombo you'll find Borderlands, an all-inclusive Sri Lankan adventure camp in Kitulgala, the adrenalin-sports capital of the country.  We normally recoil at the word 'all-inclusive' when it comes to our travels but not this time!  Find out why we fell in love with this unique accommodation. An easy drive from Colombo you'll find Borderlands, an all-inclusive Sri Lankan adventure camp in Kitulgala, the adrenalin-sports capital of the country.  We normally recoil at the word 'all-inclusive' when it comes to our travels but not this time!  Find out why we fell in love with this unique accommodation.

Thank you to Red Dot Tours for recommending and organising our stay at Borderlands.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Adventure Dubai Middle East

Dubai: Home to the Largest Inflatable Water Park in the World!

March 16, 2017
Aqua Fun Dubai - largest inflatable water park in the world JBR

Dubai is a city that pushes boundaries; if they can build it bigger, better, taller or more complex then you can be certain that this city will! This attitude extends to all facets of life, so it’s no wonder that when the idea of building the world’s largest water obstacle course was hatched, that it was destined for Dubai.

Located a short swim off JBR beach, you’ll find exactly that – the world’s biggest inflatable park, which just happens to form the Dubai logo when seen from above.  Would you expect anything less from a city that markets itself so proudly?

After kitting up on the beach, we began the short swim over to the course itself. The first obstacle? Getting on!

Nathan and I had a go at a smaller course whilst we were in Cozumel, Mexico and I found it next to impossible to actually get up on the inflatable from the water. These courses are serious-exercise-business!

Thankfully though, Aqua Fun have installed entry mats and ladders to help those of us who are less athletically inclined. Even with the mats, getting up on the course is a bit of a challenge but it is manageable and as they say, nothing worth having comes easy.

As we climbed aboard, we watched other others brave souls having a crack at the course – the lady closest to use scooting along the track just to slip and fall on the bouncy surface. Surprised, we couldn’t help but wonder if she was a little lacking in co-ordination! As it turns out though, even walking on the flat entrance part of the course is a challenge as we promptly found it, slipping and sliding all over the place.

We spent the next hour climbing, jumping, balancing and swinging our way through a variety of obstacles. Some were physically very demanding whereas others were more about technique than strength. Regardless, they were all great fun!

If we were to have one critique, it would be that the course is little repetitive with the same obstacles repeated at either side of the ‘track’. The advantage of this is that you can have a go on your obstacle of choice without having to wait on other people to clear it – if it’s busy on one side, work your way over to the other. It does feel a little like a missed opportunity to add more variety to the course though (and to actually make it feel bigger) – had there been more options, we would have stayed out on the water longer still. To be fair though, our aching muscles probably couldn’t have taken much more!

We came off the course with a few new scratches and bruises to add to the collection but huge smiles that showed it was all clearly worth it! If you have an adventurous spirit, we’d definitely suggest checking out Aqua Fun. Though you’ll find it easier if you have a good level of fitness and balance, it is within reach of most people, a heck of a lot of fun and a fun dose of adventure in the city.


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Duabi is now home to the largest inflatable water park in the world.  Located in one of Dubai's nicest areas, find out what we thought about it.  Is it worth stopping by Aqua Fun on your stopover to the city of the future?

Thank you to Aqua Fun for hosting us for the afternoon.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

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