Richard Mellor explores Šibenik, a city tipped as Croatia’s next best tourist hotspot thanks to a new luxury hotel. 

It’s appropriate that the parachute’s inventor – one Faust Vrančić, if you’re asking – was born in Šibenik, for this Croatian backwater has its feet firmly on the ground. Having a recent history of battle and bombs will do that to a small city.

Just 40 minutes up the coast from Split’s international airport, Šibenik’s travel résumé includes great beaches on its Dalmatian coast, inland hiking and waterfalls, cool music festivals, an evocative old town, fine dining, a UNESCO-protected cathedral and fortresses used in Game of Thrones.

Now, crucially, a top-quality hotel can be added to that list. Previously, as written in the Rough Guide to Croatia, Šibenik’s only downside has been its relative lack of accommodation. But the arrival of the whitewashed D-Resort Šibenik has changed all that: courtesy of Turkish conglomerate Dogus, luxurious digs newly await.

To one side is a new marina, replete with super-yachts and their espadrille-wearing crew. From the other, motorboats scuttle across a short Adriatic Sea inlet to Šibenik’s harbour and tree-lined corniche. Glinting red-tile roofs sprawl mazily uphill, with the ancient St Michael’s Fortress keeping watch over proceedings.

Explore a quartet of fortresses

St Michael’s is one of four fortresses around Šibenik. Once a seat for the Croatian king, its defensive castles were still being used by locals as recently as 20 years ago, providing shelter during the Croatian War of Independence. Today, thankfully, an ongoing restoration programme has them attracting tourists instead.

Over to the southeast, Barone’s new audiovisual display reveals what fortress life was like for its seventeenth-century soldiers.

Skulking opposite is St John Fortress – a Game of Thrones set in 2014 – while out west is the eye-catching sea-castle of St Nicholas, built by ruling Venetians to guard the vital channel into Šibenik.

Croatia, Dalmatia, Sibenik, rooftops of town, including dome of Cathedral of St James, and surrounding rooftops,

A new island-hopping path, elevated above the sea, allows visitors to admire its gun platform and impressive Adriatic views.

As for St Michael’s, around which Šibenik first sprung up, bands have replaced bullets: its eleventh-century stonework and myriad improvements now play host to a terraced, 1077-capacity concert venue, one costing a cool £1.2 million. The National, Lambchop, Nouvelle Vague and Thievery Corporation have all played, some of them during August’s annual Terraneo Summer Break festival.

See a classic Croatian cathedral

Šibenik’s real historical jewel, however, is its UNESCO-protected St James’s Cathedral. Much of the Dalmatian Coast’s finest architecture was designed by Juraj Dalmatinac in the mid-1400s, and this entirely-stone-built Gothic Renaissance edifice is considered his crowning glory, even if it wasn’t finished until 1536.

Praise be, in particular, for the silvery dome, reflecting light from far around. Look out, too, for a 71-head frieze, containing strange caricatures of fifteenth-century locals. Adam and Eve are there too, looking utterly ill at ease in being very obviously starkers.

Inside, English-language brochures enable self-guided tours. The highlight is the small baptistry, and its sublimely-carved roof and mischievous cherubs.

Dine afterwards at the excellent Pelegrini restaurant, which majors in regional dishes like truffle and prosciutto pappardelle and cuttlefish gnocchi.

St James Cathedral, Sibenik, CroatiaPixabay / CC0

Amble around the Old Town

From the cathedral’s square slinks away Kralja Tomislava (Kalelarga to locals), Šibenik’s main street. Unexpectedly fancy boutiques sit alongside some more predictable shops hawking tourist tat.

Leading off Kalelarga are a jumble of stony stairways and narrow lanes, a maze whose sleepiness is interrupted only by occasional Vespas and the echo of footsteps. The elegant houses are Dalmatian-style, with dark green and blood-red-coloured shutters.

What really appeals is how Šibenik feels genuinely lived-in. Some alleys are left almost dim under canopies of clothes lines and cables. Old men sit smiling on stools outside their homes, wild rosemary grows and wafts of home cooking tease nostrils. Inside phone boxes, a religious sticker advertises salvation.

Old Town streets, Sibenik, CroatiaPixabay / CC0

Take to the waters

A ten-mile drive inland is the attractive Krka National Park, named after the river which bisects it. Hiking trails criss-cross, but the headline act is the Skradinski Buk series of 17 successive waterfalls at the park’s southern end.

Beneath the final cascades is a wide basin providing swimming opportunities: come summer weekends, locals strip to their speedos, shorts and bikinis to dive in, and a party atmosphere pervades.

Day-trip ferries from Šibenik serve the small islands of Zlarin and Prvić, where bistros and fig trees give way to peaceful, pebbled beaches.

Bathing’s very much an option at the D-Resort, too, with a large infinity pool neighbouring its spa, where facials, massage and hammam rituals are also offered.

Waterfall at Krka National Park, CroatiaPixabay / CC0

Explore more of Croatia with the Rough Guide to CroatiaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image by Stewart Morris on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

We’ve all heard of the big hitters, such as Ibiza, Corsica and Sicily, but what about Europe’s lesser known islands? Have you ever dreamt of mixing it up with a windswept, heart-pumping hike on the remote hills of Foula? Or kicking through the sweeps of sand that pass for roads on La Graciosa?

It pays to follow your inner Robinson Crusoe and break away from the crowds in Europe. Here are 7 European islands you’ve probably never heard of, but should definitely consider for your next holiday.

For hikers: Foula, Scotland

It’s worth the effort of getting to the UK’s most remote inhabited island, especially as you might catch glimpse of a minke whale or an orca as you cruise across the Atlantic by ferry from Shetland’s mainland.

The reward on a remote outpost the Romans dubbed their ultima thule, literally ‘the end of the world’, is jaw-dropping hiking. The chances are you won’t see another human as you vault across the island’s lofty peaks (the highest, The Sneug, soars to 418m), but watch out for the bonxies. These giant great skuas don’t appreciate visitors and have been known to knock hikers clean off their feet.

402Image by Robin McKelvie

For beach bums: Porto Santo, Portugal

No doubt you will have heard of Madeira, but what about its Macaronesian neighbour Porto Santo? It may only be less than 8km wide and 15km long, but this little gem packs a proper beach punch.

The main attraction is the epic sweep of golden sand right by the ferry landing that stretches off for over 7km into the distance. Savvy visitors from Portugal’s mainland know all about the sandy charms of this relaxed island, but few other Europeans have yet to descend en masse, even though there are plenty of decent hotels and restaurants on hand.

Porto Santo, PortugalImage by Ghost of Electricity on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

For explorers: Saaremaa, Estonia

Ok, we won’t lie, the Baltic Sea is not the world’s warmest, but try telling that to the citizens of the Estonian capital, Tallinn, who flock here to laze around on the brilliant beaches and take a bracing dip in summer.

We recommend venturing here in spring (winter is extremely cold and summer can be busy), when you have a better chance of snaring one of the cosy wooden houses that snuggle in this tree-shrouded oasis. Hire a bike and head off looking for seals and seabirds, just steer clear of the bears, who we’ve heard are also occasional visitors.

Church on Saaremaa, EstoniaImage by Kristjan Klementi on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

For a secret escape: Lastovo, Croatia

The emphasis here is on the ‘Last’ in Lastovo: from here there’s only open Adriatic all the way across to Italy. Most travellers these days know the Croatian tourist hotspots of Hvar and Brač, but this relaxed charmer remains relatively untrammelled by tourism, at least in part due to the vagaries of the ferry timetable.

This outlying island boasts a rich sweep of Venetian-era architecture, with its natural attractions recognised by the Croatian government who have declared it a protected nature park. The local waters also dish up a rich bounty of seafood, the best of which is the plump local lobster, or jastog, which is best enjoyed simply grilled.

Island of Lastovo, CroatiaImage by Lauren Jane on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

For relaxed ramblers: Graciosa, Spain

Forget images of bronzed sunbathers jostling for beach space in the Canary Isles. Bounce over the rough surf from Lanzarote and slip on a pair of sandals as you ease into Graciosa time on this remote isle.

There are no roads as such, just sweeps of sand that shift between the low-rise whitewashed houses of the island capital of Caleta del Sebo.

Embark on an epic walk around the north of the island, taking in one of the five volcanoes or the white sands of Playa de las Conchas, before returning to rest your weary feet in one of Caleta del Sebo’s fresh seafood restaurants.

Isla Graciosa, Canary Islands, SpainImage by Gerard Girbes Berges on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

For dramatic landscapes: Viðoy, the Faroe Islands

Most people struggle to place the Faroe Islands accurately on a map let alone name one of the islands. This dramatic volcanic archipelago may only harbour fewer than 50,000 residents, but the island of Viðoy is home to what the locals claim are the highest sea cliffs in Europe.

Hire a local guide to tackle the wild heights of the most northerly point in the Faroes, Cape Enniberg. These remarkable cliffs vault over 750m above the fuming Atlantic. Seabirds like it here, too, with one of the most impressive colonies in Europe.

Puffins on Faroe Islands, ViðoyImage by DavideGorla on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

For history buffs: Gozo, Malta

Everyone has heard of the deeply historic mainland of the island nation of Malta, but neighbouring Gozo sneaks under the radar a little.

Gozo has always often trod a separate path to the mainland, although it shares much of the same influences, with the Romans and the Phoenicians having breezed through, leaving their indelible traces.

The most striking site are the Ġgantija temples. Dating back to before Stonehenge was even thought of, these rocky remains are some of the oldest standing structures in Europe. The views are impressive from up here, too, with a whole swathe of the island opening up. There are also dramatic views from Gozo’s lofty citadel in the island capital of Victoria.

Malta, Gozo, Ta' Pinu Basilica

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Going for a spa in Iceland can feel wonderfully alien. Against a backdrop of barren moonscapes and denuded hills, the waters are so preternaturally blue, so exaggerated and preposterously warm, that a simple dip can feel borderline indecent. Venture from the capital Reykjavik as far as Reyðarfjörður in the extreme east and you’ll also find that the country hides hundreds of out-of-this-world geothermal pools and naturally-heated hot tubs.

But it first pays to know the rules. Because in Iceland, the right spa etiquette is taken deadly seriously. Here are five dos and don’ts to bear in mind.

Don’t forget to wash yourself

It may sound obvious, but unlike the rest of Europe, where most bathers make-do with a quick shower-room rinse, Icelanders have a set, strict routine when going for a dip that must be followed to the letter.

First, read the rules. They’re pinned to every changing room wall and notice-board, as well as being published in English, French, German and Danish, so you really have no excuse not to follow them.

Second, get washing. Scrub your head, armpits, feet and groin with soap beforehand, and – most importantly – do it in your birthday suit, not bathing suit. A quick rinse just won’t do, especially because most geothermal pools use freshwater and far lower levels of chlorine, even at the Blue Lagoon at Reykjanes.

And having just read the rules, you have no excuse not to get naked. You have been warned.

Iceland, Kjolur, hot pool at Hveravellir

Do get chatting to the locals

Approaching a complete stranger in a bikini may at first seem like a coquettish, brazen thing to do, but it’s OK in Iceland.

In Reykjavík, hot tubs and pools are more like social clubs where people catch up on news and discuss politics: and they’ve done so since the twelfth century when poet, scholar and politician Snorri Sturluson built the first stone hot tub outside Reykholt.

To get the best of the conversations, go to a local’s pool such as Vesturbæjarlaug, a short walk from Reykjavík city centre, or Nauthólsvík, a geothermal saltwater pool by a golden beach.

Around seven o’clock on a weekday morning, the conversation bubbles as much as the thermal waters. There is no social hierarchy, and everyone is treated like an equal.

For something more romantic, take a date to Sundhöll, built in the 1930s, it’s open late and is one of the oldest baths in the capital.

Iceland, Reykjavik, Laugardalur swimming pool

Don’t talk too loudly (or on your phone)

Icelanders don’t like tourists who make too much noise: period. Their dose of social media may well be a get-together in the spa, but they talk quietly, which can sound as soft as whale song.

The reason? Many spas and indoor pools were built in the 1960s and loud noises echo down the corridors of the indoor pools and steam rooms.

“Our bathhouses tend to venerate tradition above anything else,” says spa aficionado Birgir Þorsteinn Jóakimsson, who visits Reykjavik’s Vesturbæjarlaug every day. “Talking loudly is a nasty habit, especially at an Icelandic spa – so you won’t be popular with the locals. It’s not a circus.”

It also pays to be alert, as hawkish pool attendants may ambush you, showing you the door. They’ve been known to throw tourists out for less.

Iceland, pool outside the Blue Lagoon complex, near Grindavik

Don’t jump straight in

Those milky-blue waters are ridiculously tempting, but also feverishly hot. Draw the cool air into your lungs and take your time by testing the water temperature first to check your skin’s sensitivity to the geothermal heat.

In Reykjavík at Laugardalur Park, also known as the Valley of the Pools, the water used to hover at a white-hot 45 degrees Celcius, punishing unsuspecting dive-bombers. Such waters have since been cooled due to health and safety regulations, but with most still nudging upwards of 37 degrees, it’s an odd juxtaposition between bathing in hell, while feeling like you’re in heaven.

To maximise enjoyment, remember to swim in an anticlockwise direction. No one can really explain why, but Icelanders swim in circles from right to left, and so should you.

Summer in Germany

Do take a local’s advice

The most sacred pools are only known by the locals – and with good reason. Places like the old pool at Gamla Laugin at Fludir on the Golden Circle – supposedly the oldest in Iceland – or Seljavallalaug, a snooker-chalk blue outdoor pool secreted up a valley near Skogar, are so sybaritic you wouldn’t want to share them with anyone else either.

“Everyone has their favourite they want to keep,” says Guðrún Bjarnadottir, a spa professional working at the Blue Lagoon. “If you talk to locals – and they like you – you may get lucky. My personal favourite is somewhere in the hills north of Hveragerdi. It’s in a mystical place known as the Smoky Valley, but the exact location and directions – well – that would be telling.”

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Spain’s massive size means that it’s thankfully not as hard as you might expect to wander off the well-beaten tourist track. Whether it’s quiet coves, tucked away old villages or eerie landscapes you’re after, here are seven places that you’ve probably never heard of but really should visit in Spain.

1. Las Alpujarras, Andalucía

South of Granada, the hills and valleys of Las Alpujarras provide some of the country’s lushest scenery. This isn’t an area for novice drivers – hairpin bend after hairpin bend lead up to many of the region’s lovely white-washed villages – but it’s worth the effort to enjoy the serenity of the countryside.

In the settlements here you can really get a sense of a truly local way of life – one that revolves around shady central plazas, welcome siestas from the midday sun and sherry in the local bar after dark.

Spain, Andalucia, Alpujarras, Trevelez, Village of white houses nestled on side of a hill

2. Beget, Girona

Beget is tucked so deeply into a valley that you won’t see it before you’re almost in it. This tiny village in northern Catalunya is definitely worth stumbling over, however – little has changed here for centuries, creating a quiet charm that’s hard to beat.

Explore the narrow cobbled streets to find old stone houses and pretty little bridges that cross the river. For dinner, sit down to a plate of seasonal Catalan food at one of the family-run restaurants.

The centrepiece of the village is the stately, beautiful twelfth-century church, which boasts a carved wooden Christ figure dressed in a tunic, with arms outstretched.

Beget, Girona, SpainImage by azama8 on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

3. El Burgo de Osma, Soria

The Río Duero cuts across central Castilla and some of its loveliest scenery can be found in and around the graceful old town of El Burgo de Osma.

Though its buildings pay homage to the fact that this was once a very grand place – it is home to both a cathedral and a university – El Burgo today is quaint and gorgeous, with little in the way of attractions, but a joy to experience nonetheless.

The town is particularly lovely on summer nights, when locals congregate on the main square to use it as a social club, playground and exercise yard. El Burgo also makes a great base from which to explore the surrounding area, which boasts both a dramatic canyon park and a mighty fortress.

OsmaImage by jesuscm on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

4. Zahara de la Sierra, Andalucía

The beautiful southern region of Andalucía is particularly known for its beautiful white towns, and one of the best examples of which can be found at Zahara de la Sierra, reached via a very scenic drive through the countryside from the lovely old town of Ronda.

An obvious landmark for miles around, it is the castle that you notice first, sitting dramatically on top of a stark rocky outcrop; below which huddle bright white houses (with their equally picturesque red-tiled roofs).

Spain, Andalucia, Zahara de la Sierra, quiet hamlet dominated by ruined castle

5. Cadaqués, Girona

It’s easy to shun the idea of the Costa Brava, with its rather old-fashioned image of sun-and-sea holidays, but the region is home to some very pretty beaches, and with a bit of knowledge it’s not too hard to find more interesting towns and quieter sands.

The most pleasant place to stay on the northern Costa Brava is undoubtedly the picturesque seaside town of Cadaqués, its narrow, hilly streets filled with bougainvillea-covered houses and with craggy headlands on either side of its still-working fishing port.

The beaches here are small and pebbly, but there’s plenty else to the town to keep you occupied, not least its art galleries and studios – Dalí settling nearby after World War II saw the town attract a rather bohemian artistic community – and smart restaurants.

Spain, Catalonia, Girona, Cadaques, facades of whitewashed buildings overlooking sea

6. Las Médulas, Castille y León

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the other-worldly landscape of Las Médulas had been ravaged over hundreds – even thousands – of years by the weather, but you’d be wrong. The strange, jagged red rocks here are the result of Roman strip-mining, when five tonnes of gold were taken from the hillsides via canals constructed for the purpose.

Looking more like Arizona than northern Spain, this eerie landscape of red-rock needles and caves is best viewed from the Mirador de Orellán, which offers a spectacular panorama over the area; undoubtedly the best way to experience it is on foot, via the Las Valiñas trail from pretty Las Médulas village.

Craggy, tree-lined hills near Las Medulas.

7. The Costa da Morte, Galicia

Don’t be put off by its name – the “Coast of Death” – this relatively undeveloped region is well worth a visit. Though at times it has a rather desolate beauty, and though it can be as wet and windy as the shipwrecks that litter its seabed suggest, the quiet, beautiful coves, snug fishing villages and mountain slopes make this costa surprisingly enchanting.

This isn’t the place to go for resort facilities – and all the better for it; instead, head for the charming little seaside towns like Malpica de Bergantiños and Laxe, the latter of which offers some of the area’s safest swimming.

For really wonderful scenery, head to Ezaro; here, the mineral-rich rocks of the escarpments are multi-coloured, and appear to glisten underneath countless little waterfalls.

3975705558_9b348d18ea_bImage by Asier Ríos Molina on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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rough guide india coverWhether you’re hurtling along in a rickshaw, eating fantastic curries, kicking back on the backwaters or hiking in the mountains, backpacking India will always be an adventure.

But you’ll need your wits about you, and preparation is key – here are our top tips to making your journey as smooth as possible.

1. Eat where the locals eat

Restaurant meals are often dampened down for tourists. If you want an authentic curry, follow the locals and find the busy places; empty restaurants are often quiet for a reason.

2. Swot up on trainspotting

Using the extensive Indian train network is an excellent way to get around this huge country. Trains book up fast and the booking system – as with many processes in India – can be highly convoluted.

The train information website The Man in Seat 61 has a comprehensive breakdown of the complex process. If you’re getting a sleeper train, try to book the upper or side-upper berths, for more privacy and security, and give sleeper class a go at least once.

While a/c is more comfortable, the tinted windows mean you won’t see nearly as much scenery, nor will you have such an interesting and diverse mix of fellow passengers.

Train in India, AsiaHelen Abramson

3. Agree a price before you do anything

When taking a rickshaw or taxi (if it has no meter), hiring a guide, staying in a hotel or going on a tour, always check what you’re expected to pay first – and, in many cases, haggle for it. If a restaurant menu has no prices on it, check how much your food will cost before ordering.

When buying a product in a shop, check the item for its MRP (Maximum Recommended Price), which should be printed on it in small letters.

4. Purify your water

Tap water in India should be avoided. However, think about how many plastic bottles you’d get through buying mineral water over a fortnight, and then imagine eight million foreign tourists doing the same thing every year. That’s a lot of plastic. A greener option is to purify your own – there’s an increasingly effective range purifying filters which destroy even the tiniest bacteria and viruses.

The most advanced systems, such as the Water-to-Go bottle filters, turn the stuff of murky brown lakes into crystal clear, fresh-tasting water. It’s also worth bearing in mind that in many restaurants in India, reversed osmosis (RO) water is available – it’s free, environmentally friendly and completely safe to drink.

Temple in Madurai, IndiaHelen Abramson

5. Bring your own toilet roll

Indians use their left hand and a jug of water or a hose instead of toilet paper. Aside from in the most upmarket or touristic destinations, you shouldn’t expect toilets to have paper, and the toilet itself may be just a hole in the ground. Although getting used to using the hose is no bad thing, it’s a good idea to carry toilet paper – and hand sanitizer – around with you.

6. Be respectful

This is a country with a rich cultural heritage and strong, deep-rooted religious traditions. Your experience of travelling through India’s rich and mysterious landscapes will be much more positive if you remain mindful of local social etiquette.

Women should always cover their shoulders and wear loose fitting clothing that comes below the knee. In Muslim areas, midriffs should be covered.

Eat with your right hand (the left is for toilets), don’t point the soles of your feet at anyone, take your shoes off before entering a temple and avoid public displays of affection.

Taj Mahal, IndiaPixabay/CC0

7. An apple a day won’t keep the doctor away

Fruit and vegetables may be washed in untreated water; eat peeled fruit such as bananas and mangoes, and avoid raw veg.

8. Find the festivals

From huge national holidays to tiny village festivals, there’s always a cultural or religious celebration of some kind going on somewhere in India, often incorporating music, dance and striking costumes. If you can fit a festival into your stay, you won’t regret it.

As Hindus make up 80 percent of the population, most of the festivals are based around Hindu gods and stories, such as colourful Holi Festival, but there are dozens of others too. Try the camel fair in Pushkar, Rajasthan, every November, or the Buddhist Hemis Festival in Ladakh in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

11402684_10101611479381198_3406237572446824808_nHelen Abramson

9. Stay safe

Avoid carrying large amounts of cash on you, and protect your valuables in crowded places such as train stations. Take a mobile phone and get an Indian SIM card so you can make a call in an emergency.

Women especially should dress conservatively and never wander alone in the dark or plan to arrive somewhere in the middle of the night. If you feel you’re being hassled, be confident rather than polite, and call loudly for help.

10. Try the street food

Sampling street food is a key part of a trip to India. Mumbai has an especially appealing range, with cheap treats such as pani puri (crispy deep-fried bread filled with tamarind, chilli and potato), bhel puri (sev, puffed rice, chopped onion, potato and chutney), vada pav (soft roll stuffed with deep-fried potato) and much more.

Make sure you can see the food being prepared in front of you and the ingredients look fresh.

Street food, IndiaPixabay/CC0

11. Take earplugs

Earplugs are a basic essential to ensure a good night’s sleep on trains and buses, or in thinly walled beach huts and noisy hotels.

Women carrying water IndiaHelen Abramson

12. Get off the beaten track

Foreign travellers tend to hit roughly the same destinations and routes in India. Branching out from these areas allows visitors to experience a side of this country that hasn’t been affected by the massive tourist industry, and thus gives a more genuine insight into Indian life.

13. Go with the flow

India can be a challenging place to travel. You’ll enjoy it to its fullest if you’re open to new experiences and can accept that strange and unpredictable things will happen every day. Patience is vital, and a sense of humour will go a long way. And if you’re invited to a wedding, accept!

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With the arrival of a new airport at Victoria Falls, Stuart Butler explores the area and its offering to the influx of tourists Zimbabwe’s government is hoping to see.

Carefully I turned it over in my hands. It was heavier than I expected and larger. It was also kind of drab to look at. I don’t know why but I’d always thought that something this valuable would sparkle in the sun and inspire a sense of awe, but it didn’t do either.

It was, simply put, just another old bone lying in the dust. But yet the object that I now held in my hands, which has been the cause of so much bloodshed, was worth thousands of dollars on the black market.

Turning the elephant tusk over I asked my guide, Robert, if he knew what might have killed the elephant, “If you look at the teeth in the skull here”, he replied pointing to the enormous bulbous skull lying at the centre of the pile of bones in which we’d found the tusks, “You can see how worn down they were and this were its last set of teeth so it most probably just died of old age”.

We were on a walking safari together in the vast Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. The waterholes and dry woodlands of Hwange seem custom made for elephants and, indeed, Hwange is home to one of the biggest elephant populations of any national park in Africa.

Elephant tusk in Hwange, ivory, ZimbabweCredit: Stuart Butler

Latest estimates give a conservative figure of around 30,000 jumbos, but Hwange does more than just elephants. As I’d discovered over the past few days there are also healthy populations of lions, leopards, hyenas and even wild dogs as well as massive herds of buffalo and all the other classic African herbivores.

Back in vogue

Zimbabwe was once the golden boy of southern African tourism, but a mixture of political upheaval and economic collapse sent safari tourists scurrying elsewhere for much of the past fifteen years. Now though, tourism in Zimbabwe is once again on an upward trajectory.

The symbol of this uplift can be seen at the Victoria Falls airport close to Hwange. For years it was a backwater with little more than a garden shed for a terminal building. But at the start of 2016 Victoria Falls airport got serious.

A new, enlarged, runway and sparkly new terminal building have opened and the government hopes that over the next couple of years the airport will become an international hub for safari tourists visiting southern Africa.

Lioness relaxes in Hwange National ParkCredit: Stuart Butler

But the return of tourism to Zimbabwe doesn’t mean that you’ll be tripping over other tourists. This is a big country and visitors tend to end up lost in the background. A case in point being the Linkwasha Camp, where I’d spent the past few nights being lulled to sleep by the nightly chorus of lion roars.

Renowned for offering the finest safari experience in Hwange, the lodge has so much human-empty, but wildlife-busy land around it, that it was like having the world’s biggest, and most exciting, garden all to myself.

The Smoke That Thunders

On its own Hwange should be enough to bring visitors flocking to this corner of Africa, but sharing centre stage with the lions and elephants is something even more powerful: Victoria Falls.

Known locally as The Smoke That Thunders, this giant sheet of water has inspired poetry from generations of visitors. The first Westerner to lay eyes on it, in 1855, was the explorer turned ‘lost’ boy, David Livingstone.

Not normally one taken to flights of fancy, he nevertheless said of it, “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”. And if you want to look like an angel in flight, then there are all manner of ways to do this (and appropriately most of them feel like they might send you to meet the angels…).

Victoria Falls in the rain, ZimbabweCredit: Stuart Butler

You can strap in for a scenic fly-by in a small prop plane or, for the more daring, you can harness up a bungee cord and throw yourself a hundred and eleven metres off the bridge that separates Zimbabwe from Zambia.

Too tame? Try the foofie slide (like a tandem zip line) or the gorge swing, both of which will have you spinning and swinging at over a hundred kilometres per hour down and out across the river gorge. It’s definitely better to have lunch after you’ve done one of these rather than before.

There’s white-water rafting as well as riverboarding and, perhaps the most extraordinary thing of all, dare devils can take a dip in the appropriately named Devil’s Pool. This natural plunge pool is situated right on the edge of the falls: you jump into the water and get sucked towards your imminent doom only to be stopped just centimetres from the edge by a lip of rock. Lean out over this and the falls open up below you to reveal a view fit for the angels.

The author travelled to Zimbabwe with Smokesilver Travel, a UK-based African tour operator that focuses on small group and individual travel and experiences. Explore more of this area of Zimbabwe with the Rough Guides Snapshot Victoria Falls. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

The world is flat. Or so the thinking went, until someone actually went off to circumnavigate it. You may not make such a colossal discovery during your own global journey, but what awaits you “out there” is something only you can find: your very own adventure. Who knows, you may just find a best friend, even the love of your life, along the way.

rough guide first time around world coverBut before you make your plan to travel around the world, you might need a little advice. Here’s where the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World comes in, with tips on everything from visas and vaccinations to budgeting and packing.

Here, author Doug Lansky answers some of the most common burning questions.

1. I’ve just got three months. Is that too short to travel around the world?

Well, since the actual flight time to circumnavigate the planet is about 40 hours, no it’s not, but it is too short to try to see most of it. As long as you don’t attempt to visit too many destinations, you’re fine. In fact, you’ll likely have a far more enriching trip than someone who travels for twice as long but tries to see four times as much.

Morocco, Agadir, camel on hill above city and beach

2. I’ve got £4000 ($6160) saved up. Will that get me around the world?

No problem. You can find great deals on round-the-world tickets for about a third of that price, or even hitchhike on yachts for free. The more important question is what kind of trip do you want to take and how long do you want it to last? It’s important to figure out a daily budget that fits your comfort level, and to learn which countries offer the best value.

3. I hear a lot about “attractions”, “must-sees” and “wonders”. Is it tourist-bureau hype or is there something to it?

A bit of both. When the hype lasts long enough, it seems to become legend, or even fact. The classic is the “Wonders of the World” lists. Truth is there’s no such thing as a “must-see” and you’ll have a far more enriching trip if you personalize your journey and don’t construct it around seeing the major attractions.

Myanmar / Mandalay Region / Inwa / Yadanarsemi Pagoda

4. How do you know where to sleep each night, what to see during the day, and how to get around?

Carry a guidebook – or a digital version of one. It will cover all the sights in each town, with a short review of the best affordable accommodation, often accompanied by a helpful map (although getting a bit lost now and then is a healthy way to travel). In peak season, you may want to book accommodation a day or two ahead of time.

5. I want to make my journey alone, but I’m worried about travelling solo…

There are hundreds of thousands of travellers out there right now making solo journeys and most of them had just as many concerns as you do. Loneliness can be a problem, particularly at the beginning of a trip and during some meals, but you’ll find your stride and start meeting other travellers before long. Check out our list of great solo travel destinations for inspiration, and learn about the benefits of hitting the road alone.

China, Beijing, Yonghe Gong (Lama Temple), view of temple facade and silhouettes of people standing in an archway

6. C’mon, do I really need travel insurance?

Only if you get really sick. Or injured. Or sued for some driving accident. In short, yes.

But unless you get insurance that fits your travel plans, it won’t do much good. Which means you shouldn’t necessarily sign up for that convenient “click here for insurance” button when you buy your plane ticket online. Insurance companies rarely cover the exact same things, so you dig a little to find out if your activities and destinations are included.

7. Is taking time off going to ruin my career?

It might delay that promotion, but there’s a better chance it will improve your career prospects. Most prospective employers will find your journey an interesting topic of conversation, just make sure you’ve worked out a few life-lessons from your trip and how they might apply to the job at hand.

If you’re particularly concerned, you might see if you can plan some work-related education into your trip – such as learning a language, taking a writing course or attending cooking school. That also shows prospective employers you were cerebrally engaged during your trip and viewed it as a continuation of your education.

Italy, Eastern Tuscany, nr Borgo San Lorenzo, small red car travelling on mountain road, view from behind

8. I’ve got a smartphone. How do I use it while traveling without it costing me a small fortune?

You’re going to have to make some adjustments to your mobile usage. Exactly what depends on how long you’re staying in one spot and what you’re willing to spend for the convenience of constant connectivity. If you’re spending a couple of weeks or more in one place, it can be worth your while to pick up a local SIM card (or a cheap phone with one if your SIM is locked in). Otherwise, you’ll probably want to take a mini digital detox and shut off data roaming until you find a wi-fi hotspot.

9. Is there one thing I’m likely going to forget?

Earplugs. Hostels and cheap hotels are often located next to busy streets and nightclubs. Some buses and trains have minimal ventilation and you’ll need to keep the windows open, which lets in plenty of air but more decibels than you’d care for. And don’t forget about the snoring roommate – there’s typically one assigned to every dormitory room.

Morocco, Agadir, camel on hill above city and beach

10. I have to ask… What about travellers’ diarrhoea? What should I expect?

You should expect to get it. But if you get it checked out quickly (simple microscope analysis) you can typically get some meds at any clinic and you should be feeling fine within an hour or two. Don’t “ride it out” – total waste of a couple of days. Surprisingly, more travellers get the shits when eating from buffets (yes, even in nice hotel restaurants) than simple, cheap restaurants because so many people work with the food and all it takes is one set of unwashed hands.

rough guides first time around world coverPlan more of your first trip around the world with the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World. Header image via Pixabay/CC0.

Planning your first trip around the world can be daunting. There’s an awful lot to discover out there, from retina-burning white beaches tapering off into gin-clear waters to mountain ranges hiding echo-bending canyons and fascinating wildlife.

rough guides first time around world coverTo celebrate publication of the new edition of the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World, packed with tips and insights for your first big trip, here are 20 ideas to kick-start your inspiration.

Whether you’re dreaming of kicking back on a white-sand beach, partying until dawn or leaving the tourist trail behind, read on…

1. Participate in a festival

There’s a world of opportunities to celebrate out there. Get covered in coloured dye at Holi, hurl oranges in Italy, take part in Spain’s biggest food fight or don a costume and join a Brazilian samba school.

myanmar / Eastern Burma / Taunggyi / Balloon Festival

2. Learn a language

Private and group lessons are a bargain in many countries, and are a great way to gain a greater understanding of your destination. Think about learning Spanish in South America or even try to break the ice with a few words of Mongolian.

3. Be awed by nature

Whether you want to tick the seven wonders of the world of your bucket list or get off the beaten track, there are some stupendous sights to discover. The unfathomably stunning Grand Canyon, for instance, is even still deepening at the rate of 15m per million years.

4. Take a cookery course

Even if you just learn to make one great dish, your friends and relatives will be grateful for years. You could master Indian cooking in Kerala or take a popular Thai cookery course in Bangkok.

Banh Xeo, rice pancake, green leaf salad and bowl of dressing, close-up

5. Shop at a local market

Practice your language skills, meet locals and get a good price all at the same time by exploring local markets. You could hit the bazaars of Fez and Marrakesh in Morocco, where you’ll find more than 10,000 fascinating alleys to explore, or join the crowds at Belgium’s oldest Christmas market.

6. Take a literary journey

Connecting the sites from your favourite foreign book or following in the footsteps of an author is a great way to see another side of a country. Get started with our 10 great literary journeys or try one of these 20 breaks for bookworms.

7. Find your own dream beach

There’s nothing like finding a hammock with your name on it and staying still until you’ve recharged your wanderlust. Thailand doesn’t have a monopoly on Southeast Asia’s great beaches, but many travellers simply can’t seem to return home without an obligatory white-sand sizzle on one of its palm-tufted strands.

Beautiful and definately Caribbean, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.

8. Attend a sporting event

Don the local team’s colours and make a few new friends as you attend a match or game, be that rugby in New Zealand, cricket in India or ice hockey in Canada.

9. Try the street food

Street food meals may be the most memorable of your entire trip. We’ve picked 20 of the best street foods around the world to whet your appetite.

10. Climb a mountain

Start slow by taking on a classic trekking route or take a mountaineering course and scale a more intimidating peak. Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro is a popular first challenge: the storybook mountain silhouette you first learn to draw in primary school, it’s typically hiked in five or six days.

New Zealand, Taranaki, Mt Egmont, Mt Taranaki, New Plymouth

11. Sample the local firewater

Leave the backpacker bar behind at least once to try something new. It could be an unusual beer in the Czech Republic, a daiquiri in Havana or gintonic in Barcelona. You could even making learning about the local drinking culture the focus of part of your trip on one of these 20 boozy breaks.

12. Try out a new sport

This is the time to give a sport a go that you’ve always been curious about – or even one you’ve never heard of. Try these extreme sports and daredevil experiences for ideas.

13. Spend a few days in the jungle

Whether it’s in Costa Rica, Peru or Indonesia, you’ll learn a lot by spending at least a few days in the jungle. Just be sure to go with a guide who can both tell you about the indigenous animals and plants – and help you find your way back.

Costa Rica, Monte Verde, Monte Verde Cloud Forrest, Rope Bridge

14. Sleep somewhere unusual

A night suspended 300m high on a cliff face sound a little nerve-wracking? Don’t worry, there’s lots more unusual accommodation out there, from magical treehouses to desert campsites.

15. See a performance

Tickets for plays and concerts might be pricy, but the experience is one you’ll never forget. Even at Australia’s famous Sydney Opera House, seats are readily available for many performances.

16. Get to grips with ancient history

From Bagan to Tikal, the opportunities to get lost in your own historical adventure are endless. No round-the-world trip would be complete without spending some time discovering an ancient civilisation or lost city.

Myanmar / Western Burma / Bagan / sunrise from Shwesandaw

17. Marvel at some of the world’s finest architecture

Architectural wonders abound, although few match the splendour of Agra’s Taj Mahal in India. Built in 1632–1653 by Emperor Shah Jahan in loving memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal,
the Taj is an architectural marvel that has been crafted down to the most minute detail.

18. Go on a great journey

Embark on an epic road-trip in the USA or Europe, spend a week on the Trans-Mongolian Railway or embrace the concept of slow travel with a gentle boat journey among Kerala’s backwaters.

USA, California, Amboy, Route 66, car on cracked highway

19. Book a safari

But make sure you also get out of the minivan and view the wildlife on foot, or even from a canoe. The Maasai Mara in Kenya is one of the most fantastic destinations for wildlife-spotting, stretching for 3000 square kilometres and home to elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes among numerous other photogenic species.

20. Spend some time in the world’s great museums

The Louvre could eat most sports stadiums for breakfast and still have plenty of room left over, London’s British Museum houses an astonishing 70,000 exhibits, and New York’s Met is home to a whopping 2 million artworks.

rough guides first time around world coverPlan more of your first trip around the world with the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World.

After a road trip through Uruguay, Greg Dickinson discovers the joys of self-drive.

Alright, hands up. Fuel is pricey, driving abroad is stressful and travelling long distances by car is damaging to the environment. You may as well just do what you always do; book up some flights, buses and trains and be done with it.

But before you do that, remember that a road trip can be a seriously fun way of travelling, offering that rarest of commodities: total independence. What’s more, it doesn’t necessarily need to break the bank, and for eco-conscious travellers, there are ways of mitigating your carbon footprint while on the road.

It’s time to make a mixtape, don some leather driving gloves and pop open the boot, people. Here are six reasons you should choose a road trip for your next big adventure.

Car in the distance, long straight roadPixabay / CC0

You can be completely spontaneous

Wonder what’s down that winding dirt track? Go check it out. Want to make an impromptu detour to the beach for a mid-afternoon swim? Why the hell not. Fancy blasting out a thousand miles in one day? Well… maybe that’s not such a great idea, but at least you could if you really wanted to.

Unlike relying on public transport, on a road trip you have the luxury of being able to be as spontaneous as you like – giving you the freedom to travel from A to whichever letter you damn please.

Winding road, road tripPixabay / CC0

It could be cheaper than the alternatives

Car rental isn’t cheap, but there are a few hacks to make it that bit more affordable. The first is to go on a road trip soon. Like, now. Fuel prices have recently tumbled across the globe, so wherever you go you’re likely to feel the benefits when travelling long distances.

Another easy trick is to run a trolley around a supermarket at the beginning of the trip and stock up on food and drink – then use your car boot (trunk) as a larder for the duration of the trip, saving on the expense of eating out all the time.

And one final thing to remember: the more friends you pile in the car, the more ways you’ll be splitting the cost of everything.

Blue Campervan with surf gearPixabay / CC0

You can travel at your own pace

While travelling by public transport ties you to the timetables of bus, flight and rail companies, with your own set of wheels, you can set the pace.

This means no more waking up at 7am to catch a coach with carpets on the ceiling (why do they do that?). No more eye-watering waits for the next loo break. No more back-breaking overnight journeys. With your own vehicle you can devise a travel schedule that suits you, and after years of travelling with public transport that can be something quite liberating.

Mountains at the end of the roadPixabay / CC0

You can get properly off-the-beaten-track

Any seasoned traveller will know it’s hard to get properly off-the-beaten-track while using public transport. But with a car, anywhere is in reach.

By keeping away from the well-trodden traveller routes or tourist trails, you will have the rare opportunity to see a more authentic side of a country. From remote villages to one-horse towns, it’s these unique, undiscovered places you’re going to want to write home about. Although you might struggle to find somewhere to buy a postcard…

Listening to foreign radio is brilliant

Need we say more? Flick on the radio, crank up the volume and embrace whatever the airwaves are pumping out.

Winding road, road trip, alpine sceneryPixabay / CC0

It doesn’t have to be bad for the environment

Now, travelling by car isn’t traditionally seen as a “green” mode of transport, but there are some ways of minimizing your road trip’s negative impact on the environment.

One option is to choose an electric or hybrid car, rather than a petrol or diesel motor. These eco-friendly cars will normally come at a higher price, but the planet will be eternally grateful.

Another consideration is to avoid flying at all. If you plan a road trip that starts and ends at your front door, you’ll be sparing the atmosphere from the astronomical amount of jet fuel that is emitted when flying long haul.

And one final option, if you’re this way inclined, is to load up with camping gear and go off-grid for the duration of the road trip – using the stars as your entertainment and a running stream as your shower (and, ahem, a bush as your bathroom).

Greg travelled with, who compare all major international brands including Europcar, Hertz, Avis, Thrfity, Sixt and Alamo. Featured image by Pixabay / CC0. 

South America has become a favoured destination for the intrepid backpacker, and while it’s impressive in the astounding diversity of its nations, there are a number of universal lessons that every traveller will learn at some point during their time here.

So whether you fell foul of altitude or accepted that you – inevitably – suck at Latino dancing, here are some of the other life-enhancing lessons you might learn from backpacking South America.

1. You never have the right clothes

Nowhere has such an erratic climate as South America: from 95% humidity along the equator, to sub-zero temperatures in the southern tip of Patagonia. Throw altitude into the mix, and it’s game over: expect weather that switches from hailstones to scorching sun within minutes.

2. You have no choice but to embrace crimes against fashion

Similar to Southeast Asia, where the backpacker uniform is unofficial, yet widely recognised, South American travellers commit their own cardinal fashion sins. While alpaca jumpers paired with leggings and flip flops might seem a comfortable, low-maintenance outfit, everyone has the same idea.

Ecuador, Otavalo, colourful textiles for sales at artisan market

3. Don’t mess with altitude

Walking at altitude hurts. The aftermath of alcohol at altitude hurts. In fact, everything at altitude hurts.

4. Any moving vehicle is a potential form of transportation

Tuk-tuks, cargo boats, transit vans without opening windows, trucks carrying gas canisters, metal sheeting or livestock: you name it, you’ll take it. Anything goes in South America and you’ll find yourself sorely disappointed when you get home and can’t just flag down a lorry on the main road.

5. You appreciate the little things in life – particularly after surviving the showers

You develop lightning-fast responses to the capricious temperament of a South American shower: a Superman-style ability to dodge scalding or freezing water.

6. Flushing toilets are a godsend

No tirar papel higiénico en el inodoro.” Oh how you’ll come to loath these sellotaped notices. You’ll to rue the day you stepped onto South American soil and left the lands of sewage pipes large enough to cope with flushed toilet paper. Worse still, it may take you a good few days to correct yourself of this practice upon returning home…oops.

Peruvian woman in traditional clothes

7. A little language goes a long way

You can try using English, but will see what a better – friendlier and cheaper – response you receive when you use the local lingo. Bueno, no?

8. You no longer underestimate the size of this continent

While a three-week mega tour hitting Lima, La Paz, Santiago, Buenos Aires and ending in Rio de Janeiro looks perfect on paper, you’ll spend most of your holiday inert on buses, planes, and airport floors. South America is huge: after some time here, you’ll understand that travelling at a leisurely pace is the more rewarding, and sensible option. (We’ve got some itineraries to help you start planning.)

9. The Four Carb Rule

Pasta and potato in your soup? Check. Spaghetti and rice in your main? Check. It’s an unwritten South American rule that all menus of the day need to offer at least four independent types of carbohydrate to be registered as a proper meal.

 10. Liquids in bags is a thing

Fresh juice from the market to take away comes in a plastic bags. Coffee to go? Yup: a warm bag of liquid with a straw. ¡Qué rico!

 11. Loose change has never felt so precious

Trying to hand over a hundred soles note to a Peruvian shop owner is like trying to dispose of a live grenade. Guarding small change with your life will lead to fewer frustrating moments in shops, and guarantee you always have the a coin for the toilet – an added (and necessary) bonus.

Tango Dancers, Buenos Aires, Argentina

 12. Latin dancing is not your forte

Let’s face it, the locals make salsa look so damn easy, but only because they’ve been putting their snake-hips into action since six-months-old. Given there’s nothing less sexy than a gringo with no rhythm, you quit while you’re ahead and turn to the pisco sours and caipirinhas for consolation.

 13. You’ve never partied properly until you’ve experienced carnival on its home turf

Whether you embrace the bare flesh and festival spirit of Rio, Brazil, or the indigenous dances and intricate costumes of Oruro, Bolivia, carnival can never again reach such spectacular heights.

 14. You get what you pay for

By paying for a cheap tour of the Amazon, or a budget Inca Trail trek, everything has a price and a consequence for those involved: whether low wages for the porters who lug your rucksack, or that jungle tour where they handle the wild animals they should be protecting. You use this power wisely, hunting for responsible agencies seeking to protect, rather than abuse, the possibilities that South America has to offer.

 15. South America isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime experience

Whether it’s the legacy of the conquistadores, civil wars, corrupt governments or natural disasters, South American people have seen their fair share of hardship. But, despite this, the welcoming nature of everyone you encounter defies all odds and proves how this complex but fascinating continent deserves your time. One visit just isn’t enough: you know you’ll be back.

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

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