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Impressions of Burma itinerary

 

Day 1: Yangon
Min Gala Ba! Welcome to Burma (Myanmar).

Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting in the evening of Day 1.

You can arrive at any time during the day as there are no activities planned until this important meeting; please check with the hotel reception where and when it will take place, or check the reception notice boards. If you can't arrange a flight that will have you arrive at the hotel by early evening, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.

Formerly named Rangoon, Yangon is the country's biggest city and was the capital from 1885, when the British conquered the north and the kingdom of Mandalay, until just a few years ago when the government moved the capital to Naypyidaw.

To get your bearings and a taste of this wonderful city, take a walk to Sule Paya, then perhaps down to the Victorian Strand Hotel to admire both the colonial architecture and the bargaining madness of Bogyoke Market. Or sample some of the great Indian food on offer.

Day 2: Yangon/Mandalay

This morning we set off for one of the great sites of Rangoon, indeed Burma, if not the world! The extraordinary Shwedagon Pagoda and its surrounding temples and edifices dominate all and provide an extraordinary mix of monks and pilgrims and worshippers and tourists. We will spend some time walking around the complex, learning of its history and spiritual devotions, and experiencing the ambience of this extraordinary place.

We then leave mid-morning for the airport (seeing a bit more of Rangoon along the way). At the airport your tour leader will coordinate the check-in for your flight to Mandalay, using a private airline. Flight time is usually a little over an hour and after landing it is a drive of about 45 minutes to the city and your hotel for the next three nights. The rest of the afternoon is free – you might enjoy a walk to one of the markets, where a great time can be had enjoying the hustle and bustle, taking photos or bargaining for local wares.

 

Day 3: Mandalay

We make our way down to the city’s lively waterfront which offers an interesting backdrop as we take a boat trip up-river to Mingun - the site of the world's largest pagoda (albeit unfinished!), the world’s largest unbroken bell, and temples dating back hundreds if not thousands of years. The river is effectively a major trading, communication and commuting highway and a wide range of different boats, barges and steamers can be viewed along the way. We return to Mandalay late morning: this city was a former capital of Burma; however the surrounding countryside contains many towns that could lay claim to that same title at some stage or another in the past. Later in the afternoon we embark on a tour visiting the remnants of one of these once-great cities, Amarapura. Weather permitting, we may also view a spectacular sunset over the 200-year-old, two-kilometre-long, U Bein wooden bridge, either from land or by boat.

This evening you may wish to dine at your hotel, or your tour leader will be able to recommend any one of a number of good local restaurants: the choice of meals and good places to eat is extensive throughout this trip.

 

Day 4: Maymyo (Pyin U Lwin)/Mandalay

After a drive up into the hills, Burma's most famous hill station, Maymyo (Pyin U Lwin), provides an escape from the heat of the plains. Established during the colonial era back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is today a crossroad for traders coming over from China and this is reflected in its colourful market.

Take time to explore surroundings in a local horse-drawn carriage called a 'myin-lay'. English-style country mansions and Chinese temples dot the hillsides in a place rightly called the 'vegetable garden' of Burma. Later, we return to Mandalay where the rest of the day is spent visiting various temples, including Kuthodaw Pagoda that claims to house the world's largest 'book'.

Time permitting, it was once a challenging walk up Mandalay Hill (236 metres), but these days, if in operation, a series of large escalators will do most of the work for you on the way up!! If conditions oblige, the sunset views from the summit can be impressive and along the way there are many shrines of religious significance.

 

Day 5 & 6: Bagan

We depart early from our hotel for the waterfront to spend to an entire day on a ferry boat as we cruise down the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River.

Note: (Due to the unpredictable nature of water levels and ferry operations on the Irrawaddy River between February and May, it is possible that some services may be cancelled during that period. Some of these cancellations may take place at the last minute and often without warning. If this is the case it may be necessary to fly between Mandalay and Bagan. There will be no extra cost for this flight).

Along the way, we witness the idyllic way of life that epitomises parts of rural Burma in the form of the small fishing villages that lie along the riverbanks. And we pass dozens of boats of different size and utility, testament to the role which this mighty river plays in the life of so many.

There is a restaurant on board our ferry, and meals and drinks are readily available for purchase during the day. In the evening we arrive in Pagan (Bagan), one of the most impressive archaeological wonders of Asia, and are met and driven to our hotel. (Due to the unpredictable nature of water levels and ferry operations on the Irrawaddy River between February and May, it is possible that some services may be cancelled during that period. Some of these cancellations may take place at the last minute and often without warning. If this is the case it may be necessary to fly between Mandalay and Bagan. There will be no extra cost for this flight).

The sights of Bagan are explored from dawn to dusk. Nyaung U's lively market contrasts with the eerie silence of the plains littered with over 4000 structures, including Gawdawpalin, Thatbyinnyu, Ananda and Shwezigon - all names of temples and pagodas that bear testament to a glorious past. The area is also famous for producing lacquer-ware and sand-paintings that is available in the stalls amidst the ruins.

There is also a chance to do some of our exploration by horse and cart. Weather permitting, we may enjoy a breath-taking sunset view from one of the ruins.

 

Day 7: Day trip to Mt Popa/Bagan

Today we drive for an hour before arriving at Mount Popa, an extinct volcano that is home to the local spirits or deities known as 'nats'. For the energetic, there is a chance to climb the 777 steps to the shrine at the top of the hill. Returning to Pagan, we visit a local village to observe the lifestyle of the people and talk with some of the villagers. The afternoon is free to further explore this amazing area. You may hire a bicycle or take a horse carriage and enjoy your own exploration of the archaeological sites. This evening we return to Bagan for our last night.

 

Day 8: Flight to Heho, Inle Lake

We board a plane and fly to Heho, which is situated in the Shan Plateau. From here, we drive through picturesque countryside and rolling hills to our final destination, Khaungdaing, situated on Inle Lake not far from the main township, Nyaungshwe. This afternoon you may like to rent a canoe (for about one hour) and row in to Lin Kin village, famous for its floating garden in the lake. On our way back we may stop over at some of the village houses to see the process of making traditional snacks (optional and at extra cost). You will notice that the weather is rather cooler due to the high altitude.
 

Day 9: Inle Lake Boat Trip
A full day is spent on the lake exploring the floating gardens and catching a glimpse of the local Intha fishermen who are famous for their unique 'leg-rowing' technique. These people are different from the Shans and they originate from the south of the country. The lake is also home to a wide array of bird-life including egrets, cranes, ducks, storks and birds of prey. Visits may be made to some of the local villages and our stay may coincide with one of the market days: always exciting with much of the commuting being done by local people using the ubiquitous long-tail boats.
 

Day 10: Short Trek
After breakfast at our hotel we transfer to Indein ruins complex (about 45 minutes by long-tail boat). On disembarking we find a pagoda and stupas built in the 8th century. We can also enjoy browsing through the rows of shops along the corridor uphill or just marvel at the surroundings. After spending some time we will start our walk towards to Yankin, Pa O and Taung Yoe tribe village (1.5 km, approx 45 minutes).

Along the way we explore the mystery of more than 300 ancient stupas around the village and then continue towards (1 km, approx 30 minutes) to a Buddhist monastery and head north to Naydaw (1.5 km, approx 45 minutes) to Taung Yoe ethnic tribe village through farm land and bamboo forest. From here turn to South-West (5 km, approx 3 hours) through the valley ups and downs to west Taung Mauk, Pa O village from here another 20 minute walk would get you to east Taung Mauk village. Finally we turn east through valley to Indein (3 km, approx 45 minutes) where we will meet our boat and return back to hotel. This evening we enjoy a traditional Shan dinner and get to sample some of the local style culinary specialties.

Note: the amount of walking advisable today will depend on individual and group fitness and wishes, and also the time of year.
 

Day 11: Fly to Yangon, Kyaikhtiyo (Golden Rock)
We transfer to Heho Airport for the flight back to Rangoon in the morning, on arrival you will be met and drive for the 5 hour (approx.) transfer to Kyaikthiyo. One of Myanmar’s major landmarks, famous for its precarious position and religious importance, Kyaikthiyo the “Golden Rock” is a huge boulder completely covered by gold leaf and delicately balanced on the edge of a cliff.

We arrive at the base camp of Kinpun and continue up to the Golden Rock by open truck, about an hour’s mountain drive. A further light trek to the summit we will have time to have enjoy the sunset from the top of the hill. Descending back down, we spend the night at our hotel in Kyaikhtiyo.

 

Day 12: Yangon
After breakfast this morning, we walk for 30mins to reach Kyee Kan Pa Sat (Crow's mouth Cave); an important place of worship for the local people. On the way we will pass by some local handicraft stalls selling local produce.

Midmorning we will return Yangon via Bago through rice fields and small towns. When we arrive in Bago we will visit the local market, Kanbawza Thardi Palace built by King Bayinnaung, the Kalayani Sima (Ordination Hall), Shwemawdaw Pagoda, and Shwethalyaung Pagoda - home to what many say is the world’s most beautiful reclining Buddha. We then return to Yangon.

The rest of the afternoon is free in Rangoon and you can visit Sule Pagoda, which marks the centre of town and the nearby Bogyoke (Scott) Market that sells a wide array of local goods and handicrafts. There is also time explore a fascinating city full of dilapidated colonial edifices, to perhaps take High Tea at the historic colonial hotel, The Strand, and take a stroll through vibrant Chinatown market area as the afternoon cools (these are optional excursions and at your own expense).

 

Day 13: Yangon
The tour ends after breakfast, and you are free to depart at any time, or spend longer in Yangon at your own expense.

 

Please note: One of the main things about the trips that I run is flexibility.This is especially needed in Burma, where flights and sometimes even hotel arrangements can change at short notice. We will do our best to achieve everything on the itinerary, but it is important to realise that mass travel in Burma is in its infancy and so changes can occur.

Printable version of itinerary

Land arrangements are sub-contracted to Intrepid Travel, who have many years experience in running small group adventures.

Bookings are made through the Intrepid Private Groups in the UK not the Intrepid website or Stores. Use this link for more information

Included in the trip price

9 nights hotel or riad accommodation

1 night in desert camp

• 1 night in guesthouse

• 8 breakfasts

2 dinners

All transport as per itinerary

• Todra Gorge 4WD safari

• Camel ride to desert camp

Walking tour of Marrakech

Taxi to main square & dinner

Transport to Majorelle Gardens

Majorelle Gardens entrance

Cooking class, Ait Benhaddou

• Essaouria walking tour

• Pre-trip Facebook group

• Experienced Intrepid leader

Expert photographic tuition

Impressions of Morocco itinerary

 

Day 1: Travel day/Arrival in Ouarzazate
Salaam Aleikum! Welcome to Morocco.

Our adventure officially starts in the desert town of Ouarzazate. but the official group flight is the Easyjet flight to Marrakech from London Gatwick, which arrives on the morning of the 12 April. We will be met from the airport, and transferred to Ouarzazate by private bus. The cost for this has been built into the airfare if bought from Intrepid (which is currently a shade under £260 including booking fee, transfer and baggage costs). If buying separately transfer cost will be £15.

Our drive takes us across the atmospheric 2260 metre Tizi n'Tichka Pass, and through some stunning scenery.

Hotel: 1 night, breakfast included

Day 2: Erg Chebbi

Welcome meeting in the hotel reception at 9 am. This morning you will explore the town of Ouarzazate and visit the hundred year old Taourirt Kasbah. A potent symbol of the Glaoui clan’s power, the kasbah gives a glimpse of how these feudal lords lived. You will then have the chance to buy an essential piece of desert kit – a shesh. This is a long piece of cloth a bit like a scarf that is wrapped around the head to keep the sun off and the loose end can be pulled across the face to keep out the sand.

Take a stunning drive towards the mighty Sahara Desert (approx 7hrs). We have many opportunities to stop and admire and take photos of the panoramic views of the Kasbahs and palmeries (valleys lush with date palms, fields and orchards) en route, since we have the convenience of our own private minivan (there are not many options for public transport in these parts). We can pause in some of the frontier towns such as Erfoud and Rissani before we reach the end of the road and the small Saharan settlement of Merzouga.

We'll store our main baggage before saddling up our day packs and mounting camels to head off into the sunset for a memorable night in our Sahara camp (approx 1 hour each way).

The Erg Chebbi dunes are the most stunning in the country and an experience essential of any visit to Morocco. An erg is a vast sea of shifting wind-swept sand that's formed into picturesque undulating crests and valleys, and the Erg Chebbi is one of the world's classic landscapes of towering dunes, up to heights of over 150 metres. Located at the end of the sealed road and just 20 kilometres from the Algerian border this is wonderful frontier country.

The camp is a simple affair with bedding and basic toilet facilities provided. Our local friends will prepare a hearty feast so all you need to do is soak up the experience. Our camp does provide blankets which are sufficient for most travellers between April and October.

In the night we will have our first chance to photograph star trails, at our desert camp.

Optional lunch in Tinghir.

Included Activities

• Camel ride in desert

• Dinner at camp

• 4WD to camp

Accommodation: Desert camp (1 night) No single supplement is available for this night stop

 

Day 3: Dades Gorge

For the early risers the morning begins with a sunrise over the majestic dunes before breakfast. It's another classic drive with dramatic changes of landscape to Dades Gorge (approx 4 hrs).

Stop en route in a small town called Tinejdad (approx 2 hrs from the desert) and where we have the option to visit the interesting Museum El Khorbat, which has a great collection of rural and historical Berber artefacts, clothing, jewellery and tools. It's housed in three restored homes of a Ksar and provides a wealth of information about Berber people living in the area.

After lunch, we head to our hotel in the Dades area that has a very pleasant pool. After two long driving days the group can relax and take the afternoon off.

Flanked on both sides by high limestone cliffs, Dades Valley features bizarre rock formations with picturesque kasbahs dotted amongst the crops and palms.

Accommodation: Hotel (2 nights)

 

Day 4: 4WD safari to Todra Gorge

After two long driving days we have a day with very little driving as we stay local and explore the equally spectacular Dades Gorge. We travel by 4 wheel drive on this excursion (please note that if conditions are very wet it is too dangerous due to flash flooding, if this is the case we will use the main highway instead.

Todra Gorge is a spectacular canyon with sheer rock walls up to 300 m high, now gaining fame as a rock-climbing destination. We plan to have a meal in a guesthouse in Todra, and also have the time to explore the Palmeries in the verdant lower gorge, before returning to our hotel in the Dades Gorge for the night.

 

Day 5: Ait Benhaddhou

Say goodbye to the Gorges region and travel further south towards Ait Benhaddou (approx 3 hrs). This scenic drive offers a glimpse of times gone by via the ruins of ancient kasbahs, former colonial military outposts, austere mountains, wide-open spaces, and valleys of palm trees and irrigated fields. En route we can pause for lunch in Ouarzazate.

The film capital of Morocco, Ouarzazate is the location where productions such as Lawrence of Arabia, The Sheltering Sky and Black Hawk Down were filmed.

Time permitting, you can take an optional tour of the Atlas Movie Studios.

We also have the chance to make a short visit to Project Handicapped Horizon, an organisation dedicated to the rehabilitation, health and empowerment of people with disabilities. Some of the amazing services they provide include the building and fitting of prosthetic limbs, custom-made wheelchairs, and physio and social therapy for sufferers of accidents and illness. They also operate an artisans workshop which trains local people in trades such as pottery, weaving, metal work and jewellery making. This is a wonderful visit and we're very proud to support this project through The Intrepid Foundation.

Centuries ago, Ait Benhaddou was an important stop for the caravans passing through as they carried salt across the Sahara, returning with gold, ivory and slaves. Today, its grand kasbah is still one of the most beautiful in all of Morocco and a World Heritage site. This fortified village is a fine example of clay architecture and is also famous for its role on the silver screen, featuring in numerous films such as Lawrence of Arabia, The Jewel of the Nile and Gladiator.

This evening will be our second chance to practice shooting star-trails - from the roof of our guesthouse!

Included Activities

• Cooking class and dinner

Accommodation: Guesthouse (1 night) No single supplement is available for this night stop

 

Day 6: Taroudant

Rejoin our minivan and continue towards Taroudant (approx 5 hrs). This drive takes us through more superb desert scenery and along a route that's a reserve for the indigenous argan trees - if we're lucky we might come across the famous image of goats climbing these trees in search of their tasty nuts.

Please note that this is a long travel day and we won't arrive at our accommodation until late afternoon/early evening. Our riad is centrally located which will allow us to walk around the atmospheric main square of the town, which comes along as the heat of the sun starts to fade away.

Accommodation: Central Riad (1 night)

 

Day 7: Drive to Essaouria

In the morning we will have time to explore Taroudant before continuing on to Essaouira on the coast. Taroudant is a vibrant market town located in the fertile Souss plains. With an energetic, bustling city centre this is a great opportunity to see an untouched traditional Berber lifestyle. The souqs of the medina teem with sights, sound and colour, with terrific bargains to be found.

We leave the valleys of the magical High Atlas Mountains behind and head towards the windswept Atlantic Coast and Essaouira (approx 4.5 hrs), we will use the coastal road with a brief stop in Agadir en-route.

Accommodation: Central riad (2 nights)


Day 8: Essaouria

The name Essaouira means image, which is appropriate since it's such a picturesque town. Its charm is undeniable - within the stone ramparts you'll find whitewashed houses with bright blue shutters, art galleries and wood workshops. This laidback artists' town is a former Portuguese trading colony and was once home to sizeable British and Jewish populations. The town faces a group of rocky islands - called the Mogador - and is surrounded by an expanse of sandy beaches and dunes.

It's still a busy fishing port and it’s pretty harbour is filled with tiny colourful boats which go out early every morning for the day's catch. Visitors who have been seduced by its charms include Orson Welles and Jimi Hendrix, who (according to local legend) spent much of his time here in the 1960s. More recently, filmmaker Ridley Scott chose the ramparts as an important location for his film, Kingdom of Heaven.

Join our local guide for a walking tour through the old Medina, Jewish mellah, port and skala (sea wall). You have some free time to soak up the romantic ambience.

Everything in the small centre is within walking distance and the beach is clean. Wander the harbour and its adjacent fish markets where you can witness the daily auction. A freshly-cooked plate of the day's catch is highly recommended. Browse the plentiful shops and intriguing art galleries that make this little town a particularly pleasant place to unwind for a few days. It has a growing reputation for its unique art and is becoming even more famous for its burled Thuya wood - delicately formed and inlaid in tiny shops, which are built into the thick walls of the Portuguese ramparts. The scent from the oils used to polish the richly coloured wood permeates the air and makes walking down the streets incredibly pleasant.

Essaouira is a world-famous windsurfing destination. Give it go or you may like to try your hand at the increasingly popular sport of kite surfing.

Don't miss the opportunity to go to a hammam or local-style bath to be spoilt with a good scrub, a mud pack and a relaxing massage with argan oil.

Included Activities

• Walking tour
 

Day 9: Travel to Marrakech
On day 9 the morning is free for further exploration around Essaouria. In the early afternoon we will catch a comfortable local bus to Marrakech (approx 3 hrs), where we will check in to our riad.
 

Day 10 & 11: Marrakech
Even today, the name conjures up images of scenes from the Arabian Nights: alleyways, souks, stalls and markets. This remarkable city, dating from the 11th century, never fails to satisfy the curiosity of adventurous travellers. It has everything from the graceful architecture of the renowned Koutoubia Minaret, which dominates the skyline, to the wonderful throbbing atmosphere of a medieval fair in the great open square, the Djemaa el-Fna, at the heart of the medina.

We have two days to explore and photograph this famous city. On day 10 a 2 hour guided tour is included. This will take us down to the leather pits, where leather is cured and dyed in the traditional way, as it has been for generations.

 

Day 12: Tour ends
The tour ends after breakfast, and you are free to leave at any time, or contact Intrepid to arrange an extra night or two in this fascinating and entrancing city.

 

Notes on the tour

Itinerary:
Any tour is a balance between seeing as much as possible, and also having enough time to explore and take pictures. I believe that we have struck the best balance with this itinerary. There are many times where we will have free time, so you are free to explore and photograph on your own. I try to keep compulsory sunrises to a minimum, but there will be plenty of chances for those who are keen to make an early start!

I have tried to ensure that we manage to have the chance of a sunrise or sunset in all of the most important places, but sometimes we will have to photograph things during the day - at the wrong times. This is mainly the case when we are in transit. This is just a part of trying to see so much: if we were to photograph everything at the optimum times, then the trip would have to be about three or four times longer!
 

Portraits in Morocco:
It is worth bearing in mind that Morocco is not as easy a place to shoot portraits as it used to be. People can be quite paranoid about being photographed - especially if you don't ask permission. You are advised not to try to 'steal' pictures and to ask people. Not only is this a courtesy, that I believe will help you to secure better, more engaged pictures, it can avoid unpleasantness.

It is perfectly possible to shoot some amazing portraits in Morocco, and I will be on hand to advise as to when and how to ask. Very soon in the trip, I will hold an illustrated talk showing my technique for approaching people and how to get the best shots.

 

Tuition:
Thoroughout the trip I will hold a series of illustrated talks and group review sessions to try to help people to learn as much as possible on the trip, and also to come away with the best pictures possible. We will have some group sessions - notably on exposure and also on shooting star trails. I am always available if anyone has a question about photography and am always happy to look at pictures if you want a personal review. Please be aware that you will generally get out of this trip what you are prepared to put into it, especially with the review sessions.

 

Single supplement:
The single supplement is not available in the Ait Benhaddhou guesthouse, or in the desert camp. This means that people will have to share a room on these nights. Please also note that sometimes the single rooms are smaller than double rooms - especially in riads when many of the rooms will vary in size and quality. In general, we will try to balance everything out wherever possible, but sometimes the best rooms in the riads have double beds: twin and single rooms might not be as luxurious.

Printable version of itinerary

This tour is organised and led by Steve Davey | The land arrangements are sub-contracted to Intrepid Travel, but the tours don't appear on the Intrepid Travel website | The only way to book is through this site!

Highlights of this trip

• Explore Havana by classic car

Tobacco farmers in Vinales.

UNESCO town of Trinidad

Cowboys at Cuban finca

Markets of Santiago

Extensive photographic tuition

Included in the trip price

11 nights hotel accommodation

1 night homestay

All transport as per itinerary

• 11 breakfasts

• 6 lunches

• 6 dinners

• Havana walk with local photographer

Vintage car Havana tour

• Viñales tobacco farm visit

• Trinidad finca visit

• Santiago city tour

• Domestic flight from Santiago to Havana

• Pre-trip Facebook group to meet other group members

• Experienced Intrepid leader

Expert photographic tuition

Impressions of Cuba itinerary

 

Day 1: Arrive in Havana
Havana is the political, industrial and cultural heart of the nation. The city grew from an obscure port to a bustling hub when gold and silver was being pillaged by the Spanish from New World and taken to Spain. While the ships gathered in growing numbers, the pirates were not far behind and the treasures resting in Cuba's ports were attacked again and again by Dutch, English and French pirates. The Spanish built fort after fort for protection but the English eventually captured the territory. An economic boom followed due to the English lifting the Spanish trade restrictions. Spain eventually exchanged the Florida territory for the island, but these years left an indelible mark on the city and the country, and Havana is slowly restoring its beautiful colonial buildings.

You can arrive at any time today as no activities are planned, save a welcome meeting around 6pm.

Overnight: Hotel


Day 2: Havana

Today's orientation tour gives you a feel for how Havana has developed over the ages. The old city inside the original fortified walls - La Habana Vieja - houses the finest collection of antique colonial buildings in the Americas. The Plaza de Armas is dominated by the former residence of the Spanish governors, now the City Museum, a treasure trove which provides an excellent insight into their grand lifestyle. A few blocks away, an 18th century baroque cathedral and a clutch of imposing mansions grace the cobbled Plaza de la Cathedral. Nearby, Calle del Obispo - the main shopping street - and the Paseo del Prado also contain impressive buildings from the colonial era.

We'll spend the morning enjoying a walking tour of the Old Town accompanied by our local guide.

After lunch (La Imprenta Restaurant) in the Old Town we have some free time to enjoy Havana on our own or to rest.

In the early evening we'll be picked up from our hotel for a 2 hour panoramic tour of Havana in Vintage American cars - a brilliant way of getting some great car shots and capturing Havana as the sun sets over the Malecon.

This evening we'll eat dinner at Divina Pastora Restaurant and enjoy beautiful views across Havana Harbour back towards Old Havana.

Overnight: Hotel

Breakfast, lunch and dinner included

Included activities:
• Walking tour with local photographer
• Vintage American car tour


Day 3: Viñales

After breakfast, you set out on the 200km (approx. 3 hours) drive westward to Piñar del Rio province, crossing typical landscapes of cane fields, tobacco plantations and tall palm trees along the way. On arrival we admire the fantastic view from Jazmines Hotel before dropping down into Viñales town. This is a perfect town to watch people and take pictures of the locals going about their business. Viñales is famously where the best tobacco in the world is group and Straw-hatted guajiro peasants tend their tobacco in neat farms close to the city center; the plant is native to the island. Cigars, along with rum are Cuba's principal exports. After time for lunch, check into our casas for the night.

In the late afternoon, we set off on a walk into the countryside to find out all about the tobacco growing process. We'll visit a farm, see where tobacco is dried and be shown how it is rolled into one of the finest cigars in the world. The scenery in Viñales provides a stunning background for any photography. Dramatic "karst" mountains rise up sheer from the valley floor and the rich tropical vegetation gives Viñales valley and other-worldly quality. Our walk finishes around sunset at Wilfredo ́s organic farm set high on the hill above the Valle del Silencio and with spectacular views across the valley. After dinner (included) return to our hotel for the night or enjoy an (optional) evening of live music and dance in the "Polo Montañez" club in Viñales Village.

Overnight: Hotel

Breakfast and dinner included

Included activities:
• Tobacco farm visit and walk


Day 4: Viñales

An early start this morning to capture Viñales at dawn. We take a packed breakfast with us and set off by foot towards Los Acuaticos - a small community who believe in the healing powers of water. The community has practically died out but the real reason to visit it is to enjoy the spectacular views as the sun rises over Viñales and the community starts to wake up. Farmers heading out to their fields with oxen and plough, a mist hovering over the valley and the stunning "mogotes" in the background.

Returning to Viñales you can either enjoy the rest of the day at leisure or take an optional day trip to Cayo Levisa - a picture perfect tropical island about 1 hour from Viñales. The excursion costs CUC40 and includes transportation and lunch on the island. Time to sunbathe, swim in the tropical waters or wander the length of the deserted beach.

Evening at leisure in Viñales.

Overnight : Hotel

Packed breakfast included

Included Activities:
• Sunrise excursion

 

Day 5: Cienfuegos
Today is a relatively long travel day (approx. 5-6 hours). Starting early, you retrace your steps towards Havana before bearing south into Matanzas province. Your route takes you to Zapata Peninsula and to Playa Larga standing at the head of the famous Bay of Pigs, where in 1961 a force of CIA-trained Cuban exiles landed to stir up a counter-revolution.

We stop somewhere along the Bay of Pigs to eat a picnic lunch and enjoy a swim in the Caribbean sea. Continue on to Cienfuegos for overnight.

Overnight: Hotel

Breakfast, lunch (picnic type) and dinner included (at the Hotel ́s restaurant)

 

Day 6: Trinidad
Morning city sightseeing in Cienfuegos. Known as the Pearl of the South, Cienfuegos is a pleasant city with a European feel - largely due to the influence of French settlers who arrived in the early 19th century. A sheltered deep-water harbour ensured its prosperity and as the fortunes of nearby Trinidad waned, wealthy merchants and plantation owners indulged in a building bonanza.

Always bustling with shoppers the "boulevard" is a great place for people shots, as is the fruit and vegetable market close by.

Time for lunch in Cienfuegos before setting off for Trinidad, about an hour away. (Lunch at Club Nautico included)

On arrival, check into our casas and head for the centre of town for a sunset drink and live music on the steps next to the Cathedral

As we have three nights in Trinidad, we have taken the decision to include one night in a local casas particulares. This is essentially a unique Cuban homestay guesthouse.

Dinner tonight in our Casa Particular Trinidad.

Overnight: Casas Particulares, Trinidad

Breakfast, lunch and dinner included at the Casa

 

Day 7: Trinidad
Today we enjoy Trinidad. Trinidad is one of the seven cities founded by Diego de Velázquez in 1514, and is now a national monument. Nestling on a plain in the lee of the mountains and within sight of the Caribbean, Cuba's best-preserved colonial town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its narrow, cobbled streets are paved with stones that once served as ballast for ships on the empty, outward journey from Europe.

The town grew rich from trade through the nearby port of Casilda, until it silted up and was eclipsed by Cienfuegos. Despite its well-to-do air, Trinidad has no grand palaces and still retains the intimate feel of a small town. This morning you will explore the old area around the Plaza Mayor on foot. Being virtually car- free, it's a pleasant place to wander. You'll also visit one of the museums which will give you an idea of how these opulent families lived.

At night there's often something of interest happening such as a music or dance performance.

Overnight: Hotel

Breakfast & Dinner included

 

Days 8: Trinidad
A short distance from the centre of Trinidad is some of the most beautiful countryside in Cuba. Trinidad's fortunes were made through sugar and the slave trade enabled Trinidad's rich to become seriously rich. Slavery has long been abolished from Cuba but the countryside remains stunning and local people maintain a strong cowboy culture, raising animals, crops and travelling around on horseback. Today we spend the day exploring cowboy culture and head for a local "finca" where we start our walk along one of the many tracks that cut through the forest. We reach a waterfall and have the added treat of being able to take a refreshing dip in crystalline water pools. For those that fancy it there may be the chance to go horse riding (optional).

Returning to the "finca" we have a typical Cuban lunch and can take more pictures as the farmers prepare the lunch using traditional methods. After lunch, Julio will show us his horse whispering techniques before we head off back towards the river to take photographs of country life.

In the late afternoon we return to Trinidad,

Overnight: Hotel

Breakfast & Dinner included

Included Activities:
• Finca visit

 

Days 9: Camaguey
Heading East we make our first stop in Sancti Spiritus, one of the original "Villas" founded by the Spanish conquistadors. From here we continue to Camaguey arriving in the early afternoon and in time for a sightseeing tour of Cuba ́s most recently awarded World Heritage Site. In Camaguey we take a tour of the city by bicycle taxi. Cycling is a popular form of transport in Cuba, and in the flatter cities, bicycle taxis are very common, and especially in Camaguey with its narrow and confusing streets, it is a pleasant way to get around.

On the tour we will visit a local market, parks and plazas, and an art gallery. Each taxi carries two passengers and the tour is led by an English-speaking local guide. Your leader may suggest visiting a local farmers' market. This is where farmers are allowed to sell their food produce after they have met the quota they have to sell to the state. The market in Camaguey is a particularly busy and colourful market where there are separate areas for produce sold by the state and produce sold by farmers directly to the public. There is plenty of interesting looking tropical fruit, vegetables, and herbs.

This is where the locals come to buy food once their monthly government provided food ration runs out.

Overnight: Hotel

Breakfast and lunch included

 

Days 10: Santiago
Today we head for the city of Heroes and cradle of Cuba ́s Revolution, Santiago. But our first stop is in Bayamo where the steps were made to Cuba ́s Independence from Spain. After visiting this beautiful provincial town we carry on to Santiago.

Also famous for being the birthplace of Cuban contemporary music, Santiago is home to most of the Buenavista Social Club members, who first played in Santiago ́s Casa de la Trova where live music can still be heard daily.

Overnight: Hotel

Breakfast & lunch included

Included Activities:
• Finca visit

 

Days 11: Santiago/Havana
After breakfast we have a city tour, during our time here we visit Santa Ifigenia cemetery, Revolution Square, El Morro Castle and Moncada Barracks - where the opening shots of the revolution were fired on 26 July 1953, when Castro and his men attacked the barracks, But it is at night that Santiago really comes alive.

Those who are returning to Havana overnight at Hotel Armadores de Santander or similar

Overnight: Hotel

Breakfast & lunch included

Included Activities:
• Santiago city tour

 

Days 12: Tour ends in Havana
Free morning in Havana to do last minute shopping or to explore the city, before making your own way to the airport.

Breakfast included

 

To compliment this trip, we have organised the following exclusive extension to the beach town of Baracao.

 

 

Baracoa extension

There are a few of points to consider about the Baracoa extension:

• Minimum three people

• Accommodation is a casa particular (homestay/guesthouse)

• Steve Davey will not be accompanying the extension, but an Intrepid leader will be

• Extension commences on day 11, when the rest of the group returns to Havana.

• Price for extension: £475 per person, based on room share.
(We may be able to reduce the price if six or more people are booked on it).

• Single supplement: £40 (NB. compulsory on the extension for single travellers)

 

Day 11: Santiago to Baracoa
After saying fond farewells to the rest of the group, those going on the extension will take an afternoon transfer to Baracoa. Evening arrival and check into your casa particular for the evening.

Visit the town, the Matachin Fortress, the houses, enjoy the Cuban daily life in the first Villa founded by the Spaniards.

Overnight: Casa particular (Homestay B & B)

Breakfast included

 

Day 12 & 13: Baracoa
Baracoa is a great place to wind down at the end of the trip and enjoy the slower pace of life, but there is still plenty to do. You can take a full day hike to the anvil-shaped mountain of El Yunque (575m), the symbol of Baracoa, which was mentioned by Columbus. After a short bus ride you walk through plantations of coffee, banana and cacao and can meet local farmers to learn about life in this remote part of Cuba. It feels humid in the thick tropical forest, but big mahogany and hibiscus trees shade much of the route; plentiful bird life includes colourful trogons and humming birds, Cuban kite and woodpecker. Reptiles and colourful butterflies also abound. From the summit you get a lovely view of Porto Santo Bay and the Toa and Duaba rivers.

Overnight: Casa particular (Homestay B & B)

Breakfast included

 

Day 14: Havana
Today you leave Baracoa and drive to Santiago airport in time for a flight to Havana. This is a travelling day, and how it actually unfolds will depend on the flight timings, which are subject to change. On arrival you transfer to your hotel in Havana.

Accommodation: Hotel

Breakfast included

 

Day 15: Tour ends in Havana
Free morning in Havana to do last minute shopping or to explore the city, before making your own way to the airport.

Breakfast included

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This tour is organised and led by Steve Davey | The land arrangements are sub-contracted to Intrepid Travel, but the tours don't appear on the Intrepid Travel website | The only way to book is through this site!

Highlights of this trip

Avenue des Baobabs

Dancing Sifaka Lemurs

Soantana village

• Tsingy de Bemaraha

Isalo National Park

• Historic Antananarivo

• Photography tuition

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SteveDaveyKangraRailwayLRThis tour is led by Steve Davey - a professional photographer, whose work appears in publications all over the world. He is the author of the bestselling Unforgettable Places To See Before You Die (BBC Books). Steve recently published Footprint Travel Photography 2e (Footprint Books), which covers everything that you would ever want to know about travelling with a camera. Click for more.

Land arrangements are sub-contracted to Intrepid Travel, who have many years experience in running small group adventures.

Bookings are made through the Intrepid Special Groups Dept. in the UK not the Intrepid website or Stores. Use this link for more information

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Start: 4 June 2020
End:
19 June 2020

Code: IOMO20

Price: From £3795 pp
excl. flights, based on

Min 8, max 12 people

Places left: 8


Trip is to be confirmed.

 

Single supplement: £765

Estimated current
flight cost £650

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Printable version of itinerary

Impressions of Madagascar Itinerary

Day 1: Antananarivo
Day 2: Morondava
Day 3: Bemaraha
Day 4: Bemaraha
Day 5: Bemaraha
Day 6: Marofandilia
Day 7: Morondava
Day 8: Antananarivo
Day 9: Antsirabe

Day 10: Fianarantsoa
Day 11: Fianarantsoa
Day 12: Ranohira (Isalo)
Day 13: Ranohira (Isalo)
Day 14: Ifaty
Day 15: Ifaty
Day 16: Tour ends

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Included in the trip price

• 14 nights Hotel accommodation

1 night camp accommodation

All transport as per itinerary

• 15 breakfasts, 14 lunches & 15 dinners

• Tulear to Tana domestic flight

• Tana to Morondava return flight

• Soantana village visit

• Manambolo river dugout

• Tsingy of Bemaraha explorations

Anjà community reserve visit

Zombitse-Vohibasia Park visit

Reniala Reserve walk

Honko conservation site visit

Isalo National Park visit

Malagasy sundowner

• English Speaking leader

• Entrance fees as per itinerary

• Airport transfer for group flight

• Pre-trip Facebook group

Expert photographic tuition

Impressions of Madagascar itinerary

 

Day 1: Antananarivo
Depending on your flight arrival, we will proceed to the centre of this lively city for a brief tour, culminating in photography of the sunset over the beautiful Lake Anosy.
 

Included activities:
• Antananarivo city tour

Accommodation: Relais des Plateaux or similar

Meals included: Dinner

 

Day 2: Morondava
After a night in the capital, we transfer back to the airport for a flight to Morondava. Depending on our arrival time, we will have the chance to look around Morondava, and possibly even head out to the famous Avenue of the Baobabs for sunset. This grove of Adansonia grandidieri baobabs grows atmospherically on either side of the road, and is most spectacular on sunrise and sunset. If we don't get to photograph the Avenue today, we have plenty of time on day 2.

We will spend the night at our very comfortable hotel on the coast to ready ourselves for the adventurous expedition to come over the next few days!


Included activities:

• Tana to Morondava flight

Accommodation: Palissandre Cote Ouest Resort & Spa or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 3: Bekopaka Bemaraha
This morning will be a very early start so that we can drive to the Avenue of the Baobabs for sunrise. This can be even more atmospheric than the sunset, as there will be fewer tourists around. As the sun comes up, local people will head out to the fields to work, and we might even see a Zebu-cart heading through the avenue. These are simple carts, pulled by the lumbering oxen, known locally as zebu.

Today is a long day of driving, but through atmospheric scenery, with time to stop for photographs. On the first leg of the journey, we will be passing a number of baobab trees.

Part of the way through the journey we will board a local ferry at Tsimafana at the Tsiribihina River for an atmospheric voyage to the small town of Belo sur Tsiribihina. This is a dusty town, with a lively local market. Bizarrely, by the side of the road, is one of the best restaurants that I have encountered in Madagascar: the Mad Zebu! We will stop here for a a fantastic lunch before continuing on to the village of Bekopaka, and our home for the next three nights.


Included activities:
• Tsiribihina ferry

Accommodation: Le Soleil des Tsingy or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 4: Bekopaka Bemaraha
The Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which consists of fantastically eroded eroded karst limestone rock formations. Many of these are exceedingly sharp, and the word "Tsingy" is derived from a local word meaning "the place where one cannot walk barefoot".

In the 18th century, the Tsingy were the home of the Vazimba, the first inhabitants of Madagascar, who lived in caves surrounding limestone formations. Today, they are a place of worship and ceremony for the local population.

There is a good chance of seeing wildlife, especially chameleon and various species of lemurs in the forests surrounding the Tsingy.

In the morning, we will head out on a dugout exploration of the Manambolo River, and in the afternoon we will explore the Small Tsingy, a part of the reserve. Walking through the small Tsingy involves walking through deep chasms, and in places, climbing on to viewpoints which allow fantastic panoramas across the rock formations.


Included activities:

• Manambolo River dugout
• Small Tsingy exploration

Accommodation: Le Soleil des Tsingy or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 5: Bekopaka Bemaraha
Today we will be exploring the Great Tsingy area of the National Park. There are a couple of choices, depending on your level of fitness and adventurousness!

If you have a head for heights, and are relatively fit, then you can try the Andamozavaky Circuit of the Grand Tsingy. This is a full day excursion, which will take 4-6 hours depending on fitness. Your guide will have safety harnesses as there is a level of climbing involved. The Tsingy here are amazing, with pinnacles 50m high, but it is for the more adventurous!

As an alternative, there is an easy circular walk through thick forest with a very good chance of seeing various species of lemur en route. Last year, we had great sightings, including the Decken's sifaka, which is pictured on the banner of this page. The walk brings you out onto a couple of different viewpoints, were you can look out onto a vast sea of tsingy stretching out to the horizon.

Depending on our finishing town, it is worth walking around the village of Bekopaka to see the rural life of the (friendly) people of the region.


Included activities:

• Great Tsingy exploration
• Andamozavaky circuit (for the fit and adventurous)

Accommodation: Le Soleil des Tsingy or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 6: Marofandilia
We leave Bekopka, and retrace our route back towards Morondava. This includes the Tsiribihina River ferry and a lunch at the Mad Zebu! We then continue on to the Kirindy Forest for a diurnal visit of the reserve.

We will stop at the Marofandilia Forest, some 44km from Morondava, where we will stay at Camp Amoureux in order to enjoy diurnal and nocturnal walks in the forest. Camp Amoureux is an eco-lodge, managed with and for the benefit of the local community of Marofandilia, and is named after the presence of a big baobab at the camp site. Two circuits are possible from the camp so that you can discover the biodiversity of the protected area:

Marofandilia night circuit: good chance of seeing the famous Berthe's mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae), which is endemic to the region and various reptiles.

Marofandilia diurnal circuit: discovery of baobabs, dense dry forests, and a good chance to see the Sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi) and the brown lemur.


Included activities:
• Tsiribihina ferry
• Kirindy Forest reserve
• Marofandilia nocturnal circuit

Accommodation: Camp Amoureux or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 7: Morondava
Morning diurnal visit of the Marofandilia forest, where we also have a chance to see the iconic fossa, a cat-like, carnivorous mammal endemic to Madagascar, followed by a drive back to our hotel on the coast, in time to photograph the sunset at the Baobab alley, if we didn't manage to make it on day 2. Our hotel for tonight is remarkably comfortable and atmospheric, and will be a great place to recover from the hard travelling of the previous few days.

As well as relaxing, this is a perfect opportunity for editing and reviewing our pictures from the first week of the trip, and preparing for the rest of our adventure.


Included activities:

• Marofandilia diurnal circuit

Accommodation: Palissandre Cote Ouest Resort & Spa or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 8: Antananarivo
Transfer to the airport of Morondava to be on time for our flight back to Tana with TZ703 (13h50 / 14h50). Transfer to our hotel in Tana (with possibility of a brief city tour with an early flight).
 

Included activities:
• Possible Antananarivo city tour

Accommodation: Relais des Plateaux or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 9: Antsirabe
In the morning, we will visit the Lemur Park on the outskirts of Tana. This is a reserve with a number of lemur species from all around the country. These are relatively tame, which makes photography much easier. We will then proceed to the city of Antsirabe to the South. The journey is around 182 kilometres, and should take around four hours.

We will stop at a metal recycling and casting factory en route, where scrap metal is melted down and cast into a range of local hardware and tourist souvenirs in very basic conditions with little health and safety at all!

The city of Antsirabe is the third largest in the country, and due to its location in the Highlands, benefits from a relatively cool climate. It is a pleasant and photogenic city, with faded colonial architecture, and a very high concentration of hand-pulled rickshaws known locally as pousse-pousse.

Antsirabe also has a lively and photogenic local market, where you will be able to buy vanilla pods, which the country is famous for. This will also be a good opportunity to sample a local delicacy: vanilla pods steeped in local rum!

This evening, we will enjoy a welcome meeting and dinner.


Included activities:

• Lemur Park entrance

Accommodation: Plumeria Hôtel or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 10: Fianarantsoa
This morning we will have a chance to look around Antsirabe, and the local market, before heading off on a journey to the city of Fianarantsoa. The total journey will be around 240 kilometres, and will take around 6 hours.

We will drive south along the Route National n°7, through the beautiful landscapes of the Betsileo region and its terrace rice fields. Our first stop is Ambositra to visit the Zafimaniry woodcarving workshops where the sculptures are made by rosewood & ebony.

Depending on our arrival time, we will look around the atmospheric old town of Fianarantsoa, which is situated on a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside.


Included activities:

• Zafimaniry woodcarving workshop
• Welcome meeting & dinner

Accommodation: Ecole Hôtelière La Rizière or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 11: Fianarantsoa
Today is dedicated to visiting the unique Soatanana village. In the heart of Betsileo, the village of Soatanana is the historic cradle of the community of Disciples of the Lord (Mpianatry ny Tompo) a fundamentalist Protestant movement that includes 80% of the population. Every Sunday, the followers dress in an immaculate white dress and process en masse towards the big church where the service takes place.

This really is an amazing experience. The people are warm and friendly, and we will be able to photograph the procession and will then be invited to lunch by the disciples. Not only is the an opportunity to take incredible photographs, it is a humbling experience to be allowed to take a small part in these devout people's lives.


Included activities:

• Soatanana village visit

Accommodation: Ecole Hôtelière La Rizière or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 12: Ranohira (Isalo)
Today we continue down Route National n°7 to Ranohira, which is known as the gateway to the Isalo National Park. The total distance is around 280 kilometres, but the road is good so it should take around 5 hours.

En route we will visit the Anjà community reserve in Ambalavao, where there is a good chance of being able to see and photograph the iconic Ring-Tailed Lemur, known locally as the Maki. The reserve is home to the highest concentration of maki in all of Madagascar.


Included activities:

• Anjà community reserve visit

Accommodation: Le Relais de la Reine or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 13: Ranohira (Isalo)
Starting early, we will enjoy a full day exploration of the Isalo National Park. This sandstone landscape that has been eroded by wind and water into rocky outcrops, plateaus, extensive plains and up to 200 m deep canyons. There are permanent rivers and streams as well as many seasonal watercourses.

The park is most noted for the Verreaux's sifaka, also known as the dancing lemurs, due to their habit of hopping on the ground between trees.

At the end of the day, we will enjoy a sundowner with Malagasy dancers and singers.


Included activities:

• Isalo National Park visit
• Malagasy sundowner

Accommodation: Le Relais de la Reine or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 14: Ifaty
From Ranohira we drive to Ifaty on the coast: a distance of 270km, taking around 5 hours.

We will break our journey at the Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park. There are 90 species of birds here, including 38 which are endemic. Eight species of lemur can also be found here.

We will also visit of the Honko conservation site: a Mangrove Conservation project run by reef doctor.

An arrival we will check into our accommodation overlooking the lagoon of Ifaty.


Included activities:

• Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park visit
• Honko conservation site visit

Accommodation: Le Paradisier or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 15: Ifaty
We start with an early morning birding walk to the Reniala Reserve, which is noted for the spiny forest of baobab trees and birdlife. We will then return to hotel for breakfast, and time at leisure.

In the afternoon, we will drive back to Reniala for a private dinner party in the edge of the biggest baobabs of the park, with traditional entertainment. Depending on the weather, this might be a good opportunity to also try to shoot some star trails.


Included activities:

• Reniala Reserve walk
• Al Fresco Dinner party

Accommodation: Le Paradisier or similar

Meals included: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

 

Day 16: Tour ends
Morning free at leisure. This should allow us to go for an optional whale-watching excursion, although the dates that the whales arrive will vary. In the afternoon, we transfer to the airport of Tulear to be on time for our flight back to Tana with TZ719 (17h25 / 18h30). All arrangements finish at the airport, ready for our homeward flight.
 

Included activities:
• Tulear to Tana flight

Accommodation: Relais des Plateaux or similar

Meals included: Breakfast

 

 

 

Please note: domestic flight schedules in Madagascar are subject to change and delay and certain routes (such as Tana to Morondava) don't fly every day. This explains why we have had to include an extra day in Morondava, but this does give us another chance to photograph the Avenue of Baobabs at sunset - if something goes wrong on day 2.

Because of the cost (and quality) of the accommodation on this trip, we will need to manage the bookings so that no one is left with a single room, without paying the single supplement. If you are a solo traveller then every effort will be made to ensure that there is someone for you to share with. This has usually always been possible, but if you are flexible about the choice of accommodation when filling out the booking form, then that will give you more chance to secure a place.

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