Category Archives: Travel

How to safari safely

‘Safari’ traditionally means journey in Swahili, but the word now describes the ultimate bucket-list trip to discover Africa’s wondrous wildlife. Yet today, that wildlife seems increasingly vulnerable, so how do you ensure your safari will be both safe and ethically sound?

 

Start with a good safari operator

A good safari operator is key to a good safari. Research well and check the company’s ethical credentials: do they use local staff and guides? How do they help communities? Are they involved with conservation initiatives?

With a bewildering array of safari options and complex logistics, it can be a false economy to book independently: specialist operators have invaluable insider knowledge and often better rates. Websites like safaribookings.com are a good place to start, and offer helpful customer reviews of hundreds of operators and the tours they offer.

 

Stay safe on the road

On game drives, remember wildlife is still wild, even if the lions or elephants you spot seem unperturbed by 4x4s surrounding them. Stick to responsible safari etiquette: stay in your vehicle, don’t stress the animals, don’t stand up or move suddenly, don’t let your driver get too close or go off-road hoping for a better tip, and definitely don’t litter.

Get closer to nature on an exhilarating walking safari: you’ll be accompanied by an armed ranger but the gun is only ever intended as a last resort. Make sure it doesn’t need to be used by always obeying your guide’s instructions, walking quietly in single file, and never ever run – by doing so, you act like prey, and predators will act accordingly.

Most safari destinations, with the exception of parts of Namibia and South Africa, are malarial – use prophylaxes and insect repellent, and if you’re on a budget trip, you may need your own mosquito net. Avoid wearing blue and black since these colours attract tsetse flies – they have a nasty nip similar to a horse fly and can cause sleeping sickness.

Are you need to discover Norway

Norway isn’t short of incredible landscapes. This is the country of majestic lakes, lush meadows and snow-covered mountains. Yet one part of Norway continues to hold unique appeal – the wild Arctic north where the mainland fractures into an intricate coastline of twisting fjords and remote archipelagos.

At the heart of the region is one of the country’s most delightful small cities, Tromsø, situated 350km north of the Arctic circle. That’s more northerly than all of the Icelandic mainland, Inuvik in Canada and most of Alaska. Yet thanks to the warmth of the Gulf Stream, it’s an appealing, welcoming place home to more than 70,000 people.

This is about as far north as you can travel in Europe, and one of the best places to come if you’re looking for a winter adventure. Pack your mittens and dig out your snow boots: here’s our guide to visiting this compact city and the magical sights that surround it.

 

What are the best day-trips and activities?

Topping most travellers’ winter wish-lists are husky sledding, whale watching and aurora hunting – and there is a bemusing array of operators ready to whisk you out of the city. You’d be wise to do some research before you come. The tourist office website is a great place to start, with a well-curated list of excursions and reliable providers. Unfortunately Tromsø isn’t cheap; expect to pay upwards of 1200NOK for a day-trip.

Arctic Adventure Tours are one of the longest established local companies, offering both whale safaris and dog sledding. This is a family run and considerate outfit, demonstrated by the care they show to their hundred-or-so exuberant huskies. Visitors are invited to meet and play with the dogs before they’re harnessed, and then learn to drive their own two-person sleds through the snow.

Flying along the mountain slopes is an unforgettable experience, with the “musher”, or driver, standing to guide the sled and keep the huskies’ incredible power under control – step off, and they’ll happily speed into the distance.

Architectural wonders

From ancient temples to hyper-modern skyscrapers, these are just a few of the world’s most incredible architectural wonders. Whether you’re looking to wander lost ruins or explore lavish palaces, you’ll find inspiration here.

 

1. The Alhambra, Spain

Towering out of an elm-wooded hillside above Granada, a snowy Sierra Nevada behind, there are few more iconic images of Spain than the ochre-tinted enclave of the Alhambra. Over five thousand visitors wander through the restored complex every day. No amount of words, however, can approximate the sensual charge of seeing the Palacios Nazaríes, the best preserved palace of the Nasrid dynasty, for the first time.

 

2. Baalbek, Lebanon

One of the wonders of the ancient world, the Roman archeological site of Baalbek – a place that, in the words of Robert Byron, “dwarfs New York into a home of ants” – holds awe-inspiring temples, porticoes, courtyards and palatial stone stairways. The Greeks and Romans called it Heliopolis, “The City of the Sun”, a name it shares with another great Classical city in Egypt – but this phenomenal site has no equals.

Things you need to know about hygge

This winter, hygge emerged as the most divisive cultural phenomenon to hit the world since that blue and black dress. Or was it white and gold? In the second episode of our podcast (iTunes; Soundcloud), The Rough Guide to Everywhere, we get to the bottom of what it’s actually about.

In case you’ve been living in a cave (probably unknowingly having quite a hyggelig time while you’re at it), hygge is the Scandi word that translates to being comfortable, content and – paradoxically – antisocial amongst friends. It is a spiritual turning inwards, or a literal turning towards the nearest candle; a concept casually applied by Danes for decades before the rest of the world caught wind last year.

Lovers have flocked to the shops to buy handsome books, thick woolly socks and as much cocoa as they can get their cashmere mitts on. Haters claim that the concept has been exploited by publishers and clothing companies in a cynical bid to sell more stuff.

So, just before hygge reaches ultimate saturation point, we decided to talk to the global spokesman for hygge, CEO of the Institute of the Happiness Research Institute, Meik Wiking, to settle the score.

Before you listen to our podcast, here are 5 things you need to know about hygge to get you up to speed.

 

1. It rhymes with “cougar”

“Higgy”, “herger”, “hig” are all wrong.

It’s “hoo-gah”, people.

 

2. It’s not new

The word hygge has been part of the Danish language since the early 1800s, when the word first appears in written records. Meaning it took the rest of the world a mere two hundred years to catch on.

 

3. It was the 2016 Word of the Year

Every year, Collins English Dictionary publishes a list of the ten most popular new words and expressions of the year, and hygge made the cut. The 2016 list also included the words “Trumpism”, “Brexit”and “uberization”.

 

4. But some people think it’s an over-hyped trend

After a swathe of articles and magazine pieces on hygge, the press quickly turned on hygge, calling it “overhyped”, “a conspiracy” and one article even went so far as to brutally proclaim “Hygge Is Byllshytte”.

Tips for backpacking

From the calm surf of the Caribbean on the east coast, to the gnarly breaks of the Pacific on the west, the beaches of Central America make for stellar backpacking territory. And there’s plenty more wedged in between.

Whether you want to sandboard down a steaming volcano in Nicaragua, explore a cloudforest in Costa Rica, watch the sunrise over ancient Maya sites in Guatemala, or hike through the thick Panamanian jungle, the slim waist of the Americas offers plenty of adventure.

Here are eight tips to help you get the best out the region’s seven countries.

 

1. Pick your countries wisely

Sometimes saving a few bucks is as simple as hopping from one playa to the next. But if you’re selective about the countries on your hit list you stand to pocket a whole lot more change. Costa Rica and Panama consistently rank among the most expensive countries in the area, alongside English-speaking Belize, leaving Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras among the cheaper choices.

 

2. Know your accommodation options

Hostels and homestays are plentiful in these parts, but if you fancy spending the odd night somewhere more swish, bear in mind that most destinations in Central America are yet to capitalise on the trend for flashpacker-style hostels. There can be a hefty price gap between a dorm bed and a boutique abode.

 

3. Gorge on local produce

Chocolate, rum, coffee, cheese – you might just be surprised at the array of prime produce Central America’s rich soil nurtures. And best of all, you can go straight to the source. Forget savouring a cup of Guatemala’s single-origin espresso from your local coffee shop, or devouring a bar of Costa Rican chocolate at your desk. Here a number of local entrepreneurs offer wallet-friendly tours of cacao farms and coffee plantations with free tastings thrown in for good measure.

 

4. Stay safe

Still hear stories about how parts of Central America are a lawless, cocaine-cloaked gangland? They belie just how much progress has been made in the region since the slew of revolutions and civil wars that marred much of the 80s.

However, some cities – notably San Pedro Sula in Honduras and San Salvador in El Salvador – have not kept pace and remain among the world’s most dangerous. Exercise caution when travelling through the “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, which has gained notoriety of late. And use your common sense when it comes to safety throughout the region: take only registered taxis, keep up to date with travel warnings, heed the advice of locals, don’t flaunt valuables and don’t walk home alone after dark.

Try Indian trains when you come there

Introduced by the British East India Company, tracks were first laid across the country in the late 1800s to transport troops. Only after independence in 1947 did the focus switch to passenger trains – now, Indian Railways is the biggest employer in the country.

Today, there’s always an element of adventure to a journey on the rails. Here’s everything you need to know before travelling by train in India.

 

1. Book in advance

Booking opens 60 days before travel, and long-distance trains get filled up quickly, meaning that only the shortest journeys can be organized on the day. It’s often possible to book at your hotel reception, but be aware that you may have to pay a small “admin” fee.

If you organize your trip at a train station, avoid any touts, head straight for the booking desk and leave yourself plenty of time – it’s not the fastest system in the world.

You can also book online, though it’s not as simple is click and pay. First, you’ll need to create an account on IRCTC (Indian Railways’ official website), which will require an Indian phone number for confirmation. You can get around this by emailing the company with a photocopy of your passport.

Once you have your IRCTC login, you may find the website a little clunky, so it’s much easier to use another travel booking site such as Cleartrip to actually buy your tickets (you’ll still need to enter your IRCTC login details at payment stage).

 

2. Don’t panic if your ticket says “Waitlisted”

If there are no tickets available at the time of booking, you’ll be given a reserve ticket, either “RAC Waitlist” or “Waitlist”.

With an “RAC” (reservation against cancellation) ticket, you can board the train, though you might not get the seat/class you were after. The ticket will be confirmed if enough people cancel and, as many people book far in advance, there is a high chance of this happening.

THE PROTESTS ON THE GREAT PLAINS

In January 2016, energy company Dakota Access announced plans to run an oil pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois. A few months later, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe began protesting the threat to their water supplies. The protests quickly became a movement, a rallying point for all manner of individuals and groups to express anger about everything from dark money and corporate power to ecocide.

But while the protests came to mean many things to many people, Neil McQuillian found that they mean most to the Native Americans involved. He went to understand why this is one of the greatest scandals in US history.

Colourful flags crack in the cold wind. There are tepees that sit like crowns amongst the regular tents. A silvery grey sliver of Missouri river slicks dull beyond them. The camp is pretty, in a way.

But, in its freezing stillness, the scene feels bleak – the few figures I see are bundles of clothing, moving hurriedly to finish what they’re doing and get back into shelter. Plus I’m only dropping in – I’ve come to better understand the protests against the $3.8bn Dakota Access oil pipeline but have just a few hours to spare – which means I’m an outsider. That status weighs pretty heavily here.

So when I hear low applause, it sounds like warmth and company. I find the source, a large tent in the centre of camp, and push back the heavy flap. It is warmer in here and my cheeks begin to glow. A group of some thirty people, around two-thirds Native American, are listening to the speaker. I recognise her as LaDonna Brave Bull Allard of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who owns the nearby land where the protests began.

“I’m here until the pipeline is stopped,” she is saying. ”We are at a point in our lives where we are unifying. We are people of trauma and we have to heal. We are fighting a demon. Everything we have fought for the past 500 years.”

Unforgettable travel experiences

But should you start finding all the people wearing their backpacks on their chests a little oppressive, it’s time to shake them off your tail. As one of the authors of The Rough Guide to London, Neil McQuillian has got this down to a fine art. Here are his top tips.

 

Take a walk – or the bus

Mews, alleyways, yards, courts – London does atmospheric walking like few other places on Earth. And the more you walk, the more you find; roads seem to call out to you, leading you on, ensnaring you in a wonderful riddle. Getting lost in London is one of its great pleasures.

Feeling ambitious? Writer Will Self reckons it takes a whole day to walk from central London to green fields – in other words, to actually leave the city on foot. A more manageable variation is to take a bus to the end of its line and walk back in.

Slightly less ambitious, but a lot of fun, is to take a bus back into London from the start of its route. Getting on before anyone else, you’ll have your choice of seats – which of course means top deck, front row. Picnic and hip flask optional.

You could try the number 18 from out by the legendary Ace Café, a petrolhead hub on the North Circular. The 74, meanwhile, is cut out for better things: hop on at Putney Bridge and spend the next hour or so peering in at the windows of some of London’s wealthiest residences in the likes of Fulham, South Kensington and Knightsbridge.

Many of the buses that run from around Hampstead Heath feel practically bucolic at times – get some fresh air vibes aboard the 214 or 271 (the latter is also handy for Highgate Cemetery). South of the river, the 176 runs from Penge, through leafy Dulwich (passing right by the excellent Horniman Museum) to Tottenham Court Road.

A fine companion to such explorations are the Pevsner architectural guides – with these in your backpack, you’re never far from a flying buttress or some other fascinating nook or cranny. Nairn’s London is another recommended book.

London’s lost rivers are its most powerful ghosts. Largely built over now, they run in subterranean silence, locked away from the living city, feeding its urban legend. Some twenty of them have been accounted for and a good number you can see for yourself if you know where to look.

Walk down to Blackfriars Bridge, for instance, peer over the side and you’ll see the Fleet emptying into the Thames. Stand on the platform at Sloane Square station and look up – see that pipe? That’s the Westbourne in there.

But there’s another river, not yet lost, which remains little known by tourists – the Lea.

Tips to visit in Iceland

Iceland is famous for majestic glaciers and snow-covered houses, for the Northern Lights and blue-lit ice caves. Visit in summer, though, and it can feel like a different country.

While there are still plenty of icy natural wonders, you can also party with the locals at summer festivals, hike across flower-strewn moorland and soak in hot springs under the midnight sun. Here are our picks of the best places to experience summer in Iceland.

 

To get off the tourist trail: the West Fjords

Summer is the perfect time to hike through the stunning Icelandic scenery, and if you can camp, so much the better (and cheaper). Dynjandi is a particularly good spot to pitch up – the waterfall may not be as famous as Gullfoss, but it still attracts plenty of visitors. Stay the night and you may well get the thunderous falls, glittering in the early-morning sun, all to yourself.

For a more remote West Fjords experience head to Hornstrandir, right on the edge of the Arctic Circle and barely accessible out of summer. This peninsula in Iceland’s far northwest is entirely wild, its inhospitable but beautiful terrain preserved as a nature reserve.

It’s the perfect place to escape the crowds of the southern coast – though even in the middle of summer the weather is unpredictable, so hikers should take precautions to stay safe.

One of Iceland’s biggest draws is its wildlife and the Westman Islands are the prime place to go for puffin spotting. Every year between April and August, the archipelago becomes the biggest puffin colony in the world. The friendly town of Vestmannaeyjar is located on the only inhabited island, Heimaey, and is the best base for seeing these cute orange-beaked birds.

Visit in early August and you might be lucky enough to witness a truly heart-warming event: local families collect lost baby puffins, or “pufflings”, who’ve found their way into the town by mistake, and bring them to the shore to safely release them.

The summer festival, Þjóðhátíð, is also held in early August; its popularity among Icelanders is reflected in the fact it’s known, quite simply, as “The Festival”.

Solo travel in Thailand

Thailand is the quintessential backpacker destination. Here you can make the first footprints on secluded sands, dance shoeless under a full moon and swim beneath cascading waterfalls.

Running through Thailand’s rainforests and temples and looping around its islands and beaches is the so-called “banana pancake trail”, a well-worn, tried and tested backpacker route that has seen the sandals of thousands of independent travellers over the decades.

They’re still coming in their droves and you’re a part of the action as soon as you strap on that backpack – the accessory that ensures you won’t even have the chance to get lonely.

For a frenetic introduction to Thailand, head straight to Bangkok where the neon lights and market stalls of Khao San Road still serve as the country’s main backpacker hangout. Slurp noodles, sip local beer and visit the gilded Grand Palace and Wat Pho’s giant gold reclining Buddha with your new friends.

For impressive Thai temples, head to Ayutthaya in the north, the country’s ancient capital now scattered with temples in varying stages of decay. The brooding red-brick ruins are best viewed at sunset, when the golden light makes this atmospheric city a photographer’s dream.

If you’re after something a little more laidback, Kanchanaburi is the spot for you. You can take a train along the famous Death Railway, built by prisoners of war during World War II, see the Bridge over the River Kwai and swim at the tumbling seven-tiered Erawan Falls.

Ko Pha Ngan is where the sands of Hat Rin see up to 30,000 people arrive each month for the famous full moon parties. The party starts at dusk, when thousands of lamps are lit, and continues through the night, with dancing, fire twirling and, of course, drinking.

If you want to get to know the locals, head to Chiang Mai, the jumping off point for numerous guided multi-day treks and short walks in the country’s remote north. Here you can visit small local communities, but be mindful of concerns around tribal tourism.