Grand designs: The striking images of buildings shortlisted for the 2017 Sony Photography Competition

Some buildings and structures are stunning to behold at first glance, while others reveal themselves as something special when they’re shown at a certain angle, as these incredible images demonstrate.

The pictures are all shortlisted and commended entries in the architecture category of the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards – the world’s largest photography competition.

They include sublime pictures of The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, multi-coloured doorways in Tokyo and Cayan Tower in Dubai Marina.

A picture taken in China, meanwhile, elevates a tangle of roads from the mundane to high art – the aerial angle turning them into a mesmerising pattern.

Another image  shows the famous London Aquatics Centre – a remarkable building that looks all the more striking thanks to photographer Katarzyna Young, who captured its ‘signature curves’ and bright hues in some style.

MailOnline Travel showcases images that will urge you to stop and look at the buildings around you in a different light. Images from the competition will be displayed at London’s Somerset House between April 21 and May 7, 2017 and the winners will be announced on April 20.

A reflection of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing, during sunset

A Manhattan sunset shot from Queens across the East River. This is ‘Part 2’ in a New York Trilogy that photographer Lars Sivars calls ‘NYC Light’

Yukihito Ono simply said of her entry: 'I found colorful doors in Tokyo'           This amazing image is of the Cayan Tower, Dubai Marina

Yukihito Ono simply said of her entry, left, ‘I found colorful doors in Tokyo’
The amazing image on the right is of the Cayan Tower, Dubai Marina

This picture taken in China elevates a tangle of roads from the mundane to high art – the aerial angle turning them into a mesmerising pattern

The London Aquatics Centre was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid in 2004 before London won the bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The photographer who took this image, Katarzyna Young, said of it: 'I tried to capture the signature curves of Zaha Hadid's architectural designs. My eye was also drawn to the vivid colour of the building's windows as well as on how the shadows and light define the structure'

The London Aquatics Centre was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid in 2004 before London won the bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The photographer who took this image, Katarzyna Young, said of it: ‘I tried to capture the signature curves of Zaha Hadid’s architectural designs. My eye was also drawn to the vivid colour of the building’s windows as well as on how the shadows and light define the structure’

Called 'Walking in the Light', this image by photographer Amri Arfianto captures a woman at The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi crossing through a keyhole-shaped patch of sunshine

Called ‘Walking in the Light’, this image by photographer Amri Arfianto captures a woman at The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi crossing through a keyhole-shaped patch of sunshine

This image shows the office building called Dockland in Hamburg, Germany, and was taken in summer of 2016

This image shows the office building called Dockland in Hamburg, Germany, and was taken in summer of 2016

UK photographer Tim Cornbill said of his photograph: 'Having just arrived in Berlin on a bright summer's day, my wife and I decided to take a morning walk along the River Spree. We soon came across a large concrete building, and I was immediately struck by its geometry and scale. Across the river, I positioned myself for a single point perspective and waited for the right moment to capture it. A couple came into the viewfinder and I noticed the cyclist out of the corner of my eye. I waited for them to move into the frame and hit the shutter to try and balance the composition'

This image shows the facade of the Bodegas Ysios wine cellar in Laguardia in the north of the Iberian Peninsula. The cellar building was designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. The building is designed to integrate into the hilly landscape of the Sierra de Cantabria

This image shows the facade of the Bodegas Ysios wine cellar in Laguardia in the north of the Iberian Peninsula. The cellar building was designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. The building is designed to integrate into the hilly landscape of the Sierra de Cantabria

Pictured left is the Square Colosseum building in Rome just after sunset. The photographer, Claudio Cantonetti, said: ‘The very difficult task has been to compose carefully and avoid the traffic’
Pictured right is Modena Cathedral in Italy. Consecrated in 1184, it is an important Romanesque building and a World Heritage Site

A fascinating image of a building reflected from the River Danube

A fascinating image of a building reflected from the River Danube

Urban life: A helipad in China next to row upon mesmerising row of highway traffic

Portuguese photographer Luis Pina said: 'This photo was taken on February 28, 2016, in the Stuttgart Library, in Germany. I really like this Library because it's like no other Library I've ever seen. I actually find that this modern and ethereal look helps one concentrate. This was my first set of photos with my new Sony A7RII and Sony Zeiss 16-35 f/4'Portuguese photographer Luis Pina said: ‘This photo was taken on February 28, 2016, in the Stuttgart Library, in Germany. I really like this Library because it’s like no other Library I’ve ever seen. I actually find that this modern and ethereal look helps one concentrate. This was my first set of photos with my new Sony A7RII and Sony Zeiss 16-35 f/4’

The Photographer, Adi Bulboaca, said of his shot: 'I had the chance to spend four days in the Silver Beach Hotel in November 2016, off the shore of Lake Balaton in Hungary. It's very much a summer resort, so I found myself out of season while working as a set photographer for a film. Built between 1978 and 1983, the hotel was designed by the brutalist architect Tillai Erno. All the rooms were obviously vacant, so I was able to snoop around and explore the entire resort to my heart's content. The place has a retro feel to it and a soothing patina that I hope I was able to capture. I was fascinated by how stark yet visually inviting this "anachronistic" hotel could be'

This image shows the stark facade of the Silver Beach Hotel, taken by Aldi Bulboaca

This image shows the stark facade of the Silver Beach Hotel, taken by Aldi Bulboaca

Here's Moscow looking like a city from the future, where photographer Ivan Turukhano caught a girl sitting by a window in a courtyard 

Here’s Moscow looking like a city from the future, where photographer Ivan Turukhano caught a girl sitting by a window in a courtyard

An industrial tank in Amsterdam looks like a work of art in this picture. The photographer said: ‘The shadows create a light and feather like abstract on this otherwise bold and heavy storage tank’

The need to accommodate Hong Kong’s dense population has created public housing with ‘unique and spectacular facades’, according to photographer Denise Y K Tsang

An interior shot of the Cameo cinema in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photographer Jimmy Reid said: ‘I love the classic feel of this cinema and the formation of the chairs is almost hypnotising to me’

This picture was taken in October 2016 in Berlin near the government headquarters. Photographer Volker Sander said: ‘I saw the straight and diagonal lines and I found that it was a good composition with the coloured squares inside’

The view from Switch House at Tate Modern towards the Shard in London

The Photographer said: 'Prostitution is legal in Greece and the authorities decided to stipulate that all brothels must have permits. There are different kinds of brothels. The upper class ones are called Studio. The difference from the normal brothels are the buildings - more discreet, the attitude of the prostitutes, more polite, and the price, obviously higher. A person welcomes the clients and once inside there is a waiting room where the girls available come out to show themselves. At this point the clients decide whether to stay or to leave. These brothels are recognizable by a pink light sign with the word Studio'

The Photographer said: ‘Prostitution is legal in Greece and the authorities decided to stipulate that all brothels must have permits. There are different kinds of brothels. The upper class ones are called Studio. The difference from the normal brothels are the buildings – more discreet, the attitude of the prostitutes, more polite, and the price, obviously higher. A person welcomes the clients and once inside there is a waiting room where the girls available come out to show themselves. At this point the clients decide whether to stay or to leave. These brothels are recognizable by a pink light sign with the word Studio’

Another picture of the Ysios winery in Laguardia, this time showing the detail in the roofing. The photo was taken on a hot Sunday morning in early September 2016

China, Fuling, Chongqing municipality – an area that has been transformed in recent years from rural to urban. Daily life there has been captured here by Julien Chatelin

An architecture detail of a building at Valletta old city, Malta, captured by Greek photographer Elias Joidos

The skies darken as a storm approaches Larung Gar in Sichuan, China, home to the Five Sciences Buddhism Academy

The skies darken as a storm approaches Larung Gar in Sichuan, China, home to the Five Sciences Buddhism Academy

Nearly 10,000 monks and nuns live in Larung Gar, pictured in this entry by Ming Keung Tam. In 2016, reports emerged from Tibet that there was a mass demolition drive in the unique town by the People's Republic of China

Nearly 10,000 monks and nuns live in Larung Gar, pictured in this entry by Ming Keung Tam. In 2016, reports emerged from Tibet that there was a mass demolition drive in the unique town by the People’s Republic of China

'During my visit to Rotterdam in October 2016 I saw these yellow cube houses and looked for a special perspective,' said photographer Martin Seraphin

‘During my visit to Rotterdam in October 2016 I saw these yellow cube houses and looked for a special perspective,’ said photographer Martin Seraphin

A mind-boggling picture of a skyscraper in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo

This eye-popping image shows the dense urbanisation of Hong Kong – it was taken by local Chak Kwong Man

 

 

 

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Destination Inspiration: Ten of the World’s Most Legendary, Gorgeous Beaches…

So reckons the extremely well-trekked Gilbert Ott, editor of Godsavethepoints – and I must say I’m finding it hard to disagree with him!


City breaks are cool, cultural holidays are fun, but it’s hard to beat an nice cold refreshing drink on a gorgeous sandy beach with the shades on. If you’ve been spinning the globe looking for the perfect place to spend your hard earned holiday cash, it’s tough to pass up these beaches, which are arguably ten of the most stunning you’ll find anywhere in the world…

Horseshoe Beach, Bermuda

Believe it or not, there really is an island where the sand is pink: it’s called Bermuda. This particular stretch of beach features a hidden cove where you find tourist free, untouched beauty.

Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia

If the beach is crowded, just hit the amazing sand bar a few feet out. Shallow water, rolling hills, white sand and all the glory of an Australian holiday. Sold.

Honopu Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Pink sand, girly. White sand, standard. Black sand? Very cool! Honopu beach, amongst many of Hawaii’s best beaches, features volcanic black sand, creating one of the most unique experiences in the world against crystal blue water….

Pansy Island, Mozambique

Want to escape the world? Well this is about as “secluded” as you can get, requiring a plane and then a boat to bring you to these remote islands, only a few of which are inhabited…

Honopu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

If black sand is a bit extreme for your taste, perhaps one of these remote, hike-worthy beaches protected by massive rock formations. It’s worth the “trek”…

Temea Beach, Moorea, French Polynesia

You know life is tough when you’re choosing between Moorea and Bora Bora. If you opt to go the Moorea route, you’ll definitely want to hit Temea Beach, featuring water with color so pristine it makes pools envious. There’s plenty of soft sand and rugged terrain as well…

El Nido Beach, Palawan, Philippines

A picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, probably worthy of enticing you to buy a $1000 plane ticket. El Nido beach is one of the most secluded, gorgeous beach areas, with lush greenery juxtaposing the surreal blue ocean and white sand. Simply paradise.

Long Beach, Koh Phi Phi Island, Thailand

Thailand’s beaches are so sought after the country is having to crack down on tourism. The Phi Phi Islands offer one of the most “Instagram” worthy settings. You’ll just want to arrive early to avoid the boats of people trying to get in on the amazing action. Unless you enjoy people…

Whitehaven Beach, Queensland, Australia

If there’s one thing to learn from this post, Queensland is worthy of a bucket list spot. With two beaches on the list (for obvious reasons shown above) you’ll find all the sand, snorkelling and surfing fun you could ever dream of.

Until then, keep dreaming…

“Where To Go When”: Lonely Planet reveals the best places to visit every month of the year

This handy book provides expert advice, activity ideas and inspiring photos on the best places to holiday every month.  Experts present trip ideas for everyone, whether you’re a fan of adventure, culture, history, nature, sightseeing and wildlife; and the 12-month calendar of suggestions helps travellers to avoid the crowds and get the most out of their chosen destination.

Lonely Planet’s Where to go When, the ultimate trip planner for every month of  the year, is a beautifully illustrated book that is both practical and inspiring. For every month of the year it presents 30 recommendations of destinations that are at their best during each month, whether due to their climate, or value, or simply because there’s a lot going on.

The suggestions feature every flavour of travel experience, from culture-rich city breaks and tropical beach holidays to adventurous road trips and wildlife-watching expeditions. Every corner of the planet is covered so you’ll find out when the best time to see mountain gorillas is or to go shopping in Paris.

The book is organised by month. At the start of each chapter a flowchart guides you through the options so readers can filter the recommendations according to their interests. Whether you’re into beaches, trying the local specialities or backpacking off the beaten path, there will suggestions for you. Diagrams also depict the climate, value for money and family friendliness of each suggestion in the month.

Read on for some of the monthly highlights.  (Photos courtesy of Mail Online)

January

What a way to start the year: Visit Dove Lake, which was formed by glaciation in Tasmania. Behind it sits Cradle Mountain

What a way to start the year: Visit Dove Lake, which was formed by glaciation in Tasmania. Behind it sits Cradle Mountain

The destinations that Lonely Planet recommends travellers head to in January include Uganda, Florida, Lanzarote, Switzerland, Sydney, Slovenia, Kerala in India, Grenada, Honshu in Japan, Guatemala and the Arctic Peninsula.

This month is also the time for nature fans to visit the southern Serengeti in Tanzania to watch thousands of grazing wildebeest or to explore the empty beaches and nature trails in full bloom in Australia’s Tasmania.

Other highlights this month include the Hay literary festival in Colombia, cruising through Myanmar under a balmy sun and taking in Vienna’s glamorous winter balls.

February

Follow in Santa's sleigh trails: A visit to Finnish lapland in February is the perfect time to see the spectacular aurora borealis

Follow in Santa’s sleigh trails: A visit to Finnish lapland in February is the perfect time to see the spectacular aurora borealis

For February, Ibiza, the Gambia, Michoacan in Mexico, the Indian Ocean, Cambodia, Singapore, Haiti, Venice and Quebec are among the top picks.

Lonely Planet also encourages travellers to embrace the chill in Iceland, Lapland and Andorra this month as conditions are ideal for hiking, skiing and to see the Northern Lights.

The weather, meanwhile, is glorious in Honduras, which offers affordable diving. And it’s carnival season in Rio de Janeiro – and the bodegas of Mendoza, Argentina, are open with enticing wine tours and tastings.

March

First splash of spring: Unwind in Tobago at the dreamy Pigeon Point Beach where even the palm trees are laid back

First splash of spring: Unwind in Tobago at the dreamy Pigeon Point Beach where even the palm trees are laid back

Sicily, Cyprus, South Africa, Tyrol in Austria, the Maldives, Chile, Costa Rica, Banff in Canada, Savannah in the US, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Trinidad and Tobago are among the most desirable destinations for March travellers.

Other picks include watching grey whales migrating off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, spotting Shere Khan big cats in Madhya Pradesh, India, or encountering Sichuan pandas in China during this month.

Creative event South by South West (SXSW), meanwhile, will add a crackling energy to Austin, US, in March and Iguazu Falls straddling Brazil and Argentina will be even more jaw-dropping than usual as the waterfall is in full flow at this time of year.

April

A spicy spring escape: Sun, sand and sea await discovery at Thailand's tropical beaches overlooking the Andaman Sea

A spicy spring escape: Sun, sand and sea await discovery at Thailand’s tropical beaches overlooking the Andaman Sea

For April escapes, the travel experts suggest Panama, the Phillippines, Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand, the Alps, the Lake District, Belize, Melbourne, Brussels, Nepal, St Lucia and Andalusia in Spain.

Cultured travellers can explore Jordan’s ancient attractions while camping in the desert at this mild time of year. It’s also an inspiring time to see the colourful flowers of sakura (cherry blossom) season in Japan.

Spring is also ideal for driving along California’s breath-taking, traffic-free coastal roads and to feel the heat on a thrilling beach break in Thailand during the nation’s new year celebrations, Lonely Planet says.

May

A nature lover's paradise, Montenegro has rivers, seas and slopes, ripe for exploration in mild May

A nature lover’s paradise, Montenegro has rivers, seas and slopes, ripe for exploration in mild May

May is an idyllic month for shoulder season travel with the Lonely Planet experts selecting Bermuda, Samoa, Morocco, Peru, Cornwall, North Island in New Zealand, Loire Valley in France, Israel, Prague, Cuba, Southern Namibia and the Amalfi coast in Italy as top picks.

The guide book has other picks for this month, too. A nature lover’s paradise, Montenegro has rivers, seas and slopes, ripe for exploration in mild May, while it’s also a good time to take advantage of the deserted beaches in Spain’s Galicia region before the other tourists arrive.

Other highlights of the month include hiking Ihlara Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey, sailing the fjords on the west coast of Norway and hitting the roads of northern Queensland for a picturesque tour.

June

Shutterbugs can make the most of the long summer days in Orkney, Scotland, and spend the summer solstice on the island

Shutterbugs can make the most of the long summer days in Orkney, Scotland, and spend the summer solstice on the island

Trip suggestions for June include Greenland, Jamaica, Iran, Sardinia, Cape Cod, Lisbon, Yosemite National Park, Bora Bora, the Canadian Rockies, South Luangwa National Park in Zambia and Rwanda.

And this month’s family friendly options include riding horses at Montana’s ranches, snorkelling at Ningaloo Reef in Australia and watching the turtles hatch in Borneo.

Shutterbugs, meanwhile, can make the most of the long summer days in Orkney and spend the summer solstice among the Scottish island’s historic attractions, while cultured holidaymakers can take in the Opera Festival in Verona this month.

July

Brazil's Pantanal wetland experiences its dry season during this month making it an ideal time to see an array of colourful animals, from toucans and macaws to elusive jaguars

Brazil’s Pantanal wetland experiences its dry season during this month making it an ideal time to see an array of colourful animals, from toucans and macaws to elusive jaguars

Ever fancied visiting Mongolia, the Baltic, Alaska, Japan, Zanzibar, the Himalayas, the Azores, Antigua or the Black Forest in Germany? Then July is the month to pencil it in.

And Brazil’s Pantanal wetland experiences its dry season during this month, making it an ideal time to see an array of colourful animals, from toucans and macaws to elusive jaguars.

It’s also a delightful month to explore the mountains of the Dolomites and during Australia’s winter you can take a cosy, wine-filled trip to Hunter Valley, travel the wild Atlantic way in Ireland or head for the beaches of the Ionian islands.

August

August is a gorgeous time to discover Umbria in Italy's rolling landscapes, medieval walled towns and rural retreats

August is a gorgeous time to discover Umbria in Italy’s rolling landscapes, medieval walled towns and rural retreats

Mid-summer options recommended by the Lonely Planet experts include Iceland, Zambia, Malawi, Sofia in Bulgaria, Ko Samui in Thailand, Berlin, Nova Scotia in Canada, Sweden, Ecuador, Champagne in France, Turkey and Papua New Guinea.

August is also a gorgeous time to discover the rolling landscapes, medieval walled towns and rural retreats of Umbria in Italy. Buenos Aires, meanwhile, is hosting its arts festival and the Cook Islands are looking their dreamy best this month.

And adventurous families should head to Pembrokeshire in Wales for surfing, cycling and mountaineering or go on a road trip around the Kimberly in Australia.

September

You can avoid the crowds by travelling in shoulder season where you'll find deserted beaches in a sun-drenched Corsica

You can avoid the crowds by travelling in shoulder season where you’ll find deserted beaches in a sun-drenched Corsica

The Silk Road in central Asia, Costa Brava, Tibet, Georgia, South Korea, the Cotswolds, South Africa, Provence, Arizona, Vermont and Sumatra and Java in Indonesia are all best enjoyed in September.

There are other great options, too. You’ll find deserted beaches in a sun-drenched Corsica and can take a moment to appreciate the autumn foliage brightening up Beijing and the Great Wall of China. There’s also often an Indian Summer to make the most of in hazy San Francisco.

And it’s a thrilling month to go rafting in New Zealand, hiking in Mont Blanc, on safari in northern Kenya, or cruising around the Moselle Valley in Germany.

October

With Vietnam experiencing monsoon seasons in both the winter and the summer, October has the perfect conditions for a stunning escape to highlights such as Halong Bay (pictured)

With Vietnam experiencing monsoon seasons in both the winter and the summer, October has the perfect conditions for a stunning escape to highlights such as Halong Bay (pictured)

Top picks for October travel itineraries include Fiji, the Seychelles, Slovakia, Lyon, Bolivia, Costa Verde in Brazil, New Mexico, the Scottish Highlands, New York and Taiwan.

And with Vietnam experiencing monsoon seasons in both the winter and the summer, October has the perfect conditions for a stunning escape to highlights such as Halong Bay.

There’s more.

During this month ‘clear mountain views’ can be enjoyed on visits to Darjeeling in India and Bhutan and Lonely Planet also recommends Oman as it is blessed with ‘mellow weather’ and ‘a taste of old Arabia’.

November

Sun-seekers should make a break for Barbados (pictured), Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands in the tail end of the year before the crowds arrive

Sun-seekers should make a break for Barbados (pictured), Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands in the tail end of the year before the crowds arrive

Nicaragua, the Cayman Islands, the Simien mountains in Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Tokyo and Honshu, South Africa, Oregon, Nepal, Dunedin in New Zealand, Ruka in Finland and Hong Kong are attractive vacation destinations for November.

Sun-seekers, meanwhile, should make a break for Barbados, Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands in the tail end of the year before the other beach bums arrive.

And November is a temperate time to explore Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle and it’s cool enough to climb the Mayan ruins at Ruta May in Guatemala. Abu Dhabi might also be an option if you’re into Formula One or want to explore the new crop of museums opening there, which include the Louvre and the Guggenheim.

December

If you want to start the new year on a natural high head for Southern Patagonia, Chile, at the ends of the Earth where the vast landscapes are a hiking paradise

If you want to start the new year on a natural high head for Southern Patagonia, Chile, at the ends of the Earth where the vast landscapes are a hiking paradise

Why not spend Christmas overseas? Lonely Planet recommends St Vincent and the Grenadines, Australia’s Sapphire coast, the Andaman Islands, Laos, Senegal, San Sebastian, Micronesia and Tenerife in December.

And this month need not be dreary as there are winter wonderlands to discover in Arctic Sweden, Jasper in Canada, Breckenridge in the US or on the Glacier Express in Switzerland.

Fans of winter markets will be enthralled with Tallin in Estonia’s offerings, and Scotland and New Orleans are top destinations for a lively New Years’ Eve. Or if you want to start the new year on a natural high head for Morocco’s stunning Sahara desert or Southern Patagonia, Chile, at the ends of the Earth. These vast landscapes are a hiking paradise.

Book details:

ISBN: 9781786571939 Language: English
Authors: Sarah Baxter, Paul Bloomfeild
320 pages, 320 pp colour | Dimensions: 230mm x 270mm
Next edition due: Dec 2020

17 Epic Places You Never Thought To Travel, But Should

“Be a traveller, not a tourist, in 2017”, say HuffPost.

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Paris? Been there. London? Done that. No offense to those storied standbys, but 2017 is a time to break out of your travel bubble and try someplace you’ve never thought to visit before.

Travel teaches us invaluable lessons we can’t learn in school. It expands our worldview. It pushes us to be better, stronger, more empathetic human beings. And these 17 places, in no particular order, are where that magic is going to happen this year. Some of them can be experienced in the lap of luxury, while others are for only the most adventurous souls. But all of them have the potential to be the best trip you’ve ever taken.

1. South Korea

Don’t let its northern neighbour scare you off: South Korea is full of adventurous travellers’ delights like national parks, mountains and islandsSki resorts here are top-notch, as some are preparing to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. For a more urban feel, try Korean BBQ in Seoul or chill out in Busan, a coastal city.

Visuals Unlimited, Inc./Geoffrey Schmid via Getty Images

 

Seoraksan National Park is the proud site of South Korea’s third-highest mountai. It also features hot springs, temples and jagged rock formations.

Locals vacation on Jeju Island for its beaches, outdoor spas and spine-tingling lava tube tours.

cozyta via Getty Images

 

Changdeokgung Palace, a 15th-century royal villa in Seoul, is a UNESCO world heritage site. Builders expertly designed the complex to accommodate the uneven terrain at the foot of a mountain peak.

Sungjin Kim via Getty Images

 

Cable cars haul skiers at what is now Deogyusan Resort, where hot springs await after a day on the slopes.

2. Mauritius

Mauritius is delicious. This tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean offers up a low-key vibe and endless turquoise waters perfect for sports like wind and kitesurfing. You can also sample local rum and street food or explore churches, temples, mosques and lighthouses from Mauritius’ rich history as a colonial trade hub.

Sapsiwai via Getty Images

 

Le Morne Brabant is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage site that serves as “an exceptional testimony to… resistance to slavery.” The mountain’s forbidding cliffs hid runaway slaves known as maroons, and their oral traditions live on.

Liese Mahieu via Getty Images

 

It doesn’t get better than this.

ullstein bild via Getty Images

 

This is the Seven Coloured Earths in Chamarel, where naturally occurring sands of different colours form unique striped dunes.

Bon Espoir Photography via Getty Images

 

Above is a shopping center in the capital of Port Louis. English, French, and Mauritian Creole are the most commonly spoken languages in Mauritius, while Hinduism and Christianity are the top two religions.

3. Kazakhstan

The world’s ninth-largest country is not just for Borat: Fans of architecture, city tours and wilderness explorations will feel right at home in this little-explored corner of the earth. Start in Almaty, the biggest city, for clothing markets and upscale restaurants. Then, venture out to the Tian Shan mountains and hike sacred forests where many modern fruit crops were first cultivated.

huseyintuncer via Getty Images

 

Astana has been called the “world’s weirdest capital city,” in part because it hardly existed 20 years ago. CNN reports the area was “an empty patch of land… best known as a former gulag prison camp for the wives of Soviet traitors” before it was declared the new capital in 1997, sparking the quick rise of a futuristic skyline.

Leonid Andronov via Getty Images

 

Almaty’s wooden Ascension Cathedral was constructed without nails between 1904 and 1907, and is one of the only buildings in the city to survive a 1911 earthquake. Used for state and public purposes after the Russian Revolution, it was returned to the Russian Orthodox church in the 1990s.

AlesiaBelaya via Getty Images

 

Big Almaty Lake sits in the Tian Shan mountains. The western Tian Shan range stretches into China and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, in part for its biodiversity.

ekipaj via Getty Images

 

The city of Aktau, a hub for the oil industry, sits on the Caspian Sea and is a popular spot among locals for swimming.

4. Cyprus

This lush Mediterranean island sat under the rule of many ancient empires, and it shows: A trip here might include visits to a Byzantine monastery, a mosque or the tombs of high-ranking Hellenistic and Roman officials, which are part of a larger UNESCO world heritage site. Oh, and did we mention the island’s postcard-perfect beaches?

Rosita So Image

 

In the port town of Kyrenia, you can take a boat cruise to swimming and snorkeling spots or visit a castle for a charming bird’s-eye view of the harbor.

efesenko

 

Limassol, Cyprus’ second-biggest city (and still a quaint one at that), has a lively bar and restaurant scene.

Kirillm via Getty Images

 

See remains of an ancient outdoor theater, villas and baths at Kourion, a former city-kingdom on the coast.

A good snapshot stops a moment from running away

 

Adorable Pissouri village is the place to go for horseback riding and pub-hopping. Don’t be fooled, though: The ocean and impeccable diving are still within reach.

5. Latvia

Did you know Latvia has white sand beaches? This Baltic Sea gem, formerly part of the Soviet Union, is full of little surprises and a slight Scandinavian flair. The capital, Riga, was named the European Capital of Culture in 2014, and roughly half of the country is made up of pristine, accessible natural ecosystems. Historical Old Towns, churches and castles abound.

Angel Villalba via Getty Images

 

Riga’s town hall square features the iconic House of the Blackheads, which was built in 1334, destroyed in World War II and rebuilt in 1999.

Sven Zacek via Getty Images

 

Above is the Gauja River, on the border between Estonia and Latvia. Its namesake national park holds more than 500 cultural and historical monuments.

Rihards via Getty Images

 

Not a bad place to spend a summer’s day! Latvia sits across the Baltic Sea from Stockholm, Sweden.

Federica Gentile via Getty Images

 

Kemeri National Park features a variety of wetlands, including the Great Kemeri Bog, which can be traversed by boardwalk.

6. Ecuador

Perched between Colombia and Peru on the Pacific, Ecuador has everything: mountains, beaches, rainforest, volcanos, hot springs, and the famous wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Once part of the Inca Empire, this dramatically beautiful land is steeped in both pre-Colombian and Spanish colonial culture and is perfect for cheap travellerstrek-happy adventurers and history lovers ― after all, Quito’s sprawling UNESCO-tapped city center is the colonial jewel of South America. (Bonus: Ecuador is on the dollar, so there’s no need to exchange currency.)

DC_Colombia via Getty Images

 

Above is a photo of Bartolome Island in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. The endemic species in this volcanic archipelago inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and both land and sea are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Maremagnum via Getty Images

 

The Chimborazo volcano is the highest mountain in Ecuador.

John & Lisa Merrill via Getty Images

 

The historic center of Cuenca is yet another of Ecuador’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The town still subscribes to the rigid planning guidelines with which it was founded in 1557.

Luis Davilla via Getty Images

 

Quito’s Jesuit Church of the Society of Jesus, informally known as la Compañía, has enough gold leaf inside to wow the most jaded travellers. The stunning baroque church also has a charming number of hidden nods to the local culture, including symbols of suns that salute Inca history and indigenous faces and plants worked into the ornate interior designs.

7. Samoa

This island nation ― not be confused with its equally awesome neighbour, American Samoa ― includes 10 islands brimming with volcanoes, waterfalls, rainforests, swimming holes and beaches. Journeying to a natural ocean blowhole or diving deep into a cave pool is just the beginning. Down-to-earth travellers will enjoy its lack of fancy resorts, too.

Michael Runkel / robertharding via Getty Images

 

Swimmers hop into To Sua Ocean Trench, part of a larger area with natural rock pools and blowholes.

Tim Jordan Photography via Getty Images

 

Perfect water awaits you on Upolu Island’s southwest coast.

Michael Runkel via Getty Images

 

Papapapaitai Falls is about as impressive as waterfalls get: This showstopper tumbles into a giant gorge. Continue down the Cross Island Road for more falls, swimming holes and picnic spots.

David Kirkland / Design Pics via Getty Images

 

Upolu Island has plenty of beachfront hotels and ecolodges to maximize your time on the warm white sand.

8. Uruguay

Uruguay doesn’t get as much attention as neighbouring Argentina and Brazil, but this polished, progressive paradise on the Atlantic has a pinch of European flair and is well worth a visit. Experience gaucho culture on a ranch of rolling hills, take to the surf at Punta del Diablo, or party the night away in the clubs at Punta del Este.

Richard I’Anson via Getty Images

 

Stroll the cosmopolitan streets of Montevideo, including the famous Plaza Independencia.

MIGUEL ROJO via Getty Images

 

The rambling, eccentric Casapueblo resort in Punta Ballena was built by late Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, who was inspired by the mud nests of native hornero birds.

fotoquique via Getty Images

 

The resort town of Punta del Este is known as a place to party, but the public art deserves a hand, too.

Mr.Lomein via Getty Images

 

Uruguay’s interior hills are rich in gaucho culture. Book a rural lodge and explore the beautiful countryside on horseback.

9. Namibia

First-time visitors to Africa should start here, in the world’s oldest desert, to experience the thrill of feeling like the last tourist on Earth. Considering its vast selection of wildlifenational parks, shipwrecks and larger-than-life sand dunes, Namibia somehow remains awesomely uncrowded. Many cities and towns have a distinctly German feel ― complete with German restaurants and colonial architecture ― due to years under European rule.

Digital Vision. via Getty Images

 

Zebras drink at a waterhole in Etosha National Park, which offers various epic safaris.

pilesasmiles via Getty Images

 

Ludertiz, a confusingly colonial harbour town, includes an old Lutheran church and bustling village shops that make it feel like anywhere but Africa.

Daniel Osterkamp via Getty Images

 

The quiver tree, a common sight in Southern Namibia, stands tall in a nature park known as Giant’s Playground.

Adrian Carr via Getty Images

 

Off-roaders sit ready to explore the desert’s massive sand dunes, which also make for a daring day hike.

10. Guatemala

Mayan ruins play a starring role in Guatemala. Deep in the jungle, Tikal National Park is a lush playground of plazas, temples and dwellings that are well over 1,000 years old. Equally gorgeous are Guatemala’s active volcanoes, cascading lagoons and the Caribbean-blue Lake Petén Itzá. Even with all these natural wonders, a historic hotel-museum tops the list of places to visit nationwide.

SimonDannhauer via Getty Images

 

From the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D., Mayans inhabited what is now Tikal National Park. Current residents include jaguars, howler monkeys and more than 60 species of bats.

Ben Pipe Photography via Getty Images

 

Parque Central is a popular outdoor gathering place in Antigua, a city in the highlands.

SimonDannhauer via Getty Images

 

At Lake Petén Itzá, the blue water is perfect for sunsets and swimming with the locals.

Laura Grier via Getty Images

 

Daredevils can hike or camp near a handful of active volcanos in Guatemala’s rugged wilderness, though be careful to do so at the right time of year.

11. Papua New Guinea

One look at the water should make it, ahem, clear that this is a paradise. The U.S. State Department cautions that due to crime, an organized tour booked through a travel agency is the best way to explore this stunningly diverse and practically untouched country. (There’s little luxury involved, but it’s a trip of a lifetime.) Try a trekking tour along the rugged, mountainous Kokoda Track or journey to a sing-sing festival, at which Papua New Guineans display their many unique tribal cultures through music and dance.

David Kirkland / Design Pics via Getty Images

 

White sand beaches and few interruptions are hallmarks of the New Ireland Province.

David Kirkland / Design Pics via Getty Images

 

Capital Port Moresby is beautiful from the air, though its crime rate calls for sensible precautions. Infrastructure is virtually non-existent outside PNG’s major cities ― another reason to book a tour rather than travelling on your own.

Michael Runkel / robertharding via Getty Images

 

Local tribes celebrate a sing-sing in the Highlands. Some 836 indigenous languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea, most by fewer than a thousand speakers each.

Jeff Rotman via Getty Images

 

Of course, Papua New Guinea boasts excellent snorkelling and diving.

12. Newfoundland, Canada

Why Newfoundland? Here, east coasters can kayak with icebergs without taking a long flight to Greenland or Alaska and beyond. Then there’s 18,000 miles of unspoiled coastline with some 200 walking trails, plus the 22 species of whales that pass through Newfoundland and Labrador between May and September. Add in dramatic, glacier-carved fjords, and this part of Canada is truly a dream for nature lovers who prefer their international travel over-easy.

Thomas Kitchin & Victoria Hurst / Design Pics via Getty Images

 

Icebergs arrive from the Arctic each spring to places like Trinity Bay, above. Check the map of “Iceberg Alley,” then book a boat or kayak or car to experience them up close.

David Doubilet via Getty Images

 

We really can’t get enough of Gros Morne National Park, which, in addition to cool neon jellyfish, contains towering fjords you can tour by boat.

valleyboi63 via Getty Images

 

The Fort Amherst historical site in St. John’s honors Colonel William Amherst, who recaptured the area from the French in 1762.

CHare Photography

 

Fall in Newfoundland is not too shabby. This is the Humber River in autumn.

13. Romania

Dracula’s homeland oozes eeriness and intrigue: The country has emerged from its Communist past to the delight of travellers who come to explore its medieval towns and ornate castles, including the one where fiction’s scariest bloodsucker once lived. Beyond the charming cobblestone streets, you’ll find adventurous alpine hikes through the towering Carpathian Mountains and all-inclusive beach resorts on the Black Sea coast.

RossHelen via Getty Images

 

The Black Church, with its interior walls adorned with Turkish carpets, is the star of Brasov, a popular medieval town at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains.

Walter Bibikow via Getty Images

 

Corvin Castle in Transylvania features about 50 rooms of medieval art. It’s known as the most impressive Gothic castle in the country.

Christian Adams via Getty Images

 

It can take all day to drive the hairpin turns of Transfagarasan Road, which connects the provinces of Transylvania and Walachia through the mountains. Thanks to a gentle gradient, you can even bike it if you dare.

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Bucharest, Romania’s capital, is known for high energy and good food. Socialist and Art Nouveau architecture coexist here, and the nightlife is some of Eastern Europe’s best.

14. Laos

Even backpackers who have “seen it all” in Thailand and Cambodia will be awestruck in Laos. Stunning waterfalls, soaring mountains and blazing green rice fields are best enjoyed at the Laotian locals’ decidedly slow pace of life. Take a break from zip-lining and cave kayaking to join a yoga retreat or help out on an organic farm. The cuisine ― think sticky rice, papaya salad and fresh fish ― is worth savoring, too.

elmvilla via Getty Images

 

A hot air balloon flies over Vang Vieng, a jungle town and magnet for backpackers.

chrisinthai via Getty Images

 

Kuang Si Falls are a refreshing ― but cold! ― place to swim. Prepare for the hike in, and look out for hidden pools along the way.

wiratgasem via Getty Images

 

Terraced rice fields overlook a village in Mu Cang Chai.

VuCongDanh via Getty Images

 

Buddha Park in Vientiane is probably the most stunning sculpture park you’ll ever see.

15. Azerbaijan

“Untapped” may be the best way to describe this coastal country between Iran and Russia. Start in the capital of Baku, whose Old City has UNESCO world heritage status as a rare example of ancient architecture. Then, move out to explore quaint rural villages at the base of the Great Caucasus mountains. Former Peace Corps volunteers have set up a network of local homestays to help visitors enjoy the country’s outer fringes, where paved roads are scarce but the land is lush.

railelectropower via Getty Images

 

Baku mixes old architecture with glittering 21st-century towers on the Caspian Sea.

JTB Photo via Getty Images

 

The Government House is just one of many historic monuments to see in Baku.

Mark Harris via Getty Images

 

Baku also offers museums, theaters, libraries and an opera house. Treat yourself to a balcony room at the glimmering Four Seasons Hotel.

habrda via Getty Images

 

High in the mountains, Xinaliq is home to friendly shepherds who can point you in the right direction for adventurous hikes.

16. Slovenia

Croatia’s been a hot travel destination for a few years now, but don’t overlook its charming neighbour to the north. The snowy peaks of the Julian Alps are the dramatic backdrop for Slovenia’s storybook Lake Bled, while outdoor restaurants line the riverwalk in the friendly capital city Ljubljana and the sprawling Postojna Cave is a dramatic diversion. (Pro tip: You’ll likely save a few dollars by flying into Venice, Italy, rather than Ljubljana ― it’s not far over the border.)

Matthew Williams-Ellis / robertharding via Getty Images

 

The Franciscan Church of the Annunciation overlooks Ljubljana’s famous Triple Bridge, a lively spot at night.

Getty Images

 

Above you’ll see Lake Bled in the summer. Swim or row in the crystal-clear lake, dine at Bled Castle perched high on a cliff, or stroll the equally Instagram-worthy Vintgar Gorge.

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A tour boat on the Ljubljanica River in Ljubljana.

RossHelen via Getty Images

 

The town of Piran is a “luminescent pearl” on the Adriatic Sea.

17. The Seychelles

Will and Kate honeymooned here, so you know the views are fit for royalty. This collection of around 115 islands in the Indian Ocean is basically a beach-y theme park, with inlets of every size and type. It could take weeks to see them all. Thank goodness there are both private island villas and casual B&Bs to stay in.

Jon Arnold via Getty Images

 

With its pink sand and smooth boulders, Anse Source D’Argent is regularly praised as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Get there early in the day before other fanatics arrive.

SimonDannhauer via Getty Images

 

The beaches at Beau Vallon are some of the most highly trafficked in the Seychelles, but they’re still pleasantly low-key.

dibrova via Getty Images

 

From above, Mahe Island’s jungle flora and coastal towns shine in all their glory. Aside from the usual lineup of tucked-away beaches, the island’s forested interior is a hiker’s paradise.

FilippoBacci via Getty Images

 

St. Pierre is the teensy-tiny islet of your wildest dreams. Seriously.

 

 

The TEN Most INCREDIBLE (And Unique) Design Hotels In The World…

Wow, wow and wow again: godsavethepoints impresario Gilbert Ott has found some awe-inspiring establishments to kick the new year off.  Prepare to book your flights people..!


Read at your own risk. Staying in hotels equally, if not more, inspiring than your destination may lead to extreme laziness, lack of tourism, excess alcohol consumption, increased pool time, outstanding food and a need to return to your destination, so that you can actually visit! These are the most inspiring hotels we’ve found anywhere in the world…

IceHotel Jukkasjarvi, Sweden

Located in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden, The IceHotel is truly something to behold. No two experiences at the hotel are the same, due to the fact that the hotel completely melts every year. True art.

Year after year, a group of pure ice artisans form the IceHotel, offering guests literally one of the coolest places to sleep. If you’re going to stay in an ice hotel, make sure to grab a drink at the Svedka Bar to keep you warm. Prices start at around $325 a night.

Bambu Indah Glass Floor UdangHouse , Bali

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As far as instant awesome goes, setting up camp along the remote rivers and rice fields of Bali, only to find a glass bottom room in a private villa, certainly qualifies. There’s an unlimited mix of adventure, cuisine and serenity in one of the most sought-after places on earth.

By venturing to authentic Bali, your eyes aren’t the only thing to be rewarded, with rates for the gorgeous glass bottom Udang house starting at just $195 per night. Dang!

Hotel Kakslauttanen, Finland

These are not your average igloos. At the Hotel Kakslauttanen you’ll find yourself in a luxurious, all-glass igloo staring through an uninhibited view of the skies – oh and by the way, that view will also most likely include the Northern Lights…

Though it looks like a village of spaceships, this luxe winter hotel sells out well in advance, fetching rates that start at $900 per night. That’ll have you seeing stars in no time!

Giraffe Manor, Kenya

Tables of two often turn into tables of three, where free-roaming giraffes decide to join the party for breakfast, lunch or dinner. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you’re on safari without leaving your hotel room, this is your best bet.

You’ll find the utmost in sophistication inside and out, making Giraffe manor a perfect place to start or end a safari. Sadly the giraffes don’t pay for their share of the room and board, leaving you with a $1,000 a night hotel bill…

Conrad Hilton, Maldives

The Conrad Maldives is one of the few places where “sleeping with the fishes” is something you’d actually ask for. With water clearer than your swimming pool, you’ll find abundant light and fish everywhere you look. You can even eat some at the underwater restaurant…

Private villas, plunge pools and total peace, all sadly with a price, starting at $750 and moving on up, way, way up per night.

Explora Patagonia, Chile

Sure, it looks like a Bond villain’s lair nestled in the remote reaches of Patagonia, and (minus the bond villain part) it is. The Explora Patagonia is a home away from earth, nestled in the foothills of some of this planet’s most dramatic terrain.

To sleep in a room perched atop a waterfall, surrounded by glacial beauty, you’ll need to have a windfall of cash, with prices starting at $1,200 per night. Probably worth it though!

Manta Resort Floating Villa, Zanzibar

Just about everyone has thought about leaving the world behind. At the Floating Hotel in Zanzibar, you can literally do it, snagging your own private villa on top of a natural blue hole in a pristine ocean.

With an underwater bedroom, you won’t have to worry about peeking neighbors – apart from the tropical fish of course, which will surely be interested in all your activity. For the privilege of sleeping in your own ocean cottage, you’ll find prices reeling in $,1500 a night…

Costa Verde 727 Villa, Costa Rica

Those who absolutely cannot wait to get out of the thin aluminum tube that transports you to your destination might not be too excited by this Costa Rican gem, but for all the aviation geeks out there, this is the best form of plane crash in the world.

Like an episode of Lost, you’ll find yourself in the jungle, in a luxuriously tangled aircraft fuselage offering a private villa in the Rainforest. Very cool. You won’t need to be raining money to experience this aviation dream though, with rates starting at $260 per night for the whole plane. It’s a lot cheaper than flying!

Jade Mountain, St Lucia

A picture is worth a thousand words, and for a night at this breathtaking St. Lucia resort, that’s about how many dollars you’ll need to take one with this view. Unobstructed, untouched and otherworldly.

Unfortunately, I was serious: rates start at $1,185 per night. If it makes you feel better, almost every room features a personal infinity pool with these near priceless views…

TreeHotel MirrorCube Treehouse, Sweden

Some people never grow up; some wish they never did. Whichever side of the mirror you’re on, a stay in a luxury five star treehouse in pristine Swedish woods will do you right. Summer hiking, winter adventure, it’s hard to find a more unique place to spend a holiday…

The TreeHotel features six individually styled luxe “tree houses” including the Mirrorcube, a UFO and something called the Bird’s Nest. You’ll have to see it to believe it, and with prices starting at $500, you have a better chance than some of these other stunners…

 

 

Life before the Taliban: Fascinating pictures from Afghanistan in the 60s and 70s

Afghanistan in 1969 was a very different place from the terrorist-infested war-torn country it is today.

Fascinating images from Frenchman Francois Pommery, taken during visits there in 1969 and 1974, reveal a nation of mesmerising vistas and welcoming, friendly people, happy to talk to him and have their photographs taken.

Mr Pommery hitchhiked all the way from France to Afghanistan in 1969 to the rarely visited region of Nuristan, using a travel bursary he was given while studying in Nevers.

Mr Pommery returned to Afghanistan in 1974 with his wife and friends. This fascinating image, taken outside the Spinzar Hotel in Kabul, shows a woman wearing western clothes as she walks along the street

Kabul in 1974 was a friendly, bustling city. Mr Pommery said: 'We stayed one month. Nothing had changed [from our 1969 visit] apart from the fact that the king had been thrown out by the prime minister at that time, Maoud'

Two women in veils approach a horse and cart in Hérat - Afghanistan's third-largest city

Two women in veils approach a horse and cart in Hérat – Afghanistan’s third-largest city

Passing knowledge from generation to generation: A man shows a young boy how to use his weaving loom

A young boy pictured in Herat in 1974. The atmosphere on the sun-drenched street is relaxed and friendly

A young boy pictured in Herat in 1974. The atmosphere on the sun-drenched street is relaxed and friendly

A couple in the village of Waigal, in the Want District of Nuristan Province, in 1969

A couple in the village of Waigal, in the Want District of Nuristan Province, in 1969

A man and a woman in Waigal in 1969. Pommery said that the people he met were happy to pose for photographs

A man and a woman in Waigal in 1969. Pommery said that the people he met were happy to pose for photographs

Mr Pommery hitchhiked all the way from France to Afghanistan in 1969, using a travel bursary given to him as a student

Mr Pommery hitchhiked all the way from France to Afghanistan in 1969, using a travel bursary given to him as a student

The people of Nuristan (pictured) live at heights of up to 6,000 feet in wooden huts

The people of Nuristan (pictured) live at heights of up to 6,000 feet in wooden huts

Those who live in Nuristan (pictured) are said to be descended from Alexander the Great – and sometimes have blond hair and blue eyes

Those who live in Nuristan (pictured) are said to be descended from Alexander the Great – and sometimes have blond hair and blue eyes

‘In search of adventures, I decided to go there. I left France in July 1969 by hitch hiking. I had to walk for the last part of the trip as some valleys were only accessible by foot.’

The people of Nuristan are said to be descended from Alexander the Great and sometimes have blond hair and blue eyes.  They live in wooden huts at heights of up to 2,000 metres.

A local in Nuristan rests in the sun. The inaccessibility of the region didn't put Mr Pommery off

A local in Nuristan rests in the sun. The inaccessibility of the region didn’t put Mr Pommery off

Mr Pommery said: 'Friends had gone to Afghanistan in 1965 and mentioned a beautiful region, the Nuristan (pictured is a local girl from the region), where they had been bounced back as you need special permission to get there. In search of adventures, I decided to go there'

Mr Pommery said: ‘Friends had gone to Afghanistan in 1965 and mentioned a beautiful region, the Nuristan (pictured is a local girl from the region), where they had been bounced back as you need special permission to get there. In search of adventures, I decided to go there’

A glass-blower at work in the city of Herat. Mr Pommery said he was treated well where ever he went

A glass-blower at work in the city of Herat. Mr Pommery said he was treated well where ever he went

A repair workshop on a dusty road in Bamiyan. The scene is an idyllic one, with fresh fruit for sale and lush trees lining the route

A repair workshop on a dusty road in Bamiyan. The scene is an idyllic one, with fresh fruit for sale and lush trees lining the route

Houses in Kabul march up a dusty mountain. Mr Pommery revealed that he was welcomed on his first visit by a village chief in Nuristan who put him up in a house they reserved for travellers

Houses in Kabul march up a dusty mountain. Mr Pommery revealed that he was welcomed on his first visit by a village chief in Nuristan who put him up in a house they reserved for travellers

Meat hangs up in a butcher's shop in Herat, watched over by a man and a young boy

Meat hangs up in a butcher’s shop in Herat, watched over by a man and a young boy

But the inaccessibility of their homes didn’t put Mr Pommery off.

He said: ‘Nuristan was described as an inhospitable mountainous region, a risky place to go, but I didn’t find that at all.

‘The people were very welcoming. After a three-day walk I arrived in the village of Waigal with another Frenchman I had met on my way.

‘The village chief welcomed us and installed us in a place reserved for people travelling. We struggled to understand each other and had to draw what we wanted to say on our note books.’

The contrast between old and new modes of transport was stark

The contrast between old and new modes of transport was stark

A street in Kabul that looks homely and quaint, with home wares being sold from the pavement and cyclists pootling along the road

A street in Kabul that looks homely and quaint, with home wares being sold from the pavement and cyclists pootling along the road

Mr Pommery discovered a land of dramatic desert mountains and tranquil lakes

Mr Pommery discovered a land of dramatic desert mountains and tranquil lakes

On his second visit Mr Pommery went to Bamiyan to admire the Buddhas sculpted in the cliffs

On his second visit Mr Pommery went to Bamiyan to admire the Buddhas sculpted in the cliffs

The tallest Buddha in Bamiyan was 170 feet. The statues were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001

The tallest Buddha in Bamiyan was 170 feet. The statues were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001

This fascinating picture was taken by Mr Pommery from the head of one of the now-destroyed Buddhas

This fascinating picture was taken by Mr Pommery from the head of one of the now-destroyed Buddhas

A horse, covered in red balls, delves into a nosebag by the side of a road for a feed

A horse, covered in red balls, delves into a nosebag by the side of a road for a feed

The incredible Buddha statues in Bamiyan, viewed from a distance. The irrigated farmland contrasts hugely with the dusty rocks that surround it

The incredible Buddha statues in Bamiyan, viewed from a distance. The irrigated farmland contrasts hugely with the dusty rocks that surround it

A lake in Band-e Amir National Park glistens in the evening sun

A lake in Band-e Amir National Park glistens in the evening sun

The stunning Band-e Amir National Park - Afghanistan's first and a landscape that's home to six eye-catching lakes

The stunning Band-e Amir National Park – Afghanistan’s first and a landscape that’s home to six eye-catching lakes

The turmoil of modern Afghanistan is far removed from the peaceful scenes that Mr Pommery encountered

The turmoil of modern Afghanistan is far removed from the peaceful scenes that Mr Pommery encountered

A woman in a burka walks pasty rickety buildings in Herat in 1974

A woman in a burka walks pasty rickety buildings in Herat in 1974

Mr Pommery returned to the country in 1974 with his wife and friends, as tourists, but this time he upgraded his mode of transport from walking and hitch hiking to a Land Rover.

He said: ‘We stayed one month. Nothing had changed apart from the fact that the king had been thrown out by the prime minister at that time, Maoud.

‘This time we went to Bamyan to admire the Buddhas sculpted in the cliffs. The tallest was 170 feet.’

Mr Pommery stressed that he was always treated very well.  He said: ‘People called us the French doctors and asked us to treat injuries for which we could only apply ointments that we had in our bags.  And they loved posing for photographs.’

Mr Pommery said: 'People called us the French doctors and asked us to treat injuries for which we could only apply ointments that we had in our bags'

Mr Pommery said: ‘People called us the French doctors and asked us to treat injuries for which we could only apply ointments that we had in our bags’

The language barrier meant that Mr Pommery was forced to communicate by drawing in his notebook

The language barrier meant that Mr Pommery was forced to communicate by drawing in his notebook

A striking image of a young boy wearing a cap and a man, relaxing by a stone wall on the route to Bamiyan

A striking image of a young boy wearing a cap and a man, relaxing by a stone wall on the route to Bamiyan

A Kabul bus pulls over at a petrol station, along with a jumble of trucks and cars

A Kabul bus pulls over at a petrol station, along with a jumble of trucks and cars

A brightly painted Afghan truck in 1974 with a jet plane motif

A brightly painted Afghan truck in 1974 with a jet plane motif

A dried up riverbed snakes through Kabul, with locals using the bridge to hang rugs from 

A dried up riverbed snakes through Kabul, with locals using the bridge to hang rugs from

Adventurer: Mr Pommery himself, exploring a village in Nuristan in 1969

Adventurer: Mr Pommery himself, exploring a village in Nuristan in 1969

Mr Pommery's mode of transport for his return trip to Afghanistan in 1974

Mr Pommery’s mode of transport for his return trip to Afghanistan in 1974

Some roads in Afghanistan are long and lonely - and run through barren landscapes with little respite from the heat

Some roads in Afghanistan are long and lonely – and run through barren landscapes with little respite from the heat

Thanks to MailOnline for the story. You can see amazing photos from all of Francois Pommery’s travels on his website

Ten Gorgeous (And Underrated) BUCKET LIST Destinations That Simply Don’t Look REAL…

Another great feature from Gilbert Ott and the GodSaveThePoints team.  It’s a great site with plenty of awesome travel tips and loads of great ways to save money for the serious traveller, but here’s something a bit different with some excellent “extraterrestrial” venues for the die-hard Star Wars fan like me* …malaysia-long-hair

* spot the wookiee anyone?!


Space travel is so “in” right now, but before you don your space suit in search of interstellar beauty, you’re gunna want to knock these unbelievable destinations (which don’t look real) off your bucket list. Here are ten exotic places down here on earth that will blow your mind…

Lake Natron, Tanzania

You’re not insane, this naturally hot spring in Africa is so “hot” it turned the water red.

Vatnajökull, Iceland

How about a city sized cave, made of pure glacier blue ice to spice up your winter travel?

Bromo Volcano, Java, Indonesia

Mars takes years to reach. In less than a days flight you can see terrain just like it in Java…

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone, Wyoming USA

Yep, those colors are totally real. Why? You can thank the pigmented Archaea.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

Ultimate adventure? A boat ride in luminescent cave with light from tiny micro creatures…

Hang Son Doong Caves, Vietnam

In what looks like the set of a Star Wars film, these Vietnamese caves literally look unreal.

Lencois Maranhenses Park, Brazil

If you think you’re seeing an endless sea of unique sand bars and water, you’re not wrong.

Namib Naukluft Park, Namibia

Why travel to Mars and risk getting stuck like Matt Damon when you could just go here?

Wulinyuang Vista, China

Though I wouldn’t try building an airport here, the views are breathtaking…

Farafra White Desert, Egypt

Sure, we’ve seen desert, but white desert, with crazy rock wonders?

 

 

An ‘Overview’ of Benjamin Grant’s Incredible Satellite Images of Earth

I featured this extraordinary project last year and have since had numerous comments and questions from fans of Benjamin Grant, asking when he will be releasing a book.  Well I’m delighted to announce that he just has: Overview is out now through Amphoto Books.  Thanks to CN Traveler for the feed – just awesome!   – Ned


Photos from space, from drones, from intrepid photographers hanging out of helicopters—in case you haven’t noticed, we love when we’re given a different perspective on the world we live in, zooming out to appreciate the shapes and colors we can’t quite grasp with two feet on the ground. Here, Benjamin Grant of the popular Daily Overview Instagram account shows a selection of the high-definition, stitched-together satellite photos included in his new coffee-table book.

Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant, Seville, Spain

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Photo by Microsoft Corp

The solar concentrator of the Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant contains 2,650 heliostat mirrors that focus the sun’s thermal energy to heat molten salt flowing through a 460-foot-tall central tower. The molten salt then moves from the tower to a storage tank, where it is used to produce steam and generate electricity. In total, the facility displaces approximately 30,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

Tulips, Lisse, Netherlands

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Photo by Microsoft Corp

Every spring, tulip fields in Lisse begin to bloom and are at their peak by late April. The Dutch produce a total of 4.3 billion tulip bulbs each year, of which 53 percent is grown into cut flowers. Of these, 1.3 billion are sold in the Netherlands and the remainder is exported.

Moab, Utah

Photo by DigitalGlobe Inc

Evaporation ponds are visible at the potash mine in Moab, Utah. The mine produces muriate of potash, a potassium-containing salt that is a major component in fertilizers. The salt is pumped to the surface from underground brines and dried in massive solar ponds that extend vibrantly across the landscape. The water is dyed a deep blue—darker water absorbs more sunlight and heat, so it cuts the amount of time it takes for the water to evaporate and the potash to crystallize.

Olives, Córdoba, Spain

Photo by Microsoft Corp

Olive tree groves cover the hills of Córdoba in the southern Andalusia region. Approximately 90 percent of all harvested olives are turned into oil; the remaining 10 percent are eaten as table olives. With rising temperatures and changing weather patterns, olive groves on high hills or slopes will probably suffer less, but groves on low altitude areas or plains may become totally unproductive.

Marabe Al Dhafra, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

Photo by DigitalGlobe Inc

The villas of Marabe Al Dhafra in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates are home to approximately 2,000 people. Located in one of the hottest regions of the world, the record high temperature here is 120.6 degrees Fahrenheit (49.2°C).

Delray Beach, Florida

Photo by Microsoft Corp

Because many cities in Florida contain master-planned communities, often built on top of waterways in the latter half of the 20th century, there are a number of intricate designs that are only visible from above.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Texas

Photo by Microsoft Corp

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, stretching across 27 square miles, is the tenth-busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic, accommodating more than 64 million travelers each year.

Port of Singapore

Photo by DigitalGlobe Inc

Cargo ships and tankers—some weighing over 300,000 tons—wait outside the entry to the Port of Singapore. The facility is the world’s second-busiest port in terms of total tonnage, shipping a fifth of the world’s cargo containers and half of the world’s annual supply of crude oil.

Jacksonville Interchange, Florida

Photo by Microsoft Corp

A so-called “turbine interchange” connects two highways in Jacksonville, Florida, consisting of left-turning ramps sweeping around a center interchange, creating a spiral pattern of traffic.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Photo by DigitalGlobe Inc

Angkor Wat, the famed temple complex in Cambodia, is the largest religious monument in the world (first it was Hindu, then Buddhist). Constructed in the 12th century, the 8.8 million-square-foot site features a moat and forest that surround a massive temple at its center.

Gribbens Basin, Michigan

Photo by Microsoft Corp

The tailings—waste and by-products generated by mining operations—seen here were pumped into the Gribbens Basin, next to the Empire and Tilden iron ore mines in Negaunee, Michigan. Once the materials are pumped into the pond, they are mixed with water to create a sloppy form of mud known as slurry. The slurry is then pumped through magnetic separation chambers to extract usable ore and increase the mine’s total output. For a sense of scale, this photo shows approximately 1 square mile of the basin.

Nishinoshima, Japan

Courtesy Benjamin Grant

Nishinoshima is a volcanic island 584 miles south of Tokyo. Back in November 2013, the volcano began to erupt and continued to do so until August 2015. Over the course of the eruption, the area of the island grew in size from 0.02 to 0.89 square miles.

The Empty Quarter, Saudi Arabia

Photo by DigitalGlobe Inc

Rub’ al Khali, or the Empty Quarter, is one of the largest sand deserts in the world. It covers 251,000 square miles, and includes parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. In the center of the desert there are a number of raised, hardened formations that were once the sites of shallow lakes, thousands of years ago. For a sense of scale, this photo shows approximately 135 square miles in Saudi Arabia, near the border with Oman.

Shadegan Lagoon, Iran

Photo by DigitalGlobe Inc

Dendritic drainage systems are seen around the Shadegan Lagoon by Musa Bay in Iran. The word ‘dendritic’ refers to the pools’ resemblance to the branches of a tree, and this pattern develops when streams move across relatively flat and uniform rocks, or over a surface that resists erosion.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Make Your Travel Meaningful

Love this blog post by Dave and Deb, aka the Planet D.  They have leapt up a mighty 13 places in this quarter’s Top Travel Blogs – and deservedly so.  In this post, they discuss how they have always tried to enrich their trekking experiences – “Be it travelling responsibly, raising money for a cause, stopping at sanctuaries or projects, and interacting with the locals, there are many ways to enrich your travels while making your life and other people’s lives better.”


 

how-to-make-your-travels-meaningfulWhat is “meaningful” travel?

To us, meaningful travel is when travel enriches your life in some way. That could be done by focusing on making your own life better by discovering and learning new things about the world and yourself.  It can also be making the lives richer for the people you meet, the communities you visit and the environments you explore. Meaningful travel is about being aware of your footprint, and doing what you can to help the places that you visit.

When we started ThePlanetD.com we originally focused on changing our lives by cycling through Africa, but it evolved to helping others. We decided to ride for Plan Canada and raise funds and awareness for the “Because I am a girl campaign.” We stopped at projects along the way to see the work they did and share it with our readers. The trip may have started with us wanting to do something epic in our travels, but it evolved to become a trip about discovery, education and helping others.

We’ve found that the more we learn about the world and the cultures we visit the more it enriches our lives. The more you give back, the more you feel fulfilled. When volunteering or helping others you expect nothing in return, but it ends up giving you so much. It is the greatest feeling to know that you are making the world a better place in your own little way.

How travel can be meaningful?

There are so many ways to make travel meaningful. While the first thought that comes to mind is to volunteer or to give money, thinking responsibly can make your travels more meaningful too. When we travel, we try to support the local economy by hiring local guides. When we land in a destination, we search for people who run their own companies and have their own small business. Just as we like to shop small and support small business in Canada, the same can be said for our travels. Small business makes the world go round and by shopping at local markets, hiring local guides and eating at small family run restaurants, you will be helping the economy of the place you visit and create a more meaningful travel experience for yourself. We have remained friends with many of our guides and had a more authentic local experience by keeping our travels local and away from the resorts and packaged tours.

Hire local guides and make new friends!

Why meaningful travel is beneficial

Not only does it help the communities that you visit, it also helps you. We’ve always said that travel is the best education anyone could have. It breaks down barriers, and strips away prejudice. It opens people’s minds and when you come home, you pass on your thoughts, observations and feelings about the places you visit.

As Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

So much of meaningful travel helps with sustainability too. When you volunteer or help with conservation, it keeps communities or wildlife reserves from being exploited. So much of meaningful travel is simply about being aware of your environment and respecting customs and culture.

Things to remember when considering “meaningful” travel…

  • Think about your impact. How are you affecting the community you visit.
  • Will your traveling there enrich their lives?
  • Will you have the opportunity to experience the culture, nature, environment? Or will you be isolated and cut off from truly experiencing the destination?

Meaningful travel is not as daunting as people think

When it comes to adventure travel, we always say start with baby steps. The same can be said when it comes to making your travels meaningful. It may be as easy as asking a local person at your destination where you can volunteer for a day, or where you can visit children or donate money to a school or organization.

Once you take that first step, you’ll learn and discover more opportunities.

Visiting a local school

Our first foray into more meaningful travel happened in 2003 in Cambodia. We were sitting on a beach and a man asked us if we could come to his class to speak English to his students for an afternoon. He said that while he can speak English, it helps to have the students hear a proper accent. It was one of the most fulfilling things we had ever done and it kick started our desire to do something wherever we went. We learned so much that day. We were humbled, inspired and moved by their stories and struggles. They enriched our lives as much as we helped them with their English.

Ways to Make your Travels Meaningful

Travel for a cause

When we did the Mongol Rally, we drove across 2 continents for the Christina Nobel Foundation. A foundation based in Mongolia that houses and educates orphaned and abandoned children. When cycling the continent of Africa we raised funds and awareness for Plan Canada. By being in the destinations, we could stop at projects and see where our money was going and how funds were being used. It gave our cause more of a purpose to put a human face to the charity. When we saw that they were benefitting directly from the money raised, we felt motivated to help more.

Children learn at new computers in Mongolia

Visit a Charity

It’s easy to find a project to help or visit when you are traveling. Talk to the local people and ask them for advice. In Sri Lanka, we met a tuk tuk driver named Ajith who became our friend. As we got to know him, we visited a charity that he started on his own to donate shoes to local school children. They’d otherwise be going to school bare foot in the jungle, but he raised funds to get them shoes and keeps working tirelessly to help the local economy.

Tuk Tuk Driver Ajith presents shoes to children in Sri Lanka

Our guide Makau, in Kenya started a project to empower his own village. We visited his family and friends and he is working to bring water to his village, empower women and give them the means to go to school and he got them a cement maker to build a new school.

When we traveled with Intrepid Travel we always stopped to visit one of their projects. for the Intrepid Foundation. In China we visited a school that helps handicapped children. If you choose your tour company wisely and you’ll travel responsibly, be immersed in the local culture and even visit some of their charity projects if you choose.

Going Local 

Hire Local Guides and shop and stay locally. When we climbed to Mount Everest Base Camp, Mount Kilimanjaro, Gunung Batur, and Mount Kinabalu, we hired local guides after we arrived in the country. It’s a great way to contribute to the local economy and to support small business and we made good friends doing it. We still talk to our guides from Everest and Kili. Plus because we travelled with people from the area, they cared about their footprint, were respectful of culture, and filled with information for us to learn about the destination.

Local guides Deep and Sher in Nepal

Shop Local – Local artisans make their money through tourism. Instead of buying at duty free or at your resort, go to the market and buy local. It’s cheaper and it’s handmade and authentic. Plus you get to meet the people.

Other Ideas 

Cooking Courses – Food is the best way to experiences culture and a cooking course is an amazing way to meet locals and learn about their way of eating. We’ve done cooking courses in China, Morocco, Thailand, Italy, Spain and Jordan and nearly every one of them takes you to the market to buy your fresh ingredients. This helps you support the local economy and mingle with the locals. We then normally go back to a private home or kitchen to learn how to prepare. It’s then a feast to enjoy!

Dave learns to cook authentic Chinese cuisine in China

Yoga Retreats – Yoga is not only amazing for well being and fitness, it’s popular around the world! Our best retreats have been when finding ones once we arrive in our destination. We spent a month in India with a Swami we met on a beach for $2 a class! While others booked their retreats in North American paying thousands of dollars to take a course from a Western Instructor, we had an authentic experience and learned a lot about spirituality and culture in India while supporting a local business.

Wildlife Conservation

Elephant Sanctuaries, conservation areas and national parks are a way to add meaning to your travels meaningful.  When local people see that animals bring tourist dollars, they’ll stop over hunting and start conservation. In India, the tiger is nearly extinct, but now they’re working hard to bring it back and National Parks are being set aside to keep them safe. In Sri Lanka and Thailand there are elephant organizations that are helping elephants live in peace. We visited an elephant orphanage in Kenya where orphans are reintegrated back into the wild.

Festivals

An amazing way to get to know local culture and meet people is to attend a festival. We’ve had some of our most memorable travel experiences when attending a celebration. From the annual pilgrimage up Adams Peak in Sri Lanka, to Thaipusam in Malaysia and Holi in India, it has added new meaning to our travels. Festivals help us to understand the beliefs and religions of countries we visit and helps us make new friends and meet new people.

There are countless ways to make your travels more meaningful. All you have to do is take the first step. Think about what you love and how you want to help and you too will be having a more fulfilling travel experience.

What way do you make your travels more meaningful…?

 

 

The Best “Adventurous” Trips for Non-Adventurous People

Just because you don’t like climbing doesn’t mean you can’t go up tall mountains.

In theory, everybody wants to go ice climbing, camping in Antarctica and skydiving. In practice, not everybody has the courage (or desire) to jump off the tallest building in the world; falling from extremely high altitudes can be a petrifying experience.

Less adventurous people should not feel left out: tour operators know how they feel and have adapted. Visiting a natural wonder is possible with a helicopter; don’t risk dehydration or heatstroke by hiking the Grand Canyon in the summer.

This is also true for winter adventures – exploring the Alps while on a luxurious gondola may be more appealing to some than climbing the Matterhorn, a giant horn-looking mountain, with the highest fatality rate in the Alps: over 450 climbers have diedto date.

If you prefer a more balanced holiday, you can hike an active volcano for an adrenaline-pumping experience, followed by descending 400 feet to the bottom of the volcano’s magma chamber in an open cable lift. You won’t have to do anything but look and enjoy the moment.

Not everybody wants to get sweaty and tired when they head out to explore the outdoors. There is nothing wrong with making frequent stops to take photos and enjoy the scenery. If this is the case, go on a soft adventure tour where you’ll go on active adventures but will have plenty of leisure time.

Go on safari in Kenya

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You are witnessing wild animals in their natural habitat from the comfort of a car. Kenya is one of the premier destinations for this amazing experience. Known as one of the best country parks in country, Maasai Mara offers wide range of safaris – hot air balloons, walking, photographing. The best time to visit is between July and October because of the wildebeest migration, famous as the World Cup of Wildlife. Even if you go off season, the number of animals you’ll see – from zebras and giraffes to lions, elephants and leopards – is incredible.

Descend into a volcano in Iceland

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Who says you have to be a very courageous person to experience one of the most iconic volcanoes in the world? Thrihnukagigur in Iceland is a lot more accessible than you think. A tour offers you the chance to descend 400 feet to the bottom of the volcano’s magma chamber in an open cable lift. All you are required to do is walk about two miles each way, with a guide.

Sleep in a Cave in Turkey

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Staying at a unique hotel with breathtaking views of otherworldly landscapes is many vacationers’ dream that can easily become a reality. Some caves have been turned into luxurious hotels in Cappadocia, Turkey, while others are very basic. But they all have their own unique history and mystery. The adrenaline-seekers who don’t want to do much can stay in the deepest hotel room in the world – Sala Silvermine, Sweden – at 500 feet underground. A mine lift shaft will take you there.

Explore Ireland

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Walking in Ireland’s world-famous countryside is an adventure that will take your breath away but not because you’ll be tired. You’ll be surrounded by woodland paths, cliffs, lake shores, farmlands, and mountains. Visit Cong, which is nestled among some of the most picturesque forests and woodlands in the country, as well as along the stunning shores of Lough Corrib. Ashford Castle in Cong provides a serene and majestic backdrop.

Go on a river cruise

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Go on an adventure that will take you to a different city every day. On a river cruise, you probably won’t get sea-sick because there are no waves and you’ll always see land on the horizons, which is comforting. Travel along the stunning and major rivers in Europe, pass through Thailand, China, Myanmar and Vietnam along the Mekong River, or explore one of the most famous and exotic rivers in the world – the Amazon – all while being safe on a boat.

Experience the Alps from a gondola

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The infamous Matterhorn is one of the most difficult climbs in the world. But you can easily get up there with a cable car gondola. Enjoy a homely cheese fondue, accompanied by a refreshing drop of Valais wine, surrounded by spectacular vistas of Italy and Switzerland.

See the Grand Canyon in a helicopter

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The Grand Canyon is probably on every hiker and kayaker’s bucket list. See this natural wonder in a much less sweaty, wet and dangerous way – go on a 4.5-hour tour with the flight’s duration being more than an hour. You’ll see the stunning Hoover Dam, Grand Wash Cliffs, Grapevine Mesa and Grand Canyon West and land 4,000 feet below the rim for a champagne picnic.

Sleep under the Northern Lights in Finland

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Witnessing the unique Northern Lights up close is a bucket list experience. But you don’t have to camp in the snow to see the best of them. Consider glass igloos and log cabins with extraordinary views. They were designed so guests can enjoy the Aurora borealis in their full glory. The Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finland has 20 thermal glass igloos.

Travel through Europe on a train

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Go ahead then, and take the train. Choose the scenic route over the quick one, and make getting to your destination part of the vacation. Buy a Eurail Pass, save money and visit 28 countries in Europe. You’ll go to all the places everyone else does but in a hassle-free and comfortable way.  Relax and feel like you’re traveling through time – you’ll be thrilled by mountain summits, lavish landscapes, narrow and scary tunnels, as well as terrifyingly steep grades.

See Niagara Falls from a boat

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You can hike to them or plunge down a 100-foot waterfall at 60-90 miles per hour with a kayak, hitting a huge volume of water. Or you can go on a boat tour and see them just as close. Take Niagara Falls, for example. The legendary Maid of the Mist has been taking travelers up the river to the falls since 1848, which makes the boat tour not only the most popular but also among the oldest of Niagara Falls’ activities.

Explore the Galapagos Islands

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Exploring the Galapagos Islands feels more like being on an ecological walking tour. Nature-lovers will appreciate the unique wildlife. There are 19 major islands, which are often called a “living museum and showcase of evolution,” according to UNESCO. Cruises are the most popular choice to travel the Islands. Boats range from luxury to economy class.

Wander through Jigokudani Yaenkoen Park, Japan

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This is the only place in the world where monkeys bathe in hot springs. Ancient people called it the “Hell Valley” because of the very steep cliffs and the steam coming off the springs. Nowadays, you can get to the Monkey Park in two ways – by a 25-40 minute walk through the forest or a 10-15 minute walk from the nearest parking lot.

Tour the Arctic: Iceland, Greenland and Norway

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Witnessing the phenomenon of the Northern Lights is a must. You can avoid the aurora-chasing snowmobile and go on a bus tour. Cruise the fjords; you will always have a guide to stop at popular attractions along the way and learn about the local history. If you want to see the region’s amazing wildlife, the boat safari is the right choice.

Go on a train expedition through Australia

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Australia has been a very popular destination in recent years. See it a unique way: beginning in Darwin, this epic 4-day, 3-night, 9,773-mile tour will take you to some of the most remote yet captivating parts of the country. You won’t be bored on this trip as the panoramas are changing with every mile.

See incredible autumn foliage from a hot air balloon

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You don’t have to hike or camp for days to find clean air, panoramic views of bursting bright colors, beautiful countryside and miles of forests. Get on a hot air balloon and see awe-inspiring autumn foliage of phenomenal mixtures of yellow, red, gold and green. A lot of places in the U.S. offer this unique experience with unbeatable views.

 

Photos: Shutterstock

Source: http://www.theactivetimes.com/

The Most Dangerous Islands in the World

Photo and credit: HuffPost

In this day and age, people often think that they can travel anywhere as long as they have the time and money to spend.  They expand their horizons and visit places they know little about.  No destination is too far thanks to the many travel options and discounts out there.

Islands are especially popular among trekkers looking for an exotic and adventurous vacation, but threats can lurk behind their beauty: exploring them is sometimes just a very bad idea.

Technically, you can be at the wrong place at the wrong time anywhere; however, some places pose a much higher risk than others.  Certain islands are renowned for their deadly animals or dangerous viruses.  One place specifically is dangerous because natives start attacking potential visitors before they get a chance to set foot.

Travel notices are a good reference but they are generally issued only if there is a recurring dangerous problem in a foreign country.  They are designed simply to inform travellers and are not enforceable, sonyou can choose to ignore them or be extra cautious.

Shutterstock

Izu Islands, Japan

The seven Izu Islands are a group of islands in the Fuji Volcanic Belt that stretches north to south for about 280 miles and the stench of sulphur cannot be avoided or ignored because of the area’s volcanic nature.  Inhabitants were actually evacuated in 1953 and again in 2000 because the levels of gas were through the roof, and they were only allowed back in five years later!  Residents of Miyakejima, one of Japan’s Izu Islands, have to wear masks at all times.

Thinkstock

Saba, Netherlands

This Caribbean island in the Lesser Antilles chain is a special municipality of the Netherlands.  If you ever want to visit, make sure it’s during the winter as the area has been hit by more major storms since 1851 than any other place on earth.  Over 65 severe hurricanes have passed through the island according to the Caribbean Hurricane Network – one every 2.5 years!

WW2 in Color

Gruinard Island, Scotland

This tiny, oval-shaped Scottish island is just about 1.2 miles long by half a mile wide, but it’s one of the most dangerous places on the planet.  No one has settled on this British “Anthrax Island”: it used to be the testing ground for biological warfare during World War II and became so contaminated that it was deemed out-of-bounds for half a century.  Anthrax spores still remain in the soil.

Federal Highway Administration

Ramree Island, Burma

Ramree Island is home to thousands of saltwater crocodiles, which are the largest reptilian predator in the world.  They can weigh up to 2,000 pounds (900 kgs) and even a small one can kill a large human.  These crocodiles are not only deadly, but they are also aggressive and known to attack people who enter their natural habitat.  In fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Records the “Most Fatalities in a Crocodile Attack” took place at Ramree Island.  And if that is not enough, poisonous scorpions can be found everywhere as well as malaria-carrying mosquitoes.  Nice.

National Geographic Brasil

Ilha da Queimada, Brazil

Just 20 miles off the coast of São Paulo, Ilha da Queimada is an island ruled by animals.  Popularly known as Snake Island, it is home to thousands of the some of the most venomous snakes in the world, Golden Lancehead Vipers.  The Brazilian Navy has banned all civilians from the island, which is probably just as well: if you were to set foot on it, you could be lucky enough to find up to five snakes per square metre.

 

 

12 Amazing Places Most Millennials Will Never See

The world is full of magical hidden wonders.  Need proof?  The talented team at Atlas Obscura spent the past five years working on a gorgeous, 480-page book that uncovers 600 of the strangest, most fascinating and downright bizarre places you’ve never heard of before.

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Huffington Post asked Atlas Obscura cofounder Dylan Thuras to pare down the tome to a list of a dozen mind-blowing spots that every millennial should visit.  From a UFO-shaped monument in the middle of the Balkans to a gigantic hole in Turkmenistan that has been on fire for nearly 50 years, prepare to be amazed and delighted by the curiosities he came back with — and pick up a copy of the new book for even more bucket-list inspiration.

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Photo: Christine Noh

Kjeragbolten, Kjerag Mountain, Norway
Looking like something from Middle Earth, Kjeragbolten is hidden in the Norwegian mountains: a rock stuck between two cliffs above a 984-meter deep abyss.  Brave visitors have been known to photograph themselves on the rock.

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Photo: Tim Whitby

The Gates of Hell, Derweze, Turkmenistan
If Atlas Obscura has a mascot, it might be the Gates of Hell.  This 200-foot hole in the desert was created in 1971 when a Soviet drilling rig fell into a massive natural cavern.  The scientists decided it was best to let the natural gas leaking from the hole burn itself off, so they lit it on fire.  It has been burning for 45 years.

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Photo: Clifford Norton

Buzludzha Monument, Kzanlak, Bulgaria
This huge UFO-shaped monument standing proudly at the top of a hill in the Balkan mountains was once a grand tribute to the Bulgarian Communist Party.  No more.  Once Bulgaria transitioned to democracy in the early 1990s, the monument was promptly abandoned.  It has stood since, falling further and further into disrepair, and is now a strange, hulking shell, stripped of its once-grand interior.  Graffiti on the front reads ‘Forget your past.’

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Photo: Martin Norris Travel Photography

Crystal Maiden, San Ignacio, Belize
Beautiful, horrifying, tragic, and fascinating, the Crystal Maiden is the calcified skeleton of a young woman who was sacrificed by the Maya around 700-900 AD.  Her body was left as an offering to the gods in a cave that was believed to be an entrance to the underworld; she was only 18 years old at the time of her death.  Over the last 1,200 years, her bones have formed a layer of crystals which sparkle in the light.

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Photo: Demerzel21

Kolmanskop Ghost Town, Luderitz, Namibia
Once a thriving diamond mine in the 1920s, it was home to a flapper-era theater, casino, and even bowling alley.  Of course, once a richer diamond mine was discovered, the town was abandoned and is now slowly being swallowed by the sand.

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Photo: MJ Photography

Stepwells Of India, Across Northern & Western India
These incredible architectural masterpieces call to mind M.C. Escher illustrations.  Hundreds of carved stone steps lead down to a reservoir and were built to serve as local sources of water.  A French traveller in 1864 described seeing a ‘vast sheet of water, covered with lotuses in flower, amid which thousands of aquatic birds are sporting.’  Built as early as 550 AD and through the medieval period, there are over 3,000 stepwells throughout India.

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Photo: Soulad

Wisteria Tunnel, Kitakyushu, Japan
Blooming from late April to mid May in the Kawachi Fuji Gardens near Kitakyushu, Japan, is an exquisite tunnel draped in flowers.  There are other flower tunnels in the world, but the Wisteria Tunnel in Japan is singular in its romantic beauty.

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Photo: Jaszmina Szendrey

Fingal’s Cave, Isle Of Staffa, Scotland
On the Scottish island of Staffa is an unusual sea cave, 270 feet deep, where the walls are perfect hexagonal columns.  Formed by ancient lava flows, the striking site has become something of an artistic inspiration: it is the basis of a famous piece of classical music by Mendelssohn, the name of a Pink Floyd song, and the location of a Matthew Barney ‘Cremaster’ video.

 

For more incredible destinations, visit Refinery29.

 

 

 

The quirkiest holiday houses to rent around the world – revealed

Thanks to Mail Online Travel for these amazing rental ideas.

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Renting a holiday home and getting away from your own base every now and then is something we all look forward to – so why settle for the mundane?

It is perfectly feasible, for example, to make for the Scottish Highlands and snooze in a converted bus with its own little touches of luxury, including a hot tub, for only £150 a night. 

Or, head further afield and dig deep into your pockets for a £971-a-night five-bedroom rental in Orlando, Florida, which boasts themed kids’ rooms that include an indoor treehouse, a bed in a boat and a mini space station. 

Alternatively, on New Zealand’s South Island, you can venture into the wilderness and stay with a partner in a ‘pod’ made entirely from glass, offering views of the stars like no other.

You can also hunker down in a Croatian lighthouse looking out across the Istrian Peninsula, a hobbit-like dome in Bali, or a 1600s house in Derbyshire with a nautical themed playhouse on the lawn.

Here are ten wacky abodes from around the world that you can temporarily call home, all available on TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals.

The Bus Stop, East Lothian, Scotland

Make for the Scottish Highlands and snooze in this surprisingly spacious converted bus with its own little touches of luxury 

Make for the Scottish Highlands and snooze in this surprisingly spacious converted bus with its own little touches of luxury

You’d be forgiven for thinking a bus would only come in useful for getting you to and from your holiday accommodation – but that’s not the case with this creative property in eastern Scotland.

With a wood-burning stove, barbeque and hot tub, The Bus Stop offers a little more luxury than your average morning commute.

This hand-crafted accommodation has glass ceilings and is set on a working farm with panoramic views of the Lammermuir Hills.

Two bedrooms (sleeps four) from £150 per night (three-night minimum stay).

PurePod Cabin, South Island, New Zealand 

On New Zealand's South Island, you can venture into the wilderness and stay with a partner in this entirely glass 'pod'

On New Zealand’s South Island, you can venture into the wilderness and stay with a partner in this entirely glass ‘pod’

Can nature and comfort coexist?

They can with this state-of-the-art living capsule on New Zealand’s South Island. A biofuel fire is combined with glass roofing, flooring and walls to give you the ultimate view of the wilderness.

The only downside: no curtains means it’s not ideal for long lie-ins.

One bedroom (sleeps two), from £311 per night.

Theme Home, Orlando, Florida 

You’d have to dig deep into your pockets to rent this £971-a-night five-bedroom house in Orlando, Florida, which boasts themed kid’s rooms including the one

A treehouse and nautical and astronautical-themed bedrooms make this property a kid’s dream.

Located in a resort only six miles from Disney World, this pad sleeps 18 people and has a pool with an adjoined hot tub.

Other quirks include a pool table designed to look like a New York taxi, and a private movie room decorated with plastic trees and grass.

Five bedrooms (sleeps 18), from £971 per night (three-night minimum stay).

Lighthouse Villa, Pula, Croatia 

This quaint Croatian lighthouse looks out across the Istrian Peninsula, runs on solar power and collects rainwater in a tank

This quaint Croatian lighthouse looks out across the Istrian Peninsula, runs on solar power and collects rainwater in a tank

It boasts a roomy interior capable of sleeping up to eight people        Although secluded, the lighthouse can be reached by a small rural road

With views across the Istrian Peninsula plus a lighthouse, this unusual home runs on solar power and collects rainwater in a tank.

Steeped in history, the first light here was ignited on August 8, 1883, and was operational until the 1970s.

While blissfully secluded, this three-bedroom hideout is easily reached by car via a small country road.

Three bedrooms (sleeps eight), from £160 per night (seven-night minimum stay).

WisDome Villa, Lombok, Indonesia

The striking domed villas of this mini-village on the Indonesian island of Lombok have bedrooms with round-shaped beds

The striking domed villas of this mini-village on the Indonesian island of Lombok have bedrooms with round-shaped beds

The striking domed villas of this mini-village on the Indonesian island of Lombok offer peace, tranquillity and beautiful sea views.

Each bedroom dome is built on two floors and has king-sized round-shaped beds.

Boat transfers to Bali are available, while the world-famous Gili islands lie just five minutes away.

Two bedrooms (sleeps six), from £336 per night (four-night minimum stay)

Treehouse, Watamu, Kenya 

This spiralling Kenyan property provides a 360-degree panorama that includes both the native forest and the Indian Ocean

The living area has a colourful stained-glass wall and the property is topped with a thatched roof.

Conveniently, both self-catering and full-board options are available.

Three bedrooms (sleeps six), from £314 per night (two-night minimum stay).

Hag Hill Hall, Chesterfield, Derbyshire 

This lavish home in Chesterfield dates back to the 1600s, has two big living areas, a dining hall, and can sleep up to 18 people

This lavish home in Chesterfield dates back to the 1600s, has two big living areas, a dining hall, and can sleep up to 18 people

Hag Hill Hall also features a children¿s play boat sitting in the garden       

With two hot tubs and a large indoor swimming pool as well as a wealth of antiques, this lavish home in Chesterfield dates back to the 1600s.

The vast abode, set on an expansive green lawn, has two big living areas, a dining hall, and can sleep up to 18 people.

Also featuring a children’s play boat in the garden, Hag Hill Hall is the ultimate playcation.

Eight bedrooms (sleeps 18), from £685 per night (three-night minimum stay).

Villa Torno, Lake Como, Italy 

This Lake Como villa blends historical and modern themes, and looks over one of the most famous landscapes in the world

This Lake Como villa blends historical and modern themes, and looks over one of the most famous landscapes in the world

        Epic views from every room in the house

With a host of Hollywood stars residing on its shores, Lake Como has always attracted those with highly refined tastes.

This villa is a masterpiece of design, blending historical and modern themes to create a home as stunning as its location.

Highlights include a large wooden sauna and epic views from every room in the house.

Four bedrooms (sleeps eight), from £882 per night (three-night minimum stay).

Mykonian Passion, Mykonos, Greece 

Colourful accents at the Mykonian Passion villa light up its white stone exterior, which is fronted by a 20m-long infinity pool

Colourful accents at the Mykonian Passion villa light up its white stone exterior, which is fronted by a 20m-long infinity pool

Winding steps and cave-like passageways give it a hobbit-like charm       

Thanks both to the sand and rocks that surround the 20m long infinity pool sitting in front, and to the elegant interior design features, Mykonian Passion is a home truly in tune with its surroundings.

Colourful accents light up the otherwise white stone exterior, while winding steps and cave-like passageways give it a special charm.

Surrounding the property are gardens, olive trees and cacti plants scattered among the rocks, from which guests can enjoy splendid views across the Aegean sea.

Four bedrooms (sleeps eight), from £797 per night (five-night minimum stay).

Rough Guides Travel photography competition 2016

…And from one photography competition to another: this time the Rough Guides with a breathtaking array of  travel-inspired images from around the world.

From a farmer herding his camel to a fisherman reflected in mirror-like salt flats, amateur shutterbugs from across the world have been submitting their spellbinding entries to Rough Guides’ first ever photography contest.

The team of travel experts were faced with over 2,000 images from India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and beyond, in categories which included landscapes, wildlife shots and portraits.

After the strongest entries submitted during the six week contest were whittled down to a shortlist of just 20 favourites, an image of a young girl having green make up applied to her face for a festival by Somenath Mukhopadhyay has been crowned the winner.

Rough Guides’ judges said of the top entry: “This image skilfully captures the stillness of the moment and the concentration on the child’s face. The colours are vibrant and we loved the way your eye is drawn into the face with the shift of focus.”

Illustrating the beauty of Earth in every recess, candid shots of children in the mountains and dramatic shipwrecks under the sea have been praised alongside worshippers lined up in an Indian mosque and wild moose running free in the Canadian hinterland.

Sit back and enjoy…


The winner: Rough Guides' judges said 'This image skilfully captures the stillness of the moment and the concentration on the child’s face. The colours are vibrant and they loved the way your eye is drawn into the face with the shift of focus.' 

The winner: Somenath Mukhopadhyay

Runner up: Worshippers form orderly lines in this striking aerial taken in a mosque in Varanasi, Uttarpradesh, India. This is a general view of Eid ul Fitr prayer and shows the Hindu–Muslim brotherhood in the region

Runner-up: Men at mosque by Sirsendu Gayen

 Runner up: An adorable young girl adorned in a vibrant head scarf stands before women in local costume in the mountains

Runner-up: Swarna Susan Anil


…And the rest of the short-list:-

An older boy throws his arms around two younger boys in tribal wear as they pose in the long shrubbery of Ethiopia in this shot

Priyanka Shah

Krishnasis Ghosh

Daisy Roberts

Daisy Roberts

3

Debdatta Chakraborty

Puru Sharma

Puru Sharma

Santanu Kumar Das

Santanu Kumar Das

Gary Milne

Gary Milne

Chandan Hazra

Chandan Hazra

Susan Castellion

Susan Castellion

Himanshu Kumar

Himanshu Kumar

Matt Jacobs

Matt Jacobs

Dipankar Halder

Dipankar Halder

Kirsten Quist

Kirsten Quist

Charlie Gross

Charlie Gross

Nathan Dodsworth

Nathan Dodsworth

Debkumar Dutta

Debkumar Dutta

Ruth Louise Poole

Ruth Louise Poole

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lavazza 2017 Calendar: We Are What We Live

Italian coffee company Lavazza has just launched its beautiful 2017 calendar, entitled We Are What We Live.

We Are What We Live is the last journey in the trilogy of The Earth Defenders, a project conceived by Lavazza in collaboration with Slow Food, a global, grassroots organization which aims to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions.  For three years, the project has been celebrating the multitude of farmers who, for millennia, have struck a happy balance with the land, above all through the act of producing our food that is first and foremost an exchange.

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“My collaboration with Lavazza and Armando Testa was magical”- Denis Rouvre

From India to Laos and Vietnam, from Sri Lanka to Indonesia, the 2017 scenario is Asia.  After Steve McCurry’s pictures in Africa (2015) and those of Joey L. in Central and South America (2016), award-winning French photographer Denis Rouvre, again under the creative direction of Armando Testa, now explores the faces of the Asian Earth Defenders – just as he probed the depths of the environments in which they live and which they defend daily with love and energy.  Their sacrifices and dedication make it possible to improve the living conditions of the local communities and fight against the new threats of climate change.

Part humankind and part environment, the 2017 We Are What We Live calendar is composed of 12 sets of photos displayed side by side: on one side is the face of a man or woman laid bare, portrayed in their essence and naturalness; on the other is a landscape that represents the environment in which they live and the nature they work.  In Rouvre’s stunning pictures it is as if the two halves – the human and his environment – were overlaid and had shaped each other; each portrait is also a landscape and each landscape ends up being a portrait.

“We are what we live.  At the centre of the 2017 Lavazza Calendar there is the physical bond, the symbiosis between humans and their environment.  One cannot prosper without the other,” comments Francesca Lavazza.  “The two are tied so profoundly that they share satisfactions, suffering, bad weather, sweat.  In this third chapter of The Earth Defenders project, we went to Asia.  Here nature explodes in all its exuberance, and what clearly emerges is the mutual relationship of defence and safeguard linking farmers, breeders and the environment around them.  It is a great lesson for all of us, but above all an invitation to respect and take care of the land, to ‘live’ it and learn to love it.”

The 2017 calendar illustrates to me the profound relationship between the land and the people who live on it: a love for each coffee plant, the battle against a hostile climate, the desire to learn new techniques, respect for traditions and roles, and the union of quite different communities in the same corner of the world.

                                                 Ned


January

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“How many can claim that they own a magic mirror? In Tanjung, everyone can. So that means we live in a very special place. The mirror has various powers. It calms the spirit. It inspires legends. It transforms reflected hillsides into an embrace. It is a source of life for an entire community that comes together to grow coffee in the surrounding hills. It is a mirror that you listen to and with which you can dialogue, just like in fairy tales. It is the mirror of the lake of Tanjung. It is the mirror of its people.” Tanjung Harapan, Sumatra, Indonesia

February

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“I was born at the foot of tall hills, amidst the foliage of the Mother Forest. My roots are in this corner of the world. I immediately modelled my life according to changes in climate. I learned to absorb rain. To stand up to the wind. To dry off in the sun. To generate shade. To generate the shade that, here, means generating coffee. Because in order to grow at the Equator, coffee needs to be sheltered from the heat of the sun. And ever since I was born I have had one task: protecting it. Because I am from Pilla. And I am a woman. And I am a plant.” Pilla, Sumatra, Indonesia

March

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“Two souls live in me. An ancient one, acquired from my ancestors. A modern one, stemming from my will. Together they are the essence of this region: the spirit of Karnataka. The former inspires me every day to go to the coffee plantations to continue the work of those before me. The latter forces me to pay more and more attention to them. So to do this I plant new tall trees amidst the crops. They help filter sunlight so the heat of the rays will not jeopardize their growth. So I can create an ideal climate and achieve perfect development of the plant, which goes hand in hand with that of the community. All of this thanks to my two souls. That are tradition. That are progress.” Karnataka, Chikmagalur, India

April

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“At Maussawa space is vaster. I realize that looking at it from up here. I admire its vastness extending as far as its borders, sometimes imagining that I cross them and others that I am conquering them. Ever since I have been in the world I have nourished and supported this land. I offer flour, lumber and, above all, treacle: a natural sweetener that has survived the massive cultivation of sugarcane, which took land and primacy away from it since the colonial age. But I withstood the test of time, without ever bending to headwinds. Now everyone recognises my role. They safeguard it through rituals. They teach it and hand it down. Because I am the lifeblood of this forest and this community. They call me the Kitul palm. They call me the woman of Maussawa.” Halpola, Kotmale, Sri Lanka

May

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“Kotagiri is a forest of tall trees backed up by rock faces. It is a magnificent and delightful place with plenty of rainfall. That life is difficult around here is something that not even the foliage can conceal. But Kotagiri also has its pleasant side. It is merely difficult to reach because it is amidst the tallest treetops and narrow mountain gorges. That’s where the beehives with Jenu are: the most prized multi floral forest honey in all of India. So every day, for centuries, someone climbs up and hunts for honey, while others defend it. It is a high-altitude duel of agility and mutual respect, in which victory is very sweet indeed. A struggle for survival that pits the king and queen of the forest against each other. The man of Kotagiri, the bee of Kotagiri.” Kotagiri, India

June

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“I am a girl of these mountains. I will be a woman of these mountains. I am the daughter of coffee growers and I grow coffee. I will be the mother of coffee growers and will always grow coffee. I collect the rains that nourish these lands in the wet season. I will use the water I’ve collected to nourish these lands when the dry season arrives. Every day I learn the best production techniques. Every day I will teach the most sustainable production techniques. I work so that the role of women will be recognized in our country. I will work so that the role of women will be recognized in our world. I am my today. I will be my tomorrow.” Karnataka, Chikmagalur, India

July

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“Before this place was called Paksong, meaning “Two mouths of the river”, it was known as “Land of Gold” because of its fertility. A generous, volcanic land poised between waterfalls and mountains, that welcomed into its arms and its foliage everyone who ventured here. A land where we cultivate coffee — and, above all, respect. Because here in Paksong we live together peacefully. We “co-exist”: we exist together. Among the various ethnic groups — the Laven, Yahen, Ta-oy and Lao — but also with different crops: coffee as well as cabbages, chilli peppers, aubergines and fruit trees. It is easy to understand why complete harmony with the environment is the only rule for living here. On this land that is red, but rooted in gold. Rich in values and fruits. That is culture. That is cultivation.” Paksong, Laos

August

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“You breathe in a special atmosphere in Paksong. We feel the world is watching us and we are proud of it. Because here we all share the same dream and, together, we try to make it come true. We want to improve the conditions of the Planet through our Arabica plantations. We are a sort of huge natural laboratory, in which even the tiniest results that are achieved here at Paksong are an enormous step forward for everyone’s future. The consumption of water and energy, the emission and absorption of carbon dioxide, fertilizers: everything is taken into consideration to minimize any environmental impact. And in this daily miracle we are the body and the breath. We, men and trees. We, women and plantations.” Paksong, Laos

September

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“The heat of this land is part of me. And I am one of its elements. I bring light here when climate changes cast shadows. Because that which can no longer yield anything starts growing again thanks to my commitment. I burn plants that have become non-productive because of the alternation of drought and bad weather, allowing new crops to be planted. Mainly coffee. So that, along with the forest, the community can also advance. I am proof that, at times, what dies with ashes can be reborn from those ashes. That’s why I am respected and even venerated in the community of Ea Sin. I am a generating and regenerating force. I am man. I am fire.” Quang Tien, Buôn na Thuôt, Vietnam

October

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“There is a legend in Jatiluwih. It is about a dragon that passed through here one day and was moved by the beauty of this place. His tears fell to the ground and spawned Dewi Sri, goddess of prosperity. Later, when her body left these lands to return to the heavenly kingdom, red rice grew in its place: a unique wild variety famous for its fragrance. Since that day, I too have been on this land. I bathe these green terraces to give them ever-new lifeblood and I protect this rice from the risk of extinction. I allow these ancient rituals to continue. I give new generations the opportunity to continue the work of the first builders of the subak, the irrigation system. I nourish the land so it can nourish people. Because I am the water of these rice paddies. Because I am the woman of these rice paddies.” Jatiluwi, Bali, Indonesia

November

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“Once I had a garden as big as a coffee plantation. Back then, sun and rain alternated harmoniously. The grateful land yielded its fruits and my garden flourished. Then one day things became more difficult: I started to face serious problems and damage. So in the rainy season I observed increasingly intense precipitation and in the dry season long periods of great heat and no water. I heard about global warming for the very first time, and my garden almost stopped yielding any fruit. But I wasn’t alarmed. If anything, I learned the concept of resilience, because someone showed me by example, and my garden immediately flourished once more. As it did before, better than before. And if Vietnam is now the second leading producer of coffee in the world, it is also thanks to the fabulous story of my garden – and my story. Me, the man of this land and the climate of this land.” Quang Tien, Buôn na Thuôt, Vietnam

December

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“After a long journey by sea, I decided to stop on these shores. The beaches of Kusamba proved to be ideal for my adventure. I wanted to produce wealth for the people who live here. So I started a cycle that has been repeated daily ever since. Reaching the shore with the waves. Drying myself in the sun. Resting in the huts. Giving the community self-determination and pride. It seems easy to describe now, but it wasn’t at first. I could only do it in the name of my purity. The same as that of those who live in Kusamba. Because I am the salt of this sea. Because I am the man of this beach.” Kusamba, Bali, Indonesia

 

 

 

The abandoned mansions of billionaires

One of the most fascinating, recently man-made places on the planet IMHO, Shekhawati is an area in north-east Rajasthan, that huge arid state of northern India which was home to the ancient Rajput princes and now includes the cities of Jaipur (formerly Dhundhar), Jodhpur (Marwar) and Bikaner.   I am lucky enough to have trekked around the region in 2014 and cannot wait to go back.

Rajasthan’s formerly independent kingdoms created a rich architectural and cultural heritage, seen even today in their numerous forts and palaces (mahals and havelis) which are enriched by features of Islamic and Jain architecture.

The development of frescoes in Rajasthan is linked with the history of the Marwaris (Jodhpur-pali), who played a crucial role in the economic development of the region; many wealthy families throughout Indian history have links to Marwar.

The haveli is unique to this part of the world.  Between 1830 and 1930, the Marwari merchants erected extravagant mansions in their homeland (Shekhawati and Marwar) and commissioned artists to paint elaborate murals which were heavily influenced by Mughal architecture.

The havelis were status symbols for the Marwaris as well as homes for their extended families, providing security and comfort in seclusion from the outside world.  The havelis were closed on all sides with just one large main gate.

Sadly, most of Shekhawati’s havelis have fallen into disrepair and remain abandoned due to the understandably exorbitant upkeep costs; however, a small window into the world of these painted mansions is finally being preserved.  In this piece for BBC Travel, Neelima Vallangi paints us a stunning picture.


A former home of opulence

A former home of opulence
Forgotten in the barren landscapes of Rajasthan’s Thar Desert, the Shekhawati region was once home to the unabashed extravagance of India’s billionaires. Today, many of the billionaires’ grand havelis (mansions) are crumbling – the fading frescoes marking the only vestiges of the area’s vanished glory.

Drenching the dusty towns in colour

Drenching the dusty towns in colour
With paintings covering nearly every inch of the grand havelis, the towns and villages of Shekhawati encompass the world’s largest concentration of magnificent frescoes in a single region. To protect these once grand estates from crumbling further, two districts within Shekhawati have banned the sale of the havelis to anyone who could harm their heritage look. Their aim is to conserve and promote Shekhawati as a tourist destination.

Modest merchant homes gave way to grand mansions

The rise of merchant success
Founded by the eponymous Rajput chieftain Rao Shekha in the late 15th Century, Shekhawati prospered immensely at the turn of the 19th Century. The region reduced taxes to lure merchants and diverted all caravan trade from the nearby commercial centres of Jaipur and Bikaner. Merchants belonging to the Marwari and Bania community, a renowned ethnic trading group in India, moved into Shekhawati from the surrounding towns, and amassed great wealth through a  flourishing trade in opium, cotton and spices. Modest merchant homes started giving way to grand mansions by the end of the 19th Century.

Havelis acted as lavish displays of wealth

Where wealth melds with artistic expression
When trade moved from caravan routes to sea routes and railways in the 1820s, Rajasthan’s trade centres were on a steady decline. However, the enterprising merchants of Shekhawati followed the money trail and moved to the fledgling port towns of Bombay and Calcutta on the Indian coast, sending back enormous amounts of money to their homes in Shekhawati and thus heralding an era of uniquely painted havelis that acted as lavish displays of wealth.

Most Havelis were built in a similar architectural style – usually two storied buildings with two to four open courtyards arranged within a rectangular block. Each courtyard and the corresponding rooms were designated for specific purposes. The first courtyard after entering the house was for men and their business dealings, the second was for women and the other two were for cooking and animal stables. But the merchants left no stone unturned in giving their mansions a distinct look, with ornately carved wooden entrances, pompous mirror work and the defining differentiator: ostentatious paintings depicting daily life and mythology.

Frescoes adorn every surface

Frescoes adorn every surface
Inspired by the 17th-century ochre frescoes introduced by the Rajput kings of Jaipur in Amer Fort, the merchants commissioned intricate paintings on every inch of the mansion walls – including exteriors, interiors, ceilings and even the spaces under the arches and eaves. Scenes from the ancient Hindu epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana – along with plenty of decorative floral designs and patterns – were the most common motifs featured in the frescoes for a large part of the 19th Century.

Painters were commissioned to paint havelis

A wide range of colours
Painters were first commissioned from the city of Jaipur, but after noticing a rising interest in frescoes, members from the potter community in Shekhawati started learning the craft and created a proliferation of distinct styles across different villages. It is not entirely clear if the artists had full reign over the designs or if they were given specific instructions in choosing patterns and mythological scenes.

Before the mid-19th Century, traditional pigments made from minerals and vegetables dominated the colour palette, with intense shades of reds, maroons, indigo, lapis lazuli and copper blue along with bright yellow supposedly made out cow’s urine. Starting in the 1860s, synthetic pigments came into use, which were cheaper and offered a wide range of new colours.

Frescoes in havelis began depicting European influences

Mixing myth and the modern
By the early 20th Century, the frescoes began depicting European influences and modern advancements – recollections from what the well-travelled merchants had seen in the big cities. In some rare cases, the painters were sent to observe and recreate the scenes. Among the traditional motifs, there are frescoes of Queen Elizabeth, Jesus, cherubs, steam engines and gramophones, as well as whacky creations mixing mythology with modern inventions, such as Hindu gods in chauffeur-driven cars (pictured).

Havelis were abandoned for good after the 20th Century

Abandoned for good
The havelis and frescoes of Shekhawati blossomed until the early 20th Century; after which, the rich business tycoons left the desert wasteland for better opportunities in bustling metropolises like Bombay and Calcutta and even abroad. After the trade moved elsewhere, there was little development in the arid lands of Shekhawati, and the havelis were abandoned for good.

Some of the biggest names in the Indian and global business scene today – including the likes of the steel baron Laxmi Mittal, Kumar Birla of Aditya Birla Group, pharmaceutical billionaire Ajay Piramal and Nepal’s only billionaire, Binod K Chaudhary, had their origins in the villages of Shekhawati. In fact, according to Forbes, almost 25% of India’s 100 richest were from Shekhawati.

By the 1950s, havelis were falling into steady despair

The high cost of upkeep
By the 1950s, the thriving towns that had raised these billionaires were falling into steady despair. Selling or renovating these rural family bungalows – some of which could house up to 50 families at once – is a difficult job. The cost of upkeep is high and many of the properties, usually shared between multiple heirs, are embroiled in legal disputes. But since havelis are private properties, the government cannot do much to preserve them.

A new life for the Shekhawati mansions

A new life for the Shekhawati mansions
Luckily, the beauty and cultural significance of these painted havelis is not lost on everyone. In 1999, French artist Nadine Le Prince bought the 1802-built Nand Lal Devra Haveli (now called Nadine Le Prince Cultural Centre) and painstakingly restored it to its former glory in the town of Fatehpur. In the neighbouring towns of Dunlod and Nawalgarh, Seth Arjun Das Goenka Haveli and Shri Jairam Dasji Morarka’s family mansions have also been restored and turned into museums for public viewings. A few other havelis-turned-museums are scattered in the hinterlands of Shekhawati, and some like Malji ka Kamra, Koolwal Kothi and Castle Mandawa have been turned into heritage hotels.

While some of the havelis may crumble and fall apart – their glory lives on in others.

 

All photos by Neelima Vallangi

 

 

 

15 Places that Look Like they’re on Another Planet

We can’t help but fantasize about galaxies far, far away. Luckily, Earth is full of surreal and otherworldly places that are just a plane ride away—no warp speed required. Thanks to CN Traveler for some awesome shots.


Bromo Volcano: East Java, Indonesia

Mount Bromo is perhaps the most well-known volcano in East Java’s Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, thanks to its accessibility and epic sunrise views.

Lake Natron: Monduli, Tanzania

This salt lake sure is beautiful to look at, but its hellish 120-degree temperatures and dangerously low pH levels make it a less-than-ideal vacation spot. There is one major upside: The surplus of scarlet-hued algae attracts millions of flamingos, making the area one of the species’ major breeding grounds.

Glowworm Caves: Waitomo, New Zealand

Leave it to New Zealand to make even worms look beautiful. The Waitomo Caves hold thousands of bioluminescent larvae that leave long strings of mucus (sounds gross, looks dazzling) and glow like a subterranean Milky Way.

Namib Naukluft Park: Namibia

Red sand dunes and skeletal trees make Namibia the closest thing we have to Mars on Earth. (Getty)

Wulingyuan Scenic Area: Zhangjiajie, China

Scenic might be an understatement: This 100-square-mile attraction contains thousands of sandstone pillars that are nature’s version of skyscrapers—some even stretch taller than the Empire State Building’s midpoint. It’s no wonder this site was a major inspiration for the world of Pandora in Avatar.

Hang Son Doong: Vietnam

Vietnam’s Hang Son Doong, the largest cave in the world, could hold an entire city block of Manhattan—including 40-story skyscrapers. It has its own lush vegetation where sunlight filters in from sinkholes above, and clouds even form near the ceiling when moisture condenses there. In other words, it’s practically its own little world lurking under the earth’s surface. (Alamy)

Jökulsárlón: Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

The glacial lake of Jökulsárlón and its frozen beach are considered a natural wonder of Iceland, with black volcanic sands providing a stark backdrop for the chunks of ice that wash ashore.

Socotra, Yemen

With UFO-like dragon’s blood trees as its most notable feature, the island of Socotra looks like it was transported to Earth from a distant planet. (Getty)

Grand Prismatic Spring: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

As its name suggests, the largest hot spring in the United States is essentially a rainbow ring of vibrant colors.

Dos Ojos: Tulum, Mexico

This cavernous cenote with double entry points—hence the moniker “Two Eyes”—is so incredible it was featured in the IMAX flick Journey Into Amazing Caves and an episode of Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth. It’s perfect for snorkelers, experienced scuba divers, and daredevils willing to surface in the system’s bat cave.

Dallol, Ethiopia

A kind of geological wonderland of salt formations, acidic hot springs, and gas geysers, this visually stunning hydrothermal field vies for the title of world’s hottest spot with average summer highs reportedly hitting up to 114F°.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii

The 13,800-foot climb from Hilo’s beaches to the moonscape at the summit of Mauna Kea isn’t for the faint of heart. It is one of the longest sustained climbs on Earth, but it’s worth it to view the world as a land above the clouds.

Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley): Chile

Have you ever dreamed of exploring the moon? A trip to Valle de la Luna in Chile’s Atacama Desert is a much shorter flight. Years of erosion have left behind jagged peaks, dry riverbeds, and a landscape startlingly similar to that of our favorite celestial body’s.

Lencois Maranhenses National Park: Brazil

The geography of Brazil’s Lencois Maranhenses National Park is like nothing else on Earth. The rainy season (around early June) fills every trough with water and the world becomes an M. C. Escher print: It is either a drowned desert or a sandy lake, depending on how the mind’s eye frames what it is seeing.

White Desert: Farafra, Egypt

The landscape of the White Desert can be deceiving: What first appears to be a cool, snowy landscape is actually a mind-bendingly hot region of western Egypt. The desert is known for its wind-shaped chalk rock formations, which often resemble giant mushroom clouds frozen in time.

 

 

Top 21 Under-the-Radar Destinations

From Canada’s Yukon wilderness to the mountaintops of India, these unconventional holiday destinations found by BBC Travel will lead you off the beaten path and on to an adventure all your own.


Fermanagh Lakelands, Northern Ireland (Credit: Gareth Mccormack/Getty)

Fermanagh Lakelands, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s answer to the Lake District is blissfully unhurried, although the G8 summit being held here this June may bring it fame. Fermanagh is about one-fifth water, and most of that belongs to fickle Lough Erne – a lake in two parts. Upper Lough Erne is a watery maze of more than 150 islands, often difficult to recognise as a lake between its reedy bays and meandering backwaters. Lower Lough Erne however is a more traditional open body of water.

Many of its islands have a sacred legacy – on Devenish Island there are the remains of an Augustinian monastery, including a superb 12th-century round tower, and on White Island, six enigmatic Celtic stone figures greet visitors. The stately homes of Castle Coole and Florence Court are later additions to the area’s historic mix. Fermanagh’s waterways are choice spots for trout- and salmon-fishing, or for exploring by motorboat and canoe. Be sure to take in the view from the top of the Cliffs of Magho – a limestone escarpment running along the south of Lower Lough Erne. (Gareth Mccormack/Getty)

Yukon, Canada (Credit: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty)

Yukon, Canada

The Yukon is where Canadians go when the rest of the country feels a little too crowded. Hugging the border with Alaska, this area of wilderness that is twice the size of the UK has fewer residents than Liechtenstein – once you’ve discounted the caribou, grizzly bears, wolves, lynx and bald eagles. Interest in this region surged during the Klondike gold rush of 1896, but it soon reverted to normal, leaving just a few reminders of Canada’s version of the Wild West, such as the old prospectors’ town of Dawson City, and Jack London’s novels Call of the Wild and White Fang . In the south of the territory is the Kluane National Park – its icefields, which spill over into Alaska, are the largest outside the polar regions. Road trips across the Yukon make for an adventure, whether you take the historic and well-paved Alaska Highway, or the more rough-and-ready Robert Campbell Highway or Dempster Highway. Off road, canoe and kayak trips open up the Yukon River to exploration. (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty)

Inchcolm Island, Firth of Forth, Scotland (Credit: Scott Campbell/Getty)

Inchcolm Island, Firth of Forth, Scotland

With its ruined abbey spread across a verdant sliver of land, Inchcolm looks every bit the remote Scottish island, though it’s easier to reach than most – located in the middle of the Firth of Forth, it’s a mere half-hour boat ride from Edinburgh. The trip’s well worth making, as Inchcolm, often dubbed the ‘Iona of the East’, possesses the best-preserved monastic complex in Scotland. Founded in 1123 by Augustine monks and dramatically sited over a sandy bay, it offers an intriguing glimpse of hermetic life – and from its tower, rather more complete views over the Firth. The site has served as a hauntingly realistic venue for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s performance of Macbeth. Beyond the abbey, the island merits a wander – it’s riddled with tunnels, lookouts and bunkers from its time as a garrison in both WWI and WWII. Nowadays its only permanent inhabitants are animals – look out for puffins and grey seals basking on rocks. (Scott Campbell/Getty)

Kiso Valley, Japan (Credit: Judy Bellah/Getty)

Kiso Valley, Japan

Two hundred years ago, the thickly wooded Kiso Valley was one of the main routes through central Japan. It’s more out of the way these days, with the happy result that it preserves a number of old post stations along the Nakasendo – the mountain road, celebrated in the work of woodblock print artists, that ran from Edo (modern Tokyo) to Kyoto. The most attractive of the stations is Tsumago, where modern development has been restricted and dark-wood, lattice-fronted houses line the car-free main street. An hour or two is enough to browse the tasteful souvenir shops, sit down in a traditional restaurant or visit the former rest stop for retainers of travelling samurai lords, with its moss garden. It’s worth extending your stay however to take the five-mile hike along the route of the Nakasendo, past farmland, forest and waterfalls, which connects Tsumago to the village of Magome – another time capsule. (Judy Bellah/Getty)

Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Park, California (Credit: Mark Rakston/Getty)

Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Park, California

What is it about California and trees? Not content with having the world’s tallest (coast redwoods) and oldest (bristlecone pines), the state is also home to the largest tree by volume – the giant sequoia, which grows only to its full size in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Many of these behemoths are found in the Yosemite National Park, but for more quality time with the trees, it’s best to head south to Sequoia National Park, which gets a quarter of Yosemite’s visitor numbers. Quieter still is King’s Canyon National Park, adjacent to and run jointly with Sequoia. Besides the giant sequoias – including the daddy of them all, the General Sherman Tree – the parks feature a cleft deeper than the Grand Canyon (King’s Canyon itself), mountain trails and stalactite-draped caves. At the eastern edge of Sequoia is 4,421m-high Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the US outside Alaska. (Mark Rakston/Getty)

Providence, Rhode Island, USA (Credit: Kenneth C Zirkel/Getty)

Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US – more like an English county in its expanse. Its capital, Providence, has many of the attractions of Boston, an hour’s drive away, but in a city a quarter of its size. Ivy League member Brown University and the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) give the city a strong student influence, dignified campus buildings and the impressive RISD Museum of Art. Providence has the only downtown area in the US that is listed in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places and, up on College Hill, east of the Providence River, are leafy streets lined with 18th-century wood-framed houses. More colourful districts include Federal Hill, with its Italian restaurants and food shops, and Fox Point, home to a Portuguese community and increasing numbers of coffee shops and small galleries. Try to time your visit for one of the 10 or so weekends a year, between May and October, when 100 flaming braziers light up the city’s waterways during WaterFire. (Kenneth C Zirkel/Getty)

Southeastern Anatolia, Turkey (Credit: Chris Hondros/Getty)

Southeastern Anatolia, Turkey

A world away from cosmopolitan Istanbul or Turkey’s laid-back coastal resorts, little-visited Southeastern Anatolia deserves equal fame. Once the northern frontier of Mesopotamia (the ‘cradle of civilization’), the region encompasses an astonishing array of sites, reaching far back into human history. The recently excavated stone circles of Göbekli Tepe, for example, are thought to comprise the world’s oldest temple. Comparatively youthful at just a few millennia old are S ̧anlıurfa (‘the Prophet’s City’) – an ancient spiritual centre of mosques, shady courtyards and a labyrinthine bazaar – and the beehive houses of Harran. Equally captivating are Mardin, where golden stone houses look over sunbaked plains, and the colossal ancient statues that crowd a remote mountaintop at Nemrut Dag ̆ı. Several of these places are stops on the recently inaugurated Turkish section of Abraham’s Path, a 100-mile trail through sites linked to the prophet’s life, sleeping in homestays along the way. (Chris Hondros/Getty)

Arunachal Pradesh, India (Credit: AFP/Getty)

Arunachal Pradesh, India

Arunachal Pradesh, the ‘land of the dawn-lit mountains’, is surely high on any list of candidates for the mythical realm of Shangri-La. Sitting at a confluence of countries – India, Bhutan, Tibet and Burma – it has historically been inaccessible from any, an unknown place so remote that few of its thunderous Himalayan peaks have been named, let alone climbed. Now, however, easing travel restrictions and improved infrastructure ensure that this extraordinary place is ripe for exploring. Here, nature reserves teem with a diversity of wildlife unmatched in India, forests host delicately tattooed tribal peoples, and mountain valleys are dotted with majestic Buddhist monasteries, such as 400-year-old Tawang Gompa, one of the world’s largest. Be sure to visit the Mechuka Valley, a hitherto unexplored Buddhist realm amongst the towering, snow-draped mountains of the region’s remote west. Making the trip on the newly opened road is one of the most exciting adventures in India. (AFP/Getty)

Northwestern Tasmania, Australia (Credit: Universal Images Group/Getty)

Northwestern Tasmania, Australia

Long known for its apples, Australia’s island state of Tasmania is fast emerging as the country’s best destination for food, full stop. Its unspoilt countryside and pristine waters provide a bounty of lovingly-harvested local produce, much of it then served up within the state’s country-leading crop of restaurants. Tazzie’s northwest offers a choice of delicacies that’s hard to beat, from seafood and cider to chocolate, cheese and cool-climate wines. Amidst the rolling green hills of Deloraine you’ll find farms purveying cherries, raspberries and even organic salmon, while at laid-back King Island you can feast on bries, cheddars and pungent blue cheeses, plus crayfish and oysters from the surrounding ocean. Elsewhere, sample over 50 varieties of honey, including Tasmania’s creamy Leatherwood variety, at Chudleigh Honey Farm, or head to the vineyards and distilleries around scenic Barrington Lake for a glass of dry Pinot Noir or cider to wash it all down. (Universal Images Group/Getty)

Kosrae, Micronesia (Credit: Yvette Cardozo/Getty)

Kosrae, Micronesia

First of all, allow plenty of time to reach this island, whose nearest international connections are Honolulu and Guam. Kosrae (pronounced ‘ko-shrye’) is the easternmost of the 607 islands dotted across a million square miles of ocean that make up the Federated States of Micronesia. This isolation has at least one big bonus – the island is fringed with coral reefs that count as some of the most remarkable and undisturbed in the Pacific Ocean, sheltering groupers, lionfish and a host of other marine life. In summer, the visibility in the water can be an amazing 60 metres, enough to see the submerged remains of an American flying boat and a Japanese freighter sunk during WWII. The rainforest-covered interior and delightful beaches are also highlights of the island. The nearby islet of Lelu has jungle-covered ruins that look like a smaller version of the mysterious ‘lost city’ of Nan Madol, on the main Micronesian island of Pohnpei. (Yvette Cardozo/Getty)

Ávila, Spain (Credit: Javier Soriano/Getty)

Ávila, Spain

Pity the army that tried to take Ávila. Set on the cool, high plains of Castilla y León in central Spain, this historic bastion is a sight to behold. Thick, hulking walls loom 12 metres high in a crenellated ring around the city, interrupted only by a series of monumental embellishments: eight gates, dozens of towers and turrets in their thousands. Built in the 12th Century on top of the remains of earlier Roman and Muslim battlements, they rank among the best-preserved medieval walls in the world, and despite their age, can, in part, be walked along. Climb up for views over the snow-dusted mountains around Ávila, or the rooftops, spires and quiet medieval streets of this beautiful, deeply religious ‘city of saints and stones’. For the best view of the walls themselves, make for the plains around the city at night: you’ll see them snake like a golden ribbon through the undulating dark. (Javier Soriano/Getty)

Sylt, Germany (Credit: Patrik Stollarz/Getty)

Sylt, Germany

Sylt is no secret to German tourists, many of whom have been flocking here for years. It’s not hard to see why – this large anchor-shaped island in the North Sea combines wild romance with a distinctly civilised drinking and dining scene. Away from the glamorous excesses of its most popular corners, this is a place of quiet beauty, where red-thatched houses sit in flower-thick gardens and candy-striped lighthouses keep sentinel over green meadows and vast, shifting dunes. Head to the western coast for mile upon mile of secluded fine-sand beaches and dramatic surf, or wander east to the serene Wadden Sea, where gentle waters recede to reveal a natural haven of tidal mudflats. In the evening, tuck into local specialities at one of Sylt’s scores of eateries – from beach bistros to Michelin-starred restaurants, there’s no shortage of fine food. (Patrik Stollarz/Getty)

Meknès, Morocco (Credit: Abdelhak Senna/Getty)

Meknès, Morocco

While visitors pour into Marrakesh, Fez and Rabat, Meknès, the fourth and most modest of Morocco’s imperial cities is rather unfairly overlooked. With its maze of narrow streets, busy medina and wealth of grand buildings, it’s undoubtedly cut from the same beguiling cloth. Set amidst fertile plains below the Middle Atlas Mountains, Unesco-listed Meknès’s monuments include numerous palaces, 25 miles of historic walls, dozens of mosques (its nickname is ‘city of a hundred minarets’) and the vast, ornately-tiled Bab el-Mansour gate; located opposite Meknès’s lively medina, it’s the grandest in Morocco. Most of these date back to Meknès’s 17th and 18th Century glory days as the sultanate’s base. Nearby is a rather more ancient attraction: Volubilis, site of the largest Roman ruins in the country. With its partially restored buildings and beautiful, on-site mosaics, it’s unmissable. (Abdelhak Senna/Getty)

If you’re anywhere near the wonderful port of Tangiers, I can heartily recommend the stunning Grand Hotel Villa de France and gorgeous El Minzah – I’ve stayed at both. These historic properties are part of the Le Royal Hotels & Resorts group owned by Iraqi-born British businessman and philanthropist Sir Nadhmi Auchi.  – Ned

Byblos, Lebanon (Credit: Flickr/Getty)

Byblos, Lebanon

Though Byblos looks, at first glance, like simply a picturesque fishing harbour, beyond its shimmering waters you’ll also find a real historical heavyweight. This serene settlement north of Beirut has been around for a long time (some claim it’s the oldest continuously inhabited town in the world), during which it has featured in the Bible, been conquered by Crusaders and given the world the modern alphabet (courtesy of the sea-trading Phoenicians of the first millennium BC). Today, its many ages are well-represented in its patchwork of ruins, which include ancient temples and tombs and Neolithic houses. Three sites in particular steal the show: the reconstructed Roman amphitheatre, set on a cliff overlooking the sea; the imposing 12th-century Crusader castle, with its commanding views; and the beautifully restored medieval souq, where you can buy everything from antiques to fossils. That’s another few millennia ticked off, then. (Flickr/Getty)

Ned’s tip: for five star plus luxury and the best water park in the Med, treat yourself to Le Royal Hotels & Resorts – Beirut

Toruń, Poland (Credit: Janusz Leszczynski Photography/Getty)

Toruń, Poland

While WWII spelt devastation for many of Poland’s finest historic towns, Toruń – a walled medieval port on the Vistula river – miraculously escaped entirely intact. Today it continues, puzzlingly, to be overlooked, meaning that visitors have its wealth of glorious Gothic architecture largely to themselves. From towering churches to ornately decorated houses, the impressive red-brick buildings of its Unesco-listed old town form one of the best-preserved collections in northern Europe. Standouts include a light-filled cathedral that glitters with beautiful stained-glass windows, the medieval ruins of its castle and walls, and the 14th-century town hall – head up to its tower to enjoy sweeping views over the city. Directly below, the old town’s grand market square is a fine place to watch the world go by – grab a café table and sample Toruń’s signature snack of pierniki (gingerbread), famous country-wide. (Janusz Leszczynski Photography/Getty)

Jambiani Beach, Tanzania (Credit: Bruno Morandi/Getty)

Jambiani Beach, Tanzania

Even among Zanzibar’s embarrassment of powder-sand riches, Jambiani beach is a clear standout. Located on the island’s east coast, which is protected by offshore reefs, the beach is a long, palm-fringed sweep of fine coral sand sloping ever-so-gradually into a startlingly turquoise sea. This mesmerising landscape, one of the quietest places on the east coast, is also a good introduction to the age-old rhythms of rural Zanzibari life. Spread before the fishing village of Jambiani, a somnolent, sun-baked collection of coral and thatched houses, it’s animated by the daily routines of inhabitants. During the day, women gather seaweed and lay it in the sun to dry, ngalawa (outrigger canoes) bob in the shallows just offshore, and, at sunset, fishermen in dhows sail towards the reefs, the silhouettes of their triangular sails serrating the sky. Hitch a ride with one for unbeatable vistas of both beach and sea shimmering in the setting sun. (Bruno Morandi/Getty)

Arras, France (Credit: Philippe Huguen/Getty)

Arras, France

If the town of Arras in northeastern France rings any bells, it’s most likely to be for its position near the thick of frontline action in WWI. However, with its vertiginous belfry and colourful arcaded squares, the town exuberantly defies the expectations of its sombre history. Its two ancient market squares, the Grand Place and nearby Petite Place, are surrounded by a confectionery of Flemish-Spanish houses, pastel-hued, gaily decorated creations erected in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Together, their 350 or so columns form an arcade that’s unique in France. Petite Place is also the site of another focal point – the ornate city hall, whose Unesco-listed belfry shoots up 75m above Arras’s streets and offers heady views. Beneath the square is another site worth a visit: the historic souterrains (tunnels) that became British command posts, hospitals and barracks in WWI and which, each spring, blossom into a uniquely life-affirming garden. (Philippe Huguen/Getty)

Sãotomé and Príncipe (Credit: Tiago Petinga/Getty)

Sãotomé and Príncipe

São Toméans like to live life ‘leve leve’ (slowly and calmly) in this one-time Portuguese colony that was formed from two islands in the Atlantic, 150 miles from the African mainland and a six-hour flight from Lisbon. São Tomé Island is as tropical as can be – the equator passes through an islet off its south coast, and the volcanically formed interior shelters virgin rainforest and a huge variety of plant and bird species. Its smaller neighbour Príncipe is even more untouched. The islands produce some of the best cocoa and coffee in the world, and at lunchtime nothing can beat grilled fresh fish. Outside the modest capital, with its Portuguese-era buildings painted in ice-cream shades, there are beaches, hiking trails through the rugged landscape, and plantations. (Tiago Petinga/Getty)

Richmond, North Yorkshire, England (Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty)

Richmond, North Yorkshire, England

There are more than 50 places called Richmond around the world, from a London borough to the state capital of Virginia, but the original can be found just outside the Yorkshire Dales National Park, in a prime spot on the River Swale. Since the days of the Normans, Richmond Castle has sat on a rocky outcrop above the river – one of the oldest stone fortresses in the country. The true heart of the town however is the straightforwardly named Market Place. Based on a charter from Elizabeth I, an outdoor market takes place here every Saturday (a farmers’ market on the third Saturday of the month) with a permanent indoor market off to one side. Cobbled streets fan out from the sloping, half-moon- shaped square, lined with handsome Georgian buildings and stone cottages, with glimpses of the dales beyond. (Christopher Furlong/Getty)

Ikaria, Greece (Credit: Chris Christo/Getty)

Ikaria, Greece

If you’re after somewhere to eat, drink and unwind, look no further than Ikaria, a place so restorative that living to 100 years here is no big deal. No-one’s quite sure what accounts for residents’ exceptional longevity, but the sheer serenity of the place must have something to do with it (the hot springs probably help, too). A hilly isle in the northeast Aegean mostly bypassed by tourism, it’s strewn with crumbling ruins, secluded bays and tiny villages where residents gather to tell stories, play backgammon and drink. Vineyard-rich Ikaria’s a particularly fine place for this last pursuit, being the mythical birthplace of both Dionysus, god of wine, and of his favourite tipple. Enjoy its signature red over a plate of local produce in the cascading village of Karavostamo or in the easy-going port of Agios Kirykos. Summer is the best time to experience the joie de vivre of Greek island culture, when panigyria (all-night festivals) ring in saints’ days with feasting, drinking and dancing galore.(Chris Christo/Getty)

Trieste, Italy (Credit: AFP/Getty)

Trieste, Italy

If you had to choose one city to serve as the capital of Europe, Trieste might be the fairest choice. A piece of Italy largely surrounded by Slovenian territory, and which was once imperial Austria’s cosmopolitan main port, it lies at the crossroads of the continent’s Latin, Slavic and Germanic cultures. This is reflected in the city’s food habits, where panini and fritto misto (fried seafood) might be followed by beef brisket and horseradish. Triestini love their coffee just as much as Romans and Viennese do, and many of the cafés evoke more gilded times. The huge, pristine central square is an elegant triumph of Austro-Hungarian town planning, now ironically named the Square of Italian Unity. Beyond it is the Borgo Teresiano, a graceful 18th-century district that straddles Trieste’s very own Grand Canal, a mosaic-laden Serbian Orthodox church and a richly decorated neoclassical synagogue. The city also has literary note as the place where James Joyce lived for 10 years before the outbreak of WWI. (AFP/Getty)

Where a simple photo changed a life

Love love LOVE this from the BBC site: a Hollywood film editor has photographed some of India’s poorest people – capturing the look on their faces when they see themselves in a photo for the very first time.    – Ned

https://i0.wp.com/ichef.bbci.co.uk/wwfeatures/wm/live/1600_640/images/live/p0/45/s3/p045s3ff.jpg

A white-haired beggar sits outside the 13th-century Konark Sun Temple in Odisha, India, a wide smile spread across his face. His hands, deformed by leprosy, cradle the first photo of himself he has ever seen.

Swapna, a young mother in Kolkata, lives in a grass hut without electricity or running water. She has no photos of her wedding, but thanks to Hollywood film editor Bipasha Shom, she owns a portrait of herself and her five-month-old son, Neeladri.

This mother is seeing a photograph of her daughter for the first time (Credit: Credit: Bipasha Shom)

These two are among hundreds of impoverished Indians that Shom has gifted with a photograph. “Many of these people are surviving on a dollar a day or less, and a photo is a luxury item,” she said. “They do not have the means to buy cameras, let alone afford to make prints.” Some have cell phones but they are very basic models, with no photo capability or with extremely low resolution images.

Born in Kolkata, but raised in New Jersey, Shom, 47, was in her teens when she first began giving away photographs while visiting relatives in India. “It was something I knew how to do, so that is what I offered,” she said. “While photos were not high on the list of priorities, I felt that it was important for people to have a record of their lives. Imagine not having any photos of your wedding, your children, your parents.”

This was the first photo these three sisters had of themselves (Credit: Credit: Bipasha Shom)

Last December, Shom returned again to Kolkata, this time with her husband, Chris Manley, a cinematographer and director of photography for the TV series Mad Men, their two children and a photographer friend, Julie Black Nichols. They spent four weeks giving away hundreds of photos in Kolkata and the coastal town of Puri. While Shom photographed people of all ages, Manley and Black captured her subjects gazing in awe at their photos for the first time.

What made this trip unique was Shom’s use of instant photography. “I had been taking pictures using a SLR camera, then getting prints made and returning to the community to hand them out,” she said. “The process became so much easier with an instant camera. We could have gotten a wireless printer and done it that way, but there is a magical element to instant photography that I love. That moment when people see their image develop on a blank piece of film is priceless.”

“It was incredible to see people’s reactions to the photos,” Shom said. “We’d approach people who looked pretty intimidating and then watch as their faces just melted into huge smiles as they watched the photos develop. Mothers would ask us to take group photos with their kids. People would run into their homes and pull out their elderly grandparents so we could capture their only image.”

Shom particularly enjoyed photographing children with the help of her daughter and son, Priya and Devan. “It was really powerful for them,” she said. “We take so much for granted in the US. We don’t realise how much we have and how luxurious our lives are.”

To keep the project going, Shom has founded a nonprofit, GivePhotos, and is raising money to buy cameras and film to ship to photographers in India and other interested countries.

Three schoolgirls getting their photo taken (Credit: Credit: Bipasha Shom)

While she has found the project rewarding, Shom admits she sometimes questions the value of giving photos to those who have so little. But then she quickly pointed out that it’s often family photos that people grab when fleeing a house fire.

“We realise that giving a photo is not like building a school or a hospital or feeding the hungry, but I think a photo is something that feeds the soul,” she said. “It’s hard to know how these images will impact people’s lives but I think we’ve brought some small amount of happiness.”

 

Source: Donna Jackel for BBC Travel

 

 

Thrills and skills: 13 off-the-wall activities for adrenaline junkies

You’ve thrown yourself off a platform suspended 200m in the air with what amounts to a giant elastic band around your ankles; you’ve paddled down swirling rapids and maybe even jumped out of a helicopter to ski some of the world’s best powder – so what’s next?

You can always trust adrenaline junkies to keep pushing boundaries and testing the limits of the human heart rate (and maybe even the strength of your bowels) – so the guys at Lonely Planet have rounded up 13 brilliant and bizarre adventure activities to inspire your next blood-pumping escapade.

Go on, take the leap…


Guy Airboarding Pacific Ocean, Mountains in Backgr

Do you dare try this extreme water sport? © Justin Lewis / Getty Images

Flyboarding

The latest craze in water sports, flyboarding was brought into being by Frenchman Franky Zapata in 2012. It involves strapping your feet into a kind of skateboard jetski hybrid that fires out powerful jets of water, propelling you up into the air. There is also a jetpack version for sci-fi fans and adrenaline junkies alike. Popular destinations for flyboarding include Australia, Dubai and the USA.

‘It is strange to think that as I propel myself 40ft to 50ft up on two jets of water, I feel more in control in that moment than any other time. It’s an incredible experience.’ – Ben Merrell, pro hydroflight athlete

Oribi Gorge swing 2, Wild5Adventures_1

Take the leap – just don’t drop your selfie stick © Wild5Adventures

Gorge swings

Bungee jumping’s crazier cousin, gorge swinging will make you feel like Tarzan on some serious steroids. You can get your swing on over some awesome landscapes, from the Zambezi river (thezambeziswing.com) to South Africa’s Oribi Gorge (wild5adventures.co.za). Amid such stunning scenery you’ll soon forget about the imminent 160ft free fall… right?

PANTHER BEACH, CA - 2003: *** EXCLUSIVE *** Unicyclist Kris Holm at a sea stack in 2003 on Panther Beach, California. Instead of treating unicycling as part of a circus act, Vancouver resident Kris Holm has made the one-wheeled bike a totally different extreme sport. For twenty-three years his mono-wheeled adventures have taken him to the Great Wall of China and the wilds of California, but now 36-year old Kris is gearing up for his latest challenge; taking on two wheeled bikes in a competitive race. Participating in the BC Bike Race from Vancouver to Whistler in Canada, Kris will compete for seven days against the best the bicycle world has to offer. Averaging 18 miles a day as a solo rider, Kris will take on 500 other mountain bike enthusiasts in the hardcore race which bills itself as the "Ultimate Single-track Experience." (Photo by Nathan Hoover / Barcroft USA / Getty Images)

You can muni almost anywhere – if you can master the art of staying upright © Barcroft / Getty Images

Mountain unicycling

Take the usual equation of bike plus mountain, minus one wheel and you’ve got muni: mountain unicycling. From the rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the lush landscapes of the Alps, anywhere you can mountain bike, you can muni – but it’s best to give this one a good deal of practice before hitting the harder runs. The International Unicycling Federation (unicycling.org) has lots of useful info for both newbies and pros.

‘Because there’s just something about a unicycle that makes people smile, I’ve never found a better way to connect with local people when I can’t speak their language.’ – Kris Holm (krisholm.com), the world’s leading mountain unicyclist

Inside the Volcano, photo credit Vilhelm Gunnarsson_1

Iceland’s Thrihnukagigur is your gateway to another world © Vilhelm Gunnarsson

Go inside a volcano

The Thrihnukagigur volcano in Iceland may be dormant but this journey to the centre of the earth is still pretty thrilling. After a 3km hike to the crater, to get to the ‘good bit’ you’ll still have to descend 120m into the opening via an open cable lift. Inside the Volcano (insidethevolcano.com) offer exclusive tours that’ll take you beneath the earth’s crust where you can admire the kaleidoscopic colours and unique rock formations of the volcano’s crater.

The Namib Desert, the oldest in the world, is reputed to house some of the largest sand dunes on this planet. Come conquer these constantly shifting and powerfully towering beauties by zooming down the sheer slip faces on a traditional Swakopmund sandboard or carve up the dune with style and skill on a snowboard adapted for sand.

The rush of surfing dunes is worth all the sand in strange places © Thomas Dressler / Getty Images

Sandboarding

Surfers and snowboarders – and all you other thrill seekers – ditch the waves and runs and head to the desert for an alternative boarding experience. Namibia’s Namib Desert offers the ultimate adventure playground, boasting some of the highest dunes in the world. Be sure to soak up the views of your epic surrounds at the summit, because once you’re whooshing down the dunes at speeds of up to 80mph, you may be a wee bit distracted.

‘Definitely worth all the sand in strange places, although unless you’re quite good you don’t get much speed standing up – you just fall down!’ – Lauren McInerney, Finance Manager at Lonely Planet

A first-time zip line rider is about to hit a curve on The Rattlesnake, which dips and twists and turns like a roller coaster, at Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida. (Marjie Lambert/Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images)

The Rattlesnake’s twists and turns are thrilling © Marjie Lambert / Miami Herald / Getty Images

Zip line roller coasters

Whizz along tracks that weave through rainforest and jungle scenery, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a gentle ride. You’ll be whipped around twists, slaloms and 360° loops, all whilst dangling at a dizzying height of up to 60m. The aptly named Treetop Crazy Rider (treetops.com.au) in Australia and the Rattlesnake (foreverflorida.com) in Florida, USA, beckon the brave with over 1600m of track between them.

Luke Hopkins entering Canyon Doors while stand up paddleboarding the lower Gauley River near Fayetteville, West Virginia.

You need more than a strong core to brave rapids on a SUP board © Trevor Clark / Getty Images

Whitewater SUP

If you’ve managed to successfully stand up paddleboard (SUP), well done! But why not take it a step further and test your skills pelting down some whitewater rapids? There’s also whitewater tubing and creeking (whitewater rafting in a kayak) for those who prefer to sit or recline whilst being jostled by river rapids. Yet to take off as a global phenomenon, whitewater SUP is still largely the domain of rivers in the USA.

‘It’s challenging; you’re standing up, your centre of gravity is raised, you’re having to use all your muscles and you also have to read the water. It’s about finding stillness in the chaos.’ – Nikki Gregg (nikkigregg.com), whitewater paddler and fitness guru

Man jumps into Devil's Pool at Victoria Falls. It looks like she will be swept over the waterfall but a thick lip of rock keeps people safe. Victoria Falls is nearly a mile wide and 360 feet deep and from the air, looks like the earth has been ripped in two. Zambia, Africa.

Could you muster up the courage to take a dip in the Devil’s Pool? © Yvette Cardozo / Getty Images

Swim the Devil’s Pool

As the name suggests, this ultimate infinity pool – situated on the edge of Victoria Falls – is anything but a relaxing dip. The trend is to launch yourself into the pool and let the current whisk you off to the edge of the falls where the lip of rock will catch you. The Devil’s Pool is only safe to swim in the dry season (mid-August to mid-January) and it’s recommended to go with a certified tour company. Tongabezi (tongabezi.com) offer five tours per day which include a tour of the pool’s access point, Livingstone Island, as well as a daring dip.

Auckland SkyWalk 2, photo credit skywalk.co.nz_1

Some travellers will do anything to get the best city views © skywalk.co.nz

High-altitude urban experiences

Adventure activities are often thought to be the remit of the great outdoors, but thrill seekers can get all their kicks without venturing to the sticks. Many cities offer high-altitude, adrenaline-pumping tours, from abseiling off famous buildings to walking around the outer edges of iconic skyscrapers attached to a safety wire.

New Zealand’s Auckland Sky Tower (skywalk.co.nz) and Toronto’s CN Tower (edgewalkcntower.ca) both offer tours around their heady heights. Alternatively, try abseiling 100m down Rotterdam’s Euromast (euromast.nl).

‘I cried real tears on the CN Tower EdgeWalk. But honestly, it was life changing and there’s not really much I’m scared of anymore.’ – Lauren Finney, US Magazine Editor at Lonely Planet

MALAGA, SPAIN - APRIL 01: Tourists walk along the 'El Caminito del Rey' (King's Little Path) footpath on April 1, 2015 in Malaga, Spain. 'El Caminito del Rey', which was built in 1905 and winds through the Gaitanes Gorge, reopened last weekend after a safer footpath was installed above the original. The path, known as the most dangerous footpath in the world, was closed after two fatal accidents in 1999 and 2000. The restoration started in 2011 and reportedly cost 5.5 million euros. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

The Caminito del Rey has had a much-needed facelift © David Ramos / Getty Images

Cliff walking

Dubbed the world’s deadliest hike, the Huashan mountain trail in China is not for the faint hearted. Tethered to a safety line on the rock face, hikers make their way across wooden planks and sheer cliff edge to reach one of the world’s most remote tea houses, over 2000m high. There are plenty of other (slightly) less pant-wetting paths around the world, like the Caminito del Rey in Spain, which underwent a hefty restoration in 2015.

Rickshaw Run, photo credit Mila Kiratzova_1

Head into the unknown on a two-week adventure across India © Mila Kiratzova

Rickshaw run

Think the Gumball rally, but on glorified go-karts. The Rickshaw Run is an epic pan-Indian adventure spanning 3500km. All you need is to get your hands on a rickshaw and book two weeks off work and you’re good to go… kind of. The Adventurists (theadventurists.com) can help with all the know-how you need to hit the road, including visa requirements, budgeting and tips for pimping your rickshaw.

‘The Rickshaw Run is a real old-school adventure. It’s two weeks of boredom-obliterating mayhem.’ – Mr Matt, Event Manager at The Adventurists

Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia, Australasia

Australia’s Lady Elliot Island is one of the best spots to try blowhole diving © Len Zell / Lonely Planet

Blowhole diving

Blowholes are naturally occurring sea caves that also have an opening at the surface of the ocean. Freedivers and scuba divers are drawn to these unusual geological formations not just for the epic ride – the current combined with the structure of the caves creates a surge that propels you through the cavern – but also for the unique wildlife that inhabits these environments. The best blowholes to dive can be found at Lady Elliot Island, Australia and The Corridor in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

*** EXCLUSIVE *** COLORADO, USA - JUNE 4: Brian, the photographer snaps an elaborate storm cloud formation on June 4, 2015 in Colorado, USA. FEARLESS photographer has dedicated his life to chasing storms after a tornado almost killed him on the way to his high school prom in 1993. Kansas native Brian Barnes, 39, was raised in the beating heart of North America's 'Tornado Alley' - and was also struck by lightning as a teenager. Taken by tour guide Brian in Colorado, these incredible pictures show giant supercell storms - one of the most powerful weather formations found over land. Also known as rotating thunderstorms, supercells can produce winds over 100mph and can uproot trees and obliterate buildings. Brian, who runs an extreme weather tour company, captured these images in June 2015, and was intimately acquainted with ferocious storms from a young age. PHOTOGRAPH BY Brian Barnes / Barcroft Media UK Office, London. T +44 845 370 2233 W www.barcroftmedia.com USA Office, New York City. T +1 212 796 2458 W www.barcroftusa.com Indian Office, Delhi. T +91 11 4053 2429 W www.barcroftindia.com (Photo credit should read Brian Barnes / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Are you wild enough to want to witness the perfect storm? © Barcroft Media / Getty Images

Storm chasing

Most people would run from a swirling vortex of doom, but not you. You head right into the middle of the action. Specialist tours can take groups safely into storm zones to see some immense weather such as tornadoes and supercell thunderstorms. Extreme weather-watchers flock to Tornado Alley in the American midwest for some of the most epic skyscapes.

‘The thrill of seeing large supercell structures, hundreds of bolts of lightning and possible tornadoes out in the open fields… there is nothing else like that feeling in the world!’ – Roger Hill, Silver LIning Tornado and Storm Chasing Tours (silverliningtours.com)

 

 

 

The best FREE tourist attractions around the world

It’s an old adage – the best things in life are free, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to some of the world’s most intriguing travel sights.

While most of the obvious tourist landmarks – the Statue of Liberty, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Taj Mahal – charge entry fees, many of the lesser-known hidden gems around the corner don’t.

Did you know, for example, that you can visit an uninhabited island in the Bahamas where you can swim with wild pigs, and not be charged a penny?

Or take free yoga classes in Dubai, and sample the best tea in China at a cost of… zero?

Lonely Planet has released a veritable travel bible of spots around the world where you can have great experiences on a shoestring, titled The Best Things in Life are Free. MailOnline Travel rounds up 15 of the most intriguing suggestions… 

The Bahamas: Pig Island

On a small uninhabited island in the Exuma region of the Bahamas, wild pigs paddle freely around, and they don't charge you for joining them - although edible gifts are welcome

On a small uninhabited island in the Exuma region of the Bahamas, wild pigs paddle freely around, and they don’t charge you for joining them – although edible gifts are welcome

This is the only place in the Caribbean where you can splash around with celebrities and not have to pay a dime, because these stars have no idea they’re famous. An overnight Instagram sensation, the pigs of this island in Exuma live in the wild and love a spot of swimming.

According to legend they were left there by sailors who had plans to return for a pork roast, but never did, leaving the pigs to turn feral.

Thailand: The Bangkokian Museum

This quaint folk museum in Bangkok consists of two old homes with rooms full of perfectly preserved personal belongings that date back a century

This quaint folk museum in Bangkok consists of two old homes with rooms full of perfectly preserved personal belongings that date back a century

The tiny Bangkokian is a hidden jewel in a city where most of its treasures are proudly on display.

This quaint folk museum consists of two old homes with rooms full of perfectly preserved personal belongings that date back a century.

It looks as if the owners stepped through the front door to pick up some noodles in 1935 and never came back.

China: The Măliándào Tea Market

Măliándào, where virtually all the tea in China can be seen, sniffed and sampled for free

Măliándào, where virtually all the tea in China can be seen, sniffed and sampled for free

If you’re someone who knows your pu-erh from your oolong, then you’ll get a kick from a trip to Măliándào, where virtually all the tea in China can be seen, sniffed and sampled.

It’s mainly aimed at wholesalers, but most vendors will give you a complimentary taste, and then you can sip plenty more brews in teashops.

You can get your hands on tea sets here as well, at potentially bargain prices.

Berlin: Badeschiff Swimming Barge

Badeschiff, an urban beach club built around a barge-turned-swimming pool in the Spree River

Badeschiff, an urban beach club built around a barge-turned-swimming pool in the Spree River

Summers in Berlin wouldn’t be the same without the Badeschiff, an urban beach club built around a river barge-turned-swimming pool and moored in the Spree River. 

Splash around in the daytime and stay to sip sunset cocktails with a great view of the fairy-tale-like bridge, Oberbaumbrücke. In winter, Badeschiff is all covered up and turned into a toasty sauna-cum-bar.

Singapore: Gardens by the Bay

Time your visit to the Gardens by the Bay for 7.45pm or 8.45pm to see the Supertrees twinkle and glow for the spectacular Garden Rhapsody light-and-sound show.

Time your visit to the Gardens by the Bay for 7.45pm or 8.45pm to see the Supertrees twinkle and glow for the spectacular Garden Rhapsody light-and-sound show.

This eco-fantasy land of space age bio-domes, hi-tech trees and whimsical sculptures really has to be seen to be believed.

Although the indoor conservatories and Supertree-top skyway are chargeable, arguably the coolest thing to see here is free: time your visit for 7.45pm or 8.45pm to see the Supertrees twinkle and glow for the spectacular Garden Rhapsody light-and-sound show.

Dubai: Free yoga

The voluntary Friends of Yoga organisation runs free yoga classes every day at 13 locations around the UAE

The voluntary Friends of Yoga organisation runs free yoga classes every day at 13 locations around the UAE

The augmented reality of life in Dubai’s air-conditioned cityscape may just leave you in need of some mental readjustment.

If so, consider stretching out to the voluntary Friends of Yoga organisation, which runs free yoga classes every day at 5.30am and 7.30pm at 13 locations around the UAE, including Deira Creek, Bur Dubai Creek, Zabeel Park, JLT Park and Internet City.

Dublin: The National Museum of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland is home for four million objects of archaeology, decorative arts and natural history

The National Museum of Ireland is home for four million objects of archaeology, decorative arts and natural history

This mighty museum explores Ireland’s heritage via four million objects spread across four sites, three of which are in Dublin.

Archaeology is where you’ll explore prehistoric and Viking-era Ireland, Decorative Arts & History houses ancient weaponry, furniture, and silver, and Natural History has an Irish elk skeleton.

London: The More London Free Festival

This annual series of free events at the South Bank of the River Thames comprises of everything from live music and fringe theatre to movie showings and kid's entertainment

This annual series of free events at the South Bank of the River Thames comprises of everything from live music and fringe theatre to movie showings and kid’s entertainment

This annual series of free events hijacks the South Bank of the River Thames for four months of summer action.

It comprises everything from live music and fringe theatre performances to children’s entertainment and screenings of flicks in the Scoop – a 1000-seat concrete amphitheatre near Tower Bridge.

The big screen on site broadcasts major sporting events such as Wimbledon and the Tour de France.

Marrakesh: Djemaa el-Fna square

The Djemaa el-Fna square, where you'll find street theatre, snake charming and music, all in a plaza that used to be the site of public executions

The Djemaa el-Fna square, where you’ll find street theatre, snake charming and music, all in a plaza that used to be the site of public executions

Think of it as live-action channel-surfing: everywhere you look in the Djemaa el-Fna – Marrakesh’s main square and open-air theatre – you’ll discover drama already in progress.

Think street theatre, snake charming, and music, all in a plaza that used to be the site of public executions around AD 1050 – hence its name, which means ‘assembly of the dead’.

Sydney: The Sydney Harbour National Park

Most attractions at this 392-hectare national park that overlooks the Sydney Harbour will cost you nothing

Most attractions at this 392-hectare national park that overlooks the Sydney Harbour will cost you nothing

This 392-hectare park protects sections of Sydney’s foreshore and several islands within the harbour.

Most attractions are free, including the Bradleys Head amphitheatre, a popular lookout and a great picnic spot, and  the Grotto Point Aboriginal engraving site, where you can see old rock art.

New York: The Brooklyn Flea Market

At the Brooklyn Flea Market, you’ll find everything from records and 1930s posters to vintage clothing and antique collectables - and wandering round is free

At the Brooklyn Flea Market, you’ll find everything from records and 1930s posters to vintage clothing and antique collectables – and wandering round is free

When the weekend arrives, head to Brooklyn to experience one of the best markets in the whole city. More than 100 vendors ply their wares here, with plenty of treasures to ogle from the past and the present.

You’ll find everything from records to 1930s posters, vintage clothing, jewellery, homewares, artwork, antique collectables and craft items. Wandering round is free.

Check the website for locations, which change seasonally. Visit brooklynflea.com.

Paris: Château de Versailles’ Gardens

These spectacular gardens are divine, not as packed as the château itself,  and free for half the year

These spectacular gardens are divine, not as packed as the château itself, and free for half the year

While the château at Versailles is truly extraordinary, the crush of people inside can be hard to bear.

But the landscaped gardens – meticulously manicured, dotted with elegant statuary and exuberant fountains, and criss-crossed with paths (bikes can be rented) – are divine and free for half the year between November and March. Pack a picnic and distance those madding crowds.

Rio de Janeiro: Ipanema Beach

Ipanema Beach, where you can frolic in the waves, go surfing, take long walks or simply sit back and engage in the discreet art of people-watching

Ipanema Beach, where you can frolic in the waves, go surfing, take long walks or simply sit back and engage in the discreet art of people-watching

One of the best places to spend a sun-drenched day in Rio is out on Ipanema Beach. You can frolic in the waves, go surfing, take long walks or simply sit back and engage in the discreet art of people-watching.

You also needn’t leave the sands when hunger strikes, but you will need to open your wallet.

Barracas (beach stalls) sell everything from super cheap sandwiches to caipirinhas, and wandering vendors bring by cold drinks and snacks.

Tokyo: Yoyogi Park

On sunny weekends, all sorts gather to Tokyo's Yoyogi Park for picnics, Frisbee, drumming, dancing and free festivals

On sunny weekends, all sorts gather to Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park for picnics, Frisbee, drumming, dancing and free festivals

Of all Tokyo’s parks, this is arguably the most lively. The landscaping is haphazard, wild along the fringes, and there are no ‘keep off the grass’ signs here.

On sunny weekends, all sorts gather for picnics, Frisbee, drumming and dancing.

The plaza across the street hosts free festivals on weekends during summer, including many hosted by the city’s ethnic communities.

You can read more at http://www.lonelyplanet.com/

The world’s most unusual places to stay

An underwater hotel room, a suite on the side of the cliff and a tree house with the best view of the sea: MailOnline Travel reveals some gorgeously quirky places to lay your hat for a night or two.


For many holidaymakers, there is nothing more important than a room with a spectacular view.

It could be a plush suite in a skyscraper hotel, a treehouse in the middle of nowhere or even a room beneath the surface of the sea. 

In an age where tourists are on the hunt for snaps that are worthy of Instagram or Facebook, the more unique it is, the better.

These jaw-dropping destinations have been named the most unusual places to stay by London-based travel agency Exsus.

They include Africa’s first underwater hotel room – 13ft below the surface of the Indian Ocean, north of Zanzibar – where guests can admire marine life from the comfort of their bed.

And for adrenaline junkies, only the Natura Vive Skylodge Adventure Suite will do. Guests must climb a 400ft cliff face to reach the suite, which is on the side of one of Peru’s highest peaks.

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The best for sleeping with the fishes: Manta Resort on Pemba Island

Africa’s first underwater hotel room is 13ft below the surface of the Indian Ocean, north of Zanzibar

Africa’s first underwater hotel room is 13ft below the surface of the Indian Ocean, north of Zanzibar

Visit http://www.themantaresort.com/information/pemba-island/

The best for daredevils: Natura Vive’s Skylodge Adventure Suite

To climb into Natura Vive's Skylodge Adventure Suite in Peru, daredevil guests must scale a 400ft cliff face

To climb into Natura Vive’s Skylodge Adventure Suite in Peru, daredevil guests must scale a 400ft cliff face

Check out http://naturavive.com/web/

The best for getting back to nature: Phinda Forest Lodge

Guests can spot the big five, dolphins and turtles at this lodge at the Phinda Game Reserve in South Africa

Guests can spot the big five, dolphins and turtles at this lodge at the Phinda Game Reserve in South Africa

Visit www.phindagamereserve.com/

The best for sleeping in a cave: Gamirasu Cave Hotel

Located near Urgup, Turkey, some of the 35-room hotel's doors and windows are more than 500 years old

Located near Urgup, Turkey, some of the 35-room hotel’s doors and windows are more than 500 years old

Take a look at this Trip Advisor winner: http://www.gamirasu.com/https://static.tacdn.com/img2/tc/rdTopLaurel_LL_TM.jpg

The best for watching the Northern Lights: Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel

Less than an hour from Reykjavík, guests can watch the natural phenomenon from a heated outdoor pool

Less than an hour from Reykjavík, guests can watch the natural phenomenon from a heated outdoor pool

Check out this multi-award-winning hotel’s site: http://ioniceland.is/

The best for adventure seekers: Fogo Island Inn

This contemporary hotel is located on rocky terrain on Fogo Island off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada

This contemporary hotel is located on rocky terrain on Fogo Island off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada

For lots of information on this highly unusual destination visit www.fogoislandinn.ca/

The best for waking up on a boat: Belmond Road to Mandalay

Belmond's Road to Mandalay takes up to 82 passengers on a luxurious river cruise in Myanmar

Belmond’s Road to Mandalay takes up to 82 passengers on a luxurious river cruise in Myanmar

Check out http://www.belmond.com/road-to-mandalay-myanmar/

The best for sleeping in a tree: Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses

These houses are 30ft above ground with views of dramatic mountains and the Pacific coast in New Zealand

These houses are 30ft above ground with views of dramatic mountains and the Pacific coast in New Zealand

For more info on this unique accommodation visit http://www.hapukulodge.com/kaikoura/tree-houses

The best for an alternative caravan: Uyuni Vintage Airstreams

This deluxe caravan on Bolivia's Uyuni Salt Flats comes with a private chef and guide to show you around

This deluxe caravan on Bolivia’s Uyuni Salt Flats comes with a private chef and guide to show you around

To find out more about these über-cool Airstreams check out http://www.exsus.com/destinations/south-america/bolivia/uyuni-salt-flats/uyuni-vintage-airstreams

 

And for even more exciting and unusual trips visit the team at Exsus.

 

 

 

 

The Best Places to Visit in July

(So say the dudes at CN Traveler)


It’s the season for safaris in Botswana, whale shark swimming in Mexico, and memorable (and monumental) cultural events from Pamplona to St. Petersburg. These are the best places to visit in July, year after year.

Botswana’s Okavango Delta

The best months for going on a boat safari in the Okavango Delta are May through August, when water levels are at their highest and elephants, giraffes, leopards, and countless birds are most active. Camps like Duba Expedition arrange game “drives” by motorboat—and are all the more luxurious for being in the middle of nowhere.

visit-july-okavanga-delta-GettyImages-468023423

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Riviera Maya, Mexico

Whale shark season runs from June through September, so if you’ve ever dreamed of swimming with the world’s largest fish, plan a trip to the Riviera Maya now.

Riviera Maya, Mexico

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Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons

Yes, this is the busiest time of year in the national parks, but for good reason: The snow should finally be melted (or melting), filling Yellowstone and Grand Teton’s rivers for prime-time fly fishing, and bison should be on the move in late July.

Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons

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Pamplona, Spain

For many, the fiesta of San Fermín (July 6–14 annually) can be summed up as the Running of the Bulls—a lifelong dream for some, a bullish (pun!) nightmare for others—through the old quarter of Pamplona. But the fest itself is a nine-day street party, starting with thousands filling City Hall Square for the inaugural chupinazo (rocket launch), and followed later in the week by a procession of 10- to 12-foot-tall papier-mâché figures—the “big heads” of big-deal people on parade.

Pamplona, Spain

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St. Petersburg, Russia

The White Nights of St. Petersburg, Russia—those everlasting days when the sun lingers past midnight—begin in May, but it’s the final weeks in July, when fireworks fill the sky and the Stars of the White Nights (ballet and opera at Mariinksy Theatre, concerts, and more) finish their run when you’ll find us there.

St. Petersburg, Russia

Alamy

Mount Naeba, Japan

Japan’s three-day Fuji Rock Festival draws some 100,000 fans to the Naeba Ski Resort each July, along with big-deal bands and musicians like Wilco, Beck, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sigur Ros, and Ben Harper. It’s a three-day party in one of the most dramatic settings we can imagine for a guitar solo.

Mount Naeba, Japan

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Salzburg, Austria

From late July through August, Salzburg honors its heritage with a grand classical celebration: The Salzburg Festival delivers everything from Mozart to modern chamber music, The Tempest to Don Giovanni.

Salzburg, Austria

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The 50 Most Beautiful Places in the World

Where are your top trek destinations?

Pinpointing every breathtaking place on the planet could take a lifetime, but the guys in the know at CN Traveler think that these 50 otherworldly landscapes and awe-inspiring natural wonders need to move to the very top of your travel bucket list.  (All images from Getty unless otherwise indicated)


Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia, an area in Turkey where entire cities have been carved into rock, is pretty incredible on its own. But whenever hot-air balloons pepper the sky, its beauty level simply skyrockets.

Salar de Uyuni: Daniel Campos, Bolivia

The reflective surface of the world’s largest salt mine is like something from the imagination of Salvador Dali—although we’re happy it actually exists in real life.

Mù Cang Chải: Vietnam

Mù Cang Chải manages to be one of the most breathtaking spots in Vietnam, with terraced rice fields and mountainous landscapes.

Benagil Sea Cave: Algarve, Portugal

The southern coast of Portugal is lined with exquisite beaches and caves, including the famous Benagil Sea Cave (skylight included).

Snæfellsjökull: Iceland

Iceland’s Snæfellsjökull glacier, complete with ice caves and craters, has appeared in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and the film Batman Begins.

Palawan Island: The Philippines

With its limestone cliffs and pristine lagoons, it’s easy to see why Palawan was voted the best island in the world by our readers.

Venice, Italy

Of all the amazing cities in Italy, there is something truly enchanting about the sunlit canals of Venice.

Ashikaga Flower Park: Ashikaga, Japan

Ashikaga’s wisteria trees bloom brilliantly for a few weeks every spring, turning the park into a vision of pastel pinks and purples.

Brecon Beacons National Park: Wales

Brecon Beacons offers access to rolling hills, Medieval castles, and romantic waterfalls. Plus it’s arguably the best place to stargaze in the UK.

Namib Desert: Namibia

Red sand dunes and skeletal trees make Namibia the closest thing we have to Mars on Earth. The Namib Desert was also the filming location for Mad Max: Fury Road.

Milford Sound: New Zealand

New Zealand is no stranger to breathtaking landscapes. Case in point: Milford Sound, a mountainous fjord where you can live out all of your Lord of the Rings fantasies.

Kolukkumalai Tea Estate: Munnar, India

Situated more than 8,000 feet above sea level, Kolukkumalai is the highest tea estate in the world—and easily the most beautiful.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: Abu Dhabi, UAE

Although the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has only been around for less than a decade, its regal architecture has already made it the crown jewel of Abu Dhabi—and one of the largest mosques in the world.

Bryce Canyon: Bryce, Utah

Bryce Canyon’s layered red and orange rock pillars, known as hoodoos, make it a can’t-miss destination for campers and shutterbugs alike.

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

You might know them better as the Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride, but this seaside wonder is actually located just south of Galway. Inconceivable!

Pyramids of Giza: El Giza, Egypt

Giza’s three great pyramids are mysterious marvels of architecture. We may never know whether or not they were built by mutants.

Okavango Delta: Botswana

The lush Okavango Delta is like a real-world Eden, where cheetahs, zebras, buffalo, and rhinos roam freely.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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A striking natural setting makes Rio de Janeiro one of the most beautiful cities in the world, all overlooked by the equally stunning Christ the Redeemer statue.

Arashiyama: Kyoto, Japan

The serene beauty of the bamboo forest in the Arashiyama district is a wonderful site to behold. No wonder it’s one of Pinterest’s most beloved places.

Grand Prismatic Spring: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

As its name suggests, the largest hot spring in the United States is essentially a rainbow ring of vibrant colors.

Serengeti National Park: Tanzania

Tanzania’s portion of the Serengeti is the ideal location for an African adventure.

Grand Canyon National Park: Arizona, USA

There’s a reason why more than 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon every year: It’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world, but a lot easier to access than Mount Everest or the Great Barrier Reef.

The Arctic Circle

Whether you’re spotting the Northern Lights in Sweden or glaciers off the coast of Greenland, the Arctic Circle is a new kind of hidden paradise.

Great Wall of China: Beijing, China

It’s over 12,000 miles long, thousands of years old, and can be seen from space—no wonder the Great Wall nabbed a spot on this list.

Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley): Alaska

Despite controversies over name changes and a shrinking elevation, Denali’s beauty is worth braving the extreme low temperatures.

Isle of Skye: Scotland

With fairy pools and bright green hills, the magical Isle of Skye is the stuff dreams are made of (regardless of whether you’ve binge-watched Outlander yet).

Bromo Volcano: East Java, Indonesia

Mount Bromo is perhaps the most well-known volcano in East Java’s Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, thanks to its accessibility and epic sunrise views.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

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While it may not be the first place you’d pick for a vacation abroad, Samarkand is a standout with intricately tiled buildings and colorfully dressed locals. It also has a rich history as a Silk Road stopping point.

Galápagos Islands: Ecuador

This volcanic archipelago off the coast of Ecuador is world-renowned for its idyllic snorkeling spots and diverse array of wildlife (including the always delightful blue-footed boobies, pictured).

Petra, Jordan

The ancient city of Petra may be renowned for the buildings carved directly into the sides of cliffs, but its real claim to fame is being the (fictional) home of the Holy Grail.

Ned’s tip: For the best of the best in Jordan, pamper yourself at the 5 star Hotel Le Royal – Amman.

Keukenhof Park, Holland: The Netherlands

Holland is known around the world for its rainbow-hued fields of tulips, especially those located in and around Keukenhof. Millions of bulbs are planted in the park each year—visit in mid-April to see the flowers during their peak season.

Machu Picchu: Peru

Machu Picchu’s panoramic views and intricate (and a tad mysterious) stone walls more than validate the site’s worldwide fame.

The Great Barrier Reef: Queensland, Australia

Although the largest living thing on Earth can be seen from space, the best vantage point belongs to the avid snorkelers and scuba divers who visit each year.

Moravian Fields: Czech Republic

It’s more believable to think the Moravian Fields are the product of an oil painter’s genius brushstrokes, but these pastel-colored hills are very much a reality.

Socotra, Yemen

Socotra kind of looks like it was transported to Earth from a distant planet. The UFO-like dragon’s blood trees are the island’s most notable feature.

Bagan (formerly Pagan): Myanmar

Bagan’s ancient city skyline is like nothing else in the world, with ochre stupas and temples rising above the surrounding forests.

Lavender fields: Provence, France

The seemingly endless stretches of lavender fields make Provence one of the prettiest (and best-smelling) places in France.

Oia: Santorini, Greece

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Santorini is officially one of the best islands in the world—and one of the most picturesque. The small village of Oia is particularly captivating, with its whitewashed buildings and bright blue roofs.

Slope Point: South Island, New Zealand

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The next time you want to complain about the wind messing up your hair, just consider the trees of Slope Point, which have been permanently twisted and windblown by intense Antarctic gusts.

Lake Louise: Alberta, Canada

As is the case with most glacial lakes, Lake Louise is surrounded by rugged mountains and filled with clear, vibrant water.

Valle de Cocora: Quindío, Colombia

In case you were wondering where to find the world’s tallest palm trees (palma de cera), you needn’t look further. The lithe trees are even more incredible set against the backdrop of misty green hills and sharp mountains.

Pamukkale: Denizli, Turkey

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The stacked pools in Pamukkale are usually surrounded by snow and frozen waterfalls, but the blue waters are hot and open to bathers. You’ll never be satisfied with your hotel’s infinity pool again.

Torres del Paine National Park: Patagonia, Chile

Torres del Paine is like a microcosm of all the things that make Patagonia such a spectacular place: sky-high mountains, blue icebergs, and mythical lakes.

Wulingyuan Scenic Area: Zhangjiajie, China

Scenic might be an understatement in this case. This 100-square-mile attraction contains thousands of sandstone pillars that are nature’s version of skyscrapers—some even stretch taller than the Empire State Building’s midpoint.

Angkor Wat: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Some popular tourist attractions are worth braving the potential crowds for, and Angkor Wat is at the top of that list. No matter how many Asian temples you’ve seen, this one will always be the grandest and most breathtaking.

Redwood National Park: California

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Standing in the middle of California’s Redwood National Park is a humbling experience to be sure, especially when you look straight up at the 2,000-year-old, 300-feet-tall natural giants.

Na’Pali Coast: Kauai, Hawaii

Kauai boasts one of the world’s most insanely beautiful coastlines, which makes you work a bit to soak up its wonders—Na’Pali can only be seen from a helicopter, catamaran, or rather grueling hike.

Halong Bay: Vietnam

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Halong Bay, located in northeast Vietnam, is beloved for its blue waters and spread of limestone islands, all occupied by tropical trees and wildlife.

Painted Cliffs: Maria Island, Tasmania

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Tasmania’s Maria Island is a motherlode of fascinating geology, including the swirling, Triassic-era limestone of the Painted Cliffs.

Jodhpur (“Blue City”): Rajasthan, India

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Jodhpur is an ancient city with plenty to offer modern travellers, like bustling bazaars, incense-scented air, and delightfully Smurf-like buildings as far as you can see.

 

 

10 Places Telling Tourists to Stay Home

Tourism can provide an incredible economic boost, sure, but some locales say it can also be harmful to the environment and negatively impact local populations. With such considerations in mind, several destinations around the world have proposed—or put into place—measures restricting the annual number of visitors.  Thanks to CN Traveler for this info.


Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

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A picturesque group of five villages along the Ligurian Sea, Cinque Terre is one of Italy’s most popular sites. Italian officials, however, have recently announced their plans to cap the number of people who are allowed to visit, citing environmental concerns. Though 2.5 million travelers visited Cinque Terre in 2015, the number will be restricted to 1.5 million per year going forward.

Barcelona

Barcelona Gaudi

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Barcelona mayor Ada Colau made headlines in June 2015 when she discussed implementing an entry cap on the Spanish city. In order to keep Barcelona from reaching its “saturation limit,” Colau’s administration is developing plans to balance the tourism sector’s interests with those of local residents; potentially putting a city-wide freeze on the development of new hotels and creating a preventative policy before things “get out of hand.”

Bhutan

Himalayas Bhutan

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High on the Himalayas’ eastern edge, the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan prides itself on “low volume, high-value” tourism. All foreign visitors—except those holding Indian, Maldivian, or Bangladeshi passports—must get a visa and book their holiday through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator. Visitors must also pay, in advance, the “minimum daily package” (either $200 or $250 a day, depending on the month) set by the Royal Government of Bhutan, via money transfer to the Tourism Council of Bhutan. This fee covers your accommodation, all meals, guides, internal transport, and a sustainable tourism royalty that goes toward free education, health care, and poverty alleviation. Only 133,480 international and regional tourists visited Bhutan in 2014.

Iceland

Iceland's beauty

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Roughly 970,000 people visited Iceland in 2014—three times the country’s population, and a 24 percent increase over 2013. The trend continues: As of May 2015, the number of visitors had increased 76 percent over the same period in 2014. Currently, the Icelandic Tourist Board and the Icelandic Tourism Research Centre are researching how “full” a site can get before detracting from the experience. “We have to realize that we can’t just build up natural sites endlessly,” Ólöf Ýrr Atladóttir, director general of the Icelandic Tourist Board, said in 2014. “We can’t just endlessly receive more and more people at any particular tourist site and live under the assumption that we are offering the type of experience that people have paid for.”

Galápagos Islands

Galapagos Islands

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Some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, these 19 islands—which inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution—host approximately 9,000 species on land and in their surrounding waters. By 2007, residents and tourists had put such a burden on the ecosystems that the United Nations listed the destination as an endangered heritage site. Today, 97 percent of the land area is designated as part of the national park, and tourism is carefully monitored so that there is no further impact on the islands’ health or wildlife. Tourists can only travel to specific visitor sites, and must adhere to these 14 rules, including accompaniment by a licensed Galápagos National Park Guide. The U.N. removed the Galápagos from its “in danger” list in 2010.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

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Although visitors were once allowed to wander this 15th-century site freely, new measures encouraged by UNESCO are intended to clamp down on the number of tourists visiting one of Peru’s premier destinations. As part of a $43.7-million reconceptualization expected to be completed by 2019, all foreign visitors will have to hire a guide, follow one of three designated routes through the complex, and be subjected to time limits in order to prevent bottlenecking. In 2014, some 1.2 million tourists visited the 12-acre Incan citadel, surpassing the daily limit of 2,500 agreed to by Peru and UNESCO. The ancient site was added to UNESCO’s “endangered” list in January 2016.

Lord Howe Island

Lord Howe Island

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Located 370 miles off mainland Australia, this seven-square-mile island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982 for its rare flora, fauna, and marine life. In surrounding waters, there are more than 400 species of fish and 90 species of coral. Also considered one of the cleanest places on Earth, approximately 75 percent of the island’s original vegetation remains undisturbed. With just 350 full-time residents and a limit of 400 visitors on the island at any given time, there are ample spaces to call your own.

Antarctica

Antarctica

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By 2009, a surge in visits led to a ratification of the Antarctic Treaty. Among other things, signatories agreed to barring cruise ships with more than 500 passengers from landing sites; restricting landings to one vessel at a time (per site); and limiting passengers on shore to 100 at a time. Today, visitors to the pristine environment must travel through operators and organizers who have been approved by their appropriate national authorities, and can expect that their time—whether on shore or simply sailing by—will be strictly monitored.

The Seychelles

Seychelles

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An archipelago of 115 islands off the East African coast, the Seychelles have become massively popular for both “regular” tourists and royalty—yes, this is where William and Kate spent their honeymoon. Though tourism is the Seychelles’ biggest industry, its minister of tourism and culture, Alain St. Ange, said in April 2015 that work is underway to curb the number of annual visitors in order to protect its future. “We don’t want to demean the value of the Seychelles. We’re reaching 250,000 people, six times the number of people who live there.”

Mount Everest

Mount Everest

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With mounting calls to reduce the number of teams and climbers attempting to summit the world’s highest peak, the Nepalese government had taken steps in the right direction before the 2015 climbing season was officially shuttered following the Nepal earthquake. Among the measures were an increased fee for foreign climbers from $10,000 to $11,000, and the establishment of a liaison office at base camp to verify experience, health, and climbing conditions. Next up? An emphasis on forming smaller climbing teams so that “traffic jams” up the routes can be avoided.

 

 

Discover the New 7 Wonders of the World

Love travelling but sometimes worry you’ve missed something?

In 2001 the Swiss-based New7Wonders Foundation was established by a Swiss-born Canadian filmmaker, author and all-round adventurer named Bernard Weber. The purpose of this independent project was to contribute to the protection of the world’s man-made and natural heritage whilst promoting respect for earth’s beauty and diversity.

Although there have been many collations of ‘wonders of the world’, as a non-government funded initiative, New7Wonders is supported by licensing and commercial partnerships only and, to date, reports generating over US$5 billion worth of economic, tourism and national promotional value for the locations participating in its campaigns. Of this sizeable income, New7Wonders has pledged to dedicate 50% of surplus net revenue to the main New7Wonders Foundation cause – Global Memory, the documentation and 3D virtual recording of all New7Wonders.

The New7Wonders began by enlisting a panel of experts whose job it would be to generate a shortlist of 21 sites from 77 nominated by people from around the world. The 21 finalists were then put to public vote and the official winners of the New7Wonders of the World were eventually decided in 2007 by more than 100million votes – the criteria being that the sites should ‘represent global heritage throughout history’.

How many of these modern wonders of the world can you tick off your travel list?

This article courtesy of Holly Wadsworth-Hill for Mail Travel


Taj Mahal, India

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Located in Agra, also known as India’s ‘City of Love’.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as one of the New7Wonders of the World and a regular on the prescribed bucket-lists of many a qualified travel-writer. The exquisite white marble masterpiece that is the Taj Mahal more than earns its place as a must-see tourist attraction for many reasons.
The result of a beautiful love story, the Taj Mahal is one of the most famous buildings in the world and its history has charmed generation after generation.
Built by the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in 1631, in memory of his loyal wife and soul mate Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is shrouded in fable – even its architect remains unknown, and yet it remains completely unforgettable for anyone who has the pleasure of visiting it.

Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan

Jordan’s fascinating story starts at the dawn of recorded history where ‘hunter-gatherer’ man learned to farm. Permanent settlements developed with the inhabitants fast becoming traders of gold, silks and spices between the sophisticated civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. During biblical times, it was on Mt Nebo, overlooking the River Jordan that Moses first saw the ‘Promised Land’. The Persians then arrived, whilst Alexander the Great and his descendants ruled for 300 years, after which it became one of the Roman Empire’s richest and most fought-over provinces, before being incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.

Petra, the famous Treasury carved into the cliff, was once the magnificent capital of the Nabataean empire of King Aretas IV and is considered the jewel of Jordan. Architecturally fascinating, this ancient site is half built and half carved into the rocks – its maze of passages and hidden gorges, coupled with the fact that it has been inhabited since prehistoric times, make Petra a historians, and the inquisitive traveller’s, dream destination. Petra will take your breath away.

Check out other places to visit in Jordan here http://www.leroyal.com/giftcard/amman/attractionsdetails.asp?parCountry=1

Colosseum, Italy

Rome
The Colosseum is at the heart of the ‘Eternal City’ of Rome and has become an iconic part of Italy’s tourist industry.

Commissioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian, the Colosseum was eventually finished by his son, Titus, with latter enhancements by Domitian. One of the earliest and longest surviving examples of the Italian aptitude to combine splendour with pragmatism, the Colosseum was originally known as the Flavian amphitheatre and was designed to hold 55,000 spectators. With its bloody history and unimaginable size, the Colosseum is not only considered one of the greatest works of architecture and engineering of all time, it is also completely enthralling.

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Chichen Itza, Mexico

An obvious addition the magnificent 7 if you ask us. So much is known and so much has been lost of the ancient Mayan civilisation that Chichen Itza continues to enthral modern day scholars and historians – not to mention your average holidaymaker looking for something different. Chichen Itza means ‘at the mouth of the well of the Itza’ and is a Mayan City on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, between Valladolid and Merida. The Maya were accomplished mathematicians and scientists with a sophisticated and established society, housing the recorded Maya and Toltec ideas of the world and the universe, Chichen Itza is an invaluable fragment of history that draws people from all around the world. It is not known why, in the 1400s, people fled Chichen Itza for the jungle, but what they left behind is a history lesson that one will never forget.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

The famous ruins of Machu Picchu, a 15th Century Inca site rising 7,000 ft above sea level, are nestled in and somewhat hidden on a mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley. A fairly recent geographical find, Machu Picchu was not discovered until 1911 and, although archaeologists have estimated that around 1200 people could have lived in the area, very little is actually known for certain about this Inca-built wonder. As with all the unknown, speculation and theory is rife, with some believing the site was home to Incan rulers and others thinking it was most likely a prison or defensive retreat.

We do know that Machu Picchu was built around 1450 and then abandoned by the Incans about a century later during the Spanish Conquest. On top of the mysterious history, Machu Picchu’s phenomenal and resilient architecture has also drawn visitors to witness the remarkable site first-hand.

Great Wall of China

Great Wall
Historically significant and architecturally amazing, the Great Wall of China dates back as far as the 7th Century BC but has been added to and strengthened many times since. Most notably the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty was responsible for the linking of several sections of the wall in 221BC when he formed the first 10,000 li Great Wall.

Most of what we know as the Great Wall today, originates from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and perhaps the best viewing spot in the whole of China is the Great Wall at Badaling where you can capture a long sprawling view of the wall in all its postcard-worthy glory.

Christ the Redeemer, Brazil

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ae/Christ_on_Corcovado_mountain.JPGChrist the Redeemer is the most recent of all the New7Wonders of the World, constructed between 1922 and 1931 as a prominent and now eminent symbol of Brazilian Christianity. It is a huge Art Deco statue of Jesus Christ, crafted by French sculptor Paul Landowski and built by Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa and French engineer Albert Caquot.

Christ the Redeemer overlooks the energetic city of Rio and is located at the peak of the 2,300 ft Corcovado Mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park. Most of us have seen the panoramic shots of Christ the Redeemer in magazines, holiday brochures, on television and the like but few will have the pleasure of seeing it first-hand and exploring this dynamic part of the world.

Forget Lonely Planet’s Greatest Wonders, these are the top 10 places to AVOID

A great little blog post here from The Mail on Sunday’s wonderfully cynical Travel Editor, Frank Barrett.


Lonely Planet has published its list of the world’s Greatest Wonders: this is my guide to ten of the world’s places not to bother with – a much more useful service in my opinion.

1. Empire State Building, New York (pictured): When it comes to tall buildings, my clearest advice is to stay away from them. They’re expensive, overcrowded and likely to bring on a nosebleed. The view from the ESB is OK but doesn’t justify the hassle and expense of seeing it. If you want a skyscraper view of Manhattan head up the Rockefeller Center.

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2. Eiffel Tower, Paris: If you really want to go up the Eiffel Tower, then walk up. At least as far as you are allowed. Unless you enjoy standing in queues at a high altitude, don’t even contemplate the final stage to the summit which involves endless waiting and tiny lifts. And if the weather is bad all you will see is mist.

3. The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen: This is Denmark’s major tourist attraction? I’ve seen bigger (and much more interesting) poodles.

4. Hollywood sign, Los Angeles: It’s a sign. It’s in Hollywood. And..?

5. Lands End, Cornwall: The end of the land. You have to pay to see this?

6. Great Wall of China, China: I’ve got a great wall in my garden but I’m not making a big fuss about it.

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7. Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney (pictured): Sydney has two big must-sees: its Opera House and its Bridge. I don’t know whether people from Sydney have been anywhere else in the world but lots of other cities have bridges. Newcastle upon Tyne has five of them.

8. Mona Lisa, Paris: Save three hours of your life and a wodge of cash: don’t bother fighting through the Louvre crowds to see what is effectively an average portrait of an unknown woman. Over-rated doesn’t begin to describe it.

9. Manneken Pis, Brussels: A statue of a small boy doing … what? Are you serious?

10. Bateau Mouche, Paris: Keep well away from tall buildings, caves … and boat excursions. Boat trips (like cave visits) have no clearly discernible time limit – they may take 20 minutes (doubtful) they may last five hours. And there’s nothing – absolutely nothing – you can do to escape…

 

 

The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn’t Know Existed

More gorgeousness from at Thrillist Travel.

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Iguassu Falls | Curioso/Shutterstock

Anyone who’s watched more than two episodes of The Twilight Zone — or read the angry comments when we named the most beautiful place in every state — knows that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Undaunted, we proceeded to tell you about all the beautiful places you didn’t know existed in California and New York and even in Nevada, because believe it or not, there actually is beauty there outside of a strip club.

But enough about America, there’s a whole big world out there; and it’s full of stunning scenery that you’ve probably never laid eyes on — until now. Here are 20 of the most spectacular places on the planet.

The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Abraham Lake

Alberta, Canada
Ever wonder what happens when freezing water traps methane bubbles created by bacteria feeding off dead matter on the sea bottom? Welcome to Abraham Lake. Here, those bubbles of methane (undetectable in your standard, non-frozen lake) create pockets that resemble millions of orbs trapped in the ice. Just don’t light up while you’re snowmobiling; if the ice cracks and those bubbles burst, methane is highly flammable.

Abraham Lake

LaiQuocAnh/Shutterstock

Cueva de los Cristales

Chihuahua, Mexico
Don’t feel bad for not knowing about this “Cave of Crystals” — until 2000, nobody had heard of it. That year, two brothers mining for silver drilled here and accidentally uncovered an epic cavern filled with translucent, 30ft crystals, some of which are nearly half-a-million years old. If you can stomach a 20-minute van ride through a mine shaft, you’ll be greeted by triple-digit temperatures and 90% humidity thanks to the magma field that flows a mile under your feet.

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Flickr/Julierohloff

Dean’s Blue Hole

Long Island, Bahamas
There are some spectacular beaches in the Caribbean. And some other-world crazy cenotes in Mexico. Dean’s Blue Hole combines the two — albeit underwater — and is the largest blue hole in world. Although honestly, the white sand beach and limestone walls that surround the hole could make this list as well, they’re equally as stunning. That said, descend past the initial 60ft bottleneck and Dean’s Blue Hole opens into one of the largest underwater cenotes in the world, complete with turquoise water, seahorses, and tropical fish (it’s a hotspot for tarpon and snapper). Clear visibility and no current make it a place as scenic below the surface as above.

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Crystal Mill

Marble, CO
OK, OK, so we couldn’t resist throwing at least one US spot on the list. About an hour outside of Aspen, and an eight-hour hike from the nearest road, there’s a ghost town at the base of the Rocky Mountains. And the lone remnant of that ghost town is this old mill. If you visit in the fall, the combination of golden leaves, blue sky, and white snowcapped peaks might be the most unexpectedly beautiful vista in the American West.

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Laura grier

The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Iguazu Falls

Misiones Province, Argentina
Iguazu Falls aren’t that obscure, but they’re probably just another one on your mental list of big waterfalls to visit some day, up there with Niagara and Victoria. Which sells them WAY short. This isn’t so much a waterfall but a venerable city of waterfalls — 250 of them stretching nearly two miles — that dumps 53,000 cubic feet of water PER SECOND. Throw in the fact that they’re located in a gorgeous South American rainforest, and you’ve pretty much got one of the most impressive feats of nature on the planet.

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Aleksei Sarkisov/Shutterstock

Lençóis Maranhenses

Maranhao, Brazil
The name literally means “bedsheets of Maranhao,” the state in Northeastern Brazil where these coastal dunes sway over 600 square miles of shoreline. The dunes are formed when the Parnaíba and Preguiças Rivers bring sand from the country’s interior to the ocean, and then the ocean currents — aided by northeasterly winds that blow inland — send that sand back to the shore. Though the area might look like a desert, temporary lagoons spring up in between the dunes during rainy season and often double as exceptional fishing holes.

Cavernas de Marmol (Marble Cathedral)

Lake General Carrera, Chile
What happens when you take a Patagonian peninsula made completely of marble and surround it with a massive glacial lake? Weird, swirling marble caves that change color, that’s what! These only-accessible-by-boat caves near the Chile-Argentina border reflect the color of the water that flows through them, shining turquoise in the spring and deep blue in the summer. The reflections also change the appearance of the patterns in the marble; meaning, if you visit the caves at different times of year you’ll have a completely different experience. Then again, after the 1,000-mile drive from Santiago and lengthy boat ride, once might be enough.

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The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Forest of Knives (Tsingy Forest)

Madagascar
The name might sound like the setting for Halloween 12: Michael Does Madagascar but the surreal beauty of this limestone forest is anything but horror-inducing. Quite the opposite. Here, slabs of rock stab upward 200ft in the air, mixing with trees to create a literal forest made of leaves and jagged peaks. Climbing here is the main attraction but be warned, it can be dangerous: slip and you could find yourself with a Ginsu-like gash.

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Seven-Coloured Earth of Chamarel

Chamarel, Mauritius
One of the problems with rainbows, other than the fact that there’s never a pot of gold at the end of them, is that as soon as you try to Instagram one… POOF!… it’s gone. If only rainbows were made out of sand that could withstand thousands of years of rain and erosion. Well, guess what rainbow lovers, meet the Seven-Coloured Earth of Chamarel! These rainbow dunes in Mauritius are formed by sand of seven distinct colors — red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple, and yellow. Even cooler: pick the sand up, put it in a bottle, mix it up — eventually it’ll resettle into the same seven distinct layers. Every time.

Seven-Coloured Earth of Chamarel, Mauritius

Andrea Murphy

Deadvlei

Hardap, Namibia
It’s hard to believe when standing under an oppressive sun in the middle of 1,300ft-tall sand dunes that this valley was once a lush forest fed by the Tsauchab River. That, of course, was 900 years ago. Since then, the area has become so parched that the remaining trees didn’t even have enough water to decompose, and now sit as charred relics. Add rusted sand and a deep-blue sky, and this is one of the most colorfully desolate places on the planet.

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The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Deception Island

Antarctica
Hiking to the top of an active volcano is cool, but you know what’s really badass? Sailing into one. Tough to do in most places, but not Antarctica; this active volcano (which last erupted in 1992) in the South Shetland Islands has a horseshoe-shaped caldera, and ships can sail right up to its smoldering beaches. As you cruise around the volcanic bay, you’ll see both snow and ash covering the lava formations amidst the steam.

The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Yongyut Kumsri/Shutterstock

Lemaire Channel

Antarctica
This seven-mile-long, mile-wide channel between the mountains on Booth Island and the Antarctic peninsula was originally nicknamed the “Kodak Channel” because it was so photogenic. Although today, it would probably be “Instagram Channel.” Either way, you want to catch it when the entrance isn’t blocked by ice and the boat can make the trip inside.

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The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Red Seabeach

Pinjin, China
Even if you don’t hit this wetland in September, when the seepweeds mature from green to bright red, the 16-mile marsh is still one of the most beautiful spots in China to glimpse birds and wildlife. But if you are there in September, you’re in for a treat. The red fields attract flocks of over 200 species of birds as they migrate from Asia to Australia, and you can nod approvingly at them all from wooden bridges built over the water.

The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

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Sea of Stars

Vaadhoo Island, Maldives
There are more than a few bioluminescent bays in the world, where a species of phytoplankton known as dinoflagellates glow/illuminate the water when an influx of oxygen disturbs their cell membrane. This one on Vaadhoo Island in the Maldives stands out, however, because the bright-blue light appears to be reflecting the stars over this island.

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PawelG Photo/Shutterstock

El Nido

Philippines
El Nido is classically known as the gateway to the Philippines’ Bacuit Archipelago and, according to (urban?) legend, was Alex Garland’s inspiration when he wrote The Beach. Although, yes, Leo’s adventure was set in Thailand, the limestone cliffs, bright-green foliage, and turquoise waters here apparently make it hard to distinguish between the two. Also, just so you know: a trip to El Nido requires a seven-hour bus ride.

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The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Lord Howe Island

Australia
There’s a reason you haven’t heard of this island 375 miles off New South Wales: there’s no cellphone coverage. Which means as beautiful as it is, nobody can go all selfie-stick/Instagram crazy while they’re there; they’re forced instead to do something novel like appreciate the wildlife. Wildlife that, because of the island’s perpetual isolation, includes birds, insects, and plant species that don’t exist anywhere else in the world.

The island also sits near Earth’s most southerly coral reef, making for world-class diving and snorkeling. Which is even better considering you don’t have to share — only 400 visitors are allowed on the island at any given time.

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Ashley Whitworth/Shutterstock

Homebush Bay

Sydney, Australia
An otherwise unremarkable residential bay in Sydney makes this list not for its water, but for the ship that sits near the coastline. Built during World War I, the SS Ayrfield ran supplies to American troops in the Pacific during World War II before an oil company bought it in the 1950s and stationed it in the middle of this bay. Then nature took over. Now, it’s a man-made island filled with trees and wildlife, and one of the most decrepitly beautiful sights in the world. A work of art almost unto itself.

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The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Chapel of Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe

Le Puy-en-Velay, France
Talk about wonders of the world; even with today’s technology, imagine how hard it would be to build ANYTHING on top of a small pointy rock? Now imagine building a stone cathedral in 962, without cranes, hydraulics, or anything other than actual people hauling stones up 268 stairs. Sounds fun, right? But the result is this beauty, built atop a basalt needle with a sweeping view of the city below.

The Most Beautiful Places in the World You Didn\'t Know Existed

Oscity/Shutterstock

Crystal Cave at Skaftafell

Vatnajokull National Park, Iceland
Blue ice is more than just the GOOD ice pack the nurse gives you when you sprain your ankle. It’s a brilliant, aqua-colored geologic formation that results when air bubbles are compressed out of ice over time. And it is in abundance in this cave at Vatnajokull National Park. Don’t let the 22ft shoreline entryway fool you; the cave tapers down to as few as 4ft, and will crack and pop when you walk inside. That doesn’t mean it’s about to collapse, though; it’s just the sound of glacial movement against the volcanic island.

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Picos de Europas

Spain
While the Alps and the Pyrenees get all the attention, this tiny range near the northern coast of Spain is equally as beautiful. The range only stretches about 26 miles (and its highest peak, Macizo Central or Macizo de los Urrieles, is barely 8,000ft tall), but when it comes to skiing and snowshoeing away from the masses, it’s a tough location to beat. And thanks in part to an abundance of wildflowers and Spanish brown bears, it’s one of the prettiest places in Europe to spot exotic wildlife in the summer.

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Girl Power – Indian Style

Inside India’s vibrant 500-year-old market where there are over 4000 traders… and all of them are women

From the dazzling array of fresh fruit, spices and textiles, the sprawling Imphal market in Manipur could be mistaken for any other bazaar in India but it has one distinct difference – all 4000 traders manning its stalls are female.

Ima Keithel which translates as ‘mothers’ market’ is a meeting ground and trading hub, run exclusively by women and is reportedly the largest all-women market in Asia and possibly the world.

Although there is debate over when exactly it was established, some say the market dates back to the 16th century. This female-only workforce originated during the ‘Lallup’ era when men from the Meitei community were called upon to serve the King leaving the women the responsibilities of commerce and farming, according to Oddity Central. 

Only married women are allowed to run the stalls and family members pass their trade on to the next generation keeping the enterprising spirit alive.

Despite threat of closure over the years, the market is still thriving. It did however take a battering during an earthquake in January which killed nine people and destroyed some of its structures.

Tourists visiting the region will be greeted by friendly traders offering a lively blend of traditional handcrafted items, modern clothing and local produce.

Although Ima Keithel was damaged in the 4 January earthquake, it has returned back to normal. Nine deaths were reported from in and around Imphal due to falling debris. Imphal has a population of some 270,000 and people were jolted from their sleep and ran out of their homes in panic when the earth shook. A woman reads the news at her vegetable stall (pictured)

This female-only workforce originated during the ‘Lallup’ era when men from the Meitei community were called upon to serve the King leaving the women the responsibilities of commerce and farmingThis female-only workforce originated during the ‘Lallup’ era when men from the Meitei community were called upon to serve the King leaving the women the responsibilities of commerce and farming
Local delicacies: A Manipuri woman sells smoked and dry fish in Ima Keithel marketLocal delicacies: A Manipuri woman sells smoked and dry fish in Ima Keithel market
A woman vendor on her way with 'Yongchak' to Ima market.   Khwairaman Bazar, known as Women's Market, the market stalls are all run by women, the main market of Imphal, Manipur, India
A woman vendor on her way with yongchak to Ima market (left) and one of the 4000 traders at the market sells garlic (right)
This market is said to reflect the empowerment of the women of Manipur. A woman vendor sells Yongchak (pictured)This market is said to reflect the empowerment of the women of Manipur. A woman vendor sells Yongchak
Female shoppers look delighted at the selection of traditional handcrafted items, modern clothing and local produce available to buyFemale shoppers look delighted at the selection of traditional handcrafted items, modern clothing and local produce available to buy
Tools of the trade: Women sell farming and kitchen implements and other hardware at the mother's marketTools of the trade: Women sell farming and kitchen implements and other hardware at the mothers’ market
Fabric of life: A view of the section of cloth and textiles being sold at Ima Market in Imphal, ManipurFabric of life: A view of the section of cloth and textiles being sold at Ima Market in Imphal, Manipur
Family members pass their trade on to the next generation keeping the enterprising spirit alive at the market. Vendors wait for customers (pictured)Family members pass their trade on to the next generation keeping the enterprising spirit alive at the market. Vendors wait for customers
Despite threat of closure over the years, the market is still thriving. Women buy fish at Ima Market (pictured)Despite threat of closure over the years, the market is still thriving. Women buy fish at Ima Market

Live the Jungle Book lifestyle with these spectacular treehouses

Stunning photography of even more stunning places to visit from Mail Online – I just had to just copy and paste this one!   – Ned


If there was ever a time to book into a spectacular treehouse and spend the night close to nature, now could be it – as Disney’s Jungle Book has hit the screens.

If you are craving a night with just the bare necessities, there are plenty of simple retreats offering guests the chance to fall asleep in nature’s arms. But there are also some more lavish options for those looking for something more comfortable.

Here MailOnline Travel shares some of the most incredible boutique treehouses around the world – perfect for living like Mowgli for the night.

The Jungle Book is out now, and tells the story of Mowgli, who is raised by wolves and is friends with Bagheera and Baloo the bear

The Jungle Book is out now, and tells the story of Mowgli, who is raised by wolves and is friends with Bagheera and Baloo the bear

If you are craving a night with just the bare necessities like Mowgli, there are simple retreats offering guests the chance to fall asleep in nature's arms.And for those who prefer luxury breaks in the woods, there are plenty of breathtaking options available

Watamu Guest House, Watamu, Kenya 

The stunning Watamu Treehouse has three bedrooms which all boast ensuite bathrooms, and guests can check in on a self-catering or full-board basis

Nestled high in the trees on a breathtaking stretch of Watamu beach in Kenya is the Watamu Treehouse.

The white, unusually-designed property looks like something from a fairytale, with its thatched roofs, mosaic glass inside and panoramic views of the Indian Ocean.

The stunning Watamu Treehouse has three bedrooms which all boast ensuite bathrooms, and guests can check in on a self-catering or full-board basis.

Prices for the paradisal retreat don’t come cheap at £253 per night on TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals, but it could be worth it for the views alone.

The Buckland, Atlanta, US

Peter and Katie Bahouth bought the land in 2000 and spent six months designing and building the fairytale retreat, which they now rent out

Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the interior with natural light, while pretty fairy lights and swishy curtains add a dash of romance to the scheme

If you’ve ever dreamed of a fairytale treehouse, complete with twinkling lights and romantic bridges, it probably looks a lot like this.

The Buckland retreat, nestled in pristine woodland in the heart of Atlanta, is listed on Airbnb for around £255 per night, and it even comes with Wi-Fi.

Set amid the branches of a 150-year-old Southern Short-Leaf Pine tree, the enchanting treehouse is the handywork of creative couple Peter and Katie Bahouth, and consists of three separate rooms that are connected by rope bridges strewn with fairy lights.

The cosy living room is decked out with a masterful blend of beautiful antiques and up-cycled furniture, including a chandelier to add a touch ofglamour to the scheme, and an 80-year-old butterfly window.

Keemala, Thailand 

Keemala is a small wellness-focused resort in the woodlands just outside the village and beach of Kamala on the island of Phuket

The bauble-shaped treehouses, one of four types of dwelling, loosely resemble James Cameron's Pandora from the blockbuster film Avatar

So close yet so far from the parties of Patong on Thailand’s biggest island, developers aimed for Keemala to be the epitome of serenity.

The hotel is a small wellness-focused resort in the woodlands just outside the village and beach of Kamala, on the west coast of the island, and opened in September of last year.

Small Luxury Hotels of the World says the tranquil setting of the resort will ‘encourage guests to rebalance, rejuvenate and relax’ among the trees, streams and waterfalls seamlessly added to enhance the natural landscape.

The resort’s 38 pool villas come in in four separate styles – clay and straw cottages, tent villas, treehouses and bird’s nest villas – with each one representing a clan of fictitious early Phuket settlers.

Treehouse Point, Washington

If you are looking for some rest and relaxation, TreeHouse Point, Washington, could be the perfect escape.

The utopia, which was constructed in 2006, features a number of treehouse options, the largest of which features leather reading chairs, a queen-sized bed and two singles, hand-made quilts, a writing desk, bookcases and large hammocks, all for around $330 (£234) per night, plus tax.

What makes it even more perfect are the ways you access the treehouses. Guests have to travel across a swinging rope bridge or ascend a ladder to reach the forest paradises.

Montaña Mágica Lodge, Chile 

The bar and restaurant inside are just as beautiful as the exterior, with its all-natural wood and stone decor

The southern Andes is home to the spectacular Montaña Mágica Lodge, a luxury hotel in the heart of Patagonia’s 300,000-acre Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve that has a spectacular waterfall cascading down one side.

Looking as though it’s been plucked straight out of a fantasy film, the hotel is made completely out of wood and stone, and would no doubt be at home as a background set for The Hobbit.

The retreat, in Los Rios, is accessible only by foot and intrepid guests must brave a swinging rope bridge to enter it.

Free Spirit Spheres – Vancouver Island, Canada 

These magical circular treehouses are suspended in the forest canopy and reached by guests via bridged walkways.

And since they move in a slow rocking motion when the wind blows, the experience of sleeping in a sphere is unique to each individual.

There are four different spherical rooms in all at the Free Spirit Spheres, Vancouver Island, Canada, and each can comfortably sleep an adult couple, though amenities are relatively limited inside.

Rates start at CAD$160 (£84) for one night in the smallest of the four.

Lion Sands Game Reserve, South Africa 

There can be few more spine-tingling ways of seeing lions, leopards and elephants in their natural habitat than from a lavish treehouse.

These amazing pictures show how one particular hotel allows its guests to gaze across a private reserve near the Kruger National Park in five-star luxury, with a four-poster bed, sofa and dining table installed on the decking.

Located in the exclusive Sabi Sand Reserve, it’s truly the ultimate exotic escape, with guests taken to the treehouse at sunset, where a picnic awaits them.

What’s more, they aren’t just treated to the sights and sounds of Africa’s wildlife. Lion Sands Game Reserve, which operates several ‘bush bedrooms’, promises that if you look up there are stars so great in number ‘they’re impossible to count’.

Prices are available from £590 per night.

Teahouse Tetsu, Japan 

Enchanting: The utterly charming Teahouse Tetsu was built by architect Terunobu Fujimori for the Kiyoharu Shirakaba Museum in Hokuto, Japan

Perhaps the most picturesque of all treehouses is the stunning Teahouse Tetsu at the Kiyoharu Shirakaba Museum in the Japanese city of Hokuto.

Perched atop a cypress base in a gorgeous grove of pink-petalled cherry trees, the Terunobu Fujimori-designed teahouse looks as if it sprang direct from the imagination of Hans Christian Andersen and even has a fairytale-style crooked chimney.

Sadly guests can only visit the treehouse and not spend the night in it.

Treehouses at Center Parcs, Longleat Forest

They feature four en-suite bedrooms, an open plan kitchen, dining and living area, a separate games den (accessed along a timber walkway) and a private hot tub

Many opt for a holiday at Center Parcs to enjoy cycling around the woodlands, the wealth of activities and dining options – but now you can have the full forest experience by staying in one of the picturesque treehouses.

In Longleat Forest there are three luxury, two-storey options, nestled in a quiet corner of the 400 acres of woodland.

They feature four en-suite bedrooms, an open plan kitchen, dining and living area, a separate games den (accessed along a timber walkway) and a private hot tub.

Prices start from £349 and can be booked on the website.

Tsala Treetop Lodge, South Africa 

When it’s time to eat, guests dine in a glass-walled dining room or on a suspended deck where they can take in the views

Holidaymakers who want to revisit the days when they climbed trees as a child can do one better at this luxurious hotel in the wilds of South Africa.

Tsala lodge is set high in the treetops with rustic suites and villas complete with fireplaces, spa bathrooms and infinity pools on private decks, where guests can admire spectacular vistas of a lush forest.

Offering a unique take on a room with a view, the wood and stone treehouses boast high ceilings, kitchenettes and outdoor showers in a peaceful location between the coastal towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.

Châteaux dans les Arbres, France 

Outside on the terrace is a hot tub for two and a personal chef is on hand to create a delicious supper to complete the romantic evening

Perched among the branches in a rural spot near Bergerac is a unique treehouse, complete with four fairytale turrets and all built out of wood.

The cosy interior of Châteaux dans les Arbres (Castle in the Trees) includes a double bed with a stained-glass window above, an electric heater for chilly evenings and a coffee machine for a morning pick-me-up.

Outside on the terrace is a hot tub for two and a personal chef is on hand to create a delicious supper to complete the romantic evening.

Pura Vida Eco lodge & Retreat, Province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica 

If you are looking for pampering, you may wish to opt for Pura Vida Ecolodge, an ‘eco-luxury’ retreat nestled amongst virgin rain forest in Central America’s Costa Rica.

This peaceful accommodation sleeps seven over its two bedrooms, and is listed as promoting a ‘sustainable lifestyle.’ The modern ecolodge, which comes with use of  an infinity-edge plunge pool with forest views, is set up with rain water catchment and has solar panels.

According to TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals, ‘the most magical times are the early mornings and late afternoons where you can sit back with a freshly made juice or a glass of wine and be a spectator of nature with monkeys, parrots and toucans all frequently visiting the lodge and its surrounding reserve’.

Bird’s Nest Treehotel, Sweden

 

Inside the walls are clad with wood panels and the port hole windows almost disappear in the exterior’s network of branches

From the outside it looks like a giant bird’s nest, perched high in a tree in a Swedish forest, but inside it is a luxury guest room with enough space for four to stay comfortably.

The Bird’s Nest, built by architect Bertil Harström, is part of an outdoor sleeping experience called the Treehotel.

The unusual room is located in Harads, near the Lule River, in Sweden. Kent says: ‘From the Bird’s Nest you get a fantastic view of the Lule River valley, miles of forest and the powerful river.

Inside, the room, which sleeps a family of four is the height of luxury. The walls are clad with wood panels and the windows almost disappear in the exterior’s network of branches.

Overnight stays, including breakfast, start from £380 and there’s also a restaurant, bar, sauna and relaxation area, TV, and internet access on site.

Incredible Places That Don’t Exist, and Where to Go Instead

I’m a stickler for honesty in my travel blogging so I was pleased to see this feature from SmarterTravel via HuffPost.

With so many beautiful photographs of far-off destinations circulating the Internet, it should come as no surprise that some of these unbelievable places truly should not be believed. Through the power of Photoshop, artists can create beautiful scenes of fantasy worlds. But often, such images are taken out of context and advertised as real. You might have seen some of the following photographs making the rounds—the bad news is they’re totally fake, but the good news is there are places in the real world that are just as beautiful. Luckily for us, we live in a world so magnificent that it sometimes surpasses our imaginations.


The Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye Scotland

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(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

One of the most popular picture hoaxes on the Internet, this photo and its bright purple trees are totally Photoshopped. On top of the fake color, this photograph isn’t even from Scotland’s Fairy Pools … it wasn’t even taken in Scotland. It is actually a photograph of New Zealand’s Shotover River—it’s just as beautiful, but somewhat disappointingly green.

Go Instead: If brightly colored trees stoke your wanderlust, head to Japan for cherry blossoms. In springtime, Japan comes together for Hanami, which literally translates into “flower viewing,” to celebrate the short window of two weeks in which the flowers bloom. One of the best places to see the bloom is Goryokaku Park in Hokkaido, but if you can’t make it to Japan, the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C. is just as beautiful.

Moon and Star Island

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons via CC Attribution/Share Alike)

This photo of two neighboring islands that appears to be shaped like a moon with a star is only half false. The crescent shape is real, part of a submerged volcanic crater in Hawaii, but the star is a total fake. Even without the star, Molokini Crater is still amazing, and turns out to be a pretty spectacular spot for scuba diving as well.

Go Instead: If a crescent without its star doesn’t do it for you, there are still some incredibly shaped islands out there, like Heart Island, a heart-shaped resort in in Fiji; or Dolphin Island, part of the Li Galli islands off Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

Temple of Lysistrata, Greece

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

This enchanting scene of an ancient Greek temple is in reality, a photo mash-up between Rome’s Pantheon and the Benagil Cave in Portugal. There is no temple of Lysistrata and in fact, this photo fake-out takes its name from a Greek play of the same name.

Go Instead: If you want to see the combination of incredible architecture and natural cave formations, and are willing to climb the steep 272 steps it will take to get there, look no farther than Malaysia’s Batu Caves. This Hindu shrine consists of three main limestone caves and holds temples inside where visitors can marvel at the stalagmites and the giant golden statue of Murugan, the Hindu God of War.

Castle Island

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

This image of a castle balancing on top of a rock might seem amazing at first, but take a second to think about it and you’ll realize there’s no way this place could be real. It’s actually another photo mash-up of Khao Phing Kan island in Thailand and Lichtenstein Castle in Germany.

Go instead: If you’re looking for an island-bound castle, Italy’s Loreto Island is a magnificent alternative. A neo-gothic castle, constructed in 1910, crowns the island and, though the castle is privately owned, boat tours of the lake will take you past it.

Ngyen Khat Taktsang Monastery

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(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

This photograph of the “Ngyen Khat Taktsang Monastery” depicts a carving of Buddha in a truly impossible location: On the sheer side of a massive natural sandstone pillar. While the pillar in China’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is real, the carving is totally fake. Seriously, how would people even get up there?

Go Instead: If your interest is piqued for monasteries carved into rock, Jordan’s Petra is the perfect fit. Carved from the red sandstone canyons over 2,000 years ago, Petra is one of the wonders of the world. If you like your monasteries with a touch of vertigo, make a trip to the the truly gravity-defying Taktsank Monastery, also known as the Tiger’s Nest, in Bhutan.

Ned’s Tip:

 

The Worst Things Nobody Tells You About the Countries They Visit

People come back from vacation and kind of sugarcoat everything. Even on a trip where they spent the entire time trying not to freeze to death, they’ll typically return and say something like, “You know, aside from the desolate frozen wasteland and 14 straight days of blizzards, Siberia was BEAUTIFUL!” And then they go on to tell you about how welcoming everyone was, and how you really should learn to appreciate borscht.

But nobody really sees the world through such rose-colored glasses, and when granted the anonymity of the internet, we probably all have some terrible things to say about countries we’ve visited. Which is why it’s fun to read what Redditors chose to omit about certain countries in order to keep their travel tales positive. Let’s just say there were a lot of accusations of racism, but those aside, here are some of the highlights.

Nobody in China can drive

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Hung Chung Chih / Shutterstock.com

  1. Zaralith

    Getting hit by a car in China is different than other countries because the person at fault has to pay for the victims medical bills and care for the rest of their life as relates to the accident, while if the person dies it is a flat fine to the family. This causes people in China to put their car in reverse and run the person over again to make sure they died because it is a lot harder to prove that it murder for that in China (I thought I hit a pothole, etc.)

    Edit: u/statistical_mechanic, u/EleventyMillions, and u/cliff99 have pointed out to me that this has been shown as unlikely and misinterpreted via Snopes.

Venice stinks, like literally

  1. MrFunsocks1

    The romance of Venice is almost completely ruined by the odor. The canals are filthy, and smell, and it isn’t helped by everyone in Italy being a smoker and leaving butts everywhere.

Morocco needs more toilet paper!

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The Visual Explorer / Shutterstock.com

  1. gnirpss

    If you go to Morocco, carry tissues with you at all times. There is a shocking lack of toilet paper in Moroccan bathrooms.

Australia is ridden with… flies?

  1. chippeh

    oh god I had forgotten.

    They get in your mouth, nose, eyes.

    Blergh

    Gadorow

    I’ve grown convinced that in the center of our country lurks the demon prince Beelzebub, Lord of Flies.

Peru is full of stray dogs

The Worst Things Nobody Tells You About the Countries They Visit

Flickr/Hllewellyn

  1. honeynut-queerios

    There’s a lot of stray dogs in Peru. I’ve heard that stray dogs are kind of the norm in Latin American countries, and most of the ones I encountered didn’t want anything to do with anyone passing by. However, there was one stray that I passed frequently while walking to a project I was working at and he was extremely aggressive, to the point that I started carrying rocks in my bag in case he chased me. He would follow me for blocks, remaining hidden in a yard until I passed by. He’d bare his teeth and growl, he also slobbered a lot. I didn’t think it was rabies, but I’m also not 100% convinced it’s not rabies.

New Zealand may as well be Albuquerque: so much meth

  1. DNZ_not_DMZ

    As a European who moved to NZ:

    NZ has a huge problem with meth.

    Burglaries and rapes are much more common here, so is domestic violence.

    I love it here, but it’s not quite the quaint LotR wonderland it’s often made out to be.

    PM_a_llama

    A massive problem with meth! I can’t even score weed but everyone is offering me P. Ridiculous. Watch the movie Once Were Warriors for an insight on some things OP is referring to.

Italy is COVERED in graffiti

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Flickr/Bob

turnipforwhales

  1. Went to Milan a few months ago. Huge factories, graffiti everywhere, lots of homeless people, shanty towns, boarded up houses, saw a guy attempt to pick-pocket someone. And there were huge designer stores all over the city too. There seemed to be an enormous class difference. Only posted the cathedral on facebook…

The Swiss are kinda rude

  1. wjescott

    Switzerland was absolutely stunning…if there weren’t any people around.

    The Swiss people I met were, to a person, very rude. In the old adage, “If you meet one asshole in a day, he’s an asshole. If everyone you meet is an asshole, you’re the asshole”, I went and pored over everything I did/said to see if I’d been in the slightest bit rude, mean, snotty, superior, anything…I’m an American, and this was the 80’s…we were all trying to be nice to everyone, after all, Russia was almost at the breaking point, we were in the United Colors of Benetton…I seriously, seriously wasn’t trying to be a dick in any way, yet was treated with dickishness at every turn.

    All in all, I visited 9 countries when I was there, and I can’t say the slightest bad thing about any of them, except Switzerland. French people? Amazing, polite, sweet…Parisians were a bit New York-style-superior (or the other way around) but are still great folks. Germans were gracious, polite, funny. Italians…oof…I didn’t want to leave! Spain and Portugal were the same way. Greece was stunning and the folks treated you like you were family.

    Switzerland…not so much.

    Amidatelion

    Swiss people are very insular and, ah, superior-minded. The fact that you were an American probably compounded a very cold reaction almost everyone gets. I’m half-german and though I speak fluent German, they treated me pretty poorly until my grasp of the dialect improved. And the damn superiority never went away, except for some close co-workers.

Brazil is filthy…

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Filipe Frazao/Shutterstock

  1. mredofcourse

    I’m in Rio de Janeiro right now. There’s no way this place could be ready for the Olympics in 6 years let alone 6 months. It’s a very filthy place. There are all kinds of sewage, pollution, litter, crime, traffic and corruption issues.

    Climbing to the top of Sugar Loaf was fun, and beautiful, minus the fact that there was human poop on the trails and routes that you had to climb around. Also the view was marred by being able to see a huge garbage island floating out of the harbor towards the beaches.

    It’s a shame because there’s so much potential here, but it requires more than just cleaning up. It needs major infrastructure changes as well as changes in behavior of the people.

    A lot of people are going to end up getting sick at the Olympics.

    That said, we’re still having an amazing time. The Copacabana Palace is a really nice place, the music has been wonderful, the people are friendly, hang gliding was a blast, the views are spectacular, Christ the Redeemer is inspiring, and everything is inexpensive.

… and Uruguay isn’t much better. Haven. For. Litterbugs.

  1. soldiersquared

    Uruguay. The kinder, gentler bi-curious cousin of Argentina and Brazil is secretly the littering capital of South America.

    Everybody just throws their trash on the sidewalk and nobody picks up their waste from their dogs that I’m still convinced the government issues because everybody has one. The gas they use is unlike our “unleaded” we use in the States so the air smells completely fucking toxic. Unreal.

Floridians are a bunch of cheaters

https://assets3.thrillist.com/v1/image/1681284/size/tl-horizontal_main/the-worst-things-nobody-tells-you-about-the-countries-they-visit

Flickr/Elzey

carlosdanger11

  1. Sitting in a Florida cracker barrel while on vaca right now. I can’t believe how many young people (like in their 20’s) have handicap stickers. I watched at least 4 groups of them while waiting for a table and none of them had any noticeable issues. There’s actually a Ferrari parked in one now.

American border officers are a-holes

  1. GodardWaffleCakes

    Border officers in the US tend to be unnecesarily rude, it doesn’t matter if you are entering by land or plane, you can feel they don’t want you there. I have gone to the US many times and every single time it is the same. It really is a bummer for it to be your first experience entering the country, as the rest of the trip tends to be great.

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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Holi

Thank you to from CN Traveller


Holi, the Hindu festival that marks the beginning of spring, is known by the photos that circulate the world every year, showing explosions of color and hordes of smiling faces. But how much do you actually know about it?

With its roots in India and Nepal, Holi, the festival of color, has spread to the Hindu diaspora around the world and beyond. The festival reaches its peak today, when entire cities become coated in a technicolor veneer of dye. And while people all over the globe participate in the celebration, they don’t always know some its intricacies. Take a look at these photos from revelers around the world, and learn some of the lesser known facts about the holiday.

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1. Holi has come to mark the coming of spring, and people celebrate it as a way to put the past year behind them and begin anew. But its roots lie in ancient Hindu mythology. Specifically, it heralds the triumph of good over evil, when the Prince Prahalad emerged unscathed from a burning pyre, while the demon Holika burned to death.

https://trekommendation.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/20338-918227_503304493203392_684796481_n.jpg?w=873&h=6552. Holi is actually a two-day festival, and the carnival of color is just part of the celebration, taking place on the second day. The festival kicks off the night before, with the Holika Bonfire, where people build giant pyres and sing and dance through the night.

https://trekommendation.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/c2bdd-10616629_910015149119785_1299794653_n.jpg?w=655&h=6553. The festival doesn’t fall on a specific day of the Gregorian calendar. Instead, it is celebrated on the last full moon of the Hindu lunar month Phalgun, which is generally in March.

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4. Traditionally, many people on Holi go the extra mile to release their inhibitions with the ingestion of bhang, a cannabis paste that is mixed into drinks and snacks and associated with the Hindu deity Lord Shiva. While cannabis products are illegal in India, authorities tend to look the other way during the festivities.

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5. The color wars so integral to Holi celebrations today were originally carried out with powder dyes, made from turmeric, sandalwood paste and flower extract. These days, while the throwing of powder is still common, the tools have evolved, and it is not uncommon to see people armed with arsenals of water guns and water balloons filled with synthetically dyed water.

https://i0.wp.com/media.cntraveler.com/photos/56f2c2d1b84a6e1909a6e54d/master/pass/GettyImages-164749050.jpg

 

 

 

 

London beats New York, Paris and Rome as it’s named TripAdvisor’s No1 destination in the WORLD

It’s official: The UK capital beats off all the competition for top spot in global travel rated by the world’s fussiest trekkers. The full article below from the Mail Online Travel.


  • The UK capital improves on its sixth-place finish in 2015 to take the spoils
  • Istanbul, Turkey, takes second place, with Marrakech, Morocco, in third
  • TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards based on reviews and opinions 

Move over New York, Paris and Rome – London has been named the best destination on the planet by TripAdvisor.

It took the No1 spot, up from sixth in 2015, in the review site’s Travellers’ Choice Awards 2016, which is based on millions of reviews and opinions from TripAdvisor users. Paris came fourth, Rome seventh and New York ninth.

Award winners were determined using an algorithm that took into account the quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, restaurants and attractions in destinations worldwide, gathered over a 12-month period, as well as traveller booking interest on TripAdvisor.

London has been crowned the world's number one destination in The TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice awards for destinations

London has been crowned the world’s number one destination in The TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards for destinations

London has jumped five places up from its sixth place finish in 2015 

London has jumped five places up from its sixth place finish in 2015

The win for London comes at a time when the city and the rest of the UK is poised to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday in April and throughout the summer.

‘This is the first time since 2012 that London has topped our world award rankings, proving that the capital’s tourism industry is still reaping the benefits of the Games’ legacy,’ said James Kay, TripAdvisor spokesperson.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, added: ‘London is undoubtedly the cultural capital of the world thanks to our iconic attractions, buzzing entertainment scene and amazing museums and galleries.

THE WORLDWIDE AND UK WINNERS ARE…

The top 10 Travellers’ Choice Destinations in the world:

  • London, United Kingdom
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Marrakech, Morocco
  • Paris, France
  • Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Rome, Italy
  • Hanoi, Vietnam
  • New York City, United States
  • Ubud, Indonesia

The top 10 Travellers’ Choice Destinations in the the UK:

  • London
  • Edinburgh
  • Liverpool
  • Llandudno
  • Blackpool
  • Torquay
  • York
  • Bath
  • Glasgow
  • Manchester
Istanbul in Turkey was named as the second best destination in the world for 2016

Istanbul in Turkey was named as the second best destination in the world for 2016

The enchantment of Marrakech in Morocco helped it take the third spot in the top ten list

The enchantment of Marrakech in Morocco helped it take the third spot in the top ten list

The algorithm took into account the quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, restaurants and attractions, with Paris bagging fourth place

The algorithm took into account the quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, restaurants and attractions, with Paris bagging fourth place

‘Coupled with our abundance of top-notch hotels and restaurants offering every type of cuisine one’s taste buds could desire, it is no wonder that London has been named the best travel destination in the world. 

‘It is an incredibly dynamic city, with something for everyone and we look forward to welcoming even more visitors to our wonderful metropolis.‎’

Of the top ten best rated world destinations, Siem Reap offers the cheapest hotel value with average bookable room rates on TripAdvisor at £50 a night.

Of the top ten best rated world destinations, Siem Reap, in fourth spot, offers the cheapest hotel value

Of the top ten best rated world destinations, Siem Reap, in fourth spot, offers the cheapest hotel value

Prague came home fifth in the list, known for its Old Town Square and colorful baroque buildings

Prague came home fifth in the list, known for its Old Town Square and colorful baroque buildings

Rome, Italy, remains as popular as ever with tourists, particularly the Colosseum in the heart of the city

Rome remains as popular as ever with tourists, particularly the Colosseum in the heart of the city

When it comes to the UK winners, despite London taking the top spot, this year the north comes up trumps overall as seven out of ten destinations are located north of the midlands.

Edinburgh, Liverpool, Llandudno and Blackpool take second, third, fourth and fifth place respectively, York comes in at seventh and Glasgow and Manchester rank ninth and tenth respectively.

Among the top ten UK destinations, Blackpool offers the cheapest hotel rooms with the average bookable hotel rate on TripAdvisor for 2016 at £66 – less than half the price of a comparable hotel room in London.

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is known for its centuries-old architecture and a rich culture and secured eighth place on the list

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is known for its centuries-old architecture and a rich culture and secured eighth place on the list

It is unsurprising to see New York City make the list, still popular with tourists all over the globe, coming in ninth position

It is unsurprising to see New York City make the list, still popular with tourists all over the globe, coming in ninth position

Ubub in Bali, Indonesia, sneaked the final spot in the top ten, the rainforests being just one beautiful feature

Ubub in Bali, Indonesia, sneaked the final spot in the top ten, the rainforests being just one beautiful feature

 Ned’s tip: If you want an authentic Moroccan experience in Tangier, head down to the old port of Tangier and stay at one of Le Royal Hotels & Resorts beautiful five star hotels: the gorgeous Hotel El Minzah or the sumptuous Grand Hotel Villa de France, both flagships of the Le Royal Hotels & Resorts Division of Sir Nadhmi Auchi’s General Mediterranean Holding.  

Top Destinations on the Rise

This is what Trip Advisor reckons we should see in 2016:-


1. Tulum, Mexico

Photo provided by ©4Corners (60502086)

Tulum is relaxation and romance with an ancient angle. Guests can enjoy modern takes on traditional Mayan massage and spa treatments, or sunbathe on gorgeous Yucatan beaches within site of well-preserved ancient ruins. A rare mix of beach, archeology and village, Tulum is a romantic getaway like no other.

2. Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena (125284846)
Cartagena, a gorgeous fishing village on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, has excellent beaches, a historic old town (that’s entirely walkable) and beautiful colonial architecture. It’s also one of the safest places in the country, so it’s no wonder it’s a popular port of call for cruise ships. Need a break from exploring the cobblestone streets? Stop at an outdoor cafe for excellent pastries and people-watching.

3. Porto, Portugal

Porto (160905579)
The town that gave the country (and port wine) its very name, Porto is Portugal’s second-largest metropolis after Lisbon. Sometimes called Oporto, it’s an age-old city that has one foot firmly in the industrial present. The old town, centered at Ribeira, was built on the hills overlooking the Douro River, and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 14th-century São Francisco church is a main attraction, as are the local port wine cellars, mostly located across the river at Vila Nova de Gaia.

4. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg, TN (160535934)
Gatlinburg, at the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is an ideal base for a family looking to explore the park’s numerous offerings. After you’ve gone hiking, fishing, rafting or horseback riding, ride an elevator 342 feet to the top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle for stunning views of the Smokies. There’s also an amusement centre next door with nifty rides and games.

5. Moscow, Russia

Dream of Byzantium (30333635)
The political, scientific, historical, architectural and business centre of Russia, Moscow displays the country’s contrasts at their most extreme. The ancient and modern exist side by side in this city of 10 million. Catch a metro from one of the ornate stations to see Red Square, the Kremlin, the nine domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum, the KGB Museum and other symbols of Moscow’s great and terrible past, then lighten up and go shopping in Boulevard Ring, or people-watch in Pushkin Square.

6. Brighton, UK

Brighton Pier (22953903)
Londoners have been traveing to Brighton for beach getaways ever since the railway arrived here in 1841. The pebbled beach, Brighton Pier’s amusement arcade and the Royal Pavilion are the main sights, but you’ll also find hundreds of pubs and clubs catering to an energetic crowd.

7. New Delhi, India

New Delhi (160905475)
Laid out by British architect Edwin Lutyens, the Indian capital is a striking modern metropolis. A gracious contrast to Old Delhi’s winding streets, the grand avenues and stately buildings of New Delhi are rich with history and culture, from Gandhi’s Delhi home (and the site of his assassination) to the tomb of Humayun, a complex of Mughal buildings reminiscent of the Taj Mahal. Chaotic traffic is best left to the locals. Negotiate a good price for taxis or travel on the new Delhi Metro.

8. Banff, Alberta

Banff Avenue in winter (44920489)
Flanked on all sides by the Rockies, Alberta’s favourite mountain town offers an irresistible combination of luxury lodges, perfect powder, renowned restaurants and energetic nightlife. With both summer and winter appeal, Banff lures visitors to its stores, spas and slopes year-round. A thriving arts scene, and proximity to Lake Louise and Kananaskis County, add to its allure. Don’t miss the hoodoos, intriguing rock spires, in Banff National Park, Canada’s first and the world’s third – National Park.

9. Lima, Peru

miraflores-coastline (1585745)
Lima, founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535, is a fascinating city and a treasure trove of history. Explore ancient Incan archaeological sites, or stroll through the elegant cathedrals and opulent palaces dating from Spanish colonial times. Downtown Lima is crowded, but you’ll enjoy exploring the city’s neighbourhoods—especially the beachfront areas, which have great shopping and dining and fabulous hotels.

10. Foz do Iguacu, Brazil

וכמובן קצת תמונות איכותיות מהמקום ....כי בפעם הקודמת התמונות שלנו לא יצאו משהו (20469482)
Giant anteaters, howler monkeys, ocelots, endangered jaguars and clouds of butterflies are among the attractions at this World Heritage-designated park that marks the border between Brazil and Argentina. By foot or by raft, explorers can view one of the world’s most stunning waterfalls, Iguazu Falls. Among the park’s 270 waterfalls, spectacular Devil’s Throat combines 14 falls and generates a “perpetual rainbow” in good weather.

Airline Helps Stranded Passengers with Free Room at S&M Hotel <3

Okay okay, Valentine’s Day is long gone (for this year anyway) but I just HAD to post this little “themed” piece.  My eternal thanks to Mashable once more!  🙂


Love-hotel-1

Two Chinese women found themselves in an awkward situation on Valentine’s Day when an airline booked them into S&M-themed rooms in a love hotel in Chongqing, China.

According to local news reports, both women were passengers on a Hainan Airlines flight bound for Hangzhou but were forced to stay in Chongqing when the flight was delayed by bad weather.

After they were informed that their flight was rescheduled for 3 p.m. the next day, the airline then offered to put them up at a hotel overnight. Their day took a turn for the worse when they found out that they were checked into a by-the-hour S&M-themed “love hotel.”

Love hotels are common in Asia, especially in Japan where the concept originated. These hotels are used for short-stays and are rented out by the hour to couples for quickies.

One of the women, Lou Bao, was so horrified by her digs for the night that she took to Weibo to post photos of the room.

love hotel 2

Image: Weibo

The room came furnished with a “punishment chair” complete with wrist and ankle restraints. Strangely, the room reminded us of a low-rent version of 50 Shades of Grey’s “red room of pain.”

Since Lou Bao’s post went viral, Hainan Airlines have apologised on its official Weibo account and said that they were in contact with both passengers to make amends, reported People’s Online Daily.

“The passengers were delayed due to bad weather, and all the hotels were booked out because of Valentine’s Day. Our hotel-booking representative couldn’t secure any room and did not research what a ‘themed suite’ means,” the airline’s statement read.

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

 

 

In praise of boring places

Another good travel piece from my favourite-website-of-the-moment, the BBC (Travel section).  – Ned


Eric Weiner finds that when you relinquish the spectacular, you’re rewarded with the quieter joy of the ordinary.

Street with swiss flags in Geneva old Town

Wandering the streets of Geneva’s Old Town (Credit: Michał Ludwiczak/Thinkstock

An unspoken rule of travel is that, no matter what, you must avoid boring destinations. If you’re going to endure the sundry hassles of travel – from the cruel middle seat to the temporal whiplash of jet lag – you might as well go someplace interesting, right?

Not necessarily. Interesting is a relative term, and one that lies largely in the eye of the traveller. Boring can be ­– and I realise this is heresy – good. In fact, thumbing through passport stamps and other travel ephemerae recently, I realised that it was the “boring” places that stirred some of the fondest memories. Geneva? Deadly dull. I loved it. Bhopal, India? Nothing special. I had a great time. Ditto Izmir, Turkey and Cleveland, Ohio.

I know this sounds insane. Isn’t travel all about escaping boredom, about making a headlong rush away from the dull and toward the invigorating?

Couple Kissing on the Pier in Geneva, Switzerland (Credit: Credit: Kevin George/Alamy)

Couple Kissing on the Pier in Geneva, Switzerland (Credit: Kevin George/Alamy)

No, it’s not. Travel, I believe, means confronting boredom, staring it down, and emerging not only unscathed but revitalized. We live in an age that has little patience for monotony. Tethered to our iThings, we text and tweet the days away, secure in the knowledge that we need never experience that unsettling ennui that is, let’s face it, part of the human condition. Travel presents an opportunity to untether, and that is best done in less interesting places. That’s because such destinations are completely distraction free, unencumbered by even the distraction of beauty – and, yes, beauty can be distracting, as anyone who has ever stepped foot in Italy can attest. Boring places are like gyms. There’s a reason we join, and that reason has little to do with immediate gratification.

Unfortunately so-called boring places get a bad rap. On a recent visit to Geneva, my daily walks through the city streets were punctuated by, well, nothing much: no Arc de Triomphe or Trafalgar Square or any other sight that might warrant a guidebook mention. I was accustomed to being entertained, especially on the road, and Switzerland refused to deliver. No drama. No fireworks, literal or metaphoric.

Men play chess in Geneva's Parc des Bastions (Credit: Credit: Martin Good/Thinkstock)

Men play chess in Geneva’s Parc des Bastions (Credit: Martin Good/Thinkstock)

At first, this annoyed me. As the days passed, I grew increasingly restless. Dang it, Switzerland, entertain me! Soon, though, this irritation subsided, and I realised the hidden benefit of a place like Switzerland: it’s challenging – not in a K2 way, of course, but, still, the Swiss lay down their own gauntlet: make your own excitement, they say. We’re not going to help you. And so we do.

For instance, at a dinner party in Geneva, I pressed the guests about my obsession at the time – the cultural roots of happiness – and, after some prodding, they responded with many thoughtful comments, about everything from the local music scene to Switzerland’s controversial policy of assisted suicide. The Swiss, I realized, aren’t so much boring as they are reticent. It ended up being an interesting evening, because I took the initiative and helped make it so.

Cafe culture is a way of life in Geneva (Credit: Credit: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Cafe culture is a way of life in Geneva (Credit: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

My issue with so-called “exciting” destinations is that they’re crowded, swarming with fellow travellers in search of that very same exhilaration. If you’ve visited Florence during the summer, you know what I mean. Boring places, by contrast, are fresher, less thumbed-through, and therefore more receptive to our trespasses. A few miles off the coast of Bali, for instance, lies the lesser-known Indonesian island of Lombok, where I spent one of the happiest weeks of my life. Lombok may lack Bali’s colourful Hindu culture and its artist colonies, but it makes up for these excitements with a frumpier authenticity. As I criss-crossed the island, imbibing its less-trodden beauty, I experienced a sense of exploration that Bali, for all its beauty, has long ago foregone. When you relinquish the spectacular, you are rewarded with the quieter joy of the ordinary.

Fishermen returning to Kuta Beach with the daily catch in Lombok, Indonesia (Credit: Credit: Matthew Williams-Ellis/robertharding/Alamy)

Fishermen returning to Kuta Beach with the daily catch in Lombok, Indonesia (Credit: Matthew Williams-Ellis/robertharding/Alamy)

There’s another problem with exciting and beautiful destinations – or heaven forbid, “breathtaking” ones. They create expectations, and expectations are the enemy of happiness. These places raise the bar so high that your experience there is bound to fall short. We’re told, again and again that Paris, for instance, is a romantic city, so if it proves to be anything less we’re disappointed. But in boring places, the bar isn’t only set low; often there is no bar. Any joy we squeeze from their lacklustre sites, their tedious landscape, their humdrum cafes is pure gravy. Boring places lower expectations and, from a happiness perspective, that’s a good thing.

On a visit to Dijon, France, I arrived knowing nothing about the city (other than its famous mustard) and, so, was delighted to discover a clutch of serviceable museums, art galleries and cafes. I would be lying if I claimed these were on par with anything Paris has to offer, ­but as the days passed, unhurriedly, I found myself, in an odd way, savouring their ordinariness. Rather than asking Dijon to entertain me, I had recalibrated my notion of what constituted entertainment.

Shopping for bread is part of daily life in Dijon, France (Credit: Credit: Stephen Chapman/Alamy)

Shopping for bread is part of daily life in Dijon, France (Credit: Stephen Chapman/Alamy)

I experienced a similar mental adjustment on a visit to Cleveland. The city, like my hometown of Baltimore, gets a bum rap. Cleveland has its charms, as any city does, and those are best experienced unencumbered by labels. So I did, eating in trendy cafes that were blissfully unaware of their trendiness, and walking leafy streets that are in no guidebook. Preconceptions­ – even positive ones – hamper the travel experience more than all the lost luggage in the world.

To be clear: I’m not suggesting that we travel to the Clevelands of the world with low expectations. I suggest we go with no expectations. There’s a difference. With low expectations, you are playing a head game with yourself, trying to forestall disappointment. With no expectations, you are open to whatever comes along.

Cafes and pubs dot Cleveland's East 4th Street (Credit: Credit: Jeff Swensen/Getty)

Cafes and pubs dot Cleveland’s East 4th Street (Credit: Jeff Swensen/Getty)

This latter approach is, in fact, a very Buddhist way to travel. The Dalai Lama travels an awful lot, including to many dull destinations, yet I’ve never seen him exude anything other than unalloyed joy.

Philosophers have, through the ages, elucidated the benefits of boredom. “A certain amount of boredom is… essential to a happy life,” wrote British philosopher Bertrand Russell. His fellow Briton, the author and seasoned traveller Aldous Huxley, agreed.  “Your true traveller finds boredom rather agreeable,” he said. “It is the symbol of his liberty ­– his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically but almost with pleasure.”

I concede that we don’t normally equate boredom and pleasure – but think about it. We travel in order to change the rhythm of our lives, and that means embracing the lulls as well as the storms we encounter on the road.

More than that, boring places stretch our travel skills, forcing us to find beauty and meaning­ – and, yes, excitement too – in the ordinary. They alter our “muscle memory” – our natural inclination to grow accustomed to anything – and, in the process, make us stronger, better. Isn’t that why we travel in the first place?

The truth is there are no boring places. Only boring travellers.

 

 

Lonely Planet’s Top 10 to Visit in 2016

Botswana ranks Number 1 in LP’s 2016 list; it’s somewhere I have trekked several times and I must admit it never disappoints.  I particularly love the stunning Duba Plains, the Tsodilo Hills – Botswana’s first World Heritage site – and the mysterious disappearing Lake Ngami.  Stable and prosperous, Botswana has blossomed since independence from Britain in 1966. It is Africa’s longest continuous democracy and one of the world’s biggest diamond producers. Currency is the Pula.

Brian Jackman wrote a great piece in the Telegraph a couple of years back if you want to learn more on the Okavango Delta here.

Ned


1. Botswana

Democratic, progressive, enlightened – but above all, invigoratingly wild. The story of Botswana’s journey from poverty to become one of Africa’s most stable, thriving societies is inspirational; the country celebrates 50 years of independence in 2016 and there’s a lot for it to shout about, not least the way it has balanced economic growth with protecting its natural riches. Prepare for a severe case of slack-jawed-with-awe syndrome when you visit.

In 2016 Botswana will celebrate its 50th year of independence. So what, you may say. What’s there to shout about? Well, quite a lot really. Not least the longest continuous multi-party democracy on the continent, a progressive social outlook (Botswana was one of the first countries to offer free antiretroviral drugs to its citizens in 2002), minimal corruption, a healthy and enlightened tourism industry and a fast-growing economy since independence. The country’s journey from abject poverty in 1966 to become one of Africa’s most stable and thriving societies is hugely inspiring and, no doubt, deserves a proverbial pat on the back.

But that’s not all. Botswana is a unique destination: an unusual combination of desert and delta that draws an immense concentration of wildlife. It is wild, pristine and expansive. Seventeen percent of the country is dedicated to national parks, many of them spreading into the vast Transfrontier parks of Kavango-Zambezi and Kgalagadi. This dedication to conserving some of the world’s last remaining wildernesses was finally recognised in 2014 when the jewel in Botswana’s conservation crown, the Okavango Delta, became Unesco’s 1000th World Heritage Site. Despite this embarrassment of accolades, Botswana remains off the radar for most people. The impression is: it’s too difficult to get to, it doesn’t cater for families. But we’re here to tell you that’s all nonsense. Go now! Go by plane, car or mokoro (canoe). Go in the green season or the dry season – it’s all great. Go to Vumbura Plains Camp or Jao Camp with tons of cash for the trip of a lifetime or go on a budget to community projects like Tsabong Camel Park and Moremi Gorge. Go as a honeymooning couple to gaze over the dreamy Zibandianja Lagoon in Linyanti or as an adventure junkie to ride horseback through Mashatu Game Reserve. Go as a wildlife enthusiast and track elephants in the mini-Serengeti of Savuti or meerkats on the Makgadikgadi Pans. Go alone to take your guiding qualifications at Okavango Guiding School or with the kids to experience Ker & Downey’s award-winning family safari (Safari Awards 2015). Whatever you do and whenever you go, you won’t regret it. Trust us on this one.

Life-changing experience

Botswana is so full of life-changing experiences it would be easier to list the things that aren’t remarkable. Here is a real wilderness that puts you in touch with palpable primitive thrills and fears, whether it’s being poled by an African gondolier in a mokoro past pods of sunbathing hippos in the Okavango Delta; or feeling the spirit of the first men in the thousand-year-old rock art in the Tsodilo Hills; or in the eerie beauty of Kubu Island’s ancient baobabs backlit by incandescent constellations in a vast night sky.

Current craze

So called ‘car park pimping’. Thanks to a 30% tax on alcohol and new licensing hours enforcing club closures at 2am, Gaborone’s club scene has moved outdoors and hijacked suburban car parks. Here the party continues around makeshift DJ decks with experienced clubbers equipped with personal cool boxes and camping chairs.

Trending topics

Direct flights. For years the government has been clamouring for direct international flights, and the relocation of De Beers’ sales office from London to Gaborone (handling about US$6.5-billion worth of rough diamond sales annually) in 2013 has undoubtedly added new pressure. Gaborone’s airport and runway have recently been upgraded and similar upgrades are planned for Maun and Kasane. With all the action people are hoping the long-awaited day may come within the next 6 to 12 months.  – Paula Hardy

2. Japan

Japan. It might be number two in this year’s rankings, but it’s always number one for travellers in search of an otherworldly experience. Nowhere else on earth exemplifies that dog-eared ‘modern yet ancient’ cliche like the land of the rising sun. Tokyo’s successful bid to host the Olympics in 2020 has raised the temperature of a feverish city amid a blur of new development, but beyond the suburbs Japan remains as elegant and enticing as its graceful wooden temples.

Even if you’ve never been to Japan, you probably already know that it ranks number one in the world for that quintessential not-in-Kansas-anymore travel experience. Its cities are expertly crafted odes to futurism where the trains whirr by in the blink of an eye and the towers of metal and glass are bathed in neon light. The countryside, too, feels otherworldly, with all-continents-in-one landscapes that blend alpine peaks with shimmering shores. And everywhere in between are prim wooden temples – the constant reminder that a well of deep-seated traditions hides just beneath the country’s enticing veneer of perfection.

Although Japan didn’t secure the Olympic bid for 2016, it was resoundingly successful with its application for Tokyo in 2020. And Olympic fever is already apparent in the capital as the city executes an elaborate feat of urban planning that will create a brand new shopping district, an entirely new Olympic village, and – most interestingly – move the much-venerated Tsukiji fish market (which sees over US$20 million in seafood sales each day) to a sparkling new facility that is set to swing open its doors at the end of this year. As everyone’s radioactive paranoia is finally put to rest by honouring five years since the fateful 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and with the government’s continued efforts to devalue the Japanese yen, there’s no better time to experience the country that pays such vivid tribute to manic modernity and hallowed history.

Life-changing experience

One of the world’s most famous pilgrimage routes after the Camino de Santiago is Japan’s Kumano Kodo near Osaka. For over a millennium devotees of every ilk – be it farmer or emperor – would walk betwixt hidden Oji shrines and forests of haunting trees to reach the three grand worshipping complexes of Kumano. There are a handful of different paths that extend like spokes around the Kii peninsula, but the goal is united in the act of spiritual penance performed by hikers as they rigorously trek. The preferred route – and also the oldest – is Nakahechi, which starts in the west and travels 30km to the shrines. Unesco officially recognised the network of trails in 2004, and over the last 12 years the walk has seen a steady increase in foreign tourists.

Current craze

Animal cafes. Yes, cat cafes are so 2009, and have proliferated across the globe, but in Japan – the genesis country – animal cafes have reached new heights: hobnob with goats, sip tea with a turtle, pose for selfies with owls, and do whisky shots while watching penguins.

Random facts

  • There are over 5.5 million vending machines in Japan selling everything from umbrellas and cigarettes to canned bread and hot noodles.
  • Japan’s birth rate has plummeted so significantly that adult nappies (diapers) outsell babies’ nappies, which are also sold in vending machines.
  • It is estimated that more paper is used for manga comics than for toilet paper in Japan. (Surprise: both are sold in vending machines as well.)

Most bizarre sight

Cafes where you can tickle owls? Vending machines that sell canned bread? Dentists that help patients accentuate their snaggle-teeth? Take your pick!  – Brandon Presser

3. USA

The ‘best idea’ America ever had turns 100 next year – the National Park Service, which oversees the country’s 59 national parks and hundreds of historic landmarks, celebrates a centenary of safeguarding Yosemite, Yellowstone, Badlands, Zion, and the rest. So lace up your hiking boots and set foot in the miraculously well-managed 340,000 sq km network of surreal and spectacular landscapes it defends, from earth-rending canyons to alligator-infested swamplands to belching geysers. It’s a national triumph.

Yellowstone, the Badlands, Zion, Shenandoah… Even their names evoke lands of Tolkienesque make-believe. Places where trolls and dragons roam, and magic happens. Step beyond the gates of America’s national parks, and you’ll soon be thinking old JRR should have broadened the scope of his imagination. Geysers spurt hundreds of feet high, massive canyons split the horizon in two, herds of bison graze in stunning valleys, and giant tree trunks, as ancient as Rome’s Colosseum, disappear into the sky. These are some of the most spectacular and surreal landscapes on the planet, and the fact that they are looking much the same as they did at the birth of this land-grabbing, highway-loving nation, is frankly a miracle. In 2016, the National Park Service (NPS), the government body which protects and maintains America’s 59 national parks and hundreds of historic landmarks, is turning 100 years old, and like any great host, this old-timer has been busting a gut to ensure the parks are at their best for the centenary.

It was historian Wallace Stegner who called the national parks ‘the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.’ These are the country’s national treasures; as hallowed and revered as India’s golden temples or the castles and cathedrals of Europe. Since its inception the NPS – most recognisable in the wide-brimmed figure of the park ranger – has been busy clearing litter, fighting fires, protecting wildlife, and providing information on everything from the habitat of the American black bear to the geology of Utah’s sandstone arches.

This centenary is an occasion that will be marked not by cake and balloons, but by the fruition of billions of dollars of investment and ambitious initiatives that will prepare the NPS for a second century. These range from the physical: clearing trails, improving accessibility, and installing the latest technology, to the inspirational: hosting ‘discovery’ events, involving thousands of young people in volunteer programs, and promoting enjoyment of the parks to urban communities.

It’s serious work. Serious work that has the most wondrous end: discovery of the national parks themselves. Yosemite’s mighty granite cliffs and fairy-tale waterfalls, Zion’s claustrophobic slot canyons, the steamy swamps of the Everglades, howling wolves, soaring condors, glittering glaciers… There are 340,000 sq km (84.4 million acres) to choose from. As you lace up the hiking boots, just remember to give your thanks to those hard-working folk at the NPS.

Life-changing experience

The world’s third-largest nation is a road-tripping paradise. As you take to highways travelled by Thelma and Louise and Bonnie and Clyde, watch the landscape morph from prairie to desert to breathtaking ocean road. On the way, goofy roadside attractions, small-town diners and curious locals are the added spice for the great American road trip.

Trending topics

The election. In 2016, America’s first African-American president will step down. As nationwide protests change the way Americans think about politics, this election year promises raging debate, as well as the usual flag flying and amusing (or just plain rude) bumper stickers. Will history be made again with the inauguration of America’s first female president?  – Dora Whitaker

4. Palau

Handballed between various foreign powers for centuries, Pacific pipsqueak Palau is charting its own path through the uncertain waters of national independence. While the US still plays Big Daddy, Palau is its own master. In 2014 President Remengesau was named a ‘Champion of the Earth’ by the United Nations for strengthening the economic and environmental independence of Palau and creating a 100% marine sanctuary of its oceans. His message: ‘The environment is our economy. The economy is our environment.’

Collected behind a 110km barrier reef, more than 200 largely unspoilt limestone and volcanic islands – a mere eight are inhabited – are blanketed in tropical and mangrove forest and surrounded by waters teeming with marine life. Fairly constant temperatures and rainfall mean any time of the year is good to visit, although it becomes more typhoon-prone in the back half of the calendar.

Palau has as much to fear from rising sea levels and environmental degradation as any other Pacific nation, but it’s tackling those fears head-on, and is leading conservation efforts in the region. Such progressive thinking makes these islands a haven for diving and snorkelling (among the best in the world) as well as kayaking, sailing and wildlife watching. The secret is out in East Asia already, which means Palau is looking to limit the number of tourists it can host at a time.

Life-changing experience

Cutely dubbed an ‘underwater Serengeti’, Palau’s waters are stunningly diverse and it’s unquestionably one of the most magical underwater destinations in the world. Divers and snorkellers enjoy hundreds of species of fish and coral, sharks, dolphins, dugongs and turtles, all attracted by the confluence of nutritive currents that meets in this corner of the Pacific vastness.

If you prefer to stay above sea level, take an ocean kayak through the uninhabited archipelago of the Rock Islands. Almost alien in its beauty, it’s made up of 445 limestone formations swaddled with verdant green and fringed by reefs. Nearly 400 species of coral, the world’s highest concentration of marine lakes, the remains of now-vanished human habitation and the continuing discovery of new and endemic species led Unesco to list this as a World Heritage Site.

Current craze

In 1944, the Japanese and Americans fought for three desperate months for control of the island of Peleliu’s important airfield. The tragic result was over 10,000 Japanese and 2,000 American casualties, and an island paradise littered with wreckage. Today, many of the rusted tanks, planes, small arms and (highly dangerous) unexploded ordnance that attest to the ferocity of the struggle remain. Tourists, carefully shepherded by expert guides, are increasingly being drawn to this fascinating site, where you can even enter the cave networks left by the Japanese defenders, and find everyday artefacts left behind. This isn’t as ghoulish as it may sound: many of the visitors are here to pay respect to fallen relatives, and moves are afoot to preserve the site for its outstanding historical significance.

Trending topics

A 400% year-on-year increase in visitors from China in February 2015 put some noses out of joint in Palau and resulted in a reduction in flights scheduled from China. Palau’s pristine environment makes it a popular destination for the Chinese, Korean and Japanese jet set, but locals have complained about a lack of environmental awareness threatening their precious assets.

Most bizarre sight

Jellyfish Lake is an otherworldly lagoon on the uninhabited limestone Rock Island of Eil Malk. Millions of an endemic sub-species of golden jellyfish drift across the marine lake in an east-west migratory pattern that’s repeated every day. Such is the sensitivity of the lake that visitors must obtain a permit, but snorkelling with these harmless, highly photogenic jellyfish is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  –  Tasmin Waby

5. Latvia

Latvia is shining for its silver anniversary. Celebrating 25 years of freedom from its Soviet fetters, little Latvia is poised to take centre stage after more than two decades of playing catch-up with many of its European brethren. And the title of ‘most improved’ is rightfully deserved for casting aside the dismal shadow of Communism and resuscitating centuries-old traditions that have long made this Baltic treasure shine.

Hundreds of crumbling castles and manor houses – from medieval to Rococo – hide in the nation’s dense forests of pine, and today many of these estates have been lavishly transformed into inns and museums. In fact an entire week could be spent in the countryside connecting the stars of this constellation.

Food, too, has come a long way from sweaty pork and potatoes. A fleet of (new) New Nordic chefs are catapulting local flavours to such artisanal heights that they would truly give Copenhagen a run for its money if Michelin were paying them more attention.

And as the country’s rural population continues to dwindle, Riga, the capital, further bolsters its importance throughout both the country and the region, especially after receiving a generous infusion of EU funds during its reign as European Capital of Culture in 2014. Much of the money was earmarked for infrastructure improvements and major renovations to important civic structures like the former KGB headquarters (now a fascinating museum), and the clutch of coveted Art Nouveau façades, of which the city has over 700 – one of the largest collections in the world.

Life-changing experience

Cast modesty aside and indulge in Latvia’s most Latvian tradition, the pirts – a hot birch sauna. A traditional pirts is run by a sauna master who cares for her naked attendees while performing choreographed branch beatings that draw on ancient pagan traditions. Herbs and wildflowers swish in the air to raise the humidity in the chamber for a series of sweltering 15-minute sessions before you exit the sauna to jump in a nearby body of water (lake, pond or sea). Nibbles and tipples, like smoked fish and beer, are intermixed for good measure, in what is largely the best way to swap the latest gossip with locals.

Random facts

  • It’s believed that the Christmas tree originated in Latvia. In 1510 a fraternity of drunken bachelors hauled a pine tree into Riga’s town square, covered it in flowers and set it on fire. A commemorative plaque marks the spot where the burning tree once stood.
  • A Latvian named Arvĩds Blũmentãls was the inspiration for Crocodile Dundee. Originally from a town in western Latvia called Dundaga, he moved to Australia after the WWII, where he hunted reptiles and dug for opals.
  • Technically the Latvian language has no word for ‘mountain’; the same word is used for ‘hill’ and ‘mountain’. No wonder, since Latvia’s highest point, Gaiziņkalns, is only 312m high.

Most bizarre sight

Gauja National Park may be known as a pine-studded preserve filled with medieval ruins, but it also holds some of the most eccentric relics from the Soviet era. Don’t miss the 1200m cement bobsled track built near Sigulda as the training course for the Soviet Olympic team, and check out the top-secret nuclear fallout shelter buried under a convalescence home in Lĩgatne. The bunker was of high strategic importance during the Cold War and the rooms covered in untouched switchboards and Soviet propaganda will undoubtedly perk the antenna of any Bond enthusiast.  – Brandon Presser

6. Australia

Unless you’re from New Zealand or Papua New Guinea, Australia can seem a long way from anywhere. Getting here usually involves folding yourself into a plane for 24 hours. But with 2016 shaping up as a definitive year for several of Australia’s key wilderness areas, it’ll be 24 hours well spent. In fact, with the weak Australian dollar, anything you spend here this year will be value for money. Petrol prices are heading south too: perfect timing for your great Australian road trip.

Environmentally, battle lines are being drawn near the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, where a string of proposed mining ports will require the dredging and dumping of millions of tonnes of seafloor. In Tasmania, the peace accord between pro- and anti-logging forces has been torn up by the new state government, keen to unlock old-growth forest for export. Now is the time to experience these astounding wilderness areas before compromises are made.

More positively, increasing numbers of Aboriginal land rights claims are being recognised here, including recent claims over Queensland’s Fraser Island and a huge tract of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. Indigenous tourism is booming, with new Aboriginal tour companies such as Ngurrangga Tours in Karratha and Bungoolee Tours in the Kimberley offering authentic cultural experiences. Contemporary Aboriginal art remains an Australian cultural high-water mark, as evidenced by the fab new Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre in Katherine.

Life-changing experience

Australia does a roaring trade in Unesco World Heritage wilderness areas: the 2300km-long Great Barrier Reef; the blood-red rocks of Uluru and Kata Tjuta; the 15,800 sq km Tasmanian Wilderness Area; the seething jungle of Kakadu National Park… Given the cross-continental distances involved, you mightn’t see them all – but what they have in common is a humbling sense of awe at first sight.

Current craze

Food vans and small bars. Battling innumerable fast food joints in Australian cities, the current clog of takeaway food vans – serving everything from burgers to barramundi curry – is constantly expanding. Afterwards, sip a craft beer at the latest alleyway speakeasy around the corner.

Trending topics

Real estate is the national addiction. Australians love talking about it, building it, buying it, looking at it on TV and (most of all) making money selling it. When the GFC jumped up and bit everybody in 2008, world real estate prices tumbled – but not in Australia. A glorious mining boom was in full swing: Australians just kept on buying pricey houses, driving the market skywards. Now – having reached a tipping point where the median house price is more than five times the median annual household income – Australian house prices are among the least affordable on the planet Will the bubble burst?

Random facts

  • Australia is the sixth-largest country in the world (behind Russia, Canada, the USA, China and Brazil).
  • When the British landed in 1788, Australia comprised more than 500 different Aboriginal nations, with distinct languages and territories.
  • Since the inception of the Man Booker Prize for literature in 1969, four Australians have won: Peter Carey (twice), Thomas Keneally, DBC Pierre and Richard Flanagan.
  • Since Europeans arrived in Australia, 27 native mammal, 23 bird and 78 frog species are believed to have become extinct.

Most bizarre sight

Emerging from the haze in the far-flung Oodnadatta Track in the central Australian desert is the Mutonia Sculpture Park – a kooky roadside installation featuring several large aeroplanes welded together with their tails buried in the ground to form ‘Planehenge’.  – Charles Rawlings-Way

7. Poland

If any country in Europe can boast superpowers, it’s Poland. The nation defied a recession that brought the rest of Europe to its knees, and visitor numbers continue to climb. Sceptics said Poland’s luck would wane after the country co-hosted the Euro 2012 football championship. Instead, Wrocław is poised for stardom as a European Capital of Culture, makeovers are adding lustre to lesser-known cities, and wildlife tourism is on the rise. Clearly 2016 is the year to put the icing on the cake – or perhaps, the swirl of śmietana in the beetroot soup.

Wrocław, the historical capital of Silesia, already had plenty of reasons to preen. Its Old Town Hall, with gothic turrets firing off a custard-coloured exterior, is one of Poland’s most beautiful buildings. And among beer gardens and soaring bell towers, Wrocław harbours a show-stopping 114m-long painting, the Panorama Racławicka. Highlights of the city’s stint as one of 2016’s European Capitals of Culture will be an artist-in-residence programme to promote artists across borders and world music days that combine influences across 50 different countries.

Kraków too will sparkle this year for World Youth Day, when the Pope touches down to kick off a calendar of celebrations and activism. In a country nearly 90% Roman Catholic, the turnout in picturesque Kraków is sure to be record-breaking.

And while budget airlines have long spidered their way across Poland, access is even easier with British Airways flying London to Kraków, Wizz Air opening routes to Szczecin and Katowice, and Finnair launching one to Gdańsk. Any lingering condescension about how well this post-Soviet country is muddling along will vanish as quickly as a shot of tangy wiśniówka (cherry vodka).

Life-changing experience

Plummet 135m into the Wieliczka Salt Mine for an unforgettable underground adventure. In this yawning Unesco-listed grotto, carvings grace walls and chandeliers drip from ceilings – all of them made out of salt. Other subterranean sights offer a glimpse into some of Poland’s most colourful myths. Beneath Kraków’s Wawel Hill lies the rumoured lair of a slain dragon, while in the chalk tunnels of Chełm you’ll learn of a legendary white bear, now the city’s emblem.

Hundreds of bison lumber through Białowieża Forest – though we’d wager the first one you spot will grace the label on a bottle of Poland’s legendary bisongrass vodka, Żubrówka. Unesco-listed Bialowieża is the last remaining expanse of the vast forest that once spread across the European plain. The 141,885-hectare forest (which extends into neighbouring Belarus) is home to around 900 bison, more than half of which are in the Polish reserve. The forest is also prowled by elk, wolves and lynx.

Weekenders looking beyond well-loved Warsaw and Kraków are now spoilt for choice. Increasing visitor numbers mean that Łódź, with its 19th-century mansions and cafe-strewn Piotrkowska Street, is abuzz with redevelopment. Meanwhile Szczecin continues to add polish to its Old Town and is now luring golfers to nearby Binowo Park.

Trending topics

Poland’s heavy-metal scene elicits headbanging or howls of dismay, depending on whom you ask. Some of Poland’s heaviest artists have risen to global acclaim, in particular Behemoth, who loudly protest Poland’s religious majority in between bouts of imperious black metal. To some, they are champions of a new, more secular Poland; to many, they’re the terror of the nation. Wherever you fall in the debate, you’ll never associate Poland with folk dancing again.

Most bizarre sight

Wrocław’s gnomes commemorate the1980s thanks to Orange Alternative movement, an anti-Communist group known for its absurdist style of protest – including graffiti and gnome-hat demonstrations. Today more than 300 gnome statues wave from street corners and twirl their beards beneath window panes. Gnomes with canes and wheelchairs have been added to the elfin army, to draw attention to the challenges faced by people in Wrocław with disabilities.  – Anita Isalska

8. Uruguay

Squished between South America’s two titans, Brazil and Argentina, this small country packs a big punch. What it lacks in size, Uruguay makes up for in peacefulness, hospitality and personality. While its two boisterous neighbours lurch from one crisis to the next, Uruguay stands out as a haven of political stability, good governance and prosperity – it’s not dubbed ‘the Switzerland of America’ for nothing. Uruguayans may seem shy and low-key, but they pride themselves on having constructed one of the continent’s most progressive societies – without civil conflict.

After two centuries living in the shadow of its neighbours, Uruguay is now eager to promote its identity and assets as more than just a side trip from nearby Buenos Aires. In 2016, it’s expected that the number of foreign visitors will reach the 3 million mark. But what is it that these holidaymakers come for?

Take Montevideo, which must be the safest capital in South America. When it comes to quality of life, Montevideo is unrivalled on the continent. It’s small enough to get around, but big enough to have some great architecture and a superb restaurant scene. The beach-lined seafront is easily navigated by bike, as is the Old Town, with its array of grand 19th-century neoclassical buildings.

An hour’s drive away lies gaucho (cowboy) country. Here, undulating pampas are dotted with working estancias (cattle ranches), many of which serve as guesthouses. For great nightlife and sexy beaches, head to Punta del Este, a modern resort city on the Atlantic coast full of beautiful people. But if you’re weary of high-rise buildings and cocktail bars, venture further east to Cabo Polonio and Punta del Diablo. These fabulously remote fishing-surfing villages peppered with colourful wooden cabins are seeing an influx of visitors, drawn by the bohemian vibes, empty beaches, shifting sand dunes, seal colonies and superb waves. Need some cultural sustenance? The gorgeous town of Colonia del Sacramento delivers the perfect blend of authenticity and tourism development. A Unesco World Heritage site, this ancient Portuguese stronghold, with its cobblestoned alleyways, postcolonial ruins, art galleries and elegant B&Bs, has enough to keep visitors happy for days.

Life-changing experience

Uruguayans are the masters of the asado barbecue (but don’t tell the Argentines and Brazilians!). One of the best and most atmospheric places to sample Uruguayan beef is the Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo. This 19th-century wrought-iron market hall shelters a gaggle of steakhouses. Pull up a stool at any of the parrillas (steakhouses) and watch the weighty slabs of meat being cooked over hot coals on a grill, then sink your teeth into a tasty morcilla (blood sausage) – memorable! Saturday lunchtime, when the market is crammed with locals, is the best time to visit.

Random facts

  • Uruguayans consume even more maté (a strong green tea) than Argentines and Paraguayans – which is saying a lot.
  • The 29th of each month is Gnocchi Day, when most restaurants serve gnocchi. This tradition dates back to tough economic times when these potato dumplings were the only thing people could afford to cook at the end of the month.
  • Marijuana is produced and sold legally. Home growers are allowed to keep up to six cannabis plants per household.

Most bizarre sight

In Punta del Este, you can’t miss La Mano de Punta del Este (The Hand). This quirky iron and cement sculpture by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal was created for an art contest in 1982 and has been a ‘Punta’ fixture ever since. It’s unsurprisingly selfie-friendly – thousands of visitors pose in front of its large digits, with the beach in the background.  – Jean-Bernard Carillet

9. Greenland

Our world is ever warmer, ever more crowded, and ever more plugged-in. So there’s something wildly refreshing about a place that’s about 80% ice covered, boasts the world’s lowest population density, and has cellular coverage so poor that many rely on satellite phones. Come to see the midnight sun on the glaciers, sail among breaching whales, ride across the tundra on a dogsled, watch the Northern Lights dance across the ice sheet.

In March 2016 Greenland (technically a territory of Denmark rather than an independent country, although one with a great deal of autonomy) will host the Arctic Winter Games, the largest event of its kind ever. Competitions range from snowshoeing to native games like pole-pushing (think reverse tug-of-war with a tree trunk). There will also be a cultural festival with song, dance and food. If you’re going to visit Greenland, this is the time to go. Luckily for you, it is easier than ever to access. It’s a quick four-hour flight from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland’s main airport. And now there are also seasonal and yearly flights from Reykjavík in Iceland to Nuuk, Ilulissat, Kangerlussuaq, Kulusuk and Narsarsuaq.

Life-changing experience

Witness icebergs the size of the Empire State Building calving in the Ilulissat Icefjord, home to the northern hemisphere’s most productive glacier. The town of Ilulissat, next to the glacier, is known as ‘the iceberg capital of the world’, and offers a huge number of iceberg-watching adventures. Kayak through the fjord’s navy blue waters, soar above the glacier in a fixed-wing plane, or hike along the icy cliffs with a pair of crampons strapped to your shoes.

From September to April, Greenland becomes one of the world’s prime places to see the aurora borealis, nature’s own laser light show. Though you can see the eerie green sine waves from anywhere in the country, for a true once-in-a-lifetime experience join a dogsledding expedition to the interior, where you can pitch a tent on the ice sheet and watch the sky in delicious solitude.

Current craze

Eating local. Yeah, yeah, so calling yourself a locavore is trendy everywhere from Peoria to Little Whinging these days. But Greenland is an Arctic island with little agriculture and no ground transportation. So cooking and eating local here is hardcore. A new generation of young chefs, some of whom have trained abroad in Denmark or elsewhere, are taking on the challenge and making meals with the delicious, albeit limited, local ingredients. Think juniper-poached musk-ox fillets, razorbill with crowberries, kelp salad studded with reindeer bacon, bellflower gelée atop local honey ice cream.

Trending topics

Though Greenland sits atop substantial uranium deposits, the mining of radioactive materials was illegal for a quarter century. Then, in 2013, uranium mining was approved by the government in a close and hotly debated vote. Now the country must decide whether to move forward. Some decry the environmental hazards and potential destruction of Greenland’s way of life, while others say the mining of uranium and other substances is the key to Greenland’s financial woes

Random facts

  • The iceberg that took down the Titanic most likely came from Ilulissat Icefjord in western Greenland, where it began as a snowflake 15,000 years earlier.
  • Greenland’s first brewery invented ‘ice beer’ – beer brewed with water from melted icebergs.
  • There are no roads between towns and settlements in Greenland. Locals and visitors must travel by plane, boat, snowmobile or sled.  – Emily Matchar

10. Fiji

After an uncertain decade following the coup of Commodore ‘Frank’ Bainimarama in 2006, and the constitutional crisis of 2009, Fiji has reverted to its peaceful and pleasure-loving self. In late 2014, Bainimarama finally made good on the promise to hold democratic elections, winning the prime ministership and restoring something of constitutional normality (albeit to a situation he had played an important part in creating).

The 2016 upgrade of the Nadi International Airport should increase capacity and make the transition to paradise a little smoother. Fiji’s international carrier, Fiji Airways, thinks your Fiji experience should begin as soon as you get on board a flight. Those smiles from the cabin crew are just the beginning.

Always blessed by natural beauty and the kind of climate that makes clothes seem a tiresome necessity, today there is a palpable and unprecedented vitality and confidence to Fiji. Whether your bent is idling in a resort, putting your body on the line sampling the latest extreme sport, or the more classic island delights of diving, sailing and angling, 2016 will be the year to soak up all Fiji has to offer.

Life-changing experience

It’s hard to visit Fiji without being serenaded by warm and welcoming singers brandishing guitars or ukuleles. There will be singing at the airport, at your hotel, and even on local buses. But for a real peek into this very traditional culture’s everyday life, get to a village church on a Sunday. Dress modestly (ask locals for advice on what’s appropriate) and have your spirits raised by the voices of a community singing traditional songs in harmony.

Floating in the turquoise waters of the Mamanuca islands is a two-storey pizzeria and bars servicing surfers, divers, sailors and holidaymakers. Swim up and order your wood-fired margherita, lounge on a day bed listening to the surround-sound music, and then ‘cannonball’ back into the spectacular ocean below. Kids are catered for (though did we mention it is completely surrounded by sea?) and prices for the day are all-inclusive. Cloud 9 is a 40-minute speedboat ride from Viti Levu, or a short hop from Musket Cove Island Resort.

Nothing will bring out your inner Attenborough like diving Fiji’s Somosomo Strait off the island of Taveuni. Crowned the ‘soft coral capital of the world’, Rainbow Reef is famous for its marine life, and the luminescent Great White Wall, a vertical drop-off reached by a tubular swim-through, is covered in soft white coral that looks like glimmering snow. The islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni also boast bird watching and forest hiking for the nature-loving land lubber.

Current craze

Just when you thought the human talent for frivolous invention had exhausted all potential for new ‘sports’, along comes flyboarding. Essentially a jet-propelled, hand-controlled hoverboard, the flyboard allows you to skim above the waves, shoot high into the air, plunge into the swell, then do it all again! Try it at Bounty Island.

Trending topics

Music from the African New World has taken root on the Fijian islands. What started in imitation of the original US and Jamaican styles has evolved into distinctive local variants: artists such as E.3 & Cracker (hip hop), 1stribe (reggae) and Kula Kei Uluivuya or KKU (pop) still pay homage to their musical roots, but reflect the experiences of Polynesians today.

Most bizarre sight

Vilavilairevo (fire walking) was originally performed only by the Sawau tribe of Beqa, an island off Viti Levu’s southern coast, but now you’ll probably catch a performance anywhere in Fiji. Traditionally, strict taboos dictated the men’s behaviour leading up to the ceremony and it was believed adherence to these protected them from burns.  – Tasmin Waby

 

 

Best Autumn Trip Ideas from Nat Geographic

Want to snorkel in a Bahamian blue hole, ring in the Ethiopian New Year, or taste maple leaf tempura in Japan? Whether you’re ready for an island, wilderness, or urban getaway, our editors’ list of ten Best Fall Trips – plus one reader’s choice – is sure to inspire your next autumn adventure.

—Maryellen Kennedy Duckett


Celebrate The Sound of Music‘s 50th Anniversary

Picture of Salzburg, Austria

Photograph by Jan Wlodarczyk/Alamy

Salzburg, Austria

Throughout 2015, fans of the 1965 classic movie The Sound of Music have been flocking to Salzburg to mark the world-famous film’s 50th anniversary. Join the party by attending Sound of Music-themed events, including the Sound of Music Gala 2015 (October 17) at the historic Felsenreitschule and the Sound of Music musical at the Salzburg Landestheater. (Check the website for performance dates.) Round out the celebration by visiting actual Sound of Music filming locations, including Nonnberg Abbey, founded in 714, and Mozart Bridge, named for native son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Best bet: Pedal around the city and see key sites featured in the movie on Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour Sound of Music route.

How to Get Around: From Salzburg Airport, take a taxi or public bus for the 15-minute ride to the city center and main train station. In the city, travel on foot and by bike, public bus, and subway. Buy a Salzburg Card for 24-, 48-, or 72-hour use of public transportation and admission to popular city attractions, plus various discounts.

Where to Stay: Although no Sound of Music filming took place inside the Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron, the palatial rococo estate, built in 1736 as the family home of the prince archbishop of Salzburg, was featured in the movie. Set designers used the palace’s Venetian Room as the model for the much larger ballroom in the von Trapp villa, and long shots of the estate’s former lakeside gazebo appear in the film. There are 12 suites in the historic palace and 55 rooms in the adjacent Meierhof building, renovated in 2014. Three of the Superior Doubles are billed as “Sound of Music” rooms due to the light, bright interiors and the lake and mountain views.

What to Eat and Drink: Opened around 1542 as a brewery and completely renovated in 2014, the iconic Sternbräu is one of Austria’s largest restaurant complexes. Austrian dishes such as fiakergulasch (meat and sausage goulash) and Salzburger nockerl (an egg soufflé dessert) are served in the multiple dining rooms, bars, and beer gardens. Buy tickets in advance for the Sternbräu’s Sound of Salzburg dinner show (through October 15), which includes musical selections from The Sound of Music, Mozart, and traditional Salzburg operettas.

What to Buy: Salzburg is the hub of Austria’s tracht (national dress) production. Get fitted for a dirndl, lederhosen, loden jacket, or other traditional costume at H. Moser. The family-owned custom tailor shop has been manufacturing trachten since 1928 and created the cast costumes for the Sound of Music musical at the Salzburg Landestheater.

Practical Tip: To easily access maps, travel guides, and other helpful information as you bike around the city, download Salzburg mobile apps to your smartphone or tablet.

What to Watch Before You Go: The five-disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition Sound of Music (20th Century Fox, 2015) includes the feature film remastered in HD, plus lots of bonus features, including a virtual map of the Salzburg filming locations and the new, hour-long documentary The Sound of a City: Julie Andrews Returns to Salzburg.

Helpful Link: Official Salzburg Travel Guide

Fun Fact: Actual filming of the Sound of Music “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” singing scenes took place inside a gazebo constructed on a Hollywood set. But that didn’t stop movie fans from trespassing on the grounds of Schloss Leopoldskron to see the glass gazebo used for exterior shots. Due to the heavy tourist traffic, the gazebo was disassembled, moved, and reconstructed in its present location in the gardens at Schloss Hellbrunn.

Staff Tip: Salzburg’s historic c​o​r​e​ is a ​hive​ of museums, shops, cafés—and ​visitor​s, especially in summer. Head just beyond the old city walls, however, and you come upon parks, lakes, and local​ly popular​​​ ​attractions. A standout: the Gössl Gwandhau​s​, or “​Gössl ​​cloth hall​.​” ​A​ showcase ​for the Salzburg-based Gössl clothing brand’s famously well-crafted dirndls, lederhosen, and boiled wool jackets, ​it has blended “as much tradition as possible and as much innovation as necessary” ​since the 1940s, in the words of founder Leopold Gössl​. ​Housed in a centuries-old country palace surrounded by gardens and meadows, the Gewandhaus ​includes a small museum chronicling the evolution of dirndl and lederhosen fashion. Take a tour, then drink in the surrounding scenery over a glass of award-winning Austrian wine and servings of fresh asparagus, ​knödel​ dumplings, and Wiener schnitzel at the elegant terrace restaurant—a setting that​ ​one ​can ​imagine inspir​ing​​​ ​​a composition by ​Salzburg-born ​composer ​Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart​. —Jayne Wise, senior editor, National Geographic Traveler

Take a Nocturnal Wilderness Walk

Picture of kangaroo on Kangaroo Island, South Australia

Photograph by Auscape/UIG

Kangaroo Island, Australia

Only a 30-minute flight from Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, called KI by locals, is one of Australia’s most authentic and untouched places. Over half of the 1,705-square-mile island (about three times the size of Oahu) is covered in native, old-growth vegetation. Many of the resident creatures, including kangaroos, koalas, and possums, are nocturnal, so after dark is the best time to experience KI’s wild side. Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary offers guided wildlife walks every night except Christmas. The 90-minute tours begin at sunset and include brief overviews of the island and the sanctuary, a former sheep farm that has been restored to close to its natural setting. “We are revegetating the land and providing a home to the many species that live naturally here, including tammar wallaby, western gray kangaroo, brushtail possum, southern boobook owl, echidna, Cape Barren goose, and many species of birds,” says sanctuary manager Kelly Bartlett. Added bonus: On clear-sky evening walks, guides provide a telescope to view the Southern Cross and other constellations.

How to Get Around: Driving is the most convenient way to travel around the vast island, which is 96 miles long and up to 34 miles wide. From Adelaide, drive about an hour and a half southwest to Cape Jervis to board the Kangaroo Island SeaLink for the 45-minute ferry ride to Penneshaw. Or take the 35-minute flight from Adelaide to Kingscote. Rent a car at the ferry terminal or the airport.

Where to Stay: Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary has six beachside cabins on-site (four two-bedroom and two one-bedroom). All have kitchens and ocean views. Or indulge in the luxurious Southern Ocean Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge, located minutes from the sanctuary. The secluded and sleek eco-resort is perched above the limestone cliffs at Hanson Bay. All 21 suites have floor-to-ceiling ocean views and an outdoor terrace.

What to Eat or Drink: The Oyster Farm Shop in American River processes and packages the harvest from the island’s largest commercial oyster farm. The bulk of the harvest is shipped off-island, but the farm does run a weekday lunch shack across the street from its processing sheds. Try freshly shucked or smoked oysters (harvested from the bay across the road), plus other local sustainable seafood (such as crayfish, abalone, whiting, and marron). Open Monday to Friday only, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

What to Buy: Kangaroo Island is home to the world’s only known colony of Ligurian bees. The Italian bees were introduced to the island in 1884 and have been protected by law since 1885. Visit the Island Beehive in Kingscote to tour the honey factory, purchase jars of organic honey and beeswax candles, and try locally made honeycomb ice cream or a Ligurian latte (made with bee pollen and sugar gum honey).

Cultural Tip: When driving, acknowledge passing motorists with the local “Kangaroo Island wave.” The greeting is subtle—a quick flick up of the index finger on whatever hand is holding the steering wheel—which is helpful, since you’ll need both hands on the wheel to navigate some of KI’s dirt roads.

What to Read Before You Go: KI native Tony Boyle’s sweeping family drama Kangaroo Island (Story Power Books LLC, 2013) offers an insider’s look, albeit fictionalized, at the real-world challenges and rewards of island life.

Helpful Links: Tourism Kangaroo Island, Visit Australia, and the South Australia Tourism Commission

Fun Fact: Kangaroo Island is named for its indigenous kangaroo, a smaller, darker version of its closest mainland relative, the western gray kangaroo. Found in the wild only on KI, the diminutive Kangaroo Island kangaroo typically stands three- to four-and-a-half-feet tall, while the tallest western grays can top out at seven feet.

Local Tip: Jon and Sarah Lark’s Kangaroo Island Spirits at Cygnet River is a must-visit. They serve an affogato with a generous amount of their honey and walnut liqueur (made from freshly roasted walnuts and Kangaroo Island’s famous Ligurian honey). Some say it tastes like a liquid hot cross bun! And try the limoncello and zenzerino—lip smacking! In the mood to eat? The Rockpool Cafe at Stokes Bay on the island’s north coast is only open during summer (and if the fishing is good you might find the Gone Fishing sign on the door), but the cones of fish, chips, and seafood are consistently satisfying. There is plenty of seating both inside and out, but the best bet is to take your meal to the glorious white sandy beach. Make sure you don’t just stop at the car park but follow the To Beach sign, walking through the Picnic at Hanging Rock-style rock formations. You have to watch your head and your chips, but the beach at the other end is breathtaking. —James Baillie, owner, Southern Ocean Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge

Formula One and Day of the Dead

Photograph of a racecar at the Hermanos Rodriguez racetrack, Mexico City

Photograph by Guillermo Arias

Mexico City, Mexico

October 31-November 2

Fast and furious Formula One (F1) motorcar racing returns to Mexico City for the first time since 1992 with the Mexican Grand Prix on November 1, the Day of the Dead. F1’s open-cockpit, single-seater-style racing isn’t as well known in the U.S., yet has a bigger global audience than NASCAR and the IndyCar series combined.

On November 1, watch the top-flight field maneuver around Mexico City’s Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez F1 circuit at speeds topping 200 miles an hour. Before or after the racing (October 31 to November 2), experience authentic Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) traditions in San Andrés Mixquic, a village located in the far southeastern reaches of Mexico City. The celebration includes Day of the Dead altar competitions and displays, as well as a bustling marketplace stocked with foods, crafts, and festival items such as sugar skulls and pan de muertos (bread of the dead). The highlight is the November 2 candlelight procession through town to the cemetery. Locals carrying a cardboard coffin lead the way, followed by families who will spend the night keeping vigil at their loved ones’ newly decorated graves.

How to Get Around: Take a taxi de sitio (registered, radio-dispatched taxi) or a turismo (an unmarked “tourist” taxi arranged through your hotel) from the airport to the center city. In the city, the extensive metro system is the safest, most convenient, and affordable (about $.30 per ride) mode of transportation.

Where to Stay: Attention to detail is the mantra at Las Alcobas, a luxurious boutique property in the city’s elegant Polanco neighborhood. The 35 rooms and suites are styled with handcrafted rugs, original artwork by Mexican artists, and leather-paneled walls. The in-room minibar is stocked with complimentary locally sourced snacks. The two-bedroom suites and three penthouse suites have wraparound terraces.

What to Eat or Drink: At Biko in the Polanco district, chefs Bruno Oteiza, Mikel Alonso, and Gerard Bellver fuse traditional Basque cooking from northern Spain with local Mexican ingredients. The resulting Basque-Mexican cuisine (what the chefs call cocina gachupa) is featured on two menus: traditional and modern. Choose the tasting menu for the full Biko experience, an avant-garde mix of small plates such as foie gras cotton candy, Mexican pork jowl and tomato, and fried apple with olive and pepper ice cream.

What to Buy: Tienda MAP (Museo de Arte Popular stores) sell artisanal and fair-trade Mexican handicrafts. Featured artists include Urbano Fernández Chávez of Oaxaca, who raises silkworms and, with his family, spins and weaves the silk into one-of-a-kind rebozos (shawls).

What to Watch Before You Go: 1 is an adrenaline-charged documentary detailing the glamour and danger of Formula One Grand Prix racing during the sport’s late 1960s golden age.

Helpful Links: Mexico Tourism Board and Formula 1: Mexico City

Fun Fact: Mexico’s Grand Prix venue, the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, located east of Mexico City, is named for national racing legends and brothers Ricardo and Pedro Rodríguez. The brothers’ prowess in Formula One racing helped build the sport’s fervent local fan base. Tragically, Ricardo and Pedro died a decade apart (1962 and 1971, respectively) in racing accidents.

Staff Tips: Mexico City quickly became one of my favorite cities—I was surprised at how hard I fell for it. For a visitor, there is so much culture and history, beautiful green space, and cool neighborhoods. There are two local restaurants that I really love. One is Contra Mar, the best people-watching spot in town for lunch, with fabulous seafood. It’s hard to pick between a sidewalk table in the sun and the lively tables inside. For dinner, I dream of Rosetta, which serves perfect Italian dishes in a restored mansion in Roma. Try to sit in the beautiful indoor garden area downstairs. —Annie Fitzsimmons, @anniefitz, National Geographic Urban Insider

I let the artwork of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera guide my week in Mexico City last year: His epic mural in the National Palace introduces hundreds of years of history, while her half-used paint tubes still wait in front of a mirror for another fierce self-portrait in their house, La Casa Azul (Blue House) in Coyoacan, once a separate suburb known for attracting intellectuals and exiles like Leon Trotsky in the 1920s. Leave time for Xochimilco’s Museo Dolores Olmedo in the old hacienda of Diego’s patron, where Mexican hairless dogs roam the grounds, then float in colorful gondola-like boats called trajineras down World Heritage canals for a glimpse of the area’s pre-Hispanic past, which inspired their artwork. —Christine Blau, @Chris_Blau, researcher, National Geographic Traveler

Inaugural World Indigenous Games

Picture of a bow and arrow competition during the indigenous games in Cuiaba, Brazil

Photograph by Felipe Dana, AP

Palmas, Brazil

October 23-November 1

While controversy swirls around preparations for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the city of Palmas in central Brazil has been quietly gearing up to host a smaller (and arguably much cooler) event—the first World Indigenous Games. The games have taken place in Brazil for more than a decade, but this is the first time indigenous athletes from any country are welcome to participate.

Nearly 25 countries are expected to send teams to showcase traditional indigenous games such as the lance (javelin) throw, the log race, and tug-of-war; “Western” soccer; and demonstration events including xikunahity (a soccer-like game played with the head only).

Beyond the games, see the spectacular dunes, waterfalls, and canyons of Jalapão, and visit 200-mile-long Bananal Island, one of the world’s largest river islands and home of the indigenous Karajá and Javaé peoples.

How to Get Around: Palmas is a relatively new, planned city, founded in 1989 as the capital of Brazil’s newest state, Tocantins. The airport is located 18 miles south of the city center. You can take a taxi or public bus from the airport to the city center. However, if you want to explore the surrounding area, renting a car at the airport is the best option.

Where to Stay: In Brazil, a pousada (Portuguese for inn) can be anything from a basic bed-and-breakfast to a luxury eco-lodge. In general, pousadas offer a more authentic, local experience than hotels, and typically include breakfast. Two convenient Palmas options are Pousada dos Girassois and Pousada das Artes, a pousada-style hotel.

What to Eat or Drink: Local dishes to look for in Tocantins include arroz de pequi (rice made with the pulp of pequi, a green-yellow fruit the size of a small orange); biscoito de polvilho (a biscuit made with tapioca flour); and peixe na telha (fish cooked in a clay baking plate). In addition to pequi, indigenous fruits to try include cupuaçu (a melon-size superfruit in the cacao family), açai, and cajá (a sweet, mini-mango-like superfruit packed with vitamin C).

What to Buy: Female artisans in the Tocantins village of Mumbuca are known for their “golden grass” handicrafts. Golden grass (Syngonanthus sp. or capim dourado in Portuguese) is the stem of a small white flower native to the Jalapão region east of Palmas. Dried and braided stems are woven into handbags, necklaces, earrings, mandalas, pots, ornamental folk art, and other items.

What to Watch Before You Go: The short World Indigenous Games promotional video produced by Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism with English subtitles provides background on the event and includes brief interviews with the games’ founders, Inter Tribal Council (ITC) members and brothers Carlos and Marcos Terena.

Helpful Links: World Indigenous GamesVisit Palmas, and Visit Brazil

Fun Fact: The Bororo, or Boe, are among the 24 Brazilian indigenous groups participating in the games. Known for their prowess in tug-of-war, the Bororo have several distinct rituals, including wearing macaw feather headdresses and adorning their faces with drawings made of clay, coal dust, sap, and red-orange urucum (a coloring agent made from the seeds of an annatto tree).

See the World’s Largest Concentration of Blue Holes

Picture of a woman swimming in a blue hole on the island of Andros, Bahamas

Photograph by William Gray

Andros, Bahamas

Andros is only 30 miles (a 15-minute flight) west of Nassau, yet for now this pristine island paradise remains a bit of a Bahamas secret. The “island” consists of a 104-mile-long archipelago of small islets and mangrove-covered cays. Home to the second largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and the Caribbean’s largest unexplored wilderness, Andros is best known for its silvery bonefish and the world’s largest known concentration of blue holes (submerged caves). A large number of the underwater caves can be found in Blue Holes National Park, one of five national parks on Andros. “The first experience of a blue hole is spiritual, and then you come to appreciate [that] they are natural wonders of the world,” says Peter Douglas, executive director of ANCAT (Andros Conservancy and Trust), a local nonprofit conservation organization. “Imagine walking onto a big circular ocean of water in the middle of the forest … [Blue holes] are portals back to an alien world under the ocean.”

How to Get Around: Fly into Andros International Airport in Andros Town (also known as Fresh Creek), the commercial hub of North Andros. There is no public transportation, so car rentals, taxis, and boats are the only options. Queen’s Highway runs along the east coast of the three major islands. This eastern area is home to most of Andros’s lodging, fishing, and tourist services, including blue hole trips, boating, bonefishing, and Andros Barrier Reef snorkeling tours.

Where to Stay: Small Hope Bay Lodge in Fresh Creek has 21 rustic, beachfront cabins hand-built from local coral rock and pine. Opened in 1960, the comfortable, family-run lodge is all-inclusive (meals, drinks, and activities) and designed for total relaxation. The lack of in-room television or Internet access leaves more time to bike, kayak, windsurf, or nap in a hammock. Another Fresh Creek option is Sunset Point Houseboat. Moored in the tidal waters, the private houseboat has three bedrooms and a wraparound deck. Rent kayaks and snorkel gear on-site to explore inland blue holes, including Helios, which only is accessible by boat via Fresh Creek.

What to Eat and Drink: On Mangrove Cay, the middle of Andros’s three major islands, stop at fishing guide Shine Greene’s waterfront Conch Shack for fresh conch ceviche and a cold bottle of Kalik, self-described “beer of the Bahamas.” In Davis Creek, just north of Andros Town on North Andros, sip tropical drinks on the oceanfront dock at Brigadiers Restaurant.

What to Buy: Tour the Androsia batik factory in Fresh Creek to see 100 percent cotton fabric hand-printed with nature-inspired designs (such as shells, fish, and flowers) and hand-dyed in vibrant colors (including magenta, green mango, fire coral, and deep aqua). Buy the Bahamian batik fabric by the yard or as clothing, pillows, drawstring backpacks, tablecloths, and more at the factory outlet store. Take a factory tour, or sign up in advance for a batik lesson.

What to Watch Before You Go: This webisode from the National Geographic Channel’s Diving the Labyrinth series offers a quick overview of Bahamian blue holes and an inside look at an Andros underwater cave.

Practical Tip: Pack insect repellent, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants to help ward off Andros’s big-three biting bugs: mosquitoes, sand flies, and “doctor” flies (greenhead horseflies). To dive the deeper blue holes, advanced scuba certification is required.

Helpful Links: The Islands of the Bahamas, Andros Conservancy and Trust, and National Geographic Explorers Blue Holes Project

Fun Fact: Blue holes can extend hundreds or thousands of feet down in a labyrinth of passages. There are several different kinds of these underwater caves, collectively known as blue holes due to the deep-blue hue often produced when the sky reflects on their surface water. Some blue holes may appear muddy or dark on the surface, yet the water below is typically very clear.

Foliage, Festivals, and Food

Picture of a float, or "danjiri," during the Danjiri Festival in Kishiwada, Osaka, Japan

Photograph by Kazuhiro Nogi, flickr

Osaka, Japan

Autumn combines three of Osakans’ favorite things: food (the city is known as Japan’s food capital); colorful ginkgo and maple leaves; and dozens of festivals and special events, including the Osaka Marathon (October 25). The must-see fall festival is Danjiri Matsuri (“float-pulling”), a 300-year-old competition pitting neighborhoods across Japan. September 13-14, watch as teams of 500 to 1,000 men use ropes to pull and steer intricately carved, wooden danjiri (traditional floats) through the narrow streets. Each float is topped with dancers, musicians, and a Daiku-gata (director), who shouts out instructions to keep the careening, four-ton float and the crew from toppling on tight turns.

“Osaka could be seen as slightly chaotic and disorienting at first,” says Aria Aoyama, international public relations manager for the Osaka Convention and Tourism Bureau, “but, in my eyes, it is a living treasure box; [it] just takes a bit of digging beneath its surface. And it is in fall that you get the best of everything, so you can’t go wrong.”

How to Get Around: Fly directly into Osaka’s Kansai International Airport or ride the bullet train west from Tokyo (2 hours and 30 minutes) to Shin-Osaka Station. Trains connect both locations to the city center. Travel in and around the city by subway, waterbus, and the Japan Rail (JR) Osaka Loop Line. Buy a two-day Osaka Amazing Pass for unlimited transportation and one-time admission to nearly 30 attractions on two consecutive days.

Where to Stay: Hotel Minoo, located at the entrance to forested Meiji’no Mori Mino Park, has a rooftop onsen (hot spring) Sky Bath, plus an indoor swimming pool and bowling alley. From the hotel, follow the park’s main hiking trail along the Minoo River to see brilliant fall foliage, Ryuanji Temple, and Mino Waterfall. The park entrance is less than 30 minutes from Osaka by train.

What to Eat or Drink: Osakans’ historical obsession with food goes into overdrive during fall harvest season. Sample the region’s fresh bounty (vegetables, beef, and seafood) at a kappo (a Japanese mash-up of “cook” and “cut”) restaurant. Osaka is the birthplace of kappo, a casual and conversational culinary style where patrons sit at the counter and watch the chefs prepare their meals. Several kappos are located on Hozenji Yokocho, an alley lined with Washoku (Japanese cuisine) restaurants.

What to Buy: Osaka lays claim to being the first city in Japan to import and make Amechan (candy). One of the first confectioneries, Toyoshita, has been producing its signature vegetable- and fruit-flavored sweets since 1872. Each candy is shaped like its fruit or vegetable flavor, including melon, carrot, radish, and pumpkin. Watch the production process and buy freshly made candies and throat lozenges at the Toyoshita factory located near the JR Bishoen Station.

Practical Tip: “Amechan taberu?” (“Do you want a candy?”) is a common, friendly greeting in Osaka. If a local offers you a piece of candy, accept it with a smile.

What to Read Before You Go: Download the Osaka Government Tourism Bureau’s free English-language official Osaka guidebook and city and area maps (including a railway route map).

Helpful Links: Osaka Convention and Tourism Bureau and Japan National Tourism Organization

Fun Fact: Fall is the prime season to try the traditional Meiji’no Mori Mino treat: Momiji (maple leaf tempura). Vendors stationed along the park’s main hiking trail deep-fry bright red and orange maple leaves in sweetened tempura batter to create the portable and crunchy snack.

Visit the Newest U.S. World Heritage Site

Picture of San Antonio Missions in San Antonio, Texas

Photograph by Richard Nowitz, National Geographic Image Collection/Alamy

San Antonio, Texas

Built in the 18th century by Spanish Franciscan priests, the five San Antonio Missions—Concepción, Espada, San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), San José, and San Juan—were designated on July 5 as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The missions, which represent the largest collection of Spanish colonial architecture in the U.S., are the newest addition to the World Heritage List in the United States and the first in Texas. “[The missions] are very much a part of what continues to shape the community and personality of San Antonio,” says Susan Snow, an archaeologist for San Antonio Missions National Historical Park who has been coordinating community efforts to secure World Heritage status since 2007. “To bike down the Mission Reach of the River Walk in the cooling weather and see the distinct architecture from afar or attend a mariachi mass in the heart of one of its churches really pulls you into the soul of locals honoring their heritage.”

How to Get Around: Walking and biking are the best ways to visit the missions, which were built in two- to three-mile increments (north to south) along the San Antonio River. The Mission Reach section of the famous San Antonio River Walk includes an eight-mile hiking and biking trail that runs from just south of downtown to Mission Espada. Designated portals connect the trail to the four southernmost missions: Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada. Parking and bike-share stations are available at each portal. The Alamo is located north of the other missions, along the downtown section of the River Walk. By car, follow the Mission Trails route (look for the green shepherd’s crook light poles) connecting all five missions.

Where to Stay: Hotel Emma is the latest edition to Pearl, a culinary-focused urban village centered in and around the historic 1881 Pearl Brewery complex. Scheduled to open October 1, the 146-room luxury hotel is conveniently located next to the River Walk in Midtown. Common areas and some guest rooms (including the top-floor suites with private terraces) include original brewery design elements such as industrial equipment reengineered as light fixtures, cast-iron spiral staircases, and turn-of-the-century exposed brick walls.

What to Eat or Drink: Chef Jeff Balfour’s new Southerleigh (opened April 2015) celebrates San Antonio and Texas Gulf Coast tastes and traditions. The fine-dining brewpub is named for the predominantly southerly winds on the Texas coast and is housed in the historic Pearl Brewery, marking the first time since 2001 that beer is produced on-site. Mains (such as pan-seared grilled snapper, seafood boils, and smothered Parker Creek Ranch fried chicken with red-eye gravy) are served family style. Best deal: The Cellarman’s Lunch Pail offers an entrée and side for $12 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. Closed Sundays.

What to Buy: Brick Marketplace at Blue Star Arts Complex hosts funky and fun Sunday (12 to 5 p.m.) and first Friday (7 p.m.) markets. Dance, eat, and browse the eclectic selection of items, including vintage vinyl records, clothing, and sand art terrariums.

Practical Tip: Plan to visit Mission San José and Mission Concepción in time for one of the day’s free guided tours. The other missions may offer tours if staff is available. Check at the information center when you arrive.

What to Watch Before You Go: This 50-minute video (Bennett-Watt Media, 2014) provides an overview of how Spanish frontier missions helped to shape Texas and the American West.

Helpful Links: San Antonio MissionsSan Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Travel Texas

Fun Fact: The Alamo complex is a Texas state historic site, but the other mission churches are active Catholic parishes. Except for during weddings and special events, visitors dressed in proper church attire are welcome to respectfully attend weekend Mass. (Check the Archdiocese of San Antonio website for times and information.) Most Sundays, Mission Concepción—the oldest unrestored stone church in the U.S.—and Mission San José offer a bilingual (Spanish and English) Mass accompanied by mariachi music.

Staff Tip: Stay at a hotel near the River Walk (I liked the Marriott San Antonio Riverwalk), take the Rio San Antonio cruise to get acclimated to the area, then explore it on foot in the evening when it’s cooler. Looking for a spot to dine with less of a touristy vibe? Try the Alamo Street Eats. The gathering of three to four food trucks opens at 5 p.m. daily and includes menu items like the Attaboy Burger (ridiculously good) and the Winner Winner Chicken Dinner (fried chicken and waffles that are the perfect mix of salty and sweet). A live DJ spinning hits from the ’80s and ’90s is bound to get you grooving in your chair. The recent addition of the San Antonio Missions to the list of Unesco World Heritage sites also makes it a reason to explore. Mission Concepción is probably the best preserved and has a few shady spots for catching your breath, along with information boards to help you understand the history. —Heather Greenwood Davis, @GreenwoodDavis, National Geographic Traveler contributor

Learn About Whaling History “In the Heart of the Sea”

Picture of Whaling Museum in Nantucket, Massachusetts

Photograph by Claudia Uripos, eStock Photo

Nantucket, Massachusetts

The upcoming Warner Bros. film In the Heart of the Sea (scheduled release in December 2015) chronicles the 1819 tragedy of the whaleship Essex. Survivor stories from the Nantucket-based ship, which was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale in the South Pacific, inspired Herman Melville’s epic tale Moby-Dick. Discover the true story and learn about the island’s whaling tradition at the Nantucket Whaling Museum’s major new exhibition “Stove by a Whale: 20 Men, 3 Boats, 96 Days.” The exhibit (open through November 2016) includes props and period costumes from the film, plus interactive experiences. “The sound of the water echoes in the hall to help people think about what it might sound like to be out at sea for that long,” says Lindsay Scouras, manager of communications at the Nantucket Historical Association. “There’s also a replica whaleboat you can step in. A screen in front projects quotes from some of the survivors’ accounts, and the surrounding walls look like water. The whole experience helps you understand what it might have been like to be out in the ocean with nothing in sight … how quiet and lonely that must have been.”

How to Get Around: Nantucket is about an hour south of Hyannis via the Hy-Line or Steamship Authority high-speed ferry. The Whaling Museum is downtown, within easy walking distance of both ferry-landing docks. To travel beyond downtown, rent a bike, ride TheWAVE public shuttle bus (through October 12), or use taxis.

Where to Stay: The 11-room Anchor Inn, built in 1806 by Captain Archaelus Hammond of the whaleship Cyrus, is run by owner-innkeepers Charles and Ann Balas. The couple purchased the downtown inn (and the two whaleboat oars and harpoons inside) as their home more than 30 years ago. Rooms are named for various whaling ships. Guests can view “their” ship’s actual log at the Nantucket Historical Association’s Research Library and Whitney Gallery. Best bet: Ask Charles to share his recipe for the muffins (flavors include blueberry, cranberry, and apricot) served daily in the inn’s private side garden.

What to Eat or Drink: Fog Island Cafe is an unpretentious and affordable (for Nantucket) breakfast and lunch spot close to the ferry terminals and the Whaling Museum. Breakfast (try the Bacodo, a bacon, avocado, and cheese omelet) or lunch (including a Nantucket Fishcake sandwich with side) will run you $20 or less. Opens 7 a.m. daily and closes at 2 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

What to Buy: The Nantucket Historical Association Museum Shop stocks a number of whaling and whale-related items, including the documentary Nantucket: A Film By Ric Burns (Nantucket Historical Association, 2011) and a reproduction “whale tooth” scrimshaw made from hand-inked and engraved ivory polymer.

Practical Tip: The 90-minute “In the Heart of the Sea” walking tour leaves from the Whaling Museum lobby daily at 2:15 p.m. Tours are limited to 20 people, and tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis ($10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students). To avoid being disappointed, purchase tour tickets when the museum opens at 10 a.m.

What to Read Before You Go: The upcoming Warner Bros. movie is based on In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (Penguin, 2000), written by Nantucket resident Nathaniel Philbrick and winner of the 2000 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

Helpful Links: Nantucket Historical Association, Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce, Nantucket Visitor Services, and Nantucket Chronicle

Fun Fact: One of the few known artifacts to survive the Essex disaster is a piece of twine wound by crewmember Benjamin Lawrence. While lost at sea for 96 days, Lawrence added little pieces of hair and fibers to the twine. The artifact is displayed in an ivory frame at the Whaling Museum.

Staff Tip: Hop on the free shuttle from the visitors center downtown for a ride to Cisco Brewers, where you can take a tour of the island brewery and sample small-batch craft beers, including Whale’s Tale Pale Ale and Grey Lady Ale. The owners of the brewery also run the Nantucket Vineyard and Triple Eight Distillery, if wine or spirits are more to your liking. The family-friendly brewery provides a convivial outdoor scene with picnic tables, live music, and food trucks selling lobster rolls and tacos. Closer to town, time your walk to Jetties Beach for sunset. Once there, pull up a chair and dig your toes in the sand at Jetties Beach Bar & Restaurant, a festive, open-air spot with acoustic guitar music, seafood, and frozen drinks. Then focus your gaze on the water and watch the fiery sun slip into the horizon and turn the sky into a kaleidoscope of colors. —Susan O’Keefe, @sokeefetrav, associate editor, National Geographic Traveler

New Year’s Day 2008 Celebrations

Picture of Ethiopians waving the Ethiopian flag as they celebrate the arrival of their new year in Addis Ababa

Photograph by ROBERTO SCHMIDT

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

September 11

In Ethiopia, this September 11 is Enkutatash (“gift of jewels”), otherwise known as New Year’s Day 2008. The East African nation follows its own calendar, known as the Ge’ez, which is based on the ancient Coptic calendar. A different interpretation of when the birth of Jesus was announced accounts for the more-than-seven-year gap between the Ge’ez and the Gregorian calendar. And since Enkutatash traditionally coincides with the end of the rainy season on the Horn of Africa, as well as the Feast of John the Baptist, there are three reasons to celebrate on New Year’s Eve.

The party is particularly spirited in and around the capital city, Addis Ababa, where residents light bundles of sticks called chibo to make neighborhood bonfires. “Ethiopian holidays are the best—Everything is centered around food, family, and friends,” says Xavier Curtis, co-founder with Eliza Richman of AddisEats. “Every holiday is celebrated with meat, either raw or cooked, at home or at a butcher house. Since the New Year’s celebrations do not have as much of a religious aspect to it, this is one of the best times of year to get out and enjoy the festivities with everyone else. They won’t be at church or at home; they’ll be out eating and drinking.”

How to Get Around: Arrange airport transfers, local transportation (taxi or car service), and guided tours or private tour guides through your hotel. Hiring a taxi driver for a full day (about $75) is the most convenient option. For an insider’s view of the city, book the AddisEats full-day tour (9 a.m. to about 7 p.m.). Itineraries are customized and can include traveling by public transportation and visiting markets and restaurants catering to locals.

Where to Stay: Sleek, modern hotels are springing up across Addis Ababa as part of the city’s ongoing construction boom. The vintage Hilton Addis Ababa isn’t shiny or new, yet it does offer three essentials: a convenient location near the airport, city center, Ethnological Museum, and Ethiopia’s National Museum, which houses extraordinary paleontological artifacts such as the famous bones of human ancestor “Lucy”; secure and well-manicured grounds, including an outdoor pool; and reasonable rates (upgrade to an executive floor for expansive city or mountain views).

What to Eat or Drink: Sample a wide variety of local Ethiopian food, such as spongy injera (an unleavened pancake) made with teff flour, a grain native to Ethiopia, on an AddisEats food tour. The traditional New Year’s dish to try is doro wat (chicken stew). And while the national brew—fresh-roasted Ethiopian green-bean coffee—is prepared and served quickly at small jeubeuna bunna (coffee stands) and coffeehouses, make time for at least one Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The elaborate ritual can take two to three hours, and involves roasting, grinding, brewing, and drinking (three cups of progressively weaker) coffee.

What to Buy: Coffee beans, scarves, and other textiles made from hand-spun and handwoven cotton, and tightly coiled grass baskets and mats are among the locally produced items available in Addis Ababa markets. The biggest, the Merkato (New Market), is one of Africa’s largest open-air marketplaces: a mini-city jam-packed with vendors, shoppers, and a dizzying blend of odors, sights, and sounds. For safety’s sake, go with a local guide.

Cultural Tip: Traditionally, Ethiopians will not eat before inviting others gathered with them to join in. Honor the tradition by inviting your guides and drivers to eat with you by saying, “Enibla—Let us eat.”

What to Read Before You Go: The “gift of jewels” celebration commemorates the jewels the Queen of Sheba received upon returning home (thought by many scholars to be the Kingdom of Axum in Ethiopia) after visiting King Solomon in Jerusalem. Tosca Lee’s novel The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen combines myth, biblical references, and detailed research to tell Sheba’s tale.

Helpful Links: AddisEats Food Tours & Culinary Adventures and National Geographic Ethiopia Guide

Fun Fact: Gursha is the Ethiopian tradition of feeding another person by hand. Family members, friends, and even strangers commonly place small handfuls into each other’s mouths as an act of kindness. If someone makes a gesture to feed you, graciously accept the food as you would a welcoming hug or other friendly greeting.

Staff Tip: Addis is a city in perpetual motion, everyone walking, driving, and socializing late into the night. Their fuel? The drink said to have been born in Ethiopia: coffee. Cultivated in the highlands for centuries (and still growing wild in some regions), coffee plays a central part in daily life here, most notably in coffee ceremonies visitors can experience at hotels, guesthouses, some restaurants, and local markets. Join one, and you’ll watch a woman in traditional dress roast the coffee beans in a brazier, then grind them by hand with a mortar and pestle. She’ll deposit the grounds in a high-necked ceramic pot called a jebena to boil. When the coffee is ready, the hostess will pour it into tiny ceramic cups for consumption alongside snacks such as roasted barley, peanuts, and popcorn—a full-bodied taste of ancient Ethiopia. —Jayne Wise, senior editor, National Geographic Traveler

Dijon International Gastronomy Fair

Picture of Burgundy, France

Photograph by Andrew Bain/Lonely Planet Images

Dijon, France

October 30-November 11

First held in 1921, the Dijon International Gastronomy Fair is Burgundy’s biggest event and one of the six largest fairs in France. The combination trade fair and culinary festival attracts some 200,000 professional and amateur chefs, restaurateurs, and foodies from around the world. See cooking demonstrations, attend workshops, and sample wines and foods from French and international vendors, including this year’s featured country, Chile. The schedule also includes multiple top chef competitions, including the National Grand Prize of Gastronomy in pastry and chocolate (November 2), and, for the first time, honors for the best lemon meringue pie in France (November 7). Also new for 2015: Preview the future Cité International de la Gastronomie scheduled to open in 2018 on the grounds of Dijon’s former General Hospital. The culinary hub will become the fourth such complex in France (the others are in Lyon, Rungis, and Tours). Plans call for multiple exposition rooms and restaurants, a wine pavilion, a hotel and residential housing units, a multiplex cinema, and more.

How to Get Around: Dijon is only an hour and 40 minutes from Paris by train. The closest airport is Dole-Jura Airport, located about 30 miles southeast of Dijon. If arriving at the airport, take a taxi or bus to the Dole Ville Train Station to connect to the Dijon-bound train. In Dijon, walk and use the efficient public bus system.

Where to Stay: The atmospheric Hotel Philippe le Bon has 41 rooms spread over three period residences, the oldest built in the 15th century. Request a room facing the interior Gothic courtyard for the quiet. Or, if climbing winding stairs isn’t an issue, book a junior suite in the oldest building for the timbered ceilings and historic charm.

What to Eat or Drink: The region’s signature aperitif is Kir, named for Félix Kir, the popular mayor of Dijon who died in 1968. A classic Kir is made with crème de cassis (black currant liqueur) and Aligoté, Burgundy’s second white wine after Chardonnay. Variations include substituting de mûre (blackberry) or de pêche (peach) for the crème de cassis. The most popular twist on the original is the Kir Royale, made with ice-cold sparkling crémant de Bourgogne or champagne instead of Aligoté, and served in a champagne flute.

What to Buy: The original Maille Moutarde boutique, opened in 1845, isn’t the most affordable place to buy Dijon’s famous mustard (local supermarkets have the best prices). It’s worth the trip, however, for the samples and the selection: dozens of different mustards, including apricot and curry spices, fig and coriander, and gingerbread and chestnut honey. Purchase Maille on tap (it’s expertly hand-drawn into earthenware jugs); mustard gift boxes and accessories; plus vinegars, oils and dressings, and other Maille items. Packing and shipping available. Closed Sundays.

What to Read Before You Go: Renowned food writer M. F. K. Fisher’s evocative memoir Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon captures the Burgundian passion for food and wine, and for sharing both.

Helpful Links: Dijon Tourism and Burgundy Tourism

Fun Fact: Dijon’s good-luck charm and symbol is La Chouette, the small owl carved into a pillar on the left side of Église Notre-Dame (Church of Notre Dame). To help visitors navigate their way between 22 of the city’s historic sites, the Tourist Office created the Parcours de la Chouette (Owl’s Trail). The route is marked by little owls embedded in the pavement. Pick up a trail map at the Tourist Office or download the app, and be sure to rub the original Notre Dame owl (trail stop no. 9) for good luck.

Staff Tip: Dijon has long been famous, of course, for its mustard. Stop by La Moutarderie Fallot for a tour through the mustard-making process, then sample all the different flavors at the mustard bar: tarragon, basil, walnut, Provençal, gingerbread, and, my favorite, black currant. —Barbara Noe, senior editor, National Geographic Travel Books

Reader’s Choice: Follow the Three Castle Route

Picture of Turaida Castle in Sigulda, Latvia

Photograph by Gatis Pāvils, Flickr

Sigulda, Latvia

Drive, bike, or walk the Three Castle Route to visit medieval castles and ruins, ride the only cable car in the Baltics, and see caves and sandstone cliffs in Gauja National Park. The 19-mile route passes the castles and other historic sites in Sigulda, Krimulda, and Turaida and offers an excellent introduction to Latvian geology and history, says Laura Konstante, director of the Sigulda Tourism Information Centre. “In the Sigulda Medieval Castle, it is possible to try medieval weapons, and in Krimulda Manor, local winemaker Jānis Mikāns will offer you a taste of local fruit-and-berry wines,” she adds. Best bet: Visit in early to mid-October for a bird’s-eye view of the Gauja River Valley fall foliage from the Sigulda Aerial Cableway.

How to Get Around: Sigulda is 40 miles northeast of Riga, Latvia’s capital and largest city. The trip by train, bus, or car takes about an hour. If you’re driving the Three Castle Route, rent a car at Riga International Airport. If you want to bike or walk the route, take the Riga-Valga train from Riga to Sigulda or the bus from Riga’s International Bus Station, and rent a bike in town.

Where to Stay: Built in 1889 to accommodate passengers on the newly opened Riga-Petersburg railway, the 43-room Hotel Sigulda is a historic and convenient option located near the train station and Sigulda Medieval Castle. A new wing, added in 2001 and connected to the original hotel by a glass breezeway, includes a recreation center with a small indoor pool, sauna, and steam bath. For a bit more charm, request a room in the historic stone building.

What to Eat and Drink: Dishes to try include fresh, local mushrooms; sour cabbage soup; and traditional rye bread. Sigulda also is known for its mineral water and locally brewed beers, such as Valmiermuiža. Have lunch or dinner at the thatched-roof Aparjods restaurant. After your meal, get dessert (assorted pastries and cakes, including tiramisu, cheesecake, and grapefruit torte) and coffee at the tiny Mr. Biskvīts café located opposite the railway station.

What to Buy: Sigulda’s signature souvenir and city symbol is a wooden walking stick. Making the curved-handle sticks became a local cottage industry in the early 20th century, when walking the area’s mountain trails became a popular summer tourist activity. Full-size and miniature wooden sticks adorned with decorative patterns are available for sale around town. After purchasing your souvenir, snap a requisite selfie standing among the larger-than-life replica canes in Walking Stick Park.

What to Read Before You Go: The surrealist novel Flesh-Coloured Dominoes (Arcadia Books, English translation, 2014) by acclaimed Latvian writer Zigmunds Skujins alternates between 18th-century life in the Baltics and the Russian and German occupations during World War II.

Practical Tip: The euro is the official currency, and credit cards are widely accepted in cities. Carry cash when visiting smaller villages and towns.

Helpful Links: Sigulda Tourism, Gauja National Park, and Latvia Tourism

Fun Fact: The Rose of Turaida is a local legend based on the death of Maiji Greif, who was murdered in Gutman’s cave in 1620 and buried at the church hill cemetery in Turaida. According to the tale, Maiji, the so-called Rose of Turaida, was romantically involved with Viktor Heil, the Sigulda Castle gardener. Their love story ended tragically yet continues to inspire Latvian brides and grooms to lay flowers at Maiji’s memorial in Turaida as part of their wedding ceremonies.

Staff Tips: If you love art nouveau, take a walk in the historic center of Riga, the capital of Latvia, which has the finest collection of art nouveau buildings in the world and is recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Pick up a map from the Riga Art Nouveau Centre and check out the Art Nouveau Museum. —Marilyn Terrell, @Marilyn_Res, chief researcher, National Geographic Traveler

Riga is my favorite Baltic city for its art nouveau architecture, considered the best in Europe. The Latvian Occupation Museum provides a fascinating presentation of the nation’s history, including a reconstructed gulag. I enjoyed touring the Central Market, where locals shop for practically everything in a sprawling former zeppelin hangar, then sampling a little of each Latvian dish at the cafeteria-style Lido restaurant. —Christine Blau, @Chris_Blau, researcher, National Geographic Traveler

Some of the best—OK, the best—hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted was at Emīla Gustava Šokolāde in Riga, Latvia. Across from the majestic National Opera House, the chocolate shop/café serves intensely thick, rich hot chocolate in tiny cups, with a small glass of water on the side. Dark-wood paneling and marble counter tops evoke the belle époque. —Amy Alipio, @amytravels, features editor, National Geographic Traveler

 

 

Nat Geo’s Best Trips 2016

So here are National Geographic Magazine’s top travel picks for 2016 – enjoy!

                                                                                Ned


Côte d’Or, Burgundy, France

https://i1.wp.com/images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/923/cache/bow-burgundy-france-landscape_92364_600x450.jpg

Photograph by Günter Gräfenhain, SIME

 

Beautiful, Colourful, Stunning India

Some outstanding images via the Mail Online


India has long been associated with colour thanks to its festivals, costumes and food.

It’s home to Holi, a festival that’s entirely devoted to colour. Taking place during the Spring Equinox each year, the Hindu festival celebrates love and life with revellers throwing coloured powder at each other.

The country also boasts numerous colourful temples, like Meenakshi Temple in south India’s Madurai, where the walls are painted in different shades of rainbow. In grand palaces such as Taj Majal, stone inlay is used to add colour to the marble exterior.

The love of colour extends to everyday life as well. 

Its women wear bright and daring saris, adorned with reflective mirrors, shiny threads and topped with gold. The men are no less colourful with their turbans, kurtas and scarves.

Even its food is peppered with various hues thanks to its rich blend of pungent herbs and spices.

As these photographs show, colour is everywhere in India. 

Colourful trucks, like these in Rajasthan, north India, are a common sight in the country. Their decoration varies according to the region

Colourful trucks, like these in Rajasthan, north India, are a common sight in the country. Their decoration varies according to the region

Rising up to 170 feet in the air, the 14 towers of the Meenakshi Temple are adorned by an impressive display of around 33,000 sculptures - all accentuated with a riot of bright colours

Rising up to 170 feet in the air, the 14 towers of the Meenakshi Temple are adorned by an impressive display of around 33,000 sculptures – all accentuated with a riot of bright colours

At a sari factory, this woman (above) raises a length of dyed fabric. The materials a generally coloured with natural dye and hung out to dry

At a sari factory, this woman raises a length of dyed fabric. The materials a generally coloured with natural dye and hung out to dry

This building in Kolkata, east India, is made alive by the colourful saris hung out to dry. They fall in contrast to the blue background

This building in Kolkata, east India, is made alive by the colourful saris hung out to dry. They fall in contrast to the blue background

A group of people sit outside in Himachal, north India. Some how, even among all the colours, their individual shades seem to stand out

A group of people sit outside in Himachal, north India. Somehow, even among all the colours, their individual shades seem to stand out

Victoria Terminus in Mumbai is lit up in glorious shades of purples and reds (above) but it's beautiful architecture is left plain in the day

Victoria Terminus in Mumbai is lit up in glorious shades of purples and reds but its beautiful architecture is left plain in the day

A man sells coloured powder with spices at his stall in Mysore, south India. As well as Holi, the powders are also used for decorations

A man sells coloured powder with spices at his stall in Mysore, south India. As well as Holi, the powders are also used for decorations

This village woman shows off her colourful outfit (above) in Gujarat, west India. She wears bangles up to her arms  to complete the outfit

This village woman shows off her colourful outfit in Gujarat, west India. She wears bangles up to her arms to complete the outfit

In Allahabad, north India, take a dip in the Ganges while wearing saris. Hindus bathe in the Ganges to cleanse themselves of their sins

In Allahabad, north India, take a dip in the Ganges while wearing saris. Hindus bathe in the Ganges to cleanse themselves of their sins

This boy tries to wash off the colour splashed onto him during Holi. People apply oil on to their skin to make the colour removal easier

This boy tries to wash off the colour splashed onto him during Holi. People apply oil on to their skin to make the colour removal easier

Colourful umbrellas (above) are set outside a shop in Jaipur, north India, allowing shoppers to easily admire the products and browse

Colourful umbrellas are set outside a shop in Jaipur, north India, allowing shoppers to easily admire the products and browse

This Indian man wears a traditional Rajasthan turban. As turbans are a Sikh man's personal choice, this man is clearly very colourful

This Indian man wears a traditional Rajasthan turban. As turbans are a Sikh man’s personal choice, this man is clearly very colourful

The man above reads a paper as he tends his colourful stall in Mysore, south India. Colourful food is also seen in the country's spices

The man above reads a paper as he tends his colourful stall in Mysore, south India. Colourful food is also seen in the country’s spices

World’s Best Hikes: Thrilling Trails

I love a good trek, me!  Here’s a fab feature courtesy of National Geographic (probably my fave travel resource).
Thanks to the excellent Doug Schitzspahn.

Ned


Some hikes are peaceful rambles in the woods, and those are just fine for quiet contemplation. But the hikes that really open your eyes are the thrill rides. The following 20 walks take in perilous heights, erupting volcanoes, treacherous steps, and other hair-raising moments. They range from what are essentially low-level rock climbs to strolls on narrow ridges – and they are all guaranteed to up your heart rate. — Doug Schnitzspahn

Besseggen Ridge

DCNDT5 Two walkers look out over Lakes Gjende and Bessvatnet from the descent of the Besseggen Ridge Jotunheimen National Park Norway

Photograph by Steve Taylor, ARPS/Alamy

Jotunheimen National Park, Norway

Best for: Anyone who wants a thrill (and big views of Norway’s most famous national park) without a truly dangerous hike

Distance: 14 miles one-way

This may be the most popular hike in Norway, calling to everyone from starry-eyed college-age backpackers to pudgy middle-age trekkers, but that’s not to say it doesn’t dish out some true excitement. It also serves up one of the most stunning views on the planet as it ascends and crosses the thin, rocky ridge between Jotunheimen National Park’s big, milky green glacial-fed Gjende lake and high alpine Bessvatnet lake. “Jotunheimen” means “home of the giants” in Norwegian, and it’s easy to imagine the great fierce Jotun of Norse mythology wrestling with Thor in this wild, glacial-scoured landscape—though the 30,000 people who hike it each year may keep the giants in hiding.

If you walk in the most popular direction, beginning at the charming Memurubu hut, the hike opens with a relaxing ferry boat cruise up Gjende before it starts to head up 1,200 feet onto the rocky ridge with steep drop-offs to either side, but the only true danger is stopping too often to snap photos. It tops out at 5,719 feet, racking up an impressive 3,500 verts along the way. The hike ends at the same place you caught the ferry, the Norwegian Mountain Touring Association’s Gjendesheim Turisthytte, a 170-guest mountain lodge. There are ways to extend the trip, too: if you start at Gjendesheim and hike over the ridge to Memurubu, you can stay at the hut overnight and take the ferry back (or hike back over the ridge or along the lake).

Thrill Factor: It’s a demanding eight-hour hike, so though it doesn’t require technical skills, hikers do need to be in shape and be comfortable in the wild.

Take It Easy: There’s a path along Gjende that doesn’t require climbing the ridge. Take the ferry to Memurubu and then amble 6.2 miles back to Gjendesheim.

El Caminito del Rey (The King’s Pathway)

09/10/11 A group make their way round the most dangerous path in the world. The world’s most dangerous path, 100 metres up a vertical rock face, has now become child’s play after trip organisers ask that visitors to the crumbling path, need only to be ‘at least twelve years old’ and ‘to have a good head for heights’. Since a video, showing a walker filming himself crossing the path without using safety equipment went viral on YouTube, a number of unofficial tours have been set up to cater for hundreds of adrenalin junkies wanting to risk their lives crossing the dilapidated 110 year-old path in southern Spain before it is refurbished. El Caminito Del Rey, also known as the King's Pathway, was originally built in 1905 for workers to travel between two hydroelectric power plants but was closed-off in 2000 after two walkers fell to their deaths. The path snakes its way precariously along cliff edges high up in El Chorro Gorge, thirty miles from Malaga. Much of the one-metre-wide walkway is crumbing away with gaping holes, no handrails and sections that have completely fallen down. A makeshift wire has now been attached to the rock face. Walkers and climbers can clip themselves to the wire to stay safe - but some still prefer not to use any safety aids. Work is now due to start on an 8.3 million euros project to make the pathway safe again and attract more tourists to the area. It will take three years to re-construct and will see the pathway completely rebuilt with hand rails, protective barriers, lighting and a visitors centre. One climber on the route last week said: “It’s a shame they’re going to fix the path – it will sanitise it too much and take the thrill out of it. It’s free for us to go on right now but I’m sure they’ll make us pay to use it in the future.” A commentator on sierra-nevada-news.com added: “I think the money could be put to better use elsewhere. On the positive side it will allow the general public access to the

Photograph by Rod Kirkpatrick, F Stop Press

El Chorro, SpainBest for: True daredevils; GoPro addicts

Distance: 2 miles

No list of thrill-ride hikes would be complete without including Spain’s King’s Pathway. The century-old, three-foot wide, decrepit stone walkway that’s barely attached to a sheer cliff 300 feet over the Guadalhorce River has gained fame from a countless number of videos that have gone viral—it is the perfect gasp-and-groan video for helmet-cam footage. It’s also truly risky: Left in bad shape after decades of neglect, the walkway has big gaps that force hikers to step over the void. It’s nausea-inducing enough to travel where the walkway is intact or the few spots where the original handrail still exists. In the worst sections, the pathway is completely gone, requiring low-level rock climbing moves to get back to (semi) solid ground. “Better” spots offer rails of rebar jutting out from the cliff as footholds. There is a safety wire running along the path that can be clipped into to prevent a fall, making it a via ferrata, but the trip is still terrifying.

The catwalk was not always so horrifying. It was originally built in 1905 as a means for hydroelectric workers to travel between Chorro Falls and Gaitanejo Falls. It received its name in 1921, when Spain’s King Alfonso XIII made the walk to open the new Conde del Guadalhorce dam. Ten years later the king ended up fleeing the country and abdicating after the end of the bloody Spanish Civil War. His walkway, likewise, fell out of favor until now.

Thrill Factor: This path is so dangerous that it has been officially closed since 2000 after four people fell to their deaths on it. But since so many adventure-seekers have been drawn to it anyway and guides even take tourists along it, the Spanish government has sunk over $11 million into rebuilding El Camino del Rey to be safer and constructing a visitor center. It is scheduled to open in 2015. The upside of that work is that the renovated path will be far safer; the downside, it will not be nearly as scary.

Take It Easy: You can still take in the breathtaking views of El Chorro Gorge, without 300 feet of nothing under your feet, if you hike the 4.3-mile track to the top of the upper gorge.

Leukerbad Via Ferrata

Leukerbad Via Ferrata

Photograph by Olivier Maire

Leukerbad, Switzerland

Best for: Hikers who have tried a via ferrata before, bring the right equipment (and possibly a guide), and want to summit a peak on a via ferrata

Distance: 3,280 feet of elevation gain

Italy’s Dolomites are the spiritual home of via ferrata, or iron roads, systems of vertiginous metal ladders, cables, and sometimes rock-climbing terrain that hikers can ascend while clipped into a safety wire. Many of these trails on cliff faces were originally created for use by Italian military forces during World War I. While many of the best via ferrata in Europe are still in the Dolomites, Switzerland’s Leukerbad Via Ferrata is impressive. The route scales the massive face of the 9,648-foot Daubenhorn, lording over the sleepy resort town of Leukerbad, and is the longest via ferrata in Switzerland. It has all the feel of a technical aid climb, though hikers without climbing experience can pull it off.

The climb consists of a 1.28-mile hike along cliffs to the start of the via ferrata. Then things go vertical on what is known as the “small” via ferrata—two hours of ascending along the wires and exposed rock climaxing in a sheer, three-ladder climb up 250 vertical feet. Here the route takes a breather at the Obere Gemsfreiheit Point at 6,562 feet. (This is also a turnaround point for hikers who have had enough or just want a shorter route.) The “big” via ferrata continues for just over three hours to the summit from here, with exposed rock scrambling, climbing on metal rungs, and ascending full ladders. The whole trip takes eight hours, but feels like a lifetime suspended above the green meadows and rooftops of the toy town in the valley far below.

Thrill Factor: Big exposure, but it’s perfectly safe if you know what you are doing. Don’t even think about this hike if you have a fear of heights. It would be smart to start on a shorter, easier via ferrata first. Leukerbad is rated ED, or Extrêmement Difficile, on the French via ferrata rating system and K5-K6 in the German system (K1 is easiest; K5 signifies very difficult).

Take It Easy: If hanging off ladders while clipped to a thin metal wire is not your thing, simply make the 8.2-mile hike up to alpine Gemmi Pass, where the via ferrata begins, and over into Bernese Oberland using cable cars to get to and from your starting and ending points.

Devil’s Path

Photograph by John P. O'Grady

Photograph by John P. O’Grady

Catskill Forest Preserve, New York

Best for: Hikers looking for an East Coast challenge that bags several peaks in one tough day trip and requires strong nerves and legs

Distance: 23.6 miles

This hike is a true roller coaster, heading straight up and straight down seven summits and racking up a ridiculous 18,000 feet of elevation gain (with lots of loss in between). The Devil’s Path takes the straightest line possible, which means instead of switchbacks hikers need to navigate loose rock, vertical scrambles, and sheer drops. Often, roots serve as emergency handholds or hikers need to wedge themselves up small chimneys. All that scrambling and vertical adds up to give the trail a reputation as the toughest hike on the East Coast. It very well may be, if you try to tackle it all in one day (there are options to backpack or break it down into smaller east and west sections, or just hike the peaks individually).

There is salvation here, too. Six of the path’s seven summits count for the Catskill 3500 Club (membership requires you to climb the 35 peaks over 3,500 feet in the range). The views once you do reach the summits will make you forget you are just three hours from downtown Manhattan as dreamy expanses of deciduous green roll off to the horizon. The native Lenape named this place Onteora, or “The Land in the Sky.” Sure, these peaks may not be the stark rock outcrops of the Rockies, but they don’t give up their summits easily.

Thrill Factor: You may hear a lot of hype about the dangers of Devil’s Path, but it basically amounts to a very challenging hike that can be extremely precarious if the rock is wet, or worse, icy. Be careful—you won’t need your rock climbing shoes, but sticky approach shoes will help.

Take It Easy: The nearby Overlook Mountain hike is a 9.3-mile round-trip that heads to the summit of Overlook Mountain, where there’s a fire tower and panoramic views, without the gnarliness of Devil’s Path.

Stromboli

Photograph by Raffaele Celentano, Redux

Photograph by Raffaele Celentano, Redux

Aeolian Islands, Italy

Best for: Watching lava burst out of a volcano

Distance: 1,312 vertical feet

Thrust up from the ocean bottom to rise above the Tyrrhenian Sea, the seven volcanic Aeolian Islands have been compared to the Pleiades in the sky and were the mythological home of Aeolus, god of the winds. This reputation is well earned, since rough winds and waves can often ground the hydrofoils that jet between the islands and back to the Sicilian mainland.

The crown jewel of this magical archipelago is Stromboli, a small (7.8-square-mile), cone-shaped, active volcano that spews fire and magma all day long. And while the volcano is certainly dangerous, it’s also regular and predictable enough that hikers can scramble to the 3,034-foot summit and peer into the spewing, molten workings of Vulcan in three active craters. The stunning lava bomb eruptions at the top are believed to have been going off every 20 minutes or so continuously for the past 2,000 years, with occasional lava flows and major eruptions (the last scoured the sides in 2007, and a big blast in 2003 closed the peak for two years).

Hiking to the craters at night is a life-list achievement. Depending on the state of the volcano you can stand within about 500 feet of the crater and enjoy nature’s best fireworks display. There is of course a very small chance that a major eruption could occur (although the volcano has been so consistent for millennia that the term “strombolian eruption” defines this type of activity) but you must hike the peak with a local guide, who tracks the status of the volcano. The hike itself, which heads quickly up through fragrant wild herbs and scrub oak, was rerouted and improved in 2004 with benches along the way and handrails near cliffs.

Thrill Factor: There aren’t many other places on the planet where you can witness the workings of an erupting volcano this close in relative safety.

Take It Easy: If you don’t want to stand on the lip of an erupting volcano, you can take one of the evening boat tours that take in the show from a safe distance out on the water.

Aonach Eagach Ridge

Glencoe - Scotland

Photograph by Wiliam Blake

Glen Coe, Scotland

Best for: Ridge walkers who want a huge dose of exposure without roping up

Distance: 5.75 miles

There are perilous ridge walks … and then there’s the knife-edge of Aonach Eagach. Running like a dragon’s backbone along the A82 highway just north of Glen Coe, the Aonach Eagach ridge rules over all the rugged, sketchy precipices of this heart of the Scottish Highlands. The hike, which climbs 3,600 feet, is only truly frightening for about two miles, during which it drops to the abyss on either side and clambers over two munros (the term for Scottish peaks over 3,000 feet), 3,127-foot Meall Dearg and 3,173-foot Sgorr nam Fiannaidh.

In between, the wild walk shimmies up chimneys, crawls down ledges, plummets up and over vertical towers, and navigates several other “dodgy” spots, as the locals describe them. No rope required, but don’t make a mistake. At some point, perhaps when you are off the dodgy sections, you may even notice the wide views of Glen Coe’s high munros all around, including the tallest peak in the British Isles, 4,409-foot Ben Nevis. When you reach the bottom near Glencoe village, make like the locals and head to the pub or to taste local single malts, which will help both quell any lingering nerves and add to your bravado as you recount your tale of conquering Aonach Eagach to anyone who will listen.

Thrill Factor: The hike should be attempted only by people who are comfortable scrambling on exposed terrain. It’s not hard, but you don’t want to make a mistake. Some people do rope up to do it—though that can make the traverse painfully slow and requires technical climbing knowledge. In winter, the difficulty level goes up to a Scottish Winter Grade II climb, and ice axe and crampons (and most likely a rope) are mandatory.

Take It Easy: You have to love the spirit of a hike that’s so scary that something called the Devil’s Staircase is the easier option. But, indeed this six-mile hike ascends to big vistas of Glen Coe—without the heart-stopping exposure.

Huntington Ravine

Huntingdon Ravine

Photograph by Alamy

Mount Washington, New Hampshire

Best for: Peakbaggers; people who want to take the difficult way to the top of New England’s most fabled peak

Distance: 2.1 miles one-way (8.2-mile round-trip loop to the summit)

Presiding over the White Mountains, New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is one popular peak, but very few of those who hike it have the guts to head up the Huntington Ravine Trail. It’s short, but near vertical, shooting up more than 2,000 vertical feet in just two miles, rambling above treeline into a boulder field, and then beginning to scale a series of sheer granite ledges and lichen-covered blocks, leaving travelers exposed to the mountain’s notoriously unforgiving elements. That said, it’s the most thrilling way to the top and offers up a little quiet between the gasps. There are even more difficult ways to ascend here, too, with technical rock climbs tracing up Huntington’s steeper faces and one of New Hampshire’s classic ice climbs forming here, in Pinnacle Gully, in the winter.

The summit itself is impressive (at 6,288 feet, it’s the highest point in New England), but a tad anti-climactic since there’s a parking lot and hordes of selfie-snapping folks who simply drove up instead of clinging to rock faces. Embrace it, and order a warm bowl of chili in the visitor center. Then enjoy the view out over the vast swath of the Presidential Range and much of the state below you. Like all climbs, the descent is the true tricky part (in 2013, a hiker slipped off the trail and fell 200 feet, requiring a life flight out), so it makes sense to turn it into a loop and head down the Tuckerman Ravine/Lion Head route.

Thrill Factor: Huntington is rated Class 3, just below needing to rope up, but you will need to use your hands. It should be attempted only by hikers comfortable with scrambling and exposure. Though hikers have taken catastrophic falls here, the real danger on Mount Washington is the weather, which is always rapidly changing. The summit has clocked up some of the highest wind speeds in recorded history (including 231 miles an hour in 1934) and the majority of the more than 135 fatalities here have been due to hypothermia.

Take It Easy: The standard 4.1-mile Tuckerman Ravine/Lion Head hike up Mount Washington may not induce the same type of nausea as Huntington, but it is still a serious trip up 4,250 feet into exposed alpine with all the dangers of thunderstorms and unpredictable weather.

Kokoda Trail

A hiker climbs through a clearing of tall kunai grass along the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea, on June 29, 2010. The Kokoda Track, a 60-mile path across the Owen Stanley mountain range, is where ill-equipped Australians fought against a much larger Japanese force in World War II. (Alex Hutchinson/The New York Times) -- PHOTO MOVED IN ADVANCE AND NOT FOR USE - ONLINE OR IN PRINT - BEFORE OCT. 24, 2010.

Photograph by Alex Hutchinson, The New York Times/Redux

Owen Stanley Range, Papua New Guinea

Best for: Jungle explorers and World War II history buffs

Distance: 60 miles one-way

While it may not have the harrowing exposure or molten lava of some of the other trails on this list, the Kokoda Trail (also known as the Kokoda Track) is no trek for the fainthearted. Plunging relentlessly up and back down and crossing wild rivers as it winds into the center of the Papua New Guinea jungle, the hike takes anywhere from three to 12 days to complete (though it has been run in 16 hours and 25 minutes). All those ups and downs total to more than 20,000 feet of elevation gain, with a high point of 7,185 feet on Mount Bellamy. It’s extremely isolated and prey to the sadistic whims of tropical weather, rife with disease-carrying mosquitoes, and local Koiari people have, at times, spontaneously closed the trail in protest of not benefitting from the fees charged to hike it. But all that risk is worth the experience of gutting it out along a historic path and finding solitude in the rampant wilds of the jungle. Furthermore, the government is pumping millions of dollars into improving the trail, and there are huts and indigenous towns that are quite welcoming along the way.

Don’t worry about going it alone: Despite its arduousness, the trail has become increasingly popular. Fifteen years ago, you would not have seen many other trekkers on the path, but in recent years up to 3,000 hikers attempt it every year. Most of them are Australian, coming here as a rite of passage and remembrance for the World War II battle fought along the track in 1942 when Japanese forces attempted to capture the island’s capital of Port Moresby to begin an invasion of Australia—outmanned Allied forces, the bulk of them Australians, fought them off as they retreated down the track and managed to maintain control of PNG. Many of the hikers who visit the trail have family who fought here.

Thrill Factor: The trail is a major commitment and exposes you to the risks of jungle travel and disease. It’s also not advised to attempt it without a guided tour due to the numerous risks and the fact that it passes through local tribal lands.

Take It Easy: The opposite of the rigorous Kokoda Trail can be found on Loloata Island, outside Port Moresby, where you can hike the jungle in between snorkeling and diving (you can even check out a wrecked WWII bomber).

Dry Fork Coyote Gulch

Photograph by Tomas Kaspar, Alamy

Photograph by Tomas Kaspar, Alamy

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Best for: Slot canyon exploration and play for everyone from daring canyoneers to kids

Distance: About 3.5 miles round-trip

Welcome to nature’s amusement park. A short hike down into the sandstone canyon walls of Dry Fork—located off the Hole-in-the-Rock road where Mormon pioneers first found a route through this severe, distant corner of the Colorado Plateau—is all it takes to reach some of the most intriguing and easiest to enjoy slot canyons in Utah. Dry Gulch is a wonder in itself. Its rock walls formed from ancient sand dunes long buried and turned to stone before tectonic uplift sent them back above ground to be carved out by eons of flash flood erosion and wind scouring. But it’s the side slots just a short way upstream that make this place such a draw for visitors to the Grand Staircase-Escalante, and they are where the real fun begins.

The first of these side slots is called Peek-a-Boo because it consists of a series of big round windows and arches in the Navajo sandstone, with potholes, often filled deep with water, lurking in the floor below. It requires a bit of a scramble up carved stone steps to reach and some care to navigate, but it’s basically a fun romp. The next slot up Dry Gulch, Spooky, is the real standout. It’s a perfect, narrow crack that’s consistently 30 feet deep and no wider than 18 inches across for over a half a mile. It’s so tight some adults may not fit (and in many spots it pinches down to less than ten inches across, so they will definitely have to suck in their bellies and turn sideways)—but children will find it easier to move up the wafer-thin slot faster than their parents. The last and least visited slot, Brimstone, is dark and gloomy, even deeper than Spooky, and narrowing so much at points that hikers need to make their way far up above the sandy floor.

Thrill Factor: It’s an ideal natural playground for anyone except extremely claustrophobic and larger-than-average people. Brimstone is the only truly dangerous one of the slots—local legend has it that one hiker got wedged in and stuck for days. But as long as you are careful and cognizant of the dangers of hiking in the desert (carry more water than you think you need), Spooky is safe enough for children (though they may need help up some small obstacles). Always be concerned about flash floods in slot canyons (and remember the water comes from storms upstream of the slot).

Take It Easy: If tight squeezes are not your thing, you can simply hike down the beautiful (and wide) Dry Fork Coyote Gulch canyon slot just downstream of the playground.

Black Hole of White Canyon

Photograph by Cameron L. Martindell, Offyonder

Photograph by Cameron L. Martindell, Offyonder

Hanksville, Utah

Best for: Swimmers

Distance: 5 miles

The Black Hole is the flume of our thrill-ride hikes—a slot canyon that must be swum. It’s deep and dark and filled with cold water year-round, requiring a wetsuit even when temperatures are broiling far above. After a short hike, you plunge into the muddy stream and swim down (many spots are wadeable depending on the season) for two miles, peering up at the sheer sandstone walls towering hundreds of feet above. You can also check out the markers of the raw power of the Colorado Plateau’s flash floods in the canyon: Look up and you will see dead trees wedged in the slot as far as 50 feet above you, where torrential water once carried them. At times that debris has blocked the canyon, sometimes requiring ropes and a lot of forethought to navigate precariously piled logjams.

Those floods are an ever present danger in this peaceful spot—in the 1990s a teenage girl was swept to her death down here. But keep an eye on the weather, and you can simply bob downstream, relax, and enjoy the craftsmanship of the rushing water that carved out this enchanted canyon. Some canyoneers even bring a little inflatable ducky children’s pool toy along to use as a kickboard heading downstream.

Thrill Factor: You must be able and willing to swim and wear a wetsuit even in the summer (a short-sleeve one will work when it’s full summer). There are no real technical obstacles to navigate in the canyon, but it’s not a bad idea to have at least a small rope in case you don’t feel comfortable downclimbing. Also, floods can change things—in 2003, they created new technical obstacles that have since shifted away. Once you are in, you are fully committed—there’s no escape route—so analyze weather reports before you attempt it and be aware that storms far upstream cause flash floods.

Take It Easy: If you want your first taste of Utah slot canyons, try the nine-mile loop up and down Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyons in the San Rafael Swell, not too far from White Canyon. They offer up the real slot experience with no technical obstacles or swims.

Granite Peak

Photograph by Jed Conklin Photography

Photograph by Jed Conklin Photography

Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Montana

Best for: Peakbaggers who have technical skills; hikers who are comfortable with exposure

Distance: 21–25 miles round-trip

Of all the highest state summits in the Lower 48, Montana’s 12,807-foot Granite Peak is perhaps the most isolated and difficult to stand atop (it’s estimated that only 20 percent of summit attempts here are successful, mostly because of weather). It was actually the last of the U.S. highpoints to be climbed in 1923 (a decade after the first ascent of Denali). Is it the hardest scramble ever or a technical rock climb? That all depends on who you ask, and the indeterminate easiest route to the top on the south face has been rated everything from a Class 3 scramble to a 5.7 rock climb. The best advice is that you may not need a rope but you had better bring one. You will definitely experience dizzying exposure heading up to the summit—the incisor of a peak pierces up through the big, rolling plateaus of the Beartooths and the valley floor is over 1,500 feet underfoot when you are navigating the chimneys, chockstones, and balance moves required for the last 200 feet to the top. There’s also a snowbridge that may or may not require an ice ax depending on conditions. Taken all together, the experience pushes the boundaries of a hike.

It’s not an easy place to reach, either. Climbing Granite requires a long hike, at least 5,000 feet of elevation gain, an overnight stay to time the weather right, and you pitch your tent on an exposed, rocky expanse named the Froze-to-Death Plateau. But when everything goes just right, there’s no joy like having figured out Granite’s many puzzles and standing at the apex of the aptly named Treasure State. There’s no sign of civilization on the summit—the vast wilderness of the Beartooths and Absarokas rolls off in all directions and Yellowstone National Park lies on the horizon. Now, it’s time to make your way down (we suggest you rappel).

Thrill Factor: There is serious exposure on this hike and you should both have the ability to climb technical rock and bring the gear (that said, a nine-year-old with both has summited). The weather can change quickly and there is little protection from lightning storms on the plateau or on the committing route to the top. A climber was killed here in 1994 ascending a more difficult route on the north face when hikers at the top inadvertently trundled a rock down on him and his partner.

Take It Easy: The summit of 11,765-foot Froze-to-Death Mountain may not be as impressive as Granite (it’s just the highest pile of rocks on the undulating Froze-to-Death Plateau), but it’s a nice brass ring if you decide not to commit to climb the more difficult peak. It also offers up a fantastic view of Granite in all its glory.

Búri Cave

Photograph by Michel Detay

Photograph by Michel Detay

Thorlákshöfn, Iceland

Best for: Hikers who like a tight squeeze and experiencing the underworld

Distance: 1.3 miles round-trip, plus hike to cave

Welcome to our “Tunnel of Love” hike. While there are hundreds of thrilling, frightening, and wondrous lava caves in the lava fields of this active volcanic island, Búri is one of the most eerily beautiful, as well as one of the latest to be discovered. It was only first explored in 2005 and was soon heralded as one of Iceland’s most remarkable lava caves. But it’s not for everyone. To reach it requires a short hike across the Leitahraun lava fields, the remnants of lava that flowed and cooled from the Leiti volcano all the way to the sea in some spots. Lava tubes formed here about 5,000 years ago when parts of that magma cooled faster than others, forming the cave walls, while the hot lava flowed through, forming the long, smooth caves themselves. Leitahraun is a Swiss cheese of these tubes, including the 4,462-foot-long Raufarholshellir tube and cathedral-like Arnarker cave.

Named after the first of the Aesir gods who is said to have been born when a primordial giant’s cow licked the salty ice that existed before the Earth, Búri is covered in ice for its first section, making it feel like the mythical cow’s salt lick, and filled with odd, dripping sculptures that shimmer phantasmagorically in the light of headlamps. After the ice, it runs through a long, 30-foot-high, 30-foot-wide tube of lava rock that feels like an abandoned subway tunnel, before ending a 55-foot-high lava pit at the end. Emerging again into the sunlight feels like being reborn.

Thrill Factor: Don’t go if you are afraid of the dark or claustrophobic. The tunnel is not necessarily dangerous but anyone exploring it should have caving experience, a light (and a backup light), and a helmet. It’s best to go on a guided trip, many of which pick up clients directly at their hotels in Reykjavik.

Take It Easy: The big, formation-filled Arnarker Lava Cave is also located in the Leitahraun lava fields and holds some natural ice sculptures near the end of winter, but it is simply accessed by a ladder, making it easier to explore.

Crypt Lake Trail

Photograph by Loraine Tai

Photograph by Loraine Tai

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

Best for: Hikers who want an adrenaline rush and love waterfalls

Distance: 10.8 miles round trip

Don’t let the macabre name scare you off—though you may very well get a chill up your spine as you cling and crawl to this isolated spot high in the Canadian Rockies. This one, relatively short hike packs in an expedition’s worth of adventure: a ferry ride, scrambling, epic waterfalls, exposure, a tunnel, and a pristine alpine lake as the payoff. You will also be hiking in a no-man’s-land of sorts, or perhaps an every-person’s land: Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park, on the southern border of Alberta, and the United States’ Glacier National Park, on Montana’s northern frontier, make up the larger, 1,720-square-mile Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, created by proponents on both sides of the border in 1932. The two governments work to manage the resources of both parks together (since the biotic community could care less about political divisions) and the Peace Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

A pleasant, 15-minute boat ride across Waterton Lake is required to reach the trailhead, which gives it a unique, isolated feel. However, the true cut-off-from-the-world highlight of the hike, which gains 2,300 vertical feet over 5.4 miles, is a 100-foot, hands-and-knees crawl the trail takes through a natural tunnel. Along the way, you will also have to balance along a narrow ledge (the park has affixed a cable handrail if you need it) and scurry up a metal ladder via ferrata style. When you do have time to look around, take in the beauty of the park’s waterfalls, long elegant cascades tumbling down the sedimentary rock walls of the sheer peaks. The hike passes by four of them, the highlight of which is Crypt Falls, dropping close to 600 feet straight down from the hanging valley that holds the lake.

Thrill Factor: Most hikers can do the trail without a problem, despite the exposure. The worst sections are protected with a steel cable handhold. It is committing and exposed, though, so don’t try it if you suffer from vertigo and be aware of changing weather.

Take It Easy: If you want a steep Waterton hike with none of the thrills and chills of Crypt, try the 6.5-mile round-trip jaunt to the stunning alpine cirque and turquoise waters of Wall Lake.

Pacaya

Photograph by Raoul Manten, Getty Images

Photograph by Raoul Manten, Getty Images

Pacaya Volcano National Park, Antigua, Guatemala

Best for: Hikers who want to feel the heat of an active volcano

Distance: 3.2 miles round-trip

Looming in the skyline just 20 miles from the metropolis of Guatemala City, 8,373-foot Pacaya is one consistently moody volcano (it’s technically a complex volcano, a caldera with multiple vents within its summit crater circumference). It has been active for at least the last 23,000 years, consistently brooding with steam, spitting out lava in pyrotechnic strombolian eruptions (see Stromboli), and occasionally bursting out in more major events. The most recent of these big blasts have sent lava rivers rolling down the sides of the mountain in 2006 and covered the capital city in ash in 2010. And in early 2014 Pacaya started to get ornery again—exploding in ash and gas plumes and belching lava bombs and rocks while new craters flowed with lava.

So how about hiking up to get up close and personal with this beast? It’s not as dangerous as you might think, though of course your safety is not guaranteed when tempting the moods of a volcano. Several tour operators run trips up into the caldera, and some even let you camp out overnight, where you can perhaps watch fiery strombolian eruptions from your tent window and roast marshmallows over fumaroles or hot lava. It’s a quick and easy hike, but steep and at elevation so you may breathe heavy on the way up. You’ll certainly exhale once you get there and see rivers of molten magma at your feet.

Thrill Factor: The trail up is not necessarily scary, but you are playing around on an active volcano that last had a major eruption in 2013 and had a small paroxysm, or sudden eruption, in January 2014, so be aware of current volcanic monitoring (you can check on updates here) and be very careful inside the crater, especially around the hot spots and fumaroles. The payoff is you get to look at the workings inside an active crater, and it is one impressive show.

Take It Easy: You won’t have to worry about the fiery moods of Ma Nature, but you will appreciate the mandatory police escort (to protect from robberies) to the top of Cerro de la Cruz, the hill of the cross that overlooks the city of Antigua.

Huayna Picchu