PR3 hike from Ermelo to Figas de Ermelo

If you’re staying around the Duoro, or maybe Porto, I’d really recommend this 5 hour roundtrip hike from the beautiful mountain town of Ermelo to the waterfalls in the heart of the Alvao National Park.  Clearly signposted all the way, you’ll get some great views over the nearby mountains, walk through some of the gorgeous forest and reward yourself at the top with a swim in the natural pools and waterfalls.  Best of all, you’ll have it largely to yourself as, from what I saw, there are only see a few people along the way

Overall a great hike for a break away from the various wine tours!

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 Singapore

Similar to Hong Kong and Bangkok, Singapore is a place that people tend to pass through rather than visit purely for the city on its own.  But, just like those cities, Singapore is really worth the stop over for a night or two.  More than anything it’s great just to see what the “model city” could look like – wandering around has the combo feel of Disney Land / Truman Show / Stepford Wives meets tropical island functional finance hub, and it all … well … works very very well. Always worth a trip into the future

 

I’ve listed below the top 5 things I really enjoyed doing, plus some extra tips

 

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)

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

Driving Argentina’s Seven Lakes drive from Villa la Angostura to San Martin de los Andes

The Lake District area of Argentina really is beautiful.  Not quite as dramatic as down in Patagonia or as mind-blowing as that in Peru, but a more picture-perfect countryside that you could imagine a couple of hobbits living out their days in

I found in particular the Chico Circuit by Bariloche a fantastic experience (details – Cycling and drinking craft beers around the Chico Circuit in Bariloche), but for the route from Villa la Angostura to San Martin de los Andes I was unfortunately a bit underwhelmed.  It’s probably because our expectations were so high after seeing the wonders in this part of the world, but either way we found ourselves less having an amazing experience and more just having a pleasant drive

For sure this would be a great place to completely relax for a few days, enjoy the scenery by one of the lakes and go for some easy walks through the forest, and I would stress that Bariolche and its immediate surroundings are a highlight of this part of the world, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to make the drive from Villa la Angostura to San Martin de los Andes

Bali – in and around Seminyak / Kuta

Kuta and Seminyak are the places that most first time travellers to Bali spend their time looking for that idyllic beach vibe.  Problem is that they are becoming super commercialised and, to be honest, the beaches can be a little underwhelming compared to others in the region mainly because of the sheer number of fellow tourists and amount of plastic waste.  My tip would be to spend your time either to the south in the Uluwatu area for  some truly beautiful spots and to visit UluWatu itself and Padang Padang Beach, or just to the north in Cangu, which has a similar beach to Kuta and Seminyak but is worlds apart in vibe

 

All that being said, Seminyak in particular is worth some day trip visits as it has some truly world class restaurants and beach bars – Potato Head is in my view the best beach bar in the world, with Kudeta not far behind.  Sardines, Sarong and Mehra Putih are restaurants I’d also really recommend.  And . . . if you must . . . visit Kuta if you’re on a stag do or just generally want some dirty lash

Driving down the West Coast of Scotland – Glencoe, Oban, Skye and the Harry Potter Bridge

The west coast of Scotland is stunning – right up there with the likes of the fjords of Patagonian, Alaska, New Zealand and Norway . . . and with the added advantage of castles and whiskey.  As an Englishman, I’d travelled far and wide to see great sites around the world and didn’t realise that one of the most impressive was, comparatively, on my doorstep.  Stunning and one of the highlights of the UK

 

There are various routes to take, but I suggest the driving route from Oban and up to the Isle of Skye.  Plenty of highlights to keep you busy for 3-4 days

 

Top tip #1 – you must drive.  Whilst you could I suppose make your way by public transport, you would miss out on the real highlight which is being able to stop for 5mins in the various stops along the coast to gorp at the magnificent views, and it would take you overall just a lot longer as public transport in these parts is quite limited.  The driving is very much part of this experience

Top tip #2 – even if you don’t like whiskey, the learning about how it is made, the history and the different tastes to look out for in each dram is a very Scottish, and very much fun experience.  The distilleries of Talisker and Oban are some of the most famous is Scotland and give you that great taste of the art that is whiskey making

Top tip #3 – you can do this trip all year round.  I’ve visited 3 times in winter and found the atmosphere at this time or year, with the far fewer tourists, magical.  Of course, summer is also great as the hikes are more enjoyable

Day trip from Taipei to Wulai

Wulai is a mountainous jungle area to the south of Taipei that has activities like swimming and hiking, and some cable cars to allow you to ascend up the steep sides of the valleys for views of the mountains and impressive waterfalls.  It comes highly recommended as a day trip from Taipei, but I think you need to include a hike or swim / visit to the spas to get the most out of the visit.  My error was to turn up and just generally have a walk around and take the cable cars, which left me feeling a bit underwhelmed