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

 

 

 

Is it safe to travel? Use common sense, but don’t cower in fear

…And here’s another fine and inspiring piece from the much-respected John Lumpkin, freelance writer and Special Contributor to the Dallas News.  I admire his sentiment and totally concur: nothing will stop me from my trekking…!    – Ned


Photo: John Lumpkin

“See the pyramids along the Nile. Watch the sunrise from a tropic isle …” So opened a sweet song from the ’50s titled “You Belong to Me.” It continued, “See the market place in old Algier …”

Do those trips sound so dreamy today?

“Experienced travellers are pretty fatalistic about it,” Harvey Boysen, president of Gulliver’s Travel Service in Fort Worth, says. “It could happen in Dallas, Texas, San Bernardino, or Nice, France. You can’t go hide in a hole.”

But it’s understandable that political and religious violence outside the conventional theaters of war is a serious concern, not just in our time. Military historian Max Boot wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal that the current turmoil is actually a “third wave” of international terrorism since the late 1800s — including the bombings of a wagon on Wall Street in 1920 that took 38 lives, and another of an opera house in 1893 in Spain that killed 22.

Remember the scene in The Godfather: Part II? Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) attempted to engineer a mobster coup in fancy Havana hotels patronized by Americans and found himself in the midst of the Cuban Revolution on New Year’s Eve, 1958. In real life, that could have been a family in 2011 on a trip of a lifetime to Egypt’s pyramids in the midst of the Arab Spring.

On reflection, a more ordinary disruption to travel is Mother Nature. For that, it’s sometimes possible to make informed decisions. For example, would you travel to tropical venues if you are of childbearing age, because of the new threat of Zika?

Otherwise, there are situations you cannot anticipate. My wife’s cousin, Jim Biggerstaff of Denton, and his spouse, Lisa, tried twice on European river cruises. Flooding of Portugal’s Duro River left the ship in dock for the duration, but they already were en route and had to settle for the cruise company’s alternative, a winding bus trip along the same itinerary.

The Biggerstaffs’ Elba River cruise was canceled due to a drought, but that illustrates how such events have serendipitous benefits. Viking Cruises offered a full refund plus a $1,000 credit, so Jim and Lisa switched to the Danube and spent three extra days in Prague — “one of the most spectacular cities in Europe,” he says.

An earthquake prevented my wife, Eileen, and me from a much-anticipated trip to Chile, wrapped around an international conference that had to be moved elsewhere. We may not get back that way, although we have a Chilean landscape artist’s surreal work hanging in our home.

Years ago, when I worked in North Carolina and our two toddlers limited our travels, I was often told we had to see the “fall color” around Grandfather Mountain. We found a residential rental at peak season in mid-October, stocked the station wagon with groceries and started out from Raleigh, only to drive into flecks of unseasonal sleet and flurries west of Winston-Salem. By the time we slushed and slid into the mountain condo, there were 10 inches of wet snow, knocking virtually every golden and red leaf off the trees. We never saw the much-publicized foliage, but our family from Texas played in a white landscape not familiar to the little ones, and Eileen and I shared drinks in front of a blazing fireplace when the kids were down.

We are recently retired from full-time work of almost five decades and believe in the credo offered by a neighbour of Biggerstaff: Your fixed-income dollar is worth more now than it will be in 10 years and you are healthier than you likely will be by then.

The neighbour, retired General Electric executive Gary Bostick, also has other insight about travel problems: “If you want it to be like home, then you should stay at home.”

 

John Lumpkin is a freelance writer in Richardson. He served as a vice president of The Associated Press and director of the School of Journalism at Texas Christian University.

* * * *

Ned’s tip: If you’re travelling down the Nile like the old song, head to the Red Sea and stay at the gorgeous five star Le Royal – Sharm El Sheikh resort.

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.

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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?

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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.

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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Secret Lives of Off-Season Santas

I just LOVE this feature from the HuffPost – spread a little Christmas Cheer..!   – Nedag00176_

 


Santa Claus certainly has a presents at Christmas, but what does he do the rest of the year?

This question intrigued Miami Beach-based photographer Mary Beth Koeth.

“Being a total Santa skeptic in my younger years, I wanted to capture the real stories of the men behind the fuzzy white beards and sleek velvety duds,” she told The Huffington Post.

So, Koeth set out to create a series of stunning photos that offer glimpses into the lives of off-season Santas. Here are their answers, as told to Koeth.

Santa Joe waves goodbye to frigid winters and heads to a condo in Florida.

Joe Corcoran, also known as Santa Joe, is an Irish Catholic from the Bronx and is also the New York City Bloomingdales Santa. Several years back, Corcoran and his wife bought a condo in Oriole Gardens Retirement Community in Margate, Florida. Eighty of the units in the community are filled with his family and friends from back in the Bronx. He told Koeth: We all grew up with each other and want to grow old together.”

Santa Roy works at an investigative firm and picks up the banjo.

Roy Strohacker is a retired police officer. In 1984, he was named one of the top 10 law enforcement officers in the state of Florida. He currently operates his own investigative agency and has more than 40 years in the law enforcement and investigative field. In his spare time, Strohacker plays banjo with his son and sings with the Great American Dixie Band. He also collects American political memorabilia like old flags and Japanese swords and reads and translates Japanese.

Santa Lance rocks out in a band to beat the summertime blues.

Lance Willock, 77, is a former salesman from Peoria, Illinois. Music has always been his passion. He would run home from work on Fridays, dapper up, and meet with his band to entertain at one of the many local hotspots.

“I met my wife, Rosemary, while playing in a club. She never knew it was going to end up like this … in fact, she’d probably run the other way if she thought about it,” he told Koeth. Willock and Rosemary live in a retirement community in Stuart, Florida.

Santa John runs a Mensa chapter.

John Snyder, 67, is a Vietnam vet with a purple heart and was born and raised in Queens, New York.

“When I got out of the army, I wanted to be a playboy for a while before I settled down — to sow my wild oats so to speak. Well, I met my wife, fell for her and married her right away, so I had to give that all up,” he told Koeth.

John served as the president of Mensa, the largest and oldest high IQ society, for several years in South Florida. Snyder and his wife Theresa are both active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and currently reside in Kendall, Florida.

Santa Gregg does woodwork ― and also reminisces about his days as a former stripper (you read that right).

Gregg Henry is a carpenter at Michael Rybovich & Sons Boat Works in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

“I make big, expensive toys for very wealthy boys and girls,” he told Koeth.. His career in woodworking started 40 years ago.

“The only thing I haven’t done is coffin making. I don’t really have much interest in that,” he said. Many years ago, following a painful divorce, Henry spent two years being a male exotic dancer.

“My stage name was Grizzly Gregg because I had the beard and everything back then. I found that taking off your shoes is really hard to do when you’re standing up,” Henry said.

Santa Ernie just chills out in the summer with his partner of 23 years.

Ernie Tedrow is originally from Baltimore, Maryland. After his mother passed away, he moved to Orlando and started in the hotel business where he worked his way up to director of sales and marketing.

“One week a month I would travel. I’d fly to Chicago in the morning, pick up the client in a limousine, take them to Oprah’s restaurant for lunch, sign a half million dollar contract, take them back to the office, fly back and be home for dinner. I absolutely loved it,” he told Koeth..

Tedrow now lives in Tamarac, Florida with Everett, his partner of twenty-three years. He is a community association manager for condos and homeowner association in South Florida. “I figured, I’m fat, old, and bald … and I have a career!”

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

7 Remote Islands That REALLY Want You To Move There

Whether it’s the changing seasons, the impending election, or just itchy feet and a need to see the world, there are many reasons to harbour a dream of up and moving far away. If you have ever imagined giving island life a shot, you might be pleased to hear that Huffpost has found several isles out there where you might just make that dream a reality.

Faced with rapidly declining populations, islands around the world from the South Pacific to North Atlantic are actively recruiting people to come and settle. You could teach in Hawaii, work in New Zealand’s dairy industry, help out at a Canadian store or simply live out your Wicker Man fantasies in Scotland.

Below, discover seven islands that would love to have you (visa, of course, permitting).

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Inishturk, Ireland The prospect of a certain narcissistic businessman entering the White house has doubtless informed more than a few Americans’ searches for new homes. A warm Irish welcome awaits those who accept the island of Inishturk’s offer of refuge to Americans who are considering leaving the country if Donald Trump is elected president. The island, which is about nine miles off the coast of County Mayo, has seen its population plummet to just 58 people. An enticing video, cannily named Make Inishturk Great Again, introduces viewers to the charms of the island.

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Inishturk, Ireland (continued) “I’ve heard there are quite a few people in America looking to move to Ireland and other countries if Donald Trump becomes president,” the island’s development officer, Mary Heanue, told Irish Central. “I’d like them to know that we’d love to see them consider moving over here. Although winters can be hard and it’s the kind of life that wouldn’t necessarily suit everyone, they’d find it very peaceful here and they’d soon find out there’s nowhere as nice in the world on a summer’s day than here.”

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Easdale, Scotland Just slightly more populated (it’s home to 70 people), the Scottish island of Easdale made its own video last year to try to encourage people to relocate. Named A Wild Community, the eight-minute film eschews politics in favor of focusing on the island’s gems: its stunning scenery, warm people, and, perhaps most charmingly, its stone-skimming championships.

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Easdale, Scotland (continued) Off the west coast of Scotland, Easdale is the smallest permanently inhabited island of the Inner Hebrides. Having seen its community decline since the collapse of its slate-mining industry in the late 19th century, the island is appealing for young people looking to make a new start. Some, such as Edinburgh transplant Keren Cafferty, who spoke to The Guardian, see Easdale’s future as a self-sustaining island that offers an alternative, anti-consumerist model of life. It also has a little star quality: Florence + The Machine shot the video for “Queen Of Peace” there in 2015.

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Cape Breton, Canada In August of this year, a general store on a small Canadian island became inundated with thousands of applications after its owners offered two acres of land and a job to anyone willing to move there. The Farmer’s Daughter Country Market in the village of Whycocomagh on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia launched an appeal for staff, saying it could not offer “big money,” but it did have “lots of land.”

Successful applicants willing to make the move would be provided with two acres on which to live, theirs to keep if they stay working at the store for more than five years. “We are an established business in the heart of Cape Breton, rich in jobs, land, and potential, but no people,” the Facebook advertisement read.

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Cape Breton, Canada (continued) This is not the first time Cape Breton has taken an innovative approach to try to encourage new arrivals. Earlier this year, it launched a PR campaign encouraging Americans fearful of the possibility of a Trump presidency to move to the island.

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Tanera Mór, Scotland If you have a spare £1,950,000 ($2,490,000) you could have an entire Scottish island to yourself. That’s the hugely discounted price being asked for Tanera Mór, one of Scotland’s 17 Summer Isles, located off the northwest coast and thought to have been the inspiration behind cult movie The Wicker Man. Tanera Mór was the last inhabited island on the archipelago, but the final residents (and owners) moved to the mainland in 2013 and cut the island’s selling price by more than half a million pounds.

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Tanera Mór, Scotland (continued) With still no takers, the owners are now offering the option of dividing the 1.25-square-mile island into three lots, with the smallest going for just £430,000. Besides the movie connection, Tanera Mór is also famed as the only Scottish island to operate a year-round private postal service. The Summer Isles Post Office issues two stamps for mail leaving the island — a Tanera Mòr stamp for it to leave the isle to the mainland, and a Royal Mail one for the rest of journey. The island’s real estate listing also highlights its “coastline of approximately seven miles encompassing numerous cliffs, coves, and beaches; innumerable perfect picnic spots interspersed with fresh water lochans; and wonderful waters in which to swim, sail and fish.”

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Pitcairn, South Pacific You might be surprised to hear that the tiny South Pacific island — with its beaches, palm trees, and year-round sun — is having trouble attracting people to live there. But with a dwindling population of less than 50, Pitcairn is so keen to attract new residents, it will give you your own plot of land if you move there.

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Pitcairn, South Pacific (continued) You would have to be fairly self-sufficient, however, as there are no jobs on offer, and you would also need to prove you possess some skills that would benefit the island. Pitcairn’s sole shop is open three times a week, and food from the nearest neighboring country, New Zealand — 3,000 miles away — has to be ordered three months in advance. Internet is available, though, and island representative Jacqui Christian says: “It is a special place, and it is beautiful seeing the stars without light pollution. There are the bluest waters you have ever seen.”

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South Island, New Zealand More money burning a hole in your pocket? Head for New Zealand’s South Island, where $165,000 will get you a plot of land in the pretty town of Kaitangata. Life is good in Kaitangata, population 800, where youth unemployment totals two.

“Not two percent — just two unemployed young people,” Clutha district Mayor Bryan Cadogan told The Guardian this summer. Nevertheless, there are jobs that the town needs to fill, specifically in the admittedly unglamorous industries of dairy processing and freezing works.

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South Island, New Zealand (continued) If you think you’d be a good fit for one of the 1,000 vacant jobs (and can swing a New Zealand work visa) you can take advantage of a recruitment scheme that involves offering house and land packages for just NZ $230,000 ($165,000).The man organizing the effort is a dairy farmer named Evan Dick, who says: “This is an old-fashioned community, we don’t lock our houses, we let kids run free,” he said. “We have jobs, we have houses, but we don’t have people. We want to make this town vibrant again, we are waiting with open arms.”

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Hawaiian Islands, USA Rather stay closer to home and avoid work-visa hassle? Keep an eye on Hawaii, which has been facing a teacher shortage for years and so regularly launches recruitment drives to attract qualified teachers from the mainland. Earlier this year, the state’s appeal for teachers was picked up and spread widely across the web, with some suggesting Hawaii would “pay you $60,000 to work in paradise.” That’s not quite the reality, however, and the Hawaii State Department of Education was not too pleased at being bombarded with applications from people who were unqualified to teach.

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Hawaiian Islands, USA(continued) Donalyn Dela Cruz, Hawaii State Department of Education spokesperson, told NBC News: “Following a recent drive in April, false reporting and inaccurate blogging on social media led to a major influx of applications from people who just want to move to Hawaii. Many of these inquiries came from individuals who are not interested in teaching, but who just want to move to Hawaii under the false impression that the Department will pay for people to move here to live and work.”

Lesson: Check the fine print. It’s not always an easy ride to paradise.

 

 

9 wonders of the world set to vanish forever: How many have you ticked off?

Some of the planet’s greatest spots have made Unesco’s danger list of World Heritage Sites on the verge of disappearing.  This article from the Independent highlights to me just how fragile our earth is and how easily and stupidly we can lose the beauty of nature all around us.  Let’s PLEASE all work together to help save the world we claim is so precious to us!   😦


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According to Unesco, parts of Liverpool are an endangered World Heritage Site (Shutterstock)

This month, we learned that Spain was facing the prospect of becoming the first European Union member state to have a natural World Heritage Site make Unesco’s “danger list”.  The Doñana coastal wetlands in Andalucía – home to the endangered Iberian lynx – is said to be under threat from a mining and dredging plan, as well as 1,000 illegal wells in the area.

But it’s just one among a number of incredible sites the world over that, according to Unesco, could be lost forever.  Here are just a few World Heritage Sites in Unesco’s danger zone that you might need to scrub off the bucket list.

Everglades National Park, Florida

Florida’s Everglades add some wonderfully swampy mystery to the state’s man-made draws of nightclubs and theme parks. Encompassing 1.5 million acres of wetland, the Everglades are a sanctuary for rare, endangered, and threatened species including the Florida panther and the manatee. Unesco says nutrient pollution and reduced water inflows are contributing to loss of marine habitat and the decline of marine species, with vast conservation efforts now needed to stem the damage.

Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls

Jerusalem is a holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the Old City hosts an incredible 220 historic monuments, including major pilgrimage sites like the Dome of the Rock (the site of Abraham’s sacrifice) and the Wailing Wall. Unesco has said it is “deeply concerned” by what it calls “the persistence of the Israeli illegal excavations” around the Old City, which it says is damaging some historic sites. Unesco has also accused Israel of obstructing some restoration projects.

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The Old City of Jerusalem, with the Dome of the Rock at the back and the dome of the al-Aqsa mosque in the foreground (Getty)

Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System

Belize has plenty to show for itself – ancient Mayan ruins, top diving site the Great Blue Hole – but the latter is part of what is now an endangered system, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve. The largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere – think of it as the north’s answer to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which itself could be heading for the danger zone – it’s home to a number of threatened species, including marine turtles, manatees and the American marine crocodile.

Threats to the site include overharvesting of marine resources and proposed oil and gas exploration and exploitation. According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, 15 per cent of Belize’s gross domestic product comes from the reef – including about US$15 million from the commercial fishing industry and about $200 million from tourism. It suggests a more sustainable approach to managing the reef would benefit wildlife and people alike.

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An aerial view of the Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize (Shutterstock)

Abu Mena, Egypt

This Christian holy city, a significant pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages, includes a church, basilicas, public buildings, streets, monasteries, houses and workshops, which were built over the tomb of the martyr Menas of Alexandria, one of Egypt’s best-known saints. Agricultural work in the area has led to a rise in groundwater, causing the site’s buildings to collapse or become unstable, with a number of underground cavities opening up. The local authorities have been forced to fill the cavities with sand to save the buildings, including the crypt of Abu Mena, which contains the tomb of the saint.

Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, Indonesia

Spanning 2.5 million hectares, the tropical rainforest heritage of the wild Indonesian island of Sumatra spreads across three national parks, and is a protected area home to a wide range of endangered animals and plants, including the endemic Sumatran orang-utan. The site also provides biogeographic evidence of the evolution of the island. But the extraordinary beauty of this untamed, tangled land is deemed at significant risk thanks to road development plans, alongside the illegal logging and poaching of animals – including elephants and tigers – facilitated by such road access.

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The critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (Getty)

Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery, Georgia

Two gems of Georgian architecture, these medieval wonders have been placed on the endangered list after a reconstruction project to restore them went against Unesco recommendations on maintaining authenticity. The ruins of 11th-century Bagrati Cathedral in Georgia’s third-largest city, Kutaisi, and the nearby Gelati Monastery, which is covered with magnificent mosaics and wall paintings, are prized for representing “the flowering of medieval architecture” in the country. Unesco says irreversible interventions at the site undermine the integrity of these priceless nuggets of history.

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Georgia’s Gelati monastery complex (DDohler/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, Peru

Chan Chan was the capital of the ancient Chimu Kingdom before they fell to the Incas, and is a huge adobe settlement split into nine citadels, with temples, plazas and cemeteries still discernible. But this amazing example of earthen architecture is at risk owing to extreme environmental events, including those caused by El Niño.

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Chan Chan is a pre-Inca settlement in Peru (Tyler Bell/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Rainforests of the Atsinanana, Madagascar

An island of weird and wonderful creatures, Madagascar separated from all other land masses more than 60 million years ago, where its plant and animal life evolved in complete isolation. But Madagascar’s unique biodiversity depends on the Rainforests of the Atsinanana, which comprise six national parks. Illegal logging and hunting of the area’s endangered lemur are prime problems with the site.

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Lemurs are being illegally hunted in Madagascar (Getty)

Maritime Mercantile City, Liverpool

Liverpool enjoys the dubious honour of being one of only two endangered Unesco sites in Europe (the other is the medieval monuments of Kosovo). Six areas of Liverpool city centre and its docklands constitute its World Heritage listing, documenting Liverpool’s development into one of the world’s major trading centres in the 18th and 19th centuries. The city played an important role in the growth of the British Empire and became the major port for the mass movement of people. However, Unesco warns redevelopment in the area – namely, the multi-billion Liverpool Waters “mixed use” waterfront quarter – will adversely alter the site.

The quirkiest holiday houses to rent around the world – revealed

Thanks to Mail Online Travel for these amazing rental ideas.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

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).

Weather Photographer of the Year 2016

Cataclysmic lightning and swirling tornadoes: these stunning images represent some of the world’s most dramatic weather events.

All finalists in the Weather Photographer of the Year 2016 competition – a brand new contest judged by The Royal Meteorological Society and The Royal Photographic Society – certainly put the UK’s recent thunderstorms down a few notches.

More than 800 photographs were submitted earlier this year, with winners across various categories announced last weekend at the Royal Meteorological Society’s Amateur Meteorologists’ Conference in Reading. 

Overall Weather Photographer of the Year 2016 was awarded to Tim Moxon for Tornado on Show. Mr Moxon said this was “one of the most photogenic tornadoes of the year”, snapped near the town of Wray, Colorado.

In first place for the over 16s category was Ben Cherry’s Sprite Lightning photograph. Judge Michael Pritchard praised him for “making the most of circumstance and having the serendipity to capture a very rare form of lightning”.

In the under 16s, James Bailey scooped the top prize for his image Hailstorm and Rainbow over the Seas of Covehithe. And as for the public’s favourite, more than 2,500 voters handed the accolade to Paul Kingston’s Storms Cumbria image.

I must say, some of the best I think are from the UK; thanks to the Mail Online for the extraordinary pics.  Polishing up my long lens now..!  – Ned


Overall Winner: An apocalyptic tornado near the town of Wray, Colorado, taken by Tim Moxon. He said: 'We were among a number of people, including those you see in the shot, nervously enjoying the epic display nature put on for us'

Overall Winner: An apocalyptic tornado near the town of Wray, Colorado, taken by Tim Moxon. He said: ‘We were among a number of people, including those you see in the shot, nervously enjoying the epic display nature put on for us’

First Place in Over 16s: Ben Cherry, who took this in Punta Banco, Costa Rica, says 'I set up the frame to include the pulsing storm and the milky way as I liked the contrast - then this sprite strike illuminated the sky and my jaw dropped'

First Place in Over 16s: Ben Cherry, who took this in Punta Banco, Costa Rica, says ‘I set up the frame to include the pulsing storm and the milky way as I liked the contrast – then this sprite strike illuminated the sky and my jaw dropped’

Froth: In the under 16s, James Bailey scooped the top prize for his image Hailstorm and Rainbow over the Seas of Covehithe 

Froth: In the under 16s, James Bailey scooped the top prize for his image Hailstorm and Rainbow over the Seas of Covehithe

Public's Favourite: Paul Kingston's Storms Cumbria. He said: 'The image I captured shows the inner harbour wall at Whitehaven, Cumbria, being hit by a monstrous wave, dwarfing the surrounding man-made structures'

Public’s Favourite: Paul Kingston’s Storms Cumbria. He said: ‘The image I captured shows the inner harbour wall at Whitehaven, Cumbria, being hit by a monstrous wave, dwarfing the surrounding man-made structures’

Battle: A clash between two storm cells in New Mexico in June 2014, each with its own rotating updraft, taken by Camelia Czuchnicki, who remarked 'it's the rarity of such scenes that keep drawing me back to the US Plains each year'

Battle: A clash between two storm cells in New Mexico in June 2014, each with its own rotating updraft, taken by Camelia Czuchnicki, who remarked ‘it’s the rarity of such scenes that keep drawing me back to the US Plains each year’

Nebraska storm: Stephen Lansdell's Mama Factory - the photographer and self-described 'storm chaser' said 'this  was so beautiful taking on many forms during its life and ending with one of the most spectacular shows I have ever witnessed'

Nebraska storm: Stephen Lansdell’s Mama Factory – the photographer and self-described ‘storm chaser’ said ‘this was so beautiful taking on many forms during its life and ending with one of the most spectacular shows I have ever witnessed’

UFO over Caucasus: This image was taken by Dmitry Demin from the cable car to Mount Cheget Kabardino-Balkaria, Russia

UFO over Caucasus: This image was taken by Dmitry Demin from the cable car to Mount Cheget Kabardino-Balkaria, Russia

Goldfish of the sky: According to photographer Alan Tough 'in early February 2016, unusually cold Arctic stratospheric air reached down as far as the UK, which triggered sightings of these rare and beautiful Polar Stratospheric  Clouds'

Goldfish of the sky: According to photographer Alan Tough ‘in early February 2016, unusually cold Arctic stratospheric air reached down as far as the UK, which triggered sightings of these rare and beautiful Polar Stratospheric Clouds’

Nick of time: Paul Andrew, who took this dramatic photo at California's Mono Lake, said 'over the space of about 90 minutes I photographed the unfolding scene, only just making it back to the safety of the car as the heavens opened'

Nick of time: Paul Andrew, who took this dramatic photo at California’s Mono Lake, said ‘over the space of about 90 minutes I photographed the unfolding scene, only just making it back to the safety of the car as the heavens opened’

Paula Davies says of her delicate feathery image, which was taken from a car windscreen in North Yorkshire: 'I was attracted by the colours resulting from the low early morning sun'

Paula Davies says of her delicate feathery image, which was taken from a car windscreen in North Yorkshire: ‘I was attracted by the colours resulting from the low early morning sun’

Another image from Camelia Czuchnicki, who explains: 'This low precipitation supercell formed late in the day over Broken Bow in  Nebraska in May 2013 - a stunning spectacle which we photographed for over an hour'

Another image from Camelia Czuchnicki, who explains: ‘This low precipitation supercell formed late in the day over Broken Bow in Nebraska in May 2013 – a stunning spectacle which we photographed for over an hour’

The Guanabura oil tanker being hit by lightning, taken by Graham Newman. He says: 'Shortly after taking the shot, the lightning cell closed on my position on the beach and I grabbed up my equipment and ran for my life'

The Guanabura oil tanker being hit by lightning, taken by Graham Newman. He says: ‘Shortly after taking the shot, the lightning cell closed on my position on the beach and I grabbed up my equipment and ran for my life’

Shrouded peak: Stephen Burt's Matterhorn Banner Cloud, taken in Switzerland on May 26, 2014, from the Gornergrat glacier

Shrouded peak: Stephen Burt’s Matterhorn Banner Cloud, taken in Switzerland on May 26, 2014, from the Gornergrat glacier

Ice sculpture on Plynlimon: Unbelievably, this hill resides in  Northern Ceredigion, Mid Wales. Photographer Allan Macdougall comments: 'This stile and wire fence became a thing of beauty with the glowing translucent fluting of the ice'

Ice sculpture on Plynlimon: Unbelievably, this hill resides in Northern Ceredigion, Mid Wales. Photographer Allan Macdougall comments: ‘This stile and wire fence became a thing of beauty with the glowing translucent fluting of the ice’

Photographer Mat Robinson reveals: 'This was  between Tadcaster and York, away from the A64, with the sweep of the road acting as a perfect guide for the eye towards the centre of the storm'

Photographer Mat Robinson reveals: ‘This was between Tadcaster and York, away from the A64, with the sweep of the road acting as a perfect guide for the eye towards the centre of the storm’

Apparition: Steve M Smith took this photo in North Wales. He says: 'On the hills we were shrouded until late morning when a clear way emerged along the ridge towards Foel Fras in the Carneddau'

Apparition: Steve M Smith took this photo in North Wales. He says: ‘On the hills we were shrouded until late morning when a clear way emerged along the ridge towards Foel Fras in the Carneddau’

Mat Robinson says of his shot: 'I live in Sheffield and each year I challenge myself to be the first Peak District photographer to catch the new snow - this was the third successful attempt'

Mat Robinson says of his shot: ‘I live in Sheffield and each year I challenge myself to be the first Peak District photographer to catch the new snow – this was the third successful attempt’

Other-worldly: Scientist Michal Krzysztofowicz, who works for the British Antarctic Survey  in Antarctica, says 'this solar phenomenon was caused by diamond dust, where ice particles  cause the light to refract into a halo'

Other-worldly: Scientist Michal Krzysztofowicz, who works for the British Antarctic Survey in Antarctica, says ‘this solar phenomenon was caused by diamond dust, where ice particles cause the light to refract into a halo’

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)

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.

 

 

 

 

5 Places You Should Visit Before They Vanish

Our world is a vast and beautiful one, full of awe-inspiring landscapes. But Mother Nature is a cruel mistress and the powerful forces of erosion, rising seas, and the inevitable effects of tourism will render many of the current wonders of the world nearly unrecognizable in the next century. Here are five incredible locales around the world that you should visit immediately before they are lost to the passage of time and the savagery of climate change.

Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park, and Lake Sherburne. Montana. USA. Numerous glaciers are visible in this image.

Ed Reschke

Venice, Italy

Beautiful view of famous Grand Canal in Venice, ItalyiSailorr/Getty

This iconic city, hovering over a lagoon, is sinking rapidly. The canals that make up the streets of Venice rise 2 mm every year, submerging relics of history and ravaging architecture. Experts warn that without intervention, this city on stilts will disappear back into the Atlantic at an even faster rate, consumed by the rising sea levels of melting polar ice caps. Come get your fill of the beautiful cathedrals and gracious gondolas of Venice before the sea reclaims it.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Back side of the ruins of Machu Picchu and the mountain of Huayna Picchu. HDR image.Getty Images/Vetta

These Incan ruins have drawn adventurous tourists into the mountains of South America to marvel at an outstanding piece of archaeology for centuries. The forces of natural erosion have been accelerated by tourism and this landmark faces severe impact from increasing foot traffic. The Peruvian government recently proposed a cable car that would have cut out much of the intense hike up to the ruins, making the site instantly accessible to millions. Concerns about the impact of this project have caused officials to suspend the effort, but the future of Machu Picchu remains uncertain. Climb the steps to this ancient site to marvel at a miracle of ancient ingenuity before it’s ruined.

Madagascar, Africa

Sunrise over Avenue of the baobabs, MadagascarGetty Images/iStockphoto

Massive deforestation has left the unique animal population of this island nation vulnerable to extinction. Huddled off the coast of Africa, Madagascar has lush expanses of rain forest that are home to thousands of unique animal species as well as some of the oldest trees in the world, the ancient Baobabs. Experience and explore the joys of this outdoor paradise before the forests and their raucous inhabitants fade from existence.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Scenic view of Glacier National Park.Jordan Siemens/Getty

Perhaps you’ve heard that the ice caps are melting? Nowhere is that more apparent in the United States than in Glacier National Park. Estimates indicate that the glaciers that are part of the majestic beauty of this national landmark will disappear entirely in the next two decades. Go pitch a tent and soak up the view before the intense sunshine of our carbon footprint destroys it for good.

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is the worlds largest reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching forGetty Images/Vetta

Hidden from view beneath the waves, The Great Barrier Reef has been rapidly dying off. Nearly fifty percent of this once massive sprawl of coral is gone, ravaged by pollution and disease. Strap on your scuba gear and visit soon, but practice eco-tourism to keep the reef from continued degradation.

 

 

Thanks to Kaz Weida for Parachute. Kaz is a parenting and food blogger who has been hunting down the best Salt Lake City has to offer for the last decade. She speaks fluent sarcasm and has a penchant for all things vintage. You can find her blogging at asweetlittlelife.com.

 

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.

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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

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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

Alamy

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

Alamy

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.

 

 

The Best Hikes in the World

Conde Nast Traveler have rounded up 13 of the best hiking trails around the world perfect for your next adventure. Time to lace up your boots and hit the trail…

(All the beautiful images are from Getty.)


West Coast Trail

The 47-mile West Coast Trail was created in 1906 to save shipwreck survivors along the rocky west coast of Vancouver Island. Now, the trail, open for hiking May 1 through September 30, is so popular it even has its own reservation system.

Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail is the only way to access this rugged section of Kauai‘s coastline. Those who make the 11-mile hike are rewarded with access to the secluded Kalalau Beach.

Tour du Mont Blanc

The Tour du Mont Blanc covers more than 100 miles and passes through three countries: Switzerland, Italy, and France. (The circuit is also home to the ultra-marathon event, Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, where the winner usually finishes in about 20 hours.)

Sentiero Azzuro

Everyone knows Cinque Terre for its stunning views and quaint seaside villages, but it’s also home to the Sentiero Azzuro (or literally “Blue Trail”) that connects the villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare.

Appalachian Trail

The 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia all the way to Maine, crossing through 14 states. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee (pictured here) is home to 71 miles of trail.

Mount Kilimanjaro

Even though it’s more than 19,000-feet tall, Mount Kilimanjaro is billed as the “world’s tallest walkable mountain,” and with good reason—the peak requires no technical mountaineering skills to summit.

Torres del Paine

Chile’s Torres del Paine might be one of the world’s most popular trekking destinations, but it still earns a spot on our list for its icy glaciers, snow-covered mountains, crystalline lakes, and beautiful valleys. The ultra-ambitious can hike the Full Circuit—crossing the entire park—in nine days.

Bibbulmun Track

The Bibbulmun Track stretches for more than 600 miles along Western Australia‘s coast. The track, known for its mellow terrain, is particularly beautiful during autumn.

The Narrows

The Narrows trail follows the Virgin River for 16 miles through southwestern Utah’s breathtaking Zion Canyon. You’ll get wet, sure, but we think you’ll agree—it’s worth it.

El Choro Inca Trail

While Machu Picchu Inca Trail gets most of the glory in South America, savvy travelers have started seeking out less-touristed routes. The four-day El Choro trek traverses a 15,000-foot pass.

Santa Cruz Trek

The 30-mile Santa Cruz trek is one of the most popular routes in the Peruvian Andes. Beginning in the charming Peruvian town of Huaraz, the trek crosses the 15,580-foot Punta Union Pass.

Tongariro Northern Circuit

The Tongariro Northern Circuit encircles Mount Ngauruhoe, New Zealand’s most active volcano. In addition to craters and lava pits, hikers can also take in the scenic Emerald Lakes.

Israel National Trail

The Israel National Trail winds its way 600 miles across Israel, from the Lebanese border all the way to the Red Sea in the south, passing through ancient Roman ruins (pictured) and Judean Mountains in the process.

 

The GREAT outdoors: The spellbinding winners of a competition that asked travellers to photograph America’s National Parks

Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous – thanks Mail Online! – I love what ordinary human beings can do with a camera and nature…  😀

Ned


Goats [actually sheep] framed by the sunset, a grazing bison and the Milky Way dazzling the Badlands of South Dakota.

These breathtaking images are the prize-winning entries of a photographic competition run to capture the spellbinding beauty of America’s National Parks. 

Over 15,000 entries were submitted to the fifth Share the Experience Contest last year, with both travellers and amateur photographers sharing their favourite images from the 400 parks in the National Park system.

First place of $10,000 (£6,922) was awarded to Yang Lu, for a sunset shot at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah. This was followed by Koustubh Kulkarni’s picture taken at 49 Palms Trail at Joshua Tree National Park in California, in second place.

America’s National Park Service is currently in its centennial year and to celebrate is offering 16 days of free entry in 2016, the next dates being August 25 – 28. 

Here are the winning photographs that seek to inspire travellers to take advantage of the parks’ stunning landscapes.

Grand Prize Winner: First place of $10,000 (£6,922) was awarded to Yang Lu for this sunset shot at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah

Grand Prize Winner: First place of $10,000 (£6,922) was awarded to Yang Lu for this sunset shot at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah

Second Place Winner: This picture of Big Horn sheep was taken by Koustubh Kulkarni on the 49 Palms trail at Joshua Tree National Park, with the setting sun casting beautiful hues of orange, yellow, pink and blue over the flock

Fan Favourite Winner: Matthew Sorum submitted this image of a large bison grazing in Yellowstone National Park. It was highly commended

Fan Favourite Winner: Matthew Sorum submitted this image of a large bison grazing in Yellowstone National Park. It was highly commended

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.

D8CBRF

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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FLICKR/CHAFONSO

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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Wata51/Shutterstock

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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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.

The World’s Weirdest Travel Trends, Explained

You may not hear much about people travelling long distances for 120-degree weather or internationally renowned “phallus festivals”—but plenty of tourists are doing it. In an age of globalization and instant communication, these weird travel trends are coming into the spotlight more than ever before. Here’s what you should know about some of the world’s weirdest travel trends.  My strangest thanks to Smarter Travel.

The World's Weirdest Travel Trends, Explained

(Photo: Vera & Jean-Christophe via flickr/CC Attribution)


Extreme Heat Tourism

Extreme Heat Tourism

High season in Europe may have gotten so crowded it’s pushing the locals to extremes—including escaping to Death Valley’s record-breaking temperatures. A new crowd of heat-seeking travellers show up in American deserts each summer—so many that the National Parks Service opened up to ABC News last year about the overwhelming aroma of eggs that’s becoming increasingly common as heat-seeking visitors test the 120-plus degree weather (that’s 50 degree C) by frying eggs in the hot sun. Tourists have suffered heat stroke and even died of heat exhaustion hiking Death Valley in recent years, and the National Parks Service has been urging visitors to stay hydrated and consider the consequences of their heat-chasing travels.

Space Tourism

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No, I don’t mean signing up to colonize Mars—actual space travel is a bit more complicated than the space-themed tourism that’s on the cusp of a boom. Las Vegas is pioneering a new era of galaxy-inspired entertainment with a $2 billion Mars colony theme park in the works. Mars World is slated to have a Rover space tram, concert venues, and an animatronic petting zoo, and will likely open in 2021.

If you’re looking to get a bit closer than a theme park to the wonders of space, keep your eye on Virgin Galactic. Richard Branson’s Virgin Airlines created a spaceflight company that’s developing commercial spacecraft it hopes to soon have in orbit. Currently, about 700 paying customers are supporting the effort in an attempt to get a spot on one of the first Virgin Galactic human spaceflights. The price is likely to be sky-high.

Conception Tourism

 Conception Tourism 

Couples seeking answers to fertility woes have created their own odd market of travel—conception tourism, which can range from phallic-themed travel and festivals to visiting sites rumored to have worked miracles on barren couples.

Kanamaya Shrine in Japan has an extremely odd backstory that includes a woman cured of a phallus-rejecting reproductive organ, and is consequently frequented by fertility-seekers. It’s also the site of an annual “Penis Festival” that attracts international conception tourists. The phallic celebration is on the weirder end of this trend, however—other conception sites include the Miracle Chair of Naples, Italy; and Osun Sacred Grove in Nigeria. Both bear folk stories that claim their magic can increase or correct a woman’s fertility, so it seems there’s a spectrum of conception attractions for this niche.

Movie Fandom Vacations

Movie Fandom Vacations

Modern-era movie fandoms are creating booming business beyond Hollywood itself— Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings have led hoards to the United Kingdom and New Zealand, respectively. Whether it’s wandering Hogwarts at Gloucester Castle in England or milling about Hobbiton’s theatrical set in costume in rural New Zealand, fans of acclaimed movies and books are likely to find a way to visit their beloved, albeit imaginary, world.

With space tourism on the horizon, it’s almost impossible not to wonder if Star Wars will soon take its tourists beyond the new Disney World attractions and filming sites and into the galaxy.

War Tourism

War Tourism

With conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan raging on, there’s apparently a group of travellers heading to the very battle grounds refugees have been fleeing. Warzone tourism is alive and well thanks to tour companies that will actually take people to the front lines of conflicts for an “adrenaline rush.” A company called War Zone Tours, for example, will take participants to Iraq, Lebanon, Mexico, and different countries in Africa in an effort to show “what is really going on in the places you had previously just seen on the news.”

This trend calls into question whether or not tourists heading to warzones are creating a spectacle of harrowing places that see high death tolls and endless destruction. Some war tourism operations have even been criticized for attracting potential fighters of ISIS and other terror groups, according to CNN. While flocking to death and destruction for entertainment may seem tasteless, there’s certainly an increasing market for it.

Slum Tours

Slum Tours

With the Olympics coming up in Brazil, Rio is likely to see tourists in its Olympic stadiums as well as in its favelas, or slums. Touring dangerous, overcrowded neighborhoods is nothing new—India’s largest slum, Dharavi, has seen its fair share of wealthy Western tourists for years now. But the trend seems to be gaining momentum.

Locals often say heading into impoverished areas for tourism is akin to making humans into zoo animals, while those who participate are organizing tours that claim to give back to the communities they explore. It’s unclear if educating yourself about those less fortunate helps or hurts that population, but at the very least you should ensure that whatever money you’re spending in a slum goes back to its people and not those touting it as a tourist attraction.

Getting Off the “Eaten Path”

 Getting Off the "Eaten Path"

Bizarre food is one thing, but near-poisonous delicacies and live meals are another. Eating wriggling insects in South America and deadly puffer fish in Asia is a trend that’s arisen with the increased popularity of authentic, local travel experiences. This trend has also been possibly fueled by likes of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, who have eaten poisonous and raw delicacies on television. Note that getting off the “eaten path” could cost you your life if you’re ingesting ill-prepared furu, a partially poisonous fish; or accidentally popping seeds of ackee, actual “forbidden fruit” in Jamaica.

Cannabis Travel

Cannabis Travel

While it’s not exactly “weird” anymore, the rise of legal cannabis in cities like Denver and Seattle are to thank for an immense rise in tourism, especially following tightening of marijuana legislation for tourists in pot capitals like Amsterdam. Travelling to toke was normal in Amsterdam until the Dutch government recently reclassified cannabis as a hard drug when it comes to visitors. Now, however, Americans don’t need to leave the country for legal weed—getting high in Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, and Alaska is completely legal now, and 10 more states are voting on the possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana in late 2016. A vacation rental site that calls itself the “Airbnb of THC” even boasts marijuana-friendly accommodations, so a number of cities in the U.S. may be turning into the new Amsterdam.

 

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…

https://assets3.thrillist.com/v1/image/1685020/size/tl-horizontal_main/the-worst-things-nobody-tells-you-about-the-countries-they-visit

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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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

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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.

A Heartfelt Post for Valentine’s Day! <3

Hey there all you romantics: I spotted this piece in the Mail Online Travel – just perfect for Feb 14th.
Check it out… ❤ ❤ ❤

Ned


It appears that love is not just in the air, but also hidden in natural wonders all over the planet. 

From peaceful atolls, vibrant islands and rocky cliffs there are heart-shapes surprises to be discovered among the landscape. 

Sir Richard Branson is even a fan of the phenomenon, forking out for a heart-shaped island resort in Australia.

Romantics may wish to spend a day exploring Croatia’s perfectly shaped paradise, Galesnjak, which received international fame after it was captured by a Google Earth satellite in 2009. 

Travellers can also visit Tupai, a tiny atoll located just north of Bora Bora. There are flights available for tours and couples can even tie the knot on the stunning island.

Here are some of the most spectacular natural wonders – that are sure to capture your heart.

Heart of the ocean: If you are lucky enough to get a helicopter ride over Australia's Great Barrier Reef you should look out for Heart Reef, in Hardy Reef, which is a stunning composition of coral that has naturally formed into the shape of a heart 

Heart of the ocean: If you are lucky enough to get a helicopter ride over Australia’s Great Barrier Reef you should look out for Heart Reef, in Hardy Reef, which is a stunning composition of coral that has naturally formed into the shape of a heart

Sir Richard Branson owns the tranquil Makepeace Island off Australia's Sunshine Coast. The secluded sanctuary offers 20 explorers the chance to stay in luxury villas with access to a lagoon pool and island bar

Sir Richard Branson owns the tranquil Makepeace Island off Australia’s Sunshine Coast. The secluded sanctuary offers 20 explorers the chance to stay in luxury villas with access to a lagoon pool and island bar

At sunset the silhouette of this heart-shaped hole in the rocky cliffs of Calanques de Piana on Corsica Island, France, is breathtaking

At sunset the silhouette of this heart-shaped hole in the rocky cliffs of Calanques de Piana on Corsica Island, France, is breathtaking

Contrasting against the lush green mountain, this bright turquoise heart-shaped lake is located near Ala-Kul Lake, Tien Shan, Kyrgyzstan

Contrasting against the lush green mountain, this bright turquoise heart-shaped lake is located near Ala-Kul Lake, Tien Shan, Kyrgyzstan

This large formation of vegetation in New Caledonia is called the Coeur or Heart of Voh. It was made famous in a photograph taken in 1990 and published a few years later on the book cover Earth from Heaven, by French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand

This large formation of vegetation in New Caledonia is called the Coeur or Heart of Voh. It was made famous in a photograph taken in 1990 and published a few years later on the book cover Earth from Heaven, by French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Heart Island in Galesnjak, Croatia, first gained worldwide recognition in 2009 when Google Earth captured its unique shape with this satellite image. Galesnjak is uninhabited and does not have any tourist facilities, but visitors can travel by boat for a day with their loved one

Heart Island in Galesnjak, Croatia, first gained worldwide recognition in 2009 when Google Earth captured its unique shape with this satellite image. Galesnjak is uninhabited and does not have any tourist facilities, but visitors can travel by boat for a day with their loved one

Travellers can also visit Tupai, a tiny atoll located just north of Bora Bora, with flights available to tour or tie the knot on the stunning island 

Travellers can also visit Tupai, a tiny atoll located just north of Bora Bora, with flights available to tour or tie the knot on the stunning island

In Germany there is a heart-shaped island in Kleine Muritz Lake, perfect for lovers wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the world

In Germany there is a heart-shaped island in Kleine Muritz Lake, perfect for lovers wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the world

At the foot of Dunsinane Hill in Perthshire, Scotland, surrounded by fields, is a cute heart-shaped pond

At the foot of Dunsinane Hill in Perthshire, Scotland, surrounded by fields, is a cute heart-shaped pond

Those travelling by boat may not be able to fully appreciate this small heart-shaped island in Germany located where the Ruhr River joins the Kemnade reservoir, as it is best viewed from above

Those travelling by boat may not be able to fully appreciate this small heart-shaped island in Germany located where the Ruhr River joins the Kemnade reservoir, as it is best viewed from above

Have the ultimate romantic retreat on Tavarua Island in Fiji. The 29-acre island is surrounded by a stunning coral reef

Have the ultimate romantic retreat on Tavarua Island in Fiji. The 29-acre island is surrounded by a stunning coral reef

Located in the Bavarian Alps, this beautiful heart-shaped islands sits on Germany’s Lake Walchensee

Located in the Bavarian Alps, this beautiful heart-shaped islands sits on Germany’s Lake Walchensee

Those flying above the British Columbia landscape in Canada can catch a glimpse of this unusually carved lake

Those flying above the British Columbia landscape in Canada can catch a glimpse of this unusually carved lake

In 2013 it was rumoured that Angelina Jolie bought the heart-shaped Petra Island near New York as a 50th birthday gift for partner Brad Pitt but this was later disputed 

In 2013 it was rumoured that Angelina Jolie bought the heart-shaped Petra Island near New York as a 50th birthday gift for partner Brad Pitt but this was later disputed

 

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    This scenic property in Pas-de-Calais, Louches, France, comes with its own heart-shaped lake - ideal for romantic strolls

    This scenic property in Pas-de-Calais, Louches, France, comes with its own heart-shaped lake – ideal for romantic strolls

    Those who venture up Austrian Alps should look out for a glimpse of this heart-shaped glacier lake during the trip

    Those who venture up Austrian Alps should look out for a glimpse of this heart-shaped glacier lake during the trip

    Water in this reservoir in Goldried, High Tauern National Park, Austria, is collected in the shape of a heart

    Water in this reservoir in Goldried, High Tauern National Park, Austria, is collected in the shape of a heart

    Lake Pupuke is a heart-shaped freshwater lake occupying a volcanic crater between the suburbs of Takapuna and Milford on the North Shore of Auckland, New Zealand 

    Lake Pupuke is a heart-shaped freshwater lake occupying a volcanic crater between the suburbs of Takapuna and Milford on the North Shore of Auckland, New Zealand

     

 

7 Places You Shouldn’t Visit on Valentine’s Day

Whether we’re single or dating, many of us use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to get away.  But more often than not, we wind up giving in to overpriced food and accommodation in some of the world’s most hideously touristy destinations.  Don’t be like that this year: on the most romantic day of the year steer clear of these seven destinations that simply aren’t worth visiting.  – Ned

7 Places You Should Never Go on Valentine's Day

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)


Las Vegas, NV

Las Vegas, NV

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

The Las Vegas Strip is the most visited tourist attraction in the world, drawing in nearly 40 million visitors a year.  And in 2015 it also happened to be the most popular destination for celebrating Valentine’s Day, despite hotel rates surging by 62% according to a report by Hipmunk.

My advice?  Skip the casino chaos and costly hotels and take a road trip to one of Nevada’s smaller, cheaper, and less congested towns where you can still find plenty to do.

Where to go instead: With mountains as its backdrop, Pahrump Nevada is a small desert town near the California border, an hour west of Vegas.  Here you can enjoy wine tastings at Pahrump Valley Winery and the Sanders Family Winery, the only two wineries in Southern Nevada, go for scenic hikes and eat in eclectic restaurants.  And if you’re looking for a taste of Vegas, you can gamble in the Pahrump casinos – far less crowded and just as fun!

New York City

New York City

(Photo: Thinkstock/Photodisc)

From ice skating and Broadway to all-star restaurants and comfortable cafes, New York City is one of the most romantic destinations in the States.  And considering it’s home to two of the three most visited tourist sites in the entire world – Times Square (number two) and Central Park (number three) – it’s also one of the busiest.

New York is one of the top five destinations people consider visiting on Valentine’s Day, and among its tens of thousands of hotels, roughly two-thirds are designated “romantic” by Hipmunk – a classification based on neighbourhood, dining scene, and amenities like pool, spa, and balcony.  Anyone looking to spend February 14th in one of these properties can expect to pay up to 70% more.

Where to go instead: Boston also has a lively nightlife, top-notch restaurants, unique neighborhoods and many free attractions.  But while Boston can be busy and pricey too, you’ll still save money if you choose it over the Big Apple.

Food in Boston is 8% cheaper than in New York City, according to Expatistan, a website that compares cost-of-living and transportation expenses.  Getting around in Boston, which includes cab fares, public transportation and gas, costs 27% less than New York.  And if you’re looking for a hotel in Boston on Valentine’s Day, hotel rates in average $184 per night compared to $273 in NYC.

Paris

Paris

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

It doesn’t get any dreamier than Paris.  Lovebirds gather from all over the world to soak in the city’s classic architecture, iconic monuments, bridges and parks, world-class dining and theatre.  Paris is romantic all year round but even more so in the spring and summer, so save it for another time when you can dine outside and wander along the Seine.

Where to go instead: Ditch Paris (just this once) and head to Dijon, the capitol city of the Burgundy region and less than a two-hour train ride away.  Full of cultural sights, old-world charm, marvellous restaurants and shopping and some of the country’s best wineries, Dijon is a lively city that’s also much more affordable.

London

London

(Photo: Thinkstock/Image Source)

Romantic strolls along the Thames, cruises, cozy pubs, panoramic city views and iconic sites are only some of the reasons why lovers flock to London, but given that it’s one of the world’s most visited cities and a simply huge tourist magnet, it’s safe to assume that the UK’s capital city is one place you don’t want to be on Valentine’s Day!

Where to go instead: You can find plenty to do in the hip seaside city of Brighton, situated on the south coast of England and just a 50-minute train ride from the capital.  It offers the perfect mix of city life and laid-back beach lifestyle and boasts loads of food, art, and music festivals, a scenic waterfront and tons of shops and pubs – plus of course the world-famous Brighton Pier.  This globally up-and-coming destination is a cheaper and a far less crowded alternative to the bustling city of London, and it even made it onto TripAdvisor’s list of Top Destinations on the Rise for 2016.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Niagara Falls is the fifth-most visited tourist attraction in the world with 22.5 million annual visits, according to Travel Weekly.  Sure, the famous falls are impressive: admiring them with your significant other might even be deemed romantic, but don’t drive out of your way just to visit because that romantic high won’t last long.

Big crowds are a certainty on Valentine’s Day, and hotels close to the falls become super pricey.  Plus there’s nothing romantic about the fast foods joints, arcades and tacky souvenir shops all around.

Where to go instead: Take in scenic water views in the charming lakeside town of Canandaigua, less than a two-hour drive from Niagara Falls and just 45 minutes west of the Finger Lakes.  Here, you can walk the pier along Canandaigua Lake; stroll through the Sonnenburg Gardens and Mansion Historic State Park; and enjoy wine tastings, art exhibits, and – frankly – some peace and quiet.

Reno, NV

Reno, NV

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Reno is a popular “anti-Valentine’s Day” destination, known for its long running Vampire pub crawl (designed for those who think Valentine’s Day sucks!)  But ironically, it’s actually the most marked-up location in the USA to book over the holiday.

Last year, Hipmunk compared Reno’s hotel prices over Valentine’s Day weekend to the weekend before and found that rates spiked by a whopping 114%!  You’ll also be forced into overpaying for pre-fixed multi-course dinners in Reno’s overcrowded resorts and casinos.

Where to go instead: Head south of Reno and take a 75-minute drive to the small town of Markleeville, a popular stop for hot spring seekers and recreationists.  Mountain-style lodging, excellent food and warm hospitality are just a few of the things you’ll experience here.  With Grover Hot Springs State Park located just four miles west of the town, you can also cross-country ski, snowshoe, hike and warm up in the hot springs at the park’s winter campground.

Venice

Venice

(Photo: Thinkstock/Image Source)

Winding canals, romantic gondola rides, waterfront restaurants and postcard-perfect architecture make Venice the quintessential couple’s getaway.  But while a Venetian-style Valentine’s Day sounds like it would be nothing less than magical, the city is also massively overrun by tourists, making it difficult even to manoeuvre through the city on Feb 14th.

Where to go instead: Save yourself from the congestion and head to Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto region of northern Italy.  Here you’ll find more romantic bridges and canals, just an hour train ride from Venice.  Bassano is far less crowded and far less pricey than its watery counterpart, and it’s equally scenic.  Set on the Brenta River beneath the Venetian Prealps, you can soak in mountain and water views, enjoy authentic local Italian cuisine and stroll through this mediaeval city’s streets enjoying its many historic sites, such as the 11th Century cathedral (duomo), the castle and the wooden covered Bridge, or Ponte degli Alpini,

 

Happy Valentine’s Day lover-people!  ❤

 

The countries that don’t exist

This is another brilliant piece from my NFW (New Favourite Website) – BBC Future.


There really is a secret world of hidden independent nations, with their own populations, governments – and football leagues. In fact, you’ve almost certainly visited one without realising.

https://i1.wp.com/ichef.bbci.co.uk/wwfeatures/1600_640/images/live/p0/37/36/p03736sx.jpg

(Credit: Malou Sinding/ Flickr)

When I first see Nick Middleton, he is surrounded by globes and atlases showing the most exotic places on the planet. We are in the basement of Stanfords, London’s largest travel bookshop, visited by such intrepid explorers as Florence Nightingale, Ernest Shackleton and Ranulph Fiennes.

Middleton, however, is here to talk about countries missing from the vast majority of books and maps for sale here. He calls them the “countries that don’t exist”, but although their names may seem fantastical – Atlantium, Christiania, and Elgaland-Vargaland – they are all real places, occupied by fervidly patriotic citizens. In fact, you have almost certainly, unknowingly, visited one.

The globe, it turns out, is full of small (and not so small) regions that have all the trappings of a real country – a fixed population, a government, a flag, and a currency. Some can even issue you a biometric passport. Yet for various reasons they are not allowed representatives in the United Nations, and are ignored on most world maps.

Middleton, a geographer at the University of Oxford, has now charted these hidden lands in his new book, An Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist (Macmillan, 2015). Flicking through its pages, it feels like you have entered a parallel world with a vibrant, forgotten history and a rich culture. This parallel world even has its own international football league.

(Credit: Raymond Brooke / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Christiania is a country within a city (Credit: Raymond Brooke / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Middleton’s quest began, appropriately enough, with Narnia. He was reading CS Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe with his six-year-old daughter, and the main character Lucy had just passed through the mothballs and fur coats into a magical land. Something about the whimsy appealed to Middleton. As a geographer, he realised that you don’t have to use magic to visit a country that “doesn’t exist” in the eyes of most other states. Even so, he didn’t expect them to be quite so widespread. “Once I started looking into them, I was amazed by how many there are,” he says. “I could have filled the book several times over.”

The problem, he says, is that we don’t have a watertight definition of what a country is. “Which as a geographer, is kind of shocking,” he says. Some cite a treaty signed in 1933, during the International Conference of American States in Montevideo, Uruguay. The “Montevideo Convention” declares that to become a country, a region needs the following features: a defined territory, a permanent population, a government, and “the capacity to enter into relations with other states”.

Yet many countries that meet these criteria aren‘t members of the United Nations (commonly accepted as the final seal of a country’s statehood). Consider Taiwan – which held a seat in the General Assembly until 1971, until mainland China entered and took over its position. Even the United Kingdom is a somewhat strange case, Middleton says. Within our law, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are considered individual states. We have our own sports teams and compete against each other – but we only have one shared seat in the UN. “So is England a country? By this criterion, no,” says Middleton. (Such questions came to a head with Scotland’s recent referendum.)

In the end, England and Scotland didn’t make it into the pages of his Atlas. For his shortlist, Middleton focused on the countries that meet the Montevideo convention, with a fixed territory, population, and government, but which have no representation in the General Assembly. (Although many of them are instead members of the “Unrepresented United Nations – an alternative body to champion their rights.)

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

A handful of the names will be familiar to anyone who has read a newspaper: territories such as Taiwan, Tibet, Greenland, and Northern Cyprus. The others are less famous, but they are by no means less serious; Middleton discusses many examples of indigenous populations hoping to reassert their sovereignty. One of the most troubling histories, he says, concerns the Republic of Lakotah (with a population of 100,000). Bang in the centre of the United States of America (just east of the Rocky Mountains), the republic is an attempt to reclaim the sacred Black Hills for the Lakota Sioux tribe.

Their plight began in the 18th Century, and by 1868 they had finally signed a deal with the US government that promised the right to live on the Black Hills. Unfortunately, they hadn’t accounted for a gold rush – and the government soon forgot about its deal as prospectors swarmed over the sacred land. The Lakota would have to wait more than a century for an apology, when, in 1998, a judge at the Supreme Court concluded that “a more ripe and rank case of dishonest dealings may never be found in our history”. The Court decided to compensate the Lakota Sioux (in nearly $600m) but they have refused to take the cash. “They say if we take the money, it’ll be like saying the crime was alright,” says Middleton.  Instead, in 2007 a delegation marched to Washington to declare their formal withdrawal from the US, and they continue to mount a legal battle for their independence.

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

Similar battles are being fought across every continent. There’s Barotseland, an African kingdom with a population of 3.5 million that has mounted a case to leave Zambia, and Ogoniland, which is attempting to disengage from Nigeria; both declared independence in 2012. In Australia, meanwhile, the Republic of Murrawarri was founded in 2013, after the indigenous tribe wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth II asking her to prove her legitimacy to govern their land. The Murrawarri gave her 30 days to reply – and with nothing but a deafening silence, they formally reasserted their claim to rule their ancient homeland.

Not all the countries featured in Middleton’s book have such deep historical roots – often, they are established by rather eccentric individuals hoping to set up a new, fairer state. Middleton points to Hutt River, in Australia, a small “principality” set up by a family of farmers hoping to escape the government’s strict grain quotas; they soon developed their own royal titles, currency and postal service. “They have a thriving stamp business,” says Middleton (although initially, letters had to be flown through Canada). After decades of struggle, the government gave up the fight and the family no longer have to pay Australian taxes.

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

In Europe, you can find Forvik, a tiny Shetland Isle founded by an Englishman (from Kent) to promote transparent governance, Sealand, off the British coast, and Christiania, an enclave in the heart of Copenhagen. The latter country was formed by a group of squatters occupying a former army barracks in 1971. On 26 September that year, they declared it independent, with its own “direct democracy”, in which each of the inhabitants (now numbering 850) could vote on any important matter. So far, the Danish government has turned something of a blind eye to the activities; smoking cannabis, for instance, is legal in Christiania, but outlawed in the rest of the Denmark (though the Christianians themselves have decided to ban harder drugs).

Despite these more eccentric examples, Middleton wouldn’t consider trying to set up a country himself. “Having trawled through so many serious stories of yearning and oppression, I don’t think it’s appropriate to take it too light heartedly,” he says. “For so many people it’s a matter of life or death.” Despite their efforts, he suspects that only a very few will eventually gain wider recognition. “If I had to plump for any, it would be Greenland,” he says – the autonomous region of Denmark that already has self-rule, often considered the first step to formal recognition.

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

(Credit: Adam Proctor)

But given our difficulties even defining what a country is, perhaps we need to rethink the concept of the nation-state altogether? He points to Antarctica, a continent shared peacefully among the international community, as a sign that we don’t necessarily have to slice up land as if it were a giant pizza.

Perhaps this is just the start. The last pages of Middleton’s Atlas contain two radical examples that question everything we think we mean by the word ‘country’.

Consider Atlantium. Its capital, Concordia, for instance, is based in a remote rural province of Australia – it is occupied by more kangaroos than people. But that’s just its administrative quarters – Atlantium is “non-territorial”, meaning that anyone, anywhere, can become a citizen. As its website proclaims: “In an age where people increasingly are unified by common interests and purposes across – rather than within – traditional national boundaries, Atlantium offers an alternative to the discriminatory historic practice of assigning nationality to individuals on the basis of accidents of birth or circumstance.”

Then there’s Elgaland-Vargaland, which was thought up by two Swedish artists – and is meant to consist of all the areas of “No Man’s Land” across the world, including the land marking the borders between other nations and any bits of the sea outside another country’s territorial waters; any time you have travelled abroad, you have passed through Elgaland-Vargaland. In fact, of all the countries Middleton has looked at, this is the closest to his starting point, Narnia – since the artists claim that any time you enter a dream, or let your mind wander, you have also crossed a border and temporarily taken a trip into Elgaland-Vargaland.

Atlantium and Elgaland-Vargaland may be a little too fanciful for most people to take very seriously – Middleton admires them more as an attempt to provoke wider debate on international relations. “They all raise the possibility that countries as we know them are not the only legitimate basis for ordering the planet,” he wrote in his book.

One thing’s certain – the world is in constant flux. “No one my age thought that the Soviet Union would fall to bits – there can be big unexpected changes,” he says. New countries are always being born, while old ones vanish. In the deep future, every territory we know could eventually become a country that doesn’t exist.

 

 

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

 

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

Photograph by Guillaume Flandre, National Geographic Your Shot

Photograph by Guillaume Flandre, National Geographic Your Shot

Machu Picchu, Peru

Best for: Hikers who want a bit more action in their archaeological experience

Distance: 1,181 vertical feet

The hike to Machu Picchu, the Inca ruins high in Peru’s Andes that were abandoned 500 years ago, has been written up and lauded in countless best hike and travel features. And the destination is, no-surprise, filled with tourists seeking enlightenment on high. For good reason: The UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most significant archaeological and still sacred sites on the planet. It’s also perched in a spectacular spot on what feels like the backbone of the world. The great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote of it: “In you, like two parallel lines, / the cradle of the lightning-bolt and man / rocked together in a thorny wind.” Who wouldn’t want to go?

Despite its lofty reputation, the actual Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu is not all that thrilling, depending on how you decide to do it, and many hop on board a guided tour provided by anyone from REI to local operations (many more arrive via train). You may wheeze from the elevation and steep climbs and have to navigate thousands of stone steps, but it’s not that scary. Huayna Picchu is. The 8,924-foot, iconic pyramid peak juts up over 1,000 feet above Machu Picchu and requires a sketchy scramble that includes exposed ledges, stepping rocks sticking out of the cliff with only the abyss below, cable handholds, and slippery stone staircases. But it is worth it for the view out above the ruins and the surrounding Andes. The ruins at the top are thought to be those of Machu Picchu’s high priest, who would greet the sun from this very spot.

Thrill Factor: Huayna Picchu, also spelled Wayna Picchu, is steep with serious or deadly consequences if you fall in the wrong spot. Luckily, only 400 people are allowed to climb it each day, cutting down on the congestion a bit. That also means that quite a few people do successfully climb it, so it’s more fun than real danger.

Take It Easy: Avoiding Huayna Picchu and simply taking one of the various routes to Machu Picchu is enough adventure for most. Try the lesser known Ancascocha Trail (which we featured here).

Mount Huashan

Photograph by Vivian Lee

Photograph by Vivian Lee

Huashan National Park, China

Best for: Pilgrims and daredevils

Distance: 7.5 miles from the gate to the top of South Peak

The path along rickety planks hanging out over the void on China’s Mount Huashan have become a viral video sensation, showing up on “Craziest Hikes” lists everywhere. But that moniker is a bit of a misconception. The perilous, die-if-you-fall hike that looks like it was built by Spanky and the Little Rascals is just one small path on the massive Huashan, which is the westernmost of China’s Five Great Mountains (each of which is named for the cardinal directions and a center peak), ancient imperial pilgrimage sites sacred to Taoists and still drawing spiritual travelers and tourists to the temples perched on them. Huashan is not a single summit but a complex of five major peaks, the highest of which is the 7,087-foot South Peak. The Chang Kong Zhan Dao (or Sky Plank Road) is the boldest way access to the South Peak (which itself consists of three subpeaks). It’s a loony, fun ride of ladders, foot-wide wooden boards, cables, and steps hacked into the cliff—all hanging in the sky. You can rent via ferrata-type gear to protect yourself as you navigate it.

Ascending Huashan is a walk into the spiritual history of the mountain and China itself. For millennia—before the cable cars and hordes of tourists who swarm here now along many different paths—the way up Huashan was supposed to be difficult, testing the pilgrim who wished to find the way (or the Tao). Each of the granitic peaks can be accessed by a different hike (and two of them by cable car) or by a new loop trail at the top. Now, just because the Chang Kong Zhan Dao is not necessary to get to the top of all the summits doesn’t mean that the other ways up are cozy. The hikes often require ridiculously steep stairs (some of which have been chained off) and holding on to chain railings, on which you may notice hundred of locks attached. These are charms left by couples and families as wishes for love and good luck.

Thrill Factor: The Chang Kong Zhan Dao is truly dangerous, even with safety gear. The rest of the mountain is accessed by thousands of tourists (a record 47,000 visited the site in one day in 2013) in varying states of fitness, so you should be able to reach the top even if you don’t want to scare yourself. As of 2014, the Chinese government has also opened a new trail on the top of the peak to make it easier to visit all the peaks and just implemented an $8.3 million-command center so it can monitor the trails through video cameras and keep them from becoming over-congested.

Take It Easy: Many visitors hike to the top of the East Peak in the dark to catch the sunrise. It’s not easy but nowhere near as crazy as the Chang Kong Zhan Dao. And of course, the easiest way to the top is to ride the cable car to the North Peak (Yuntai Feng or Cloud Terrace Peak) or, as of 2013, West Peak (Lian Hua Feng or Lotus Peak), from which you can access trails to explore the others, if you wish.

Lion’s Head

Photograph by Heiko Meyer, laif/Redux

Photograph by Heiko Meyer, laif/Redux

Table Mountain National Park, South Africa

Best for: A thrill with a view close to a major city

Distance: 2.5 miles round-trip

Cape Town may be the most beautiful city on the planet—it’s tucked at the foot of the sheer cliffs of Table Mountain, blessed with a Mediterranean climate and world-class surfing, and perched on the austral tip of Africa. One of the best ways to enjoy the place is to hike from the streets of town to the summit of Lion’s Head, a prominent sandstone bluff that soars straight up out of the city. Though it’s a separate tower from the main mass of the larger Table Mountain, Lion’s Head was once connected to it; erosion has left the 2,195-foot block standing separate as a prominent sentinel over the city.

Lion’s Head is for the most part a scenic, if a bit strenuous (it climbs 2,000 vertical feet in just over a mile), hike … until the end. To reach the summit block, a series of chains, metal rungs, and ladders scales the vertical rock that makes up the prominent, bare top. It’s not difficult—but you would not want to fall. Beyond the adrenaline rush, take some leisurely time to enjoy the place, too. The lush vegetation here is Fynbos, the Afrikaans word for the endemic flora, scrub bush, and wildflowers you will only find here (rooibos tea comes from some of these plants). And on the best days, a soft sea breeze gives you some relief from the huffing and puffing of the hike. It’s a local tradition to climb Lion’s Head during a full moon, when the thrill-and-chill factor goes up and, at the top, the pale light reflects off the waves of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Table Bay on the other with the lights of Cape Town spread out under your feet.

Thrill Factor: Plenty of people do this hike every day, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Only attempt the rungs and chains to the top of Lion’s Head if you are comfortable with exposure and your skills—the only protection is hanging on to the metal. Hikers have died here. The chains were upgraded in 2012, however, making for a safer, but still risky, method of ascent.

Take It Easy: There is actually an easier, alternate path around the chains to the top of Lion’s Head—less of a thrill, but much safer (especially if you are on a full moon hike).

Kakum Canopy Walk

Photograph by Matt Griggs, Alamy

Photograph by Matt Griggs, Alamy

Kakum National Park, Ghana

Best for: Observing one of the most biodiverse rain forests on the planet from the heights of the canopy

Distance: 1,150 feet

Created by locals concerned about preserving the virgin beauty of Ghana’s dense biodiverse rain forest, Kakum National Park has been drawing more and more tourists from abroad ever since it was created in 1992. And those visitors come to catch a glimpse of some of the place’s rare wildlife. African forest elephants tramp through the underbrush. Civets and leopards hunt in the dark of night. Bongos and little duikers browse between the trees. The treetops of Kakum are home to colobus and endangered Roloway monkeys. And 200 species of birds and 550 species of butterflies flit through the high branches. The best way to check out this paradise? Take a hike in the sky.

Built in 1995 and the only hanging bridge of its type in Africa, the park’s canopy walk links seven giant trees through a series of floating nets and walkways dangling a hundred feet off the forest floor. The suspended path is just wide enough to walk with two feet. In the middle, you may feel like a denizen of the high canopy, lightly shaking side to side in the midst of the branches with the predators on the ground far below. You are not guaranteed to see wildlife on the walk (though if you are lucky and quiet you will), so if you want to get a guaranteed glimpse of the native fauna up close, head to the Monkey Forest Resort, a nearby private sanctuary. For the protection of the forest, canopy walkers need to be accompanied by a park guide—a good thing since these locals can teach much about the flora and fauna in their backyard, as well as what it takes to save them.

Thrill Factor: Unless you are afraid of heights, this is a fun way to immerse yourself in the rain forest.

Take It Easy: If hanging high above the forest floor is not your thing, you can also take a walk at ground level, starting at the visitor center. As with the canopy walk, hikers must be accompanied by a guide.

Low’s Peak Via Ferrata

Photograph by Christian Kober, Corbis

Photograph by Christian Kober, Corbis

Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia

Best for: The shortest way to the top of Malaysia’s highest peak

Distance: 1,198 vertical feet

Jutting out of the surrounding Borneo rain forest, 13,435-foot Mount Kinabalu (or Low’s Peak) is not just the highest point in Malaysia, it also ranks number 20 on the list of mountains with the most prominence—it rises to that height straight from sea level, a similar prominence to higher peaks including Mount Rainier and K2. The granitic uplift is also a rare treat, providing an alpine environment close to the Equator, and the alpine meadows on the high peak support one of the highest concentrations of endemic plant life on the planet, including the world’s highest concentration of wild orchids.

The hike up this monster is grueling no matter how you try it, but the most fun way to the top is on what the park bills as the highest via ferrata in the world. The route is a true fun ride—it heads straight up sheer cliffs, crosses swaying suspension bridges, and requires nerve to climb hand over hand on metal rungs in the rock face with nothing but open air all around.

Thrill Factor: Though it dishes out a ton of gripping moments with high exposure, this is not a particularly difficult or inherently dangerous via ferrata. It is rated AD, Assez Difficile or fairly difficult, on the French via ferrata rating system and 3 on the Fletcher/Smith system. Mountain Torq, the company that runs tours on the via ferrata, guides the trip and requires participants to be age 17 or over. The elevation gain from sea level can be rough, too. Most hikers take two days to scale the peak.

Take It Easy: You do not have to take the via ferrata to summit Mount Kinabalu. Both the Timpohon (5 miles round-trip) and Mesilau (7.6 miles round-trip) trails will take you on tours to the lodge at Laban Rata and 10,735 feet. From here, the intrepid can hike the standard Summit Trail, a difficult 3.6-mile, 2,625-vertical-foot round trip that does require navigating steep ledges and staircases. There is also an easier version of the via ferrata, called the Walk the Torq, rated PD, Peu Difficile or “just a bit” difficult, on the French system, that also runs to the summit. All hikes and via ferrata ascents require a guide.

Chadar Trek

Photograph by Thomas Boehm, age fotostock/Alamy

Photograph by Thomas Boehm, age fotostock/Alamy

Zanskar River Valley, India

Best for: Those who want to trek the Himalaya in winter

Distance: 45.4 miles round-trip

When winter takes hold of the distant Ladakh, or “Land of High Passes,” region of India in the Himalaya, there’s only one way to travel from the high, lonesome villages of the Zanskar Valley to the region’s capital city of Leh—walking down a deep, dark gorge on the frozen ice of the Zanskar River itself. That’s the gist of this extreme trek (“chadar” means “the frozen white blanket” in the local dialect), for which tour companies offer trips of nine days to three weeks to travel upriver to the Buddhist monastery of Karsha deep in the valley, and back. In most places, that chadar is solid, though a frozen river is a moody thing so at others it shifts or even breaks open into frigid, fast water, requiring arduous bypasses on snow and slippery rock. Temperatures average below freezing and can drop as low as minus 30º F at night. Along the way, trekkers sleep in caves, just as the local porters who have carried down trading goods (historically butter, which needed to be moved in the cold) and supplies for centuries do. It’s a committing trip—there’s nowhere to go up above the gorge, since paths and roads are shut down by the winter.

Despite the real danger and bone-chilling temperatures—the trek itself starts in a village called Chilling—this hike into a headwaters of the mighty Indus River offers up some huge rewards. There’s the ever shifting beauty of the chadar underfoot itself, as well as the visceral silence of these deep Himalayan gorges in winter. There’s frozen waterfalls. There’s the hardy villages of Zanskar and the chance to walk alongside their people, who have been making this trip for generations (and maybe a pang of guilt, as they walk past in traditional apparel and you struggle in the latest high-tech fabrics). Put that all together and navigating the ice is worth the risk.

Thrill Factor: Plain and simple, the Chadar Trek is a winter expedition in the Himalaya. The river ice can shift and break and present other hazards, but the biggest danger is the cold itself. That said, the winter is a time when few visit the world’s highest mountains and there’s something elementally basic about spending days trekking up an ever changing frozen river with no other way in or out.

Take It Easy: You don’t have to trek the Ladakh region and the Zanskar Valley in winter. A three-week trek across ten mountain passes and open, high country from the monastery at Lamayuru to the village of Darcha in warmer seasons has its own challenges but doesn’t present the frozen dangers of the chadar.

 

 

The irresistible rise of the ‘poshtel’

A ‘poshtel’ –  otherwise known as an upscale or luxury hostel – combines the style and comfort of a boutique hotel with the price and sensibilities of a hostel. And the trend is coming your way.

An ever-increasing number of budget-conscious but discerning travellers expect something radically better than a bedbug-infested bunk in a dingy dorm full of snoring backpackers; they want good value yet sophisticated and unique places to stay – and, in response, some hostels are upping their game.

‘A poshtel is a high-end version of a hostel, with a sense of fun, energy and passion,’ says Josh Wyatt, the Chief Strategic Officer of Generator Hostels, one of the companies fast redefining the sector.

Poshtels often occupy intriguing buildings, place an emphasis on design, and offer spacious, clean rooms, freebies and perks, cool bars, top-notch restaurants and, perhaps, even a rooftop lounge or pool – and all at an affordable price.

Here’s Lonely Planet‘s pick of six of the best around the globe.

Generator Paris, France

The interior design of Generator Paris is inspired by the 'cinematic' feel of a stroll through the city. Image courtesy of Generator Hostels.

The interior design of Generator Paris is inspired by the ‘cinematic’ feel of a stroll through the city. Image courtesy of Generator Hostels.

With nine design-led hostels already and two more planned for 2016, Generator Hostels is taking the hospitality world by storm.

At Generator Paris, which opened in February, creative director Anwar Mekhayech’s pared-back interiors are inspired by the ‘cinematic experience’ of strolling through the city; think concrete walls, vintage objects from local flea markets and chic furnishings by Tolix, Jielde and Tom Dixon.

There are dorms and spacious double rooms, some with their own terraces and private bathrooms. The vibrant Café Fabien serves French dishes, burgers, salads and sandwiches as well as regional wines and Paris-inspired cocktails such as Le Macaron.

There’s even an underground disco resembling a Metro station and a rooftop terrace overlooking Montmartre and Sacré-Coeur. Other bonuses are the complimentary wi-fi and in-the-know staff who can arrange anything from a street-art walk to a table at a top-secret restaurant.

More information: generatorhostels.com

Freehand Miami, US

The Art Deco exterior of the Freehand Miami. Image by Adrian Gaut / Freehand Miami

The Art Deco exterior of the Freehand Miami. Image by Adrian Gaut / Freehand Miami

This chic hideaway, set in a 1930s Art Deco building, is no ordinary hostel. It has stylish interiors by design duo Roman and Williams, an outdoor swimming pool, bocce ball courts, ping-pong tables and a lush tropical courtyard. The décor is minimalist, with unique pieces created by local artists. The 81 private and shared bedrooms have desks, seating areas and reading lights.

Other perks include free wi-fi and breakfast, a 24-hour reception and concierge, and organic Dr. Bronner products in the bathrooms. What’s more, the hip cocktail bar, Broken Shaker, was named one of the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2014; and 27, the on-site restaurant, which opened in late 2014, serves Miami-inspired dishes using fresh ingredients straight from the garden.

More informationthefreehand.com

Shophouse The Social Hostel, Singapore

Working Title, the on-site cafe at Shophouse, serves up some gourmet breakfasts. Image courtesy of Shophouse The Social Hostel.

Sharing an old-school hostel’s sole, soup-splattered microwave is a distant memory in the gleaming kitchen of Melbourne’s Space Hotel. Image courtesy of The Space Hotel.

This Arab Street hotspot rebuffs the description ‘posh’, claiming to be a warm and personal ‘indie boutique hostel’.

The 16-, 12-, eight- and six-bed dorms are air-conditioned, with extras such as personal lights, power points and hangers as well as complimentary breakfast and wi-fi. The bathrooms are shared, but hot water, shampoo, soap and hairdryers are provided. Each room has a different theme: those on the second floor have a rustic ‘loft’ feel, with red-brick walls and exposed light bulbs. The ladies-only third floor, named No Man’s Land, is a pink-hued haven. One of the rooms, named Arab Street in homage to its location, has stained-glass lights and a cushioned chill-out area.

Shophouse also has a rooftop lounge, where you can soak in the views and Working Title, a vintage café that is decorated with handmade and upcycled furniture and serves burgers, pizzas, coffee and craft beers.

More informationshophousehostel.com

Space Hotel, Melbourne, Australia

Sharing an old-school hostel's sole, soup-splattered microwave is a distant memory in the gleaming kitchen of Melbourne's Space Hotel. Image courtesy of The Space Hotel.

Sharing an old-school hostel’s sole, soup-splattered microwave is a distant memory in the gleaming kitchen of Melbourne’s Space Hotel. Image courtesy of The Space Hotel.

For two consecutive years, Tourism Victoria has named this upscale hostel the ‘Best Victorian Backpacker Accommodation’ – with good reason.

The contemporary, spacious rooms range from eight-bed dorms to en-suites with balconies, all with reading lamps and extra-long Posturepedic mattresses. The private rooms also have iPod docking stations, HD televisions and some have spa baths.

Space is home to an in-house theatre, a gym, a ‘Master Chef-style’ guest kitchen and the popular bar and restaurant, Blue Moon. You may not get complimentary breakfast or wi-fi here, but the magnificent rooftop – which has a barbecue, a spa and a jacuzzi boasting 270-degree views of the city – easily makes up for it.

More informationspacehotel.com.au

Once in Cape Town, South Africa

Once in Cape Town's Yours Truly cafe will delight the lazy foodie. Image courtesy of Once in Cape Town.

Once in Cape Town’s Yours Truly cafe will delight the lazy foodie. Image courtesy of Once in Cape Town.

Here, you can enjoy serious comfort (clean rooms, free wi-fi and parking, a 24-hour reception and travel desk) in a fun environment. Local artists designed the ‘travel-grunge’ interiors, which feature vintage suitcases, old record players and a 1955 Chevrolet pick-up parked outside.

The en-suite four-bed dorms and private rooms have custom-made beds, locking boxes, charging stations and reading lights. Most of the bathrooms have a water-saving shower over the bath as well as an eco-friendly grey-water system.

And this is certainly one for lazy foodies – the options are plentiful: Yours Truly serves coffee, fruit, croissants and muesli for breakfast, and later, sandwiches, pizza and craft beer; Hudsons specialises in gourmet burgers; and Mitico dishes up pizza followed by Italian sorbet, washed down with Limoncello. There’s also a rooftop bar called Up Yours, where you can sip punchy cocktails out of jam jars.

More informationonceincapetown.co.za

Clink78, London, UK

The former courthouse at Clink78 makes an intriguing backdrop for a visit to London. Image courtesy of Clink78

The former courthouse at Clink78 makes an intriguing backdrop for a visit to London. Image courtesy of Clink78

This backpackers’ hub is tucked away in an elegant 200-year-old courthouse in King’s Cross. It doesn’t like to call itself a poshtel, but it’s certainly no ordinary hostel, with innovative facilities and playful décor.

British designer Shaun Clarkson’s bold interiors reflect London’s most eclectic corners. The rooms range from atmospheric converted prison cells to 16-bed dorms containing pod beds, each with its own privacy panel, reading light and locker.

Many of the private rooms have en-suite bathrooms with power showers and complimentary towels, and there’s free wi-fi and breakfast for all. The TravelSHOP is on hand to help or you can download the ClinkSocial app for more insider city tips.

Although there’s no restaurant, buzzing basement dive ClashBAR serves scrummy cocktails and there’s a Stay & Play policy, where musicians don’t have to pay if they perform. The brand plans to expand to five more European cities by 2020; the first, ClinkNOORD, opens in Amsterdam this June. Watch this space.

More informationclinkhostels.com

 

10 Thrilling Activities for the Thrifty Traveller

Lonely Planet is always one of the best resources for trekkers like us and there’s nothing more satisfying than finding a solid bargain while travelling on a tight budget.  It can be as simple as a day on a beach, booking a reasonably-priced hotel room with a stunning view or discovering delicious cheap eats at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

In their latest Best of Travel 2016 guide, Lonely Planet scouts have scoured the world for the top luxe experiences for those of us who can’t normally afford it.

Nautholsvik thermal bath, Reykjavik, Iceland

The Nautholsvik geothermal beach boasts a pool with simmering sea water and hot tubs, with an entry fee of just 500 Icelandic krona

The Nautholsvik geothermal beach boasts a pool with simmering sea water and hot tubs, with an entry fee of just 500 Icelandic krona

Located in a harbour near Reykjavik’s airport, this man-made geothermal beach draws more than 500,000 visitors a year.

It boasts a pool with simmering sea water and a couple of hot tubs, but the real draw is the rock-bottom price of admission, which is just a fraction of some of the more popular naturally heated pools.

Visitors get in for free in the summer, and pay just 500 Icelandic krona (approximately £2.50 or $4) in the winter.

Make your own fragrance in Grasse, France

Considered the world's perfume capital, the French commune of Grasse provides opportunities to create your very own fragrance

Considered the world’s perfume capital, the French commune of Grasse provides opportunities to create your very own fragrance

Bottles of designer perfume don’t come cheap, even at a duty free shop at the airport.

Touted as the world’s perfume capital, the French commune of Grasse offers plenty of options for tourists to buy quality perfume from the source or blend their own.

For as little as €45 (£32 or $50) visitors can take part in a workshop at Galimard’s Studio des Fragrances and leave with 100ml of a fragrance they created.

Sleep in a castle in Germany

Nestled in the picturesque Rhine Valley, the fortified Burg Stahleck has been converted into a family-friendly youth hostel

Forget budget hotels or less than impressive hostels, visitors to Germany can find a once-in-a-lifetime stay at a 12th century castle.

Nestled in the picturesque Rhine Valley in the town of Bacharach, the fortified Burg Stahleck (or Stahleck Castle) has been converted into a family-friendly youth hostel.

With spectacular river views, dorm beds cost as little as €21.50 (£15.50 or $24) a night.

Michelin star meals on the cheap, Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan has gained fans worldwide thanks to its delicious barbecue pork buns and golden fried turnip cakes

Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan has gained fans worldwide thanks to its delicious barbecue pork buns and golden fried turnip cakes

Michelin-starred restaurants usually come with eye-watering prices, but Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan bucks that trend.

This hole-in-the-wall restaurant has gained fans worldwide thanks to its delicious barbecue pork buns, golden fried turnip cakes and vermicelli rolls stuffed with pig’s liver.

Tim Ho Wan is hailed as the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, with founder Mak Kwai Pui opening new outlets in Singapore, Sydney and Melbourne.

Personalised cocktails in London

At BYOC, customers bring their favourite bottle of booze and watch expert mixologists craft cocktails according to their tastes

At BYOC, customers bring their favourite bottle of booze and watch expert mixologists craft cocktails according to their tastes

In London, tourists can rack up a staggeringly high bill on a night out, especially those who are coming from countries where the local currency is weak against the pound.

At BYOC (Bring Your Own Cocktail), customers bring their favourite bottle of booze and watch expert mixologists craft cocktails according to their tastes.

Aside from the price of the bottle, all it costs is a £25 ($38) entry fee.

Be a VIP in Las Vegas

Holidaymakers who sign up for Free Vegas Club Passes can get their name on guest lists at popular nightclubs or pool parties

Holidaymakers who sign up for Free Vegas Club Passes can get their name on guest lists at popular nightclubs or pool parties

You don’t need to have a big bankroll to be a high roller in Sin City, which is home to some of the hottest nightclubs on the planet.

Holidaymakers who sign up for Free Vegas Club Passes can get their name on guest lists at clubs or pool parties, with incentives including free entry or complimentary drinks for women.

Once you’re registered, the locations are sent by SMS every day.

Budget spa, Fez, Morocco

Instead of paying hundreds at a high-end hotel, holidaymakers can spend as little as 20 dirhams for entry into a local hammam

Instead of paying hundreds at a high-end hotel, holidaymakers can spend as little as 20 dirhams for entry into a local hammam

Morocco is famed for its spas, and the best deals are found at hammams where the locals hang out.

Instead of paying hundreds to be pampered at a high-end hotel, holidaymakers can spend as little as 20 Moroccan dirhams (£1.30 or $2) for entry into a local hammam.

In Fez, the traveller-friendly Ain Azleten Hammam charges an entry fee of 40 dirhams, although visitors should bring some extra cash to tip attendants and pay for gommage.

Ned’s Tip: if you’ve managed to save some pennies in Morocco, head to the mystical port of Tangier and stay at one of Sir Nadhmi Auchi’s beautiful traditional hotels: El Minzah, once frequented by Hollywood’s elite, or the gorgeous Grand Hotel Villa de France, where Henri Matisse loved to stay and paint.

Low-season safari in East Africa

Travelling in the low season in East Africa offer savings of up to 40 per cent, and there are plenty of incentives to brave the rain

Travelling in the low season in East Africa offer savings of up to 40 per cent, and there are plenty of incentives to brave the rain

A journey into an African jungle or game reserve is the experience of a lifetime, although costs can quickly rise into the thousands.

Travelling in the low season in East Africa offer savings of up to 40 per cent, and there are plenty of incentives to brave the rain.

The wet seasons (March to June and October to December) offer luminous sunsets and opportunities to spot animals nurturing their young, said Lonely Planet.

Your very own sauna in Sweden

Apartments with private saunas in Are, an alpine ski region in Sweden, start at 4,405 Swedish krona (£310 or $480) a week

Apartments with private saunas in Are, an alpine ski region in Sweden, start at 4,405 Swedish krona (£310 or $480) a week

Tourists who don’t bother to do any research can wind up spending a small fortune to relax in a sauna in Sweden, where they are part of everyday life.

But with a little digging visitors can find mid-range accommodation with their own private sauna.

Apartments with private saunas in Are, an alpine ski region, start at 4,405 Swedish krona (£310 or $480) a week.

Affordable ryokan in Japan

Some of the best bargains for a budget ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, are found off the beaten path in Hiroshima

Some of the best bargains for a budget ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, are found off the beaten path in Hiroshima

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, and the budget versions can be very uncomfortable.

Lonely Planet has found traditional inn experiences for a fraction of the usual price, without forfeiting hot baths and in-room dining.

But to find the best bargains holidaymakers will have to look outside the usual spots, including Kyoto, to places such as Hiroshima, where a mere 10,000 yen (£55 or $80) will get them a room and a feast at Sera Bekkan.

The hotel where snacks, toiletries and HANGOVER CURES can all be ordered using emojis

This is just the best idea.

An American hotel chain is making life that little bit easier for those travellers who are too tired (or lazy) to talk, with the launch of a new emoji service called Text it, Get it.

Each room in the Manhattan-based Aloft Hotel will have a menu of six emoji packages you can order from.

To do this you simply text a few select emojis – along with your name and room number- to the hotel.

Guests will then receive a confirmation and their order will follow shortly.

The hotel began offering the services - that will be available if ordered by emoji - this morning in Manhattan

The hotel which is offering services via emoji is situated in Manhattan

For guests suffering the effects of a big night out, they can text the water droplet, pill and banana emojis for the $10 (£6.50) ‘Hangover Package’, made up of two bottles of Vitamin Water, Advil and a couple of bananas.

By stringing together emojis of a chocolate bar, lollipop and cookie, for $10 (£6.50) you will have ordered the ‘Munchies’ package. This features a bottle of Coca-Cola, a Snickers bar, a packet of Doritos and a chocolate brownie.

A phone plus a two pin plug will get you a phone charger delivered for $25 (£16).

The Text it Get it system consists of six packages

The Text it Get it system consists of six packages

Other packages include the ‘Re:Fresh’, comprising a toothbrush, toothpaste, a razor, shaving foam and deodorant; the ‘Sightseer’, which is a $10 MetroCard, a city map and two drinks at the hotel bar; and the ‘Surprise Me’ box – which is describe as ‘fun swag and cool stuff’ for $25 (£16).

Although the service is only currently available at Aloft in Manhattan Downtown, it could soon expand to Europe, Asia and the rest of the U.S.

Love it!  ❤

9 Holiday Spots that are Better (and Cheaper) than the Places You Really Wanted to Go

Thanks to the Money Traveller for this article.


These less-travelled locales offer many of the perks of the big-name hotspots with fewer tourists. Even better, because they’re less popular, they’re often more affordable.

La Paz, Mexico

Design Pics Inc/Alamy – On the water off Espiritu Santo Island

INSTEAD OF: Los Cabos
WHY HERE? La Paz is located on the Sea of Cortez on the Baja Peninsula, and it has the same laid-back vibe as California’s West Coast beach cities. The landscape is spectacular, from the marine-mammal-rich waters to a desert worthy of an Ansel Adams photo. The culinary scene is growing too, with enough upscale restaurants to rival those in Los Cabos, 87 miles (and a $25 shuttle ride) away. One caveat: Go before mid-July. Even the locals flee the August heat.
Average summer hotel rate: $117 vs. $257 in Los Cabos

La Paz, Mexico: Where to Stay & What to Do

Aurora Photos/Alamy – Fruit for sale on Tecelote Beach

STAY: A simple room at Hotel Perla, a 1940s landmark with bay views on the Malecón (boardwalk), goes for $75 a night. If you want amenities such as daily room service and an infinity pool, try the Costa Baja Resort & Spa (from $243), which runs 45%-off specials when you book more than 90 days in advance. Overall, the average double-occupancy hotel room in La Paz is $117, less than half what it costs in Los Cabos.
DO: Sign up for a day dive with PADI diving center Cortez Club ($140). Nearby Los Islotes is known for its sea lion colony; you might even spot schools of hammerhead sharks at Marisla Seamount. If snorkeling is more your speed, bring your gear to the turquoise waters and sandy coves of Balandra, 15 minutes from downtown.La Paz offers an increasingly diverse menu of restaurants, from daring fusion to old-school Mexican street food, says editor Tomas Zyber of BajaInsider.com. Get a table for two at Las Tres Vírgenes, where dinner—wood-fire-grilled octopus and expertly prepared steaks—paired with wine costs under $100, Zyber notes. For cheap eats, line up with locals at Chino Tacos (dinner, $4 per person) on Antonio Navarro Street at the corner of Belisario Dominguez. Try the tacos al pastor (spit-grilled pork with cilantro, onions, and pineapple), carne asada, or spicy chorizo.

Dublin

Mikel Bilbao/Firstlight – The Temple Bar in the city’s cultural corner

INSTEAD OF: London
WHY HERE? Looking for some foreign culture but don’t want to brave a second language? There’s always London. But since it’s the most visited city in Europe, you’ll also find some of the continent’s most expensive hotels there (average cost: $268 a night). And then there’s Dublin. With its small-city feel and Irish charm, the capital is as easy to drink in as a smooth pint of Guinness. Best of all: The dollar is even stronger against the euro (up 23%) in the past year than it is vs. the pound (13%).

Dublin: Where to Stay & What to Do

Firstlight – The perfect Irish pairing: shellfish and Guiness

STAY: The hip new Dean Hotel (from $138), located downtown, is capped by a beautiful rooftop restaurant. If you don’t mind a 20-minute walk or a cab ride to the city center, opt for a private room ($80) at the Generato Dublin, a design-forward hostel housed in a former Irish folk-dancing hall, located across the River Liffey in Smithfield.
DO: The Irish will tell you that their literary legacy is every bit as distinguished as the Brits’, and they’ve got the names (Yeats, Beckett, Wilde) to make a case. If you’re in Dublin on June 16, you’ll be lucky enough to see the entire city celebrate native son James Joyce, who set his classic novel Ulysses here on that day.You can celebrate a different kind of artistry in the Creative Quarter—South William, Drury, Wicklow, and Exchequer streets—home to many boutiques and a great place to find authentic keepsakes. “Try the Irish Design Shop for tea towels and porcelain birdhouses or, 10 minutes away, Jam Art Factory, where you’ll find prints, artwork, and pottery,” says Emily Westbrooks, author of Delightful Dublin.When you’ve worn yourself out, you can rest your feet and your shopping bags at the recently opened Woollen Mills Eating House, serving Roaring Bay mussels and Howth cod (lunch, $25). If you’re looking to splurge, Dublin also has five Michelin-starred restaurants. Jonathan Epstein, president of travel company Celebrated Experiences, suggests Chapter One, where chef Ross Lewis serves up rabbit with Parma ham and cured salmon with Atlantic crab. A four-course dinner is $75. A year ago you’d have paid $97 for the same feast.

Palm Springs

Hal Bergman/Getty – A classic vista

INSTEAD OF: Los Angeles
WHY HERE? During the winter this city serves as Los Angeles’ playground, filled with weekenders taking advantage of the posh resorts and haute design scene. At this time of year you can have it almost to yourself. Summer in this desert oasis isn’t for everyone: The average June temperature is 87° F and highs can hit 110° (115° in August, when you really don’t want to visit). But there are plenty of ways to beat the heat, says Françoise Rhodes of TravelingwithFrancoise.com, whether it’s a morning hike through the nearby canyons or a lazy day by the pool.
Summer hotel rate: $105 vs. $156 in Los Angeles

Palm Springs: Where to Stay & What to Do

Lisa Corson/Gallerystock – Cabazon Dinosaurs Park.

STAY: At the Triada Palm Springs, a Spanish-hacienda-style property with a cabana-lined pool, rooms start at $109 a night, 48% less than in high season. The Avalon Hotel Palm Springs, fresh from a major renovation, is set amid palm-dotted courtyards, burbling fountains, and three swimming pools, and has a top-notch spa. Rooms start at $150; at the hotel’s sister property, Avalon Beverly Hills, they start at $279 for the same dates.
DO: The Indian Canyons, known for their stunning rock formations, make for a great morning hike, says Katy Carrier, founder of Palm Springs Style magazine. For shopping, head to the Uptown Design District, where you’ll find furniture and home decor items. Bon Vivant is known for its vintage glassware, while Just Modern has a large selection of mid-century-inspired furnishings and artwork, Carrier says. Palm Springs has also established its own film scene. The main film festival is in January, but from June 16 to 22 is the International ShortFest, which showcases more than 300 short films from more than 50 countries. When you’re ready for dinner, try the lobster ravioli at the decades-old Johnny Costa’s Ristorante (dinner, $50), says Rhodes. If you’re hungry for some true California roadside kitsch, pack a picnic and head to Cabazon Dinosaurs, about 20 miles west of the city.

Naxos, Greece

Age Fotostock/Alamy – The Temple of Apollo arch on Palatia Islet

INSTEAD OF: Santorini or Mykonos
WHY HERE? Naxos is anchored in the Aegean about halfway between Santorini and Mykonos, but it might as well be on another planet. The biggest of Greece’s Cycladic islands, Naxos is studded with lush mountains and valleys polka-dotted by white-washed homes, all surrounded by a ribbon of gorgeous beaches. It’s the kind of place that’s still rural enough to spot the occasional donkey trotting down a cobblestone street, not to mention acres of tiered vineyards and olive groves. Of course that means that just about every restaurant you find has a legitimate claim as a farm-to-table outpost.
Cruise-ship dockings a year: 16 vs. 512 in Santorini

Naxos, Greece: Where to Stay & What to Do

Kartouchken/Alamy – A local pottery store in the town of Apiranthos

STAY: Accommodations start at $25 a night, topping out around $360, whereas Santorini’s prices start at $90 and skyrocket to over $1,000, on Expedia.com. Rooms at the Pension Sofi, a cheerful blue-and-white guesthouse draped in bougainvillea vines, cost only $39 per person (two-night minimum). The 30 spacious rooms at the four-star Lagos Mare Hotel, with a pool, bar, and sea views, are a steal at $120, says Mina Agnos, a Greek travel expert with Travelive.
DO: The best way to explore Naxos is on foot. Agnos can set up a Naxian Apollo walking tour (from $38), which tracks the island’s history from ancient times to the present and includes town visits, archaeological sites, and a trip to the island’s collection of kouros statues, which date back to the 8th century B.C. Afterward, grab a waterfront table at Geomilo, which serves traditional Naxian dishes such as Kleftiko of Za, made with local lamb, and cod with a garlic puree (dinner, $20).

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Aaron Peterson/Alamy Kayaking under one of the park’s famous arches

INSTEAD OF: Traverse City, Mich.
WHY HERE? There are 407 national parks, and while it’s not the most celebrated, Michigan’s Pictured Rocks was the country’s first National Lakeshore. The park sits on 42 jaw-dropping miles of Lake Superior coastline that’s studded with eerie sand dunes, romantic waterfalls, and a stately lighthouse. But it’s the multicolored sandstone cliffs, which seem to change color with every flicker of sunshine, that are the main attraction. That and the price of admission: It’s free.

Pictured Rocks: Where to Stay & What to Do

Terry Donnelly/Alamy – The Au Sable Light Station is still in use

STAY: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is rugged territory; enjoy the park by roughing it. Pictured Rocks has three main camping grounds. Twelvemile Beach ($16), the most popular, features lake views through the trees. If you’d rather rest your head in a room with four walls, Munising, Mich., is about two miles away and features several family-owned properties. The Sunset Motel on the Bay (from $89) has free Wi-Fi and rooms with kitchenettes. In Traverse City hotels average over $150 a night.
DO: Get your bearings on one of Pictured Rocks’ iconic hikes, suggests Susan Reece, the park’s chief of interpretation and education. On the Chapel Falls trek, you’ll weave through beech and maple trees en route to cascading waterfalls and Chapel Rock, which looks like an open-air temple (albeit one with a pine tree growing out of the roof). You can also follow the 1½-mile hike to the Au Sable Light Station, on the edge of a picnic-worthy beach. Keep an eye out for deer, beaver, and other critters. The best way to see the park’s dramatic coastline is from the water: On a three-hour tour with Pictured Rocks Cruises ($37), a local park ranger will explain the area’s geology and history as you pass stunning formations such as the Painted Coves and Lover’s Leap.

Hanoi

Kaaarel/Getty – One of the city’s many ancient temples

INSTEAD OF: Bangkok
WHY HERE? At a time when so many Southeast Asian capitals are banking on what’s new, Hanoi still embraces its rich history and communist roots. True, the bustling city has its share of skyscrapers and mopeds, but you’ll also find French-inspired architecture and food—bonjour, bánh mì baguettes!—in its large Old Quarter. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, making a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house or the National Museum of Vietnamese History especially timely.
Annual tourists to Vietnam: 7.8 million vs. 16 million in Bangkok

Hanoi: Where to Stay & What to Do

Jonathan Siegel/Getty – Preparing CafÉ NÂu DA, traditional Vietnamese coffee

STAY: Rooms at the recently renovated 80-room Boss Legend Hotel start at $82. The five-star Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi (from $225), housed in a sumptuous 1901 French colonial–style building, has hosted Charlie Chaplin, Graham Greene, and “Hanoi Jane” herself—Jane Fonda.
DO: Make the city’s Old Quarter, which dates back to the 11th century, your home base. At Q Cafe—or one of the hundreds of other coffee shops—you’ll find locals sitting on squat stools sipping café phe da, or Vietnamese iced coffee ($1) made with espresso and condensed milk. From there you can window-shop along the bustling city streets, where vendors sell anything from hardware supplies and birdcages to fine art. Stop in Ginkgo for graphic-printed T-shirts before slurping down a northern Vietnam staple, beef-based pho, at Tuyen Pho Cam ($3).When you’re ready to see a bit of the coastline, head to Ha Long Bay, three hours east of the city. Ha Long means “descending dragon,” and the 1,600 islets jutting out of the Gulf of Tonkin do look like the moss-covered spikes on a submerged water beast. Most hotels offer day or overnight excursions; Boss Legend’s day trip (from $45) includes lunch and kayaking.

Salt Lake City

John Pulsipher/Firstlight – Downtown, framed by the Wasatch Mountains

INSTEAD OF: Denver
WHY HERE? Salt Lake isn’t just a jumping-off point for skiers. Those snowcapped Wasatch Mountains also frame an urban playground that’s become home to a lively art, restaurant, and cocktail scene.
Daily rental car rates: from $28 vs. $45 in Denver

Salt Lake City: Where to Stay & What to Do

150528_TRA_SLC_FlyFishing

A. Barber – Fly fishing near Salt Lake City, Utah

STAY: Downtown has the best hotel selection. The Inn on the Hill (from $150) features 12 unique rooms and serves a complimentary hot breakfast. The Marriott Courtyard doesn’t have the same boutique charm, but it was just renovated this year and rates start at $99. Hotels in Salt Lake are a bargain in general: $106 a night vs. $136 a night in Denver.
DO: To sip your way through the city, head to the up-and-coming Sugar House neighborhood, full of early-1900s cottages and bungalows. The Sugar House Distillery, which makes small-batch vodkas and rums, offers free tours. Shades of Pale, a popular Utah Brewery, also opened a new facility three miles west in SoDo (South Downtown). If you’re looking to do some shopping, the Local Colors of Utah gallery is a co-op where you’ll find pottery, photography, jewelry, and paintings from area artists. When you’ve worked up an appetite, try the Fresco Italian Cafe (dinner, $35), where dishes such as seared polenta and sun-choke agnolotti are complemented by a spot-on Italian wine list, says Josh Rosenthal of TheSLCFoodie.com.There are also plenty of worthy day trips. New or expert anglers can sign up with Western Rivers Fly Fisher (from $315 for two), on the Provo River, about 50 miles to the southeast. The drive through the Wasatch Mountains alone is well worth it, especially when the wildflowers are in bloom. On Kayak.com cars rent for $28 a day in Salt Lake. In Denver, the average is $45 a day.

Cape Breton, Canada

Alamy – One of the residents of Highlands National Park

INSTEAD OF: New England
WHY HERE? Cape Breton, a 4,000-square-mile island that juts out into the Atlantic about 650 miles northeast of Portland, Maine, is known for its untamed coastline, charming inns, and deeply rooted Celtic culture. The island receives about 365,000 visitors annually; Cape Cod alone squeezes in more than 4 million. Just crossing the Canadian border will fatten your wallet, as loons have dropped 14% in value against the U.S. dollar over the past year.
Average hotel rate: $89 vs. $192 on Cape Cod

Cape Breton: Where to Stay & What to Do

Barrett & MacKay/Corbis – It’s easy to see how the Bras d’Or (arms of gold) lake got its name

STAY: The waterfront town of Baddeck makes a great launching point for the surrounding countryside. Hospitality options include cottages—from $67 a night on NovaScotia.com—and cozy family-owned properties such as the Baddeck Heritage House (from $91), built in the 1860s.
DO: Get out on the water. On half-day trips (from $55) with North River Kayak Tours, you’ll paddle alongside the giant sugar maples and peer up to scout for American bald eagle nests. If you’d prefer to stay on land, drive the cliff-hugging Cabot Trail, the 185-mile road that makes a loop around the island’s northwestern region and offers prime whale-watching pit stops. Want to get even closer to a great ocean mammal? Sign up for a snorkeling trip with Captain Zodiac (from $40) in Cheticamp, located on the island’s northwestern border, to bob alongside minke, pilot, and fin whales.For dinner, Angelo Spinazzola of North River Kayak suggests the Bitehouse, a 12-seat restaurant located in a converted farmhouse that serves seasonal dishes such as scallops with caramelized cauliflower and grilled zucchini with local cheese ($40).
Average hotel rate: $89 vs. $192 on Cape Cod

Aruba

INSTEAD OF: Cayman Islands
WHY HERE? While Aruba has long been on Caribbean travelers’ radars, its 66% hotel occupancy rate (in summer) is much lower than the rates for St. Lucia (84%) and the Caymans (76%). The island is also undergoing an impressive $1 billion investment in new hotels, public works, and an energy plan to be fossil fuel–free by 2020. Aruba is increasingly accessible too, with Houston recently becoming the 12th North American city to introduce a direct flight to the island.
Average summer hotel cost: $197 vs. $257 in the Caymans

Aruba: What to See & What to Do

Boardwalk – Small Hotel, Aruba

STAY: Aruba’s range of accommodations means you don’t need to break the bank to stay in a lovely place, though an ocean view might cost you. You could opt for the Tamarijn Aruba (all-inclusive from $450 for two; three- night minimum) on Divi Beach, a waterfront property that also has a spa and a golf course. Further inland, at the charming Boardwalk Aruba, located in a coconut grove, casita rates start at $195 a night, says Susan Campbell, a senior writer for Aruba Nights. Guests also have free access to Moomba club on Palm Beach, as well as free lounge chairs and snorkeling equipment.
DO: In capital city Oranjestad, you can fuel up on empanadas stuffed with Gouda and ham at Mi Boca Dushi (lunch, $5) before renting bikes from Aruba Active Vacations ($25 per day). Cycle along the waterfront’s new 10-mile boardwalk or, if you’re looking for an empty stretch of sand, pedal to windswept Arashi Beach, close to the California Lighthouse.On the island’s south side, you can pair sunset views with the catch of the day at Zee Rover’s ($20), a fisherman’s hangout turned restaurant, suggests Matt Boland, the executive chef of Aruba’s Divi Resorts. Specialties include red snapper and wahoo served with plantains, pan bati (a cornmeal pancake), and hot sauce made with papaya and peppers.

 

12 Once-in-a-Lifetime Camping Sites

A dozen spectacular sites perfect for outdoor exploration. Thanks to Travel & Leisure for the inspiration and Getty Images for the stunning photos – Ned

Lake District

Hot, humid summer days are finally behind us, and crisp, mild autumn weather has breezed in to take its place. There’s no better time than now to dig out your tent, lace-up your hiking boots, and get a little wild.

Whether you’re a fearless adventurer seeking a scenic climb or a novice outdoorsman eager to convene with nature, these 12 camping destinations—from the sanctified shores of Japan to the obsidian paths winding across Hawaii and Iceland—will change your life.