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

Wine tasting around Pinhao in the Duoro Valley

What a surprisingly wonderful experience the Duoro Valley offers! I must admit that, like many others, I hadn’t heard of it before making the trip to Portugal and had mainly thought of the Algarve and Lisbon area when thinking of Portugal. . How wrong I was – the Duoro’s combination of vineyards, steep dramatic slopes and river views is one I can’t think of anywhere else in the world, let alone Portugal.  When you add into the mix that there is the more unusual Port wine to sample along with the normal table wine, then you have a real gem of an experience and, in my opinion, the highlight of Portugal

A day in Porto for port tasting and wandering through the Ribeira district

Porto is nice enough, and definitely worth a day trip.  Its UNESCO-listed Ribeira district and waterfront are nice to wander around, if very touristy, and a visit to one of the port wine houses in particular is good fun to sample the wines, learn about the production and enjoy the views.  But I thought it was a slightly less attractive version of the Alfama district in Lisbon and is more of a conduit to the real highlight of the area (and Portugal) which is the Duoro Valley (see Wine tasting around Pinhao in the Duoro Valley for more details)

All sounds a bit negative! – definitely worth a visit on the way to the Duoro, but no more than a day needed

A day in Newcastle

Newcastle has a great reputation for its friendly locals (and, let’s face it, the accent everyone loves to imitate) and its world-class partying / lash that comes from both the locals and its giant student population (locals, aka “Geordies” will often like to quote how many top 10 lists Newcastle appears in for a night out).  But it also has a surprisingly elegant city centre with a riverfront that rivals anything else in the UK outside of London, and 4 places to visit nearby that are equally surprising in just how gorgeous they are

If you’ve got only a day (in summer!), I’d recommend the below itinerary for the best of Newcastle and the surrounding area

7/8 week itinerary for the highlights of South East Asia

South East Asia has to be the premier world traveling region.  A big call?  For sure, but consider what genuinely world class offerings it can provide:

 

  • World class beaches and coastal areas – think of THAT beach in Ko Phi Phi and HaLong Bay, one of the Natural Wonders of the World
  • World class food – think Thai, Vietnamese, Malay and the genuine fusion into the mix with the large established Indian and Chinese communities
  • World class ancient sites and history – think of the temples of the “8th Wonder of the World” of Angkor Wat, and the breathtaking site of the pagodas stretching across the plain in Bagan
  • World class cities and party locations – think of Singapore as the city of the future and the Full Moon Parties on Ko Pha-Ngan

 

And all this in a place that is super safe, outrageously friendly, easy and cheap to travel in.  A must for any keen traveler and the below itinerary will give you the highlights – enjoy!

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

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

Semuc Champey all to yourself

In central Guatemala, the Cahabon River bumps its way along a series of limestone mini bridges and caves to produce a little bit of jungle paradise.  Whilst it is quite a distance from Guatemala’s other star attractions such as Lake Atitlan (see the travel entry 3 days relaxing and diving by the beautiful Lake Atitlan for more details) and Antigua (see Soaking up Antigua) in the west and Tikal (see Mayan ruins of Tikal) in the east, the bright greens of the jungle mixed in with the whites of the mountain clouds and the turquoise blues of the water make Semuc Champey one of the most beautiful spots in the country and a perfect spot to visit as part of a 10 day trip around Guatemala (see here at Itinerary for 10 wonderful days in Guatemala for the itinerary)

Two big tips – get there for when the park opens to avoid the crowds (we had the place to ourselves); and don’t try to drive up the road from Lanquin when raining (seriously, it becomes a gushing river)

Rafting the Navua River, near Pacific Harbour

Good fun if nearby.  Paddling down a river, getting to see some of the luscious interior of Fiji, some of the inland villages and families of the organisers, and the guides add a lot to the overall experience through their sheer enthusiasm.  Only problem is doing this in between June and August, when the rainfall is lower – means it’s more a pleasant paddle down the river rather than actual white water rafting (which must be cool here when the rain hits)

We did this from Pacific Harbour, although they’ll pick you up from basically anywhere on the main island.  Be prepared for an early pick up, 1.5 hour drive inland; around 6 hours (with breaks and lunch) on the river; and around a 45min drive back

You’re not going to visit Fiji, or this part of the world, just for the rafting.  If looking for ideas or tips for other experiences to be had in this part of the world, have a look at this 2 weeks in Tonga, Fiji and Samoa itinerary.  We had some truly unforgettable experiences on this trip and, in particular Diving with bull and tiger sharks off Beqa Island nearby really does fit in that “unforgettable” category

A day in Greenwich, London

Greenwich is one of the gems on a visit to London that has the added benefit of being less crowded than some of the more popular attractions in the centre.  You have the wonderful history of the Royal Observatory, the prime meridian of the world and source of the universal measurement of standard time, the National Maritime Museum, which in addition to its magnificent architecture also tells the story of when Britain used to rule the seas, and the Cutty Sark, the last of the greater clipper ships that sailed between Britain and China bringing back the riches of the East.  But its also about the cute village feel of Greenwich village, the wide open parks that surround Greenwich and the views across the River Thames, nearby skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and of central London

 

Maybe won’t make everyones’ list when trying to hit all of the famous sights of London for a weekend (see here for the top 10 and must sees for a 2 day visit to London – 2 days in London and top 10 things to do), but certainly a highlight for day 3

 

Extra tip 1 – be sure to also have a venture down to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel which is a tunnel only for pedestrians that connects Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs on the other side of the Thames.  You can easily find it right by the water and the Cutty Sark and is one of those fun quirky London things to check out

 

Extra tip 2 – Greenwich makes a cracking series of beers, called Meantime.  You can find the beers in many of the pubs in Greenwich, but its also worth a visit to the Meantime Brewing Company which is around a 15in walk along the river