It took a bit longer than usual this winter, but it finally seems to be getting consistently cold (can you say “global weirding?”). That means it’s time to start planning those winter vacations, and the NYTimes list “The 45 Places to Go in 2012” has some great ideas. Whether you’re a mountain man, a city slicker, a beach bum or a snow bunny, the NYTimes has got you covered (for the record, you don’t have to be any of these things; this list is long enough for everyone to find something they’ll enjoy). Two of the most intriguing destinations on the list are Uganda and the Dominican Republic, places where the Undiscovered Travel Collection is heavily represented.

Coming in at No. 33 on the list is Uganda, the “pearl of Africa.” Home to over half of the worlds’ remaining population of mountain gorillas, Uganda also boasts high numbers of bird species as well as a breathtaking variety of terrain, from some of the highest mountains in Africa—the Rwenzori Mountains—to sprawling savannahs and dense jungles. Pearls of Uganda, a collection of community tourism enterprises represented by the UTC, allows visitors to experience all of what this beautiful country has to offer while giving back to the communities in which they stay. All Pearls, such as the Batwa Trail and Katwe Salt Lake Tour, employ local people as staff and the funds generated go to community development projects such as schools and health clinics. Uganda is the perfect place for all you philanthropic adventure seekers.

Now for all you beach bums out there, two spots down from Uganda at No. 35 is the Samaná Peninsula in the Dominican Republic. While the Undiscovered Travel Collection does not have clients on the peninsula itself, a number of them are quite close, such as the Dominican Treasures Fair Trade Chocolate Tour and the Caño Hondo Ecolodge, and all tourism enterprises benefit from an increase in positive attention. The article highlights the peninsula’s beaches and its potential for ecotourism, two things the DR as a whole has a lot of, but warns that the crowds are coming, so you should hurry there.

So if you’re looking to escape from the cold and also want an adventure with a hint of responsible tourism, you can’t go wrong with Uganda or the Dominican Republic. Be sure to check out the Collection’s initiatives in both countries while making your plans, and feel free to take a look at our other destinations to give yourself some ideas for future trips!

Have you ever wanted to dive among the world’s most diverse and remarkable underwater ecosystems but couldn’t find the time for a trip to Australia? Well want no more because the world’s second largest barrier reef, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, is the perfect place for you to fulfill that wish. Stretching from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to the Bay Islands of Honduras, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is a beautiful reef system with a stunning level of biodiversity rivaling that of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. But much like its famous cousin across the seas, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is threatened by human activity and needs your help to survive.

Carey Satin, a volunteer with Solimar International—the parent company of The Undiscovered Travel Collection—created a brief documentary (click here for the video) based on her work in the Bay Islands at the southern end of the reef. The documentary consists of a compilation of Satin’s personal underwater images portraying the vibrant, colorful reef ecosystem and an educational narrative discussing the wonders and importance of barrier reefs and how sustainable tourism, particularly sustainable dive tourism, can help with the reef’s recovery and survival.

The documentary’s primary objective—to increase awareness of and support for ecological conservation initiatives along the reef—is perfectly in tune with Solimar’s mission. “Tourism,” Satin says, “can work in concert with conservation allowing for the use of natural capital in ways that can be profitable while maintaining the health and productivity of vital ecosystems such as coral reefs,” and this is exactly what we here at Solimar strive to do. So, if you’re looking for a fun adventure that simultaneously allows you to support the conservation of one of the world’s most beautiful and important ecosystems, then a diving trip to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is just the ticket, and The Undiscovered Travel Collection can help you get there.

When you think of Mali, do you think of trekking? According to the Lonely Planet, if you didn’t before, you should now. The famed travel guides have named Mali’s Pays Dogon the third best trek in the world, only behind treks in Corsica and the Peruvian Andes. A trek through ‘the land of the Dogon people’, which can last anywhere from two to ten days, is a natural and cultural experience like no other.

The journey through Pays Dogon, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is set among the rolling plains of West Africa leading up to the rugged red cliffs of the Bandiagara escarpment, and takes trekkers through pungent onion fields and groves of baobab trees. Trekkers can see sacred crocodiles near Amani village, jacana and youyou birds in the trees along the trails, and can immerse themselves in the Dogon culture during tours of the numerous villages throughout the region. The people of this culture, known for its intricate ceremonial masks and colorful, vibrant festivals and dances, welcome all visitors to experience the land they’ve called home for centuries.

As a member of Solimar International’s Undiscovered Travel Collection, Pays Dogon exemplifies sustainable tourism. The communities involved are currently working on establishing the Dogon Travelers Donation Fund, through which guests will be able to contribute to community projects including the purchase of school supplies, support for farmers, and environmental conservation efforts. Participants in the Pays Dogon experience contribute directly to the economic stability of a community and have the opportunity to increase their own environmental and cultural understanding.

So, if an unrivaled natural and cultural experience coupled with a bit of philanthropy is what you’re looking for, then a trip to Pays Dogon is just the ticket. On behalf of all of us here at Solimar, I thank the Lonely Planet, and most importantly, all you travelers, for recognizing Pays Dogon’s cultural and natural wonders and spreading the word.

Who says winter vacations have to involve snow? National Geographic Traveler recently listed the Namibia Coast as one of the top ten destinations for a winter getaway in 2012, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any snow there. From the world’s highest sand dunes to lagoons filled with migratory and seabirds, Namibia’s 976-mile South Atlantic coast has something for everyone. November to April is summer in Namibia and is the best time for anyone to visit, not just those freezing their behinds off up north.

The meeting of the Namib Desert and the South Atlantic’s Benguela current make for a cool, comfortable, foggy environment that has been largely unexplored. Take a fly-in safari to get a bird’s-eye view of the northern Skeleton Coast, a remote protected area where one can see shipwrecks and whale skeletons in a sea of sand, or take special guided tours of Namibia’s newest—and practically inaccessible—national park, Sperrgebiet, situated along the southern Diamond Coast. This park has the highest level of biodiversity in Namibia, which is saying quite a lot for a country possessing a plethora of flora and fauna known for adapting to harsh conditions.  It is also the location of the famous De Beers diamond-mining lease.

While this coastal desert is a naturalists’ dream, it also has great activities for all you adventure tourists out there. Sand board down the towering dunes, kayak in Walvis Bay lagoon and see flamingoes, seals, and dolphins around Pelican Point, or go deep sea fishing out of ports such as Swakopmund and Lϋderitz. Namibia’s numerous tour operators, located in all major cities, will help you plan your trip.

Namibia’s dedication to ecotourism means that whatever activity you choose to do during your coastal vacation, you are contributing to the conservation of the country’s natural wonders and to the preservation of the cultural heritage of the people who help you experience them. This sustainable, responsible tourism is what we here at the Undiscovered Travel Collection are all about, and we hope you consider Namibia’s Coastal Desert for your next winter trip!

Hello to all our readers,

Jackson Stubbs here. I’m a Marketing Coordinator with Solimar International’s Undiscovered Travel Collection. I enjoy sports, the outdoors, and probably most of all, traveling (my travel list is long but not specific; I’ll go anywhere I haven’t been before, and I’d like to get back to few of the places I’ve already seen).

Born and raised in Melrose, MA, I have had a keen interest in traveling since I was in elementary school. My parents took me on a number of awesome trips around North America and Europe in my younger days, and I caught the travel bug sometime back then, which is good because it got a little boring spending most of my time three blocks from where I was born.

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These traveling experiences developed into a passion for encountering new cultures and helping people less fortunate than me, and in the summers of 2008 and 2010, I participated in a research and development project in a rural community in Nepal (that is where I am in the picture above). Living with, learning about, and helping the people of this impoverished village inspired me to get into the development field. This experience also allowed me to witness first-hand how responsible tourism can benefit the economic development of poor communities, which ultimately brought me to where I am today.

With Solimar’s Undiscovered Travel Collection, I work on marketing for community tourism enterprises in East Africa in an effort to promote sustainable tourism and strengthen the economies of local communities. I am on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube all day getting the word out, but I do a lot of writing and editing as well, which suites me just fine (those who know me would say that I have the horribly impolite habit of correcting people’s grammar) and this provides me the forum to do that without making people want to forcibly shut me up.

As for the future, I hope to continue my travels, live and work abroad in the development industry, establish new relationships, and share my experiences with anyone willing to listen, which hopefully includes you.

Until next time,

Jackson

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