Monthly Archives: July 2016

How to find amazing destinations around the world

The most surreal places on Earth aren’t just spell-bindingly beautiful, but possess the power to transport you into a fantastical reality. Here, Phoebe Lowndes picks 14 of the world’s most awe-inspiring destinations. You have to see these places to believe them.

 

1. Marfa, Texas

This small desert city in America’s Southwest is gathering notoriety for championing contemporary art and culture. In this unlikely location, you’ll find historic architecture juxtaposed with minimalist sculpture in a vast expanse of arid desert. Tales of paranormal phenomena are also rife, with UFO sightings and unexplained incidences of eerie lights – known worldwide as the ‘Marfa Lights’ – witnessed with surprising regularity to this day. Marfa is charming, mythical and altogether unmissable.

2. The ‘Devil’s throat’, Iguazú Falls, Argentina

Eleanor Roosevelt famously exclaimed “Poor Niagara” upon laying eyes on Iguazú Falls, and it would be hard to disagree. Dare to lean even a tiny bit over the rail on the jutting viewing platform at the heart of the Falls, known as ‘the Devil’s throat’, and you will be rewarded with a surreal and breathtaking rush. As water surges underfoot, the sensation of being swept away (although safely stationed) is nerve-tingling. The sound is roaring and intense; it shakes you to your very core.

3. The Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Sunrise on this crystalline plane is surreal to the point of supernatural. Once a prehistoric lake, it is now dried to a desert-like landscape of flat, white and endless salt. The salt crust stretches as far as the eye can see without a single blip or spot, save for the odd vehicle ferrying passengers and a cacti-covered island named Isla Incahuasi. The sense of space and expanse is enthralling. Couple this with the altitude and you’ll be left even more breathless than you imagined.

4. Škocjan Caves, Slovenia

Journey underground into the depths of the Škocjan caves and you’ll discover a natural spectacle straight out of fantasy fiction. As you venture along undulating pathways lit by low lamps and explore large rock chambers, you might boggle at the caves’ extraordinary likeness to the cavernous lair of J.R.R Tolkien’s demon Balrog. Cross a bridge straddling the largest underground canyon in the world, and dare to stare into its seemingly endless abyss. The surreal beauty of these caves is underscored by their significance as a site of rare natural history.

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5. Pamukkale, Turkey

These striking natural hot springs at first glance look like icy pools, but the mineral rich thermal waters of Pamukkale are the perfect temperature for bathing. Terraced travertine basins form natural swimming baths, but there are also blindingly white mineral forests and petrified waterfalls to discover here. Plus the site of an ancient Roman and Byzantine city named Hierapolis, testament that people have been soaking in these therapeutic waters for thousands of years; one of the pools even boasts an ancient submerged column.

How to enjoy on travelling

Is your passport is groaning under the weight of international ink? Do your friends forget which country you’re in? If you recognise any of these signs, you’ve been bitten hard by the travel bug in 2016.

 

1. There’s a big hole in your bank account

A long weekend away or a carefully planned backpacking trip might seem budget-friendly to begin with, but once you’ve been tempted by a tour of the Galápagos Islands or a week in Iceland searching for the Northern Lights things start to add up.

What was once a well-fed bank account is now a shadow of its former self. Its demise may have been inversely proportional to your growing happiness, but you’re starting to wonder whether you might need to find a cheaper passion – well, for the next few months at least.

2. Your kitchen is bare

Thanks to all the time you’ve spent on the road, your kitchen has seen better times. At least you’ve got enough miniature bottles of spirits pilfered from airlines and hotel rooms to keep you going for a while.

 

3. You need a new passport – again

Those celebratory stamps at Machu Picchu and Ushuaia are starting to look like a costly use of space. You still carry your ink-cluttered passport with pride, but you’re starting to resent the irritating regularity of having to renew it.

4. You receive a warm welcome on every flight

With all the time you’ve spent on a plane, you’re starting to become a pro at frequent flying. From charming the cabin crew to making the most of your air miles, you’ve got the system totally figured out.

 

5. You forget which language you’re speaking

Spasibo? Shukran? Thank you?

After mastering a handful of new languages this year (well, “two beers, please” at least), you’ve been left struggling to remember the correct way of saying “thanks” when you’re back on home turf.

Favourite stories of the year about travelling

As the year comes to a close, we’ve been looking back over our favourite features of 2016. We published around five hundred articles and photo stories this year, working with contributors from around the world.

Here, we’ve collected our favourites. A huge thanks to our brilliant team of writers, photographers and editors and – of course – you, our readers, without whom this wouldn’t have been possible. Here’s to another great year of travel.

 

Meet the 80-year-old explorer who just won’t stop exploring

In February, we spoke to Robin Hanbury-Tenison, who’s still embarking on fascinating expeditions around the world at the age of 80.

He’s been awarded the Patron’s Gold Medal by the Royal Geographic Society and is currently undertaking eight challenges in an effort to raise £80,000 for Survival International.

 

Longread: Riding the Ghan through Australia’s red centre

Join Shafik Meghji, co-author of The Rough Guide to Australia, on one of the world’s great railway journeys, from Darwin to Adelaide. “It felt a bit like taking the Orient Express across Mars”, he said of the experience.

 

It turns out we’re not the only ones addicted to travel, as more than half a million of you watched this video, edited by Colt St George. If you rarely see a plane without wishing you were on it, this short film is for you.

 

Our author has crossed the Ghats many times on updating trips for The Rough Guide to India, taking this series of photographs between 2010 and 2014.

In this piece he takes us on a visual tour of this rugged and remote region, from the slopes of Kolukkumalai, the world’s highest tea plantation, to the fascinating hill station of Matheran.

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List: Britain’s best seaside towns

Lovingly compiled by our editors, this list combines childhood bucket-and-spade holiday destinations with the latest up-and-coming coastal hotspots.

Whether you’re dreaming of fish and chips on the quayside or long stretches of golden sand, you’ll find summer holiday inspiration aplenty.

Around the world fro travelling

The festive period is upon us again, and with so many celebrations it can be hard to keep up the pace. Luckily, there are some pretty inventive hangover cures out there to help you make it through to the new year. We’ve compiled some of the most interesting from around the world to ensure that you have a fighting chance the next day…

 

1. Leche de tigre (tiger’s milk), Peru

Your Peruvian hangover cure comes with a side of ceviche – leche de tigre is the marinade used to cure the fish. You might drink it from the bowl after you’ve finished eating or sip it from a glass on the side, but either way, the combination of lime, onion, chilli, garlic and fresh coriander will be sure to blow away those cobwebs.

 

2. Shakshuka, Tunisia

This delicious mixture of red peppers, harissa, tomatoes and eggs is thought to have originated in Tunisia, but is incredibly popular across North Africa and parts of the Middle East. Served with fresh, crusty bread, it’ll put your regular breakfast to shame.

 

3. Ostrich egg omelette, South Africa

Got a group of hungover friends? You’ll want to embrace a South African hangover cure and whip up an ostrich egg omlette. There’ll be plenty to go around as one ostrich egg contains the equivalent of two-dozen chicken eggs and weighs on average 1.4kg.

4. Lechona, Colombia

This much-celebrated Colombian dish is made from a whole pig stuffed with onions, peas, rice, and roasted for over 23 hours. As it’s so time consuming to prepare, this robust recipe is usually served on Sundays, making it the perfect remedy to a big Saturday night out.

 

5. Kokoreç, Turkey

On paper Kokoreç might not sound inspiring – especially if you’re feeling rough – but once you’ve tried this Turkish sandwich, you’ll understand why it’s a the most sought after fast-food in Istanbul. It’s made with several kinds of lamb or goat organs, wrapped in the intestines, seasoned and cooked on a skewer in a similar way to a doner kebab.

 

6. A dip in a hot spring, Iceland

If your heavy night has led to a loss of appetite, there are few better cures than a dip in one of Iceland’s beautiful blue pools.

One of the best hot springs to head to is Landmannalauger, a stunning outpost just inland from the south coast, where hot water streams mix with cold water streams to create the perfect hot-bath temperature. Get ready to laze for hours.

Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle is the route between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and is named for the almost-equilateral triangle that the three cities make when plotted on a map. Starting in the capital, Delhi, and taking in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, it’s India’s most well-trodden tourist track. Why “Golden”? Well, for the extraordinary religious and historical sights that the three stops offer.

 

What are the highlights?

Most people start in Delhi, where the majority of international flights arrive. While you could spend weeks exploring the city’s sights, from the museums of the Mughal Red Fortto the towering Qutb Minar and the British Raj-era India Gate, the best way to get a feel for the capital’s dynamism is by walking through its streets and bazaars. Two of the most vibrant are Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi and New Delhi’s Paharganj.

The magnificent Taj Mahal is, unsurprisingly, Agra’s premier sight, and nothing can really prepare you for the sheer scale and regal splendour of the structure up close. Try to time your visit with sunrise or sunset, when the Taj is at its most majestic. Nearby Agra Fort is also well worth a visit; from its walls, you can spot the Taj Mahal rising up in the distance.

At the triangle’s third corner is Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, which is known as the “Pink City” for its walled, pink-hued cluster of buildings. Wander around the centre to stumble across historical highlights such as Hawa Mahal and the impressive City Palace. Jaipur is well known for traditional crafts and designs, so it’s the place to shop for fabrics and presents to take home.

Where can I escape the crowds?

Throughout the Golden Triangle, the best way to escape from the throng is often to step into one of the many Hindu, Sikh and Muslim buildings scattered around the cities. Inside, you will find oases of calm, as well as some of the circuit’s most beautiful structures.

In Delhi, just a short drive away from the city centre, visit Swaminarayan Akshardham. This Hindu temple was built in 2011 using traditional methods, but its grandness and intricate decoration evoke a far older era. It’s a huge complex, and photography is banned, both of which give the opportunity for peaceful reflection away from the selfie sticks and smartphones snapping away in most of the city’s monuments.

The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort are invariably jam-packed, so consider taking a day trip to nearby Fatehpur Sikri if you really want to get away from it all. The small city, which was once the capital of the Mughal empire, is an hour from Agra, and the grand, red sandstone Jodha Bais palace buildings and imposing Jama Masjid mosque remain comparatively untouristed.

Jaipur is the least hectic of the Golden Triangle’s cities, and just wandering around the backstreets you’ll be able to find yourself off the main tourist track. Outside the city, Nahargarh Fort gives the best viewpoint over the sprawling streets, while a visit to Galtajiis an entertaining opportunity to admire the hundreds of rhesus macaque monkeys that have taken over the ancient temple complex.

Find the best place for travelling in South America

Bolivia brims with unique and barely-visited landscapes and cultures. It offers everything from the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, to the Parque Nacional Madidi – one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, plus a wealth of ancient indigenous customs and traditions.

But despite this plethora of attractions, the country rarely features top of most travellers’ South American itineraries.

So could there be some truth in Bolivia’s reputation as the world’s least friendly tourist destination? In 2013, Bolivia ranked last globally for the “attitude of population towards foreign visitors”. That year the country received only 800,000 international visitors compared to 5.6 million in neighbouring Argentina.

We think this captivating country has just been misinterpreted. Here, Steph Dyson, winner of our writing competition, tells us why you need to make time for South America’s most misunderstood destination.

 

Misconception #1: given that ranking, the local people won’t be friendly

Visitors may find themselves ignored in the market, or frustrated as they struggle to be understood in basic transactions. But this unresponsiveness – sometimes bordering on rudeness – stems from the fact that many people do not speak Spanish as their native tongue.

Instead, over half of the population speaks one of the indigenous languages – Quechua or Aymara, with Spanish as a secondary language.

In addition to this language barrier, poor quality English teaching has resulted in few Bolivians being equipped with the linguistic skills to communicate with English-speaking tourists.

Unless you’ve invested time into learning key phrases, you may be met with a lack of patience, masking the warmth and kindness of the majority of the people you will encounter.

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Misconception #2: you’re likely to get robbed

We all hear the anecdotes, or read the warnings on the travel forums. But let’s face it: we’re far more likely to share sour experiences from our trips than how safe we felt throughout.

In the de facto capital La Paz, stepping outside of the tourist hotspots or hopping onto public transport is one of the best ways of exploring the city. However, many tourists work themselves into such a frenzy that they stick to the centre and the sanitised – and ludicrously expensive – tourist transport. This starves travellers of a real insight into Bolivia.

As with all big cities in South America – and indeed across the world – due caution and awareness of your surroundings is your best protection. But locals here will often look out for you, kindly reminding you to keep your bag close or warning you of potential scams. Taking heed of this advice, as well as taking basic precautions, will increase your feeling of safety.

Bear in mind, despite perceptions, that the overall crime rating of Bolivia is actually lower than neighbouring Peru.

Beautiful places in India

We asked the Rough Guides team in Delhi to vote for the most beautiful places in India. After much deliberation, here are the results…

 

10. Chilika Lake, Odisha

Fed by fresh-water rivers and washed by the sea, this biodiversity hotspot is a wintering ground for migratory birds and home to a number of threatened aquatic species, including the Irrawaddy dolphin. A stunning place to start off our list of the most beautiful places in India.

9. Madikeri, Coorg, Karnataka

Our Delhi team voted for Madikeri as an excellent base from which to explore the lush national parks, natural beauty and gorgeous coffee plantations that abound in this scenic stretch of the Western Ghats.

8. Mawlynnong, Meghalaya

Described by one of our editors as magical, this village in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya is simply stunning. The surrounding areas are just as unforgettable, with natural bridges made by twisting the roots of rubber trees crossing the rivulets and streams.

7. Kumarakom Backwaters, Kerala

At number seven in the list, Kerala’s scenic backwaters, edged with coconut palms, lush green rice paddies and picturesque villages, make for a beautiful escape from hectic city life.

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6. Mandu, Madhya Pradesh

One of central India’s most atmospheric monuments, this medieval ghost town is set on a scenic plateau still prowled at night by leopards and panthers.

5. Hampi, Karnataka

This vast archeological site would have been one of the largest and richest cities of its time. The design, detailing and ornamentation of the best-preserved ruins are astonishing.

Student on travelling

Travel is the best form of procrastination and as a student, with those long holidays full of faraway deadlines, it’s almost inevitable you’re going to want to get away. Flights are cheaper than ever before, so there’s no excuse whatever your budget. Whatever our preference, here are some of the best places to spend your student breaks.

 

For beaches: Albania

The beaches of the rugged Albanian Riviera are picture perfect, nestled in secluded coves and lapped by crystal clear-waters. The coastline is dotted with traditional villages, and there are budget hotels and restaurants by the dozen.

Travellers inevitably find themselves staying longer than planned, whiling away their days on the beach with an ice-cold beer in hand – after all, this is one of the cheapest places in Europe to enjoy a lager (or two).

 

For nightlife: Madrid, Spain

With everything starting so late (don’t expect lunch till about 4pm and dinner certainly not before 9pm), you’ll find yourself partying here until sunrise – at least.

The Spanish capital is home to scores of wild bars, pubs and clubs catering to all musical tastes where you can dance your socks off as you knock down some potent drinks.

You’ll probably find yourself in a café eating churros with chocolate for breakfast – the fried dough pastry is perfect for soaking up that pounding hangover.

 

For island life: Croatia

If you fancy sailing, secluded coves and beach parties then look no further than the islands of the Croatian archipelago. They also attract their share of cyclists – there are peaceful coastal routes offering gorgeous views.

Trendy Hvar Island is packed with stylish bars and clubs, while Brac retains a traditional feel with picturesque fishing villages, vineyards and olive groves.

For making friends: Slovenia

Slovenia is a peaceful country with areas of outstanding natural beauty. At tourist farms friendly hosts serve home-cooked organic food. You’ll be able to experience rural events and learn about farm life while making friends with welcoming and hospitable souls.

If you’re after a little more action, the friendly capital Ljubljana, with its bustling restaurants and bars, is a great place to mingle with local students.

Learn before you go backpacking

That’s when paranoia sets in, and the unfamiliarity of your surroundings can make your trip feel like an ordeal worthy of Odysseus. Fret not: everyone needs a helping hand from time to time. Here are five skills that’ll help you on your way.

 

1. Understand the rules of the road

The first is simple: there are no rules. You yell stop, the traffic continues regardless, and a truck held together with no more than a hope and a prayer, thunders towards you as if involved in a Mad Max death race.

From Africa and India to Southeast Asia, it’s almost a contractual obligation. If you glare forebodingly at the truck driver, he’s still going to come for you. If you boldly walk on, you might get mowed down.

That may be a teensy exaggeration, but consider this: according to the latest WHO report, some of the most popular countries to travel to in 2016 are the most dangerous in which to be a pedestrian. There were 24,896 fatalities from road accidents in Iran, for instance, while in Thailand the number of road deaths hit 24,237. Other traveller hotspots such as Vietnam, Oman, Brazil, and South Africa are equally as foolhardy.

It’s Wacky Races logic out there, so don’t forget to stop, look, listen and think.

 

2. Know your maths

Paying for a meal or bus ticket in a new country can sometimes feel like playing with Monopoly money. Which means knowing your mental arithmetic for converting currency is a must.

In Zimbabwe in 2008, for example, the government issued a laughable Z$100 trillion note (the equivalent of US$300). As travellers to Victoria Falls around that time may well remember, it was easy to get fleeced if you didn’t know your sums, especially when counting-out paltry $500 billion notes (US$1).

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3. Master the ethics of haggling

Look up the dictionary definition of haggling and you’ll find this: “to bargain or wrangle, specifically over a price or an agreement”. What it doesn’t say is how even the simplest of head-to-head transactions, be it over a rickshaw ride in Delhi, or an impulsive sombrero purchase in Oaxaca (a trap we can all fall into), can turn into an existential ethical dilemma. You may have got a bargain, but in return you’ve deprived a family and hungry children.

Conversely, you may have been ripped off by a scoundrel, leaving you kicking yourself for not knowing better. Maybe the dictionary definition should adapt to calling it immersion therapy.

 

In real terms, bartering is no more than an age-old game like chess. Your opponent will never bet against themselves, so it’s just a matter of resilience. The provider also knows you can afford it more than they can, so the question is who has the greater need?

Learning the knack of recognising what a product or service is worth, not just to you but to the seller, takes time but is a key survival skill. Some say you should start at half of what is offered, others say two-thirds.

Even if you pay slightly more than you’d like, you’ll almost always come out richer for the experience. And remember, there’s no glory in saving a few pennies. Because nobody likes a Scrooge.

 

4. Learn improvised sign language

Let’s face it: few travellers have a grasp of Tamil and those Mandarin lessons at school just didn’t stick. Learning sign and body language can overcome these barriers, and even if you do speak a few helpful phrases, sometimes it’s quicker to save your breath and use your hands.

For starters, everyone knows the universal sign for “OK” (thumb and index make a circle while the remaining fingers point up) and “let’s rock!” (index finger and pinkie raised into a horn-like fist), but what about the less obvious ones? For budding surfers the Hawaiian ‘shaka’ sign is a must; it can be used to say anything from “take it easy” to “hang loose” (make a fist, extend your pinky and thumb, then shake your hand).