A supercharged week seeing the highlights of Israel and Jordan

I say this trip is supercharged because it doesn’t leave much time for chilling out.  But, if you’re like most of us and only have a limited amount of vacation, then this is a fantastic weekend to weekend trip that takes in the world famous sites of Jerusalem, Petra and Wadi rum; while providing time for some fun experiences like floating in the Dead Sea, scuba diving in the Red Sea, driving through sparse deserts and a party in Tel Aviv

You’ll need energy for these 7 days, but you’ll be rewarded as, in my opinion, its one of the world’s best week long trips in the world

I was hesitating in going in winter as I’d seen low temperatures.  Don’t.  The winter helped with reduced crowds, not needing to book far ahead and not getting exhausted by the heat.  Perfect trip for a week-long winter break

4WDing around Wadi Rum and spending a night in a desert camp

No wonder they filmed The Martian, Star Wars, Dune and Prometheus here – Wadi Rum has an otherworldly feel to it and driving around in 4x4s with the wind in your face watching the sandstone cliffs and red desert pass you by really gives a sci-fi feeling of adventure.  Expect to find yourselves regularly stopping to gawp at the latest stunning vista throughout the day

I’m sure there is a bunch of things that can take multiple days up, but we had half a day plus staying over night in one of the Martian tent, and that felt like the right amount of time.  Especially as we had time for both the sunset and the stunning first light.  A must if in this part of the world

Exploring Petra in winter

We’ve all seen the famous Treasury building that sits within Petra – yes, the one from Indiana Jones – but the Treasury is only one small piece of a vast network of ancient buildings that sit within a labyrinth of dramatic red stone canyons, and all surrounded by equally dramatic mountains and deserts.  To combine a visit to one of the Wonders of the World with an exploration of the broader area makes this a truly unforgettable experience

I’ve written below some tips for how to get the most out of a visit to Petra, but my #1 tip is to get  local guide to walk with you from Little Petra through the back entrance of the mountains, via the Monastery, and to the main Treasury / Siq (the famous bit).  You won’t be disappointed as the views are world-class and the crowds less keen to stray so far from the Treasury.  We visited in winter, which naturally thinned the crowds, but the site is so vast that even in the busy periods you will be able to get away

Exploring the Lunar Valley and San Pedro de Atacama

There are a bunch of fun things to do when saying for one or two nights in San Pedro de Atacama.  In particular, you’ll want to visit the otherworldly Lunar Valley to see those gorgeous changes from reds and yellows to purples and pinks as the sun sets.  I’d also highly recommend taking advantage one evening of the best star gazing in the world by visiting one of the observatories

(You also must must must Take a 4WD tour from San Pedro de Atacama to the Bolivian Salt Flats so check out this entry for more details)

But it was San Pedro de Atacama itself that was the highlight for me.  It will just feel so different from anywhere you’ve been before that you’ll be kept happily entertained just wandering through the rock hard clay streets with their single floor adobe buildings and seeing the otherworldly red surroundings of volcanoes in the distance, all while appreciating the subtle adaptations the place has to make to survive in what is the driest place in the world (outside of the Poles).  If you have the time, its a great place to chill out, sample some of the surprisingly good restaurants and also to learn a bit about the pre-Spanish culture


Hiking the stunning Zhangjiajie National Park

You’ve seen Avatar right?  Zhangjiajie is the inspiration for the landscape of the distant planet in the movie, and that’s exactly what the 3000 or so karst pinnacles rising up from the subtropical forest feel like.  Its a bit of a bugger to get to because you need to find flights to the local Zhangjiajie Hehua airport, or take the 5 hour drive from Changsha.  It can also get quite crowded because . . . well . . . this is China.   But, overall it is well worth the trip, especially because by making some very basic changes you can avoid the crowds and get to hike some beautiful sections of what, arguably, should be one of the natural wonders of the world

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

The perfect western cowboy set at Monument Valley

Driving through this part of the Navajo Nation really is like something from a movie set.  The strong reds of the desert and mountains, and the looming giants of the buttes make you feel like at any moment you’re going to bump into John Wayne doing the rounds with the US cavalry, or try to avoid an awkward conversation with Tom Cruise following his rock climbing

The highlight is Monument Valley, which doesn’t have a familiar name but is a view everyone will recognise.  You can see the 3 giant buttes (isolated hills with impossibly steep sides and flat tops) as you drive anywhere near them, with some of the simplest and best views from the View Hotel.  One thing I wish we’d done was to head into the Monument Valley Tribal Park to be driven by some of the locals to see some of the buttes up close (something you can’t do on your own)

A day walking through Arches National Park

Closest thing you’re going to get to the Roadrunner Cartoon backdrop – Arches National Park has the highest density of rock arches anywhere in the world, with 2000 in total, and has some mesmerising scenery nearby as you look out through impossible rock arches across the desert and to the white snowcapped mountains in the distance.  I was surprised this place doesn’t get more attention globally as a premier site in the US

Half a day to a full day is enough time because the full drive through the park and back is only 36miles / 58km, and the various key sites are only a short walk from the road.  Be sure to drive all the way up to Devils Garden to see what we thought was the highlight – Landscape Arch at 290ft / 88m long.  It would have been nice to have maybe a little longer to do a longer hike and get away from the crowds, but half a day to a full day felt about right

Driving along the Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s most famous driving routes, with its dramatic coastline, rainforests with koalas housed in the trees, pretty seaside towns, and the eye catching 12 Apostles.  As it’s only a 3 hour drive from Melbourne, part of which is taken up by the gorgeous drive along the coastline itself, this makes it the premier day trip from Melbourne and a must if staying in Victoria


Visiting is relatively straightforward as the drive along the coast is simple, as is viewing the 12 Apostles (although it can get very busy), but just one tip – watch out for the horseflies – like just about everything in Australia, they bite!

Camping in otherworldly Karijini National Park

If Karijini wasn’t in such a remote part of Australia it would be firmly on the top list of National Parks across the country.  As it is though, the remote nature of the park means that there are far fewer visitors than many of the other parks and, combined with the breathtaking gorges and hidden waterfalls, gives you an otherworldly feeling of descending to the centre of the earth . . . or at least to the next beautiful rock pool area.  Very much worth the 3-4 hour drive inland from the more traditional sites of Western Australia


Top tip – be sure to camp, or at least stay overnight.  The stars are immense because of the lack of light pollution this far inland