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

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!

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

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)

Camping in Corcovado National Park

Even in a country that prides itself for its abundance of wildlife, Corcovado National Park stands out in Costa Rica as the premier wilderness experience.  The park’s sheer size, remoteness and restricted number of visitors means that your group will often feel like you have the park to yourself to go adventuring.  And with the the diversity, concentration of wildlife and stunning views, you’re unlikely to be disappointed

A word of warning though – this is walking and camping in a remote rainforest.  Getting there alone takes the best part of a day from the more connected parts of the country and, although the campsites are clean and the guides incredibly helpful, the facilities are basic.  So, get yourself ready for . . . well . . . camping in the jungle ie hot, wet, muddy . . . but a fantastic experience and, in my opinion, the highlight of Costa Rica

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

Tayrona National Park and staying in a bit of paradise nearby

Yeah the National Park is nice – you can walk through the jungle areas to get to the beautiful beaches, and don’t get me wrong it is indeed nice – but it gets pretty crowded.  My tip would be to stay in one of the chilled out beach hotels in the fantastic area just past the eastern end of the park, where the river meets the sea

The hotels themselves are lovely, and the nearby beach between the sea and the lake is gorgeous.  We ended up extending our stay for 4 nights because we liked it so much and headed over to the park for two of the days, avoiding the rush of a day trip from Santa Marta.  Search for Maloka Barlovento for the right spot.  We stayed there and would recommend

Nearby you also have two super things to do – firstly, and easiest, is Cartagena’s wonderful Old Town that ranks as one of the best in Latin America and see more tips at the travel entry Soaking up the Cartagena Old Town.  But the highlight is the 4days / 3 nights Hiking the Lost City Trek where you trek through the jungle to the mystical Lost City.   And have a look at how it can all come together in a itinerary for 3 weeks in Colombia

One last tip – “Cayman Aguja” is a sign you’ll see put up all along the shore.  It isn’t a type of cayman, its an American Crocodile!

2 weeks in Tonga, Fiji and Samoa

Moving from one spot of paradise to the next; super friendly people; picture perfect spots that scream “I want to go!”; and having some truly unforgettable adrenaline-throbbing moments by swimming with Humpback Whales and diving with the Tiger Sharks.  For sure Fiji, Tonga and Samoa are in the middle of nowhere, but this is a world class 2 weeks

Below I’ve given the itinerary we took and the links to the individual entries on each of the travel experiences

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