This month at Rough Guides our editors and authors have been trekking in Borneo, gorging on tapas in Granada and scaling volcanos in Mexico. Here’s a small selection of their highlights.

Just back from…

Andalucía, Spain Editor Helen has just returned from an Andalucian adventure. Highlights included a visit to Spain‘s most comical festival, Cadiz Carnival, where groups of musicians tour the city’s alleys and plazas singing satirical songs in fancy dress (seemingly perpetually drunk), and a long weekend in the stunning mountain town of Granada. Read her feature about reaping the benefits of free tapas and more.

Borneo, Malaysia Senior Editor Ros explored the Malaysian state of Sabah, in Borneo’s northeastern corner, for a forthcoming online article. Two intrepid weeks were spent snorkelling at the spectacular reef around Mabul Island, on the trail of wild pygmy elephants and orang-utans on the Kinabatangan River, and following in David Attenborough’s footsteps to the cockroach-infested Gomantong bat cave.

alhambra, granada, spain

Image via Pixabay/CC0

Heading off to…

The Faroe Islands In May we’re off to explore this remote cluster of islands in the Norwegian Sea – located somewhere between the Shetland Islands, Norway and Iceland. Days will be spent blowing away the cobwebs with gentle strolls along windswept beaches, horse-riding through the dramatic landscape, and sea kayaking to view puffins nesting on the cliffs.

Lagos, Portugal One of our resident adventure-sports addicts is headed Lagos, on Portugal’s southwestern tip to take to the waves on a three-day surf crash-course. While not splashing around in the water, there’ll be seafood to gorge on, and organic wines and homemade local produce to sample at a nearby vineyard.

Faroe Islands

Image via Pixabay/CC0 

What we’re working on…

Walks in London and the Southeast We’re putting together the ebook version of the new Rough Guide to Walks in London and the Southeast, out later this summer, and getting very excited about trying it out. The design has been overhauled, with more beautiful photos and clearer route maps, the old routes re-walked and plenty of new ones added. There’s a great balance between green spots and historic routes in the capital, and the great British countryside – along with vital tips like what to bring with you, where to get a good pint, and how not to behave in a field full of cows.

Mexico In June 2016 we publish the tenth edition of the Rough Guide to Mexico. Our four hard-travelling authors survived 42-degree desert heat, tramped hurricane-battered Pacific beaches and scaled lofty volcanoes while updating this latest edition. They’ve also been keeping a keen eye on what’s new: foodie tours in Oaxaca, a James Bond takeover in Mexico City for the filming of Spectre, and preparations for the forthcoming 2017 centenary of the Mexican Revolution. No huge surprise that Mexico has just entered the top 10 most visited countries in the world.

guanajuato, mexico

Image via Pixabay/CC0 

Did you know…?

The US used to have a ghostly highway New Mexico used to have a highway named 666. Plagued with rumours of ghostly apparitions, and with a very real number of fatal accidents, the stretch of highway off the defunct Route 66 was dubbed “Highway to Hell” and “The Devil’s Highway” in the national press. In 2003 New Mexico’s House and Senate passed a Joint Resolution to change the road name because “the number 666 carries the stigma of being the mark of the beast, the mark of the devil, which was described in the book of Revelation in the Bible”. It swiftly became US-491.

Britain’s most remote pub can only be reached by boat Located in an isolated corner of the Scottish Highlands and inaccessible by car, The Old Forge is Britain’s most remote pub. To get there punters have to hike for two days through the Knoydart Peninsula, one of Britain’s most captivating wilderness areas, or hop on a 45-minute boat from Mallaig. Editor Greg Dickinson stopped by earlier this month while updating the Rough Guide to Scotland, and reported back that it was well worth the journey.

scotland-974103_1280

Image via Pixabay/CC0  

In the news…

You can now book your holiday via WhatsApp Travel companies and tour operators are starting to offer booking services through this popular messaging app. Rough Guides readers aren’t convinced: only 30 percent say they’d give it a try.

New safari lodges are opening in Zimbabwe Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest game reserve, has seen the opening of several new lodges in the last year or so, as visitor numbers to this former safari favourite really start to pick up. The latest, Jozibanini Camp, is set in the park’s remote southern section, in an area that has been off-limits to tourists for nearly twenty years. Just three tents dotted around a waterhole, Jozi gives visitors intimate access to the local elephant and wild-dog populations and, rather unusually, offers game-viewing by mountain bike.

Imvelo-Safari-Lodges

Pic of the month…

Out now…

rough guide iceland coverrough guide italy coverrough guide mallorca menorca coverrough guide pocket copenhagen coverrough guides pocket florence coverrough guides pocket marrakesh coverrough guides pocket san francisco coverrough guides pocket reykjavik cover

Header image via Pixabay/CC0

You’ve heard the one about not sticking your chopsticks straight up in rice, right? (It resembles funerary incense sticks).

Honestly? Don’t fret. Because let’s face it; you’ve got bigger problems than antiquated cultural faux-pas. Like how to actually order and eat a table-full of delicious Chinese food in a regular, everyday, non-touristy Chinese restaurant – in China. Here, Thomas O’Malley gives us a step-by-step guide.

1. Start early

First things first, aim to eat earlier than you might be used to. Many Chinese diners sit down for dinner at around 6pm, and it’s not uncommon for restaurants to be winding down by 9pm. But if you do miss last orders, it’s not the end of the world – chances are there’s a 24-hour McDonald’s around the corner.

2. Embrace a new ordering system

Typically in China, one person – the host – orders (and pays) for everyone, which is why usually only one menu will be given out by the server. And you can almost guarantee the menu will be beefier than a telephone directory, because restaurants in China pride themselves on the ability to make dozens, if not hundreds of dishes.

Restaurant staff expect to dawdle while you flick through the menu, choosing dishes as you go (and taking suggestions from your fellow diners). Of course, it’s up to you how you split the bill, but giving just one person ordering duties is more efficient than everyone taking a turn, especially as you’ll be sharing the food.

Chopsticks, China

Image via Pixabay/CC0

3. Know your place (in the menu)

In a typical jia chang cai (family-style) restaurant, menus start with the house specials (often the fancy banquet dishes like whole seafood, spicy hot pot or Peking duck depending on the region), followed by cold salad dishes, meaty mains, stir-fried vegetables, soups, and at the back, staples like noodles, rice, steamed bread, dumplings and desserts.

It all depends where in China you are eating, of course!

In Beijing and the north, expect hearty roast lamb and duck, starchy noodles and lots of garlic. Chillis and the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorn rule in central Sichuan (try the hot pot), while southern Cantonese food like dim sum, seafood and roasted meats will already be somewhat familiar if you’ve dined in Chinese restaurants in the West. Not to mention the southeast Asian flavours of Yunnan, Guizhou rice noodles, Hunan dry-pot dishes…

Despite the mind-blowing diversity of regional cuisines across China, there are some common dishes that most restaurants will know how to cook. Try these tasty (and foreigner-friendly) standards: jidan chaofan (egg-fried rice), xihongshi chao jidan (stir-fried tomatoes and eggs), gongbao jiding (diced chicken with peanuts and dried chilis), and pai huanggua (a cold salad of cucumber and garlic).

Sichuan noodles, China

Sichuan noodles via Pixabay/CC0

4. Learn how much to order

A good rule of thumb is to order one dish per number of diners, plus soup and rice. (This is why dining in big groups is more fun – you can munch more and the cost per person is lower.) The concept of starters, mains and desserts doesn’t apply, so order everything at once.

For a table of six, plump for a couple of cold salad dishes, three to five hot ‘mains’, a vegetable, soup, and rice or noodles.

5. Master the art of balance

Part of the reason one person assumes ordering responsibilities is because a successful Chinese meal is the art of balance and harmony on the table: hot and cold, colour, nutrition, complimentary tastes and textures. That’s the theory, anyway. Or just get a fist-full of grilled lamb skewers and ice-cold beer and to hell with it.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, yin and yang refers to how different foods generate hot or cold energy in the body. Cucumber is yin, or cold, for example, while chili peppers are yang, or hot. A good Chinese meal should be a balance of yin and yang foods.

Make sense? Well this won’t: lobster is yang and crab is yin. Let’s call the whole thing off.

Spicy tofu, China

Spicy tofu via Pixabay/CC0

6. Get the basics down

Dishes are served in the middle of the table for diners to attack ‘family-style’; only rice is served individually. Just keep grazing away at those central dishes until you can graze no more.

At formal banquets you’ll have two sets of chopsticks – one to transfer food from the communal dishes to your bowl or plate, and one to eat with. But mostly you’ll just get one set. They are your friends. Treat them well. (And avoid those wasteful disposable ones.)

If a dish is too salty, eat a little of it over your plain rice to balance the seasoning. You’ll usually get dark vinegar and chilli oil on the table to add a sour or spicy note (often to noodle soups). Pro tip: the two link up to make a zingy dipping sauce for steamed or fried dumplings.

Dim sum, China

Image via Pixabay/CC0

7. Settle up with ease

When you’re ready to settle up, don’t be shy; it’s a fairly common practice to raise your voice to get the server’s attention. “Fuwu yuan” (waiter/waitress – or ‘xiaojie’ in the south) is heard every few minutes in ordinary restaurants.

And last of all, you might be pleased to know that, outside of hotels, tipping isn’t part of the culture at all.

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

If dusty fossils don’t do it for you, these strange venues offer something a little different. We’ve rounded up ten of the world’s weirdest museums.

1. Meguro Parasitological Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Those prone to squeamishness should probably avoid this Japanese museum, set up by passionate parasitologist Dr Satoru Kamegai in 1953. There are more than 60,000 specimens, along with 50,000 books on parasitology.

One particularly gruesome exhibit is the 8m-long tapeworm, handily displayed next to a length of white ribbon designed to emphasise the creature’s horrifying length.

Meguro Parasitological Museum, JapanJNTO

2. The Dog Collar Museum, Kent, England

Today’s dogs have it easy. Exhibits at this fascinating museum at Leeds Castle include a fifteenth-century collar worn by Spanish hunting dogs to protect their necks from bears. Much more elegant are the ornate gilt designs from the baroque period, and the silver collars dating back to the nineteenth century.

The museum was founded in 1977, when antique collector Gertrude Hunt presented her beloved collection of 60 dog collars to the castle. Since then, the museum has continued to expand, and there are now more than 130 exhibits, dating from the sixteenth century.

Dog collar museum, Leeds CastleLeeds Castle

3. McDonald’s Big Mac Museum, Pennsylvania, USA

Ever wondered about the origins of your Big Mac? No, neither have we – but in case you do want to know where it all began, there’s a museum just for you.

The Big Mac Museum in Pennsylvania was founded by Jim Delligatti, the franchisee who opened Western Pennsylvania’s first McDonald’s restaurant. He also created the Big Mac, an item which first went on sale in his restaurant in 1967, with a price tag of just 45 cents.

Visitors can learn all about the brand’s history and browse the collection of McDonald’s memorabilia, which includes the world’s largest (albeit plastic) Big Mac.

Big mac museum, USALaurel Highlands Visitors Bureau

4. Museum of Bread Culture, Ulm, Germany

Whether it’s a warm pretzel or deliciously dark rye bread, Germans love their dough-based produce. This museum was founded by two entrepreneurs who worked in the bakery trade before opening their first permanent exhibition in 1960.

It soon became a museum, which is now run by a charitable foundation. Visitors can check out fascinating displays of baking tools, admire bread-related art and learn about bread’s importance to food security. We’re feeling bloated just thinking about it.

Museum of bread culture, GermanyBernhard Friese

5. Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, New Delhi, India

Founded by sanitation expert Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, this museum is divided into three sections: ancient, medieval and modern. The ancient section has displays relating to the first manmade toilets (found in Pakistan in 3000 BC, if you were wondering), while the hand-painted ornate Austrian toilet bowls in the medieval section are truly breathtaking.

In the modern section you’ll find hi-tech Japanese and Korean toilets along with a replica of the world’s largest “toilet complex”, which can be found in Maharashtra in west-central India.

Toilet Museum, New Delhi, IndiaSulabh International Museum of Toilets

6. Historic Wine Tool Museum, California, USA

If you’ve always wondered what a pomace cutter is, or pondered exactly how a vine pruning knife should be used, this museum, in the grounds of California’s Buena Vista Winery, is for you.

On guided tours visitors can see an enormous selection of tools, ranging from pruning knives and shears to grape presses and wine barrel spigots. Many are hundreds of years old, so it’s a great way to learn about the history of viticulture, too. The majority of exhibits were donated by Phillippe Bérard, a world-renowned vineyard owner with a passion for antique wine tools.

Historic Wine Tool Museum-c-Historic Wine Tool Museum, CaliforniaDrew Kelly

7. Currywurst Museum, Berlin, Germany

Visiting Berlin? When you’ve been to Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate, head to the Currywurst Museum for the ultimate German experience. Stop by the ketchup bottled-shaped audio station to listen to currywurst-themed songs, take a selfie on the sausage sofa or learn about the dish’s key spices at the sniffing station.

There’s also a huge collection of currywurst literature to peruse, should you wish really torture your stomach.

Currywurst Museum, Berlin, GermanyCurrywurst Museum

8. The Museum Of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia

This weird and wonderful museum was set up by two Zagreb-based artists who once dated, and when they split up joked that they should create a museum to honour their relationship.

A handful of mementoes grew to an enormous collection as word spread and broken-hearted singles from around the world donated items. Notable exhibits include the “therapy instrument” (axe) used by its donator to smash the furniture of a cheating partner, and a pair of bright orange pants given to a man by his ex-girlfriend.

Zagreb - Museum of Broken RelationshipsAdrian Cinca

9. The Icelandic Phallological Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland

This definitely isn’t your average school trip museum visit. Filled with more than 200 penises and penile parts, the Icelandic Phallological Museum was founded by former teacher Sigurður Hjartarson. His interest in all things phallological started when he was a child living in rural Iceland, where pizzles – or bulls’ penises – are often used as cattle whips.

The exhibits include specimens from polar bears, seals, foxes and reindeers. There’s also a 1m-long blue whale penis, which was once apparently used as an oar for a canoe.

Phallological museum, Reykjavik, IcelandIcelandic Phallological Museum

10. Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, Kansas, USA

Did you know that barbed wire was first patented in 1874? Or that it played a crucial role during the World War I, when its high tensile strength made it a powerful deterrent against enemy tanks?

This museum has more than 2000 types of barbed wire on display, and you can brush up on your knowledge at the learning centre, where you’ll find newsletters from America’s top barbed wire appreciation clubs (yes, those are a thing) and an extensive collection of fencing tools.

Visit in May and you’ll be able to participate in the annual Barbed Wire Swap and Sell and take part in the barbed wire splicing contest. Seriously.

Barbed wire kansas, museumBarbed Wire Museum

Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. 

BarcelonaSpain’s second city – sets the template for urban style, hip design and sheer nonstop energy. Where others tinker at the edges, time and again Barcelona has reinvented itself. Visit for the first time or the fiftieth, Barcelona never fails to surprise.

The city’s popularity means finding a hotel vacancy at any time of year can be difficult, so it’s always best to book in advance. There’s a wide range of options, though, from youth hostels and budget pensións to glam five-star-plus hotels, housed in medieval mansions and Modernista masterpieces alike.

rough guide barcelona coverStart planning your trip with our guide to the best area to stay in Barcelona, taken from the latest Rough Guide.

Note that while rooms with balconies may be the brightest, traffic is a constant presence and, in a city where people are just getting ready to go out at 10pm, you can be assured of a fair amount of pedestrian noise, particularly in the old town.

The Ramblas

If you hanker after a Ramblas view, you’ll pay for the privilege – generally speaking, there are much better deals to be had either side of the famous boulevard, often just a minute’s walk away.

Spain’s most famous thoroughfare, however, has its attractions, lined with cafés and restaurants, thronged by tourists and performance artists, and home to the acclaimed Boqueria food market.

Value for money: Hostal Benidorm. This refurbished pensión attracts tribes of young tourists with rooms available for one to five people.

Dramatic luxury: Hotel H1898. The former HQ of the Philippines Tobacco Company got an eye-popping refit; some of the sumptuous suites even have their own private pool, jacuzzi and garden.

Spain, Barcelona, Ramblas at dusk

Barri Gòtic

The Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter, which spreads east from the Ramblas, forms the very heart of the old town. With buildings from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, most of the district is picture-perfect, full of shops, bars, restaurants, museums and galleries. Alongside some classy boutique choices, most of Barcelona’s cheap accommodation is found here.

Note that the south of the the Barri Gòtic is rather less gentrified. Be careful (without being paranoid) when coming and going after dark and take care at night in poorly lit streets.

Impeccable boutique: Hotel Do. This nineteenth-century Neoclassical building, renovated by renowned Catalan architect Oriol Bohigas, seamlessly blends the contemporary with the timeless.

Eye-catching style: Neri Hotel. A delightful eighteenth-century palace houses this stunning boutique hotel of just 22 rooms and suites, featuring swags of flowing material, rescued timber and granite-toned bathrooms.

Street in the Barri Gotic beside the Cathederal (La Seu)

El Raval

The old-town area west of the Ramblas is known as El Raval (from the Arabic word for “suburb”) and has always formed a world apart from nobler Barri Gòtic.

Over the last two decades, however, the district has changed markedly, particularly in the “upper Raval” around Barcelona’s contemporary art museum, MACBA. Cutting-edge galleries, designer restaurants and fashionable bars are all part of the scene these days.

You’d hesitate to call El Raval gentrified, as it clearly still has its rough edges. Don’t be unduly concerned during the day as you make your way around, but it’s as well to keep your wits about you at night, particularly in the southernmost streets.

A local landmark: Barceló Raval. The USP of this hotel is its 360-degree top-floor terrace with plunge pool and sensational city views; rooms are sophisticated and open-plan with space-station-style sheen.

Sumptuous style: Hotel España. There’s been no more eagerly awaited hotel opening in recent times than the revamp of this Modernista icon – its interior has no equal in Barcelona.

Bar Resolis, El Ravel, Barcelona, Spain, Catalonia

Sant Pere and La Ribera

The two easternmost old-town neighbourhoods of Sant Pere and La Ribera are both medieval in origin, and are often thought of as one district, but each has a distinct character.

Sant Pere – perhaps the least visited part of the old town – has two remarkable buildings, the Palau de la Música Catalana and the Mercat Santa Caterina. By way of contrast, the old artisans’ quarter of La Ribera has always been a big draw, by virtue of the presence of the graceful church of Santa María del Mar and the Museu Picasso.

Both have a number of safely sited budget, mid-range and boutique options, and are handy for the Born nightlife area.

Budget cool: Chic & Basic Born. From the open-plan, all-in-white decor, everything here is punchily boutique and in-your-face. Chic, certainly; basic, not at all.

Wham-glam designer: Grand Hotel Central. This hotel, beloved of all the style mags has spacious, ever-so-lovely rooms, a rooftop sundeck and infinity pool.

Junction between Carrer de Montcada and Passeig del Born in the Ribera area.

The Eixample

North of Plaça de Catalunya, the Eixample – split into Right (Dreta) and Left (Esquerra) – has some of the city’s most fashionable hotels, often housed in converted palaces and mansions and located just a few minutes’ walk from the modernista architectural masterpieces.

The Dreta de l’Eixample acts as a sort of open-air museum, featuring extraordinary buildings – most notably by Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. The Esquerra de l’Eixample is one of Barcelona’s hottest night-out destinations, with both Michelin-starred restaurants and some of the best bars and clubs.

Cheery B&B: BarcelonaBB. Lovely rooms, amiable hosts and a tasty breakfast shared with other happy travellers – what’s not to love?

Contemporary high-spec: the5Rooms. The impeccable taste and fashion background of owner Jessica is evident here: expect gorgeously styled rooms, original artwork and terrific bathrooms.

Casa Batllo, Dreta de l'Eixample, Barcelona, Spain, Catalonia

The waterfront

The greatest transformation in Barcelona has been along the waterfront, where harbour and ocean have once again been placed at the heart of the city. Dramatic changes have opened up the old docksides as promenades and entertainment areas, and landscaped the beaches to the north.

Port Vell is the best place for waterfront views, while to the northeast the eighteenth-century neighbourhood of Barceloneta holds tightly packed streets and excellent seafood restaurants. Further up the coast is the showpiece Port Olímpic, a huge seafront development constructed for the 1992 Olympics.

Four- and five-stars also abound much further out on the metro at the Diagonal Mar conference and events site.

Chic and charming: Bonic Barcelona. This “urban guesthouse” is just a few steps from the port and Ramblas, with Gothic-Moorish decor and gorgeous tiled floors.

Stupendously cool: W Barcelona. This signature building on the Barceloneta seafront is one of the city’s most iconic structures; open-plan designer rooms have fantastic views and facilities are first-rate.

View of Barcelona from the Grand Marina hotel, Port Vell.

Gràcia

If you prefer neighbourhood living, then the northern district of Gràcia is the best base. It still retains a genuine small-town atmosphere and, unlike some districts in Barcelona, has a real soul.

The area is still very much the liberal, almost bohemian, stronghold it was in the nineteenth century and you’re only ever a short walk away from its excellent bars, restaurants and clubs.

Hostel with style: Casa Gracia. Though this vibrant and stylish space, spread over six floors in a Modernista building, is technically a hostel, you’ll feel like you’re staying in a hotel.

Deluxe luxury: Hotel Casa Fuster. Lluís Domènech i Montaner’s magnificent Casa Fuster is the backdrop for this five-star, with huge beds, gorgeous bathrooms and a wonderful panoramic roof terrace and pool.

Spain Barcelona, Gracia, Cafe Salamb?, lofty Cafe packed with customers, blurred motion

rough guide barcelona coverThis feature contains affiliate links; you can find out more about why we’ve partnered with booking.com here. All recommendations are editorially independent and taken from the Rough Guide to Barcelona.

Tasty ‘big-ass ants’, llamas wearing woolly hats, and tiny enclaves of Welsh culture make South America a fascinating, if at times, mind boggling continent to explore. Here’s our foray into some of the more eclectic cultural treats to be found upon these shores.

1. Patagonia’s Welsh teahouses

Debuted to the world in Bruce Chatwin’s pivotal account of his travels, In Patagonia, the Welsh region of Argentina is a thoroughly un-South American segment of this continent. The tiny town of Gaiman draws many a visitor with its nostalgia-inducing scents of freshly baked scones and pots of perfectly brewed tea.

Sample these delicious delights in the numerous casas de té which line the streets and where you’ll find the cottages bearing testament to their heritage: tea towels sporting red dragons, expertly knitted tea cosies and china-laden Welsh dressers.

Welsh tea houses, Patagonia

2. Cusco’s llamas

Having acquired fame as the historic capital of the doomed Inca Empire, Cusco has since gained notoriety for other, loftier reasons. Now it claims the title of “Lamb and Llama Capital of South America”.

Wildest travel dreams are fulfilled by photo opportunities with these posing local, woolly celebrities, each sporting equally woolly hats; all for a handful of soles, of course.

Catch an even more poignant picture by snapping one of the ladies taking a taxi home with her two llamas at the end of the working day.

Llama in Cusco, Peru

3. The unusual regional delicacies

South American cuisine can be a potent assault on the taste buds and stomach. Ecuador and Colombia have a tradition of combining queso with almost everything: banana splits with cheese sprinkles and hot chocolate with floating, yellow lumps.

Further south in Peru and Bolivia, find herb-stuffed, oven-roasted guinea pig washed down with chicha (an alcoholic maize drink which traditionally uses saliva to instigate fermentation).

For more intrepid tastes there are steaming bowls of caldo de cardán (soup made from a bull’s penis) in Bolivia, platters of buchada (goat’s stomach stuffed with offal) in Brazil, and the salted and lightly toasted treat that is hormigas culonas (literally “big-ass ants”) proudly served in Santander, Colombia.

Hormigas culonas, ColombiaImage by Maximiliano Dobladez on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

4. The hamster-cheek habit

South America’s love of the coca leaf persists, all despite global controversy surrounding its consumption (yes – it is derived from the same plant that produces cocaine). But this natural stimulant is a traditional feature of life in the mountains and coca leaf chewers are instantly recognisable for the peculiar bulge protruding from their cheeks.

Used for overcoming fatigue or altitude sickness, it can be drunk as mate (coca tea) or chewed with a sprinkle of bicarbonate of soda to activate the chemicals. Be warned: it takes little time to realise it’s an acquired taste.

Coca leaves, chewing, South AmericaImage by Chris Ford on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

5. The linguistic assault of Chilean Spanish, cachai?

Those who’ve studied Spanish in any other country will feel at an immediate loss upon hearing the baffling jumble of jerga (slang) that is the Chilean dialect.

Indecipherable words are mashed together to form even more indecipherable sentences, and every ten seconds of speech will involve a complex combination of weónes, po and cachai (“mate”, “well” and “get it?”). Travelling through this linguistically challenging country is a test for even the most competent Spanish speaker.

Couples in Santiago, Chile

6. The concept of punctuality…

South Americans are infamous for their distinct approach to punctuality: schedule an appointment with a local friend and you might be surprised if they turn up within the hour (or even two or three in Brazil).

This attitude towards timekeeping has even become part of the language used here. Hora inglésa (English time) stands for being on time, and if they want to say “now,” al tiro or ahorita will do. Although bear in mind that both carry undertones of at-some-point-in-the-not-so-distant-future, so don’t be disappointed if you still have to wait.

As frustrating as it can be, you can’t deny that their time-keeping approach at least forces you to relax and take things slow.

Ipanema beach, Rio, BrazilPixabay / CC0

7. The mysterious architecture

The stoic, bulbous stone heads on Easter Island are not the only examples of laborious human vocation to have emerged from this continent. Further along the coast, the inexplicable accuracy of the geometric geoglyphs of the Nazca Lines in Peru continues to perplex archaeologists.

And, although relatively unknown in comparison with its sister-site, Machu Picchu, nearby Choquequirao remains a mysterious, barely discovered complex. Experts believe that only 30 percent of these ruins have been reclaimed from the surrounding undergrowth, and it remains to be seen what other enthralling secrets the rest of South America has yet to disclose.

Machu Picchu, Peru

8. Babies in backpacks

Intricately weaved textiles are some of the most visually striking features of life in the traditional Andean regions of South America. The ubiquitous aguayo ranks as one of the most useful: these rectangular pieces of cloth, striped in colours ranging from flamingo pink to coca leaf green, can transform into a sling-like backpack for women.

The contents? Anything from potatoes to babies.

Women weaving in Peru

Explore more of South America with the Rough Guide to South America on a BudgetCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

The ICEHOTEL, constructed from snow and ice each year, has long been Swedish Lapland’s blockbuster attraction. It features in our list of the top 21 things to do in Sweden, and crops up on bucket lists the world over. Yet when the weather warms in the spring, this extraordinary hotel just melts away.

This year, things are set to change. The team behind the hotel are set to build ICEHOTEL 365, three times the size of its seasonal sibling, which will remain open throughout the year.

ICEHOTEL-northern-lights

Image by Pin Pin Studio

The sustainable addition aims to make the most of the region’s near-constant daylight, running solely on solar power for part of the year. Here, 200km north of the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set for 100 days straight between May and July. .

Yet while the new hotel will even offer ice-sculpting classes and a champagne ice bar in summer, some of the magic of bedding down in a giant igloo is certain be missing.

ICEHOTEL 365 ny

Image by Pin Pin Studio

Instead, guest can hike under the midnight sun, raft along the Torne river or learn more about the Sámi through cultural experiences. It’s not quite a year-round winter wonderland, but it could be an exciting alternative.

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

Header image by Pin Pin Studio.

Backpacking Thailand can mean staying in fun-packed hostels and idyllic beach bungalows, eating noodles so tasty and so cheap you’ll swear off all other food groups and climbing aboard everything from an overnight train to a lolloping elephant.

But it also means following a well-worn route – one that has sprouted an entire industry to service it, and sometimes, sadly, to take advantage of it.

Sidestep those scams and dodge the dangers with our top tips for making the most of backpacking Thailand.

1. Be respectful – know the etiquette

Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles for a reason, but those smiles can quickly disappear if you don’t respect the culture. The feet are considered the lowest part of the body so never point them (especially the soles) towards somebody, especially if that somebody is a statue of Buddha. The head is considered most sacred so don’t touch people on the head, even children.

2. Eat bravely

One of the best things about travelling in Thailand is the food and you’ll find the tastiest – and cheapest – Thai noodles and curries at the street food stalls.

Be brave and follow the locals, they know which places have the highest standards, and the more people eating means more turnover and fresher ingredients.

Street food, Thailand

3. Embrace public transport

Yes, the tuk tuk is an experience you mustn’t miss but to get proper mileage under your belt (and to get between Bangkok and the highlights of Chiang Mai, the southern islands and Kanchanaburi) you’re going to need to get to grips with the Thai bus service (Baw Khaw Saw or BKS).

Government-run, it’s reliable and extensive, with a BKS station in almost every town. Book your tickets here the day before you want to travel if and take the overnight first class bus to save on a night’s accommodation.

These generally stop somewhere en route for you to eat and will have reclining seats and a toilet on board. Bring a warm jacket to wrap up in, earplugs and an eye shade and prepare to arrive very early in the morning.

4. Timing is everything

The best time to visit Thailand is between November and February, when the monsoons finish for the year and temperatures are at coolest. This is also peak season though so if saving money and avoiding crowds is more important to you than sunbathing, the wet season (May to October) could be a better bet. To see all the highlights at a reasonable pace you’re going to need at least a month, though two is better.

Phuket, buses, Thailand

5. Don’t be fooled

That tuk tuk driver stopping you on the street to tell you it’s a national holiday and that temple you’re about to visit is closed? It’s almost certainly not, he or she may just want to take you to their cousin’s carpet factory or sister’s gem shop.

Don’t be fooled by official looking uniforms, cheap or free tuk tuk tours or one day only gem sales either – unfortunately all are scams set up to part you from your travel funds, usually in exchange for a worthless ‘gem’ you can sell when you get back home

And don’t even think about getting involved in the sex industry – prostitution may be rife in Thailand but one thing it’s not is legal.

6. Agree a price before you ride

Be it a taxi or a tuk tuk, you need to agree a price for your journey in advance. Taxi drivers are meant to use the meter so ask them to and if they say no move on along the rank to the next driver.

Tuk tuks should be haggled over – ask your hostel for a rough estimate on current rates and stand firm. Though it also pays to remember that haggling over 20 baht is about equivalent to getting in a stress over 40p or 60 cents – sometimes it just isn’t worth it.

Morning Alms Round, Young monks on alms round, Mae Hong Son, THAILAND

7. Pack light

You’re going backpacking for the freedom – so don’t weigh yourself down. Buy a light backpack and fill it only with the essentials.

You’ll need layers for those chilly bus journeys, a few items of underwear you can wash repeatedly, a waterproof jacket, earplugs, your phone charger and adaptor and insect repellent. Here’s a backpacking checklist to help you plan your backpack.

8. Use hostels

Thailand has a great network of hostels and you’ll not only save money over hotels, but also meet more people and get more local recommendations. Hostel staff are also a reliable source of advice and information on everything from avoiding the latest scam to where to get the best noodles, so talk to them.

9. Go with the flow

Thailand is a place to chill. So stay on somewhere if you love it, move on if you don’t, and if you hear about a cool new bar or restaurant, or a party on the beach, go. Unpredictable sometimes, unforgettable always.

setting off hot air balloons, Loy Krathong festival

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

To celebrate of the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, visitors will be offered free entry to national parks across the USA next week.

From the 16th to the 24 April, admission fees will be waived in all 59 parks, with a range of special activities also planned around National Junior Ranger Day on the 16th. There’s never been a better excuse to see the spring blossom in Yosemite, track crocodiles in the Everglades or hike near a smoking caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Not sure where to start? Check out our park-by-park guide or take this quiz to find out which park you should visit first.

Header image via Pixabay/CC0. Find out more on www.VisitTheUSA.com/outdoors.

Set in Andalucía, Spain’s southernmost region, Granada is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, and with good reason. The city is in an astounding setting at the confluence of four rivers, backed by the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada, and there are plenty of things to do.

The extraordinary palace and fortress of the Alhambra, visible from almost anywhere in city, dominates the skyline. Students of the University of Granada keep downtown lively, while the Moorish neighbourhood of Albaicín is a perfect place to stroll for an hour or two. And, with free tapas in most of the bars, you won’t burn a hole in your pocket.

What should I see?

The Alhambra – meaning “the red one” in Arabic, due to the fiery hue of its fortress walls – is the most visited monument in Spain, and shows off the culture of the last centuries of Moorish rule, which lasted here for several centuries until Christian forces conquered Granada in 1492 and took over the palace.

Make sure you book well in advance online, and arrive an hour before your allocated time slot so you can queue for your tickets. It’s a steep climb to reach the entrance, but worth every step.

Alhmabra, Granada

The Royal Palace, Palacios Nazaríes, the pride of the complex, is no ordinary ruin. As you stroll from chambers to fountained courtyards, through narrow corridors and under glorious arches, your eyes are drawn to the rich detail that – incredibly – hasn’t been washed away over the centuries, despite periods of disastrously careless occupiers, such as Napoleon’s forces.

Once you’ve seen the palace, the grounds of the Generalife gardens are a relaxing place for a shaded break, before heading up to the ramparts of the Alcazaba, the oldest and most ruined part of the complex, and from where the views down over town are spectacular.

Back in town, after you’ve rested your legs, take a walk through the steep, winding alleys of the old Moorish neighbourhood and UNESCO World Heritage site, the Albaicín. While half the fun is getting lost in these maze-like streets, make sure you don’t miss the Mirador (viewpoint) at Plaza de San Nicolas.

Not far from the foot of the Albaicín is the city’s Catholic relic, the vast Catedral de Granada, first built in 1583 and a gothic masterpiece. Its impressive exterior has a dark, foreboding feel, while the marble-floored interior is light, bright and extravagant, with no shortage of gold statues and ornaments.

Where can I get good tapas?

Eating in Granada is an experience you’ll find in few other places. The majority of tapas bars will provide customers with free small plates with every drink ordered. The portion sizes and quality of the food varies wildly, so it’s a very good idea to know where you want to go before heading out.

Tapas from Andalucia

The centre of town is best for tapas. A good place to start is Los Diamantes, by Plaza Nueva, an upmarket seafood bar where quality wines are paired with free tapas of fried anchovies (boquerones fritos).

Cerveceria la Riviera, down the road from the cathedral, is cheap and cheerful, always buzzing, and they serve very generous tapas portions. You can even select the free tapas from a menu with a dozen or so options – try the fried octopus tentacles (patas de pulpo) or chorizo in wine (chorizo picante al vino).

Russian-naval-themed tapas and sushi bar Potemkin, on Placeta Hospicio Viejo, serves delightful free tapas such as spicy squid on thinly sliced and delicately flavoured potato slices, and nearby Los Altramuces, on leafy Campo de Principe, is a traditional, low-key family-run bar, with a warm welcome and hearty free tapas such as chicken and tomato stew.

Granada, Andalucia, SpainPixabay / CC0

For something different, try Om-Kalsum, a cheap North African and Middle Eastern tapas bar, where seven tapas and a bottle of wine will set you back just €14.

On the outskirts of the centre, the stylish Taverna Saint Germain, always packed with locals, is a fantastic place to sample some lovely local wines by the glass, while staff efficiently serve a range of appetising free tapas, with a modern twist on traditional Spanish dishes.

And where can I get an actual meal?

Start your day with the best breakfast in town from Café 4 Gatos in Albaicín, where wholesome, hearty tostadas – such as grilled aubergine and goat’s cheese – are served up with fresh juice, friendly service and great coffee.

It’s worth paying a little extra for a meal at Samarkanda, close to the markets at the base of the Albaicín, where top-notch Lebanese food is on offer, such as superb hummus with mincemeat and a rich and fragrant lamb tagine.

Where should I go after dark?

Granada’s teahouses, the majority of which are clustered in “Little Morocco”, around Calle Caldereria Nueva, are peaceful, atmospheric places to take a break with a fresh mint tea and a puff on a shisha.

For a cocktail, boozy coffee or milkshake, head to the Bohemia Jazz Café, on Plaza de los Lobos, where a huge array of well-crafted drinks is available. The low-lit café’s 1950s kitsch style is maintained with typewriters on the wall, an old hairdresser’s booth, black-and-white photos, an ancient jukebox and hundreds of books lining the walls.

Granada by night, Andalucia, SpainPixabay / CC0

Granada is well known for its passionate flamenco performances. It can be tricky find authentic shows – Le Chien Andalous, in a narrow cave down by the River Darro, is a good call and excellent value at €8.

Numerous bars on Calle Elvira and Calle Pedro Antonio de Alarcón stay open well into the small hours.

Out of the centre, at club El Camborio, cheesy music belts out to a student crowd in an unusual venue set into caves. Here, in the suburb of Sacramento, high up in the hills, is where the Gitano Gypsy community live. Alhambra, visible across the valley and lit up at night, looks breathtaking.

Where can I shop?

Once the city’s silk souk, the tightly knit streets of Alcaiceria, behind the cathedral, are now jam-packed with Moroccan shops, selling everything from lamps and leatherwear to artwork and rugs. Make some room in your luggage, and get your bargaining hat on.

Explore more of Granada with the Rough Guide to AndalucíaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0. 

With its canals, narrow cobbled alleys and trams, the novelty value of Amsterdam can prove entertaining enough for many kids. There’s also a whole host of attractions specifically aimed at young children, ranging from circuses and puppet theatres to urban farms and one of the best zoos in Europe.

There are also plenty of opportunities for play – practically all of the city’s parks and most patches of greenery have some form of playground, and the recreation area in the Vondelpark is heaven for kids and parents alike.

rough guides amsterdam cover You’ll find most places pretty child-friendly; the majority of restaurants have highchairs and kids’ menus, and bars don’t seem to mind accompanied kids, as long as they’re well behaved. Indeed, having a small child in your care is unlikely to close many doors to you in Amsterdam.

Wondering where to start? Here are our tips for the best things to do with kids from the new Rough Guide to Amsterdam.

1. Take a walk in the woods

The woodlands of Amsterdamse Bos offer playgrounds, outdoor theatre, lakes and cycle paths. You can also rent canoes and pedalos to explore the Bosbaan Canal, and visit the Ridammerhoeve goat farm, which makes its own ice cream and cheese

2. Spend an afternoon at a petting zoo

Situated next to a playground, the Amstelpark Petting Zoo has chickens, rabbits, goats and donkeys, while the De Pijp Petting Zoo’s variety of farm animals also includes sheep, ponies, pigs, guinea pigs and salamanders. Both are free to enter.

3. Take a canal trip

For older children, a good introduction to Amsterdam might be one of the canal trips that start from Centraal Station or Damrak, or for 5- to 12-year-olds try the Blue Boat Company’s pirate-themed audio guide: while their parents are enjoying a standard cruise, the audio guide helps kids to spot animals using binoculars and to listen out for water sounds; at the end of the journey they get a certificate proving their qualification as a freshwater pirate.

Canal boats in Amsterdam, NetherlandsPixabay / CC0

4. Get some fresh air in Vondelpark

The city’s most central park, the leafy and lawned Vondelpark has an excellent playground, as well as sandpits, paddling pools and a couple of cafés where you can take a break. In summertime, the open-air theatre, Openluchttheater, usually puts on some free entertainment for kids – mime, puppets, acrobats and the like.

5. See a puppet show

The intimate Amsterdam Marionette Theatre, housed in a former blacksmith’s, puts on traditional marionette performances. Because plays are set to classical music there’s no language confusion, and the costumes are fabulous. You could also try permanent children’s theatre De Krakeling, which runs theatre, puppet and dance shows for youngsters up to the age of 17, often with an emphasis on full-scale audience participation.

6. Enter the Amsterdam Dungeon

This popular sight is housed in a former church. Tours last for around an hour, during which you’re handed from one ham actor to another, making believe you have been sentenced by the inquisition, press-ganged onto the high seas, chased by witches and surrounded by plague victims – until you’re finally swept around the interior of the church on a short roller coaster ride.

7. Go to the zoo

Artis Royal Zoo is a fun day out for kids, all the more so if you time your visit to coincide with feeding times. At the time of writing these were 10.45am for birds of prey; 11.30am and 3.45pm for seals and sea lions; 2pm for pelicans; 3pm for lions and tigers (not Thurs); and 3.30pm for penguins.

Monkeys in Amsterdam zoo, Netherlands, Holland

8. Take a history lesson

A free audio guide (in English) leads children aged nine and upwards around the Dutch Resistance Museum Junior, a new add-on to the main Dutch Resistance Museum. It explains World War II from a child’s perspective using true stories and authentic items.

9. Learn about Judaism

At the JHM Children’s Museum, children aged 6–12 can learn about the Jewish faith and traditions on a tour that leads them through the house of the Jewish Hollander family, learning about kosher food in the kitchen, and Jewish music from around the world, among other topics.

10. Visit Madame Tussaud’s

The large waxworks collection has the usual smattering of famous people and rock stars, as well as Dutch celebrities and the royal family, plus a few Amsterdam peasants and merchants thrown in for local colour.

11. Hire a canal bike

A fun water-based activity is a ride on a pedalo-style canal bike. This can get tiring, but jetties where the bikes can be picked up and dropped off are numerous, and it’s quite safe.

141566631_619514f2b2_oImage by walter etty on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

12. Hit the playground

TunFun in the old Jewish Quarter is a large underground playground with slides, trampolines and climbing apparatus, for children aged 1–12. Activities include gymnastics, bowling and indoor football, and there’s plenty of equipment to clamber into, under and over.

Explore more of Amsterdam with the Rough Guide to AmsterdamCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0.

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook