Portugal highlights on a 2 week roadtrip

Portugal is a great country for visiting for 10/14 days as it has a heap of varied things to experience and not vast distances to cover.  By basing yourself in the 3 major areas of Porto / The Douro Valley, Lisbon, and the Algarve, you can use each as a hub for adventures nearby and also be able to stop off on a few places directly in between that are great for a couple of hours or so

 

Big highlights for me were actually some of the smaller places that I’d never heard of before I arrived in Portugal.  In particular the gorgeous Duoro Valley wine region, the hilltop town of Sintra and the beautifully charming streets of Cascais.  Plus, the more famous highlights of port tasting in Porto and various neighbourhoods of Lisbon

 

Each piece that makes up this itinerary has its own travel post, but I’ve also condensed the key points and listed some more general tips below

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

2 days for the famous highlights of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a great place to visit either as a destination on its own, or, as many people do, as a nice 2 day stop over between flights.  I’ve lived in Hong Kong for 8 years, so . . . I’m biased . . . but also leaves me well placed to give you tips on how to have the best experience

For this review, I’m focusing on 10 classic highlights of Hong Kong and can give some tips that will improve your experience.  But my biggest tip overall is that Hong Kong is not just skyscrapers and neon signs – more than 3/4 of HK is undeveloped, 40% is national parks and a mini tropical paradise if you just jump on a ferry or take a short taxi ride.  For some ideas that will give you an even better HK experience, see the travel entry for 2 days hidden highlights of Hong Kong – you maybe surprised at just how world-class an experience you can get from these little islands

2 days hidden highlights of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a great place to visit either as a destination on its own, or, as many people do, as a nice 2 day stop over between flights.  I’ve lived in Hong Kong for 8 years, so . . . I’m biased . . . but also keen to share some tips to make sure you get the best from the place
The biggest overall tip I can give – many people when they think of Hong Kong think of the skyscrapers, the busy neon light lined streets, the sheer hustle of one of the most densely populated places on earth etc etc – and it is indeed all of these things.  But it is also 75% undeveloped and 40% national park.  In short, it is a world class city, with a tropical paradise a short ferry / taxi away.  That is why, for this review, I am focusing on some of the more unusual things to do in Hong Kong for a first time visitor
Should you want to check out the classic Hong Kong highlights – see my entry for 2 days for the famous highlights of Hong Kong

Scuba diving in Cozumel

Cozumel is all about the diving and the 30m+ visibility.  From what we could see, there were some nice spots outside of the main tourist areas, but the huge influx of cruise ship tourists kind of dominates the main town of San Miguel.  If a diver, its a great spot for nice 1-2 day adventure heading over from the mainland, and where you only spend the evenings in the main town.  If not a diver, give it a miss unless you can find a quieter spot

We went with Maple Leaf Scuba for 2 dives and they were great.  1st dive –  Palancar Bricks (26m), where you work your way through the maze of coral walls which was fun.  Highlight was the 2nd dive – Paso del Codral (18m), a long drift dive along the coral floor, one of my favourite dives for its colours and sheer amount to see

Sunning yourself in Punta del Este

Punta del Este (or simply “Punta”) is the beach resort where many Brazilians and Argentinians flock to to flaunt their beach bodies amongst the crowd and for a chance to spot a celebrity.  There are some nice parts to it, in particular seeing some of the lovely beach-side homes, but more than anything it just reminded me of a cheap Mediterranean resort whilst, unfortunately, also being the most expensive place to visit in Uruguay

I’d avoid

Full day highlights of Chicago

Winters are brutal, but in the summer Chicago is one hell of a place to be with its lakefront beaches, host of activities and with its general buzzy sassy attitude.  I, from a personal point of view, had one of the best days of my life in Chicago because I managed to combine a cycle up the lakefront, the boat tour of the sites, a baseball game, concert and drinks.  Chicago in summer is raring to go and I’ve listed my top tips for an amazing day in the Tips section below

The tourist highlights of Rio de Janeiro combined with a cooking course

The views over stunning Rio de Janeiro Harbour ( . . . one of the Natural Wonders of the World) from Sugar Loaf Mountain, walking along the sands of the world-famous Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches, and heading up the cog train to see Christ the Redeemer (. . . one of the Wonders of the World), Rio has about as many world-class highlights as any city in the world and is a must if visiting Brazil

 

Naturally, with such fame comes crowds, and it’s hard to really avoid them in the main sites where it can be a bit energy sapping as you’re queuing and wedged in with thousands of fellow tourists.  My biggest tip to counter this is to break up your visits to the main sites with a chilled out day on one of the beaches, the real heart of Rio, and to join one of the high-tempo Brazilian cooking courses, in particular with the now famous Simone Almeida’s Cook in Rio located in the Copacabana neighbourhood.  You’ll learn to make 4 traditional Brazilian dishes, but its the enthusiasm Simone provides, to both the food and the endless caipirinhas she plugs you with, that makes this so fun

 

The combination of the world-famous highlights of Rio and the fun of the cooking class made these 2 days in Rio a superb experience

 

I only stayed in Rio for 3 days so don’t feel that I can do this superb city justice with a full review, but the one extra tip I will give is to just be aware of the crime risk.  As with all large Brazilian cities, crime is a problem so use a bit of common sense.  Always carry something to hand over like a basic wallet with some small cash in if, in the unfortunate instance, you do get robbed, and hand everything over you have been asked – thieves in Latin America really don’t mess about.  Take taxis in the evening, and totally avoid the beaches at night.  In fact, the beaches are so huge, that you can actually get robbed in the daytime – fun times!

Segwaying through Barcelona’s highlights

Barcelona is one of Europe’s most impressive cities, with the immense Sagrada Familia, the bar district of Las Ramblas, the views down on the city from the old Olympic Games Park and the city’s super accessible beaches.  I won’t write a detailed review because I was mainly in Barcelona for partying / lash, but my biggest tip is to enjoy these highlights through one of the Segway Tours which through a fun angle into the mix as you zip through the city

Rapid 2 week roadtrip around the US West Coast States

My favourite road trip – the contrasts of natural landscape along the way with snowy mountains, red / yellow deserts, and temperate rainforests; the tasters of the different culture snapshots of the US with conservative cowboys through to uber-liberal SoCal and Pacific North West; the sheer world-fame of some spots like Las Vegas, LA, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon; but more than anything – its a trip that is simply perfect for driving.  The distances involved, the way the US in particular is set up for the drivers and the scenery to take in in between the obvious highlights is just world-beating

It’s also a super high octane trip – 4200 miles / 6760km of driving – the sort of thing you rattle off in your 20s, when you have the energy, 2 weeks of vacation and are keen to see and do everything.  There’s something just so incredibly fun and fantastic about seeing one world-famous site one after the other in rapid succession – one day being in the likes of Yellowstone National Park, the next in Arches National Park, the next the Grand Canyon, the next Las Vegas, the next LA etc etc.  An exciting whirlwind that creates a feeling most will never forget . . . and in a way equally spoils / sets the bar incredibly high for any other trip

A bit rushed? – on the trip itself, we didn’t feel overly rushed.  Again, we had 2 weeks vacation and wanted to see as much of this part of the world as possible.  For example, I actually found a day / half day in each of the national parks perfect to do a basic walk, see the main attractions and get the feel for them.  But of course, it would have been nice to spend longer in each – perhaps take a 3 day hiking trip across one of them.  Or perhaps see some of the other pieces we of course missed along the way.  Ultimately, I always suggest avoiding the mass tourism standard experience on offer, and I shudder just thinking of trying to do this again, but in a part of the world that has world class sites one after the other, the gorging on them was great fun