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

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

3 weeks in Colombia

Luscious green mountains hiding little coffee village gems, treks deep into the jungle to see lost cities, a world-class old colonial town that lets you lose yourself in dreams of pirates and discovery, and a country that has recently / hopefully put a recent history of blood-bloodcurdling violence behind it.  Colombia, cracking country to visit

Due to the spread out nature of many of Colombia’s highlights and the slow travel between each, you really need 2-3 weeks to do the place justice and I’ve listed out below which is a great itinerary for 3 weeks

The must see highlights (with links to their individual travel entries) are Hiking the Lost City Trek, Soaking up the Cartagena Old Town and Walking the Valley de Cocora and soaking up Salento.  Also cool are hanging out in Tayrona National Park and spending a Couple of days in Medellin riding the cable cars are also cool.  Further down the list of classic highlights are Bogota (see Cycle trip around Bogota), which makes sense to visit as you’ll likely fly into there (and its the same distance to the Valley de Cocora as it is from Medellin), and if you have a spare day check out the Guatape Lakes outside of Medellin

Couple of days in Medellin riding the cable cars

There’s a heap of stuff to check out in Medellin – the street art, the changing neighbourhoods, the museums, the great bar and restaurant scene – but the favourite thing to do was riding the extensive cable cars.  Not only over the various neighbourhoods clinging precariously to the steep sides, but also up over the city valley sides and into the lush green forests where the city is completely forgotten

Good little set of adventures to see the contrasts not just in the rich poor areas, but also the dense city and the green forests

Day trip to Shenzhen from Hong Kong

Shenzhen is worth a visit if spending more than a couple of weeks in Hong Kong and the surrounding area, especially for the view from the skyscrapers to see the sharp contrast between the rice fields of northern Hong Kong and the booming glass, steel and concrete structures of Shenzhen and generally its super futurisic feel at times.  The Dafen Oil Painting village and Luohu Commercial City will all of its fake handbags etc are also worth a trip


But to be honest I wouldn’t prioritise it over any of the classic or hidden highlights of Hong Kong, or over a day-trip to Macau.  For details on these see, my tips on the entries for 2 days for the famous highlights of Hong Kong, 2 days hidden highlights of Hong Kong, and a Day trip to Macau from Hong Kong

Walking through the graffiti-filled streets of Olinda

Olinda might just be one of the most picturesque places in the world.  Set on a tree-covered hill next to the big North East city of Recife, Olinda is full of art workshops, galleries, churches, museums and lots, and lots, a bright graffiti.  You find yourself meandering through this UNESCO World-Heritage listed Old Town’s tree-lined streets just taking endless photos of the bright colours.  It must be truly immense when carnival is here


Top tip – Carneiros Beach.  It was back in 2013 that I visited Olinda, so a lot will have changed and I won’t into a detailed review.  But my top tip is to consider a day trip down to the Carneiros Beach area to the south of the city.  Many people make the 4 hour trip up to Pipa Beach, which is nice and often on the highlights reel for this part of Brazil, but Pipa is far more catered to surfing / kite surfing and partying.  Whereas, for picturesque beaches, Carneiros is beautiful and has the added advantage of having mangrove swamps to check out and various places to coat yourself in the mineral rich mud that is along the shore.  Your hotel can easily arrange for you to get down there and take a boat out.  Combined with Olinda, this makes a double picture-perfect trip

City sights of New York City

What a city – I loved New York everytime I’ve visited for work and as a tourist, winter and in summer.  But, I tended to visit before the simplicity of quality photos on the phone and before I really started to travel around the world trying things that weren’t on the standard checklist.  For these reasons, I don’t think I can do the place anywhere near the justice it deserves by writing a review, so haven’t shared photos and tips.  Instead, I’ll just give it a score based on how I found it those years ago – can’t miss out on such an obvious global city in the ratings

Visiting Belgrade Fortress

I think Belgrade is one of those cities where you really need either local friends to show you around the edgy happening bars, or a guide to show the historical significance of the Habsburg, Ottoman and Soviet legacies that aren’t brought to life as well as they could be.  Belgrade Fortress is the obvious site worth checking out for its views over the Sava and Danube rivers meeting, but outside of that I don’t really remember that much from Belgrade and it feels quite low down the list of highlights of the Balkan States


If you are though keen on a trip around this part of the world for its stunning castles and old towns, and some of the best coastline in the world all compactly housed within 8 countries, see this travel entry for an itinerary and general tips for how to get the best out of your trip – 3 week trip around the Balkans States