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January 18, 2017

7 top holiday places – with a difference

7 top holiday places – with a difference

7 top holiday places around the world

Dreaming of getting away from the grey skies of Britain for some sunshine? Fancy a classic road trip adventure? A wildlife experience second to none? A city break closer to home? If you’re planning your next holiday, here are 7 top places to inspire you to travel differently this year.

1.  Gorillas in Rwanda, West Africa

Gorilla family in Rwanda West Africa - photo zoedawes

Gorilla family

There are many reasons to visit Rwanda, including its stunning scenery and friendly people but undoubtedly the main attraction is the mountain gorillas. To be close to a huge silverback and his young son munching on bamboo right in front of you is to totally unforgettable. You have to book well in advance, get a permit and be prepared for a hike up a fairly steep (extinct) volcano, but it is well worth the time, effort and yes, expense, for a genuine ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday experience.

Read my memorable encounter with gorillas in Rwanda.

2.  Idyllic beaches (and flamingos if you’re lucky) in the Caribbean

Eagle Beach Aruba

Eagle Beach

Tyuly turquoise sea, really white sand, virtually guaranteed sunshine, enormous cocktails, a dash of history and a little light entertainment. Perfect ingredients for a relaxing sunshine holiday. Aruba has everything the hedonist could wish for, plus a sense of fun that livens things up every day. When you get bored with lying on a gorgeous beach, you could learn to paddle-board, go on a 4×4 safari or take a wander through their desert-like National Park. It’s very popular for weddings and couples. There are plenty of top-class hotels to choose from and some great package deals to be had all year round. (If you want to see the pretty flamingos you’ll have to stay at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino so you can visit their private island.) Check out my Top Fun Things to Do in Aruba.

3. Explore the ancient city of Lancaster

Lancaster Castle tour

Lancaster Castle

Take a break in one of the UK’s known cities, Lancaster, in the north west of England. Lancaster Castle is one of the most interesting castles in Britain because, until recently, it was used as prison and still functions as Lancashire’s Crown Court. With a 1000 years of history it is the most popular sight in the city, but the rest of the city is worth taking time to get to know. Visit the Judges Lodgings to see where legal eagles used to reside, wander along the Lancaster Canal and have a drink at the Water Witch or walk up to the Ashton Memorial for superb views across to Morecambe Bay. Nearby Leighton Hall is home of the Gillow family, famous furniture makers. Find out about the Light Up Lancaster Festival here.

4. A road trip through the Rocky Mountains, Canada

RV by Medicine Lake Jasper Canada - image zoe dawes

RV by Medicine Lake

If you’d asked me a couple of years ago what I’d think of driving a motorhome anywhere, never mind through the biggest mountain range in Canada, I’d have probably laughed and said, ‘No Way’. But when I was invited to go from Vancouver to Calgary in an RV (Recreational Vehicle) last year, I was persuaded that I could, and I’m so glad I did. It was the best fun ever, and now I’m a total convert! The roads are easy, the scenery stupendous and you’ll probably get to see some amazing  wildlife along the way. It really is an unforgettable holiday. Find out more in my 10 most memorable moments on a Canada road trip.

5. Take a selfie at the most popular landmark on Instagram

Paris - infographic cewe photoworld

Paris – cewe photoworld

And now for something completely different. Do you know what the most popular #hashtag landmark on Instagram is? The clue in the photo. With its famous steel girders standing proud over the city of Paris, the Eiffel Tower has been instagrammed over 3 million times. Take a lift to the top and join the ultimate selfie crowd on the ultimate French icon. In this infographic by cewe photoworld you can find the Top 10 Most Instagrammed Places in the World.

6. Discover the Causeway Coast of Ireland

Portstewart Northern Ireland at sunset

Portstewart at sunset

If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you’ll already be familiar with the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland as it features in many episodes, especially in the first few series. However, there is so much more here than the spooky Dark Hedges (aka The King’s Road). It’s a culinary treasure trove of fresh and imaginatively cooked food and home to renowned Bushmills Whiskey. You mustn’t miss the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site or the beautiful beaches along the coastal road. Still need persuading? Here’s my Top 10 places on the Causeway Coast – go on, go on, go on – you’ll love it.

7. Take time out in Western Australia

Tip holiday ideas - Perth Harbour - Western Australia - photo zoe dawes

Perth Harbour

Planning on visiting relatives in Australia? Consider lengthening your holiday with a stay in or around the lovely city of Perth. Capital of Western Australia, Perth has a relaxed cultural scene, beautiful harbour and lively cafe society. Nearby Fremantle is now a focus for hipsters, foodies, artists and history buffs. Popular holiday destination Rottnest Island with its quirky quokkas is a short ferry-ride away. Love wine? Further south you’ll find some of the world’s top quality wineries in the very attractive Margaret River region.

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Top Holiday Places with a difference

This article is brought to you in collaboration with cewe photobooks. They make a wide range of photobooks , calendars, cards and prints so why not upload your travel photos and create a lasting souvenir. Find out more about the CEWE Photobooks here.

September 12, 2016

Top tips for tasty Food Photography

Top tips for tasty Food Photography

Food Photography collage zoedawes

On your travels around your home country and further afield you no doubt come across a lot of delicious local food. Perhaps you take photos of the dishes you eat, the wine you drink and the produce displayed in shops and markets. Would you like to take better photos of that food and drink? That’s what I wanted to do when I enrolled on Aspire Photography Training: Food Portraits workshop. I’ll share with you some of the food photography tips I learnt on that useful and inspiring day.

Food Photography shoot

Food Photography Training

Our group of photographers ranged from professional to amateur, all with a desire to learn more and practise with expert tuition. Tutor, food photographer and writer Joan Ransley, took us through the basics of good food photography and showed us some of her superb photos. She then went on to explain clearly and simply how to use a digital SLR camera for close-up food shots. I had never been able to get my head round F stops and aperture settings but Joan explained it so simply that even I could understand, at least for the duration of the course! She’s a really good teacher and very encouraging. She talked about using a smart phone camera, which as a travel blogger is something I do very often. As she said, anyone can take a good photo with a phone camera if you have an eye for a scene and follow some basic principles.

Garlic and salad leaves - Food Photography Tips - The Quirky Traveller

After lunch we had to choose from a wide selection of fresh food including salad ingredients, bread, cake, fruit and accessories on which to display it all. I chose some delicious sourdough bread, olives and olive oil, pecorino cheese, Parma ham, tomatoes and salad leaves. We went outside to set up our photo shoot, with Joan and Catherine Connor, MD of Aspire Photography Training and a great communicator, sharing ideas to create a memorable photo. The following tips are especially suitable if you’re on holiday, travelling or out for a meal; in other words, short of time and needing to take a picture fairly quickly, without special lighting or studio conditions.

Italian Food Collage - zoedawes

7 Food Photography Tips

1. Create a desire to eat

Meringues and summer fruit - Food photography tips - create a desire to eat - zoedawes

Joan says, “One of the most important things you need to do when taking photos of food, is ‘create a desire to eat’. Eating is a sensual experience, so a food photographer aims to add vibrancy, enticement and increase our emotional response.” If you keep that in mind, your food photography will come alive and set the taste buds tingling. We experimented with positioning of ingredients (all fresh and delicious) and ‘props’, light sources, including use of reflectors and different angles. Joan told us some insider tricks, including use of oil-dropper/spray to add sheen, avoiding steam from hot food, leading lines and a lot more.

2. Every picture tells a story

Italian Food Photography photo shoot - zoedawes

Well, maybe not EVERY picture, but many do and when you’re composing your shot think about what you want your viewer to ‘read’ into the photo. This scene-setting shot shows all the ingredients I was to use in the main photo shoot. The aim was to showcase an Italian lunch so the bottle of olive oil and ham were the keys to setting the scene. In the background is part of a sign for Morecambe, near to where I live, so it has a personal resonance.

3. Use Natural Light

Use natural light - food photography tips - zoedawes

Natural light is much more flattering to food photography. Pick a table or seat by a window, a park bench or wall where you can arrange your food and not have to rely on a flash. That distorts colour, distracts other people around you and generally makes your food look unappetizing. Joan also showed us different types of Reflectors, including a very handy portable one. When setting up their foodie shot, the guys in the photo above made sure there was a lot of light coming in from left, to compensate for shade on the right.

4. Consider the Depth-of-Field

Food Photography Tips - zoedawes

Joan says: “Depth of field is controlled by the aperture of your camera lens; the larger the aperture ie f2.8 the narrower the depth of field. The smaller the aperture i.e. f8 the greater the depth of field. In food photography we usually use an aperture of around f3.5 when we’re photographing a plate of food close up. This will ensure the subject is in focus i.e. a piece of fish or a slice of cake and anything in the background looks soft and dreamy. For overhead shots when we need everything in the scene to be in focus, an aperture of around f8 is best. If you can control the aperture on your lens it will improve your photographs at a stroke.” I focused on the fruit and walnuts on this tasty Damson Brandy Fruitcake (made by Ginger Bakers in case you tempted!) to draw your eye to their glossy sheen.

5. Go for a close-up

Close up of sourdough bread - photography tips - zoedawes

We love to see details of the food or drink ie the bubbles in a glass of prosecco or the icing on the cake and getting in close to the subject helps tempt the taste buds. Fill the frame or just have a little of the surrounding area in shot. In the first photo, I shot the sourdough bread from above, which simply shows it on the board. In the second I went in much closer and tried to capture the dusting of flour and the bread’s gorgeous texture.

6. Use the rule of thirds

Food Photography Tips - rule of thirds - zoedawes

As you may have seen in this article on Top Travel Photography Tips, our eyes are drawn to certain parts of a picture; the rule of thirds helps you to capitalize on this. Imagine your photo is overlaid with a grid of lines in thirds both horizontally and vertically. Where the lines intersect is the ‘point of interest’. If you position the main elements of your photo on or near those points, the viewer is more likely to focus on them. In this photo, the ham and bread were the key elements. Joan added the THREE olives, the olive slices and three sage leaves to increase the threesomeness.

7. Create a ‘set’ for your photo

Setting up Aspire Food Photography shoot - zoedawes

Even if you’re taking a quick pic of lunch, spend a few seconds to look through the lens/viewfinder and see if there’s anything you could remove that might distract the viewer ie phone, dirty knife etc. Maybe you could add something. I often include a menu, guide book, or some reference to the place where I’m taking the picture. Catherine had a vast array of vintage and contemporary plates, cutlery, pots and glasses plus trays, scarves, material, edible flowers and other things for us to experiment with during our photo shoot. Joan told us of a street food photographer who uses park benches and other outdoor furniture to set up his shots. She also shared the secret of crummage; artistically scattered crumbs or other bits of food – see the Fruit Cake photo in Tip 4). Be creative; a few seconds can make the difference between a good photo and a stunning one.

Edible flowers - food photography - zoedawes

All the photos here were taken by me during the Aspire Food Portraits day. Many thanks to Joan Ransley and Catherine Connor for all the tips and tricks; I enjoyed every minute. Lara Ferroni‘s excellent book Food Photography: Pro-Secrets for Styling, Lighting and Shooting has lots more professional advice. Find out more about Aspire Photography Training Courses here.

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The Quirky Traveller Food Photography Tips

August 26, 2016

An Invaluable Packing Guide for Cruise Fans

An Invaluable Packing Guide for Cruise Fans

Cruise Packing Guide - top tips to make the most of luggage space and your cruise wardrobe

Cruise Packing Guide

As regular readers know, I love cruising, and have been lucky enough to enjoy several, over the years. They are a great way to relax, see the world, enjoy good food, try new things and meet people. There is just one problem, packing for a cruise is tricky. Even after doing it many times I still find it a trial, but I won’t anymore. Thanks to this handy Cruise Packing Guide by JD Williams. It really is the easiest way to make sure that you are ready for anything, regardless of the type of cruise you are planning to go on. When you follow the guidance below, you will look great regardless of whether you are enjoying an on board activity, dancing the night away, attending a formal dinner, going to the gym or taking a trip ashore. Give it a try next time you pack for a cruise; I promise you it will work!Cruise Packing Guide Infographic - JD-Williams

This post is in collaboration with JD Williams

August 23, 2016

Top 10 Presentation Skills Tips

Top 10 Presentation Skills Tips

Presentation Skills - zoedawes

How do you feel about public speaking? Does your heart leap with joy at the very thought? Or are you one of the millions of people who dread it? I used to dread it but now having been a trainer for many years and also given a lot of talks and presentations, I’ve learnt to manage my nerves over time. Whether you need to give a presentation at work, at a conference, in a training situation, to a client or a speech at a wedding, there are some simple tips that can help you get your message over clearly and effectively.

Here are my Top 10 Presentation Skills Tips

1. Know the WHY, WHAT and WHO of your presentation

Why are you giving the talk? Is it to entertain, to inform, persuade, sell – what? Be clear on why you’re speaking and stay focused. What are you talking about? It’s easy to get side-tracked, especially if you don’t prepare, so keep revisiting the topic of your presentation. Who’s your audience. Find out as much as you can beforehand ie how many will be there? what do they already know? how much do they need to know? Tailor your speech appropriately.

2.  Keep it simple and relevant

One of the biggest challenges to a presenter is making sure you present your content clearly, to avoid ambiguity and ensure understanding. Keep it Simple! You’re not there to show all you know, but to meet the expectations of your audience. Your audience will only be able to take in a certain amount of information – or your jokes – so keep an eye on your content

3. Rehearse and pay attention to timing

This is probably the MOST IMPORTANT tip of all. Once you have prepared your talk you must go through it before you deliver it. You’d be surprised how different it can sound once you actually speak it and of course you also need to practise using your visual aids.

4.  Be real and know your subject

The  most difficult goal you could set yourself is to appear to be an expert and know all things. No-one knows everything, not even Google, so just be yourself. Make sure you know what you’re talking about but don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something.

5.  Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them

Carnegie Quote

To help your audience absorb what you’re saying, outline what you going to talk about first, then present it and finally sum up what you’ve already said.

6.  Create a positive impact

Start with a smile (as long as it’s appropriate); universal language understood by all. Dress for the occasion and check your appearance beforehand. Modulate your voice in a friendly manner and keep it light, unless the content is not suitable for that approach. Try not to stride about, however enthusiastic you may be (see Point 7); it distracts the audience.

7.  Deliver with enthusiasm and passion

Don’t be afraid to share your passion for your subject. It will show in your voice, your face and your body language and your audience will respond more enthusiastically to your message.

8.  Use Audio-Visuals carefully

Using Visual Aids - Dilbert Cartoon

You’ve no doubt experienced ‘Death by Powerpoint‘ at some time. You know, the guy who throws slide after slide onto the screen, just repeats everything that’s on it and seldom makes eye-contact with the audience. Visual Aids, including props, clothes, slides, yourself, all need to be used appropriately and with discernment. Think about your audience (see Point 1) and what will HELP you to get your message over, rather than dominate your presentation.

9. Prepare for questions and handle your audience with respect and good humour

It can be challenging to deal with audience questions, especially when they ask something to which you don’t know the answer (see Point 4). Go through possible questions and think about your answers in your preparation. If someone gets rude or aggressive, try to maintain your own good humour.

10. Remember – it’s not about you, it’s about the audience!

However much you want to share everything there is to know about your subject, keep the audience’s needs in mind and structure everything around them. Try to enjoy it!

Business Pocketbooks - Presentation Skills

The tips here are taken from the TQT Presentation Skills Seminar, one of the TQT Workshops I run for the Tourism, Hospitality and Creative sectors.Business Pocketbooks are excellent and I use them all the time, including the two shown above. I also offer 1-1 coaching, delivered in person or online. If you’d like to discuss some training for your business or help with Presentation Skills, contact Zoe Dawes here and let’s make it happen.

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Top 10 Tips for Presentation Skills - zoedawes

August 5, 2016

Top 10 Campsite Hacks

Top 10 Campsite Hacks

Everybody loves a holiday, but why not try something different and exciting rather than staying in a hotel? Camping has become a popular getaway option for many and it is not surprising. Camping allows you to experience the outdoors, be one with nature and make memories to remember at an inexpensive price. If you haven’t been camping before, then don’t worry, Amber Leisure is here to make sure you have the best experience possible and look like a pro in front of your fellow campers! Become a camping expert and follow our campsite hacks with the tips, tricks and advice in the infographic below.

Top 10 Campsite Hacks

Top camping hacks infographic Tips by Amber Leisure

You may also enjoy Top 10 Motorhome Destinations on the UK.

This post is by Amber Motorhomes, with over 30 years of experience, ensuring your motorhome experience is as pleasurable as possible.

July 26, 2016

Top tips for ‘off-season’ in Menorca

Top tips for ‘off-season’ in Menorca
Es Grau cottage with flower pots Menorca - image zoedawes

Pots of flowers in Es Grau

Summer time and the living is … hot and humid and the beach calls. It’s the only place to be on Menorca (Minorca) in July and August. Lying on a sun lounger taking in the rays, plunging into the deep blue Mediterranean to cool off, lunch in a seaside bar and maybe siesta like a true Spaniard. However, during the off-season in Menorca, in spring and autumn, even winter, the sun shines without being scorchio, the island is lush with flowers and vibrant colour, beaches are less crowded and you can walk about in comfort.

Marguerites on cliff top overlooking Addaya Bay, Menorca Spain - image ZoeDawes

Marguerites on Addaya cliff top

Outdoors on Menorca

One of the best things to happen to Menorca in recent years, was the opening of the Cami de Cavalls, a 185km circular route round the island, tracing a historic route passing many places of interest and some gorgeous scenery. In summer you may get a tad overheated but off-season is the perfect time to walk, run, cycle, or do what I did this spring – go horse-riding on the Cami de Cavalls. It’s the perfect way to see the island. [Read Heather Cowper on hiking around Menorca for more tips.]

Horse riding on the Cami de Cavalls Menorca - image zoedawes

Horse riding on the Cami de Cavalls

There are plenty of other walking and cycling routes on the island, the smallest of the Balearics. Menorca derives from its size compared to Majorca – 47 km x 17 km and its highest point, Mount Toro is just 400m. Having a meal beside the sea tastes just as good off season and you’ll not have to queue for that special table. Menorca is designated a UNESCO Bisophere Reserve because of its unique bio-diversity. Albufera and its bay Es Grau is a haven for wild birds within its dunes and marshland. It’s also a great place to enjoy tasty seafood.

Meal by the sea in Es Grau Menorca - image zoedawes

Meal by the sea in Es Grau

Beaches on Menorca

There are more beaches on Menorca than Majorca and Ibiza put together. The popular ones can get very crowded during the summer holidays but off-season are much less frenetic. You don’t need to get there early to bag a sunbed; just bring a towel and if you feel like a swim, the sea is very tempting. It does take a while to warm up so choose a shallower beach like Arenal d’en Castell, if you want a dip in spring.

Sun loungers on Arenal Beach, Menorca, Balearic Island, Spain - image zoedawes

Arenal d’en Castell Beach in spring

At Binibeca there’s a great beach bar which serves basic food, cold beer and cocktails – ideal for sundowners. The sandy shore is perfect for making sandcastles and the inner bay is sheltered from the stronger currents further out.

Binibeca Beach Bar lspring sun on Menorca - image zoedawes

Binibeca Beach Bar at sundown

Nearby Binibeca Vell is a photographer’s delight. White-painted cubes house tiny bars and restaurants, souvenir shops, boutique hotels and self-catering apartments. Built in the 1970s to look like a traditional fishing village, it attracts visitors all year round but is best visited off-season; this photo was taken in May and hardly anyone was around even though it was a glorious day.

Binibeca Vell fishing village on Menorca, Spain - image zoedawes

Binibeca Vell

Cala Galdana is one of the best family beaches on the island; a delightful bay dotted with graceful trees and excellent facilities for all ages. I stayed at the Artiem Audax, an adult-only hotel overlooking the bay. Not far from here are some of Menorca’s picture-postcard-pretty beaches including Cala en Turqueta, Macarella and Macarelleta.

Cala Galdana from Hotel Audax on Menorca, Spain - image zoedawes

Cala Galdana from Hotel Audax

Other popular beaches include Cala en Porter, setting for the last of the Menorca Fiestas in September, Sant Tomas and Son Bou, bordered by sand dunes and the very busy Cala en Blanes, the nearest Menorca gets to a mass tourist destination.

Places to go when it rains on Menorca

Menorca Naveta in the rain - image zoedawes

Heather Cowper and Zoe at a pre-historic Naveta in the rain

Menorca does get more rain than the other Balearic islands but there are lots of things to do indoors when the weather changes. Check out my Top Tips for Culture Lovers on Menorca for some great ideas including museums, art galleries, historic sites and foodie venues. How about a guided tour round a winery? Binifadet started growing vines in the 1970s and has been selling quality wines since 2004. They have a high-tech wine production centre over two floors, producing not only red, white and rose,  but also a very good sparkling wine. Their wine labels are works of art, including the very quirky Merluzo. Binifadet Restaurant serves superb Menorcan cuisine with a contemporary twist. I especially enjoyed their cheese platter, monkfish and prawn croquettes, roast Mediterranean vegetables and cheese cake with wine jam. (Read Kathryn Burrington‘s excellent article on Menorcan Food and Drink.)

Binifadet Winery Menorca - image zoedawes

Binifadet Winery

On a rainy, cloudy or windy day (beware the nippy Tramontana) hire a car and explore the island. Mahon has plenty to occupy you, whatever the weather.

Mahon


There’s a major road from the modern capital Mahon in the east, to the old capital Ciutadella in the west. Many road fork off the north and south taking you down winding country lanes to coves, bays and beaches on both coasts. Signage has improved greatly over the years and it can be fun getting lost amongst the stone-walled lanes. Stop off in quaint villages, search out local bars and restaurants and eat like a local. Visit the famous Cova d’en Xoroi for a unique Menorcan experience; the huge cave has been turned into day-time bar with night club. If, like us, you can’t see the renowned sunset view, at least you can enjoy a pomada (Menorca gin and bitter lemon) sheltering from the elements.

Cova den Xoroi pomada Menorca - image zoedawes

Pomada at Cova d’en Xoroi

Off-season weather on Menorca

In spring and autumn you get some beautiful weather; sunny days, light breezes, occasional showers – though it can also rain very heavily and get very windy too!  Temperatures range from about about 18°C – 24°C but it gets cool in the evenings. Bring clothes suitable for an English summer, ie layers and you should be fine. A waterproof jacket, sturdy walking shoes and maybe a brolly can all come in handy. I was in Menorca one January when it snowed, much to the delight of the locals. The snow had barely settled before it melted but it was fun whilst it lasted. However, it is the spring flowers that I love the most. In April and May the island bursts into glorious technicolour; blue cornflowers, white and yellow daisies, lacy elderflowers, bright red poppies … Don’t take my word, get out there and see for yourself …

Spring flowers in Menorca - image zoedawes

Poppies by the roadside

Visitor Information for Menorca

To plan your holiday in Menorca visit the Menorca website and www.Spain.info or follow them on social media: Twitter @Spain_inUK | Facebook | Instagram. If you need a guide to show you the sites of Menorca, I can highly recommend Menorca Guides Luis Amella. Thanks to all for a lovely trip

Menorca gate and spring flowers - image zoedawes

Menorca gate and spring flowers

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Off-season Menorca - The Quirky Traveller

May 25, 2016

5 compelling reasons to visit remarkable Rwanda

5 compelling reasons to visit remarkable Rwanda
Nyungwe Forest Lodge view Rwanda - image zoedawes

Rwanda hills

Known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills‘, Rwanda is quite simply one of the most beautiful countries I have visited. Its landscape is captivating, its lush, green hills rolling endlessly across the country, its lakes flooding out across fertile plains, its rivers flowing powerfully through the land and its forests home to some of the most impressive animals on our planet. I spent ten days exploring some of Rwanda and it’s won a place on my Top Ten Countries in the World to See before you pop your clogs!Things to do in Rwanda

Nestled in the heart of Africa, Rwanda is landlocked, with 23 lakes, many rivers including the mighty Nile and the Congo, five volcanoes, 23 lakes and many mountains and hills. It’s rated as one of the least corrupt countries in Africa and its people are welcoming, warm and friendly. Here are 5 reasons why you should visit Rwanda at least once in your life.

1.  Get close to Mountain Gorillas

Baby gorilla eating bamboo in Rwanda - image zoedawes

Baby gorilla eating bamboo

NOTHING can prepare you for the your first sight of a mountain gorilla in its natural habitat. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen David Attenborough rolling around with them or John Bishop’s awed whispers, when you finally get to see one, your heart does a happy dance and you feel blessed. Having trekked uphill for some time you are more than ready for one of the best wildlife encounters you’ll ever have. Rwanda is the world’s top destination for seeing mountain gorillas. Living up in the dense bamboo forests of the Virunga Mountains, these gentle giants were in danger of extinction, but due to the visionary dedication of Dian Fossey and now the excellent conservation work done on a daily basic, their numbers have stabilised and are starting to grow.

Silverback mountain gorilla in Rwanda - image zoedawes

Read about my memorable encounter with Mountain Gorillas here.

2.  Discover Rwanda’s traditions in a unique village


The sound of a lively group of Rwandans laughing as they parade towards a traditional hut, carrying a bride aloft in the pouring rain is one that will stay with me for a long time to come. In Iby’iwacu Village you can meet poachers-turned-dancers. In a ground-breaking project, the aim is to improve ‘the lives of reformed poachers and communities around Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park through provision of conservation incentives, supporting community enterprise development and livelihood based projects.’  The little guy in the foreground of the video, a member of the Batwa pygmy tribe, used to hunt gorillas and now is Master of Ceremony. You can watch a marriage ceremony, see a ‘witch doctor’ preparing his potions, the grinding of bread and making of pots, all performed in high spirits, whatever the weather!

3.  Explore Rwanda’s lush Montane Rainforest

Nyungwe Rainforest trees Rwanda - image zoedawes

Nyungwe Rainforest

Though much of Rwanda’s ‘montane rainforest has disappeared you can still find the last remnants in the vast Nyungwe National Park, a vast expanse of primary rainforest. With over 1,000 ha, it’s home to over 300 bird species,  numerous orchids and exotic plants, plus 75 mammals including species of 13 primates, about a quarter of all Africa’s primates. During my stay at the luxuriously tranquil tea plantation Nyungwe Forest Lodge, I spent some time exploring a tiny part of this huge area.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge Rwanda - zoedawes

Nyungwe Forest Lodge

I glimpsed energetic colobus monkeys leaping from tree to tree; they come very close to the Lodge most days. There’s a rope walk to experience the forest from on-high and plenty of walks, varying from relatively easy (you need to be quite fit even for these) to strenuous. Waterfalls and rivers flow through sunlit valleys and the sounds of bird call and monkeys screeching adds a sonorous soundtrack to your walk.

In the heart of Nyungwe Montane Rainforest Rwanda - zoedawes

Relaxing in Nyungwe Rainforest

4.  Discover how well Rwanda is recovering from tragedy

Kigali Genocide Memorial grave Rwanda - zodawes

Kigali Genocide Memorial grave Rwanda

1994 is a year that will live in Rwandan memory for generations. The country suffered a horrific genocide as the Hutus carried out mass killings of the Tutsi tribal members and moderate Hutus. The story of this awful time is told in moving imagery and personal accounts in the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where more than 250,000 victims are buried. Within its walls, in the heart of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, you will learn the meaning of reconciliation as well as tragedy. Everyone you meet will have been touched by this tragedy, yet Rwandans have worked hard through legal and personal ways to reconcile themselves to what happened and move forward into a better future. With a thriving economy, a vibrant tourist industry and a philosophical approach, the future look very positive for the people of Rwanda.

5.  Make friends wherever you go in Rwanda

Children admiring a camera in Rwanda - zoedawes

Children admiring a camera

Rwanda has to be one of the friendliest countries in Africa. Wherever you go in this beautiful country, people smile, wave and say hello. Not having been too exposed to tourism, the local people retain a friendly curiousity about visitors. If you’re driving across the country, you will have regular opportunities to engage with Rwandans, whether it’s a roadside market, a photo stop or just along the road.

Woman in Kigali Market Rwanda - image zoedawes

Woman in Kigali Market

Everyone seems to be carrying something; with public transport limited, most people walk or cycle everywhere. Elegant women carry balance heavy pots, enormous bunches of bananas or bowls of washing on their heads, men have arms full of wood, bicycles are loaded up with groceries and children lug huge bundles of sticks up steep mountain tracks.

Boy selling fruit by roadside in Rwanda - image zoedawes

Boy selling fruit by roadside

I traveller to Rwanda courtesy of Uber Luxe Safaris, experts in organising tours to this lovely country. You can find out more about holidays in Rwanda here. I’d love to return – and I do hope you get the chance to visit one day.

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