Colonia-del-Sacramento-Uruguay-feat-img

Visiting the historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

We earmarked Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay as a place in which to stop and take a breather from our hectic travels. Much like our time in Tahiti in the South Pacific, we thought it would be an ideal place in which to pause for a few weeks and reset before continuing onto another chapter of our trip.

Unfortunately, by the time we reached Buenos Aires in Argentina – just 50km across the Río de la Plata – we were running desperately short on both funds and time. Therefore, what should have been an extended stay with some much-needed downtime turned into a brief stopover with little more than a whistle-stop tour of the major sights of the historic quarter (Barrio Histórico). 

Nonetheless, what we saw in Colonia del Sacramento, we liked. Continue reading

The oldest cities in the world

There’s a certain aesthetic attached to the oldest cities in the world: bustling souks beneath a bright blue sky, flowing garments made of whispery white cotton, stone masonry painted yellow by the sun.

In reality, however, the oldest cities in the world have faced deep unrest throughout their long histories. Tragically, some are still uninhabitable. The Syrian town of Aleppo, for example, is likely the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world but rages with civil war today. Damascus too is categorically off limits.
Continue reading

Ferdinand-Magellan-route-feat-img.jpg

Punta Arenas: following the Ferdinand Magellan route

The sprawling city of Punta Arenas, situated on the historic Ferdinand Magellan route, is not easy to define. It’s possible that the city itself is confused about its identity. Once a penal colony, it is today part roughneck, part modern metropolis, part open-air maritime museum.

The town’s position overlooking the coarse and inhospitable Strait of Magellan – the most important natural passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – makes it essential to Chile’s maritime trade and provides access to the Antarctic peninsular. Continue reading

interesting facts about bolivia

17 interesting facts about Bolivia

A selection of the most interesting facts about Bolivia we picked up during our visit.

Before we went to Bolivia, my entire education on the country came from this scene from the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Although our arrival in the country wasn’t quite as displeasing as Robert Redford’s, Bolivia did prove one of the more challenging countries we’ve visited. Cold showers, uninspiring cuisine and high altitude were just some of things we battled.

Continue reading

21 dos and don’ts of visiting Cusco, Peru

Peru’s Incan gem is testament to the fact that tourism need not destroy a town’s charm and soul. Here’s what to know before visiting Cusco.

Cusco is one of the prettiest, cleanest and, yes, most consistent towns in which we’ve ever been. The imposing colonial architecture, the trimmed lawns and sweeping views work in flawless harmony to negate the pernicious effects of tourism. Even the ubiquitous golden arches of McDonald’s are coloured an inconspicuous black. Continue reading

15 interesting facts about Peru

Peru’s Machu Picchu tops bucket lists everywhere, most recently appearing at number three on Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist, a compilation of  500 unmissable attractions across the world ranked by the publisher’s global community of travel experts.

There’s no doubt that our Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu was one of the highlights of our trip around the world, but there’s certainly more to Peru. From gargantuan canyons to archaeological enigmas, this South American gem offers an abundance of culture and adventure. Here are the most interesting facts about Peru we picked up on our trip across its lands. Continue reading

7 cultural faux pas in London

On every corner: the extraordinary history of London

London lacks many things: picnic weather in July, a resilience to winter snow, an effective solution to the hipster invasion. What it does have in abundance – more so than almost any other city in the world – is an inexhaustible well of intriguing history. It spills forth from domes and spires, flows amid the currents of the River Thames, and rushes through the veins of our subterranean network.

In fact, so bountiful and broad is the history of London, one could easily walk past something different every day without realising its significance. Here we list 10 extraordinary historical sites hidden beneath a banal facade. Continue reading

visiting-easter-island

Visiting Easter Island: the middle of nowhere

I’m going to begin with a bold statement: visiting Easter Island deserves a place amid the Seven Wonders of the World, easily surpassing Christ the Redeemer and arguably one or two others as well.

Between us, Kia and I have visited all seven wonders and believe that visiting Easter Island deserves a place among mankind’s greatest constructions. Out there in the middle of nowhere, it is often forgotten compared with mainstream monuments and structures. But it shouldn’t be forgotten and it really shouldn’t be missed. For so many reasons, we left our hearts on Easter Island out there in the middle of the Pacific. Continue reading

easter-island-facts

6 interesting Easter Island facts

We examine the island’s history and explain some of the most interesting Easter Island facts. This remote Pacific island is not only beautiful but full of mystery. 

First thing’s first, Easter Island is far. Very, very far. 

Map of Easter Island

In fact, it is one of the most remote communities in the world. Its closest inhabited neighbour is Pitcairn, 2,000km (1,200mi) to the west while the nearest continental land lies in Chile at a distance of 3,700km (2,300mi). In short, it’s not a short hop.

And so the question one must ask is: are the Easter Island statues worth the slog? Are these great hunks of rock worth the expense of a long voyage? Continue reading

TIPS-FOR-VISITING-ISLA-DEL-SOL,-BOLIVIA

6 tips for visiting Isla Del Sol, Bolivia

If your trip to Bolivia is anything like ours, you’ll need a place to catch your breath and reset. Visiting Isla Del Sol is the perfect answer.

Like most round-the-world trips, ours has not been a big yellow ball of shining happiness but rather a gradient of colours. At one end lie vivid and soaring reds: the Mount Yasurs and Salar de Uyunis of the trip. At the other end are greys and browns: the 32-hour bus journey from Guayaquil to Lima, the insurance claim for ruined electronics. And in the middle are large swathes of greens and blues: the days that aren’t breathtaking or life affirming, but pleasant and fun nonetheless.

Continue reading

10 real-life fairytale buildings

One of the best parts of travel is visiting a surreal place previously seen only in pictures. Whether it’s an unknown abode hidden in the hills of Portugal or an iconic structure plastered in the pages of National Geographic, these places are eye catching, heart halting, jaw dropping. In short, they could be straight out of a storybook. Here are our favourite fairytale buildings from across the world. Continue reading

NAZCA-LINES-FLIGHT

Nazca Lines flight: discovering one of the world’s great enigmas

Very little ignites my wanderlust as strongly as a great travel mystery. And as travel mysteries go, the mysterious lines of the Nazca Desert in southern Peru are one of the greatest.

The network comprises over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures known as ‘geoglyphs’ and 70 animal and plant drawings or ‘biomorphs’. The lines are largely indiscernible from ground level – however, from the skies above they reveal an arresting network of figures and channels which spread across the desert below. Continue reading

SALKANTAY-TREK-TO-MACHU-PICCHU

Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu: highlights and lowlights

I look back on the highlights and lowlights of our Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu in Peru, to help future trekkers prepare for the challenge ahead.

There are three things I feared when embarking on our year-long trip around the world. First: the bugs (let’s face it, that was warranted). Second: our multi-day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu (was I fit enough? Could I cope with the altitude? What about the lack of commode? Would I break down after a long bout of camping?). Third: Dealing with the Patagonian winter (I’ll face that battle when I come to it).

Having completed the 5-day Salkantay trek with Alpaca Expeditions, I can happily report that it was much easier than I expected. Day 1 was in fact the most challenging with several hours’ hiking uphill but after that it was all fairly straightforward.

I’ve put together a list of tips, highlights and lowlights to help future trekkers prepare for the challenge ahead.

Continue reading
best machu picchu trek a comparison

Best Machu Picchu trek: a comparison

What is the Best Machu Picchu trek for you? We compare the pros and cons of each route to help you choose the trek that’s right for you.

Machu Picchu, that great Wonder of the World, that icon of South America so ubiquitous on travel websites and agency storefronts. Is it any wonder would-be visitors fret about choosing the perfect trek?

Some book their trip months in advance to make sure they get their trek of choice, others are left heartbroken when they turn up to find that they’ve missed the boat.

Prior to our trip, we had one pressing question: is the Inca Trail worth it?

Continue reading
san-agustin-colombia

San Agustin: the mystical funny faces of Colombia

San Agustin in Colombia is a sleepy little town buried in the rolling green hills of the southwestern part of the country. The town unfortunately lacks the pretty and quaint charms of colourful Guatape or adorable Salento, but makes up for it with Colombia’s finest archaeological park within walking distance.

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Parque Arqueológico is home to over a hundred 3,300-year-old statues carved from stone by the area’s famous pre-Hispanic masons. Comparable to Easter Island’s Moai statues, although not quite on the same scale, they depict some rather beguiling, if not creepy, animal-human hybrid creatures. Fanged faces smile awkwardly at you from all angles as you wander the forested trails and climb the green hilltops. Continue reading

visiting-alcatraz

Escape to Alcatraz: visiting Alcatraz prison

I often joke that if you label any old building a tourist attraction and put it in a guidebook, people will come. It might be a prosaic power station, a random rock formation, or even a tour of a sewage factory – with enough PR, people will come.

In theory, visiting Alcatraz prison could fit into this category of non-attractions. It’s a prison. It has cell blocks, cells, walls and bars. Each cell is indiscernible from the next and the entire building, at least from the inside, should be largely unremarkable. Continue reading

pearl-harbor-memorial

Pearl Harbor Memorial: a Brit’s view

Our day starts with a 50-minute wait for the bus in Honolulu’s main thoroughfare. An hour after that, we find ourselves crawling along in the capital’s multi-lane traffic – not what we imagined when we planned our eight-mile journey in this supposed island paradise.

Kia tosses me a look. “I hope this is worth it,” she says with a tone that sounds sweet to the ears but hides much promise of pain.

“It will be,” I assure her, quietly gulping.

As the son of a history teacher, I’ve long been fascinated by the seminal events of days gone past. It started with small, poignant pieces of knowledge like the fact that more soldiers die of disease than violence, or that more soldiers die after a war ends than before because of veteran depression. These people, their lives, their decisions seemed so much bigger, so much sadder than mine. Continue reading

robert louis stevenson museum

Robert Louis Stevenson museum: an unexpected highlight of Samoa

The Robert Louis Stevenson museum in Samoa was an unexpected highlight of our trip to Samoa. A cursory cultural stop became a genuinely fascinating morning.

“The Booker Prize money wouldn’t even keep me in cigarettes,” once quipped best-selling crime writer Martina Cole. Faced with snobbery over the type of commercial fiction she writes, the irreverent author’s swipe highlighted the fact that commercial fiction subsidises literary fiction, allowing publishers to publish the highbrow literature that hardly anyone buys.

It was perhaps a similar snobbery that excluded author Robert Louis Stevenson from The Norton Anthology of English Literature for 32 years, and the reason why he was entirely unmentioned in the 2000-page Oxford Anthology of English Literature in 1973. Modern critics have censured his style as simplistic, but if raw and compelling storytelling holds any value at all, surely Stevenson would be among the greats. Continue reading

Chittorgarh Fort

Not the Taj Mahal: Chittorgarh Fort in India

If you decide to take that trip of a lifetime to go and “find yourself” in India, it will probably include a trip to the Taj, a date with the Dalai Lama, a tour around the pink city of Jaipur and any number of other “spirit of India” experiences the guidebooks will throw at you. These sights are all, of course, worthy of your time but don’t miss Chittorgarh Fort, the Rajasthani gem rarely promoted as a must-see. I arrived in Chittorgarh after a 48-hour journey from Mumbai which included delayed trains (plural) and a rough night on a station platform at Ratlam Junction (another story altogether).

Continue reading