Driving through Transylvania’s Fortified Saxon villages and exploring Bran Castle

Once you creep over the Transylvanian Alps, you’re into a wide lowland area of rolling hills that is dotted with picturesque Fortified Saxon Villages, well preserved Old Towns and, of course, the famous Dracula castle of Bran Castle.  Whilst some parts of more worth visiting than others, the whole area easily allows you to dream back to what it must have been like in a bygone age untouched by the modern world
The Citadel of Sighisoara, Bran Castle and the fortified church of Viscri are must sees.  The rest is more about the slow paced vibe of the Transylvanian lowlands.  Total of 2-3 days is probably enough, and I’ve listed some tips below

3 days in Budapest for baths, architectural gems and nights out in the ruin bars

Big fan of Budapest.  The city itself has a certain unusual quality compared to other well known European cities just because of its history in the Austro-Hungarian empire and strong Eastern European (and Middle Eastern) influence.  This combined with the bath culture and great energy from the easily accessible night spots (think beer gardens rather than clubs) make it quite a gem for a long weekend trip

A long weekend for Lisbon and the surrounding gems of Sintra and Cascais

Lisbon is a supremely elegant city stepped in history and with atmospheric neighbourhoods to head off and explore, but I actually found the two surrounding places of Sintra and Cascais to be the real gems of the visit

I would suggest staying in Sintra or Cascais rather than Lisbon. Staying in Lisbon you are always going to be surrounded by fellow tourists, day or night.  Whereas places like Sintra and Cascais offer a very different experience when the crowds have left for the day (or before they arrive if you’re an early bird). And the trains / Ubers make it so simple to pop between the 3 of them. I had some magical times in the likes of Sintra wandering around in the early morning having the place to myself, and enjoying the quieter evenings in Cascais.  Be bold and stay outside of Lisbon for the better experience

Relaxing on the beaches of Phuket

Phuket is a beautiful spot to chill out at for a few days.  It has the full range of accommodation and eating options, some good opportunities for partying / lash, diving to the south and enough scale to head off on trips all around the peninsular

 

Yes, its touristy, but it ticks the chill out vibe after a few weeks of travelling or as a simple break from any of the nearby Asian cities

 

Only a very brief travel entry, so a few high level tips:

  • Even if there for full on partying/ lash – try not to stay in Patong.  It’s great for the nights out, but there are just so many wonderful options slightly further away in the hills and on the beaches for the same prices
  • When in Patong, even if not there for a giant night out, make sure to head to Tiger Bar.  It kind of sums up the Patong vibe with something like 50 different mini bars each with their own theme
  • There are a bunch of islands off the east coast of Phuket that you can visit as part of day tour with a variety of operators leaving from Yamu Pier.  The islands are great, but you just need to be careful who you book with because it is very easy to get rammed into a full tourist boat that won’t quite hit the paradise vibe you’re looking for
  • There are some great spots for scuba diving all around Phuket, in particular the ferry reef dive off Raja Yai in the south is superb, with heaps of large cleaner fish that come up very close

Chilling, diving and drinking in Caye Caulker

Chilling – Go Slow is on the street signs, used when people say hello to each other, and just the general culture of the place.  Such a wonderfully laid back Caribbean beach town

Diving – some fab dive sites no distance from the shore, and of course access to the world famous Blue Hole

Drinking – the Spit, the narrow channel that splits Caye Caulker in two and with a series of beach bars to allow you to chill in the water whilst having your drinks, makes for one of the best drinking spots you can dream of

Caye Caulker – a must if in Belize

3 days relaxing and diving by the beautiful Lake Atitlan

The most beautiful place I saw in Central America and, quite possibly, the most beautifully idyllic place in the world.  Think Lake Como in Italy, but with volcanoes and indigenous villages dotting the side.  Think originally scheduling for 1 night, but extending to 3 nights after one look across the lake.  Think finding that spot nestled in the trees just above the water with a view looking across the lake and the volcanoes, and knowing your whole day will be happily spent there as you swing in the hammock only leaving for occasional swims

Ok, you get it, idyllically beautiful.  A must if in Central America

If you’re a diver, its also worth doing a couple of dives here.  Whilst the visibility is poor and not a huge amount of wildlife to see, its a good experience to be diving at altitude (1560m / 5100ft), plus checking out the now-underwater hotel and finding hot spots on the lake bed where the volcano heats the lake

Hiking and zip-lining in the Colca Canyon

Visiting the Colca Canyon is a great 3/4 day trip from Arequipa – you’ll see some stunning scenery as the canyon is the second deepest in the world (twice the depth of the Grand Canyon) with majestic condors flying overhead, see plenty of traces of the old Inca construction along the valley; and end it with some adrenaline pumping zip-lining

If you’re going to hike one trek in Peru, it will very likely be the Inca trail, which is indeed stunning (see Hiking the 4 days Inca Trail for more details).  But the Colca Canyon trip is one that will cost a fraction of that, be far less busy and allow you to go at your own pace.  I really rated it

Hiking the 4 day / 3 night Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is a 43km hike that snakes its way majestically through a combination of stunning Andes mountains, Peruvian countryside, near perfectly maintained Inca ruins, thick cloud forest mists and ending at the Sun Gate, the mountain entrance to the world famous ruins of Machu Picchu.  It is one of those rare travel experiences that really lives up to the hype

As you can see in the tips below, there are a few things to consider before heading off on the trail, in particular your level of fitness, the cost and going at the right time of year.  It can also get a little busy at times, but this is all relative – 200 hikers per day spread over the 43km rarely feels crowded compared to Machu Picchu and the various Inca sites in the Sacred Valley.  If you have the time, the money and the stamina, you’ve got to do it.  The combination of the mystery of the Inca ruins, the truly breathtaking mountain scenery and its world fame makes this one of the must do travel experiences in South America and, in my opinion, the world

World class beaches in Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro is a gorgeous piece of island paradise – some of the most beautiful beaches in the world with the Zapatillas Islands; laid back hotels all the way along the long coastline of the main island; a great Caribbean small party backpacker vibe in Bocas del Torro Town; and a range of wildlife including humming birds, sloths, dolphins and sharks.  Beautiful place to relax for a few days (so much so that we extended to a week!)

Highlight of Panama

Hiking the Lost City Trek

The Cuidad Perdida (Lost City) was first built around the 12th century and was abandoned when the local people (the Tayrona) fled deeper into the jungle to escape the Spanish Conquistadores and their insatiable drive for gold.  Only rediscovered in the 1970s, the Lost City itself is an inspiring site to visit – mysterious terraces going up the mountainous jungle and built far before the likes of Machu Picchu.  But it is the trek itself – 4 days through some of the most beautiful jungle in Colombia and through some of the still existing hill tribes – that makes this a wonderful experience

It was a lot harder than we thought – 44km (27 miles) of quite steep terrain and, of course for this part of the world, hot and humid – so be prepared, but make this a must do if in this part of the world