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Trains, Rickshaws, and Camels: On the Ground on an Odysseys Tour

February 09, 2021

When visiting another country, one of the best ways to experience the local culture is by embracing its unique forms of transportation. Whether that means boarding a bullet train in Japan, riding a camel in the desert of Morocco, or traveling Montana's Going-to-the-Sun Road in old-school buses, our small group tours offer a wealth of diverse experiences designed to highlight the uniqueness of each destination.

Read on to learn about some of the fascinating means of ground-based transport that we utilize on our small group tours. And for more fascinating insights like this, read our other post: In the Air on an Odysseys Tour.

Europe

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We ride an open-air underground train beneath the surface of Slovenia on Pearls of Dalmatia. Over half of this small Adriatic nation is built on limestone karst, an easily eroded type of rock that has left Slovenia riddled with caves. While visiting Postojna, the largest and most well-known, we climb aboard the world’s only two-track underground train for a journey into the heart of this system.

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On Norwegian Adventure, we enjoy a thrilling ride on the incredibly scenic Flåm Railway, an excursion that ascends nearly 2,900 feet through the steep and narrow Flåm Valley. A masterpiece of engineering along precipitous mountainsides, the railway took nearly 20 years to construct.  During the 50-minute ride, we speed through 20 tunnels (18 of which were excavated by hand), curve around 21 hairpin bends, marvel at the mighty Kjosfossen Waterfall as it plunges from ledge to ledge, and enjoy truly breathtaking views.  Though the ride is less than an hour, it provides memories to last a lifetime.

glacier express train

The breathtaking Glacier Express route. Source

Speaking of famous train rides, on our Alpine Splendor: Switzerland and Austria tour, we board the celebrated Glacier Express train for a journey through some of the more dramatic scenery in all of Europe. This train is deservedly renowned for its panoramic views, and we ride in style as our train sweeps through striking valleys, past mountain hamlets, and along the course of the fabled Rhône. Our adventure on this famed route ends in Zermatt, in the shadow of the Matterhorn.

This tour has no shortage of stunning transportation options, as we also ride the world’s steepest cogwheel train to the summit of Mt. Pilatus for stunning views across the surrounding countryside.

mount pilatus cogwheel train

The thrilling route of the cogwheel train up the slopes of Mount Pilatus

Last but not least, we ride the Gornergratbahn, the highest open-air railway in Europe, to the summit of the Gornergrat. Atop this rocky ridge, a dramatic tapestry unfolds all around us: 29 Alpine peaks, each over 13,000 feet, including the majestic Matterhorn standing alone at nearly 15,000 feet.

Gornergratbahn

The Gornergratbahn, in the shadow of the Matterhorn

North America

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On Canadian Rockies Explorer, we enjoy two unique modes of transportation. First, we travel as passengers aboard Glacier National Park’s famous sightseeing buses: the Red Jammers. Taking their name from the way the drivers “jammed” the buses into low gear to negotiate steep mountain passes, the fire-engine red Jammers have been in service at GNP since the 1930s. Our trip along Going-to-the-Sun Road provides unmatched photo opportunities and a true sense of Canadian adventure.

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Later, we take a ride on a specially made vehicle called an Ice Explorer. These giant machines allow us to drive up onto Athabasca Glacier, where we disembark and walk on this living river of ice.

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In Sedona, Arizona, we get up close and personal with the region’s signature red rocks on National Parks of the Southwest. We take a Pink Jeep tour of these stunning natural formations, driving around and through the rocks and marveling at the surrounding desert landscape.

Australia & the South Pacific

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We embark on one of the world’s great rail journeys on New Zealand Adventure, as we board the famed TranzAlpine Train. This journey through the heart of New Zealand’s South Island takes us along the open farmland of the Canterbury Plain, through the foothills of the Southern Alps, then into the snow-capped peaks themselves.  We travel across steel girder bridges above deep gorges and through mountain tunnels on our trip through this breathtaking landscape.

Asia & the Far East

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When you think of Japanese transportation, your mind likely goes instantly to the famed bullet train. High-speed train lines link most major cities in Japan, and can reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. On our Insider’s Japan small group tour, we enjoy a thrilling ride from Hakone to Takayama aboard one of these bullet trains, from which we may be able to see the iconic cone of Mount Fuji.

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The streets are the lifeblood of many Asian cities and towns. Crowded with cars, bicycles, pedestrians, pedicabs, animals, produce carts, and vendors, these thoroughfares offer a fascinating up-close encounter with the sights, smells, and sounds of Asia. On our Journey Through Vietnam, we ride “cyclos,” or cycle rickshaws, through the ancient streets of the Imperial City of Hue.

Africa & the Middle East

wadi rum jeep transportation

The vast beauty of the Wadi Rum. Photo: David S

On our Treasures of Jordan tour, we explore Wadi Rum, the dramatic landscape of pink and white sands, prehistoric valleys, and towering sandstone monoliths rising from the desert floor. This is the homeland of the once-nomadic Bedouin, who now live in protected villages. And it was here that British army officer T. E. Lawrence and Prince Faisal bin Hussein set their headquarters during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in 1917 – and where filmmaker David Lean shot parts of his 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia. On our sunset jeep ride, we have time to admire the starkly beautiful moonscape that stands empty and silent, timeless and isolated.

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Africa is an unsurpassed destination for adventure. With vast savannahs and landscapes unchanged for thousands of years, it’s the perfect place to take a walk – or more accurately, a ride – on the wild side. On many of our small group tours in Africa, we enjoy several game drives – boarding open-top safari vehicles for immersive journeys across the wilds of Africa, and close encounters with some of its famous big game animals.

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Further north in Africa, on our Moroccan Discovery tour, we go a step further than we do in India. At the mighty sand dunes of Merzouga along the edge of the Sahara, we mount up on camels for a relaxing ride along the erg. Travel doesn’t get much better than watching the sun set over the Sahara from the back of a camel.

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