Guatape: the best day trip in Colombia

A quaint and charming town awaits you in Guatape with colourful streets and quiet piazzas, while La Piedra Del Penol offers the best views in the land

When I’m about to visit a country for the first time, one of the first things I do is scan a guidebook and pick out a few highlights or must-sees. This can be dangerous business as you’re often putting yourself at the author’s subjective mercy.

When I first scanned our guidebook’s Colombian highlights I saw colonial towns, national parks and coffee plantations. After a month in Colombia, I can safely say that the best day I had there barely gets a mention in the guidebooks.

The best water purifier for travel: a review

If you’re frequent traveller, buying bottled water can become an expensive endeavour. We take a look at SteriPEN, the best water purifier for travel we’ve used

We’ve stayed in some pretty basic places during the course of our trip so far. There was the Fijian camping site in Taveuni with rather sketchy commode, the Samoan beach fale in Savaii which didn’t have walls, and the Colombian campsite in San Agustin with drinking water that ran a brownish yellow.

In all these places, we’ve been able to drink the tap water (hose water in one case) because we’ve been able to purify water on the go.

Hitting the language barrier

Hitting the language barrier

Why travelling in South America has given me a newfound respect for my parents

I check the clock for the third time in five minutes. It is now 11.40am, a good forty minutes past the time we were expecting our transfer to Cartagena’s bus station. I flex my shoulders and try to relax. Peter always tells me I worry too much; that I get too uptight about loose schedules and tardy transfers.

A few minutes later, our Airbnb host Nadia sticks her head in the door. She says some words. I catch enough to understand that she’s saying our bus leaves in 20 minutes. I know that already. She ushers us out the door and says she’ll call a taxi instead. Downstairs, we wait. Instead of hailing a taxi, she speaks to two lads on motorbikes and then gestures for us to get on.

Cartagena in Colombia: 26 dos and don’ts

Cartagena in Colombia: the very name has an aura of old-world romance; of steamy hot days, winding city roads, and crumpled treasure maps.

Its charming architecture and interesting history certainly didn’t disappoint, but it was a baptism of fire after six months in the Pacific.

We quickly learned that there are two rules governing the streets of Colombia. First, do not offer papaya. Second, if papaya is offered, someone has to take it. They don’t mean papaya in the literal sense of course; it’s a byword for your valuables.

8 expat tips to know before you go

So many of us dream of changing our lives; of moving to sunnier climes and enjoying better food, nicer people and cleaner air. Moving countries is portrayed as a panacea, a balm to soothe life’s ills. According to the results of our ongoing expat survey, 85% of expats feel they made the right decision when they moved abroad*, indicating that the expat life is indeed all it’s cracked up to be. However, there are several things many expats wish they knew before they flew. Here’s a roundup of expat tips for anyone thinking of leaving home.

How I overcame my fear of spiders

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A ripple of skepticism snakes through my body. I close my eyes and slow my breathing, determined to give John a fair chance. His voice is soft, lulling me into a state of calm. After a few minutes, he begins his chant: “From this point forward, you will be calm, relaxed and at ease in the presence of spiders.” I try to absorb his words, to internalise them, to really believe them.

How to pass the PADI Open Water Diver course

how to pass the padi open water

A step-by-step guide for fellow divers who are somewhat nervous ahead of the PADI Open Water Diver course.

In theory, an expert diver should be writing this post. Logically, he or she could tell you what to expect, give you insider tips and prepare you for the challenge ahead. Of course, as a newly qualified diver, I have one advantage over the experts: I know first-hand just how hard it is for the nervous first-timer. I know what it’s like to almost back out of your first dive and to quit the course altogether. I also know how to get back on it.

Five months after my first attempt, I passed the PADI Open Water Diver course.

Things to do at the Grand Canyon, USA

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To make your visit as easy as possible, we put together the top things to do at the Grand Canyon – one of America’s greatest attractions

A trip to the Grand Canyon can be overwhelming, not only because of the incredible vistas on display but the sheer range of activities, hikes, trails and viewpoints to choose from.

To make your visit as easy as possible, we put together the top things to do at the Grand Canyon during your trip. Note that numbers 1-4 can be done in a single day but you will need several days should you wish to do the rest.

Airbnb reviews: the importance of being honest

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It’s natural to feel bad about leaving negative Airbnb reviews but if we’re all polite about everybody, the reviews lose their meaning

My first experience with Airbnb was a strange one. In 2012, I booked four nights in a beautiful two-storey house in San Francisco. It was straight out of the movies, all colourful panelling and pretty white trim, nestled among similarly immaculate houses on a gently undulating street.

The host was a young single male – let’s call him Steve. I carefully read his former guests’ Airbnb reviews, conscious about sharing a home with a man I’d never met. Everyone said Steve was a wonderful host – and he was.

Visiting Alcatraz prison in San Francisco

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Visiting Alcatraz prison in San Francisco should be up there with the Golden Gate Bridge

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.

Our unexpected great American road trip

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In two weeks, we have crossed four states on our American road trip, seeing an array of landscapes straight out of the movies

We never even planned to be in the US!

In fact, we should have been about 3,000 miles further south by the time we rocked up on Venice Beach in LA, mixing with the crowds of hippies, hipsters, tourists and homeless. I’ll admit that with my two-month old beard, huge backpack and threadbare flip flops, I blended in most with the latter.

In the two weeks since our arrival, we have crossed four states on our American road trip, seeing an array of landscapes straight out of the movies. From snowcapped mountain ranges to tumbleweed-strewn deserts, from glitzy casinos and roadside motels to the empty and silent towns of the Midwest, we saw it all. And it was magical.

9 literary places we wish were real

There are some books I read as a child that were frankly terrifying. The hallucinogenic madness of Alice in Wonderland, the crazy little people of Lilliput and the otherworldly qualities of Oz had me pitying the protagonists that walked those lands.

Other books, however, made me wish I could visit the places painted within. Here are my favourite literary places that I wish were real.