Most visitors to the ancient Inca capital of Cusco in southern Peru are drawn by the extraordinary ruined temples and palaces and the dramatic scenery of the high Andes. But the only true way to get to the heart of the indigenous Andean culture is to join a traditional fiesta. Nearly every town and village in the region engages in these raucous and chaotic celebrations, a window on a secret world that has survived centuries of oppression.

Of all the fiestas, the most extraordinary and spectacular is Qoyllur Riti, held at an extremely high altitude in a remote Andean valley to the south of Cusco. Here you can join tens of thousands of indigenous pilgrims, both Quechua and Aymara, as they trek up to a campsite at the foot of a glacier to celebrate the reappearance of the Pleiades constellation in the southern sky – a phenomenon that has long been used to predict when crops should be planted.

At the heart of the fiesta are young men dressed in ritual costumes of the Ukuku, a half-man, half-bear trickster hero from Andean mythology, and if you’re hardy enough, you can join them as they climb even higher to spend the night singing, dancing and engaging in ritual combat on the glacier itself. Be warned, though, that this is an extreme celebration. Some years, pilgrims have died during the night, having frozen or fallen into crevasses, and when the pilgrim-celebrants descend from the mountain at first light, waving flags and toting blocks of ice on their backs, they bear the bodies, the blood sacrifice at once mourned and celebrated as vital to the success of the
agricultural year ahead.

Qoyllur Riti happens every year in early May. You can arrange transport to the start of the trek near the town of Ocongate with tour companies in Cusco.

 

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With festival season in full swing, August offers no end of opportunities to party, from the off-the-wall Burning Man to the arty Edinburgh Festival; but there are plenty of options for chilled-out breaks too. Here are our tips for the best places to visit in August.

Bike the Black Forest, Germany

The Black Forest may be best known for its cuckoo clocks and stickily indulgent gâteaux, but this lush mountain region is also growing in popularity as a haven for bikers and hikers. Crisscrossed with trails, it’s a fabulous spot for a ride in high summer, through an idyllic landscape of sun-soaked vineyards, tranquil lakes and quaint chalets (with echoes of those cuckoo clocks). You could even bike your way along the Badische Weinstraße, a route leading through the wine-growing Baden region, timing your visit to coincide with one of the many summer wine festivals.

Chow down on New England lobster, Maine, USA

Maine is justly proud of its lobster. The cold-water crustacean has been farmed along the coast here for generations, thriving in the chilly, clean water. There’s no shortage of places to dine on prime specimens, from fancy restaurants to casual lobster shacks, where you can enjoy your juicy tails and claws in the salty open air. Lobsters are farmed year-round but a good time to visit is during the annual Lobster Festival at the end of August, an old-school celebration of all things lobster, with fun and games, a big parade – and the world’s biggest lobster steamer.

Escape the crowds in Umbria, Italy

In August, when all of Italy is on holiday, the locals flock to the mountains and coast – to be avoided, unless you enjoy crowds, queues and general chaos. The landlocked region of Umbria shares many of the attributes of its bigger, glitzier neighbour, Tuscany – picture-perfect hill towns, sun-dappled olive groves, great food and wine – but it’s cheaper, more down-to-earth and refreshingly quiet in August. Hole up in a hilltop villa or get back to nature at an agriturismo, and spend your days exploring gorgeous medieval towns such as Perugia, Assisi and Todi, chilling out at tranquil Lake Trasimeno or sampling the earthy local cuisine.

Get your dose of culture at the Edinburgh Festival, Scotland

The biggest arts festival on the planet, the Edinburgh Festival sees the city transformed into a hive of cultural activity, its hugely varied line-up a mix of fresh new talent and world-famous acts. The best approach is to dive straight in without too many fixed ideas – inevitably, it’s the act you’ve never heard of that blows you away. Accommodation and tickets for the big names are in high demand, so book ahead.

See the desert burst into bloom in Namaqualand, South Africa

For South Africans, the first glimpse of a Namaqualand daisy is a sure sign that spring has arrived. Four thousand floral species – a quarter of which are found nowhere else on earth – burst into bloom in South Africa’s Northern Cape in August, creating a dazzling flower-carpet in day-glo shades of pink, purple, orange, yellow and white, that stretches across the veld for hundreds of kilometres. The vast swathes of colourful flowers are a breathtaking sight – especially when you consider that they’ll give way to arid desert within just two months.

Kick back on west coast of Sweden

Within striking distance of cosmopolitan Gothenburg lies the Bohuslän coast, a rugged, 10,000-island archipelago that makes an ideal summer escape. The islands vary widely in character: some are completely barren, others harbour timewarp fishing villages, while a few boast chic spas or fine-dining restaurants. Unsurprisingly, seafood is a big deal here, and lobster safaris and fishing excursions form the bulk of the local activities – crayfish are a speciality in August.

Go wild at the Burning Man Festival, Nevada, USA

Once a year in late August, fifty thousand people descend on a remote patch of desert in northwest Nevada to take part in the world’s ultimate counter-culture festival: Burning Man. With no big-name acts or programmed activities, the temporary residents of “Black Rock City” live by Burning Man rules: no commerce is allowed, and “Burners” must participate in the festivities in some way. Many construct huge, otherworldly sculptures, flashing with lights or flames, which contribute to the surreal atmosphere after dark, when the desert comes alive with all manner of surreal projections and anything-goes performances.

Go white-water rafting on the Soča River, Slovenia

Slovenia’s Soča River is world-renowned for its white-water rafting – the perfect way to cool off in the sweltering August heat. The so-called Emerald River lives up to its name: a dazzlingly bright green, it flows for 140km along the border with Italy through a craggy wooded valley. The river is suitable for all comers, from total beginners to hardcore rafters, as it offers both calm, easy stretches and fearsome, fast-flowing torrents.

The seventeenth of May is just another day to most people, but in Oslo (and all across Norway for that matter) it’s an eagerly anticipated annual event: Norwegian National Day. A celebration of the signing of the Norwegian Constitution, National Day is a joyous and rather rambunctious affair. It has the usual parades, bands, street parties and food stalls you’d expect, plus a healthy dose of patriotic singing and flag waving. Children are allowed as much ice cream as they can ingest, and Oslo’s half a million inhabitants come out in their droves. But the twist in Norway is all in the togs.

Walk out of your door on the big day and you’ll feel as if you’ve accidentally stumbled onto the set of a historical costume drama, with everyone dressed head to toe in traditional dress. Women bustle about in floor-length woollen dresses in vibrant reds, greens, blues and purples, their laced-up bodices adorned with intricate embroidery. Little boys run around in plus fours and woollen waistcoats to match their fathers while teenagers, depending on their year in school, wear traditional fishermen’s overalls in fire-engine red and peacock blue. The effect is disconcerting at first and then, frankly, wonderful as everyone takes part and the city is completely transformed.

Don’t worry if you’ve not got the gear, and certainly don’t try to buy an outfit for the occasion as they cost hundreds (if not thousands) of euros and are passed down in Norwegian families from generation to generation. Just steer clear of jeans and wear something nice and you’ll blend right in. The best advice is to go with the flow: clap along with the packs of teenagers chanting traditional Norwegian songs; smile at the children strutting by, their faces scrubbed clean and hair done perfectly for the occasion; bow and nod to the waved greetings of the royal family from the balcony of the palace; and above all let yourself be dragged into the spontaneous and joyous revelry all around.

Oslo’s main tourist office is in the centre, behind the Rådhus at Fridtjof Nansens plass 5 (www.visitoslo.com).

 

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A suitably reverential silence descends, broken only by munching and appreciative murmurs from the assembled masses – the hangi has finally been served. Pronounced “hungi”, this traditional Maori meal, similar to the luau prepared by the Maori people’s Polynesian kin in Hawaii, is essentially a feast cooked in an earth oven for several hours. It can’t be found on restaurant menus – but then again a hangi is not just a meal, it’s an event.

To begin, the men light a fire, and once it has burned down, specially selected river stones that don’t splinter are placed in the embers. While these are heating, a large pit is dug, perhaps two metres square and a metre and a half deep. Meanwhile the women are busy preparing lamb, pork, chicken, fish, shellfish and vegetables (particularly kumara, the New Zealand sweet potato). Traditionally these would be wrapped in leaves then arranged in baskets made of flax; these days baking foil and steel mesh are more common.

When everything is ready (the prep can take up to three hours), the hot stones are placed in the pit and covered with wet sacking. Then come the baskets of food followed by a covering of earth which serves to seal in the steam and the flavours. There’s a palpable sense of communal anticipation as hosts and guests mill around chatting and drinking, waiting for the unearthing. A couple of hours later, the baskets are disinterred, revealing fall-off-the-bone steam-smoked meat and fabulously tender vegetables with a faintly earthy flavour. A taste, and an occasion, not easily forgotten.

If you can, try to get invited to a private hangi. Alternatively, Rotorua (www.rotoruanz.com) provides the widest range of commercial hangi nights.

 

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Few spectacles can match the terrifying sight of the All Blacks performing a haka before a test match. You feel a chill down your spine fifty metres away in the stands so imagine how it must feel facing it as an opponent. The intimidating thigh-slapping, eye-bulging, tongue-poking chant traditionally used is the Te Rauparaha haka, and like all such Maori posture dances it is designed to display fitness, agility and ferocity. This version was reputedly composed early in the nineteenth century by the warrior Te Rauparaha, who was hiding from his enemies in the sweet potato pit of a friendly chief. Hearing noise above and then being blinded by the sun when the pit covering was removed he thought his days were numbered, but as his eyes became accustomed to the light he saw the hairy legs of his host and was so relieved he performed the haka on the spot. It goes:

Ka Mate! Ka Mate! (It is death! It is death!)

Ka Ora! Ka Ora! (It is life! It is life!)

Tenei te ta ngata puhuru huru (This is the hairy man)

Nana nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra (Who caused the sun to shine)

A upane, ka upane! (Step upwards! Another step upward!)

A upane, ka upane! (Step upwards! Another step upward!)

Whiti te ra! (Into the sun that shines!)

Over the last decade or so, descendants of tribes once defeated by Te Rauparaha took umbrage at the widespread use of this haka at rugby matches and consequently a replacement, the Kapa o Pango (Team in Black) haka, was devised. Numerous Maori experts were consulted over what form the haka should take but controversy still surrounds the final throat-slitting gesture, which is supposed to symbolize the harnessing of vital energy. The Kapa o Pango and traditional Te Rauparaha haka are now used roughly equally, the uncertainty over what they’ll be exposed to further unsettling the All Blacks’ opponents. But whichever you manage to catch, both versions still illicit that same spine-tingling response.

For match schedules visit www.allblacks.com.

 

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Whether you’re after beaches, culture or countryside, June’s glorious weather and long days make it the perfect month to travel in Europe. Elsewhere, wildlife enthusiasts can spot whales in Iceland or bears in Yellowstone, while the World Cup will be in full swing in Brazil.

In a bumper round-up, Helen Abramson and Eleanor Aldridge run down the best places to go in June.

Relax on a beach in the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

While most of Asia is in the throes of monsoon season, the east coast of Malaysia remains dry and sunny in June with calm sea conditions and average highs of around 30°C. The Perhentian Islands, off the northeast coast, close to Thailand, consist of Besar (large) and Kecil (small); Besar is the more developed of the two, while Kecil is more geared towards backpackers. If a tropical paradise is what you’re after, you’re in luck: you’ll find white-sand beaches, turquoise water, gorgeous beach huts, top snorkeling and diving opportunities (with visibility of up to 20m) and a wonderfully easy-going atmosphere to top it all off.

Go whale watching in Iceland

Take a trip to Húsavík, just south of the Arctic Circle on Iceland’s north coast, and you can see some of the greatest creatures on earth under a midnight sun. Whale populations in the Skjálfandi bay are strong despite the 2006 lift on the whaling ban, and chances of seeing some action on a half-day trip are high. The area is known for minke whales, but you can sometimes see humpbacks, orcas and the phenomenally large blue whales, which are commonly spotted in June. White-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises are a frequent sight, too, and if you don’t see a whale on a trip with tour operators North Sailing, they’ll book you on another voyage, free of charge.

Get outdoors in Yellowstone National Park

Sprawling across the northwest of Wyoming, Yellowstone is the largest and oldest National Park in the USA, established in 1872. June is one of the best times to spot wildlife here: gangly, long-limbed bighorn lambs and elk calf are taking their early steps, grizzly bears are on the prowl and wildflowers are sprinkled across the lower mountain slopes. Yellowstone also has a host of year-round geothermal attractions (the park contains over half of the world’s geysers), of which Old Faithful is perhaps the most popular. Local schools are out by now, but two million acres can absorb quite a few crowds.

Raft down the Grand Canyon

Picture the Grand Canyon, and you’ll probably think of the view from the top. But, as anyone who’s done it will attest, there’s no better way to really get to grips with the world’s longest and most awe-inspiring canyon than to spend a week or two looking up at its majestic walls from the very bottom. Embark on an adventure like no other, winding your way down the Colorado River on a raft, through the full length of the canyon (277 miles, or 446km). This is not for the faint hearted – this stretch of the river has an estimated 161 sets of rapids. Opportunities for mini hikes to tucked-away waterfalls or into side canyons filled with jungle-like foliage are abundant, and you camp on the riverbanks under star-filled skies. Trips don’t come cheap, and you can’t simply hop in a raft and make your way downstream – you’ll need to book yourself onto a commercial trip with a qualified guide; try Arizona Raft Adventures, based in Flagstaff.

Mess about in a boat on the Broads

Whether you choose to spend your time at the tiller of a traditional yacht or lounging aboard a modern cruiser, the best way to explore the UK‘s largest protected wetland is undoubtedly by boat. Slightly questionably marketed as “Britain’s Magical Waterland”, the Broads are actually man-made, created from flooded peat cuttings. June’s long and sunny days are the perfect time to potter about these 125 miles of waterways; you’re likely to encounter water voles, warblers, bitterns and swallowtail butterflies as you float along.

Witness the Festival of the Sun in Cusco, Peru

In the sixteenth century, Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) was the largest and most important ceremony to take place in the Inca capital of Cusco. With the sun at the furthest point away from earth in the southern hemisphere in June, the sun-god Inti needed some seriously reverent devotion and, of course, a whole lot of (animal) sacrifice. Since the mid-twentieth century, spectators have been able to watch a reenactment of this dramatic ceremony on June 24th in Sacsayhuamán, a fortress ruin a few kilometres from Cusco. A dancing procession is followed by speeches in Quechua, the Incan language, and a simulated llama sacrifice on a hill-top, complete with the frequently-satirized holding up of the heart. It’s not exactly the real deal, but we’re all five hundred years too late for that, and the modern version is still a tremendous spectacle and a good opportunity to party with the locals.

See what all the fuss is about in Naples

Ominously sited in the shadow of Vesuvius on Italy’s west coast, Naples divides opinion. Its reputation for grime and crime might be somewhat valid, but that means there are some great travel deals to be had. There is also one area where everyone agrees the city excels: pizza. This once-humble dish is now protected by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, which has been promoting “true Neapolitan pizza” since 1984. A range of classes allow you to try your hand at becoming a pizzaiolo for a day or two, while temperatures in the mid-twenties afford excellent weather for day trips. The Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum are within easy striking distance, or you can hop aboard a boat to the island of Capri.

Relax on the Suffolk coast

The Suffolk coast, just a few hours from London but far, far removed from the hectic capital, boasts some of the UK’s most unspoilt coastline. The region also gets two hours more sunshine on average per week than the rest of the country, upping your chances of a good few pleasant days on the beach or of some rain-free coastal walks. The Aldeburgh Music Festival takes place over three weeks in June, showcasing some of the country’s best classical music, and you can keep clear of the hubbub by staying in campsites around the area – some right by the water’s edge, such as in the lovely fishing village of Sizewell, five miles from Aldeburgh.

Sightsee and surf in Andalucía

With the mercury creeping into the early 30s and an inordinate number of sunny days, Andalucía is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in June. Bypass the Costa del Sol to explore the region’s cities: Seville, Córdoba and Granada, site of the majestic Alhambra palace. Foodies can lose themselves among the bodegas of the sherry triangle, while inland the Sierra Nevada offers biking and hiking aplenty. Still hankering for some beach time? Try the Costa de la Luz. Heading down towards Tarifa, the Levante wind blows in from the east in June, creating excellent conditions for windsurfers.

Go mad for midsummer in Sweden

In Sweden, Midsommar is celebrated on the weekend nearest to the 24th of June. This commemoration of the summer solstice has its roots in pagan celebrations, and the current tradition of erecting a maypole – or midsommarstång – supposedly originates from this time. Ideally you’ll want to wrangle an invitation to spend the day in the countryside with a Swedish family. Midsommar is a celebration for all generations, a long evening of merriment fueled by meatballs, pickled herring and copious amounts of aquavit. In the far north of the country, the sun barely sets.

Join the festivities in Budapest

Divided in two by the river Danube, Hungary’s capital is split into historic Buda and modern, grittier Pest. Aside from the ample distractions provided by the city’s Turkish baths, ruin pubs and Art Nouveau architecture, there’s a host of events in June. Two festivals celebrating beer, including the Craft Beer Festival or Főzdefeszt, kick things off. The Summer Festival and Danube Carnival then start in mid-June, with traditional folk dancers and foreign acts adding to a varied programme of music and drama at the Margaret Island open-air theatre.

This feature updated April 2016.

Spend a few days in the intoxicating, maddening centro histórico of Mexico City, and you’ll understand why thousands of Mexicans make the journey each Sunday to the “floating gardens” of Xochimilco, the country’s very own Venice.

Built by the Aztecs to grow food, this network of meandering waterways and man-made islands, or chinampas, is an important gardening centre for the city, and where families living in and around the capital come to spend their day of rest. Many start with a visit to the beautiful sixteenth-century church of San Bernadino in the main plaza, lighting candles and giving thanks for the day’s outing. Duty done, they head down to one of several docks, or embarcaderos, on the water to hire out a trajinera for a few hours. These flat, brightly painted gondolas – with names such as Viva Lupita, Adios Miriam, El Truinfo and Titanic – come fitted with table and chairs, perfect for a picnic.

The colourful boats shunt their way out along the canals, provoking lots of good-natured shouting from the men wielding the poles. As the silky green waters, overhung with trees, wind past flower-filled meadows, the cacophony and congestion of the city are forgotten. Mothers and grannies unwrap copious parcels and pots of food, men open bottles of beer and aged tequila; someone starts to sing. By midday, Xochimilco is full of carefree holidaymakers.

Don’t worry if you haven’t come with provisions – the trajineras are routinely hunted down by vendors selling snacks, drinks and even lavish meals from small wooden canoes. Others flog trinkets, sweets and souvenirs. And if you’ve left your guitar at home, no problem: boatloads of musicians – mariachis in full costume, marimba bands and wailing ranchera singers – will cruise alongside or climb aboard and knock out as many tunes as you’ve money to pay for.

Xochimilco is 28km southeast of Mexico City, reachable from Tasqueña station.

 

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In this excerpt from Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth, one Rough Guides writer experiences a memorable three-day music festival.

Afternoon, the first day of Sarawak’s Rainforest Music festival. People are mingling ahead of show time when the famous Malagasy band Tarika will perform. For now though, a local Melinau musician with a hat made of bark and bird feathers strums the lute-like sape as we wander around the site, comprising a dozen small longhouses which open daily for demonstrations of local culture. The music mingles with the screech of tropical birdlife, the scampering of chickens and the sing-along refrains of local children.

As evening progresses, crowds arrive from the nearby city Kuching, primed for the evening’s fun. We first gorge ourselves on a Dyak feast of local delicacies: baked fish in banana leaves, spicy fried pork, rice and a salad dressed in lime and chili. Dusk swiftly becomes night as the festival hits its stride with sets from international folk, jazz and world fusion artists. I’m reminded of WOMAD in the early days, and expect to spot a beady-eyed Peter Gabriel on the lookout for new talent, hunting perhaps an upriver Iban rapper with a fleet of gongs and pipes for accompaniment.

By the time the opening night of the three-day jamboree draws to a close, and with the tropical heat cooled by a refreshing south-westerly, we are on our feet jiving crazily to Tarika lead singer Hanitra’s robust sounds. We have made – or at least bumped into – many new friends from all over the world.

Some have been coming to the festival for years, know the bands and appreciate the attention this little outpost of Malaysian camaraderie gets over this hot, hot weekend. Others, though, confess to not knowing what has hit them – how is it that all this world-class music is being performed in a tiny little jungle enclave at the bottom of a narrow road in a place called the Damai Peninsula?

We head for bed, luckily a comfortable hotel room with a balcony that’s only a five-minute stagger away, to awake not just to a hangover but to the delicious promise of another two days of groovesome beats deep in the jungle.

The yearly festival takes place in the first half of July; check www.rainforestmusic-borneo.com for more details.

 

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One of South America‘s booming capitals and major cities, Buenos Aires is a seductive and cultured city with an eclectic mix of people and places. Vicky Baker has the lowdown on the newest things to do in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Biking mad

A few years ago, cycling the manic, traffic-packed streets of Buenos Aires seemed borderline insane. But now everyone’s at it. Over 100km of cycle tracks sprang up in two years, alongside a public bike scheme and interest-free public loans for bike-buying. Critical Mass events have swelled, funky artisan bike shops have opened, and some cafes are even offering discounts for those who turn up on two wheels (15% off at La Apasionada for breakfasts and meriendas, or afternoon tea).  And best of all, there are cycle-in outdoor cinema events in Parque Tres de Febrero; stay tuned to festivales.gob.ar for details.

Chic cocktail bars

Although many porteños (Buenos Aires residents) still remain happy with a simple fernet-coca (herbal liquor with Coke – an acquired taste and oddly addictive), times are changing, and inventive cocktail menus are springing up all over town. Most of the current hotspots are in the Palermo neighbourhood, including Rey de Copas, with its French/Moroccan décor and new roof terrace; Frank’s with its speakeasy vibe; call ahead for the password, and the brand new Verne Cocktail Club, inspired by old gentlemen’s clubs. Some are even popping up where you least expect it, even hidden at the back of a flower-and-record shop (Floraría Atlántico).

Keeping up with the Peruvians

While the rest of the world plays catch-up on Peruvian food and starts belatedly dishing out awards, Buenos Aires sits back smugly, knowing that it has this trend well and truly in the bag. Going out for ceviche here is like going out for a curry in London. The city has everything from the cheap, family-orientated joints in Abasto (home to many Peruvian immigrants) to its own branch of Astrid y Gaston (the original one in Lima was just voted best restaurant in Latin America). And it’s a scene that continues to move forward with new openings, such as Mullu, taking forward the city’s love of Peruvian-Japanese fusion food. See, that’s how far ahead of the game Buenos Aires is – they’re post-Peruvian already.

Alternative shopping

Soaring inflation and restrictions on imports have seen costs in the clothes and shoe market rocket. Those used to shopping in the EU or US will be shocked at the prices on the high street. The answer? Avoid the high street – that’s what many Argentines are doing. Try the pop-up ferias (markets) that are promoted on social networks (search for “feria Americana Buenos Aires”) or even on signs on trees. Alternatively, if you want to check out some local clothes designers, try buying straight from their studio. Some have decided keep their own costs down by not opening a shop and those savings are passed on to customers, although you sometimes need to book an appointment. Try Jungle Vi.ai.pi for bags, Bimba Vintage for second-hand finds, or Maison Abbey for female fashion.

Back to the 90s

As late as the 1990s, the now-buzzing Palermo area was a nightlife desert. Legend has it that the only bar everyone went to was a particularly seedy and hedonistic place. Oh, and it was staffed by dwarves, from bouncers to strippers. It turns out that was true and, not only that, now it’s back. Still going by the same name, Nave Jungla held a one-off party at Salón Irreal in August. Body paint, eccentric crowds, and some x-rated shows made the city’s infamous Club 69 drag parties look like an ambassadors’ afternoon tea. Will there be more? Apparently so. Will it move beyond a crowd of nostalgic 40-somethings and become more PC? That’s yet to be seen.

Explore more of Buenos Aires and Argentina with the Rough Guide to Argentina. Book hostels for your trip and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Ask any expat East African what food they miss most and they’ll tell you nyama choma. In The Gambia, it’s known as afra; and in South Africa it’s what you have at a braai. All over the continent, roast or grilled meat is the heart of any big meal and, whenever possible, it is the meal.

A meat feast is also the only occasion in Africa when you’ll find men doing the cooking – charring hunks of bloody flesh clearly answering a visceral male need that kings of the barbecue the world over would admit.

Most people don’t eat meat often, subsisting on a simple starch dish for their regular meal of the day, so it’s perhaps not surprising that when the occasion demands or provides a banquet, meat is the main fare. In Kenya or Tanzania, unless you happen to be invited to a wedding or funeral, you’ll go to a purpose-built nyama choma bar, where flowing beer and loud music are the standard accompaniments, with greens and ugali (a stiff, corn porridge, like grits) optional. The choice is usually between goat and beef, with game meat such as impala, zebra or ostrich available at fancier places. If you select one of these, usually with an all-you-can-eat price tag equivalent to about a week’s average wages, you should cannily resist the early offerings of soup, bread and sausages, leaving space for the main events.

After roasting, your meat is brought to your table on a wooden platter, chopped up to bite-size with a sharp knife, and served with a small pile of spiced salt and a hot sauce of tomato, onion, lime and chilies. You eat with your fingers, of course. You’ll need a good appetite, strong jaws and plenty of time – to wait for your chosen roast, to chew and digest, to pick your teeth while downing a few more beers and to honour the dance requests that inevitably come your way, no matter how full you might feel.

Standard practice at meat bars is to go to the kitchen and order by weight direct from the butcher’s hook or out of the fridge. Carnivore, on Langata Road, is Nairobi’s best-known and biggest nyama choma bar.

 

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