Archive for the ‘North America’ Category

40 things to do before you’re 40

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

No. 35 Pay homage to forces of nature in the company of the Navajo

So often have gun-slinging cowboys and bow-and-arrow-wielding ‘Indians’ been seen on horseback charging across this striking and desolate landscape on cinema screens, with their beasts’ thundering hooves stirring up great billows of dust, that Monument Valley has become virtually synonymous with the great Hollywood Western.

And it has to be said, to head out into this wide and beautifully sparse expanse and just bear witness to the collection of surreal buttes that sprout randomly out of the desert floor, like giant plinths in honour of nature, is a truly memorable experience.

But to do so under the guidance of a local Navajo, the Native American tribe for whom this striking region is both traditionally and spiritually home, well, that is another story altogether.

Dressed up for visitors

Dressed up for visitors

Get to know the Navajo

Monument Valley lies within a designated reservation named the Navajo Nation. The entire region, known to the Navajo people as Diné Bikéyah, makes up a vast area of the American southwest called the Four Corners, as each ‘corner’ of the nation extends into four different states.

The Navajo themselves are the largest recognised Native American tribe in the US and lived here for centuries before Europeans arrived in the Americas. When the nomadic Navajo themselves first came to the region, the area was already inhabited by another Native American group known as the Ancient Pueblo People, who had been here since as early as 1200 BC. Unlike like the hunter-gatherer Navajo, the Pueblo had established permanent dwellings and even had palaces built into rock faces that can still be seen today. The Navajo settled here and went on to adopt a more permanent and agricultural lifestyle from the Pueblo.

After European arrival however, a pretty dark period of persecution, inter-tribal warfare and even forced migrations ensued before the eventual the creation of a reservation. This has since enabled the Navajo to retain their traditional lifestyle, merging with a modern-day way of life where appropriate, and creating a semi-autonomous ‘nation’ that has meant the Navajo have been able to protect their identity and survive.

Know your butte from your elbow

Learning from a real expert

Learning from a real expert

When visiting Monument Valley today, regardless of the urge, it would probably be pretty inappropriate to don a Stetson and pair of spurs, jump on a stallion and cry ‘Geronimo!’ as you head off in search of imaginary redskins. Instead, far more interesting and informative – not to mention more sensitive – would be to join a local Navajo guide and venture out into the great expanse and learn first-hand about the natural forces that created this striking setting as well as how a very different people have lived, and continue to live, in such a harsh yet spellbinding part of the world.

The defining characteristic of Tsé Bii? Ndzisgaii (or Monument Valley as it is perhaps better known) is clearly the towering buttes and large mesas that proudly dominate the scene; they were the silent stars of so many Hollywood classics. The tremendous forces that have forged the area over millions of years are responsible for the many buttes and mesas, which are made of rock stronger than the surrounding sandstone and have thus withstood the erosion that has taken place around them. The mighty that have remained standing while the weaker around them have been subdued, if you like. The difference between a butte and a mesa (the later gets its name from the Spanish for ‘table’) is that the later has a top that is wider than the rock is high – much like a table top – while anything else is called a butte.

But nothing can substitute the experience of having a member of the Navajo Nation explain this to you in greater detail as you stand beneath one of these behemoths staring up in awe at the beauty and sheer size of such a masterpieces of nature.

Fortunately for you, it just so happens that Topdeck now run tours of the Southwest, of which most visit Monument Valley with an included Navajo-guided jeep safari. You really do have to experience it for yourself!

40 things to do before you’re 40 - Number 24!

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Get soaked by Niagara Falls

Not sure about the hype surrounding Niagara Falls? Treat yourself to a little taster. Next time you turn your kitchen sink tap, turn it as far as it can possibly go until the water is pouring out exceedingly fast. Put on a hooded raincoat, get yourself as close to the running water as possible so water is splashing your face, hold for 10 seconds, stop, realise what you’re doing is absolutely ridiculous and take off your raincoat.

Perhaps one of the poorest comparisons ever made to the experience you’ll have at Niagara Falls, the above might be as close as you’ll come to experiencing the excitement in your own home.

In order of size, the Niagara Falls are made up of three waterfalls: the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls which lie on the international border of the United States and Canada. Unlike the above comparison, the three falls combined are quite impressive, and they have the numbers to prove it.

· Approx. 168,000 cubic metres flow from the Falls every minute.

· This per-minute flow is enough water to fill over 50 Olympic sized swimming pools.

· The largest of the three, the Horseshoe Fall, is roughly 57 metres in height and 670 metres wide.

· The fastest rapids at the Fall have been recorded to reach 68mph or 109 kph.

OK, enough with the numbers, we know why you’re here. You want to know if anyone has ridden down the falls in a barrel! What’s the point of a waterfall if nobody goes down it in a barrel, right? Well, wouldn’t you know it, there are a group of daredevils, stuntmen and women who have at one point taken the life threatening plunge. In 1960, a 7 year old child was involved in a boating accident and was swept over the falls. Amazingly, he survived with minor injuries and was the first person to survive after going over without any protection. Barrels aside, walking across the Falls on a tightrope is also an exciting prospect for stuntmen. See the video at the end of this!

Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls

The future of the Falls is a concerning issue as each year the Falls erode by an estimated 1 foot or 30 centimetres per year. At this current rate of erosion it’s possible that in 50,000 years the Falls will be transformed into a less thunderous flowing river. Nevertheless, for now the Falls are incredibly thunderous and an experience that must be had when on any North American tour.

The best way to see the Falls is to take a ‘Maid of the Mist’ tour, an inclusion on all Topdeck North American tours visiting Niagara Falls. The Maid of the Mist tour is North America’s oldest tourist attraction and has transported millions of passengers to get up close and personal to the waterfall since 1846. Getting soaked will never have felt so exciting, and it will make you look back to the time you had your face next to your kitchen tap and wonder what on earth you were thinking…

Tightrope Walker Nik Wallenda:

Maid of the Mist boat tour:

5 Great Summer Experiences!

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

The history books are strewn with people who have made terrible decisions. Here’s a few examples -

  • Adam and Eve, the first two humans ever, deciding to eat an obviously-delicious forbidden apple. I therefore hold them personally responsible for all the idiocy which follows then!
  • Nero, the insane 1st century Roman Emperor, deciding to burn down his own city while singing happily and playing a fiddle. Not surprisingly he was killed by an angry mob.
  • Napoleon invading Russia in winter.
  • Hitler invading Russia in winter (can anybody spot a theme?).
  • The nine publishing companies who rejected JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book. Oops!

Don’t add your name to the above wall-of-shame! Make a great last-minute decision and join Topdeck for the trip of a lifetime this summer. Half of the fun is deciding where to go, but here are five of our favourite experiences for summer 2013 to inspire you…

Experience the thrill of the ‘Running of the Bulls’

The ‘Running of the Bulls’ in Pamplona is definitely one for the bucket list. Topdeck has lots of superb-value trips to take you to the heart of the action in sunny Spain, including budget trips staying at our gorgeous lakeside campsite with swimming pool from £179 (less than £36 per day!). For something a bit different, our awesome 14 day Spanish Sun & Fiestas trip combines a trip to Pamplona with the quirky ‘Wine Battle’ Festival in Haro, the cultural cities of Bilbao and Madrid, and the beachside paradise of San Sebastian.

We’ve got a great range of Running with the Bulls trips. Check them out here.

Paint The Town Red at La Tomatina

The Spanish tomato-throwing extravaganza may be one of the most eccentric festivals in a country which is renowned for eccentric festivals, but that’s what makes it so much fun! The world’s biggest food fight is a blast, quite literally! To make it even better, all of Topdeck’s La Tomatina trips offer central accommodation in the vibrant beachside city of Valencia – home of paella.

You can check out all of our trips to La Tomatina here.

Live like Marie Antoinette and Spend the Night in a French Chateau

Take a trip off the beaten track through fantastique France and realise why 80% of the French holiday in their own country! This 14 day Explorer trip travels through vibrant cities, gorgeous wineyards (with plenty opportunities to taste!), historic medieval towns, and perhaps best of all – spend the night in an opulent French Chateau in the Loire Valley. Sacré bleu!

We currently have 10% off our Discover France 13th July 2013 departure!

Stay Overnight With The Navajo Tribe in Monument Valley, USA

The breathtaking natural beauty of the USA will blow away the most cynical of travellers. Our 19 day Great Parks of the USA trip will take you back to nature, combining staggeringly beautiful national parks, the Grand Canyon, and an unforgettable overnight stay with the Navajo Native American Tribe in Utah, where you’ll also get a guided jeep tour of Monument Valley. If all the beautiful natural landscapes get too much for you, we’ll also take you to the awesome cities of Reno, Salt Lake City, Jackson, and Sin City itself - Las Vegas!

Take a look at our Greatest Parks of the US here.

Take a Party Bus Down the Las Vegas Strip

Our epic road trip across the USA from New York to Los Angeles (or reverse) is the definitive summer experience for 2013. There are too many highlights to name – Cajun cuisine in Louisiana, a visit to Elvis’s home Graceland, country music in Tennessee, a guided tour of the illuminated Washington D.C monuments, a visit to Death Valley (the hottest place on earth!), and so much more. But in my humble opinion, there is nothing in the world more fun than taking a party bus down the Las Vegas Strip, complete with mp3 dock and state-of-the-art audio equipment … Viva Las Vegas!

Read more about the Vegas Party Bus & the Coast to Coast trip here.

Come and join Topdeck for a fun-filled summer and take the hassle out of travelling. It’s a far better idea than invading Russia this winter!

American Firsts

Monday, March 25th, 2013

March 31st, 2013 – remember the date.

It’s the date of Topdeck’s first trip in North America!

We couldn’t be more excited about sharing North America with a host of lucky Topdeck passengers over the coming months, and we’re especially thrilled for the passengers on our inaugural trip.

We’re delighted to be taking the USA and Canada by storm in the year of our 40th birthday, and at Topdeck HQ we’ve been getting a little misty-eyed thinking about how Topdeck has grown from a mere youngster in 1973 to the industry-leading youth travel company it is today.

It also got us thinking about the USA, which is a relative teenager in global terms. Like with any growing child, it’s always good to keep track of the important milestones in life… so here we present some of the key ‘firsts’ in the formative years of America!

America’s first date…

America’s first proper date was July 4th 1776. No romantic meals and drive-in movies – simply the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Smooth.

America’s first party…

Was the Federalist Party in the early 1790s. It was a party of strong fiscal policies, nationalistic ideals… and all-night raves with everyone drinking out of red plastic cups before jumping in the pool in their underwear.

America’s first driving lesson…

Took place in 1884, shortly after the opening of America’s first golf course in West Virginia. The first informal lesson in driving off the tee was given by the talented Archibald B. Dogleg to his companion, Hubert J. Bunker.

America’s first Kiss…

Came in 1973, when four friends from New York formed a band, painted their faces black and white and put on elaborate hard rock stage shows. It was as if someone had fired a Love Gun – together America and Kiss had some Crazy, Crazy Nights.

America’s first Topdeck trip…

Will take place on March 31st, 2013. Passengers on this 7 day California Calling trip will see the best of the USA’s West Coast; they’ll gaze over the Grand Canyon, walk across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, enjoy an included Party Bus in Las Vegas, stay in Yosemite National Park and much more.

Now that’s what we call a first to remember!

If you want to join Topdeck and explore the wonders of North America, check out our superb range of trips here:

5 North American ‘must see’ locations.

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

What runs through your mind when you think of travelling North America? The Californian beaches, Niagara Falls, the infamous ‘Sin City’ Las Vegas, or perhaps the enormous Grand Canyon? Here’s a quick look at a handful of recommended places to go when visiting.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Viva Las Vegas! If you’ve seen the movie ‘The Hangover’ then you’ll have an understanding of why it’s commonly referred to as ‘Sin City’, however you don’t need to end up with a tiger in the bathroom to feel like you’ve experienced the real Las Vegas. The city is full of entertainment and attractions that run up and down the strip. There are countless casinos, amazing restaurants, enormous shopping malls and incredible nightclubs all at the tip of your fingers. If visiting Las Vegas with Topdeck, you’ll even get to go on an exclusive Party Bus tour of the strip! This is definitely a city worth seeing at least once.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

To help understand why the Grand Canyon is so unique, here are a few ‘fun facts’: It is listed as a Natural Wonder of the World, it took approximately 3-6 million years to form, the rock at the very bottom of the canyon is around 2 billion years old, it’s shape has developed over millions of years by a single river which slowly erodes the rock walls, and there are still 5 American Indian tribes that call the Canyon home. It’s fair to say that it’s a pretty amazing place! Take one of our North American trips that visit the Grand Canyon and cap off your experience with an unforgettable golden sunrise with your Topdeck companions.

Canadian Rockies

Absolutely picturesque. The Canadian Rockies present beautiful snow-capped mountains, glaciers, stunning blue lakes, lush alpine forests and incredible wildlife. Activities are in abundance in the Rockies as there is something that will please the more reserved travellers as well as the adventurous. Our Canadian Rockies trip will allow you to see some of the best spots and provide the opportunities for your adventurous side to let loose! You can go White Water Rafting in the Kicking Horse River, canoe in the Bow River or take a nice relaxing visit to the Banff Mountain Hot Springs.


Whether it be natural landscape or man made cities, there is so much to see and do in California. Home to the Yosemite National Park, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Death Valley National Park, HOLLYWOOD and the ever so famous beaches and coastline, California is a must-see on your travel bucket list.  You can live the Californian dream on many of our trips that visit the American East Coast State. We know you want to run along the beach Bay Watch style!

New York

Home to one of the world’s most popular cities, one of the most popular attractions in North America as well as numerous landmarks, New York is also on our list of must visits. A trip to New York City, the City that never sleeps, is enough to quickly fill up your itinerary with things to see and do, including the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Central Park. New York was also the first State in the United States to establish a State Park, Niagara Falls, which now attracts around 8 millions visitors each year. Take a trip with Topdeck to Niagara Falls and you will have the opportunity to get up close and personal on the ‘Maid of the Mist’ boat tour, gaining an insight into the incredible power that the Falls’ possess.

North America: Our First Traveller!

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012


It’s been a hectic couple of months since we launched our brand new Topdeck North America programme on the 4th of July. The response so far has totally blown us away - so many of you have booked and started planning your very own adventure with us.

A little bit of trivia for you: the first ever Topdeck North America holiday booked was a seven day Southeast States trip from New Orleans to New York. It was purchased by none other than Topdeck veteran Lorraine Kagatse who already has a massive six trips under her belt!

To say thank you for being our very first bookee we’ve shouted Lorraine a helicopter ride over the city that never sleeps, NYC.

Here’s a bit more about Lorraine…

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am 30 and live in west London. I enjoy going to concerts, reading, meeting new people, but my real passion is travelling. One of my favourite places I have visited is Sarajevo in Bosnia. It’s full of friendly people, great food and amazing history.

Where have you travelled to with Topdeck?

Venice Carnival, Amsterdam for Easter, Turkey, Morocco, Valencia for Las Fallas and Berlin for New Year.

What was your favourite trip story?

A hot air balloon ride over the chimney like rock formations in Cappadocia Turkey - it was like something out of a fairytale!

How would you sum up the Topdeck experience?

Fun and enjoyable. I have had many amazing and memorable experiences on the tours I have done and made lifelong friends from all over the world

What made you choose Topdeck North America?

The range of cities that would be visited and it was value for money.

What are you most looking forward to in the US?

Everything! The noise, the bustle and the food.  Making new friends, shopping and my helicopter ride over New York!

Who would you recommend Topdeck to?

Anyone who enjoys travelling, having amazing experiences. It is also good for people who travel alone as it’s a great place to make friends

What has been your favourite travelling memory?

Celebrating my 29th birthday in Turkey on both the Asian and European sides - I got two birthday cakes and got to party with my new Topdeck friends

What kept you coming back to Topdeck?

Value for money, organised trips, friendly and informative staff, good range of cities, countries to visit and activities to do.

Why not join Lorraine on the North American Road Trip of a lifetime. With 21 trips to choose from there’s something for everyone. Book before 31 August 2013 to save up to 10% off your trip!

Washington DC: A Capitol Time in the District

Friday, July 13th, 2012

by Kara Segedin

Of all the cities I’ve visited in the United States, Washington DC stands out as one the most steeped in a sense of history.

Home to the White House and Congress, DC is full of world famous sights and enough museums and galleries to keep history and culture buffs busy for years!

United States Capitol Building

United States Capitol Building

The main area you’ll want to visit is called the National Mall, an open-air national park in the city’s downtown area running from Capitol Hill to the Lincoln Memorial. This is where crowds rallied for Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech and anti-war protests in the 1960s (and where Forrest reunites with Jenny in Forrest Gump).

The Mall is lined with various museums, monuments and memorials; all are free to visit and within a fairly easy walk of each other making DC a budget traveller’s dream.

It’s also the perfect place to try out your photography skills. Leafy green trees line the inner city streets and there are parks everywhere, plus the grand buildings and monuments are ridiculously photogenic.

We started out sightseeing at the United States Capitol. A beautiful and grand building, entrance to the visitors’ centre is free, but there is a cost if you want to take a tour and you must book in advance.

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

From Capitol Hill we wandered through the gardens all the way to the Washington Monument past the reflecting pool and onto the Lincoln Memorial.

Along the way we stopped by several of the Smithsonian Institute museums that line the Mall. There are 13 museums in the area covering subjects from Air and Space, National History, Natural History and American Indian Culture - there’s easily a week’s worth of viewing on offer.

Out of the museums I’d recommend the Natural History and National History as the main ones to visit. Both are mazes of exhibits and information and you’d need several hours to make sure you’d seen it all.

The Natural Museum has a huge collection of animals, dinosaurs, early human artefacts and precious stones, including the priceless Hope Diamond.

The National Museum’s prize piece (well, in my opinion anyway) is the original Star Spangled Banner - ridiculously huge - and Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers. It offers a fascinating and detailed overview of American history from pre-European to recent event.

Another must-see and moving experience is a trip to Arlington Cemetery, a military cemetery established in 1864 during the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House.

Soldier at the Tomb of the Unknowns

Soldier at the Tomb of the Unknowns

A short subway ride from the Mall, Arlington is the final resting place of JFK and hundreds and thousands of US soldier.

Over 30 funerals are held there every single day and one of the most solemn sights is the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The tomb is dedicated to the military men and women who have died without their remains being identified and has been under constant guard by the US Army since July 2, 1937. You can witness the ceremony for yourself every half hour in summer and every hour in winter.

Back on the Mall we had time for a few sunset shots before our stomachs sent us in search of food. So that’s two big thumbs up for DC. You’ll be pledging allegiance to the flag in no time.


Visit Washington DC and many other US cities on Topdeck Travel’s Coast to Coast, East Coast Adventure and Southeast States trips.

The Secret is Out: Introducing Topdeck North America

Friday, July 6th, 2012

This has been one of the hardest secrets we’ve ever had to keep in the Topdeck office.

Over the past few months we’ve busy putting the finishing touches on our new programme and while you were all asking “why doesn’t Topdeck go to North America?” we’ve had to keep our lips sealed.

Well, the wait is over and we can finally shout about it from the rooftops – Topdeck is now taking you to the USA and Canada!

To get you inspired, here’s our list of the Top 10 North American experiences

1. Camp out in a US National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

The United States has 58 protected national parks that are home to some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world. One of the parks we take you to is Yosemite National Park in California.

Best known for its waterfalls, in Yosemite you’ll also find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoia forests and a variety of wildlife.

In the summer months we stay in a permanent tented site, once a prospectors’ camp, within the Yosemite Valley.

2. Lunch in one of the hottest places on Earth

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is the hottest, lowest, and driest place in the US and daytime temperatures have been known to top 54°C (though the average summer temperature is a much more bearable 45°C). There are canyons, sand dunes, mountains, and over 1000 species of plants to explore.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the restaurant we visit is air-conditioned so you can cool down after your adventure.

3. Listen to live music in Nashville & Memphis

Home to two distinctly American styles of music, Nashville and Memphis are the Mecca for country and the blues respectively.

In Nashville a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry (the world’s longest running live radio show) is a must, while over in Memphis hit Beale Street for some amazing live music and pop by Graceland to pay your respects to ‘the King’.

Elvis's Gold Piano

4. Play roulette in a Las Vegas casino

No city on earth knows how to show you a good time quite like Las Vegas. With over 100 casinos the hardest part will be deciding where to put your money down.

Sin City is also home to dozens of live shows, world-class shopping and nightlife like no other.

5. Enjoy a sunset over the Grand Canyon

If there is one sight guaranteed to take your breath away, sunset over the Grand Canyon is it.

Carved out by the Colorado River over millions of years, the Grand Canyon is 446km long, up to 1.6km deep, and up to 24 km wide. Take a rim walk or journey down to the Canyon floor.

6. Eat Cajun food in Louisiana

While you’re down in the Deep South tuck into a plate of mouth-watering Cajun Gumbo in Lafayette. Gumbo is a stew made with meat or shellfish and seasoning vegetables that originated in southern Louisiana during the 18th century combining the tastes of French, Spanish, German, West African, and Native American cooking.

7. Learn about Native American culture

When we visit Monument Valley in Utah, not only will you experience the amazing scenery of more than 1000 sandstone buttes and you’ll get a glimpse of the ancient Navajo culture with a guided jeep tour of the area.

Those of you on our Greatest Parks trip will also get to stay overnight with the Navajo listening to their stories and dancing the night away under the stars.

8. Hike a Glacier in Canada

Athabasca Glacier is part of the Columbia Icefield, located in the Canadian Rockies and is the most visited glacier in North America. Our guided hike is perfect for travellers of all abilities.

9. Shop ‘til you drop in NYC

Shop 'til you drop in NYC

Shop 'til you drop in NYC

Luxury shopping can be found along the famous Fifth and Madison Avenues including Versace, Tiffany & Co and Saks. Two of the most expensive streets in the world, for most of us window shopping will have to suffice!

But don’t worry, great and affordable shopping can be found all over the city especially in stylish SoHo and the East Village

10. Have a Shower at Niagara Falls

Right on the US/Canadian border, the thunderous Niagara Falls is among the continent’s greatest natural wonders.

Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls

Maid of the Mist, Niagara Falls

Over 500,000 litres of water a second cascades over the Falls to the cavernous gorge below and you can get right up close to this power with a Maid of the Mist boat tour - includes rain poncho!

But don’t take our word for it – experience the wonders of North America for yourself and let us know your must-dos.

Topdeck Travel runs 21 North American trips ranging from 6 to 20 days covering California, the Mid-West, East Coast, Cross Country and Canada.