Qatar

Jutting northwards into the Persian Gulf, Qatar is one of the world’s smaller nations (about the size of Yorkshire, England), but it is also the world’s richest country per capita. Many will only see Doha’s skyline from afar during an airport transfer, and football fans will know Qatar as the controversial location of the 2022 World Cup, but its labyrinthine souks, intergalactic architecture and beautiful sand dunes are well worth a closer look.

Lebanon

Fringed by warm Mediterranean waters, with untouched beaches, excellent ski resorts, ancient ruins and a thriving nightlife capital: the "Paris of the Orient" is full of surprises. Despite ongoing political unrest in the region, Lebanon has seen considerable growth in tourism in recent years, and capital Beirut is the hottest spot in the Middle East for swanky new bars and restaurants.

Rwanda

Two decades after the tragic genocide that tore the country apart, Rwanda has emerged as one of Africa’s most socially progressive countries, with a growing ecotourism industry to boot. Visitors can walk in the footsteps of Dian Fossey and track gorillas on the slopes of the mighty Virunga Volcanoes, or witness the serenity of Lake Kivu – one of the African Great Lakes.

Grenada

One of the smallest independent countries in the western hemisphere (roughly the size of the UK’s Isle of Wight), Grenada is one of the Caribbean’s lesser-known holiday destinations, and it’s all the more charming for it. The Spice Island has all the soft-sand beaches, friendly locals and lush rainforests of Barbados and the Bahamas, but without the package resorts and high-rise developments. Come for the much-anticipated Spicemas carnival in August.

Belize

About the same size as Massachusetts, Belize is the perfect starting point for an adventure around Central America, wedged between Guatemala, Mexico and the azure Caribbean Sea. Expect thick tropical forests, misty mountaintops and some of the finest diving in the world in the waters that surround the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – the longest such reef in the Americas. Beware, it is mightily expensive here (in comparison to the rest of Central America, at least) so don’t forget your wallet.

El Salvador

The smallest mainland country in the Americas is affectionately nicknamed Pulgarcito de America, or the "Tom Thumb of the Americas". With an untouched tropical interior, great surfing spots on its coastline and a thriving nightlife scene in colonial capital San Salvador, El Salvador is something of a microcosm of wider Latin America, offering a manageable introduction to this most energetic part of the world.

Malta and Gozo

Floating in the Mediterranean Sea somewhere between Italy and North Africa’s Roman Coast, Malta is a mêlée of cultures, with strong European, Arabic and English influences. Although small – in Gozo you can see the sea pretty much everywhere you go – the Maltese archipelago packs in a whole host of significant prehistoric sites, such as the labyrinthine Hal Saflieni Hypogeum underground necropolis.

Taiwan

It may be dwarfed in size by its giant neighbour across the Taiwan Strait, but since becoming the first true Chinese democracy in the 1990s Taiwan has developed into a vibrant civil society. Still largely undiscovered by international visitors, Taiwan boasts excellent food, aboriginal festivals and exuberant temples in its cities and towering mountains and hot-springs in the hinterland.

The Maldives

Comprising 26 coral atolls and over 1200 islands, the overall land area of the Maldives archipelago is just twice the size of Washington DC. But with some of the finest deep sea diving on the planet (with visibility of up to forty metres), palm-fringed beaches, and the absence of any agriculture or industry, the Maldives has become the ultimate island getaway)

Brunei

Officially nicknamed the “Abode of Peace”, but known locally as "The Shelfare State" for the dominant role of Shell Oil in the country, minuscule Brunei is one of the world’s smallest and wealthiest nations. Because of its thriving oil wealth, seventy percent of the country is still covered by almighty virgin rainforest, home to clouded leopard, sun bears and the gravity-defying paradise tree snake.

Singapore

A tiny island hanging off the southern coast of Malaysia, Singapore has evolved from a chaotic colonial port into the futuristic shrine to consumerism that exists today. As financial corporations and hi-tech firms moved in many of the city’s old quarters were bulldozed, earning Singapore a reputation for soullessness. Love it or hate it, Singapore is a frenetic, thriving micro-nation unlike any other.

Swaziland

In the northeastern corner of South Africa, enigmatic Swaziland has a unique political and natural landscape that belie its modest dimensions – approximately the size of Wales. Most often in the news for the escapades of its promiscuous monarchs (at the time of writing King Mswati III has 15 wives and 25 children; his late father had 70 and 210 respectively), but even more noteworthy is the beauty of its diverse highveld and lowveld terrain, stomped by rhinos, elephants and giraffes.

Gambia

Africa’s smallest mainland country is also widely considered to be the safest and friendliest place on the continent, and has become something of a tourism powerhouse as a result. Its stunning beaches attract package holidaymakers in their droves, while a river cruise along the Gambia River offers an unparalleled birdwatching experience.

Slovenia

With a slice of Mediterranean coast, stunning pine-covered countryside and an alluring fairytale capital, Slovenia is Europe’s definitive underrated travel destination. The most prosperous post-communist state by some measure, small but mighty Slovenia offers something for everyone – whether it be wine-tasting in the Drava Valley, paragliding in Logarska Dolina or a romantic weekend break in Ljubljana.

Luxembourg

Commonly touted as "the country you can drive across in an hour", the world’s last remaining Grand Duchy warrants more than just a fleeting road trip. Landlocked Luxembourg’s Vianden and Bourscheid castles are among some of Europe’s best-preserved medieval fortifications. It is also an emerging giant on the global gastronomical scene, with more Michelin-starred restaurants per head than anywhere else on the planet.

Andorra

Plonked on the French-Spanish border, tiny Andorra is a nation on the rise. Offering the finest skiing in the Pyrenees, this micro-state has seen a rush of investment in recent years with new chairlifts, plush apres-ski restaurants and snow-making machines donning its steep slopes. With over 2000 shops, and duty free prices, Andorra is also a popular spot for fashion shopping.

Liechtenstein

Squished between Switzerland and Austria, Liechtenstein is barely bigger than Manhattan, but it packs in plenty within its 25km-by-6km area. A natural haven, Liechtenstein boasts a network of scenic cycling and hiking trails across its mighty, undulating landscape. It’s also a tax haven for big businesses, with an average of two ‘letter-box’ companies per Liechtensteiner.

Monaco

Just pipped to the post by the Vatican City as "smallest country in the world", this micro-nation could be accused of trying to compensate for its diminutive size with its swish clubs, fast cars and casinos. A tax haven for the rich and famous, Monaco has a population of 36,000 of which only twenty per cent are local residents; the other eighty percent is made up of the likes of Shirley Bassey, Roger Moore and F1-racer Jenson Button.

Fiji

Made up of 333 tropical islands, Fiji is one of the most geographically isolated countries in the world – dotted 1000 miles north of New Zealand in the South Pacific. Once the stuff of desert island fantasy (it was here that Truman Burbank dreamt of escaping to in The Truman Show), Fiji has established itself as a firm favourite on the ‘world ticket’ backpacker’s trail. The white-sand beaches, pumping nightlife and soft coral snorkelling all live up to their esteemed reputations.

Vatican City

Measuring just 0.2 square miles, the Vatican City holds the crown (or papal tiara) for being the smallest country in the world. It is nevertheless one of the planet’s mightiest. The global headquarters of the Catholic Church, the Vatican also proudly houses some of the most treasured pieces of Classical and Renaissance art in the Sistine Chapel and Raphael Rooms.

Following in the footsteps of legendary author Gabriel García Márquez, James Rice takes us on a literary tour of Colombia.

Gabriel García Márquez, the acclaimed Colombian novelist who died in April 2014, never considered his stories as magical as others supposed. Amused that he was always praised for his inventiveness, he once said: “The truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality…the problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.”

Could there be a better advert for his homeland? The Colombian Ministry of Tourism doesn’t think so: it’s adopted “Colombia, Magical Realism” as the slogan for its promotion abroad, borrowing from the literary style attributed to Márquez. And in the wake of his death, more and more readers captivated by his fiction will be heading to Colombia, once off-limits to all but the most adventurous of travellers but now proud to show its magic again. So where best to go, if you’re looking to understand the man whom many considered to be the greatest writer of his age, and his works?

Growing up in Aracataca

Many of Márquez’s stories (including One Hundred Years of Solitude, for which he won the Nobel Prize) are set in the fictional town of Macondo, a hamlet that rises to prosperity through its banana plantations and then declines into a desolate, ghost town crippled by nostalgia and melancholy. Aracataca, where Márquez spent his early childhood, was the model for Macondo; his acknowledgment is quoted in a mural outside the town that states: “I returned one day and discovered that in between reality and nostalgia was the raw material of my work”.

Located around 80km south of Santa Marta in Colombia’s northern parts, Aracataca doesn’t yet offer much for the visitor, although the house where Márquez was born and raised by his grandparents is now a simple museum with excerpts from his books, and you can visit the school he attended, the train station that bought in the banana workers, and a statue of Remedios the Beauty (a character from One Hundred Years of Solitude).

An education in Bogotá

It’s fair to say that Márquez did not fall in love with Bogotá at first sight, when he arrived there aged 14 after receiving a scholarship. Describing that moment in his autobiography, he wrote: “[it] was a remote, lugubrious city where an insomniac rain had been falling since the beginning of the sixteenth century…not a single consolatory woman could be seen.” Still, he managed to complete a few years of law study at the university there, and it was in Bogotá that his first stories were published in the newspaper El Espectador.

Aside from visiting the National University where Márquez studied, the main point of interest is the Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez, a space in La Candelaria district dedicated to reading, art and culture. Close by is a large mural with an illustrated timeline of Márquez’s life.

Destitute in Cartagena de las Indias

As a student, Márquez fled from the political riots in Bogotá in 1948 and arrived in Cartagena, destitute. He slept in a park and was promptly arrested for violating curfew. Not the best introduction to a city, perhaps, though Márquez was later to reflect that his landlady’s first words to him (“You’ll see, in Cartagena everything’s different”) would always ring true.

And so it is for many visitors to this picturesque colonial city on the Caribbean coast, whose colourful history is tied up with gold, piracy and the Spanish Inquisition. Cartagena is the setting for several Márquez novels, most notably Love in the Time of Cholera. For those who want to see the real-life equivalents of places Márquez recast, the Route of García Márquez Tour (three hours) takes in almost 40 sites linked to scenes from his novels, or there’s an excellent self-guided audio tour.

Brothels in Barranquilla

In 1950, Márquez left Cartagena for nearby Barranquilla, where he lived above a brothel and became a regular member of the Barranquilla Group of writers and journalists in the city. They would often meet in bar called La Cueva, which is still going strong. You could also visit the Caribbean Museum, which has a room recreated to resemble Márquez’s office when he was a journalist here working for El Heraldo.

Passing through peaceful Mompox

Rafcha via Compfight cc

Mompox, more than any other town in Colombia, evokes the sleepy, peaceful and dream-like atmosphere of the port towns that Márquez would pass on the River Magdalena when he travelled by boat from the Caribbean coast to Bogotá. The town is also one of the settings for The General in his Labyrinth, which tells of the last days of South American liberator Símon Bólivar.

Mompox is certainly not easy to get to – from Barranquilla, it’s at least six hours by bus, colectivo (minibus) and water taxi – but the arduous journey keeps visitor numbers down and preserves its untouched, backwater appeal. Soaking up the atmosphere is the thing to do here, though do stay at (or at least visit) La Casa Amarilla, whose owners know much about the town’s history and its associations with Márquez.

Explore more of Colombia with this Rough Guides Snapshot. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

From ancient ruins to beautiful beaches, Cyprus has a multitude of incredible things to see and do. Whether you’re after a challenging hike, fancy some wildlife spotting or want to go diving, this sun-kissed country will deliver. Here are our top things not to miss in Cyprus.

The blindingly white expanse of Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is one of South America’s most spectacular sights, but few travellers venture beyond the classic tour circuit. Shafik Meghji hadn’t planned to either until violent snowstorms and gale force winds forced him off course. He was rewarded with ancient tombs, hidden lagoons, surreal rock formations – and some “extreme birdwatching”.

They may not look it, but flamingos are some of the toughest birds of earth. Sat at an altitude of almost 4300m in the Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, the blood-red, ice-frosted Laguna Colorada was buffeted by gale force, bitingly cold winds. Even though the temperature was well below zero, the midday sun gave off a fierce glare, necessitating sunglasses and high-factor sun cream, all the while, the lake’s colony of James’s and Chilean flamingos – two of the three species found in the far southwest of Bolivia; the other is the Andean – seemed oblivious to the harsh conditions, picking contentedly through the reeds for algae and insects. Clad in several layers of Gore-Tex and alpaca-wool garments, we struggled out of our jeep, and through the whipped up waves of dust and grit and were able to get within a few feet of them, though our gloved fingers were so numb from the cold that it was struggle to use our cameras.

“Flamingos are strong birds – they have to be to survive here,” our guide, Alvaro, told us back in the jeep, which gently rocked in the wind. “They can regulate their body temperature. Sometimes the lakes here freezes overnight, trapping their legs in the ice. But the flamingos just wait calmly for the ice to melt and then get back to their feeding.”

Laguna Colorada by hugemittons via Compfight cc

Severe weather meant that we reached Laguna Colorada a day later – and from the opposite direction – than our original itinerary for the Salar de Uyuni and Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa intended. Everything had started so well. On the first day my friend Nick and I were picked up early from Uyuni, a bleak town in the far southwest of Bolivia, and taken across the Salar, the world’s largest salt flat, a blindingly white, otherworldly, high-altitude landscape flanked by mountains and volcanoes. We visited an “island” in its centre populated by freakish giant cacti and a few grazing llamas, and stayed a night in the comfortable Palacio del Sal, one of several hotels in the region constructed from salt.

From the second day on, however, the weather deteriorated dramatically, shifting from menacing grey clouds to light snow flurries to golf ball-sized hailstones to heavy snowfall and an almost complete white-out in the space of just a few hours. Continuing on the classic Salar route – continuing over a 4000-metre-high pass to the Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa – was impossible, so we missed out on some high-powered geysers, a series of hot springs and the strikingly green Laguna Verde. Most other tour groups gave up and headed back to Uyuni, but Alvaro was not so easily deterred and used the extreme weather as an opportunity to visit some less heralded attractions.

The first stop on our revised schedule was a cave a short drive from the salt-mining town of Colchani. After ducking inside, we found the 900-year-old remains of eight figures. Many of the ancient graves in the region have been robbed, but this one remained largely intact. Among the remains were three full skeletons, including a mother holding a baby, and a mummified puma hanging disconcertingly above the cave entrance. All of the human skulls had been intentionally deformed, giving them a distended, bulbous appearance.

“There are three theories about why they did this,” said Alvaro. “They did it to make themselves stand out, as religious and royal leaders; so that they were closer to the gods – the heads protruding up into the sky; or that they were aliens.” The tomb remained of local religious importance and the remnants of recent ceremonies were all around: coca leaves, miniature banknotes, coins, coloured streamers, and bottles of spirits and beer. One of the skulls even had a cigarette in its mouth, which is not the offensive gesture it might appear to non-Bolivians.

Our revised schedule meant an unexpected stay on the second night in the remote village of Mallca Villar Mar, where the guesthouse was rather more rudimentary than anticipated. Our spartan, heater-free room was freezing at 5pm, something not helped by a hole in the wall that had been bunged up ineffectually with a wodge of (thankfully unused) toilet paper. Temperatures plunged to minus 21 degrees celcius overnight, but we survived by wearing all of our clothes, burrowing down in heavy sleeping bags and wrapping ourselves in a couple of emergency blankets brought along by the ever-resourceful Nick, a veteran of New England’s frigid winters.

The following day we visited the Laguna Negra, west of the Eduardo Avaroa reserve, and accessed by a winding narrow path, hemmed in by jagged, overhanging cliffs. Surrounded by rocky crags, with gravity-defying boulders balanced ominously on one another and bogs populated by ibis and vizcachas (rabbit-like rodents), the lake felt like a Game of Thrones set. Once again the site was devoid of travellers – and indeed any sign of humanity. Enclosed from the wind, it was also wonderfully still and silent, save from the calls of a resident family of coots, which Alvaro told us give the lake its other name, “the laughing lagoon”.

Laguna Negra by Atlas of Wonders via Compfight cc

On our final morning, after a more comfortable night in a heated hotel, we drove to the Lost City, a cluster of surreal rock formations that looked like skyscrapers and amphitheatres. It was an easy place to lose yourself in for a few hours.

A few hazards remained – including a semi-frozen river, which we crossed bumper deep – but the weather steadily improved and by the time we reached Uyuni it was a sunny, balmy day. After an eventful, unexpected trip I was left with some great experiences, an appreciation of emergency blankets, and a new found respect for those hardy flamingos.

Shafik Meghji co-authors The Rough Guide to Bolivia. He blogs at www.unmappedroutes.com and tweets @ShafikMeghji. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Lottie Gross takes her DSLR to the Forest of Dean to learn how to take great travel pictures in beautiful but challenging surroundings.

I met my photography teacher, David Broadbent, at the edge of the Severn Estuary, where an ugly mix of sand and grey water reached out to the horizon and two nuclear power stations, one defunct and one working, gave the view an industrial skyline. Not what I had in mind for a stunning photography location in the Forest of Dean – I’d pictured rolling hills dotted with sheep and farmhouses, smoke billowing from chimneys and crops of green and yellow making a patchwork across the landscape. But it was actually here, among the soggy sands and droopy autumnal trees, that I learned my first and most valuable lesson in travel photography.

Lesson one: patience and persistence are key

Unsure of where to point my lens on this grey, cloudy morning, I stood and humoured David as he raved so passionately about the trials and tribulations of teaching photography. On reflection, he was likely humouring me – while we faced the empty estuary and he ran me through some basic technical skills, the sun began fighting through the cloud-cover, and as its rays hit the shallow waters beneath us all I could say was “wow”.

Image © Lottie Gross

I raised my camera to my face, applied the technical tools I’d just learned, and took at least 20 pictures. David fell silent as we photographed, and after just a few minutes the sun shied away again. It was grey once more, but we looked at each other and he shot me a knowing look, as if to say, “see? There can be beauty in anything, you just have to wait for it.” He was right, we’d waited for 15 minutes and were rewarded with an ethereal light show on the Severn at low tide.

Lesson two: experimentation leads to great pictures

During the time we waited by the estuary David dropped another valuable lesson into conversation: there are no rules in photography. “People bash relentlessly about this ‘rule of thirds’, and yes, it works for some things, but sometimes it can be boring and you end up with a lot of samey-looking photographs.” He encouraged me to experiment and not stick to any rules I’d heard or been taught previously – the key to getting great photographs isn’t already knowing what looks good, it’s being willing to experiment in order to find out. Using my Canon 600D and 18-105mm lens I zoomed in and out, moved up and down, went from landscape to portrait, and took pictures of anything and everything from all angles I could.

Lottie’s best shots:

Lesson three: creativity can be learned

“I once had a student who said ‘I don’t have a creative bone in my body’”, David told me as I was getting snap happy in a small woodland later that morning. I asked how someone who wants to take good photographs but feels they can’t should approach that. “You take that first one, that’s usually landscape for most people, and then you have to start moving the camera around, then moving yourself around, and so you see it from all different angles, and your logical process creates the effect of creativity in the end result.”

The beauty of digital photography is that we can take as many bad photos as we like and decide which ones to keep – the ones that please our eyes the most – later on. This extreme angled shot of a mossy tree in the Puzzlewood forest [below] is my eye-pleasing example of experimentation, trial and error.

Image © Lottie Gross

From the dense greenery of the Forest of Dean we drove out into the stunning Wye Valley where I suddenly had the itch to get my camera out at every viewpoint. We finally stopped just next to the River Wye and I jumped out to get shooting. This was what I was after: a lush green valley with layers of different coloured trees, broken up by a deep river wending its way through the middle, all set on a pure blue-sky backdrop.

It was beautiful, photogenic and easy to capture. These were the views I knew I could feel on my long drive here the previous night, but it was also generic, unoriginal, too postcard. I took my first picture and realised that hundreds of other people have probably stopped to take the same one. Somehow this wasn’t as fun as our morning at the dreary estuary. After a while, we set off in search of challenge.

I spent the rest of the weekend exploring the Forest of Dean through the lens of my camera, testing my newly found skills. I photographed the effortlessly friendly locals at the Forest Showcase – a food festival that exhibits local produce from cider to wine to squirrel burgers – and sought out more unusual shots in the damp, dark and fairytale-esque surroundings of Puzzlewood, all the while keeping in mind those three important lessons learned, along with many more, on my photography course with David.

The Forest of Dean can be reached from London by rail (Paddington to Lydney via Gloucester or Swindon), or by car along the M4 or via Cheltenham (affordable car hire from Indigo). Lottie stayed at the Forest House Hotel and Tudor Farmhouse. All images © Lottie Gross 2014. Explore more of the Forest of Dean with the Rough Guide to Britain. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul, South Korea

It’s strange to think that at the heart of one of the most densely populated places on the planet, just a stone’s throw away from the gleaming high-rises of bustling Insadong, there’s a quiet neighbourhood of traditional wooden houses, where locals chatter in tearooms and children play in the sloping streets. These charming hanokjip (literally, "Korean House") hark back to a time when every home in Seoul had paper walls and was crowned with an elegantly tiled wing-tipped rooftop.

Islamic Cairo, Egypt

The medieval city at the heart of Cairo is a tangled web of narrow lanes, towering mosques and aromatic bazaars. Enter the warren at Khan al-Khalili, packed with goldsmiths, spice vendors, and traders hawking incense, then burrow your way south to the Citadel, a hilltop bastion with majestic views over the district’s minaret-studded skyline.

The Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia

The Hermitage quite simply has the largest collection of paintings in the world, and is set in one of the most beautiful buildings in Russia: the Winter Palace, an opulent Baroque confection that served as the official residence of the tsars until the revolution of 1917. The museum contains over three million treasures and works of art, from ancient Scythian gold to paintings by Picasso, only a fraction of which are on display at any one time.

The Mercato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Crowded, cramped and rough around the edges, the Mercato covers several square miles of Ethiopia’s capital city. Reputedly the busiest market in Africa, it’s a fascinating place to explore, a shantytown of traders peddling their wares out of corrugated-iron shacks amidst a fug of incense, coffee and cow dung. This is very much a market for locals, with sections selling grain, vegetables, tyres and used white goods, but you can still pick up an interesting piece of jewellery or a traditional Ethiopian cross.

Bock Casemates, Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

Part of Luxembourg City’s impressive series of fortifications, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994, the dark, dank Bock Casemates were carved out of a sandstone promontory overlooking the Alzette valley in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.The extraordinary complex of underground passages and galleries ran for 23km (17km still remain), and at one time housed a 1200-strong garrison, along with bakeries, kitchens, stables and the like.

Knossos, Crete, Greece

You won’t be the first person to get lost at the Palace of Knossos. Many of the visitors that wander amongst the courtyards, storerooms and royal apartments that made up the largest Minoan palace in Crete are tempted here by the legend of its labyrinth, and of the Minotaur, the creature it was built to contain. Whilst there’s no sign of the labyrinth today, you can still peer into some of the palace’s remaining rooms, which once numbered a thousand.

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

The world’s largest covered market, Istanbul’s suitably named Grand Bazaar has been trading goods on the same spot in historic Sultanahmet for over 550 years. Browsing is an endurance sport here, all the more so given the enthusiastic sales techniques on display, and with more than 4000 shops crammed under one roof, you’ll need to pick your battles – try bartering with the shoe-sellers on Kavaflar Sokak or the gold merchants on Kalpakçilar Başı, or the carpet-sellers everywhere in between.

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Stand in the middle of the old town hall in Kolmanskop and you’ll find yourself knee-deep in sand. Kolmanskop sprung up when diamonds where discovered here in the early 1900s but faded just as quickly once the gems petered out, and it was abandoned to the mercy of the desert in the mid-1950s. Today, it’s an eerie ghost town, its once-grand buildings – including a ballroom, theatre and casino – slowly succumbing to the encroaching dunes.

Old Delhi, India

Founded in 1638 as the capital of Mughal India, Shahjahanabad (or Old Delhi) is the most intense and downright chaotic area of the city. Delhi is home to nearly 17 million people, and at times it can feel like most of them are jostling along Chandi Chowk, the heaving main thoroughfare, or in the surrounding warren of streets, where rickshaws and handcarts hurry between bazaars selling everything from spices to wedding garlands to car parts.

The Moscow metro, Russia

Perhaps only in Moscow can a lengthy trip on the underground become a journey of artistic beauty. The system was designed in the 1930s to showcase the glories of Mother Russia, and many of the first few lines to open employed the most renowned Soviet architects of their time. There are 195 stations to wander, neck craned, gawping at decor ranging from High Stalinist opulence (think red marble, gold-encrusted mosaics and bronze lamps) to the utilitarianism that defined 1970s USSR.

Shinsegae Centum City, Busan, South Korea

Shinsegae Centum City is officially the largest shopping complex in the world – they’ve even got a certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records to prove it. This is three million square feet of retail therapy, with over 425 shops filling sixteen floors. Plus there’s a food market, an art gallery, an ice rink, a three-floor spa, a multiplex cinema, a gym, a roof garden and the world’s largest indoor driving range, of course.

The temples of Angkor, Cambodia

The biggest archaeological site on earth, the temples of Angkor are scattered over some four hundred square kilometres of countryside in northwest Cambodia. For six hundred years from the early ninth century, successive Angkorian kings constructed their royal cities and state temples here – the magnificent Angkor Wat is just the most famous of myriad monuments, among them the ancient walled city of Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm, its crumbling ruins engulfed in a tangle of creepers and strangler figs.

Fez el Bali, Fez, Morocco

The extraordinary Medina of Fez el Bali is an addictive maze of blind alleys and dead-end lanes. You can follow Talâa Kebira, the main thoroughfare, down into its bowels, past goods-laden donkeys and ancient fondouks selling olive oils and a dozen types of honey. Metalworkers hammer away at immense copper cauldrons on Place Seffarine, brightly coloured yarns dry in the heat on Souk Sabbaghine, and workers toil knee-deep in the honeycomb of vats that make up the tanneries Chouwara.

Kumbh Mela Festival, Allahabad, India

The largest religious gathering on earth, Kumbh Mela takes place every three years, alternating between Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain. The cities are auspicious with Hindus thanks to their location at the confluence of holy rivers, and a staggering nineteen million pilgrims attended the last Maha ("Great") Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2013, when the surrounding floodplains were turned into a vast tent city and legions of naked sadhus, their bodies covered in ash, plunged into the waters each morning.

Palace of Parliament, Bucharest, Romania

If ever a building defined its builder, then the Palace of Parliament is it. The enormous centrepiece of Bucharest’s Centru Civic was constructed in the 1980s for Nicolae Ceauşescu, Romania’s Communist dictator, and is regarded as the concrete zenith of his megalomania. Allegedly the second-largest administrative building in the world (after the Pentagon), the "Madman’s House", as it was once popularly known, has well over a thousand rooms and took some seven hundred architects to put together.

Beijing’s hutongs, China

North of The Forbidden City, the labyrinth of twisting grey alleyways and half-hidden courtyards that surround Houhai Lake make up the last major hutong district in Beijing. Once the home of princes, dukes and monks, these ancient backstreets are being torn down to make way for modern housing. For now, though, workers still scurry around on rusty bicycles and old men sit quietly in the shade, attending their caged birds, in what has become an ever-dwindling outpost of traditional Beijing.

The Smithsonian, Washington DC, USA

The supersized collection of big-hitting museums and research facilities that constitute the Smithsonian spreads across a large swathe of Downtown D.C. The complex’s collection is so mind-bogglingly vast that if you were to spend a minute looking at every object on display, it would take you a hundred years to see everything – and that’s without stopping to sleep.

Convento dei Cappuccini, Palermo, Italy

Warning: this is not one for the faint-hearted. Lining the catacombs deep beneath Palermo’s Convento dei Cappuccini, on the outskirts of the Sicilian capital, are the gruesomely preserved bodies of some eight thousand Palermitans, each one occupying its own niche within the jagged stone walls. The deceased were interred here up until the early 1880s, row upon row of them, dressed in their finest and suspended ad infinitum in some sort of grotesque waiting room for the afterlife.

Mumbai train station, India

At 8.30am at Churchgate Terminus, Mumbai, rush hour is in full swing. The trains pulling into platforms are swollen with suburban commuters, many of them carrying up to 3000 more people than they were designed to. When two trains empty onto a platform at the same time, disgorging their passengers in an explosion of colour, you need to stand still, take a deep breath and remember that there’s only another hour and half to go until things start to quieten down a little.

In our first two articles in this travel series we looked at the growing number of people choosing to study abroad – either on quick one-week trips or exciting year-long adventures. We also delved into some of the opportunities for making a difference through medicine, and gave tips on funding a foreign trip of your own.

However, now the time has come to ask what it’s really like to study abroad. Will you make new friends? What kinds of memories will you come home with? How much free time will you get to party? And – most important of all – will you really enjoy the experience?

To answer some of these questions we made contact with students who travelled abroad with the educational travel company ACIS, and then went on to study overseas. Their stories shine a light on what it’s like to jump into the unknown, and may just be the encouragement you need to pack your bags and get travelling.

“I was with a great group of people: nine girls and one guy,” says Gabriela Taciak in an e-mail to Rough Guides. She spent a fall semester studying in Salamanca, Spain, and is now working in New York City.

“Since our group was smaller we would do everything together, from weekend trips and dancing the night away to even getting tattoos together.”

She says that when volunteering and internship opportunities came up, these new friends were always on hand to give each other advice and encouragement—the kind of one-to-one support that no textbook could ever offer.

And while Gabriela’s main reason for traveling to Salamanca was to study Spanish (with some courses on European business thrown in for good measure), she says the most important lesson was the country of Spain itself.

“Being able to sit down and enjoy every tapas and wine imaginable, was a literal taste of Spain’s life and style,” she tells us.

New York–based Ciara LaGrasse, who spent four months studying Spanish literature and linguistics in Madrid, says the whole experience gave her a boost.

“When you’re abroad you’re forced to build your confidence in being independent,” she says. “Not only because of the logistics of registering for school and moving your things, but also because you are thrown into learning new customs and respecting these new ideas, however different they might be from your idea of ‘normal.’

“You truly learn to respect your own ideals but also to broaden or challenge them with the constant infusion of new customs and cultures.”

Of course, the study abroad experience extends well beyond the classroom, and simply being abroad means that fun and unexpected situations are always just around the corner.

“Every Thursday night a group of friends and I would visit a club named Palacio,” says Ciara. “We’d get there ‘early’ (10:30pm) and watch older Spanish couples do traditional dances until they switched out the band for the DJ and broke out the American-Spanish remixes. [It] was always a fun way to meet locals and to practice our Spanish.”

In addition to studying, Ciara interned for the marketing department of a Spanish start-up called Kubide. She’s still in contact with the people she worked with at the company, who showed her around Madrid’s bars and discotecas, and has plans to meet up with them again in New York this winter. “They are relationships that will last a lifetime,” she tells us.

So there you have it: new friends, late-night parties, lovely food and wine, improved language skills, and an education to boot. Doesn’t it all sound . . . too good to be true? “You will not enjoy every second of study abroad,” says Ciara. “And that’s okay!

“There will always be days where you miss family, where you just can’t remember the word you need, and when you feel absolutely overwhelmed and discouraged.

“But,” she adds, “those days are few and far between.” Gabriela, who says she never felt homesick during her time in Spain, is more forthright with her advice for those thinking about their first study abroad trip. “Don’t just consider it,” she says. “Go for it. Travel, study, and never fear what is ahead of you. Take it in your stride, and pass the wisdom you acquired on.”

And who knows? A year or two from now, it could be you sharing stories from your amazing trip abroad.

This article is part of a continuing series covering study abroad programs with Project Travel, a company that helps students of all ages tap into the funding potential of their communities. Rough Guides is proud to support the students working to fund their study abroad programs with Project Travel. Visit projecttravel.com/go/rough-guides for more information.

Share your own study abroad experiences here >

Since GoPro was founded in 2004, they’ve inspired photographers to capture the world from a new angle. Today there’s a huge range of small and versatile waterproof cameras on the market, which can be remote controlled and mounted on everything from surfboards to guitars, and the scope for invention is endless. There’s enough footage out there to keep you entertained for years, so we’ve picked ten of the best GoPro videos.  

An eagle’s eye view

This footage, filmed from a camera mounted on the back of a white-tailed eagle as it soars over the French Alps near Chamonix, is simply fantastic. It was captured by the FREEDOM project who release birds born in captivity back into the wild, teaching them to fly and hunt. Unsurprisingly it’s had over eight million views on YouTube to date.

Holi: festival of colour

Watch filmmaker Dan get covered from head-to-toe in brightly-coloured powder as he celebrates Holi festival in Mathura in this fun three-minute film. The slow-motion footage perfectly captures the elation of the festival-goers as they gleefully pelt him with handfuls of orange, green, pink, purple, blue and yellow dust.

Freedom in Fiji

An artfully edited film that’s one of the most evocative videos we’ve seen. Skilfully combining hand-held, drone, underwater and surfboard-mounted camera footage, Benjamin Williams captures the trip of a lifetime to “find freedom” in Fiji.

Kama the surfing pig

Meet Kama, the surfing pig who’s been making waves with his on-board antics in Oahu, Hawaii. Filmed from both a board-mounted camera and Kama’s harness, this video is guaranteed to make you smile. “He just followed me into the water, jumped on the board, paddled out and got his first wave… everybody was tripping”, says owner Kai Holt during the clip.

Touchdown in Sion valley

This video doesn’t have great background music or arty editing, but we think the cockpit footage from a plane coming into land speaks for itself. The short clip was filmed by the pilot of a Bombardier Challenger 300 on his descent into a snowy Sion valley, Switzerland, on Christmas day.

Koh Yao Noi

Philip Bloom made this film in Thailand for GoPro’s own YouTube channel with the help of a DJI Phantom drone. Beautifully shot, its dreamy sunset sequences, endless reflections and odd cameo by inquisitive local kids are utterly entrancing. If this doesn’t make you want to jump on a flight to visit Koh Yao Noi, we don’t know what will.

A grizzly ate my GoPro!

While he was filming for the BBC in Alaska, a wandering grizzly took a liking to Brad Joseph’s camera, treating viewers to a scarily slobbery in-mouth shot. It doesn’t take long before the bear gets bored, however, dropping the camera in a shallow stream and insouciantly wandering off in search of a more satisfying dinner.

Inside North Korea

Ever wanted a glimpse inside the world’s most secretive state? Earlier this year the government granted unprecedented access to Aram Pan’s DPRK 360 project, allowing a camera to be mounted to a tour guide’s car. The blustery 22-minute clip takes you around the eerily quiet streets of the capital, Pyongyang, the odd cluster of pedestrians dwarfed by the stark communist architecture.

Vertical skydiving record

In 2012 a new vertical skydiving world record was set, with 138 people falling in formation at more than 200mph above Illinois. Here’s the spectacular footage of their descent and mid-air snowflake formation – a must-watch for adrenaline junkies and filmmakers alike.

Run Walter, run!

What do you get when you strap a camera to the back of an over-excited Labrador? Internet gold, it seems. This adorable clip was viewed over ten million times within a week of being uploaded. If it’s not already graced your Facebook feed, prepare to be enamoured by Walter’s boundless energy as he leaps down to towards the sea in Siracusa, Sicily.

Have we missed your favourite video? Have you filmed some great footage with a GoPro camera? Let us know in the comments. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

After leaving Rough Guides to go and explore some of the Pacific’s tiniest islands, Kia Abdullah discovers serenity and adrenaline on Tanna Island in eastern Vanuatu. 

Port Resolution Yacht Club – the name alone evokes vistas of bejewelled starlets sipping cocktails by a Monaco pier. It’s elegant, glamorous, refined – but also a bit of a misnomer. Located on the east side of Vanuatu’s Tanna Island in the South Pacific, this set of eight bungalows is what I’d describe as ‘rather basic’. With no electricity barring two hours in the evenings, shared bathroom shacks frequented by bugs and mosquitos, cold water showers (and, during my stay, no water at all at certain times in the day), it’s not exactly the epitome of luxury. It is perplexing then that I came away feeling relaxed and invigorated after five nights in its most basic bungalow.

I had booked the stay on a whim, tempted by the offer to sample some real ni-Vanuatu culture. It was only later – after doing some proper research – that I started to worry. Were five nights too many? Would I tire of the bracing cold showers and midnight treks to the toilet? With trepidation, I landed at Tanna’s tiny Whitegrass Airport.

We were greeted by manager Werry Narua who packed us into his four-wheel drive for the bumpy two-hour drive across the island. Werry isn’t the most loquacious of fellows (when I asked him how he met his wife, the entirety of his version of events was “we met while we were playing sports”), but he is something of a godfather among the islanders, and frequently stopped to exchange greetings, give someone a lift, advise youngsters on how to get drunk older gentlemen home, ferry residents to a funeral and so on.

Port Resolution Yacht Club, Tanna by Peter Watson

By the time I arrived at the Yacht Club, twilight had come and gone and the grounds were bathed in darkness. Werry hopped out and turned on the generator, low lights humming to life in the outhouse. I met Monique, Werry’s wife, who fed us a delicious home-cooked meal and showed me to my bungalow – a one-room building with two beds and, I noted with mortal fear, many, many open spaces for bugs and insects to worm their way in. That first night, I secured my mosquito net like Fort Knox and nestled down into a deep and dreamless sleep.

The next morning, after the first cold shower of the stay, I went off to explore the area of Port Resolution, named so by Captain James Cook after the HMS Resolution. Following Werry’s directions, I came upon ‘Little Beach’. Swathes of yellow sand, vivid azure waters and black volcanic rock made for a stunning slice of paradise reminiscent of Alex Garland’s Ko Phi Phi – but without the teeming tourists. In fact, in my whole time there, I met only one other westerner.

Little Beach’s neighbouring beach boasts huge expanses of the softest black sand while the nearby ‘White Beach’ completes the enchanting trio. As I lounged on Little Beach that first morning, I realised that I need not have worried; I could spend five weeks here – five nights would be a breeze.

Little Beach, Tanna by Peter Watson

Friday nights in particular are interesting as visitors are able to observe the rituals of the ‘John Frum’ cult at Namakara. Members of the cult sing songs of praise to the tune of American battle hymns in honour of John Frum – a figure most often depicted as an American World War II serviceman – with the hope that he will one day bring them the material riches of the American west. At five kilometres from Port Resolution, Namakara is easy to get to and offers a unique way to end the working week.

Other points of interest on the island include its ‘Giant Banyan Tree’. At 80 metres tall and over 100 metres across, it is larger than a football field and continues to grow today. It’s a couple of hours’ drive from Port Resolution and, at approximately £15 per person, is a tad pricey but worth a visit if you have the time and cash.

The most unmissable attraction on the island, however, is Mount Yasur, one of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes. Yasur has been erupting nearly continuously for 800 years and continues to do so several times an hour – guaranteeing fireworks for most visitors.

My visit to Yasur started just before twilight with a 40-minute drive from Port Resolution, followed by a steep 10-minute walk to the crater. Many visitors choose to stay at the first viewing point but while it’s a great spot for watching eruptions from the bigger of Yasur’s two craters, it doesn’t offer a view into the crater itself. I walked a further 10 minutes to a spot that allows direct view into the second crater replete with black ash and oozing lava.

Mount Yasur, Tanna by by Peter Watson

The evening started with a few small eruptions but, 15 minutes in, I heard a stomach-churning roar followed by red hot lava shot metres into the air above. A collective gasp of awe was followed by a collective step away from the crater’s edge. With no safety precautions policing access to the volcano, one false step could you have you tumbling to its depths. I found myself repeatedly pulling back Peter who was leaning over the edge taking photographs.

As darkness fell, I watched – and felt – numerous ground-shaking eruptions. At one point, a single flare flew above my head and landed threateningly close by. As a nearby French tourist put it, it felt “super dangereux”.

Around 6pm, most visitors shuffled back to their waiting transfers. My advice is to agree an extended stay with your driver beforehand as, by 7pm, we had the volcano all to ourselves – undoubtedly one of my ultimate travel experiences. And yet it’s not the main reason why I’d recommend a visit to Tanna.

The island, and particularly the village of Port Resolution, is the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern life. Its charm lies in its simplicity, a trait that Werry consciously preserves: “I want people to experience real village life,” he told me. “If you want to stay in a big hotel, there are lots of places for you. You come to Tanna and to Port Resolution to live like we do.”

Port Resolution Village, Tanna by Peter Watson

Essentially, Werry encourages guests to get back to basics. His fellow residents live in bamboo huts with thatched roofs, grow or catch their own food, wash their clothes and dishes by hand, and live a simple life unmarred by the trappings of materialism. Like most ni-Van, they are generous with their time, curious, respectful and, evidently, one of the happiest peoples in the world. And they’re infectious. Staying at Port Resolution restored a sense of peace and wellbeing that had long been stripped by my smoky, dusty hometown of London.

On the journey back from Yasur, I watched Werry stop for yet another passenger. It reminded me, as all good travel does, that it’s human nature to talk, laugh, share stories and help other people – something you seldom see ensconced in a Sheraton.

Explore more of the world with Rough Guides ebooks. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

December might be dark and chilly in much of north America and Europe, but it’s by no means a dull month to travel. There are world-class classical music events, a clutch of colourful festivals and oodles of southern-hemisphere sunshine. Here are our tips on the best places to visit in December:

 

DIVE THE BLUE HOLE IN BELIZE

Hurricane season has just come to an end in December, making it the perfect time to visit Belize before sun-seekers descend in their droves. Make a beeline for the country’s most popular islands, laidback Caye Caulker and upmarket Ambergeris Caye, from where you can take trips to the reef-fringed blue hole. Spanning 300m in diameter and over 100m deep, this peacock-blue abyss offers superb diving. Those without the necessary experience can snorkel at the nearby Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where nurse sharks might tickle your toes as they pass beneath.

MARKET TIME IN MUNICH

If you want to experience an old-fashioned European yuletide, the run up to Christmas doesn’t get much more traditional than in Munich, capital of Bavaria. The first Christkindlmarkt took place here in the fourteenth century; today there are at least a dozen individual markets centring on Marienplatz, where row-upon-row of wooden stalls appear at the start of the month. Christmas tree decorations, candles and lebkuchen abound, but the highlight of any shopping trip is a mug of glühwein, often fortified with a warming shot of brandy. Prost!

CHRISTMAS ON BONDI BEACH

Spending Christmas day on Bondi has become a backpacker tradition, with an international crowd congregating on the beach each year to celebrate (or commiserate) missing out on turkey and drizzle back home. Expect fur-trimmed bikinis and snowman sandcastles in place of Christmas trees and cake. The beach is now alcohol-free, but the Sunburnt Festival at The Pavillion provides barbecuing and boozing aplenty and certainly promises to be one of the best places to visit in December.

TAKE IN THE TENORS IN MILAN

Opera season kicks off in Milan on the 7th of December, St Ambrose’s Day, when the city’s most glamorous pack into the opulent La Scala. Opened in 1778, this opera house is where Verdi debuted his early compositions and the first night of the season remains a highlight on Debrett’s social calendar. If you’re not lucky enough to bag one of the elusive tickets, there’s plenty of Milanese atmosphere to soak up at this time of year. St Ambrose, or Sant’Ambrogio, is the city’s patron saint, and there are festive markets and special religious services in his honour around a public holiday on the 8th.

PARASOLS, POSADAS AND PIÑATAS IN MEXICO

December is a great time to visit the white-sand beaches of the so-called Mayan Riviera on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Temperatures hover around a balmy 25°C (77°F), and it’s several months before the spring-breakers launch their annual assault on Cancun. From the 16th of December you might also catch families taking part in posadas, processions re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Piñatas – papier-mâché or clay creations stuffed with sweets – make plenty of appearances.

GET A START OF SEASON DEAL IN COLORADO

The four resorts that make up Colorado‘s Aspen Snowmass are all open by the second week of December, and there are some good start of season ski deals available. Away from the slopes, Glenwood Springs, 30 miles north, provides the perfect respite after hitting the powder. The hot springs pools here are heated year-round by the geothermal Yampah spring, which pumps out over three million gallons of water a day at a toasty 51°C (123°F). Thankfully the therapy pool is kept at a slightly less scalding 40°C (104°F); the sight of the steam rising against the snow-capped peaks beyond is a glorious vista.

MINGLE WITH MOVIE STARS IN MARRAKESH

The chaos of Marrakesh’s souks is best experienced in a little less heat, and temperatures usually top out in the early twenties at this time of year. The first week of December also sees the city’s increasingly revered film festival come to town. Big screens pop up amid the snake charmers and henna artists in the Djemaa el Fna, and you might even catch the odd Hollywood star padding around the shady Majorelle Gardens or sipping cocktails in the Nouvelle Ville. Chillier days provide the perfect opportunity to take a cooking class or visit a hammam.

WATCH DERVISHES WHIRL IN KONYA

Turkey has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons this year, but remains a rewarding country to explore. December sees the intriguing whirling dervish festival come to the conservative city of Konya. A week-long feat of hypnotic whirling rituals known as sema, which the Mevlevi believe brings them closer to god, the festival leads up to the anniversary of the death of their founder, Rumi (or Mevlâna, the sainted one) on the 17th.

SEE IN THE NEW YEAR IN RIO

The easiest way to be sure of some winter sun is to head south, where summer is in full swing. From the Amazon to Iguaçu Falls, Brazil’s attractions could easily occupy a whole month, but make sure you end up in Rio for New Year’s eve: the city does a street party like no other. Several million people pack onto Copacabana beach each year for the celebrations, traditionally wearing white to bring luck in the New Year. If crowds aren’t your thing, take in the offshore firework display from a beachfront hotel.

MARVEL AT SWEDEN’S NORTHERN LIGHTS

These soft, flickering wisps of colour are caused by solar particles hitting the earth’s atmosphere: each hue is produced by a different element. They’re best seen within the Arctic Circle, so think about taking a husky-sled tour of Swedish Lapland. It’s best to give yourself a week or two for a good chance of seeing them. Keep your fingers crossed (inside a good pair of mittens) for cloudless skies.

For more travel inspiration, try our Inspire Me page. Find hostels for your December trip here and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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