6 day itinerary for Romania and the Transylvanian region

Romania, and in particular Transylvania, conjures up images and feelings of some far off place . . . in the mountains . . . in the forests . . . with castles . . . kind of like Lord of the Rings, but with a spooky vibe . . . and indeed it is all of this.  And while there are not as much of a concentration of stellar attractions as you would get in Western Europe, that is kind of Romania’s charm and it makes for a great roadtrip for a week or so, with the itinerary 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

Fairytale views by Lake Bled

Wow it really is as picture-perfect as you’ve been led to believe! All the ingredients of a fairy tale:

– small church perched perfectly on a small island ✅

– sitting in the middle of crystal clear water with only the light lapping of town boats ✅

– castle nearby hanging over a precarious ledge to the water ✅

– backdrop of the Julian Alps ✅

An Instagrammer’s dream!

The 6km / 3.7mile run around the lake, the swim over the island and the variety of other outdoor options nearby make this a great experience
Make sure to stay for 1 or 2 nights (as opposed to a day trip) so you can soak up the magical feeling of the place

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

The Northumberland Coast (in summer!)

The UK isn’t known for its beaches, and for good reason – its only warm enough for them 3 months of the year and even less the further north you go!  That’s why the coastline of Northumberland, and in particular Bamburgh Beach and Embleton Bay, comes as a bit of surprise when I put them in a list of the top beaches in the world.  But before you write it off as nostalgic madness, consider a few factors:

  1.  The castle backdrops – Bamburgh Castle is an imposing 11th century Normal castle that looms over Bamburgh Beach from its crag right on the waterfront and with as much history as almost any castle in the world.   England dominates the world for stunning castles by the beach, and Bamburgh is the jewel in the crown.  Dunstanburgh Castle, whilst more battered over the centuries, provides a similar backdrop for Embleton Bay
  2. The quality of the sand – the sand tone in this part of the world is the same as the powdery sand you find in the tropical beaches of the likes of Brazil and the Caribbean, and is so fine it squeaks, which is in stark contrast to some of the pebble beaches you find in the eastern Mediterranean and south of England
  3. The cute villages by the water – the likes of Low Newton-by-the-Sea, with its gorgeous white cottage square green circled by local pubs overlooking the beach are about as quaint and lovely as anywhere in England
  4. Few tourists – “best kept secret” seems to have held well for decades and you simply don’t have the volume of fellow tourists as you would in the south of England.  The beaches are wide and long, and you will likely have big chunks to yourself
  5. The Northumberland Coast Driving Tour – you have some great nearby attractions that share the quiet vibe.  In particular, Hadrian’s Wall (the well preserved northern boundary of the Roman Empire), Lindisfarne (aka Holy Island – a key centre for the spread of Christianity in Britain in the Dark Ages and infamous site of the first Viking invasions), and the various quaint Northumberland villages dotted no distance from the coast

 

It obviously doesn’t hit the tropical beach vibe, but is nonetheless beautiful.  Just be sure to go in summer!

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

Itinerary for 10 wonderful days in Guatemala

We were blown away by our 10 days in Guatemala.  Two of the most idyllic and beautiful places you can imagine with Lake Atitlan and Semuc Champey; a gorgeously preserved insight into former Spanish colonial times in the Old Town of Antigua; world-class ancient ruins with the #1 Mayan site of Tikal and the adventure into the jungle to see the mystic El Mirador; gorgeous jungles and mountains across the country; and all done so with the wonderful Guatemalan people

Really rated Guatemala and I’d place it as my favourite country for travelling in Central America

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

Bodyboarding at Uvita

Cracking spot for beginners to do some bodyboarding or surfing along the long and wide Uvita beach.  It also has the benefit of being in the Marino Ballena National Park, so you will likely see all sorts of wildlife while here

Whilst not on the normal list of places to visit in Costa Rica, its a good location to relax between Corcovado National Park and San Jose / Manuel Antonio National Park areas.  The Flutterby House backpackers just off the beach is a great place to grab food, drinks and the boards, but my number one tip is to splurge and stay at the Hotel el Castillo that is around a 15min drive further down the coast.  We travelled for 6months around Latin America and this was our favourite place to stay – the views are incredible, the layout gorgeous and the staff couldn’t have been nicer.  The right way to relax after after sleeping in a jungle tent!

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