A supercharged week seeing the highlights of Israel and Jordan

I say this trip is supercharged because it doesn’t leave much time for chilling out.  But, if you’re like most of us and only have a limited amount of vacation, then this is a fantastic weekend to weekend trip that takes in the world famous sites of Jerusalem, Petra and Wadi rum; while providing time for some fun experiences like floating in the Dead Sea, scuba diving in the Red Sea, driving through sparse deserts and a party in Tel Aviv

You’ll need energy for these 7 days, but you’ll be rewarded as, in my opinion, its one of the world’s best week long trips in the world

I was hesitating in going in winter as I’d seen low temperatures.  Don’t.  The winter helped with reduced crowds, not needing to book far ahead and not getting exhausted by the heat.  Perfect trip for a week-long winter break

4WDing around Wadi Rum and spending a night in a desert camp

No wonder they filmed The Martian, Star Wars, Dune and Prometheus here – Wadi Rum has an otherworldly feel to it and driving around in 4x4s with the wind in your face watching the sandstone cliffs and red desert pass you by really gives a sci-fi feeling of adventure.  Expect to find yourselves regularly stopping to gawp at the latest stunning vista throughout the day

I’m sure there is a bunch of things that can take multiple days up, but we had half a day plus staying over night in one of the Martian tent, and that felt like the right amount of time.  Especially as we had time for both the sunset and the stunning first light.  A must if in this part of the world

6 months trip of a lifetime around Latin America

My girlfriend and I went on a 6month trip around Latin America (excluding Brazil).  Started in the far South in the Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and, broadly, made our way up the west coast to the Yucatan Peninsular of Mexico.  Best large scale trip I’ve done, and wanted to share the overall itinerary and tips here to hopefully help those who are considering something similar

A few high level points:

  • Other than the flights there and the first hotel, there were only three things we booked in advance: the Inca Trail (which we knew we needed to for permits); plus for Patagonia a trip through Torres del Paine National Park and a ferry through the fjords (as we were going at peak season and only a couple of weeks after we landed).  Everything else, we booked when in Latin America and, in our opinion, that is the best way to do it – gives you the freedom to relax in the places you find that you love and be super flexible to do what you want to do
  • Total costs – my girlfriend and I went in our 30s, with no kids and on sabbaticals from work.  We’re not poor, but certainly not mega wealthy.  We didn’t stay in super expensive hotels (other than for the occasional splurge), flew economy and used a bit of common sense for timings of certain expensive items, but never held back on doing the things we wanted to do.  Some examples of big ticket items: US$5k for a week diving in the remote Wolf & Darwin Islands in the Galapagos; US$1.2k for 4 days in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia; US$800 for a helicopter trip to see the El Mirador Mayan ruins in the Guatemalan jungle; US$700 for the Inca Trail.  Total cost of the whole trip was US$34k each.  This included all flights, transport, hotels, activities, food, drink, guides, screwing things up, credit card fees – the lot.  Expensive, but so are most Experiences of a Lifetime
  • It’s not about trying to “do everything” – in a place as large as Latin America, you couldn’t even if you tried – so don’t think of things as a big tick box exercise.  Brazil, for example, we knew we couldn’t do justice whilst also trying to enjoy all the other amazing places we’d heard of, so left it for next time
  • In the similar vain, make sure you give yourself big chunks of time to chill out.  Not only to recharge the batteries, but also because most places are enjoyed when you spend time to soak up the feel for the place.  There were some places . . . like Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, Buenos Aires in Argentina, Isla Mujeres in Mexico, Bocas del Toro in Panama . . . where I could have spent weeks there just because the general vibe of the place was so wonderful
  • Safety – we weren’t robbed, but many people do either having a bag stolen or, unpleasantly, get robbed face to face.  Other than a couple of cities, we generally felt super safe the places we went and tried to just apply common sense to reduce our risks
  • Learn a bit of Spanish before you go – the app DuoLingo was great for getting us to a basic level that made a lot of difference.  But also don’t be afraid to pull out google for simultaneous conversation translations to really be able to have a conversation with someone – some long trips became some of our highlights just from being able to properly talk with the driver / locals.  I particularly remember a long taxi ride in Colombia where we went back and forward for 2 hours with the driver on everything from his home town to politics to football to his favourite movies to his family problems- never could have done that without Spanish or google.  In a similar vein, and using the right level of common sense, don’t turn down an invite for drinks / dinner / house visit with locals.  There are some truly unforgettable natural and cultural spots to see, but similarly an evening with a local family will be something likely to be just as unforgettable
  • Whenever checking out a place or must-do-site, its easy to get templed / churched / ancient site / beached out.  Always do a very basic bit of research to see if there is a more out of the ordinary way to experience it – by bike / drinking tour / kayaking / helicopter / whatever.  Thats what we tried to do, and I hope it reflected in some of the cool stuff listed below

A week for the best of mainland Ecuador

This below 9 day itinerary is a good combination of some of the best things about mainland Ecuador – the old town of Quito; stepping back in time to a Lord of the Rings-style adventure around the Quliatoa Loop; a major challenge in summiting Cotopaxi; and getting to meet a range of local people along the way

 

Obviously, for many people Ecuador is all about the Galapagos Islands (see Island hoping through the main Galapagos Islands and Scuba diving at Wolf and Darwin Islands in the Galapagos for tips on these wonderful experiences).  But it also has some world-class experiences to be found on the mainland

The Bolivian Salt Flats in rainy season

We’ve all seen the famous customary silly photos . . . but what I didn’t expect was quite how much fun it would be splashing about taking these customary silly photos!  Right from when you first put your feet in the water to feel the slightly crunchy crystals of the salt beneath you, through to gazing across the water into the distance at this vast temporary sea, its a great experience and an absolute must if in this part of the world

Taking a 4WD tour from San Pedro de Atacama to the Bolivian Salt Flats

The Salt flats (Salar de Uyuni) are world famous, unique, big enough that you can avoid other tourists and so cool that you can just stand around in awe (see The Bolivian Salt Flats in Rainy Season entry for details on the Salt Flats themselves). But I’d also highly recommend taking the 4WD trip between Uyuni and San Pedro in the Atacama desert . . . in fact its kind of a must if visiting the Salt Flats because of the sheer stunning vistas in this part of the world.  The trip can be a long drive and don’t expect luxury, but seeing the AltiPlano is otherworldly and a world class adventure

A trip to the end of the earth, 4 days in the Tierra del Fuego

You typically read about Patagonia in its extremes  – how far south, how remote, how windswept and desolate.  The Tierra del Fuego is the extreme of Patagonia as the southernmost tip of the Americas and is as strange as it is alluring.  Mountains and volcanoes surround you as you arrive in Ushuaia, the southern most city on earth, and you find yourself in the centre of a big playground of glacial lakes, channels and echoes of past culture of the original Fuegian natives.  All giving you a chance to explore and feel what it must have been like for the first explorers, like Magellan and Captain Fitzroy, as they passed through this otherworldly place

Many only arrive in Ushuaia as their departure point for the Antarctic, yet find this little-known to be the highlight.  We opted for doing a combination of taking a tour company for their 4x4s etc as well as doing parts on our own and found that to be the right mix

4x4s around the Tierra del Fuego

The Tierra del Fuego – the southermost tip of the Americas and as strange as it is alluring.  Mountains and volcanoes surround you as you arrive in Ushuaia, the southern most city on earth, and you find yourself in the centre of a big playground of glacial lakes, channels and echoes of past culture of the original Fuegian natives.  Take the chance to explore by taking a 4×4 to see some of the lakes, national parks and breathtaking scenery.  You can usually do this in a day, but give yourself two so you can check out the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego and some of the lakes further afield and more remote like Escondido and Fagnano

4WDing around Fraser Island

Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island and, with practically no development, it is a truly fantastic experience when you head off for 2-3 days in a 4 wheel-drive to explore the pristine creeks, freshwater lakes and lush rainforest.  Plus, it is all interlinked by the magnificent eastern stretch of beach that runs the near full 120km / 75mile length of the island and acts as the “highway”.  Lake McKenzie, with its clean mesmerising colours, perfect white sand and backdrop of the rainforest, is worth the trip alone.  The highlight experience of Queensland, if not all of Australia, and a must for an East Coast visit

 

I’ve written a few tips below, but my biggest tips are to give yourself at least 2 days, ideally 3, and to rent a 4×4 rather than taking a tour.  The day tours can be good (I’ve done one before and we still had a great time), but there is something wonderfully adventurous about renting a 4×4 and heading off across the island at your own pace to go exploring.  Its a very accessible chunk of paradise, so very easy to do

Hanging out with the Masai in the Masai Mara

The Masai Mara immediately conjures up images of being a kid watching your first wildlife documentary, with lions, leopards and cheetahs chasing gazelles, impalas and wildebeest . . . and indeed that is the immediate thought.  But the Masai Mara is also home of the Masai who run all things around here and who, actually, themselves, represent one of the highlights.  Spending the time with them in their bright red and black shukasas as they take you for a wander around the plains and through their villages is a magical experience and, if in Kenya, unmissable