Turtle, Ecuador

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Your Words - We tell it like it is! Holiday Reviews by previous Exodus travellers  

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  • Reviewed June 2019
    Jane Von Ruhland

    An extra special wildlife based holiday

    From sitting in a hide observing a glittering night time scene , to searching for Chamois from a hillside viewpoint , this trip encapsulates the world of the Brown Bear explained by the expert Julian Perry . He leads the group across an outstandingly scenic mountain terrain and presents the techniques to track and record the presence of Brown Bears in a non-intrusive way . We were very adequately accommodated in a centre-based family run hotel from where we walked or were driven to local forestry trails and areas used by Bears. With a tremendous knowledge of the ecology of the region , the leader identified and enabled us to observe and photograph flora and fauna including many wildflowers , birds , reptiles , mammals , amphibians and insects.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The trip to the Hide at night , lit by moonlight lighting effects , and seeing what was identified by our Leader as a Wildcat at the end of that first evening . Seeing Brown Bear prints and learning of the age and gender . Seeing other signs of Brown Bear presence , like hair , scratch marks in trees . Seeing signs of other mammals such as wolf , pine martin and hedgehog. Identifying wildflowers and butterflies with the leader and other group members.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    A leader who can speak fluently the language of the host country , and with an outstanding experience and knowledge of the wildlife , specifically the Brown Bear based on qualified research , who can present this to and lead a range of walkers and interested wildlife enthusiasts is fantastic . He is very informative and respectful of the history of the region and its people. He is always helpful and made the trip the most special week .

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Read and look up information on Mountain animals and wildlife . Go on some wildlife survey work voluntarily with your local group beforehand if you can . It was the first time I had used binoculars but that was not a problem for me because I had some previous experience of wildlife surveys. Enjoy the leaders knowledge . Enjoy the groups knowledge . We were lucky to also have a Badger expert in our group .Enjoy the scenery , natural world and the food and company!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    I saw a lot of natural life I had not seen before and would like to go on this trip again. If I did I would like to try to go on a Land Only reservation and travel over ground by train , boat and train to Sophia to meet the group . This way it would be even more environmentally sound, and less damaging as no flight would be involved.
  • Reviewed May 2019
    Jonathan Proud

    A superb week of walking in beautiful scenery

    Our base in a small, traditional village in the mountains was perfect for walks into the surrounding area. The biodiversity of the Rodopi mountains is amazing and our exceptionally knowledgeable leader helped us identify mammal scats and tracks, birds, reptiles, insects and plants, many of which were new to me. The walks were at a gentle pace, allowing plenty of time for photography.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    I'd chosen the trip hoping to see a bear, but there was so much more to it than that. The number and variety of reptiles and butterflies amazed me. The variety of mammal scats and tracks along the forest paths was remarkable, and Julian was able to identify them for us and tell us about the different species. I loved the evening trips to the bear hide and although we didn't see a bear, we did watch wild boar which I'd never seen before.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the local fauna and flora. He was well organised, spoke clearly and, being fluent in Bulgarian, communicated easily with the local people too, ensuring that the trip ran smoothly. During breaks on our walks, he gave short talks covering aspects of bear biology and his research work, as well as the traditional farming practices which have maintained diversity in the meadows and forests.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    The walks are at a sensible pace, but the terrain is steep in places, so a reasonable level of fitness will make the trip more enjoyable. At the end of April temperatures varied widely during the day, so be prepared with layers of clothing to add or remove as required.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    The hotel was of a high standard, being warm and comfortable, with good sized rooms and modern plumbing. The food was delicious, most of it locally produced, and the staff were friendly and helpful. I enjoyed learning about the leader's research work as he checked camera traps and recorded tracks, scats and other signs of bear activity during our walks. We were observers on this trip and there was no pretence that we were 'volunteering'. Having been on unsatisfactory 'voluntourism' trips before, I found this refreshingly honest.
  • Reviewed October 2018
    T J

    A Fascinating Adventure!

    This was a truly wonderful trip that combines hiking, wildlife and scientific research, in a unique blend of 'eco-research-tourism'. Exodus - please offer more tours like this!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The whole trip was inspirational, though the most inspirational part is learning about the bears and other wildlife that live in these mountains, then slowly starting to understand how it all fits together. In addition, the Rodopi mountains are beautiful, particularly in Autumn - there are some great hikes in this trip, with fabulous views. The hotel and food were also great, with local milk, cheese and honey straight from the village. It was also good to be based in a single hotel for the week, with lots of walks starting and finishing right on our doorstep.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about all aspects of biology, particularly bears. He is clearly well-known and connected in the local area, and did a great job of making everything run smoothly. One of the highlights of the trip were daily 'lectures' from Julian, usually during our scenic picnic lunches, about the various aspects of bear ecology.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    If you have a reasonable level of fitness and have some hiking experience, you should be fine on this trip. A typical day would comprises leaving the hotel with a packed lunch at 08:30 and returning at around 16:00, hiking slowly in the mountains in-between. We totaled 75 km and 3500 m height gain over our 6 days of walking, with hikes ranging from 8 - 14 km. So, the pace is pretty slow, as we were constantly stopping to look for wildlife / change camera traps etc. Julian will adjust the pace and route depending on the groups fitness level and interests anyway. That said, the terrain is fairly steep and rocky, though the trails are good. So, if you have new gear or are relatively inexperienced at hiking, it would be a good idea to put in a bit of practice beforehand so that you get the most out of your trip.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Don't come expecting to see a bear. This is not a 'bear-watching' trip, but a chance to explore and learn about the Eurasian Brown Bear and the habitat in which is resides, plus contribute to a long-term research program. We didn't see a bear during our week, though there was plenty of evidence throughout all of our walks. We did, however, see a group of 11 wild boar during one of the evenings at the hide, who seemed to be acting very defensively and on high alert, occasionally charging off into the undergrowth to chase something away. Sure enough, there is a photo of a bear on one of the nearby camera traps at the exact time we were there in the hide, so there is little doubt a bear was within a few yards of us.
  • Reviewed October 2018
    William Stanton

    WBB180915

    An excellent trip in a lovely part of the world. Seeing an adult female bear at the bear hide was amazing. Pity she was scared off by a group of wild boar but they were great to see too. The walks were great and weren’t too challenging although be prepared for a lot of uphills!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    See the adult female bear was very good but equally as good was the scenery. I didn’t think this area of the world would be as pretty as it was. Also it was good to see a lot of other wildlife especially birds and butterflies.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian was great. His enthusiasm was contagious and he was so knowledgeable. What he doesn’t know about bears and Bulgaria isn’t worth knowing. He was also very knowledgeable on other flora and fauna.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    We booked an extra night in Sofia at the end which I was glad of as it is an interesting city and there are a few decent bars!
  • Reviewed October 2018
    J. D.

    Great and Informative Outdoor Adventure!

    Had a great time on the Bulgarian Brown Bear trip! Trip leader, Julian, was very enthusiastic and well-informed on the region and subject matter. Bulgaria is a beautiful country and the local people were wonderful. The owner of Hotel Yagodina, Maria, runs a great hotel and her and her staff serve fantastic food. Julian took us on some wonderful hikes and provided great information about bear behavior, habitat, biology, etc. Visiting the bear hide in the evening provided a fun opportunity to view the bears and other wild life. Julian made sure we had multiple opportunities to visit the bear hide in order to ensure we had an opportunity to see a bear. The hikes themselves were challenging, but not so difficult that we had any real problems completing them. Julian was willing to point out other wild life during our hikes, and was very engaging with people in the group. Julian is passionate about bears and excited to share the subject with others. He made sure we were taken care of and educated about the wonders of bears!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    I didn't have any one particular moment that was the most inspirational, but taking in the vistas at the top of mountains we climbed after a long hike were serene moments. It was relaxing and inspiring to look out at all the pristine nature.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian was an enthusiastic and well informed group leader. He is very passionate about bears and Bulgaria, and was happy to share his knowledge with the group. He was also well informed about many other aspects of Bulgarian wild life and Bulgarian culture. He made sure we were healthy, happy, and well taken care of.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Wear good hiking shoes and be prepared to fill up on delicious Bulgarian food for the hikes! Also make sure to carry some of the local currency with you, there is the possibility to purchase locally-made traditional crafts from the village. I purchased some beautiful hand-made items in the village.
  • Reviewed September 2018
    Tina Nicholas

    Wow what a holiday!

    Wildlife, conservation, expert patient guide, mountain hiking, remote rural village community, and an intimate family run hotel were all the components that blended perfectly together to form this holiday into my ultimate relaxing get away with a dusting of excitement, anticipation, and adventure on top!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Glimpsing a large male Brown Bear sauntering slowly from the dark shadows of the Rodope mountain forest into the moonlit clearing in front of the hide. This precious moment was greatly anticipated & further enhanced by the fact that on the two previous evenings spent in the hide, Jays were the only wildlife that we saw. For me the fact that viewing of Brown Bears is never a guaranteed experience, re- enforces that they are extremely wild animals whose behaviour is still relatively un -influenced by the presence of humans and small scale tourism. Our group were therefore very honoured and privileged to be able to then watch him on this third night in his natural habitat for well over an hour - an emotional, awe inspiring & humbling experience where the previous unfruitful hours were soon forgotten.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian Perry - is a dedicated conservationist who is more than willing to inpart his knowledge about Bulgarian wildlife to anyone who shows an interest. He is also a kind, patient, calm group leader whose attention to detail and organisational skills are second to none. Thank you Julian, you made a potentially good holiday into an awesome one!

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Ensure you read the Exodus trip notes. Written by Julian himself, in my opinion these notes describe the holiday and activities perfectly and therefore you can judge if this holiday is your cup of tea or not? Take at least one hiking pole, if not a pair. My pole helped me negotiate some of the steep mountain paths more confidently and safely and it was the one piece of equipment I am glad I packed.

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    This holiday benefits the local rural remote community by using a small intimate family run village hotel who serve local produce, and display and sell local crafts. Julian and The Bear conservation project also serve to educate the local residents about the facts and myths associated with these large carnivores to encompass a symbiotic living relationship.
  • Reviewed July 2018
    Pamela Downes

    Wonderful wildlife adventure

    This was one of the best holidays I’ve ever had, combining walking in the mountains with the opportunity to see and learn about bears in the company of a true expert and bear enthusiast and a great group of fellow travellers. I really can’t fault this trip, the scenery is stunning, the wildlife is all around you, and the food, accommodation and hospitality of the local people are a delight.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Too many to pick one! Walking along mountain trails and finding evidence of bear activity all around us. Seeing bears from the hide. Walking through alpine meadows filled with wildflowers and beautiful butterflies.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian is an excellent guide to the bears and wildlife of Rodopi. He is passionate about his subject and has built up his learning over so many years, I know and understand so much more now about the lives and habitat of brown bears. He is also an amusing storyteller and we all had a lot of laughs along the way.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Some of the trails can be challenging and I found walking poles a great help. Otherwise, just go and enjoy yourself, you will have an amazing time. I spent a couple of extra nights in Sofia at the end of the trip. It’s an ancient and interesting city and well worth the time spent there.
  • Reviewed July 2018
    Annie Thompson

    A wonderful walking and wildlife experience!

    This really is the best walking and wildlife combination I've ever been on. Loved that we did good mountain walks in the day time through varied and stunning scenery whilst focusing on wildlife along the way. Visiting the bear hide in the evenings was really fantastic, loved seeing so many bears in their natural habitat, so exciting! Julian was such a brilliant guide, so professional, knowledgeable, capable and fun, thanks Julian!

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    The most inspiration part of the trip was witnessing bears during the day, a mother and her cubs foraging around in the open! This was truly amazing!

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian really is such a great guide, he certainly knows his stuff and is extremely passionate about it. Julian obviously loves his job and therefore he's such fantastic company to be around. As a group we were all traveling on our own and Julian really helped gel the group together, it was a really fun and informative week, loved it so much! Julian was also extremely professional when it came to safety and giving us information in great detail about each walk for the day ahead. Loved that he offered us little snacks just when we needed them! Thanks so much Julian, you're a really great asset to Exodus.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    I would suggest don't go with expectations that you're definitely going to see bears in the wild then you'll be really excited when you do! Make to most of going to the bear hide, try not to miss a night...... when will be your next opportunity be to spend the evening in a bear hide! Make sure you've got a good level of fitness and these wonderful walks are hilly. Take binoculars!
  • Reviewed July 2018
    Emily Vickery

    Unforgettable Trip!

    This was the best trip I've been on in years. It's so rare to have a trip which includes both walking and wildlife, but Julian created the perfect combination of the two with this trip. The scenery was spectacular, and it was just the right level of challenging for a townie who doesn't normally do that much walking! The locals in Yagodina are absolutely lovely, and the hotel staff couldn't do enough for us. The food was nearly all homemade and was so delicious. We certainly didn't go hungry! We were also so lucky to see as many bears and other wildlife as we did, and to have such a lovely group and guide who got on as well as we all did. We didn't stop laughing all week! I highly recommend this trip to anyone who likes walking, wildlife, stunning mountain and meadow views, delicious food and lovely people (what's not to like??)

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    All the bear sightings - especially the cubs! I was also blown away by how spectacular the views were in the mountains.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian was a truly excellent group leader. He's a real expert in bears and other wildlife in this area, and it's very evident how important their welfare is to him. He has also had such a fascinating life so far, and has a lot of amazing and hilarious stories to tell! We had a real laugh with him during our week in the mountains, and I really think that this trip wouldn't be the same without him. He really made it special.

    Do you have any advice for potential travellers?

    Expect to walk a lot, and some of the peaks are quite high if you have issues with heights. The food in Yagodina is delicious, but the portions are huge so don't expect to lose any weight! Also take some binoculars - I didn't and I really wish I had!

    Is there anything else you would like to add?

    Thank you Julian and the rest of the group for an unforgettable week :) I hope this trip is still running for years to come.
  • Reviewed June 2018
    Anne Balfour

    Beartastic!

    This is a thoroughly enjoyable holiday if you enjoy the outdoors, walking, sampling local cuisine and of course tracking and even seeing bears! Our week could hardly have been better, from the very comfortable and friendly hotel, which served local dishes for every meal, to our expert guide and to the stunning scenery and wildlife which surrounds the lovely village of Yagodina. It was great to be able to walk from our hotel and experience such diversity of habitats, including lush open meadows filled with wild flowers, a mind boggling diversity of butterflies and even Corncrakes, beech woodland, rocky escarpments offering fantastic views of the countryside as well as raptors such as Hobbys and Peregrine Falcons and of course pine forests where the evidence of bear activity is all around you. Seeing bears during the day is extremely difficult but we had great success up at the hide where we saw big, solitary males and mothers with their young cubs. We even saw a sounder of Wild Boar complete with a young family of beautifully marked piglets. However the highlight was undoubtedly when we were fortunate enough to spot a mother bear with 2 of this year's cubs in an open area below us. They were entirely oblivious to our presence and we could watch them behaving entirely naturally. Something I will never forget.

    What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?

    Being able to see the bears behaving entirely naturally was something I'll never forget. I realised just how gentle they are. In Bulgaria, where they are fully protected and therefore not hunted, it is possible to see them behaving as they should. Simply minding their own business and quietly eating their berries.

    What did you think of your group leader?

    Julian is a wonderful guide. His knowledge of the bears and the local wildlife is second to none. His sense of humour and friendliness contributed to making this a very enjoyable tour.
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