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

Jerusalem for a day on the Sabbath

One of the most famous cities in the world and the spiritual centre for three of the world’s major religions, Jerusalem is steeped in history and has sites that attract hordes of tourists and worshippers alike

We went on the sabbath, which in Israel means many things are closed, and in winter, which means it’ll be around 10-12 Celsius / 50-54 Fahrenheit in the day, so it was probably a bit quieter than normal and I think that was a positive on the overall experience

I’ve read in books like the Lonely Planet that you need four days to experience Jerusalem.  I think that may be true if you are deeply religious or have a passion for the history of the area, but for those who just broadly want to check it out, and have the right level of energy, you can have a great experience with only one day

So, if only have one day, I have 2 suggestions.  Firstly, focus on the key sites of the old city, in particular the Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Temple on the Mount.  Secondly, don’t try to do more than that and, instead, get lost wandering through Jerusalem’s narrow streets and off the tourist trail.  You’ll notice subtle differences moving between quarters and stumble upon some of the lesser known sites.  Far more enjoyable that following a guided tour, and less tiring

2 days in London and top 10 things to do

One of the world’s premier cities and with just about everything you could hope for in a 2 day city visit.  World famous sites such as the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London; world class restaurants, shopping areas and entertainment venues; vast parks which give you the opportunity to break away from the mayhem; and, of course, the mania that surround the Royal Family and their residences.  Yes, its busy, but it’s also a must visit city

 

There’s obviously heaps and heaps of things to do.  I’ve listed out below what I think are the top 10 split between must-sees and great to sees.  Plus, some general tips for how to get the most out of your visit

Day trip to Macau from Hong Kong

Macau is a wonderful day trip from Hong Kong with the combination of China’s boom on display as you wander through the lavish mega casinos, plus the Portuguese culture shinning through in the architecture, food and even street signs in Portuguese in the various spots that justify its UNESCO World Heritage status

 

Top 3 tips:

#1 Experiencing the Portuguese feel – there are various places which are great for getting your fix.  Taipa Village is lovely and well located next to the main casinos.  The area around the Ruins of the Church of Saint Paul is the symbol of Macau and does feel a bit like being in Lisbon around there.  But my main tip is to head to the south of Taipa Island to either the South West for the classic restaurant of Fernando’s that is a bit of an institution in Macau, or to the South West in the area around the Chapel of Saint Francis Xavier which is far less busy and you’re able to sit having Portuguese food in the courtyard looking across the water

 

#2Enjoying the Casinos – whilst Macau sees x6 the revenue of Las Vegas passing across its tables, that doesn’t necessarily equate to the entertainment.  Its more a reflection of the Chinese love / obsession of gambling and this is the only spot in all of China to do it – for example, you’ll typically see a minimum bet of around Macau $200 (USD25) on the tables in Macau combined with little entertainment.  That being said, the entertainment that is on offer is great.  I’d particularly recommend spending time walking the canals of the Venetian and booking ahead for the world-class Cirque du Solei show “The House of Dancing Water” in the City of Dreams.  It is superb .  If you can time it right and keen for the lash / partying, the Hard Rock Pool Party is also a must

 

#3 Transport – getting to Macau from Hong Kong is super simple.  There are ferries leaving every 30mins or so from 3 spots across Hong Kong and it only takes an hour.  Most realistically, you’ll aim to leave from the Shun Tak Centre on Hong Kong island.  Just be aware though that there are two ferry spots in Macau – Macau Outer Harbour which is for the Macau Peninsular (the northern half) and Taipa (the southern half).   Getting around though is a bit harder than Hong Kong as there isn’t the subway / MTR equivalent.  Easiest to just get taxis

 

Overall, its a very easy and great experience from Hong Kong

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

2 / 3 weeks for the highlights of Peru

Peru really does have some world class attractions – world beating restaurants in Lima, a wonder of the world with Machu Picchu, the world’s deepest canyon and some of the best preserved ruins in the world courtesy of the master builder Incas.  The below 2/3 week itinerary lets you enjoy these key sites, plus great activities like hiking, paragliding, zip-lining; and gives you those critical ingredients in a great trip – a sense of fun and adventure as you head a bit off the beaten track

As with all such trips, having more time is ideal.  I’m sure you could easily take months on this itinerary, and indeed far longer for the rest of Peru.  But 2.5 weeks felt about perfect for this trip with the right combo of full-on days mixed in with chill-out days in each of the stops to soak up the place and generally recharge the batteries after the travelling and hiking.  Similarly, you could also, if super pressed for time, knock off the 5 chill-out days and blitz through this trip in 2 weeks – and indeed many have done – but just be aware that there are two quite strenuous hikes and the need to acclimatise to the altitude when you land in Cusco

One of the best 2/3 week adventures I’ve been on.  Highly recommend

Lima – a weekend of world class restaurants, super cool neighbourhoods and rapid paragliding

As with so many capital cities in this part of the world, you’re most probably visiting as a spring board to some of the areas of natural beauty in the country and, in the case of Peru, this is most likely for the amazing mountain hiking and Inca sites to the east (which are indeed fantastic and for more details see Hiking the 4 day Inca Trail, Driving through the Sacred Valley, Key sites just outside Cusco, The Old Town of Arequipa, and the Hiking the Colca Canyon travel entries).  My big recommendation though would be to make sure you give yourself at least 2 days in Lima.  Three reasons for this:

1. The food is world-class – not your standard “oh yeah the food is great” – more like Lima has 3/50 best restaurants in the world level (Paris has 5, London 4, Tokyo has 3, New York 3).  The fusions of Spanish, Japanese, indigenous and African influences make Peruvian cuisine unique and exquisite

2. The neighbourhoods are awesome – walking through the neighbourhoods of Miraflores and Barranco with their chic lounge bars and cafes whilst being near the edge of the dramatic black cliffs that span so much of the coast of Lima is a great vibe to check out.

3. The paragliding from the cliffs is super fun and so incredibly easy to do – just rock up, get strapped in and off you go – I can’t think of any other cities in the world where it is that accessible and with such great views as you soar along the cliffs – just do it!