Image credit: Jeff Eckert
A decade ago, travelling to far-flung places to observe science and wonders was not the instinct of the casual tourist, nor was green travel or eco-tourism on the radar of many a holidaymaker. Times are a-changing and economic development and social progress has birthed a more empowered globetrotter — determined to re-engage nature.
For the sojourner fascinated by and passionate about the planet, Quotient has some holiday ideas to share for the year ahead.
MARCH: Stargazing at the Universe
The sky has always been a source of fascination and inspiration for an array of individuals, from scientists to poets and thinkers to professional or amateur astronomers. And small wonder, with the scale of its perks and mysteries.
What better way is there to contemplate constellations and distant galaxies such as the Milky Way other than from an internationally awarded place? Alentejo, only two hours’ drive from Lisbon is an off-the-beaten-path destination which may not be the draw card for Portugal, but will certainly have you, science lovers, enamoured. Take a trip to Alqueva, the first site in the world to receive the “Starlight Tourism Destination” certification by the Starlight Foundation, an accolade supported by UNESCO and World Tourism Organization. Spanning approximately 3,000 square kilometres, the Dark Sky Reserve is one of nature’s rawest phenomena where you can indulge in admiring a wonderful sky cloaked by a huge blanket of stars — a true unparalleled experience.
For amateur stargazers, the opportunity to observe a clear sky and constellations with the naked eye is perhaps something only dreamed of, or seen artificially, in a planetarium, where you are constricted by scholarly lessons. When it comes to Alqueva, though, you are promised a genuine experience. On a clear night, you will be able to recognise all the constellations, identify the stars and even spot some deep sky objects with the naked eye. Binoculars and telescopes are also available at key locations to enhance the visual experience.
On the other hand, for experts, deep sky objects such as galaxies, nebulas and star clusters can be visible down to 52 degrees south declination. With low light pollution and clarity of the sky, seeing the dim deep sky objects and the moon and planets in sharp focus will be an unexpected delight. There’s more to marvelling at the jaw-dropping skies, thanks to Dark Sky Route, an association of accommodation and activities. Visitors can opt for bird watching, hiking, horseback riding during Full Moon (for beginners) or New Moon (star-lit astro-equestrian for experienced riders), wildlife observation, canoeing on Lake Alqueva, dinners on the lake shore and even tasting of superb local wines.
MAY: Move over, Ninja Turtles
Located in the island province of East Kalimantan and in the Strait of Sulawesi, not far from the border with Malaysia, the utopian Derawan Islands is a marine tourism destination renowned for soft white sand beaches, pristine seas and an impressive underwater life such as the famous giant turtles, dolphins, manta rays, dugongs, stingless jellyfish and sometimes whales. Besides its spectacular beaches, owing to the beautiful ecosystem, Derawan is also a divers’ paradise, with more than 28 diving spots.
For the environmentalist, the enchanting islands will be an opportunity to immerse in nature, witnessing some of the most fascinating underwater landscapes and marine gardens, which are home to the island’s famous green sea turtle. Measuring about 90cm in length and weighing up to 150kg, the sizeable creature remarkably graceful in water is one of the reasons so many tourists flock to the lesser known island.
As the Derawan Island chain is one of the stops along the green turtle’s lengthy migration route and the natural habitat for their mating and nesting, a trip to the island is guaranteed to be enriching. Take a trip to Derawan between April and June, when the peak nesting season takes place.
JULY/AUGUST: Back to wildlife in Sri Lanka
Despite its small size, the country boasts one of the highest rates of biological endemism in the world, both in plants and animals and is included in the top five biodiversity hotspots in the world. In Sri Lanka, the nature enthusiast can boast of coming close to rare species such as the Sri Lanka Asian elephant, the sloth bear, leopards and wild buffaloes.
Safaris, national parks and animal shelters are plenty and satisfying, but for a true taste of conservation efforts, get ready to roll your sleeves and do some hard work. Over at Wasgamuwa, your encounter with wildlife may not be that up close and personal, but you will certainly understudy staff of the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society and make a useful contribution to helping the animals, especially the Asian elephant, in their natural habitat.Your week-long stint will be spent checking various sites for elephant activity, ensuring equipment outfield such as electric fencing is functioning, and taking down notes on the behaviour of the elephants for use in analysis and conservation efforts. There will also be opportunities to mingle with villagers, observe livelihood development projects and understand more about the local natural environment.
If it is your first visit to the island-country, grab the chance to also visit its outstanding monuments and ancient cities or relax on its glorious silky beaches.
OCTOBER/NOVEMBER: Helping geeks disCERN
Atoms and particles fascinate you and you fancy cutting-edge technologies, then what we recommend is easy enough: take a trip to CERN, the largest laboratory in the world. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the research centre doesn’t take much to blow your mind.
Twenty-seven metres high and 40 metres in diameter and about the size of St. Peter’s dome in Rome, the lab is a unique visual landmark by day and night and offers some of the most compelling insights in the world of science. After all, here is where the World Wide Web (WWW) was invented in 1989; the first website at CERN and in the world was dedicated to the World Wide Web project itself. The lab includes an astonishing 100 metres below the ground accelerator that simulates the conditions occurring fractions of a second after the Big Bang.
Already famous as a MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) destination, Geneva has been stepping up the charm on leisure visitors in recent years. The birthplace of Swiss watchmaking has a dedicated Watch Tour, an easy 2-hour self-guided walk, and promises free transport right from the train ride into town from the airport, among other initiatives. You can participate in a half-day workshop to make your own watch, attend a knife assembly and carving session at Victorinox’s flagship store, or purchase some limited Geneva wines.
With the world being rich in fantastic places, you’ll be saying bon voyage faster than you’d imagine!