Two People To The Colombian Amazon Rainforest For Under $600

Avianca has some really good deals going on right now that can get 2 people from Miami to Leticia in the Colombian Amazon Rainforest for less than $600!  If you don’t live near Miami, then use Avios on AA for a shorthaul.  Here’s a sample booking.

Leticia1 Leticia2 Leticia3Once you get there, find a nice eco-lodge and enjoy the birds!  Here’s a couple I found online though I haven’t stayed at either myself, they do look really good!

Amazonas Jungle Tours

Yoi Ecotours

This is a really good opportunity for those in the USA who can take advantage of it, I know I’d be jumping on it!

 

Can Low Cost Carriers Bridge The Gap When Miles Let You Down?

As I’ve mentioned before, the miles and points game is getting harder and harder to win.  Credit cards are harder to churn and airlines have tightened up on releasing award space, especially in business & first class.  You will find yourself in economy class more often than not, not because you don’t have the miles but because you can’t find any other seats.

Yesterday, one of my favourite travel bloggers – Drew from Travel is Free posted an intriguing round the world trip using only low cost carriers (LCCs).  One of the commenters led me to a similar post by Trevor of Tagging Miles.

So I started thinking, “I am an eco-tourism & birding travel blogger based in Australia, what could I do with LCCs”?

Air Asia is a given with a wide network all over Asia and serves several Australian airports.  The closest to me in Brisbane would be the Gold Coast OOL.  Cebu Pacific also has a nice network but only serves Sydney but once you get to Asia it is very cheap and very useful.

Air Asia OOL Air Asia KUL Cebu Pacific mapSo even after the miles & points game is dead, I can still get to some amazing birding hotspots in Asia!  But what if I want to go further away, say all the way to Africa?  I’ll need to switch to a different LCC’s network.  Enter FlyDubai.  Now we can use either Colombo, Sri Lanka or Kochi, India as a connecting point and the best thing is that both places have access to great birding destinations – Thattekad and Kithulgala respectively!

FlyDubai mapSo here’s an example of a one-way trip from Brisbane (via OOL) to Entebbe, Uganda which is one of the countries on my proposed “Godmother of All African Adventures“.

We would fly on Air Asia to Colombo on Air Asia and stopover a couple days to re-visit Kithulgala which I loved the first time we were there.  I’ll convert everything to USD to suit most readers.

LCC challenge 1 LCC challenge 1.5Next we fly from Colombo to Entebbe on FlyDubai.

LCC challenge 2Please note that some LCCs will charge extra for checked bags, meals, seat assignments so you need to check the T&Cs of each carrier and consider if you would have any checked bags.  If you can make these flights work for you, you can get from Brisbane to Uganda for $573.

If you booked direct from BNE to EBB, the cheapest fare I could find on Expedia to use as an example is this one on Etihad (which is a really good airline) for $811.

LCC challenge 3So you can save $238 by using the LCC option which may or may not be significant to you but you also gain the opportunity to stop over in Sri Lanka enroute!  Or you may decide $238 isn’t enough to lure you away from flying a top rated airline that would earn you some miles in AA or VA’s programs.

I can think of many people who would prefer to pay more for Etihad and many who would choose Air Asia & FlyDubai.  But it’s always nice to have choices!

I Had Forgotten How Much Fun A Road Trip Can Be

Over the last few years, we have been concentrating on elaborate overseas birding trips funded by airline miles.  Now that the miles opportunities are slowing down, we’ll be doing more road trips out of our home town of Brisbane to birding hotspots.  This has always been part of the plan as I mentioned back around New Years.  We are actually very lucky in that there are many to choose from within a 3-4 hour drive!

I thought I’d point out a few advantages road trips have over trips that involve flying.

  1. You can pack as much as you want without regard to size or weight.  And you don’t have to fight for overhead bin space.
  2. You can leave anytime you want, no worries about catching the last bus to the airport or calling a taxi.
  3. You can stop and eat when and where you want.  Grab some fast food or take a leisurely lunch with a scenic view!
  4. You can bring food from home to BBQ, cheaper than eating out.
  5. You can bring camping gear to save on accommodation.
  6. No security (TSA/airport) searches.
  7. No waiting in line unless you hit traffic during school holidays or Christmas/Easter breaks.  Just don’t travel at those times.
  8. You can play any music you like while driving.
  9. No screaming kids (unless they are yours)!  And if they are yours at least you aren’t bothering other people.
  10.  Stretch out and be comfortable – no cramped airline seats.
  11. No currency conversions/devaluations (especially since the AUD has been nose-diving)!
  12. No immigration & customs hassles to deal with – at least for Aussies.  There’s no other country we can drive to!

Over the next few weeks, I will be blogging about some cool places you can drive to from Brisbane.  We just returned from Lake Coomunda (green dot near Oman Ama) and Karara/Gore/Durikai (red dot).  Then I will cover a road trip we did last year which was a bit longer and involved driving to Bowra Station near Cunnamulla (not on this map but to the west of Inglewood), the Stanthorpe/Girraween area (blue dots) and Lamington National Park (purple dot).

SEQ Birding

This is by no means a complete list of birding hotspots in Queensland, they are just the ones I have been to personally.

Copa Offers Great Bargains To Central & South America

Sometimes you don’t need miles to get an incredible deal to your favourite birding hotspot!

How about Costa RicaPeruBrazil?

Blue and Gold Macaw (Ara ararauna)

Blue and Gold Macaw (Ara ararauna)

Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus)

Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus)

C82

Enjoy our promotion and buy your tickets on 4th of July and travel from United States and Puerto Rico** to incredible destinations through the Hub of the Americas in Panama.

Buy your ticket from July 3 through July 7, 2015 an travel between August 1 and October 25, 2015. 

 

48 Hours – $1 Lonely Planet Chapters

For 48 hours, all Lonely Planet digital chapters are just a $1 (reg. $4.95).

Download guides on restaurants, attractions, hotels and more for your favorite travel destinations.  I’ll be stocking up on Ecuador and Colombia for next year’s trip!

Enter coupon code PAYPAL1 at checkout.
Terms apply. See offer terms below.
Offer expires 7/2/2015.

Shop before 7/2/2015 at shop.lonelyplanet.com.

A Couple Good IHG Pointbreaks For Eco-tourists

The latest IHG Pointbreaks list which offers specified hotels for a bargain 5000 points was less than inspiring.  Oceana & Africa missed out completely.  The complete list can be found here.  The best options are for people doing USA road trips.  This list is valid for bookings through 31 July.

Consider these possibilities if you are headed to South America.  Cuiaba is the gateway to the Pantanal.  The hotel is pretty nice although not the best location if you are going for an early start.  We did this trip in 2012 before I started this blog so I don’t have posts yet but I will be blogging my past trips as soon as I finish the current trips.

BRAZIL
HOLIDAY INN CUIABA

Although this hotel is a city property, Panama City’s small size means it’s not such a long drive to Soberania National Park.  Get yourself an award ticket to PTY, a rental car and book a few nights for a long weekend of birding!

PANAMA
CROWNE PLAZA PANAMA

How To Beat The Overpriced Taxis To The Airport

There seems to be some kind of racket in Arusha where all taxis charge $50 to the airport.  I am no fan of taxis at the best of times and even less so when I think I am getting ripped off.  Now for most people, your safari company will pick you up at the airport (maybe with additional charge so ask) but most people also stick around Arusha for a day or so afterwards to sightsee on their own.  When you are ready to leave, if you ask your hotel to call a taxi, it will cost $50.  Taxis on the street may be more willing to bargain but they do tend to jack up the prices for foreigners going to the airport.  Some of the domestic carriers do have shuttles but we were on Ethiopian Airlines that didn’t have a shuttle.

You don’t have to put up with these rates, here’s how to get 2 people to the airport for around $10.  Here’s the basic route using L’Oasis Lodge (highly recommend) as a starting point.

Arusha to airportStep 1 – Lodge to main road.  For L’Oasis, this is about 10 minute walk down a dirt road to the main road.

IMG_7100 IMG_7099 IMG_7312

Step 2 – You will see a bus station and usually several people waiting for buses.  Mini-buses will pull up and the conductor will shout the destination.  When you hear “Moshi, Moshi, Moshi”, hop in.  The fare is around 3000-4000 Tanzanian Shillings, about $2.50 USD.  The mini-bus will be crowded and if you have heavy luggage (which you really shouldn’t) you may want to pay for extra seats.  It will take around an hour to the junction.  Tell the conductor you are hopping out at the airport junction road.  You won’t be the only one, though you will probably be the only foreigner.

IMG_7313 IMG_7314

Step 3 – At the junction, taxis will be waiting and approach you.  We paid 10,000 TZS, around $5 USD.  Since we had plenty of time, we had lunch in a cafe and I decided to get my hair braided while my husband got a shave.

IMG_7315 IMG_7316 IMG_7317But there’s your transport from Arusha to the airport for around $10 USD!

Travel Planning When Your Currency Is Taking A Nosedive

I’ve always had big dreams and big plans to travel to lots of countries where I can see wild birds and parrots in particular.  Dreams are not enough, I also carefully spreadsheet my goals for accumulating enough miles to make these dream trips come true.  I’d like to say I am in charge of my own travel destiny but in some ways I can’t be.  Having your country’s currency lose 20% of its value can throw a huge monkey-wrench into even the best laid plans.

This first chart represents the last 6 months for those who have AUD and want USD.  Pretty shocking, especially when you consider how many tour operators quote in USD.

AUD nosedives

This chart shows the last 5 years to give a bigger picture.  We’ve had some ups and downs but mostly ups.  It’s been a good few years for Aussies!

AUD nosedives2This year we are only doing one overseas trip to Thailand and Malaysia for birding and the Cook Islands (to see family).  The AUD has also gone down against the Thai Baht, but the overall cheapness of the country makes the visit still economically possible.  Surprisingly the AUD has pretty much stayed the same against the Malaysian Ringgit.

Next year we are in trouble.  I had big plans for Peru, Bolivia, the Caribbean (birding) and the USA (to see family).  The birding in Peru & Bolivia requires dealing with locally based tour operators who price their packages in USD and you have to pay a substantial deposit up front and the balance 30 days before arrival.  We can’t do these trips as DIYs as you have to use private river transport (Peru) or possibly small planes (Bolivia) packaged with accommodation and birding excursions.  So the unfortunate result is these two trips have to be postponed to a time the AUD is more favorable.  The Caribbean is also USD-centric but I can use points in some places like Puerto Rico and Hotels.com Welcome Rewards to ease the pain and all other expenses would be paid on the spot, not in advance.

I still want to go birding in South America so what to do?  The answer is to find countries where I can book and pay for lodges online ad-hoc and watch for discounts on hotel booking engines such as Pointshound & Rocketmiles.  I found the ideal countries in Ecuador & Colombia.  Ecuador is small, easy to get around and other than the Amazon region I can book lodges online and pay for guides and other expenses when we get there.  Colombia is no longer as risky as it used to be and has an amazing bird list, plus it’s still cheap.

We can use Lifemiles for Aerogal in Ecuador and Avianca in Colombia and also use Avios for LAN in Ecuador and Colombia.  In fact either option even gets us to the Galapagos! Some places can be cheaply accessed by bus.  By choosing countries where I can pay with Aussie credit cards or withdraw the local currency from an ATM against my Aussie bank and avoid involving USD, I can keep the costs down and take advantage of better rates in cheaper countries.

The lesson here is don’t let currency fluctuations derail your whole trip!  Peru and Bolivia will still be there when the AUD goes up again…………..and it will.  Just be flexible and look for alternatives, they are out there!

 

Hot Deal Alert – Save $100-200 Expedia Hotels (Eco-Lodges Included)

UPDATE:  The deal is dead and the codes are no longer being accepted by Expedia.

HT:  Doctor of Credit for this fantastic deal!  It’s only one use per account and you have to stay at least 3 nights and most of our trip is one night or 2, but it worked out cheaper to just book 3 nights and check out in the late afternoon on the 3rd day rather than pay 2 nights.

Receive an instant $100 coupon discount on a qualifying hotel booking of three (3) or more consecutive nights at select hotels when you use the offer code DISCVR105. Receive an instant $150 coupon discount on a qualifying hotel booking of four (4) or more consecutive nights at select hotels when you use the offer code DISCVR151. Receive an instant $200 coupon discount on a qualifying hotel booking of five (5) or more consecutive nights at select hotels when you use the offer code DISCVR201. Please find a list of hotel properties excluded from this offer below.

CompleteT&Cs for the promo

There are a lot of eco-lodges you can book through Expedia so here’s a great chance to save money where you normally wouldn’t!  I just wish our trip to Ecuador & Colombia for next year was in booking range!

If you can use this deal, don’t take too long.  Although it is valid until March 15, 2015 for travel completed by no later than August 31, 2015; I have seen promos like this get shut down earlier due to massive response.

 

Americans, Take Notice – Australia Is Currently A Bargain For You!

If anyone has read my series on birding in West Australia and Tasmania and wishing they could afford to come here but scared off by the high Aussie dollar, wait no more!  The USD is especially strong right now but you never know when things could change.  With the AA/US merger happening and the generous redemption rates currently in effect, this may be your year to visit Australia.  If you haven’t bought that $5 Lonely Planet book, you still have 4 hours from now!

I also have a series about birding in Queensland coming up after I finish the Africa series.

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Bad news for us Aussies but good news for Americans!  Thankfully since we are only going to Southeast Asia & Cook Islands this year we won’t be too badly burned.  I’m really glad we did the bulk of our travel last year!