During my tour leading career I have been cursed at by group members for setting pre-dawn wake-up calls, I’ve encountered mini-protests within my group when informing them of departure time, and I’ve literally dragged people out of bed. Why? Am I a horribly sadistic person? Nope…in fact the opposite is true. It’s my desire to showcase a location in its purest form; untainted by hordes of people or extreme heat.
So I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite reasons to get outta bed ridiculously early while travelling:
1. BEATING THE CRUISE SHIP CROWD. The cruise ship crowd doesn’t get up and going before dawn, so you should. Get your butt out of bed early. Anyone who has visited sites such as Pisa, Santorini, or the Venice knows that once the cruise ships arrive, all pleasure you experienced exploring is immediately drained and panic sets in. My favourite quote from a cruise ship goer was at Ephesus in Turkey stating with a southern drawl, “Where are we? I don’t even understand why we came here…everything is just old and in ruins.” Yup.
2. HOT AIR BALLOONING. Whether it is over Luxor, Cappadocia, Bagan’s Temples, or the Serengeti, hot air ballooning at dawn is a surreal experience. In the darkness of the early, the glow of the fire filling the massive balloon is an impressive site in and of itself. For me, the serenity at dawn rising above the vast golden-hued plains with hundreds of grazing zebra and wildebeests below in the Serengeti is absolutely mind-blowing. You need to do this.
3. SUNRISE AT HISTORICAL SITES. My personal favourite is dawn at Machu Picchu which is a bit misleading as the sun doesn’t actually rise over Machu Picchu but it becomes slowly illuminated by the sun’s rays, revealing an abundance of colour and contrast. Still it is incredibly beautiful, peaceful, and spiritual. Grab a spot on the grass near the Watchman’s Hut and soak it all in before the crowds come. Magical.
4. MORNING MARKETS. Often the best time of day to visit markets around the world is at the crack of dawn. This is particularly true of the colourful, floating markets of the Mekong Delta which only happen in the early mornings with rising sun. It is incredible watching boat-fulls of dragon-fruit being tossed into another boat that is flinging back heads of cabbage at the same time. So many colours, shapes and smells around you that it is hard to know what to focus on. Maybe avoid the durian.
5. EXPLORING THE AMAZON. The air is cool and water is still but, early mornings are often party-time in locations like the Amazon for most of the animals; it’s when they are the most active. Even without an trained eye, creatures are easy to spot early in the day with birds flitting about everywhere and monkeys foraging for food. Far away from the chaos of civilization, the morning symphony of sounds in the most biodiverse place on the planet, is humbling.
6. CLIMBING VOLCANOES. There are several parts of this world where you can climb volcanoes in the wee hours of the morning with lava spewing everywhere. Of course the lava doesn’t just spew before dawn but during the daylight this spectacle is very difficult to see. Ogling at the molten lava spattering into the darkness beats the heck out of fireworks any day! Of course the other big reward of climbing before dawn is that you can watch the sunrise from the summit of the volcano. Awesome.
7. GREAT LIGHTING.. Explore a city at dawn. Wandering the near abandoned streets in the early morning light is sometimes the best time to get a true appreciation of the city’s true beauty. No one wants hordes of people in their photos…unless you are taking photos of the hordes themselves. Lighting is better, fewer people are in your pictures, it’s more peaceful, and you are less likely to have your camera snatched from your hands.
8. BEATING THE HEAT. Sightseeing in the scorching heat is awful. Heat has a tendency to make people cranky, lethargic and irritable. Trust me…visiting a location like The Valley of the Kings in Egypt at noon is a horrific idea, which is why a visit requires a ridiculously early wake up call. It’s well worth it.
9. WITNESSING MORNING RITUALS. Getting up before the sunrise in Hanoi or Luang Prabang and you witness a buzz of activity taking place. These towns wake with the age-old tradition of Alms Giving. In a silent queue and dressed in identical saffron robes, Buddhist monks set off as the sun rises every morning to collect rice in ornate metal pots. It is an amazing site to witness.
10. TAKING AFTERNOON SIESTAS. Reward yourself for getting up so darn early as nothing beats a well-deserved mid-day siesta. I’m pretty sure this is why hammocks exist.
There are gazillions of other reasons to get up before dawn while travelling, what are yours?
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