Ascension Island travel

August 2015

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Where is Ascension? | Ascension Island travel info and tips | Ascension Island travelogue and photos | Contacts and Copyright | Pagina in Italiano

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ASCENSION ISLAND LOCATION AND MAP

Ascension Island map and location

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ASCENSION ISLAND TRAVEL GUIDE - ESSENTIAL INFO AND TRAVEL TIPS

WHY GO TO ASCENSION ISLAND?

Ascension Island is a tiny dot of just 88 square kilometers in the middle of South Atlantic ocean, separated from Africa and South America by a vast expanse of water. Unknown to most people, Ascension Island has a closed number of visitors policy, either because the entire island is a military base, either for limited access and limited facilities. Given these conditions, you may be wondering why a traveler should go to Ascension island and what are the things to see and to do in such remote outpost: in this travelogue about Ascension island, we will try to answer all the questions. Many are the reasons for which Ascension Island worth a visit, but the most important are usually the exclusive nature and the tranquility without any crowd (actually, you hardly meet someone else outside from the small towns). The landscape of Ascension Island is dominated by extinct volcanic cones, dramatic coastline and some beautiful beaches, making the place ideal for short or long hikes, but also to relax and swim among colorful tropical fishes. Ascension Island is one of the few places in the world where you can observe the cute land crabs (terrestrial crabs): seeing nice orange crabs wandering along the sides of a mountain, is a quite unusual experience, right? Moreover, during Austral summer, the island is regularly visited by hundreds of green turtles coming ashore to lay the eggs, while steep cliffs may be the home of breeding birds, some of which are rare. Still talking about nature, the isolation of Ascension has promoted the evolution of rare plants, some of which are endemic and can't be found in other parts of the world: this environment is ideal to study how the species manage to survive when they can't colonize main continents, as well as the effects produced by humans on ecosystems, when foreign species are introduced. Last but not least, Ascension Island is very interesting for the intriguing recent history, as the place was very important for telecommunications since the telegraph was introduced, due to the convenient geographic position about halfway between African and American continents.



HOW TO GET TO ASCENSION ISLAND?

Until a few years ago, Ascension island was closed to tourism and it was possible to travel there only upon invitation for business purposes, or if the visitor was part of the resident military personnel. Only in 2002 Ascension Island was opened to a limited number of tourists, however still without the possibility to get there by a regular commercial flights or passenger ships: currently (at 2017) visitors may either use the few times per week flight offered UK Ministry of Defense onto RAF Brize Norton airfield (England) or onto Mount Pleasant airport (Falkland Islands), alternatively, there are freighter ships that also accepts passengers (usually serving Saint Helena island too). But lets see in detail how to get to Ascension Island by plane or ship:

Getting to Ascension Island by plane. This is certainly the fastest way to get to Ascension Island, although not very simple as it may initially look. Ascension Island is linked by plane to the rest of the world, through 2 or 3 times per week flights operated by Royal Air Force (RAF) onto Brize Norton (not far from London, UK) and onto Mount Pleasant (Falkland Islands). Both flights are 8-9 hours long, nonstop, and are operated by wide-body jets, usually by Airbus A330 Voyager, having a particularly comfortable cabin if compared to regular commercial flights. The flights are reserved first of all for the military personnel and for the residents of Ascension Islands and the Falklands, but on every flight some seats are also sold to a limited number of visitors. Of course, you can't book these flights through normal flight reservation systems, but you will have to contact a travel agent specialized in holidays to Ascension or Falkland Islands, like International Tours & Travel. Usually, the flight from Brize Norton to Ascension leaves the UK on late evening of Sundays and Wednesdays, arriving to Ascension the following early morning, however it must be noted that the schedule is always subject to change without prior notice, as priority is always given to military personnel, residents or to other operational needs. RAF Brize Norton is about 1-3 hours drive from London, depending on traffic and on exact departure address, therefore, if coming on another flight, it is essential to arrive in London at least 7 hours before the MOD flight leaves (arriving in London the day before, may be also a smart choice to allow lot of time buffer, in case of any problem with the connecting flight). To get to Brize Norton airfield, the best option is probably by private taxi with fare agreed at reservation: a driver will wait for you holding a sign with your name, before driving non-stop to Brize Norton at fixed price, regardless of actual driving time. You may book such service from Airport City Transfer. The flight from Falkland Islands to Ascension usually leaves in the morning of every Friday and Tuesday, arriving Ascension Island in the evening, before continuing to the UK. In 2016 a new airport was finished in Saint Helena Island (about two hours flight from Ascension), however the airport is still closed to traffic because of issues with frequent wind shear and no one currently knows if additional flights onto Ascension (perhaps via Cape Town) will be ever offered in the future.

Getting to Ascension Island by ship. If you would like to get to Ascension Island by ship, there are a couple of possibilities: the first is to book a cruise on one of the many cruise ships that are repositioned between the Arctic and Antarctica twice a year: such cruises usually call at Cape Verde, Ascension Island, Saint Helena, Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia, Ushuaia (or vice versa, depending on the season). You may also opt for disembarking the cruise ship in Ascension and go back home by plane (usually the cruise ships call in Ascension for a few days only, not enough time to fully enjoy the island). These cruises are normally offered by operators selling trips in the Arctic and in Antarctica, such as Oceanwide Expeditions. The second possibility is instead by booking a cabin on the RMS St Helena, a freighter ship which links Cape Town to Saint Helena and Ascension Island about 2 times a month, covering the entire route in nine days (RMS St Helena service may be suspended once the airport in Saint Helena will be fully operative).

WHAT ARE THE ENTRY REQUIREMENTS FOR ASCENSION ISLAND?

Although Ascension Island is formally British Overseas Territory, it has special entry requirements if compared to the UK mainland. For almost every nationality, a passport is required and visitors must apply for a permit through the local authorities (the application may be submitted by email after having downloaded the necessary paperwork from Ascension Island government site). It is essential to obtain the visitors permit well ahead your travel date and you must present also a comprehensive mandatory travel insurance that covers emergency repatriation too: the policy is checked by the immigration staff on arrival to Ascension Island, therefore, make sure to travel with a printed copy of conditions and coverage.

WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT ASCENSION ISLAND?
HOW THE WEATHER IS IN ASCENSION ISLAND?

Because this island is a place where to enjoy lot of hours outside and, possibly, to relax on a beach, you are perhaps wondering what is the best season to go to Ascension Island, which can ensure more sunlight and less rain. The best season to visit Ascension Island is during Austral summer from February to April, mainly because at this time of year you can enjoy many turtles laying eggs on the beaches, as well as admire additional wildlife and, with a some luck, observe the migration of the incredible land crabs. Climatically speaking, this time of the year should be formally the wettest period, although there isn't actually a big difference in terms of hours of sunshine between wet and dry season. It should be noted that, generally speaking, all days of the year are swimming days, because the temperature never drops below 22 degrees Celsius, even when it's cloudy and even during winter (June to September). If your interest is to take long walks, exploring the wide network of beautiful trails that Ascension Island offers, perhaps you might consider a trip during the winter, as the cooler temperature makes the walks more comfortable, instead, if your main interest is wildlife and beach life, perhaps it's better to consider summer months (February to April). Ascension Island receives an annual average rainfall of only 150mm, equivalent to a desert climate, however persistent clouds, even without precipitations, are a relatively common condition throughout the year.

IS THERE ANY FULLY INCLUSIVE HOLIDAY PACKAGE TO ASCENSION ISLAND?

In order to organize our holiday to Ascension Island, we contacted International Tours & Travel, a tour operator specialized in trips to Falkland Islands, Ascension Island and other interesting places. Contacting a tour operator lets to organize everything with just a few emails, rather than having to contact airline, hotel, car rental company and excursion providers individually, which can be a long process for this particular destination.



HOW TO MOVE, WHERE TO EAT AND WHERE TO STAY IN ASCENSION ISLAND?

How to move around in Ascension Island: there is no significant public transportation in Ascension Island and, as the attractions (including beaches) are quite scattered all around the island, renting a car is the only option if you would like to explore Ascension in full freedom. There aren't the usual car rental companies that you can find all over the world, but the vehicles are usually provided together with the accommodation (when booking either a full holiday package or just the accommodation, simply ask for a car as well). Driving in Ascension Island is on the left and the island has a network of about 40 kilometers of paved roads in fair conditions: the road climbing to Green Mountain is very steep and therefore, if you plan to go there frequently, a 4x4 vehicle may be a better bet (for most other places a regular sedan car with normal traction is enough)

Where to stay in Ascension Island: there are no luxury fully serviced accommodations in Ascension Island, but the luxury is represented by tranquility and beautiful nature. The Obsidian Hotel is located in Georgetown, not far from an immense beach visited by turtles mostly in summer (but the beach is not safe for swim): the structure has about 20 rooms, some with a kitchen. A part some cottage or villa, there aren't other accommodation options in Ascension at the time of this travel review.

Where to eat in Ascension island: if you are staying at Obsidian Hotel, meals are provided upon reservation and they are usually quite good. There are also a small number of pubs and bars in Georgetown, Two Boats and Travellers Hill, where is possible to eat hot dog, pizza and hamburger. If your accommodation has a kitchen, you may consider to get provisions from one of the few stores on the island and cook on your own, or prepare the meals to be taken with you off the beaten track.

OTHER USEFUL THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ASCENSION ISLAND

  • What is Ascension's time zone? Ascension Island is located on Greenwich (Zulu) time zone and doesn't use daylight saving time.
  • What currency is accepted in Ascension? The official currency in Ascension is the British Pound, but Saint Helena and Falkland Pounds are also accepted (just keep in mind that the latter two can't be changed overseas). US Dollar is accepted in the stores among the USA military base, while Euro is generally not accepted (it is better to arrive in Ascension already with enough Pounds or USD sufficient for your holiday). Credit cards are accepted only in the hotel and in bigger structures.
  • What is the official language in Ascension? English is the official language in Ascension.
  • How are the power plugs in Ascension? The power plugs in Ascension are the same that you can find in UK, therefore of G type
  • Will my mobile phone work in Ascension? SIMs from overseas mobile network suppliers may not work at all on Ascension, as most of them do not have roaming agreement with the local operator. If you need to make or receive important calls from everywhere on the island, the best bet is to bring a satellite phone, like for example Iridium.
  • Is the Wifi available on Ascension? The local phone operator has a Wifi network working in most spots throughout Georgetown, Two Boats and Travellers Hill. The password can be purchased at Obsidian Hotel and in other stores, however it is very expensive and in no way fast or reliable.
  • What should I pack for an holiday to Ascension? Ascension is a destination letting numerous activities and it's best to bring from home all all that you may need, as finding things on place may not be easy. If you would like to trek, well worn shoes and long pants are essential, like a light rain gear to be carried always with you in a day pack. Mosquito can be annoying, therefore, long light clothes and a repellent will be useful during the evenings, while the strong light suggests to use LOT of sunscreen even when it's cloudy. Snorkeling gear can be rented at the hotel, however, to be sure about size, it's probably better to bring it from home. For colder nights during winter (if we can really talk about a real "cold"), a light sweater may be useful just in case.
  • What is the sea temperature in Ascension? The sea temperature in Ascension Island varies from 22 / 23 degrees in August (Austral winter) to 28 / 29 degrees Celsius in February / March.


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ASCENSION ISLAND PICTURES AND TRAVELOGUE

Georgetown Life on Ascension: Georgetown and other towns <<-- GO
Ascension island has a military base and the people live in three small towns: Georgetown (Ascension Island capital), Travelers Hill and Two Boats. The local museum in Georgetown illustrates the interesting history of Ascension and explains why the island was, and is, so important for the world.
Swim in Ascension Island Relaxing on Ascension Island: beaches and sea <<-- GO
One of the reasons to go Ascension Island for an holiday is undoubtedly the beautiful sea. In this section of travel-tour-guide.com web site, you will find many photos and information about Ascension beaches, on how to get to them and what to expect while snorkeling just off the shore.
The volcanoes on Ascension Island Lunar landscape of Ascension Island: volcanoes and craters <<-- GO
Ascension Island counts 44 extinct volcanic cones, an average of a volcanic cone every 2 square kilometers when considering the whole size of the island. A walk around a volcanic cone reveals a world forged by violent forces, where multicolored lava has built a picturesque landscape that poses several challenges to rare endemic vegetation.
Ascension Island wildlife and vegetation Ascension Green Mountain: land crabs and rare plants <<-- GO
The Green Mountain is the highest extinct volcano on the island of Ascension and is the home for a large number of tropical plants imported in past centuries, in an attempt to produce vegetables and fruit locally. But the most extraordinary inhabitants of Green Mountain are certainly the intrepid terrestrial crabs, large crustaceans with a curious mating habits.
A trail on Ascension Island Walking on Ascension Island - hikes, treks and trails <<-- GO
Ascension Island is a paradise for hiking enthusiasts, thanks to an extensive network of trails that wind through ancient volcanoes, dramatic coastline, deserted beaches and dried lakes. Usually the paths terminate at a "letterbox", a kind of mailbox where you can sign the visitors book contained inside and put a stamp on your personal logbook.

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