Mimicking the curves of Queensland’s east coast, coming as close as 15km to shore, the World Heritage–listed Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world and host to more than 900 tropical islands. Divers delight in its unbelievable sights – rich navy blue butterfly fish, luminescent pastel turkfish, teeny neon damsels, six-banded angelfish are all on display, not to mention whales, dolphins, dugongs, six species of sea turtles, sharks, giant clams and more.
To see what’s under the sea, book yourself a boat trip. The reef mecca ofCairns is the main hub for explorations, with dozens of options from quick-fire day trips to inner-reef atolls to longer trips to pristine outer-reef sites and overnight sailing voyages to isolated dive locations. Strap on a snorkel and some fins and splash into the deep blue sea to explore some of the greatest biodiversity of anywhere on earth: swimming into this hyper-coloured spectacle of coral and tropical fish, it’s easy to see why the reef is one of the world’s seven natural wonders.
Meanwhile, Port Douglas makes for another great gateway to the reef, offering ritzy accommodation and dining to boot. Port Douglas also has a flotilla of boats waiting to whizz you out to reef highlights like Low Isles and Agincourt Reef, an outer ribbon reef featuring crystal-clear water and stunning corals.
Exploring the Great Barrier Reef from above
For those unprepared to take the full plunge, there are plenty of other ways to explore the reef. Some operators offer day trips in glass-bottomed boats, through which you can peer down into the watery world below – a cinematic experience! Short on time? Take a scenic flight from Cairns or the Whitsundays for a macro-perspective of the reef’s beauty and size. Another dry-footed option is a reef walk. Some southern sections of the reef are exposed at low tide, allowing you to amble across the reeftops on sandy tracks between the coral: try Heron Island.
The Whitsunday Islands – halfway up Queensland’s coast – are Australia’s promised land of tropical atolls, spinnakers and daiquiri-soaked resort nights. This improbably photogenic archipelago comprises 74 islands with sleeping options from the luxe resorts on Hayman, Daydream and Hamilton islands to the budget beds on Hook Island. Book your Whitsundays sailing trip from the constant party town of Airlie Beach, the Whitsundays’ gateway town: a yacht is the perfect way to cast yourself away on an untrammelled arc of white sand, and the Whitsundays boast an enticing string of fringing coral reefs.
The Capricorn Coast also hosts some fab little isles, less touristy than those further north. Try Lady Elliot Island for snorkelling and wildlife watching – it’s the best place on the Reef to see manta rays. Great Keppel offers unpretentious accommodation and relaxed vibes, while the tiny, tranquil coral cay (and diving mecca) of Island Heron offers a traditional family resort experience.
Queensland’s islands aren’t all swaying palms and swimming pools. A few hundred kilometres north of Brisbane is World Heritage–listedFraser Island, the world’s largest sand island (1840 square kilometres). Hire a 4WD, pack a snorkel and ferry across to Fraser’s glorious beaches, shipwrecks, forests, fresh-water lakes and rampant native wildlife, including wallabies, dingoes, echidnas, birds of prey and myriad reptiles. Resorts here are low-key, and you could even just bring a tent for beach camping under the stars.
The 1200-square-kilometre Daintree Rainforest is a remarkable place full of 3000 plant species and countless birds, bugs and crocs. A World Heritage site itself, it’s the biggest single tract of tropical rainforest in Australia, and home to more native wildlife than seems plausible. Here, the green forest seems to tumble down towards the brilliant white-sand coastline and visitors are enveloped by birdsong, fan palms, mangroves and constant conversations of frogs. Activities are endless, but they include wildlife-spotting tours, mountain treks, interpretive boardwalks, tropical-fruit orchard tours, canopy walks, 4WD trips, horse riding, kayaking and cruises.
Getting to the Daintree is half the fun – the super-scenic drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation is a real show-stopper. The Great Barrier Reef Drive, as it’s now known, clings to the coastline and passes some awesome beaches.
If you’re seeking culture, you’ll want to head straight to Brisbane, Queensland’s buzzy big smoke. Folded into the elbows of the meandering Brisbane River and home to 2.3 million Queenslanders, ‘Brizzy’ is an energetic city on the rise, with edgy arts, buzzing nightlife and simmering coffee culture (check into Brew for a perfect cup). Its bourgeoning restaurant scene (E’cco is a must, the Gunshop Café is a quirky and locally sourced treat) focuses on global palates and open-air seating whenever possible. Brisbanites rise with the sun to tackle activities from jogging and cycling to kayaking and rock-climbing.
But it might be the Brisbane River itself that gives the city its edge. The river’s organic convolutions carve the city into a patchwork of urban villages, each with a distinct style and topography: bohemian, low-lying West End; hip, hilltop Paddington,; exclusive, peninsular New Farm, prim, pointy Kangaroo Point. Move from village to village and experience Queensland’s diverse, eccentric, happening capital.
The 1240km Carretera Austral (Southern Highway) is the only way in and out of Aysén by land. It stretches from the fishing hub of Puerto Montt in the north all the way down until it peters out in the frontier gaucho town of Villa O’Higgins in the south. Bumbling down the Carretera Austral’s bumpy terrain past rainforested hills and foggy fjords has become one of the most iconic road trips in South America. But it’s a journey you’ll want to do sooner rather than later.
Now is the time to visit the glaciers that shaped this dramatic landscape before they disappear. Sandwiched between the Northern and Southern Patagonian Ice Fields (collectively the world’s third-largest source of fresh water), Aysén is rightfully known as the epicenter of Chilean glacier country. Half of its land is protected in public and private parks (including the newly opened Patagonia Park, created by the late North Face founder Doug Tompkins), and the region is home to a fair chunk of Chile’s 24,133 glaciers.
Many of these magnificent cascades of fast-flowing ice are receding at alarming rates of up to 15 meters per year. But there is a bit of good news: It’s never been easier to see them thanks to new routes developed by local tour operators in recent years to help increase awareness of what we stand to lose.
Here’s how you can explore five of the most impressive glaciers within Chile’s little-visited Aysén region using the Carretera Austral as an artery through Northern Patagonia.
On the northern edge of Aysén within the evergreen forests of Parque Nacional Queulat, you’ll find one of Chile’s most recognizable glaciers: Ventisquero Colgante. This so-called “hanging glacier” has receded so far from the ground below that it’s now perched atop a cliff, spewing its meltwater over the edge into the powder blue Laguna Tempanos. Pack a picnic lunch and hike the 6km out-and-back Moraine Trail to get the best up-close views. You can also arrange a trip with Experiencia Australto kayak on Laguna Tempanos right up toward the base of the glacier. If you’re feeling a bit sore after either journey, you can rest your weary bones in Termas del Ventisquero, a series of hot springs near the park entrance. Its four pools are on the shores of the Puyuhuapi Fjord, whose glacier-fed waters will be noticeably cooler for those daring enough to take a dip.
Take a slight detour from the Carretera Austral at Puerto Rio Tranquilo (the location of the mesmerizing marble caves of Lago General Carrera) to dip into Valle Exploradores and check out its namesake glacier. This new road leads to the river crossing for the San Rafael Lagoon and is a stunner with sweeping valley views, raging river rapids and human-sized nalca leaves fighting for attention. However, the real showstopper lies 52km in at the Glacier Exploradores Overlook, which offers not only a wide-open panorama of the glacier, but also a peek at the vast white abyss that is the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. Exploradores is but one of 17 glaciers that call this ice field home, and the short 25-minute hike up to the observation deck is your easiest access point to take it all in.
You’ll need to book a tour back in Puerto Rio Tranquilo to reach the remote San Rafael Lagoon, home of Aysén’s most enigmatic glacier. The journey requires transport on both sides of the milky-green Rio Exploradores, a quick ferry crossing and a boat ride past truck-sized icebergs to approach the shape-shifting face of San Rafael. This massive glacier cuts a 16km path through a virgin Patagonian rainforest before emptying out into a slate-blue lagoon, replenishing its frigid waters every few minutes with roaring cascades of calving ice. The new route to see this glacier from Puerto Rio Tranquilo is less than three years old. It saves both time and money when compared to the overnight catamaran journey from Puerto Chacabuco (further north) and is much more intimate of an experience. Arrange the trip in town with either Destino Patagonia or Turismo Rio Exploradores (exploradores-sanrafael.cl).
The closest glaciers to Aysén’s capital of Coyhaique lie amid the castle-like spires of nearby Cerro Castillo. The four-day circuit trek around this formidable mountain increasingly attracts solitude-seekers put off by the more crowded backpacking trails in Torres Del Paine further south. The 43km journey will take you past three major glaciers, turquoise lagoons and high alpine passes that are favored by Chile’s endangered huemul deer. If you don’t have the time or energy to commit to a long hike, you can always view Cerro Castillo’s glaciers gaucho-style on a half-day horseback tour. Five horse stables in the small service town of Villa Cerro Castillo can set you up, and tours should be booked in person when you arrive.
Nevertheless, it can be fun to tally up your adventures to appreciate just how far you’ve gone. Inspired by the new edition of The Travel Book, we asked a gaggle of travel-mad Lonely Planet staff to do just that.
I travel because… Away from home, everything – from road signs to what snacks people are eating – suddenly becomes fascinating. It’s so much fun to have every day feel like a series of mini-adventures.
Travel highlight of 2016: I visited the Latvian capital of Riga during the depths of winter when its cobbled streets are dusted with snow. It was absolutely freezing, but one evening I found the best place in the city to warm up. Tucked into a basement in the old town, Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs is a traditional tavern that hosts weekly folk dances. Though I planned only to watch, over beers I got chatting to one of the band members – a charming violinist and former Eurovision star – and she convinced me to take a turn around the floor. It was full of young people who knew all the moves, but they were extremely patient with the mal-coordinated novice in their midst. Mercifully the steps were quite repetitive, and I had more fun than I could have thought possible!
Next on my travel wishlist: Austria and Kenya
I travel because… It frees my mind. The brain shifts into autopilot in a familiar environment; I suppose that’s just the way we’re designed. Travel isn’t the only way to jolt yourself back into manual, but it might well be the most enjoyable method.
Travel highlight of 2016: Island-hopping in Bohuslän, West Sweden, edges out stiff competition to top my list this year. I just adored the laid-back atmosphere of this region, which stretches from Gothenburg up the coast to the border with Norway. It’s a beauty parade of fishing villages cum summer resorts – Lysekil, Smögen and Fjällbacka among them – that share a distinctive look and feel: red wooden huts, pink granite boulders, deep blue sea.
Up near the border, you can catch a ferry to the car-free Koster Islands, which lie at the heart of Kosterhavet, Sweden’s only national marine park. I joined a kayak tour of the archipelago at dusk, which is a magical time of day to explore the tiny islets and secret bays uninterrupted by a single sound apart from your paddle entering the silky, clear water and the occasional sea bird flying home to roost.
To get an idea of how it all began, start in the eastern city of St George, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While Bermuda was first discovered by a Spanish conquistador named Juan de Bermudez in the early 1500s, it’s most influential and permanent settlers were the British who moored here while sailing for Jamestown, Virginia. St George, settled in 1609, is a goldmine for history aficionados looking to learn about life in colonial Bermuda. A good starting point is the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, where you can get a general overview; don’t miss the quirky consignment shop attached to it called Second-Hand Rose (facebook.com/Second-Hand-Rose), which exemplifies the juxtaposition of old and new and Bermuda’s slightly oddball traditions.
Also on the Don’t Miss list: stunning St. Peter’s Church, built in 1612; the Unfinished Church, a gorgeous, haunting byproduct of a feud within the St. Peter’s congregation; Fort St. Catherine, the largest fort on the island, built in 1614; and Tucker House Museum, where you can get a glimpse of life in the 1750s in St George (bermuda.com). Of equal importance is Barber’s Alley, right off Tucker House, where a freed black slave named Joseph Rainey ran a barbershop during the American Civil War; Rainey went on to become the first African-American in the US House of Representatives. While you’re in St George, keep an eye out for Bermuda’s African Diaspora Heritage Trail, which highlights the history of those of African descent in the Americas and the Caribbean. Landmarks are marked clearly with a seal.
You’ll also want to stop by the Bermuda Perfumery (lilibermuda.com), whose facilities and boutique are housed in an historically preserved house. Next, mill around the colorfully painted town and meander through its lovely English-style alleyways — there’s Petticoat Lane, Printer’s Alley, Somers Garden and more. If you’re looking for a little spookiness with your history, you can also try a ghost tour through St George’s Haunted History.
Stop by St David
Near to St George is the island of St David, whose cultural mishmash represents the diversity of Bermudian culture. The Carter House is a testament to the varied groups of people who settled here, exploring the history of the English, black West Indians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Native Americans and even Scottish and Irish prisoners of war (carterhousemuseum.org).
For most of the 20th century, nearby Cooper Island was occupied by NASA and the US military, and it’s only recently been reopened to the public as a pristine 12 acre nature reserve.
Check out bustling Hamilton
Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda since the early 19th century, is where most of the commerce happens these days, and it’s still home to many historic relics that are worthy of exploration. On your way into town from St George, stop at the millions-of-years-old Crystal Caves, a subterranean marvel discovered in 1907 when two little boys lost their cricket ball. From there, it’s easy to pop across the road to the Swizzle Inn, where potent rum swizzle punches are served up in a 17th-century abode. (Their motto is “Swizzle Inn, Swagger Out” – you’ve been warned.)
There’s plenty to discover in Hamilton proper, such as the National Library and City Hall and Arts Centre, also home to the Bermuda National Gallery. Within walking distance are the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, Bermuda’s most revered Anglican church, and Fort Hamilton, both of which afford excellent views of Hamilton and the surrounding waters.
For art lovers, Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art and the Bermuda Botanical Gardens are a must-see. All the art within the permanent and loaned collections has some connection to the islands; you’ll recognize names like Winslow Homer and Georgia O’Keefe, but the museum features locally-based, lesser-known artists, too. A John Lennon sculpture created by local artist Graham Foster stands out front, commemorating Lennon’s inspirational time spent in Bermuda in 1980. The museum sits among 36 lush, manicured acres of the botanical gardens, perfect for a mid-day stroll.
Surprisingly, some of the best modern art in Bermuda can be found at the newly redone Hamilton Princess (thehamiltonprincess.com), where a $90 million renovation showcases artwork from Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, and Nelson Mandela, among others.
Explore the Royal Navy Dockyard
While making your way to the other end of the island chain, stop byGibbs Lighthouse in Southampton, one of oldest cast-iron lighthouses in the world. There’s also Somerset Bridge, pegged as ‘The World’s Smallest Working Drawbridge’, that connects Somerset Parish withSandys Parish, and measures only 32 inches across. Once in the Royal Navy Dockyard proper, you’ll notice tons of construction work as Bermuda gears up to host the America’s Cup in 2017. The Village will be home to the moored boats, as well as spectator zones.
Sure, there are moments where the menu varies, such as when leaving vegetarian Sherpa lands for the meat-eating hills of the Limbu and Rai tribes, but for the most part, meals are prepared from a limited palette of rice, lentils and greens. By the time they return to Kathmandu, many trekkers are openly salivating at the very thought of such delicacies as burgers, chips and pizza.
For some, the repetitive diet of rice and lentils can inspire extreme measures. An on-the-spot examination of trekking packs will uncover hidden bottles of ketchup and Tabasco, zip-lock plastic bags of seasonings and secreted salamis, saucisson and beef jerky. On the other hand, anticipating the culinary delights that await on your return to Kathmandu can be an almost transcendental pleasure.
Nepal has been calling out to the world’s adventurers for decades and restaurants have sprung up in the backstreets of Kathmandu catering to every imaginable palate. You want pizzas? You got ‘em. You want Thai curries? The lemongrass is already being pounded. You want Korean barbecues? The grill is already sizzling. Despite its rugged location and patchy transport links, Kathmandu serves up the world in a menu, and we guarantee your first meal back in the city after trekking will be a feast. Here is our pick of Kathmandu’s culinary highlights.
After weeks of lentils in the hills, the flavour sensation of tomatoes, pepperoni and mozzarella can be an almost religious experience. Nobody in Kathmandu does it better than Fire & Ice, an upscale favourite in a smart setting in an arcade on Tridevi Marg. For one thing, the ingredients are authentic, which means anchovies, salami and olives flown in fresh from Italy, hand-made mozzarella and hard-to-find options such as pizzas made with wholewheat dough.
New Orleans Cafe isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a Thamel institution. This courtyard café has been serving up globe-trotting cuisine to generations of travellers, with everything from Creole jambalaya to barbecued beef and jacket potatoes on the menu. There’s live music twice weekly and travellers have been known to join the on-stage musicians for impromptu jams – not a bad way to shake off the traildust after a knee-knocking circuit around the Annapurnas.
A monument to momos
Delicious parcels of meat, cheese or vegetables wrapped in wheat-flour shells, the momo is the dish that binds Tibet, Nepal and India together – transported across the mountains by the wandering monks who introduced Tibetan Buddhism to the Himalaya. These magnificent morsels come steamed or fried, with a side dollop of spicy chilli sauce; both locals and tourists agree that the tastiest in town are served at the low-key Yangling Tibetan Restaurant, prepared by hand to a family recipe passed down through the generations.
With the Japanese embassy just down the road, Lazimpat’s Kotetsu has the market cornered for Japanese food in Kathmandu. Despite being 650km from the nearest ocean, the seafood here is so fresh you can almost hear the breaking waves (in the absence of direct Nepal-Japan flights, it comes in daily by jet from Thailand). As you’d expect, the house sashimi is expertly sliced, the Kobe steaks are delicately marbled and the teppanyaki fillets are deliciously moist and tender.
Rather surprisingly, Indian food is somewhat under-represented in Kathmandu. Many dishes that claim to be Indian are actually Nepali interpretations – tasty enough, but rarely packed with the authentic flavours of the Indian plains. For the real deal, head to the elegant surroundings of Third Eye, where higher prices secure you rich, spicymasalas and succulent skewers from the tandoori oven. One caveat though – chilli levels can be toned down, so ask your waiter to add a little garam (heat) to your plate.
Beef up your life
A post-trek steak is a traveller tradition, and K-Too – partner restaurant of the long-established Kilroy’s – serves them fat as doorstops and as rare as you care to ask for. The dining room is packed out nightly with trekkers toasting the end of another expedition, and with chunky chips and fried apple momos for afters, it pays to bring an appetite. Plan a lazy itinerary for the next day while you digest!
In many ways, Muscat (meaning “anchorage”) is all about the sea and fishing remains an important industry. Walk along Mutrah Corniche, from the new fish market to the souq, and it is easy to see how the capital is defined by its busy port, with naval vessels and cruise ships jostling with traditional wooden dhows, fishing boats and flocks of terns for space in the harbour. For the visitor, some of the capital’s best experiences revolve around the sea, such as bathing in the calm waters of the Shangri-La’s Barr al Jissah Resort & Spa, sampling grilledhamour at award-winning fish restaurant, The Beach, or enjoying a sea-view sundowner at one of the city’s five-star hotels. For a gull’s eye view of the shore, head to Marina Bandar al Rowdha; boats leave at dawn, escorted by dolphins, for the snorkelling hotspots of Bandar Khayran.
Learn about Oman’s past
Built on the revenues of oil and the benefits of good governance, Oman’s history of rags to riches over the last half-century is nothing short of a miracle. The brand new National Museum in the heart of old Muscat charts the rise of Oman, under the leadership of the country’s highly respected leader, Sultan Qaboos, from a forgotten backwater to the dynamic, modern country that it is today. Pose for a selfie in front of the whimsical Sultan’s Palace or visit nearby Bayt al Zubair, a traditional villa housing a fine collection of Omani crafts, to get a feel for Muscat’s living history. Or for a more domestic view of the capital’s recent past, spare an hour for a little-known gem, Ghalya Museum of Modern Art on Mutrah Corniche, which offers a glimpse of Muscat life before the present sultan ushered in the Omani Renaissance in 1970.
Dine out – the local way
Anyone with a taste for local flavour will enjoy Muscat’s new trend in promoting Omani cuisine. Until recently, sampling local food was restricted to traditional halwa (a gelatinous sweetmeat) and dates withqahwa (cardamom coffee), served at official functions. At best, it meant trying shuwa (roasted lamb or goat, traditionally cooked for a day in the sand) in pan-Arab restaurants like the delightful Kargeen Cafe. While you can still sit cross-legged on a dubious communal carpet at Bin Ateeq for authentic Omani fare, there is a finer dining experience now to be had at Bait al Luban. Housed in a renovated trader’s house in Mutrah, the menu at this atmospheric new restaurant includes a wide choice of national dishes, including the porridge-like harees.
Shop for gold, frankincense and myrrh
It’s no secret that Peninsula Arabs love shopping and the region is home to some of the world’s most extravagant malls. Muscat may not boast the retail excesses of neighbouring Dubai but what it lacks in brand names it makes up for in character. No visit to Muscat would be complete without getting lost in the labyrinthine Mutrah Souq where Indian traders have been plying their wares for centuries. The alleyways are perfumed with luban (frankincense), grown in the southern province of Oman, and dazzle with the gold of a bride’s dowry. Elsewhere in town, especially around Qurm, look for camel-bone boxes and chocolate-covered dates, carpets from Persia and rugs from Azerbaijan, beads of semi-precious stones and pashminas that fit through a wedding ring. Less easy to find, except in the Omani Heritage Gallery in Qurm, are local crafts such as camel-leather baskets, earthenware pots and goat-hair rugs.
Add an extra day
An excellent road network is one of the many blessings of the Omani Renaissance so with an extra day, it is easy to take a day trip from the capital to explore the legendary ‘interior’. One of the best excursions covers a loop around the Batinah Plain, beginning in the castle town of Nakhal. Visit the fort, watch brilliant-winged Indian rollers dart through the date plantations, and pause by the hot springs. Continue along the base of the imposing Hajar Mountains to the former capital of Rustaq, crowned by another of Oman’s many forts. Return to Muscat via Sawadi, famed for a beach carpeted in pink top shells and punctuated by islands accessible on foot at low tide.
Getting out onto the water is naturally the most popular way to experience Inle Lake. Every morning a flotilla of slender wooden canoes fitted with long-tailed outboard motors surges forth, transporting visitors to various natural, cultural, religious and historic sites. Nyaungshwe, on the northern edge of the lake, is the base for setting out on motorboat trips – every hotel and guesthouse in town can help arrange one, or just wait for a boat captain to approach you in the street.
Trips can be tailored, but tours typically include visits to the famous sights in the northern part of the lake, such as Phaung Daw Oo Paya in Tha Ley, the Nga Hpe Kyaung (Jumping Cat Monastery) in Nga Phe village, and the floating gardens. Make sure to spend time observing the Intha fishermen (most photogenic at dawn) and their unique technique of rowing the boat with one leg while using both hands to fish. Other destinations further afield include villages Thaung Thut, Hmaw Be, and Samkar, and you can also include a visit to Inthein, where crumbing, hilltop pagodas look down on the water.
A standard day trip costs K15,000 to K18,000 (US$12 to US$15); or K20,000 with Inthein. The fee covers the entire boat; drivers will carry up to five passengers, who get padded seats and life jackets. Many trips start at dawn, when the light is great for photos. During the day it gets very hot: bring a hat, water and plenty of sunscreen. Sunset trips are also popular, although note it can get chilly on the lake. Most boats provide blankets but you may want a jacket or a wrap.
DIY cycling tour
Inle is not only about the water. It’s also possible to explore the perimeter by bicycle and take in some beautiful Burmese countryside. Many sights are clustered around the lake, including hot springs and small villages.
Begin in Nyaungshwe, where bikes can be hired for around K1500 (US$1.50) per day. Peddle west along an unpaved, bumpy road through farmland. Take a left at the T-junction and head south, following the mountains. After about 8km you will reach the Khaung Daing hot springs, where the water is piped into a series of swimming pools. A soak here costs adults US$7, or US$10 for a dip in a private pool.
Situated at the mouth of the River Corrib, Galway (Gaillimh in Irish) started out life as a fishing village, Claddagh, and really took off in the 13th century when it came under the Anglo-Norman rule of Richard de Burgo (aka the Red Earl) and its city walls were constructed. It’s likely the Spanish Arch, which protected moored merchant ships from Spain, is a remnant of the medieval walls. Another surviving portion has been incorporated in the Eyre Square Centre shopping mall. Fascinating archaeological finds are on display at the Hall of the Red Earl, a medieval tax office/courthouse/town hall whose remains were uncovered by accident in 1997. In 1396, Richard II transferred power to 14 merchant-family ‘tribes’; the most powerful, the Lynch family, builtLynch’s Castle, Ireland’s finest town castle (now an AIB bank). More recent history – from 1800 to 1950 – is on display at the Galway City Museum, where exhibits include a traditional wooden Galway Hooker fishing boat.
To appreciate the city’s storied history, book a guided tour with Galway on Foot, which departs from the Spanish Arch.
Galway is famed far and wide for its pubs, most of which are just a crawl from the next. Join the friendly locals as they bounce from place to place, never knowing what fun lies ahead but certain of the possibility. A brilliant starting point is Tigh Neáchtain (or just Neáchtain’s – pronounced ‘nock-tans’ – aka Naughtons), a bright-blue-painted 19th-century treasure that attracts all walks of life beneath its low ceilings and on its tree-shaded terrace. Old-school O’Connell’s, with stained glass, pressed-tin ceilings and a partially covered beer garden, is another enduring gem.
Pints of ‘the black stuff’ (ie Guinness) are popular, of course, but be sure to look out for Galway Hooker Irish Pale Ale, a local success story brewing locally for over a decade. Whiskey specialists include laid-back Garavan’s (garavans.ie).
Galway’s brightly painted pubs heave with live music. You’ll hear high-spirited trad tunes featuring any combination of instruments – fiddle, tin whistle, bodhrán (goat-skin hand-held drum played with beater), guitar, banjo, squeezebox and more – pouring out from inside. It’s possible to catch a céilí (traditional music session and dancing, pronounced ‘kay-lee’) or spontaneous seisún (pronounced ‘seh-shoon’) virtually every night of the week. Cherry-red-coloured Tig Cóilí is a fantastic place to catch music, as is the two-storeyed Crane Bar.
Bands of all genres get their break at legendary venue Róisín Dubh, which also hosts comedy. You’ll catch buskers along Shop St (and its extensions, High St then Quay St) and around the Spanish Arch.
Seafood reigns in Galway. Terroir-focused Aniar uses local catches in many of its Michelin-starred multicourse menus. Celebrated seafood bistro Oscar’s is a superb place for Galway Bay oysters. Ard Bia at Nimmo’s serves local flavours like West Coast monkfish with spelt, preserved lemon, spinach and sorrel yoghurt or pan-roasted Atlantic hake with braised fennel, clams, beetroot and grilled asparagus. West Coast crab (washed down with Galway Hooker) is a speciality of hip Kai Café & Restaurant. And down-to-earth McDonagh’s is an essential stop for phenomenal fish and chips at its chaotically sociable communal tables.
Galway Food Tours provides a taste of the city’s best artisans, purveyors and dining highlights.
Shoals of salmon and sea trout surge upriver at Salmon Weir in May and June; tackle shops can provide angling advice, or visit www.fishinginireland.info for permit information. The Corrib Princessruns cruises here in summer. Another favourite outdoor activity is a 2.5km stroll along the Prom to Salthill (be sure to kick the wall near the diving boards in true Galwegian tradition). If you just want to unwind in the sunshine, the lawns of central Eyre Square are ideal.
One of the joys of wandering through Galway is stumbling across its small speciality shops selling everything from Irish-made fashion to local art and jewellery, including its Claddagh rings (with a heart, signifying love, between two hands, symbolising friendship and topped by a crown, representing loyalty), named for the original fishing village; jewellery shops producing them include Ireland’s oldest, 1750-established Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold. Other favourites include the warren of book-lined rooms making up Charlie Byrne’s Bookstore, and P Powell & Sons and Kiernan Moloney, both selling traditional Irish musical instruments.
A local gathering point, Galway’s festive street market has set up on Church lane by St Nicholas’ Church for centuries. Saturdays (8am to 6pm) are especially lively, with scores of stalls selling farm-fresh produce, arts, crafts and sizzling up ready-to-eat snacks such as curries and crêpes. There’s also a market on Sundays (plus bank holidays, Fridays in July and August and every day during the Galway Arts Festival) from noon to 6pm. On sunny days especially, buskers give the markets a carnival atmosphere. In December, from 9am to 6pm from the 14th until Christmas Eve, stalls glow with candles and fairylights during Galway’s enchanting Christmas market.
Galway is festive any time of year but especially during its annual celebrations (when you’ll need to book accommodation well ahead). Standouts include late March’s Galway Food Festival, with markets, food trails and family activities; late April’s poetry- and prose-filledCúirt International Festival of Literature; mid-July’s Galway Arts Festival and Ireland’s leading film festival, the Galway Film Fleadh; horse racing and high fashion at the uproarious Galway Race Week, starting on the last Monday in July; and late September’s long-runningGalway Oyster & Seafood Festival. Live music invariably provides the soundtrack.
Arepas – a national favorite and probably one of the first Colombian culinary words you’ll learn. Loosely translated as ‘corn cakes’, arepas are made from yellow or white ground corn and are as diverse as the country itself, with each region preparing them differently – from fried and crispy, to sweet, soft and cheesy. Within the coffee zone, paisas like their arepas thin, flat and crunchy, smothered in butter, with cheese on the side. Arepas from the central Andean region can be sweet, such asarepa de choclo, or stuffed or topped with cheese, eggs, ham, chicharrón(fried pork rind), beef or chicken. Along the Caribbean coast, arepas are chubby, resembling a hamburger patty and heavy on salted cheese, or sinfully greasy and deep-fried with a cooked egg inside, such as arepa de huevo.
The arepa list is endless and can be found on almost every corner in Bogotá. Get a taste of authentic Caribbean cuisine at Narcobollo(narcobollo.com) or Gaira Café (gairacafe.co), which is owned by famous Colombian singer, Carlos Vives. For freshly grilled cheese-and-ham arepas, stop at Puerto Arepa de la Primera(facebook.com/PuertoArepadelaPrimera).
Changua: nutritious milk soup for the soul
The indigenous tribes that once roamed the central Andes may have all disappeared, but a couple of their culinary traditions haven’t been lost.Changua, a comforting soup made with milk, poached eggs and green onions, is easygoing on the stomach and suitable for vegetarians. Each recipe is slightly different, but most come with a generous garnish of coriander and pieces of crusty – often stale – bread that are plonked or grated into the milky broth. The soup is generally enjoyed with a couple of almojábanas, cheese rolls best served straight out of the oven and eaten religiously in the regions of Boyacá and Cundinamarca. Made with corn flour, eggs and cuajada (white cheese made from unpasteurized milk), these crispy pastries are a perfect match to the homey soup.
Try a snug combo at La Puerta Falsa, the oldest cafe in the city; it’s no fake and popular for a good reason. Another downtown favorite is the 80-year-old bakery Pasteleria La Florida(facebook.com/PasteleriaFlorida).
Aguapanela and queso fresco: a Colombian classic
A classic and light Colombian breakfast is a mug of steamingaguapanela and a large piece of locally produced queso fresco (soft, fresh white cheese). Aguapanela is a sweet drink made from unrefined sugarcane juice; it’s enjoyed throughout the country. The ‘warmth’ of the drink depends on the altitude: hot and soothing in the mountains, icy and refreshing along the coast. In Bogotá, the ritual is to drop the cheese into the aguapanela (or hot chocolate). The cheese effortlessly melts in the hot drink, and using a spoon, the sweet and cheesy gooeyness is devoured. For a heartier breakfast, you can combine theaguapanela with huevos pericos (eggs scrambled with tomatoes and onions) and, depending on the region, either a bollo, arepa oralmojábana. Bollos, also known as envuelto de maíz (literally ‘wrapped corn’), are parcels of ground maize that’s mixed with cheese, enclosed in leaves and boiled.
Most traditional desayunaderos (breakfast restaurants), such as the little corner joint, Hibiscus Cafe, serve authentic aguapanela and its accompaniments.
Caldo de costilla: a soup to raise the dead
The night before was long and you wake up with a splitting headache. Forget painkillers or gallons of water; rather, slurp up a bowl of comforting caldo de costilla, a typical dish from the Andean region that’s eaten nationwide. This slow-cooked broth made with beef ribs, carrots, potatoes, garlic and cilantro is also known as levantamuertos(literally ‘raise the dead’) due to its superpower ability to cure guayabos(hangovers) and ailments. Colombians swear by its curative properties and the soup is sold in most restaurants, especially in Bogotá’s party zones. It is best enjoyed with a couple of warm arepas.
You’ll find many believers hanging out at the famous 24-hour restaurant, Cañón del Chicamocha (facebook.com/pages/Restaurante-Cañon-Del-Chicamocha), waiting for the magic doctor to kick in.
Art and nature complement each other in Taranaki’s capital, New Plymouth. The spectacular Wind Wand – a towering kinetic sculpture designed by New Zealand artist Len Lye – arcs and sways in staunch breezes surging in from the Tasman Sea, while the mirror-clad folds of the recently opened Len Lye Centre shimmer with southern hemisphere sunshine and shape-shifting clouds. Nearby, 19th-century heritage buildings offer an intriguing contrast.
One of the 2oth century’s most interesting artists, Lye opined that ‘Great art goes 50-50 with great architecture’, and the ratio at the centre gets the balance exactly right. Towering ceilings create a sense of space and drama, while ramps lead visitors through galleries of Lye’s challenging kinetic structures and boldly energetic films. Sculptures whir and buzz and Lye’s colour-drenched or starkly monochrome short films shimmy and shake. Welcome to one of the most noisy and exciting galleries on the planet.
Adjoining the Len Lye Centre is the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, renowned as one of New Zealand’s best regional art galleries. With a motto of ‘Provocateurs since 1970’ the gallery focuses on experimental and challenging local and international exhibitions. In a region traditionally more attuned to dairy farming and laid-back surfers hunting the perfect wave, this is another of Taranaki’s best-kept secrets.
In mid-March, sleepy New Plymouth effortlessly morphs into the southern hemisphere’s world music hotspot. Every year the WOMADfestival fills the city’s Pukekura Park for a few exciting days. Recent festivals have included South African township a capella harmonies, Spanish flamenco beats and thumping Romany trumpet and tuba ensembles from the Balkans.
Outdoor adventures and foodie treats
In a land renowned for its iconic hiking, the Poukaki Crossing – the route around the perfect volcanic cone of Mt Taranaki – is an Instagram-worthy contender for the country’s finest one-day walk.
Traversing the northern side of the mountain, the 19km trek (seven to nine hours walking) negotiates diverse landscapes from forest through to sub-alpine scrub, and includes waterfalls, alpine tarns and swamps. There are also much lower visitor numbers than other more well-known hikes. Top Guides offers guided walks, shuttle transport and other shorter half-day excursions on sections of the Crossing.
After a day outdoors, it’s just a short hop to return to New Plymouth and its excellent dining scene. Kick off at The Hour Glass, one of the country’s best craft beer bars – look for beers from Taranaki locals Brew Mountain (brewmountain.co.nz) or Mike’s Brewery – before tucking into robust charcoal-grilled dishes at Social Kitchen (social-kitchen.co.nz).
Other day trips to consider over your Taranaki pork belly include a 20-minute vertiginous scramble up Paritutu (154m) at the southern end of town, or for something more accessible, a forest walk around the Dawson Falls area on the eastern slopes of Mt Taranaki.
Roadtripping Surf Highway 45
Get some Kiwi tunes on your playlist before embarking on this 105km semi-circular route from New Plymouth to Hawera. At Oakura, the world’s biggest surfboard stands outside Butler’s Reef Hotel (butlersreef.co.nz) – during summer the pub’s raffish beer garden hosts standing-room-only gigs from NZ’s biggest bands – while the hip Kin & Co (facebook.com/KinandCo) cafe dispenses organic and artisan flavours with a side order of tattooed barista.
Along the route there are plenty of spots to plant your board. The black sand- and driftwood-adorned Ahu Ahu beach is the last resting place of the SS Gairloch, now a rusted skeleton in the waves after foundering on Timaru Reef in 1903. On the horizon, the soaring profile of Paritutu can be spied, while the constant and comforting presence of Mt Taranaki rises behind forested hills.
Travelling southwest of Warea, keep your eyes peeled for a Taranaki landmark: a huge boulder daubed with orange paint that announces the route to legendary surf break, Stent Rd – the original yellow road marker kept getting stolen by trophy-hunting surfers.
Go underground at Llechwedd Slate Caverns
Slate mining once dominated the economy in northwest Wales: slate from these hills supplied most of the roofs in Victorian Britain and was transported around the world. Its decline over the last century hit local communities hard and left quarried hillsides, great caverns and dark tunnels in its wake.
Go underground at Llechwedd Slate Caverns
They’re all visible around the small town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Surrounded on all sides by Snowdonia National Park, its quarry-scarred landscape means it didn’t qualify for park status. Yet the area has a hard beauty of its own, and once you head downwards you discover another world. You can explore the Llechwedd Slate Caverns just outside town via numerous tours, and adventurous can spend two hours exploring the eerily magnificent mines on a Caverns tour, using zip lines, rope bridges and footholds hammered into the walls, gazing into dark holes and across cathedral-sized caves. It’s a great feeling – you get to put your hands on history, and set your heart pounding.
If that sounds a bit much, operators Zip World also offer Bounce Below, a series of enormous interconnected trampolines and slides. Trampolining in a cave is a unique experience, and the atmospheric lighting and chiselled walls around you give the giggling fun of bouncing up and down a nice counterpoint.
Fly high and low on record-breaking zip lines
Outdoor zip lines offer up a different perspective. You can build up quite a lick heading down these, a physical thrill that’s matched by the awesome spectacle of North Wales swooshing by beneath you. Blaenau Ffestiniog’s three zip lines take you down from the hills above to the mine itself. At Bethesda, northwest of Blaenau, Zip World Velocity (zipworld.co.uk) boasts the longest line in Europe and the fastest (up to 100mph) in the world.
More records are smashed elsewhere. Go Below, outside the appealing town of Betws-y-Coed, has the world’s longest underground zip line and can take you to the deepest point in Britain that’s accessible to the public – almost 400m below ground.
Snowdon: a mountain for all comers
Betws-y-Coed is a great base for exploring Snowdon, at 1085m the highest point in England and Wales. It’s famous for its views (to Ireland on a – rare – clear day), legends (it’s said to be the tomb of a giant slain by King Arthur) and the fact that you can get a train its summit. That accessibility is a big part of its appeal, and there are numerous ways to tackle the mountain, from the 120-year-old railway and the zig-zagging Miners’ Track to challenging climbing pitches and notorious Crib Goch (a knife-edge arête with a steep slope on one side and a sheer drop on the other).