We sent Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills to the southernmost tip of the Indian Subcontinent to research Kerala for the upcoming Rough Guide to India. From tea estates in lush green hills to sultry palm-fringed backwaters, plus a host of deserted beaches, she dove beneath the surface and immersed herself in the region’s natural wonders, lavish festivals and heavenly South Indian food.

In this video, Rachel shares tips on the top five things to do in Kerala. Here’s her expert travel advice for your trip to “God’s Own Country”.

Polluted, rainy and business-orientated. Let’s face it, a trip to Bogotá hardly sounds appealing. And many travellers don’t bother to probe much further than this bleak reputation, seeing Bogotá either as somewhere to be skipped out altogether, or as merely a logistical blot on a more exciting itinerary.

Other Latin American cities such as Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro are huge tourist draws, and within Colombia there are more great cities: Medellín’s gripping mix of hedonistic nightlife and cruel cartel-centre past, Cartagena’s heady blend of Caribbean buzz and colonial beauty, Cali’s famous salsa scene.

But Bogotá deserves to be seen as more than just a stop-over. Spend some time here and you’ll realise the city quietly works its humble magic; slowly revealing an irresistible pull of vibrant art-strewn streets, quirky cafés and one of the most interesting urban cycling innovations in the world. Here, we’ve whittled down the top six reasons to give Bogotá a chance.

La Candelaria by Luz Adriana Villa on Flickr (license)

1. For the street art

Sao Paulo, London, Valparaíso, Montreal – some cities are well known for their street art. But amongst the artistic community Bogotá is up there with the best, with international artists flocking to its streets to contribute to its thriving scene.

Bogotá doesn’t just accept art, it actively encourages it with neighbourhood commissioned pieces, privately funded works and local schools hiring street artists to teach classes.

While there’s art all over the city, it’s La Candelaria, Bogotá’s oldest neighbourhood, where it’s most concentrated. Here the narrow, cobbled streets have become a canvas for artistic expression: buildings are cloaked in colourful works from strikingly lifelike faces to bizarrely endearing flying potatoes.

But the creativity doesn’t stop at eye level, the tiled rooftops are littered with strange statues: a juggler on a unicycle wobbling along the edge of a roof, a figure sitting with a banana dangling from a fishing rod. Bogota Graffiti Tour is the best introduction to this dynamic culture, led by guides who are all closely involved in the street art community.

The free tour (donations welcome) explains the historical and socio-political contexts behind each piece and the collective culture, and introduces the styles of the city’s most compelling artists, from Guache’s multi-coloured, often-dreamlike focus on indigenous issues, to Toxicómano’s hard-hitting anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist driven pieces.

Bogotá street art by Frank Plamann on Flickr (license)

2. For innovative urban cycling

One word: Ciclovía. This is the stuff urban cyclists dream of, a day when you can ride through car-free city streets. In Bogotá this happens every week when Ciclovía clears the traffic from 76 miles of roads right through the city centre.

Every Sunday, more than two million people come out to reclaim the tarmac: cycling, jogging, roller blading, dog-walking and strolling with pushchairs, while Recrovía fills the parks and paths with free yoga and aerobic classes.

The programme has been running since 1974, with such success that other Colombian and international cities are now following suit. For Bogotá this is about more than just exercise and a break from the mind-numbing traffic-clogged streets: in a society where the gap between rich and poor is so great, and so much emphasis lies on the status of owning a car, this is the perfect leveller and social integration at its best.

Ciclovia em Bogotá by Cidades para Pessoas on Flickr (license)

3. For the great gourmet pleasures

There’s been an explosion of culinary creativity in Bogotá. From quirky hybrid ventures to smarter joints where nuevo Colombiano chefs are experimenting with traditional ingredients and international techniques, Colombia’s capital is a great place for a feed, with each neighbourhood harbouring its own foodie vibe.

La Candelaria has a number of small, creative places tucked away down its winding, graffiti-splashed streets. A small space with an exposed brick bar, Sant Just has an innovative, daily-changing menu that blends French cuisine with Colombian ingredients, served up in enormous portions. A few streets away, La Peluqueria is an exciting blend of edgy café, hairdresser and creative space for emerging artists.

In La Macarena, a village-absorbed-by-the-big-city neighbourhood, there’s a clutch of international restaurants, one of the best being Tapas Macarena – a tiny, charming spot for authentic Spanish cuisine.

To the north, Zona Rosa and Parque 93 hold Bogotá’s smarter dining. Amongst the competition, Central Cevicheria is up there with the best, serving zingy ceviche in a cool space decked out with bare wood and industrial lighting.

La Peluquería by Olivia Rawes

4. For real coffee

Colombian coffee is world famous, but as new arrivals quickly learn the best produce is exported. Hold your disappointment: a number of cafés in Bogotá are working hard to address this.

Leading the way is Azahar, a café founded by travellers who wanted to re-establish the connection between coffee, local farmers and Colombian people. A shipping container houses the café: repurposing the very vessel that is so often associated with taking the best beans away from the country, and here using it to serve great coffee back to Colombians.

This care and passion trickles down to the product: each single origin coffee served is traceable back to an individual farmer, with the bag detailing information about the farmer and the plantation – there’s even a QR code that links to a video of the farmer explaining what makes their own coffee so special.

Pixabay / CC0

5. For the views

Looming over Bogotá’s city centre, is Cerro de Monserrate, one of the city’s most loved landmarks. Cable cars and a funicular railway run up and down the mountain, while athletic locals and those tourists who’ve adjusted to the altitude tackle the steep, one-hour-thirty-minute walk up to the top.

Whichever way you ascend, the panoramic sweep of the cityscape below is stunning. Often framed by a dramatic sky, the city spreads out from forested mountains into a sprawl of low-rise tiled roofs. The scattering of taller buildings announce that Bogotá is on the cusp of the skyscraper age.

Monserrate by Luis Jou García on Flickr (license)

6. For the underground cathedral

Add an extra day to your Bogotá stay and explore the surrounding area. An easy, and unmissable day-trip is to Zipaquirá, home to the only underground cathedral in the world. Carved out of an old salt mine hidden in the depths of a mountain, the site is an astounding maze of winding passages, carved crosses, and small chapels.

The most impressive part is undoubtedly the vast main cathedral: an eerily-beautiful, purple-lit space delineated by huge pillars and a lofty ceiling, and filled with a rock-hewn altar and the biggest subterranean cross in the world.

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá by Jimmy Baikovicius on Flickr (license)

Explore more of Bogotá with The Rough Guide to Colombia. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Cover image from: Pixabay/CC0

The USA is practically bursting with amusement parks, from the sprawling and city-sized to the off-beat and unexpectedly endearing. Cotton candy and corn dogs, kiddie rides and coasters – here are the best theme parks in America.

Six Flags Magic Mountain, California

Magic Mountain boasts the world record for most roller coasters in a single amusement park, clocking in with a whopping 19, plus heaps of other rides. Thrills deserving of mention include Superman (launching you backwards from 0 to 100 miles per hour in seven seconds) and Tatsu (the tallest, fastest, longest flying roller coaster in the world).

Six Flags Magic Mountain by Jeff Turner on Flickr (license)

Cedar Point, Ohio

Though only two coasters short of Magic Mountain’s record, Cedar Point can still brag about its 72 other rides. A long stretch of sandy swimming beach along Lake Erie and array of attractions catering to all ages have kept this park an American favourite since its opening in 1870.

Walt Disney World, Florida

What list of amusement parks could go without mentioning Disney World? Indeed, the complex really is a world unto itself, with four gigantic theme parks, two top-notch waterparks, nonstop entertainment and 28 different Disney resorts suited to a variety of tastes and budgets.

From the cheery nostalgia of Magic Kingdom to the looping coasters of Hollywood Studios, Disney World’s immensity doesn’t just warrant a day trip, but a whole holiday.

Magic Kingdom by Jeff Krause on Flickr (license)

Dollywood, Tennessee

Few places put such a charming spin on celebrity cultism as Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s very own amusement park. Built in her Great Smoky Mountains homeland, the park draws its inspiration from the history and culture of East Tennessee.

An impressive breadth of rides, award-winning shows and festivals, a full-size steam train and the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster keep more than three million guests a season steadily rolling in.

Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, Florida

Universal Studios used to have an unspoken reputation as secondary to Disney, though by all means still a brilliant park. However since the opening of Islands of Adventure, particularly the recently expanded and incredibly detailed Wizarding World of Harry Potter, they just might be the best in the country.

A replica of the Hogwarts Express now connects the two parks. Both are bursting full of attractions, ranging from cutting-edge coasters on Marvel Superhero Island to whimsical ride-alongs in the land of Dr. Seuss.

Diagon Alley by Jeff Krause on Flickr (license)

Knoebels, Pennsylvania

Founded in 1926, Knoebels is a classic American amusement park running the types of nostalgic attractions and mighty wooden coasters you’d happily relive every summer. But above all, Knoebels should be praised for its prices. General admittance is free, and rides range from $1.25 ­to a maximum of $3 per person.

The park’s rather famous freshly-baked apple dumplings with ice cream also deserve special mention, as well as its dogs-allowed policy.

Pacific Park, Santa Monica, California

Though the thought that Pacific Park’s whirring rides are supported by a wooden pier alone might feel a little death-defying, the oceanfront ambience here will have you feeling California carefree.

There are only thirteen rides but remember: you’re in Santa Monica. Stroll through the gorgeous Venice Canals Walkway to Venice Beach, where Californian bodybuilders pump iron under the sun, skateboards and surfers showcase their skills, and all manner of bric-a-brac sellers, psychics and ragtag performers set up along the boardwalk. Welcome to people-watching paradise.

Pacific Park by Jim Sheaffer on Flickr (license)

Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, Indiana

The automatic two-parks-for-the-price-of-one-ticket is a huge draw here. Holiday World consistently wins awards for being the cleanest park in America, and it boasts some top-notch rides too.

Neighbouring Splashin’ Safari is home to the two longest water coasters on Earth, and it provides a refreshing relief after a hot summer morning spent in the sun. Plus, the thoughtful inclusion of free parking, sunscreen, wifi, all-day soft drinks and refreshments with the purchase of your entry ticket adds bonus value for your tourist buck.

Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York City

During the first half of the twentieth century Coney Island was a resort attracting the wealthy, home to grand hotels and extravagant carousels. Though no longer in its heyday, the East Coast atmosphere of the place is tough to beat.

Romantic old rides (three of which are protected NYC historic landmarks) look over 2.5 miles of white-sand beach and a lively boardwalk. Mid-century signage still adorns classic carnival games and stalls dishing out grade-A American comfort foods. New coasters are also in the works, and classic events such as Nathan’s Famous frankfurters Hot Dog Eating Contest and The Mermaid Parade continue their legacy each year.

Coney Island Boardwalk by Augie Ray on Flickr (license

Legoland, California

A great park for younger children, a day at Legoland provides a nice change of pace from the unbearable wait times of America’s most popular parks.

The nature of the park itself inspires kiddie creativity, and the success of 2014’s Lego Movie has breathed new life into the place. That said, those looking for an adrenaline fix may be left wanting.

Explore more of America with the Rough Guide to the USA. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Cover image from: Pixabay/CC0

From city breaks to romantic countryside escapes, options for short trips in the UK abound. Whether you’re looking to get active, overindulge or just chill out, we’ve got you covered. Here’s our pick of the best weekend breaks in the UK. Need more inspiration? We’ve also rounded up 20 of the most memorable places to stay.

Best for romance: Lake District, England

It’s easy to see why the Lake District National Park inspired William Wordsworth’s Romantic poetry. With its rolling green hills peering over clear expanses of water and quintessentially English towns and villages, the national park makes the perfect romantic getaway. Stay in a stone-­clad cottage, light a roaring fire and enjoy the peace and quiet of this stunning region after a day admiring awesome views from the top of the fells.

Pixabay / CC0

Best for cycling: Scottish Highlands, Scotland

Scotland’s northwest Highlands boast some of the best cycling roads in Britain. Weekend breaks in the UK don’t come much better than this on two wheels. Wild swathes of largely deserted mountainous terrain give way to clear, well ­maintained roads perfect for a bike ride, with few cars joining you along the way. The scenery around is astoundingly beautiful, and you’ll find yourself cruising through deep valleys and past inky-blue lochs. Visit in summer, when the weather is most reliable.

Best for music: Liverpool, England

The home of The Beatles, Liverpool has been dubbed the World Capital of Pop. For your fix of the Fab Four, head to the Albert Dock for The Beatles Story, or check out a Beatles tribute band at the Cavern Club. More recently, the city’s award­-winning festivals: Sound City, Creamfields and Liverpool Music Week, have consolidated its status as a go-­to destination for music lovers. In the evening, there are open mic nights and live venues across the city.

Pixabay / CC

Best for booze: Belfast, Northern Ireland

Where better for a pint of shamrock-­topped Guinness than an Irish pub? Belfast won’t disappoint, with everything from a National Trust pub­ The Crown Liquor Saloon ­to chic modern bars. Join a pub crawl around the city’s traditional bars for cold Guinness and live music. You can even try pouring your own pint at Lavery’s. If the black stuff isn’t for you, northern Ireland’s recent craft beer revolution means there are plenty of beers to try too.

Best for entertainment: London, England

World­-class museums, West End theatres and leading art galleries; when it comes to short breaks in the UK, England’s capital has it all. With a packed calendar of exhibitions and events throughout the year, London draws the biggest names in music, sport and the arts. It doesn’t need to be expensive, either, as many of the capital’s museums are free, and cheap events are held year-­round. Rough Guides readers even recently voted it the world’s coolest city. You’ll never be struggling for something to do here.

Best for scenery: Llandudno, Wales

The sweeping curve of Llandudno’s bay draws in visitor after visitor every year, and it’s no wonder why; the seaside town offers stunning coastal scenery. Take the tramway to the top of Great Orme for wonderful panoramic views across the bay. Or, take in the scene from above on one of the town’s cable cars. Nearby Conwy Castle is a must-­see; climb the battlements to admire the snow-peaked mountains of Snowdonia and the placid Conwy estuary.

Best for relaxation: Bath, England

Bath has been a popular spa destination since the Roman era, and its natural hot springs still steam today, with boutique hotels offering luxury spa breaks. Of course, the town’s focal point is the wonderfully preserved Roman Baths. In July and August, the Baths stay open until 10pm, and torches light up the ruins, making an evening summer stroll through the Georgian streets even more enticing.

/ CC0

Best for surfing: Cornwall, England

The Cornish coast attracts thousands of surfers every year, with some of the best waves in the UK. In the summer, Rip Curl Boardmasters festival brings together music and surfing, pulling in big names from both. Fistral Beach, where the festival’s surf competitions are held, is the most popular year­-round, but the many bays will leave you with plenty of choice. There’s no end of surf schools to try, and when you’re tired of the waves, treat yourself to a Cornish cream tea.

Best for architecture: Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle’s fairy­tale towers are a reminder of the city’s ancient roots, while sleek, urban design in the city centre gives the the city a decidedly cool edge. Take an architecture tour to explore the Old Town’s winding Reformation-­era streets and the elegant Neo­classical buildings of the New Town. Modern highlights include the controversial Scottish Parliament building and the swirling Edinburgh Landform. When you’ve had your fill of the city from the ground, head to the top of Calton Hill to take in the skyline from above.

Pixabay / CC0

Best for nature: New Forest, England

A trip to the New Forest is truly magical. Designated a royal hunting preserve 1000 years ago, the enchanting working forest is wonderfully unspoilt, with unenclosed pasture land allowing animals to roam free. The area is a wildlife haven, where you can find many indigenous species in their natural surroundings. The most iconic are the New Forest ponies, which rule the land; you’ll find yourself giving way to horses rather than people on a drive through the forest.

Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Header image Pixabay / CC0. 

Since the 1960s, foreign tourists have flocked to Goa, India’s smallest state, attracted by its palm-fringed golden beaches, glorious sunshine and distinctly relaxed attitudes. Domestic tourism has taken off enormously in recent years too, such that now almost ninety percent of visitors are from within India.

Kerala, several hundred kilometres south, draws double the number of both domestic and foreign tourists than Goa, with its dense tropical landscape, tantalising festivals and 550km of striking coastline.

Here’s what to expect from each of these captivating states, and how to decide whether to visit Goa or Kerala first.

What’s the local culture like?

Goa was a Portuguese territory from the sixteenth century until 1961, and a quarter of the population remain Christian today. Though Hindus still make up the majority of the population, unusually for India you’ll find churches in pretty much every town, some of the best of which are in Old Goa, the state’s former capital and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kerala is intensely ritualistic, with numerous ancient indigenous practices that are unique to this region and which make a visit here far more alien to Western perceptions than Goa. All-night festivals are frequent occurrences at temples across the state, with fireworks, splendidly adorned elephants and deafening drums combining to create magical spectacles.

A performance of kathakali, Kerala’s most famous form of ritual drama, is well-worth experiencing to see the elaborately made-up and fantastically dressed performers act out ancient stories with astonishing intensity.

Which is best for food?

Goa and Kerala are renowned for their excellent cuisines. South Indian curries are generally much spicier than those in northern India, and use simpler, tangier ingredients often including copious amounts of coconut, fresh chillies, tamarind and curry leaves.

Masala dosas originated in southern India, and are a breakfast staple across both states. Rice usually replaces bread in family homes of both states, though in touristy places – and especially in Goa – naans, chapatti and parathas are readily available.

Yet despite these similarities, Goan and Keralan cuisines differ more than you might think.

Idli, steamed rice cakes, are a staple in Kerala, usually served with sambar, a lentil-based vegetables stew. Vada, deep-fried lentil doughnuts, are also immensely popular here, where meals are often served on banana leaves. The vindaloo, meanwhile, is a Goan creation. Vinegar, one of the key ingredients, is a Portuguese legacy, and these ultra-hot curries are traditionally made with pork.

Keralan food is traditionally vegetarian, but you’ll find meat in most places, and fresh, delicious seafood is ubiquitous, as it is in Goa.

Where can I party?

When hippies flocked to Goa in the 1960s, parties spread like wildfire. By the 1990s, Goa Trance was in full swing, attracting partygoers from all over the world to dance till dawn on the sand or in beautiful jungle settings. At the turn of the millennium, the authorities clamped down, banning loud music after 10pm, and with it went the rave scene.

These days parties do still exist (if the police are successfully paid off), and Goa still has a reputation as the party capital of India, particularly around Anjuna and Vagator. Beer as well as local and imported spirits are widely available at beachside restaurants, and cocktails are especially popular in the early evening happy hours.

Kerala, by contrast, has never had much in the way of nightlife, unless you count all-night kathakali performances. Some hotels and restaurants catering for tourists do serve alcohol (amusingly sometimes disguised in tea pots in unlicensed places). In coastal resorts such as Varkala, you’ll find plenty of cheap booze, and even the odd impromptu party which carries on till the small hours.

Where will I find the best beaches?

Goa’s beaches tend to be wider and cleaner than that of Kerala, and are, overall, more tourist-friendly. You can take strolls down the beach and continue for hours, connecting from one resort to the next, which isn’t possible in most places in Kerala. Beachside accommodation is plentiful, from budget shacks to glitzy resorts. There are coastal yoga retreats galore and shops selling the usual hippy tat wherever you go.

Though Kerala’s beaches tend to be smaller, and the beach-shack culture is pretty much non-existent, “God’s Own Country” is home to numerous pretty shores, particularly in the far north where you’ll find some gorgeous quiet coves scattered among little fishing villages. Kerala is also queen of Ayurvedic treatments – if you’re interested in some alternative therapies, this is the place to for you.

What sights are there to see?

Old Goa is home to some lovely examples of whitewashed churches, and the Dudhsagar waterfalls near the southern border with the state of Karnataka manage to draw curious tourists inland. But it’s Goa’s beaches which brings most people here, rather than any specific “sights”.

The main attraction for visitors to Kerala is Fort Cochin, with its European-era architecture, spice markets, iconic Chinese fishing nets, art exhibitions and hip cafés. Another Keralan allure is the chance to ride a boat through the myriad of narrow backwaters that weave their way through lush forests and offer a glimpse into traditional rural village life that’s barely changed for centuries.

Where should I go in a nutshell?

If you’re up for some serious sun worshipping, plenty of boozing and some yoga to cleanse your soul the morning after, your best bet is Goa. If you’re looking for a quieter, more culturally immersive trip, try Kerala. And if you have a weakness for punchy curries, extend your trip and go to both.

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Ghost stories are fun. Though folk tales and flatout fabrications abound, the best of them possess a kernel of historic truth that prompt us to ponder the lives of those who inhabited the world before we came along.

From Hollywood horror hotspots to dilapidated colonial settlements, here are the most haunted places in America. Fact or fiction, funny or frightening: you decide.

The White House, Washington D.C.

Home to every American President since 1800, the White House in Washington DC is a hub of paranormal activity. Indeed no spectre seems so active as President Abraham Lincoln. A frequent visitor to those who sleep in his former bedroom, Lincoln’s lively apparition has been spotted by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, and sent scores more running and screaming.

Even Winston Churchill swore that he saw the deceased President smiling by the bedroom’s fireplace. Having just risen from a hot bath, Churchill was naked during the encounter (save for a smouldering cigar), and refused to sleep in Lincoln’s old bedroom on all subsequent visits to the White House.

The White House / Pixabay / CC0

112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, New York

Here, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered six members of his family in 1974. One year later the the Lutz family moved in, suffered a bout of physical injuries caused by unseen forces, glowing red eyes, rotating crucifixes and general madness before moving out.

It’s upon these experiences which best-selling book, The Amityville Horror, and its eponymous Hollywood blockbuster are based. Though the story has been subject to scathing scepticism, some may be worried to know that the Lutz’s passed a polygraph interrogation about the hauntings.

Cape May, New Jersey

Sun on your skin, a warm ocean breeze and white sand between your toes – by day Cape May seems far from frightening. But the pleasures of America’s oldest seaside resort, established in 1620, are said to be enjoyed by both the living and the dead.

At night, the cheerfully-coloured Victorian mansions take on a spooky silhouette. Resident paranormal investigators lead ghost tours down dark streets lit by flickering gas lamps, telling grisly tales of the old wooden buildings now infamous for unearthly happenings. Conveniently, many of the most haunted estates have been converted into lovely inns and quaint B&Bs. Sweet dreams.

Cape May / Pixabay / CC0

Gettysburg Battlefield, Pennsylvania

With the lives of nearly 8,000 civil war soldiers lost during the decisive Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, many visitors claim they can still hear the cannon fire and bloodcurdling screams of soldiers.

The deceased don’t seem limited to the battlefield either, with apparitions of ghostly horsemen roaming as far as Gettysburg College. Indeed, believers have sworn witness to entire battles raging throughout the area – soldiers stuck performing their final acts of patriotism like broken records on an eternal loop.

The RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach, California

The Queen Mary served as an ocean liner, warship and swanky cruise ship before being converted into a proper luxury hotel, permanently docked at Long Beach in 1967. But the souls of passengers who died aboard the ship’s tumultuous past have reportedly remained – and these ghosts keep today’s guests rolling in.

Haunted highlights include the sounds of phantom children playing in an empty nursery, and the particularly rowdy spirit of a purser murdered in Cabin B340 (sadly, the cabin is no longer rented out due to the safety hazards of flying furniture).

The Queen Mary by Chris Michaels on Flickr (license)

Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Kentucky

More than 8,000 people perished behind the immense gothic façade of Waverly Hills, a hospital opened in 1910 to treat Kentucky’s tuberculosis epidemic. However, in 1962 the sanatorium was converted into a home for individuals with mental illness. This is when Waverly Hills earned its frightening reputation.

The facility turned rife with stories of suicide, medical mistreatment and grotesque experiments upon patients. In 1982 the state of Kentucky finally forced the centres closure due to “patient neglect”. This is easily one of the most haunted places in America – prime ghost hunting territory. But be warned, those who died here did not do so happily.

Overnight stays are a tour option for daring visitors, and mysterious orbs frequently appear in photographs of the Sanatorium’s dark, crumbling halls.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium by Louisville Images on Flickr (license)

Jerome, Arizona

Once a buzzing mining town during the days of America’s Wild West, Jerome’s population plummeted from 10,000 to 100 when ore deposits ran out during the Great Depression. The spirits of past residents have remained however, with reports of sharp-shooting spectral cowboys and disembodied miners strolling the old cobblestones and checking into haunted hotspots like the Jerome Grand Hotel.

Today, the veritable ghost town has been transformed into a vibrant artists’ community, with cheap rents and phenomenal views over Arizona’s Verde Valley and Mogollon Rim inspiring a new wave of residents to establish art galleries, cafes and wineries.

The Stanley Hotel, Colorado

Ever woken up at night to find your blankets stripped off and folded neatly at the foot of your bed, or played billiards with an invisible opponent?

These are the types of phantasmal encounters that turned the posh Stanley Hotel into an almost-abandoned spook house. However, a single serendipitous night in the hotel’s eerie atmosphere was enough to inspire author Stephen King horror classic, The Shining.

Now over a century old, The Stanley attracts a steady stream of visitors eager to partake in paranormal investigation tours, search out similarities between King’s novel and their lodgings, or just enjoy the stunning Rocky Mountain wilderness at The Stanley’s doorstep.

The Stanley Hotel by wakedawg on Flickr (license)

Explore more of America with the Rough Guide to the USA. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
cover image from: Pixabay / CC0

Traditionally, pilgrimage meant hoofing it, wayfaring the hard way. Yet most Catholic authorities will tell you there’s nothing particularly sinful about making it easier on yourself.

You could roughly trace Spain’s Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, by car … but then taking full advantage of the fringe benefits – discounted accommodation and gorgeous red wine – would prove difficult. The answer? Get on your bike.

Day 1 by Juan Pablo Olmo (CC license

With reasonable fitness and not a little tenacity, the mantra of “two wheels good, four wheels bad” can take you a long way on the religious pilgrimage route that pretty much patented European tourism back in the Middle Ages.

The most popular section begins at the Pyrenean monastery of Roncesvalles, rolling right across northwestern Spain to the stunning (and stunningly wet) Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, where the presence of St James’s mortal remains defines the whole exercise.

Camino de Santiago by Fresco Tours (CC license)

Pack your mac, but spare a thought for the pre-Gortex, pre-Penny-Farthing millions who tramped through history, walking the proverbial 500 miles to fall down at Santiago’s door.

Bikers can expect a slight spiritual snag, however: you have to complete 200km to qualify for a reprieve from purgatory (twice the minimum for walkers). But by the time you’re hurtling down to Pamplona with a woody, moist Basque wind in your hair, though, purgatory will be the last thing on your mind.

Granted, the vast, windswept plains between Burgos and León hold greater potential for torment, but by then you’ll have crossed the Ebro and perhaps taken a little detour to linger amid the vineyards of La Rioja, fortifying your weary pins with Spain’s most acclaimed wine.

photo by Luis Marina (CC license)

The Camino was in fact responsible for spreading Rioja’s reputation, as pilgrims used to slake their thirst at the monastery of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The medieval grapevine likewise popularized the route’s celebrated Romanesque architecture; today many monasteries, convents and churches house walkers and cyclists.

Once you’re past the Cebreiro pass and into Celtic-green Galicia, rolling past hand-ploughed plots and slate-roofed villages, even a bike seems newfangled amid rhythms that have scarcely changed since the remains of St James first turned up in 813.

A “credencial” or Pilgrim’s Passport, available from the monastery at Roncesvalles or via csj.org.uk, entitles you to free or very cheap hostel accommodation. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

A dazzling oasis where forty million people a year let their hair down, Las Vegas has made a fine art of indulging its visitors’ every appetite. From its ever-changing architecture to cascading chocolate fountains, adrenaline-pumping zip lines and jaw-dropping stage shows, everything is built to thrill.

The Strip is where the real action is, a visual feast where each mega-casino vies to outdo the next with some outlandish theme, be it an Egyptian pyramid (Luxor), a Roman extravaganza (Caesars Palace), a fairytale castle (Excalibur) or a European city (Paris and the Venetian).

From the new Pocket Rough Guide to Las Vegas by Greg Ward, we’ve picked 15 unmissable things to do on The Strip – get the full guide to start planning your trip.

1. Marvel at the Bellagio

This is Las Vegas at its most luxurious, an Italianate marble extravaganza with its own eight-acre lake. Head to Jean Philippe Patisserie to enjoy morning pastries while admiring the world’s largest chocolate fountain, check out the Conservatory (part greenhouse, part camp and colourful fantasyland), and be sure to watch the mesmerising jets of the fountains after sundown.

2. Go all out on a Las Vegas buffet

The all-you-can-eat buffet is one tradition Las Vegas will never let go. For the ultimate in indulgence, head for Caesars Palace and buy a “Buffet of Buffets” pass, valid for 24 hours at all Caesars’ properties. Start with the Bacchanal Buffet, which epitomizes decadent Las Vegas excess.

3. See the Flamingo’s classic kitsch

Okay, so the Flamingo these days is more Donny Osmond than Bugsy Siegel, but the original Strip resort still holds plenty of kitsch. From its superb neon sign and the Strip-facing patio of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, to its trademark real-life flamingoes in the free Wildlife Habitat, there’s a lot to like about the Flamingo.

4. Hit the shops

Shopping now ranks among the principal reasons that people visit Las Vegas, and most people do almost all of their shopping on the Strip itself. Their prime destination is the amazing Forum at Caesars Palace, where a false sky cycles hourly between day and night, followed by the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian, complete with operatic gondoliers plying the waters of the Grand Canal, and Miracle Mile at Planet Hollywood.

5. Explore the Luxor pyramid

Inside the sloping, monolithic walls of the Luxor lie two interesting exhibits. Enter the Egyptian pyramid through the paws of the Sphinx to see Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, the world’s only permanent exhibition of items salvaged from the Titanic, and the gruesome but uplifting Bodies…the Exhibition.

6.  Solve a murder

At CSI The Experience at the MGM Grand you can put your razor-sharp forensic skills to the test investigating, and almost certainly solving, fictional murder mysteries. A hugely enjoyable interactive adventure, this is perhaps the most enjoyable family attraction in Las Vegas.

7. Ride the Big Apple Coaster

Shake things up with a loop around the Manhattan skyline on New York–New York’s Big Apple Coaster. The little yellow cabs that loop and race around its skyscraper towers speed at 67mph, plunge over 200ft and roll like a jet fighter – this is a serious thrill ride no theme-park fan should miss.

8. Get the Eiffel Tower Experience

Ride into the skies atop Las Vegas’s own miniature version of Paris and look down on the rest of the Strip. The observation platform is perfectly poised to look north and south along the busiest stretch, as well as west, and down, to the fountains of Bellagio.

9. Catch a show

The old-style feathers-and-sequins revues have been supplanted by a never-ending stream of jaw-droppingly lavish shows by the Cirque du Soleil, plus the likes of the postmodern Blue Man Group and more.

10. Take a spin on the High Roller

At 550ft high the Las Vegas High Roller is the world’s largest observation wheel, and commands tremendous views over the city. The long-range panoramas are particularly spectacular, though intervening buildings mean it doesn’t offer ground-level views of the Strip.

11. Dine out

You could eat a great meal in a different restaurant on The Strip every night. Two of our favourites include Thomas Keller’s French bistro Bouchon at the Venetian, where the menu at is every bit as special as the setting, and Scarpetta at the Cosmopolitan, where you watch the Bellagio fountains as you savour Scott Conant’s wonderful contemporary take on Italian cuisine.

12. Watch a volcano erupt

Once the sun’s gone down, take your place outside the Mirage. The artificial volcano at Steve Wynn’s first Strip venture erupts at hourly intervals, on the hour, after dark.

13. Cross the drawbridge into Excalibur

If things haven’t been kitsch enough yet, stroll through this bizarre Arthurian castle-casino. Built in 1990, it remains the most visible reminder of the era when Las Vegas briefly re-invented itself as a vast children’s playground – although with its jam-packed, multi-coloured turrets it doesn’t so much look like a castle, as like a child’s drawing of a castle.

14. See Big Elvis

Head for the no-cover Piano Bar in Harrah’s, where the hunka-hunka love that is Pete Vallee, Las Vegas’s biggest and best-loved Elvis impersonator. His King-like voice, mastery of Elvis’s repertoire and easy audience rapport make this the best free show in town.

15. Spot crocodiles and sharks at Mandalay Bay

In keeping with Las Vegas’s emphasis on immediate thrills, the Shark Reef aquarium focuses almost exclusively on dangerous marine predators, prowling through tanks designed to resemble a decaying ancient Mayan temple that’s sinking into the sea.

Many visitors to Cape Town leave with a fairly limited view of the Mother City. They see the whitewashed beachfront restaurants and hotels, take the cable car up Table Mountain and top up their tan before heading home with a suitcase full of overpriced carved wooden animals that were actually made in China.

The overwhelming majority of Capetonians inhabit a very different world. That world is broadly referred to as the Cape Flats, and comprises the range of crowded informal settlements and “ghetto” townships – once known as “apartheid’s dumping ground” – that sprawl beyond the city centre and its leafy suburbs.

But a number of young township-based innovators and entrepreneurs are reimagining and repackaging these traditionally peripheral areas as much more than sad, impoverished and passive backdrops for a quick tick-the-box “poverty safari”. To these guys, the townships are the pulsing epicentre of urban South African experience, culture and creativity.

Take the time to get beneath the surface of Cape Town’s townships and you’ll find it’s hard to argue with them. Here are five of the best ways to see the irrepressible township revolution in all its glory.

Enjoy the sounds of Jazz in the Native Yards

Just around the corner from the raucousness and revelry of Mzoli’s Place in Gugulethu, you’ll find a live jazz venue with a difference.

Jazz in the Native Yards, the brainchild of former arts journalist and local boy Luvuyo Kakaza, takes some of the best jazz musicians from across South Africa away from overpriced and exclusionary city centre venues and squeezes them into a cozy township living room.

When the music isn’t playing, drinks can be ordered through the kitchen hatch and there’s a braai (barbecue), lots of banter and a distinct lack of racial boundaries to enjoy outside in the yard as the sun goes down.

Get your caffeine fix at the Department of Coffee

In 2012, The Department of Coffee was the first artisan coffee shop and espresso bar to open in a Cape Town township.

Found behind the busy Khayelitsha train station and the labyrinth of market stalls that surround it, this shop, run by three local twenty-somethings, is showing the surrounding community that a good brew is not just for the affluent – none of the delectable creations on offer cost more than R10 (about 50p), and all are made with local beans roasted specially for Department of Coffee.

You can sit and enjoy your coffee and the incessant hustle and bustle of this part of town on one of the shaded stone tables out front.

Image by Chris Clark

Catch dinner and a show at Theatre in the Backyard

Acclaimed theatre producer and director Mhlanguli George has teamed up with Cape Town experiential tour operator Coffeebeans Routes to offer an innovative and interactive twist on traditional dinner theatre.

George’s visceral, hard-hitting theatre pieces are staged in a township backyard in Nyanga, where his actors make use of the various “props” that are available to them while the audience, with no allocated seating, have to negotiate their way around the performers and the space.

After the show, you join the unfailingly affable director and his performers for a home-cooked dinner and a couple of beers, and George will tell you more about his Theatre in the Backyard concept.

Image by Chris Clark

Experience the urban creativity of The Langa Quarter

According to the Langa Quarter’s creator Tony Elvin, a black Brit who has settled in Langa, this so-called Social Enterprise Precinct will one day be to Cape Town what the French Quarter is to New Orleans.

Langa is both Cape Town’s oldest township and, interestingly, the geographic centre of the metropole. The Quarter thus serves both as a museum of the city’s past, and a creative hub of contemporary music, art, culture and design. Various artists living in the precinct use their houses as open art galleries, while others have painted directly onto the quarter’s walls and buildings themselves.

A ”hotel homestay”, where you’ll be put up and fed by a local resident, is the best way to experience the Langa Quarter’s growing number of attractions.

Image by Chris Clark

Feel the vibe on Spine Road

Strangely quiet during the week, this long road into the heart of Khayelitsha comes alive on weekends in a cacophony of sizzling meat, bassy Kwaito music, tooting car horns, laughter and general revelry.

At the sophisticated Deep Kultsha Café, the local elite dress to the nines and enjoy the views of the street below from the floor to ceiling windows of the raised venue. Just around the corner at the open air Rands Lifestyle Space, the in-house DJ gets the droves of beautiful people moving to the beat long before dusk. Punters bring their own alcohol and ice and set in for the long haul.

The crowds on the street – deck chairs out on the pavement and beats pumping from their car sound systems – sometimes outnumber those inside the venues. To those in the know, this is the city’s undisputed party capital.

Explore more of the Cape Town with the Rough Guide to Cape TownBook hostels, hotels and tours for your trip, compare flights, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

America’s fourth largest state, Montana is bigger than Germany or Japan. Despite the presence of some of the nation’s fastest highways, the drive from one side to the other takes around twelve hours.

Fortunately, many of the state’s most treasured destinations and experiences are clustered in the rugged western portion, making it less daunting for the first-time visitor trying to discover the best of “Big Sky Country.” Here, Eric Grossman tells us why Western Montana is the star of America’s West.

1. Glacier National Park is one of the country’s finest

Considered by some to be America’s most spectacular national park, Glacier National Park is chock full of picturesque scenery.

The huge park, which straddles the Canada–US border, encompasses over one million acres (4000 sq-km) and includes parts of two mountain ranges, more than a hundred lakes, and hundreds of species of animals, with grizzly bears and mountain goats the most notable residents.

The iconic Going-To-The-Sun Road crosses the park, offering spectacular panoramas and spine-tingling vertical drops. Nervous drivers, meanwhile, can opt for one of the signature “Red Jammers,” the restored 1930s coaches that offer tours throughout the park.

2. You can discover your inner cowboy (or cowgirl) in style

Thanks to the stunning natural landscape and proximity to Glacier National Park, Western Montana is home to some of America’s most lauded ranch resorts. These properties enjoy acres of space and abundant natural resources, including some of the world’s highest-rated fly fishing locales. Staffers patiently guide visitors as they try their hand at popular Western-inspired activities such as horse riding and target shooting, and guests of all ages often jump at the chance to take part in a cattle drive on a working ranch.

Synonymous with rustic luxury, the Ranch at Rock Creek offers one-of-a-kind accommodations ranging from heated “glamping” (glamorous camping) tents to a five-bedroom log home. Guests enjoy extensive amenities, inventive cuisine and access to roughly twenty guided outdoor activities on 6600 acres of mountains, meadows, forests, trout ponds and a mountain-fed creek.

Image courtesy of The Ranch at Rock Creek

3. There are outdoor activities as far as the eye can see

What the region lacks in sophisticated, contemporary experiences it makes up for with its plethora of year-round outdoor activities. World-class camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, boating, and whitewater rafting is available at all skill levels.

Sporty types can enjoy golf, archery, all-terrain vehicles, and more. Between Glacier, numerous state parks, and myriad private resort areas, there are literally thousands of outdoor options.

Upper Missouri Breaks NM by Bureau of Land Management via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

4. It’s home to one of America’s best university towns

Missoula – Western Montana’s largest city – is a convenient hub for those looking to explore the region. The city is best known for being home to the University of Montana, which keeps Missoula festive and youthful year after year.

For an unparalleled, and free, view of the city, simply hike up the small mountain next to the university’s campus to reach the iconic letter “M” that can be seen from across the region. Then follow the students to the Missoula Club, a century-old bar that’s beloved for its inexpensive, juicy burgers made from fresh Montana beef.

Tap into the exploding beer scene and sample fresh local beers at bars like The Dram Shop, and enjoy local ingredients prepared with aplomb at hip restaurants such as the Red Bird and Plonk.

On the rare hot day, cool off with a surfing session on the Clark Fork River, and then treat yourself to a scoop of huckleberry ice cream at Missoula’s beloved Big Dipper.

Image courtesy of Destination Missoula

5. The wildlife watching is among the best in the West

Montana is massive – 147,040 square miles (380,800 square kilometres) – yet the population is only around a million. This means there is loads of room for wildlife to flourish.

Visitors to Western Montana can explore the National Bison Range, established in 1908 to provide a sanctuary for the American bison, in the town of Dixon. Residents think nothing of spotting moose, big horn sheep, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bald eagles and other birds of prey.

Fishers compete for more than seven species of trout, plus walleye and smallmouth bass.

Hunters search for dozens of game birds and animals, ranging from elk, antelope, and deer to pheasant and partridge.

Bull moose swimming by Jeff P via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

6. There’s more for foodies than you might expect

To the uninitiated, the region offers a surprising number of dishes and ingredients that are unique to Montana. And a variety of small, family-run restaurants, along with local fairs and festivals, provide opportunities to try Montana staples like cowboy beans, buffalo chili, and Indian fry-bread.

Huckleberries – perhaps the state’s most famous, and abundant, ingredient – are served any which way, in pancakes, ice cream, and as a sweet accompaniment to the state’s ubiquitous beef. If you want to snack on some of the tart berries, ask a local where to go pick your own – just keep an eye out for berry-loving bears.

Explore more of the USA with the Rough Guide to the USACompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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