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Saudi Arabia: Breaking free from the stereotypes

“Khalid has just created a Twitter storm,” was not something that I expected to hear in Saudi Arabia. But then again there was much that I did not expect, there were many images contrary to my expectations of Saudi Arabia. From the lack of investment and shabbiness in the extremities to the colour of some of the houses, from fabulous funerary façades to one of the most topographically stunning regions that I have seen anywhere in the world. There was much that I was to learn and discover.

Saudi Arabia is a complex country. Peter Harrigan, our tour expert, described it as being “like an iceberg”. Perhaps an odd analogy for a desert nation but one that is so apposite given that there is so much more to the nation and country than meets the eye.

The stereotype of Saudi Arabia is of an arid sand desert in a cultural wilderness. Socially one of the many stereotypes endured by Saudis is that they are austere and lacking in humour. In the mountains of the Abha, a mountain range that separates the Arabian heartland from the coast, I saw colour and art very much as part of the tradition. In Al Ula, I remember the light-hearted birdsong under the picturesque and refreshingly cool roof of palm fronds overhead. How can I forget the ribald laughter of Abdul Mohammed. My overriding impression is one of hospitality and smiles.

Yet only a handful of tourists visit the country. Yes, millions visit Saudi every year either on the Haj or Umrah, minor pilgrimage, but non-religious tourists are scarce, indeed we did not see any other foreign tourists. What a rare pleasure and privilege.

In the west, Saudi Arabia is tainted by stereotypes which include oil wealth (‘The land of black gold’ for any Tintin fans), fundamentalism and terrorism. Yet the reality is that the average monthly salary is 6,000 Rials which equates to an annual salary of £16,000 which is about two-thirds of that in the UK. But then living costs are cheaper or at least petrol is – 25 US cents per litre. Whilst sounding incredibly cheap it has doubled since last year.

To many, the fear of travelling to Saudi might be terrorism but as with the world over you are far more likely to die in a road traffic accident. Saudi Arabia has dramatically improved its road safety but it still remains number 23 in the world for road fatalities which account for 5% of deaths (compared to 1% in the UK). There are nine million road traffic violations a year – all of them committed by men. This is due to the fact that women cannot drive – a huge problem in some areas, especially away from the cities, where it is beholden upon the eldest son to drive his mother and sisters around – something he might start doing as young as twelve in spite of the fact that the driving age is seventeen.

Undoubtedly there are constraints to travel in Saudi Arabia but they are not as restrictive as one would assume. Men simply have to cover their legs and arms and do not, as Khalid told us, have to wear the thoob (robe) and ghotrah (headdress) as a group of Japanese tourists insisted on doing. The Japanese in their robes elicited much laughter from the Saudis – it was unclear as to whether they were laughing with or at the Japanese – and frustration for Khalid, our guide, who was continually being asked to rearrange their headdresses.

Women have to wear the abaya (black gown) all the time but do not have to cover their heads unless entering a mosque. For their Saudi counterparts, it is considerably more limiting in that they must wear the burqah throughout and on the whole men and women are separated.

But it has not always been like this. Khalid remembers his youth and there being no separation of male and female except at weddings. With the attack of the mosque in Mecca in 1979 began a religious clampdown that Ali in Abha refers to as the ‘Square Mile’ and saw the religious police in the ascendancy with a much stricter observance of traditional and social norms with, for example, the closure of cinemas and the banning of birthday celebrations.

But times are changing and the influence of the religious police is waning. Khalid said that seeing a man and a woman eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant with us, a group of tourists, was a first for him. Surprisingly, women can divorce men but it is much harder for them to do so. A man can tell his wife but a woman cannot – she is seen to be too emotional and thus it is up the courts to decide. Divorce is on the increase.

But change is not straightforward, unravelling the layers is not a simple matter. After a week in New York, Ali, a liberal thinker, asked his wife Fatima how she felt being liberated from her burqah. “No one looks me in the eyes,” was her considered response. Saudi remains a complex country.

Notwithstanding such convolution, society is transforming and two things have led to this change in attitude. Firstly, the rise of al Qaeda and secondly the rise of the cult of Daish. Both, especially the latter, are a wake-up call to Saudis who are now trying to show that they do not subscribe to this madness. Times are a changing. A major driver of Saudi’s international acclaim is the King Abdullah Scholarship programme with 145,000 young Saudis studying in more than 30 countries. Over a third of those enjoying scholarships abroad are women. More than half of Saudi graduates are female and the number of women actively participating in the Saudi workplace is rising fast.

Social media is a huge force for change. Witness the “twitter storm” caused by our guide Khalid. He and other Saudis were constantly filming us, continually posting. Khalid took a photo of a young calligrapher at work and immediately posted it in on Facebook. We are being videoed throughout especially as one of the group signs the visitors’ book, intrigued by her writing and the Latin script.

Modernity, religion, conservatism and tradition all come together in the air in a fascinating source of social conflict. OK things have moved on since the first flights from Riyadh to San’aa when the passengers would leave their slippers at the top of the steps before entering the plane. Still today, there are prayers for the traveller at take-off, women don’t like sitting next to men and vice versa, there are anecdotes of men taking the coffee from female flight attendants – it is the man’s place and prerogative to pour coffee – and of course the airborne prayer area on international flights at the back of the aircraft. Segregation on the ground but not in the air.

Such are the intricacies that exist in Saudi Arabia. The layers of complexity are perhaps best illustrated in the complications of the insurance industry. Insurance is haram, namely that it is forbidden as it is seen as a form of gambling in that it is betting against fate, against the will of god. There exists a ‘welfare system’ within the tribes into which individuals and families pay into. At the same time, the government has recently been trying to encourage individuals to buy insurance from insurance companies. Parallel systems, more layers.

The Western press oversimplifies this beguiling country, paints it as one. Yet Arabia is made up of fiefdoms. Dynastic families emerged out of tribal families. The unification of Arabia contradicts with the feuding fiefdoms. The families are still all powerful.

Above all, Saudi Arabia is a huge country. Mention the Arab world and people think of Dubai but the mental map we have of Dubai is out of all proportion with its size. It is a city state of several hundred thousand Emiratis. Meanwhile the sprawl and shambles of Jeddah is host to four and half million and the glittering capital, Riyadh, to eight million. Between the two cities they account for a third of the population of Saudi Arabia, a country that is 2.1 million square kilometres, almost ten times the size of the UK.

To dispel another label, Saudi Arabia is not all desert, nor has it been. Rock art of hippos suggests a much wetter climate which is known as Green Arabia and disappeared in a remarkable example of climate change.

That is not all the rock art reveals. It is a library of Palaeolithic civilisation to the modern day as we discovered clambering over the rocks of Jubbah. Lady Anne Blunt, the granddaughter of Byron, described Jubbah as “one of the most curious places in the world, and to my mind one of the most beautiful.” This was in no small part due to the “simple designs” that she found carved or pecked into the rock. Simple they might be but they show so much from the domestication of camel to the use of dogs in hunting. Fascinating depictions of gazelle, antelope, dogs, camels, human figures hunting and a lion.

In the region of Jubbah are some 10,000 petroglyphs but they do not get a mention in the 1998 Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art, indeed its map of prehistoric art shows the whole of the Arabian Peninsula as a blank. That is the problem with so much in Saudi Arabia – little is known of it in the country let alone outside. Like many things, this is beginning to change – in 2015 it was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site – and hopefully Saudi will soon be recognised as one of the four richest areas for rock art, along with Australia, India and South Africa.

If anything, Saudi Arabia should be known for Al Ula. You have no doubt heard of Monument Valley in the USA and Wadi Rum in Jordan, hopefully of Siwa oasis in Egypt and possibly Ennedi in Chad. I am not sure you will have heard of Al Ula but you need to take note of this name and travel to one of the most spectacular desert landscapes. As a topographical feature it stands tall, timeless, captivating and enthralling.

Al Ula means the ‘uprising’ and describes the gigantic sandstone towers and monoliths that turn the eye in every direction. Worn and weathered, punctuated with pockmarks, they are a myriad of shapes and sizes.  Giant statues that have shades of a natural Colossus of Memnon, pyramids, cones, knuckles, digits, towers and even an elephant.

It is in this impressive backdrop, the black lava on the top of the sandstone plateau like a thin layer of chocolate icing on a cake, the green of the palm oasis, that a number of tombs can be found in the face of the sandstone mountains. The earliest tombs we explored were at Al Khuraiba, which means the lions tombs and used to describe the Lihyanic tombs dating from the 4th to the 2nd century BC. The tombs adorned by lions designate royalty. The only remains are these end-of-life structures. There would have been markets, there would have been signs of life. These are most certainly buried under the palm groves, which no doubt hide remarkable treasures. Only 1% of Saudi archaeology is known or has been worked on.

In part this is due to religious restrictions. Pre-Islamic civilisations have been frowned upon. Statues and even depictions of animals have been frowned upon. Religious police ordered fishmongers to take fish off their shop signs. Road signs warning of camels showed a camel separate from its head. Statues that have been unearthed are in the National Museum but they are not on display so as not to upset religious sensibilities. But times are changing. Young Saudi students from university are now excavating here.

The Lihyanites were superseded by the Nabataeans, who, originally nomadic, tent-dwelling Arab pastoralists and traders, began to settle more than 2,300 years ago. Over the following eight centuries – the first four as an autonomous kingdom and the latter under Roman rule – Nabataean settlements and their trading routes flourished.

Of the historic Nabataean centres, the largest is their capital Beqem, now known as Petra in Jordan. There more than 600 tombs, paved streets, temples, markets, theatre and hydraulic installations have made it one of the best-known historic monuments in the Middle East. Such was its status that after imperial Rome annexed Nabataea in 106, the Romans accorded Petra the honorific title of metropolis.

Archaeologists have determined the maximum extent of the Nabataean kingdom largely through finds of distinctive pottery at 2,000 sites. At its zenith, Nabataea extended from what is now southern Jordan, Syria and he Negev and south into north-western Arabia. It was from Hegra, the kingdom’s southernmost settlement, emporium and entrepot that long-distance camel caravans set out for the far reaches of the Arabian Peninsula in search of aromatics, spices and other rare commodities, some of which came from India and even China.

It was a predominantly land-based trade – although increasing evidence is surfacing of the sea-faring trade of the Nabateans – due to the prevailing winds north of Jeddah. Their caravans ranged from southern Arabia to Mesopotamia. Modern transport – we took two plane flights and a three-hundred-kilometre road journey from the edge of southern Arabia to Al Ula to achieve half the distance they would have travelled – diminishes the scale of such processions. Their caravans would extend from 1,000 to 3,000 camels – the ancient equivalent of the oil tanker – each carrying 250kg of frankincense which was more valuable than gold. They had great wealth.

The manifestation of this wealth today is seen in their tombs. They were master carvers of funerary facades of the afterlife. They borrowed from the Persians (petals) and the Greeks. They were wonderful borrowers of style. Renowned as carvers of iconic rock-cut necropolises, they have been regarded only passingly, if at all, as builders. The quarries of Hegra are evidence that the Nabataeans were capable of more.

They also tantalisingly suggest there is more. There is no evidence of spoil heaps from these quarries which leads archaeologists to believe that the stone was used for buildings.  The answers lie unseen and underground, buried beneath layers of sediment borne over centuries by wind and water.

The jewel in the Arabian – more precisely Nabataean – crown is Mada’in Saleh, which literally means the ruins of (the prophet) Saleh. This prosaic description belies the beauty of the site that drew early explorers such as Charles Doughty who became the first westerner to visit the site in modern times, recording his observations in Travels in Arabia Deserta.

Mada’in Saleh holds 94 tombs with decorated facades, 35 plain funerary chambers and more than 1,000 non-monumental graves and other stone-lined tombs. Unlike Petra, where only one tomb has a dated inscription, one third of the monumental tomb facades at Mada’in Saleh have them and all range from AD 1 to AD 75. However, a new inscription found at Hegra dates the site to AD 175, at least a century longer than previously thought.

In the late afternoon sun, Mada’in Saleh glows from golden yellow to a dusky pink to a warm orange and in the final minutes of light a burnt straw. The edges of the tombs carefully proportioned cornices contrast with the rough, eroded surface of the sandstone from which it was hewn.

What is most remarkable is that in this crowded world, we had the site all to ourselves. As the sun slipped behind the Hajez mountains the clouds were tinged with pink and the sky a range of blue from the shyness of azure to the darkness of indigo. Silence reigned.

All of these remains and sites reveal that Saudi Arabia was not a closed peninsula: it was intricately connected to the rest of the ancient world.

This remains the crucial point today. Young Saudis are hyper-connected through social media. The country’s mobile penetration rates are astonishing. A higher proportion of Saudis use Twitter and YouTube than almost any other nation on earth. Saudi’s majority young generation are shaping its future and show that Saudi is vitally connected.

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Join Lee Durrell this April on an Indian Voyage

Durrell’s work with the iconic pygmy hog is one of the most enduring field programmes. So how would you like to meet them? As part of this true ‘once in a life time’ Indian expedition, you’ll do just that. Joining Lee Durrell, you’ll also encounter rhinos in Kaziranga National Park, spot the rare South Asian river dolphin on the Ganges, and experience a whole lot of ‘real’ India along the way.

Travelling with Lee Durrell offers a fantastic opportunity to learn about a diverse range of wildlife and gain insight about the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. She has a phenomenal knowledge, based on years of experience. A great leader, it is her presence that makes the trip exceptional.

By travelling on this tour you are directly supporting the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. A contribution will be made on your behalf to the specific projects that are visited whilst in India.Spaces are limited.

For a full trip itinerary read more here.


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The bare necessities of Tiger Tourism in India

Popcorn flies in the air as my seven-year-old jumps out of his seat as the menacing Shere Khan launches himself at the unsuspecting Mowgli. “Run Mowgli, run,” my son shouts at the screen.

This weekend I saw the newest Disney version of “The Jungle Book” in the company of my twelve-year-old daughter and my enthralled seven-year-old son.  There are enough nods to the 1967 cartoon to satisfy my childhood nostalgia, but the new film breathes delightful new life into a longstanding family favourite, lending digital depth and a hint of darkness to the familiar anthropomorphic encounters.

As Shere Khan, Idris Elba scares; as Kaa, Scarlett Johansson seduces; as Baloo, Bill Murray amuses; as Louie, Christopher Walken is intoxicating. The film has ethical values and is a storytelling classic. But the real success of the film is its computer-animated graphics. Shere Khan is realised in such extraordinarily hair-perfect detail, his movement so persuasive, so visceral, he might as well be the real, tooth-and-claw deal. The birds come alive in the trees with stunning attention to detail.

In every way, this quietly majestic film should be considered a triumph. So too the announcement earlier this year that the estimated number of wild tigers worldwide has risen for the first time in a century. The World Wildlife Fund and Global Tiger Forum announced that 3,890 tigers had been counted in the latest global census.

Such success is in no small part due to tiger tourism – your visits to see tigers bring money and security to India’s national parks. Only yesterday clients reported seeing thirteen tigers whilst in Tadoba National Park.

However, it is not a time for complacency or to rest on our laurels. Now is the time to enjoy the thrill of seeing tigers in the wild rather than on screen. Now is the time to go to ensure that we maintain the tiger’s habitat giving them a chance of survival, ensuring that they are not consigned to books and computer-generated imagery.

With over 25 years of experience, our Steppes India experts can guide you on how to best experience the wildlife of India, whether it be a couples holiday or a family affair on your first tiger safari holiday in India

Get in touch with our India tiger safari specialists today, email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753. 


India’s Taj Mahal to undergo face lift in 2017

In 2017, for the first time in the building’s history, a mud pack cleaning process will be applied to the main dome. This process restores the whiteness of the marble. It’s one of the safest cleaning methods available for such monuments as it’s non-abrasive and non-corrosive.

What does this mean for visitors in 2017?

The work is due to start in April 2017, carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India, and last just shy of a year. This may get pushed back depending on technical studies taking place. The mud cover, once applied, is protected under polythene sheets to ensure that absorption takes place properly. This will be for two to three days at a time. There will be a form of iron scaffolding tied on the dome during this time.

The interiors and beautiful gardens are still available in all their splendour. Please ask our Indian Experts for updates when booking your holiday to India with us.


Beyond the Clouds

China’s image is tainted by media reports of pollution. Whilst this might be true of certain cities and highly populous regions it is not a fair reflection on the country as a whole. At just under 10 million square kilometres, China is the fourth largest country in the word and forty times the size of the United Kingdom – there are many wonderful areas of China in which to escape. Here are some of our favourite places to travel in China.

Yunnan literally means clouds (Yu) south (nan) thus Beyond the Clouds. It is one of China’s most diverse provinces with landscapes ranging from the Tibetan plateau in the north to the sub-tropical forests of the south. Places to visit vary from the bamboo houses of the Bai to the historic Naxi city of Lijiang to the Tibetan monastery of Sumtseling. However, for me, the delight of Yunnan is its peoples. Not just in terms of the number of minorities but the colour and smiles that you meet throughout.

Xinjiang, literally the ‘western region’, is the largest administrative district in China and home to the Uyghurs. A wonderful people of Turkic extraction, their thick (and delicious) laghman noodles are very different from the rice and finer noodles of the Han Chinese, a metaphor for the contrast between the different cultures. Such discrepancy is further emphasised in two of Xinjiang’s key cities, Turfan and the exotic Kashgar, which in spite of its Hanification still remains one of the must-see cities of the world.

The clouds that encircle Tibet are ones of controversy. Lhasa and the region is much changed – again through the influx of the Han Chinese as I wrote in my blog http://www.steppestravel.co.uk/en-gb/blog/tibet/ – but there are areas which still have a strong and fascinating Tibetan identity. As I wrote, “Lhasa and Tibet are undoubtedly photogenic, but what lies beyond the lens is not.”

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The Terracotta Warriors – Over 40 years on

Time flies. I was a backpacker in China in 1983. Two currencies, no food after 6 pm, the high rise skyline of Pudong in Shanghai was rice paddies, there were no cars (all bicycles and lorries that were often broken down along the roads) and everyone was dressed in Mao suits.

Pudong, Shanghai

The Terracotta Warriors at this time were housed under a metal framed fabricated building to protect them from the elements. No photographs were allowed but a few sneaky ones were taken at waist height on small film cameras. There was a small number of shacks selling a few poor quality souvenirs in a dusty dirt car park a short distance from site. There were only a few tourists and almost no local Chinese tourists as they were not able to travel at this time. It was an exhibit almost lost in the fields. Now there is a purpose built building, technological interaction and exhibits allowing close up views of the clay figures.

p-sia-terracotta-warrior-xian-china0000050102  Terracotta Warriors  Terracotta Horses

The warriors remain as commanding as ever, over forty years on from their initial discovery and are a highlight of any holiday to China.

Recently shown on BBC2 The Greatest Tomb on Earth: Secrets of Ancient China investigates fascinating discoveries that unveil even more about this vast tomb.

Terracotta Warriors

Why not also visit the miniature warriors at the Han Yang Ling Mausoleum – these less imposing but no less fascinating warriors are far less visited yet are a highlight for many of our clients.

Speak to Paul to learn more about the Terracotta Warriors and how best to include them in a holiday to China. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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After 10 years Planet Earth II returns to BBC2

Attenborough’s Planet Earth II will be the BBC’s most high- tech series ever, utilising ultra-high definition cameras on drones.  The experience guarantees to be immersive, allowing the viewer to travel with the animal, whilst showing the epic scale of the environment it lives in. This is utterly game changing for how documentaries are produced, uncovering stories about the natural world that we have simply never been able to witness before.

Unmanned drones let cameras get close to creatures such as the snow leopard, and follow animals where helicopters cannot fly. By using “camera traps”, the animal triggers a sensor which activate the camera to capture the footage.


Taking over three years to make this six-part series will be broadcast later this Autumn.  To learn more about our tailor made holidays to India or to join our small group tour in search of snow leopard email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601751.

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USA National Parks Day

Today is the centenary of the USA National Parks Service.

To celebrate their 100th anniversary we champion the unsung heroes; national parks around the world that match the A-lister’s natural splendour but not their footfall. 

The space and wilderness of these protected places and National Parks are what inspires us all to travel. Support these areas of natural beauty by visiting them with us and share your images and experiences on facebook, instagram and twitter#nationalparkscentennial

British Airways
The British Airways Worldwide Luxury SALE is now on. Get into the great outdoors and take advantage of savings on selected fares worldwide. Contact us inspire@steppestravel.com or call on 01285 880980 to find out more.


USA Lake Powell & Yellowstone

Ok so Lake Powell isn’t a national park itself but we love it as it is close to all five of Utah’s national parks – Canyonlands NP, Capitol Reef NP, Arches NP, Bryce Canyon NP and Zion NP. Get into the great outdoors and swim, fish, snorkel or canoe your way across her waters.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Mind-blowing scenery, huge horizons and solitude. 12 days from £7,350 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY



India Dudhwa NP walking tiger

Near the Nepalese border sits Dudhwa National Park. Tigers and leopards roam here as well as the Indian rhinoceros. The park is also a stronghold for the rare Barasingha deer which makes it one of the best wildlife destinations in India.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Less visited and all the better for it – safari away from the crowds of Central India. 10 days from £2,300 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Special Offer: Fly to Delhi with BA and receive a complimentary upgrade to World Traveller Plus on your return journey*
Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 880980 to find out more.

*Subject to availability and terms and conditions of BA Worldwide Luxury Sale.


Georgia Stone faces of Kazbegi

Borjomi -Kharagauli National Park dates back to medieval times and is a protected area in the Lesser Caucasus. Join our new group walking tour departing in September 2017 and see this undiscovered gem for yourself.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Natural beauty, historical monuments and rich flora and fauna. 14 days from £2,445 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Tasmania Maria Island

The marbled Painted Cliffs that form the rugged coastline and pristine beaches around Maria Island National Park resemble Ayers Rock in their colours and spiritual heritage. Spot the resident wildlife from possums to penguins and Fur Seals and perhaps a Tasmanian Devil?
WHY WE LIKE IT: Small and secluded – you are more likely to bump into a kangaroo than another visitor. 16 days from £7,495 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Uganda male gorilla in Bwindi NP

Kidepo Valley National Park is home to the famous Karamojong warriors (Read Chris’s blog below) as well as jackals, aardwolves and cheetahs – found in no other parks in Uganda.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Like the Masai Mara, but ringed by jagged mountains and full of game, not tourists.
14 days from £8,995 pp | VIEW FLYING SAFARI

Leopard Sri Lanka

Encounter leopards in Yala National Park and whales off Sri Lanka’s east coast. 15 days from £4,745 pp

Colombia Tayrona National Parkl

Discover remote archaeological sites and take a jungle trek in Tayrona National Park. 15 days from £3,995 pp

Iceland Vatnajokull National Park

Vatnajokull National Park is both the second largest National Park in Europe and the largest glacier in Europe outside of the Arctic. Explore this photographer’s paradise on our Iceland Photography tour with Tim Mannakee.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Raw beauty.
9 days from £5,245 pp | VIEW PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR

Madagascar Andasibe Mantadia

Spot lemurs and listen to the sounds of the rainforest as you walk through the Andasibe-Mantadia Park. Followed by a relaxing time on the shores of Anjajavy Peninsula where the baobab’s meet tropical beach.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Unique indigenous wildlife.
11 days from £3,450 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Chile Northern Patagonia Park

Patagonia Park covers 200,000 acres in a remote part of Aysen, Chile. Once overgrazed land it is now becoming one of the best places to see rare and threatened species such as the Andean condors, huemul deer and puma.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Join Hilary Bradt, founder of Bradt guides.
14 days from £5,495 pp | VIEW GROUP TOUR


The Karamojong of Kidepo Uganda

“Our tiny plane flew over the rugged mountains bordering Kidepo Valley National Park. In the foothills of these mountains, patches of red earth scratched out from the surrounding greenery showed small manyatta’s and villages, isolated by distance and home to the Karamajong people…”  READ BLOG

Get in touch to learn more about our wildlife holidays. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 880980.

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World Elephant Day #elephants

World Elephant Day African elephant swimming

Today is World Elephant Day

As a company, we at Steppes Travel are hugely concerned with conservation and the preservation of species. The elephant in particular.

Conservation of elephants is crucially important. Why? Notwithstanding the fact that elephants are intelligent and emotional animals – they mourn their dead – they are a flagship species. Elephants create and maintain the ecosystems in which they live thus allowing and sustaining a myriad of plant and animal species to live in those environments. The elephant is an environmental caretaker and the loss of elephants gravely affects many species and weakens the structure and diversity of nature itself.

Tourism has an important role to play in conservation. By visiting threatened elephant populations, you not only give them an economic value and bring money to desperately poor communities, you also help to draw attention to their plight.

Going on safari provides employment, pays salaries and puts something back into local communities. Your safari does make a difference.

Travel to make a difference and help the elephants.

PS: Tweet #WorldElephantDay 

Raise awareness and colour for #elephants with the free #EleeDraw and share on Instagram or Facebook.



Elephant trunk Did you know header

Elephant trunk Did you know header

  • Elephants are threatened due to habitat loss and poaching. There are approx 400,000 African elephants and just 40,000 Asian elephants remaining in the wild.
  • Approx 100 elephants a day are being killed for their ivory.
  • They have the largest brains of all land mammals.
  • An elephant’s trunk has more than 40,000 muscles in it and like humans who are left or right handed elephants have a preferred side to their trunk.
  • Elephants have greeting ceremonies, express grief, self-awareness, play and compassion.
  • Elephants are not scared of mice but they are scared of bees – and some African farmers line their fields with beehives as an elephant deterrent.


Meet the researchers from Save The Elephants and gain insight into the work of Iain Douglas-Hamilton. Accompanied by Saba Douglas-Hamilton (Iain’s daughter) BBC presenter of The Secret Lives of Elephants.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Time with the research team and Elephant Watch’s guides. 11 days from £10,995 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY


Forest Elephants Congo header

Encounter forest elephants which roam in the bais of Odzala National Park. 14 days from £4,995 pp

Namibia Desert Elephants

Join Elephant-Human Relations Aid to track the desert-adapted elephants of Namibia. 15 days from £4,295 pp

Stay at Elephant Watch camp in the heart of Samburu National Park, Kenya and Kulu Safari camp in Yala, Sri Lanka. 12 days from £6,550 pp including flights.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Combine two countries known for their elephant sightings. 12 days from £6,550 pp. Contact us for more details.

India Nagarhole adult elephant and baby

India Nagarhole adult elephant and baby

See large herds of Asian wild elephants congregate in Nagarhole National Park, Southern India. Stay at Orange County Kabini, alongside the river’s edge. View wild elephants by boat and private jeep safari. You may even encounter a tiger…
WHY WE LIKE IT: The best place for wild Asian elephant sightings.

Somalisa Camp Zimbabwe

Somalisa Camp Zimbabwe

An authentic bush camp and blend of old African charm with fantastic guided walks and just six elegantly furnished tents.
WHY WE LIKE IT: The pool overlooks the pan where game congregate in large herds.
13 days from £4,760 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Nepal Tiger Tops Elephant Camp

Nepal Tiger Tops Elephant Camp

Walk with the elephants. All the elephants at Tiger Tops Elephant Camp are privately owned and have been in the Tiger Tops family for most of their working lives. This intitative was set up to allow people staying at camp a chance to witness their daily routine.
WHY WE LIKE IT: An interactive elephant experience but with the emphasis on the care of the elephants. READ MORE

Shackleton and his men were encamped on Elephant Island for many months having lost HMS Endurance in the thick sea ice. Join Monty Halls and Sue Flood on our Antarctic, South Georgia and Falklands Charter in conjunction with Telegraph Tours, sailing around Elephant Island.
WHY WE LIKE IT: The ultimate Antarctica journey.
24 days from £10,950 pp | VIEW CRUISE

Thailand Elephant Hills Jungle Camp

Thailand Elephant Hills Jungle Camp

Feed, wash and interact with the elephants at the two Elephant Hills Jungle camps. On the border of the rainforest of Khao Sok National Park and in the centre of Cheow Larn Lake.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Immersive jungle experience. READ MORE

Andaman Islands

Andaman Islands

Sail on our new Andaman Islands expedition to one of the world’s most extraordinary regions or stay at the most stylish place on the islands – Jalakara Private Villa on Havelock Island.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Remote and beautiful. READ MORE

NEW Elephant Collaring Project. Renowned wildlife vet William Fowlds works with the Amakhala Game Reserve, helping to care for and monitor the wildlife. Join him to dart and collar one of the elephants.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Hands-on conservation. Contact us for more details.


“Suddenly, I hear a low, crashing rasp. I turn to look at the source of this rumbling commotion. Two young bulls are locked in an aggressive display of testosterone-fuelled jousting. Their tusks crossed, they sway as they slowly tussle…” READ BLOG

Support #elephants.

Get in touch to learn more about our wildlife holidays. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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An early triumph for Iceland at Euro 2016

Despite not being able to boast any Icelandic heritage my heart was swelling with pride last night as the Iceland players, staff, and supporters sang their national anthem at the opening game of their Euro 2016 campaign.

The sound was immense and the passion and patriotism palpable. The sense of humour, calmness and happiness of the Icelandic people also shone through. So far removed from the violent clashes between ‘supporters’ and the police, ugly scenes that have marred the tournament thus far, this was a breath of fresh Icelandic air. 30,000 fans travelled from Iceland to support their team in their first major tournament. 30,000 people equals 10% of the entire population. Staggering support.

Another statistic, if I may. There are 50,000 Icelandic males aged 20-40 so this means if you are one of these Icelandic males you have a 1 in 2000 chance of making the national team. Portugal’s population by comparison is just over 10 million. But far more importantly they count Cristiano Ronaldo among their number who wouldn’t hesitate in calling himself the world’s best player and in many ways this is a justifiable claim. Ronaldo has scored over 50 goals a season for the last 6 seasons playing for Real Madrid. Yet the Iceland players, to a man, stood tall and threw themselves in front of everything. They blocked, tackled, harried, and ultimately frustrated the Portuguese with the game ending in a deserved stalemate. For a group of players from a country with the same population as Dudley, and who as youngsters learning their trade have to train in ‘football houses’ inside over winter as the ground is often frozen solid, this is an absolute triumph.

Iceland is a fascinating, beautiful, raw country home to a people with an unbreakable spirit and a wonderful low-key sense of humour. I fell in love with the country on my first visit and had to go back again the following year. If I could I would go every summer as the landscape, fresh air, and sense of nature laid bare is awesome. Even more awesome than the national pride and togetherness on display at last night’s football match.

ajok sunset1




ajump selfie

Get in touch to learn more about our holidays to Iceland. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.