Culinary tourism, historical pilgrimages and even traveling to disaster zones to help out have all become popular ways to holiday. If you are interested in botany and flowers in particular, you might have considered going to see Japan’s cherry trees blossom in spring, or perhaps visit the tulip farms of Holland. If you’re willing to go a little off the beaten track, though, there are places you can take holiday snaps that may rival anything you can find in National Geographic.
Triple Canopy Rainforest
For the more adventurous, there are a number of totally unique flowers that can be found only in the Amazon. The bad news is that seeing them typically requires you to sweat a little.
You will certainly require a local guide: bugs, spiders and snakes, oh my! It’s ridiculously easy to lose your bearings in the jungle unless you stay on waterways: the “horizon” is rarely more than twenty metres away and you will not be able to tell where the sun is coming from. Also, in Colombia at least, exploring botanists have actually wandered right into drug cartels’ hideouts…so really, pay a few dollars to someone who knows the area. One with a certification from the local tourist board will often know volumes about the rainforest’s ecology and be able to locate species you’d otherwise walk right past.
Perhaps the most exciting part of visiting the Amazon is not the hint of danger or its uniqueness, but the fact that you can actually experience three ecosystems at the same time. These take the form of horizontal layers, from the gloomy yet still beautiful world of the undergrowth, which receives little sunlight, to the still-mysterious canopy layer, where completely different kinds of flowering plants can be found.
In the past, studying the canopy was a somewhat risky process. An arrow trailing a fishing line was shot upwards, hopefully looping over a sturdy branch, after which a climbing rope was pulled up. With the canopy easily being 40 metres off the ground (i.e. the height of a 13 story building) and medical attention days away, this type of fieldwork was not for the faint of heart or frail of bone.
Today, though, remotely piloted drones make taking pictures of the upper layer much easier. These aircraft are available in a variety of price ranges. At the lower end, you can choose the Holy Stone F181, which can be charged from a power bank, but it doesn’t have a FPV (drone’s eye view) or obstacle avoidance capability. If you’re willing to spend $3,000 plus on a jaunt to South America, though, you can certainly afford something better, such as the 3D Robotics Solo.
Climatically as different from the Amazon as you can get, Namaqualand in Namibia and South Africa consists of arid plains interspersed with low hills. Desolate scrubland for most of the time, the landscape explodes in a riot of color for a few weeks every year somewhere between August and October.
Several hundred species of flowers take advantage of the seasonal rains to propagate, making this biome unique. It also boasts the highest concentration of succulents of any desert locale – over a thousand local plant species aren’t found anywhere else. Photographs cannot do justice to the beauty of varicolored blooms literally carpeting the landscape; it is something that simply has to be experienced in person. The incongruity of seeing dryland animal species such as gemsbok, ostrich and springbok grazing among what might as well be a miles-wide flowerbed is by itself worth the trip. For best results, keep in mind that the flowers follow the sun, so the best viewing times are between noon and 3 o’clock, facing east.
Well-traveled by tourists, it’s possible to cycle or drive offroad through Namaqualand. Alternatively, guided bus tours are also available, usually taking routes that allow you to spend a few hours in the various charming towns scattered around. If flying into Cape Town, make sure to also include the fynbos region on the Cape Peninsula in your itinerary, as this ecology and the species it’s comprised of are also found only in this small area.