Think of The Gambia and sun, sea and sand package holidays might spring to mind, but visitors are starting to explore beyond the beaches. Lynn Houghton tells us eight of the best ways to get off the beaten track.

The tiny West African country of The Gambia is dissected by its namesake, the River Gambia. Much of the landscape is dominated by the river and its tributaries, and beyond the coast you’ll find enormous swathes of lesser-explored mangrove forest, deserted beaches and ‘up country’ adventures. If you’re thinking of eschewing the popular Atlantic Coast beach resorts, here are eight ideas for experiencing a more authentic side of The Gambia, taking in the country’s natural beauty and biodiversity.

Discover the UNESCO-listed Wassu stone circles

About a five-hour drive from Banjul on the north bank of the River Gambia is the pre-historic sacred UNESCO site of the Wassu stone circles. The laterite stones, a rich deep mahogany colour, compare in age with Stonehenge in England, and are thought to have a religious purpose, marking burials here for 1500 years. The museum has some interesting information but folklore is much more exciting: talk to the Stone Man, the site’s erstwhile caretaker. He says you can see lights shining from behind the stones at night – a common occurrence according to the superstitious locals.

See foraging chimps at the Chimp Rehabilitation Centre

Swinging from the treetops and squabbling with the baboons, West African Chimps are relishing their environment at the Chimp Rehabilitation Centre in the River Gambia National Park. They roam free on the Baboon Islands in the middle of the river, while rare red colobus monkeys congregate on the mainland. The centre was started by Leslie Brewer-Marsden in 1979: the first chimps brought here were rescuées and mistreated pets, and there are now 107 completely wild chimpanzees that thrive on these three islands. From Thursday through Sunday, visitors can follow behind a feeding boat to see the chimps in their natural habitat as they come to the riverside to grab a meal.

Chimp on Island, River Gambia National Park, The Gambia, AfricaImage by Lynn Houghton

Explore lush mangroves in the Matasuku Forest

Centuries of legend surround the ancient Matasuku Forest, a nearly pristine area of mangrove covering 17.5 square kilometres along a tributary named Mandinka Bolong. From time immemorial, the forest was a no-go area and thought to be inhabited by demons and dragons. A Mali King, along with his troops, once managed to make the forest his stronghold but he was ousted by a local tribe; according to folklore, the king’s head, throne and crown are buried somewhere on the land. Today, things are more peaceful. The area has been developed into a sustainable tourism project, the Matasuku Cultural Forest, in partnership with the Gambian government and now includes lodges and a base camp with an arts and crafts market run by local Kembujeh villagers.

Spot rare birds at Baobolong Wetland Reserve

As the dawn mist clears and the morning sun starts to rise, there is possibly no better place in West Africa for birdlife than the Baobolong Nature Reserve. Over 500 species of birds are attracted to the River Gambia in all their feathered glory. Take a traditional boat from Tendaba Lodge, a mere seven kilometres away on the south side of the river, to spot rare African Fin Foot or Fish Eagles.

Dawn on Mandina Bolong Creek (Tributary), The Gambia, AfricaImage by Lynn Houghton

Float down the River Gambia

Going canoeing along one of the River Gambia’s creeks in a traditional fishing boat or dugout, called a pirogue, is wonderful way to cool off when temperatures soar. Rentals are available from Lamin Lodge, a wooden structure built on stilts over the water, or you can take a full-day trip in a larger motorised boat to explore Kunta Kinteh Island and enjoy a spot of fishing.

Visit traditional fishing villages

To experience local life on the coast, visit the vibrant, colourful coastal fishing market of Tanji in the Kombo region or travel further south to the more authentic fishing village of Gunjur. The market is at its most frenetic at the crack of dawn, when the traditional fishing boats come to shore with their catch. Though fishermen work at a feverish pace, women are equally busy hauling the fish from the boats into large baskets balanced on their heads. Take a wander along the shore and see other workers taking gutting and scaling the fish ready for sale; anyone can purchase a fresh seafood breakfast for a just few Dalasi.

Fishermen, Gunjur Village, Atlantic Coast, The GambiaImage by Lynn Houghton

Check out the street art scene

Art project Wide Open Walls has brought street artists from all over the world to adorn the walls of Galloya village with sophisticated graffiti art. Some of the work is representational, while some is wholly avant-garde, but all the murals are distinctive. The project is the brainchild of Lawrence Williams, and has even inspired the village children to take up making art. Lawrence and Gambian artist, Njogu, work as a pair and have named themselves the ‘Bush Dwellers’. Many street artists are publicity shy and prefer to be known by a name they choose for themselves that reflects their work; artistic duo Neil and Hadley from the UK are ‘Best Ever’, for example, while Brazilian artist Rimon Guimarães has named himself ‘RIM’.

…finally, for the adventurous

Fancy a quicker way of getting across the River Gambia than the vehicle and pedestrian ferry from Banjul, where a three-hour wait is common? Simply wander over to Terminal Road. Once there, young men carry patrons at full pelt on their shoulders down to the beach and into the water to then toss them into an enormous fishing boat. This crossing takes about half an hour and the process is repeated, in reverse, on the other side. The experience probably isn’t at the top of anyone’s health and safety list, but should be tried at least once.

The Gambia Experience offers a variety of travel options and flights to The Gambia including stays at Mandina River Lodge on a B&B basis. Compare flights, book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Tourists are visiting Thailand in increasing numbers, but some communities remain stuck in a time long passed. In pursuit of the “old Thailand”, Alex Robinson shuns the tour buses and takes local’s route, the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

We’re waiting on the road, huddled together with locals who’ve risen in the pre-dawn dark. “Kneel,” whispers my guide Poj, “and press your palms together”. I do so and wince as a piece of gravel digs into my kneecap. In the distance, hundreds of saffron-robed monks spill out of the monasteries that surround Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep temple and down the snaking staircase that cuts through the thick forests shrouding the mountain.

I try to stay quiet as the monks approach, holding out their big stainless steel alms bowls. Poj drops bags of warm, sticky Thai rice, wafer biscuits and fruit into the bowls and the monks begin to chant. But not in Thai – they speak the Pali language, a dead dialect that was once used in many of the earliest Buddhist scriptures.

To me it sounds as ancient as church Latin, rich, rolling and redolent with the sacred. It’s mesmerising. Meditative. I’m trance-like for five minutes and it’s only after they’ve moved on that I remember the pain in my knee and the pins and needles in my legs.

Tourist Thailand seems far behind. I’ve entered an older country, where monks speak a bygone language and collect alms in the dawn light – as they have done two-and-a-half thousand years. This Chiang Mai isn’t a travel stop for hill tribe handicrafts and elephant camps, but the old capital of the Northern kingdom of Lanna. At least for the next hour. Until the tour buses arrive.

Monk in temple of Chiang Mai, Thailand, Asia

“Tourist Thailand seems far behind”

I began this journey four days earlier in current capital of Thailand, Bangkok. Wanting to find an older Thailand I decided to take the twelve-hour slow train north to Chiang Mai. Most travellers take the overnight train and sleep right through, choosing not to visit the country’s former capitals, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, at all. But I chose to go by day, staying overnight to explore these overlooked destinations.

Leaving Bangkok, I was glad of the peace and calm of the train to my next stop, Ayutthaya. Most tourists squeeze into minivans. But I was one of a handful of foreign faces with a compartment all to myself. Feet up, camera at the ready, I watched the heat and highways of central Bangkok fade into crane-spiked concrete hinterland and then lush green paddy fields, dotted with tractors, workers in conical hats and the occasional languid water buffalo.

I woke with a start as the train jolted into Ayutthaya. This city was once so covered in glittering mosaics that it was said to dazzle visitors from kilometres away. Sadly it was ransacked by the Burmese in 1767; temples were smashed, the houseboats and houses, where almost a million Thais lived, were burnt to husks and thousands were forcibly repatriated across the border.

Off the train, I took to two wheels, cycling past Ayutthaya’s network of canals, which was once bustling with boat trade. I could almost hear the vegetable sellers haggle as they yelled for trade from tiny canoes; now the canals are coloured pink with flowering lotuses. When I reached the city itself – a graveyard of crumbling brick palaces, mould-stippled stupas and Buddhas – I found a statue at Wat Phra Mahathat engulfed by a strangler fig, only its serene face remaining exposed among a swirl of roots.

Buddha statue northern Thailand, AsiaImage by Alex Robinson

“With so few foreigners on the train, I was a curiosity”

There were so few foreigners on the evening train to Phitsanulok that I was a curiosity. Thai people stopped to ask where I was from. The family opposite shared their rice and curry. As night thickened a guard turned my seat into a couchette, covered it with a crisp white sheet and I slept soundly all the way, and when I arrived in the 600-year-old city I was met by my smiling guide, Poj.

The next day we visited Sukhothai, Thailand’s capital in the early thirteenth century just 60km from Phitsanulok. Ransacked Ayutthaya was a forlorn ruin, but the long erosion of time has turned Sukhothai into an eternal monument – a Thai version of Angkor Wat.

In Ayutthaya, Buddhas sat in serried ranks – soldiers against samsara (the material world) – but in Sukhothai, they were veiled by temple walls, serene and as tall as tower blocks, gazing across 800 years of history to a point beyond time. Brightly-coloured tropical birds played among the ornate stupas and perched on the stucco, and nuns and monks meditated at the feet of centuries-old effigies lost at the end of sweeping colonnades.

Train in Chiang Mai, Thailand, AsiaImage by Alex Robinson

“Instead of tourist crowds, there was the bustle of everyday life”

Before Poj and I embarked on the final leg of our journey and caught the night train to Chiang Mai we visited Mahathat Woramahawihan – a stroll from Phitsanulok railway station. Hidden inside the temple is Thailand’s second most venerated Buddha: a magnificent, three-metre-tall gold statue, crowned with a lotus-flower halo and shimmering in the light.

Instead of the crowds you find at the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, there was the bustle of everyday life. Expectant mums with bags of groceries, school kids, and monks in robes shuffled in through the temple doors and prostrated themselves at the Buddha’s feet. They chanted, prayed, then went on their way, and aside from me – one lone awkward intruder – there wasn’t a European in sight.

But I saw them when I reached Chiang Mai the next day, stuck in tuk tuks in the traffic-choked streets around the city’s old royal moat, clustering around the ancient temples and crowding the tiny bars around the night market. It was fun to join the throng for a while, before slipping off for an early night. To see Chiang Mai as it used to you need to awake for the golden dawn, when monks fill the streets and tourism sleeps.

Alex Robinson travelled with Audley Travel who organise bespoke trips around Thailand, including by rail. Explore more of Thailand with the Rough Guide to ThailandCompare flights, book hostels for your trip and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Last year our roaming photographer Diana Jarvis took some time away from her usual stomping grounds in Europe and headed to the far northeastern Indian state of Nagaland to witness the annual Hornbill Festival. Here, she shares 15 pictures of the region’s fascinating tribes.

“I’d visited India on several other occasions but my trip to Nagaland was a real photographer’s dream”, she says, “the people are extremely welcoming and proud to show off their cultural heritage but equally connected to the modern world and, like anywhere else in India, they love to pose for photos.”

“Nagaland didn’t become part of India until 1963 and, owing to its remote position bordering Assam and Myanmar, doesn’t feature regularly on many an Indian itinerary. During the second world war, however, the capital city Kohima was the site of a famous frontier battle between the Allies and the Japanese troops. As a result, the people of Nagaland have a great fondness for the efficiency of the Brits and many speak perfect English.”

“The landscape is mountainous, dramatic and teeming with wildlife. The food – give or take the odd blow-your-head-off Naga chilli – was so unique and tasty that they have their own annual Masterchef competition at the Hornbill Festival. Other cultural highlights include demonstrations of a traditional stone-throwing game, ceremonial chanting, warrior dances, plays performed in various Naga dialects and the greased-bamboo climbing competition – but my highlight was witnessing the stone pulling at Viswema which, apparently, only happens roughly once every seven years.”

A man from the Konyak tribe in battle mode

A man from the Konyak tribe in battle mode, Nagaland, India

 Ladies of the Konyak tribe fix an earring

Ladies of the Konyak tribe, Nagaland, India

Greased bamboo pole climbing competition at the Hornbill Festival

Greased bamboo pole climbing competition at the Hornbill Festival, Nagaland, India

 A gun-toting tribe line up for action

Gun-toting tribe, Nagaland, India

Stone throwing gets underway

Stone throwing game demo at the Hornbil Festival, Nagaland, India

Tribal men display feathers and weapons

Tribal men in Nagaland, India

Hornbill Festival dancing begins

Festival, Nagaland, India

An Angami tribesman

Angami tribesman, Nagaland, India

 A Konyak tribesman

Man from Konyak tribe, Nagaland, India

A smile as tribes get together

Traditional tribes in Nagaland, India

 Konyak tribe member captures the moment

Konyak tribe member taking photos on mobile, Nagaland, India

Stone pulling underway at Viswema village

Men at stone pulling ceremony at Viswema village, Nagaland

Crowds gather

Stone pulling ceremony at Viswema village, Nagaland, India

All hands on deck

Stone pulling ceremony at Viswema village, Nagaland, India

A ceremonial start

Stone pulling ceremony at Viswema village, Nagaland

You can see more of Diana’s work on her website. Explore more of India with the Rough Guide to India. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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Alternative Miss World, London

Founded by sculptor Andrew Logan in 1972, the Alternative Miss World is in a league of its own when it comes to outrageous outfits. This unique event – that takes the original Miss World format and warps it to the point where swimwear can be an inflatable octopus and a robot can be crowned winner – has seen the likes of Grayson Perry and Leigh Bowery taking part.

Alternative Miss World, London

Theyyem ceremonies, Kerala, India

Theyyem are dramatic village ceremonies held throughout northern Kerala, usually between October and May. They are performed at the village’s shrine, and the participants embody the gods and spirits being celebrated. Each theyyem has its own extraordinary costumes, including bright body paint and gigantic, elaborately decorated headdresses (mudi).

Theyyem ceremonies, Kerala, India

Carnaval, Rio de Janeiro

Taking competitive costume construction into a league of its own, for sheer spectacle Rio’s Carnaval is hard to beat. Each of the city’s samba schools spends the year preparing, striving to be the best – for music, for costume, for floats. Every school picks a theme for their costumes for the year, and thousands of dressed-up dancers and musicians battle it out in an epic parade at the city’s purpose-built Sambódromo.

Carnaval, Rio de Janeiro

World Naked Bike Ride

The World Naked Bike Ride is a unique environmental protest meant in part to highlight the exposure and danger faced by cyclists on the road, with cycle rides in dozens of cities, including prominent events in London and Portland, Oregon. From the headlines it gets, it’s clear the most controversial suit you can don is still your birthday suit. The motto is “bare as you dare”, with no one excluded and body paint de rigueur.

World Naked Bike Ride

Mardi Gras, Sydney

Dressing up as a form of protest has an illustrious history and LGBT Pride festivals have raised this to an art form. Though many are now celebratory as well as political, their origins lay in the struggle for LGBT rights, and when Sydney’s first event was held in 1978 it was met with violence and resistance. Now, it is one of the biggest events in the city’s calendar, and a spectacular display of high camp and costume.

Mardi Gras, Sydney

Life Ball, Vienna

Beauties in big white dresses might be what spring to mind when you say “Vienna” and “balls”, but the Life Ball has reinvigorated the format. Held to support AIDs charities, the annual Life Ball is a flamboyant costume event, with thousands of dressed-up spectators and celebrity guests. Queen of the ball last year? Conchita Wurst of course.

Life Ball, Vienna

Wave-Gotik-Treffen, Leipzig, Germany

Where do goths go on holiday? Leipzig is the likely answer, as every year it hosts the world’s biggest celebration of dark music, right in the heart of the city. Most of the music venues gets taken over by the Wave-Gotik-Treffen, and on every street, and on every tram, you’ll see those fans of the darker side of life in all their finery, with every goth subculture represented. It’s quite a spectacle, one that metropolitan Leipzigers take in their stride.

Wave-Gotik-Treffen, Leipzig, Germany

Junkanoo, The Bahamas

Possibly the most colourful New Year’s Day event in the world, Junkanoo is the highlight of the Bahamas’ calendar. Parades are held on both December 26 and January 1, and their origins are in the islands’ slave history – these were the days slaves were allowed time off. They are a brilliantly bright array of stilt-dancers, acrobats and elaborately costumed participants. The costumes are more feats of construction: huge, colourful creations made from cardboard, crepe paper, feathers, and glitter.

Junkanoo, The Bahamas

Tokyo Street Fashions, Japan

For thirty years Japan has produced some of some of the most avant-garde fashions on the planet, from the couture collections of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto to the street styles of Tokyo, which have been familiar to the wider world since the mid-1990s. To see the latest styles, whether Manga influenced, Lolita-style or the extraordinary Shironuri look, which takes traditional Japanese white make-up as its starting point to create an otherworldly porcelain doll appearance, head to the Harajuku district.

Tokyo Street Fashions, Japan

Halloween, USA

Dressing up in costume for Halloween is now a worldwide phenomenon, but it’s an all-American tradition. Big city parades and parties like those in New York’s Village, LA’s West Hollywood and New Orleans’ French Quarter are large and spectacular, but a real American Halloween is best experienced in the country’s small towns, such as Park City in Utah, where even the dogs get their own parade for “Howl-o-Ween”.

Halloween, USA

Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco, USA

One of the biggest events worldwide for fetish and leather fans, in the only city that could have hosted a celebration like this for thirty years, San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair attracts 400,000 people for a day where anything goes, sartorially or otherwise.

Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco, USA

Walt Disney World Christmas parade, Florida

In a world where dressing up is the norm 365 days a year and an over-sized mouse rules the roost it’s hard to pick the best costume event at Disney World, but the Christmas parades and parties are a strong contender. Though often very busy, there are lots of parties, parades and fireworks, including Mickey’s ‘Once upon a Christmastime Parade’, with elves, gingerbread men and characters from Frozen all taking part.

Walt Disney World Christmas parade, Florida

Comic-Con International, San Diego, USA

With geek culture entering the mainstream, comic conventions around the world attract hundreds of thousands of fans, and San Diego’s is the biggest. You don’t have to wear a costume (cosplay) to attend but if you’ve always dreamt of dressing as a character from Game of Thrones, it’s probably a better place to do so than your local supermarket. One of the highlights of San Diego’s Comic-Con is the Masquerade costume competition.

Comic-Con International, San Diego, USA

Cologne Carnival, Germany

The “fifth season” in Cologne is taken very seriously indeed, with preparations beginning the previous November, and celebrations starting in January. The highlight of carnival week for costumes is Rosenmontag, the Monday before Ash Wednesday when around a million people turn out to see the processions on the streets of Cologne, where outfits are flamboyant, very silly and often satirical.

Cologne Carnival, Germany

Cirque de Soleil, Las Vegas

A costume gallery without something from the world of showbiz just wouldn’t be right, but who does it best? Surely Las Vegas is the spiritual home of the show-stopping stage costume, and, though Lady Gaga is giving them a run for their money, at the moment Cirque du Soleil has some of the most inventive costumes in shows such as ‘O’ and ‘Zarkana’.

Cirque de Soleil, Las Vegas

The Burryman, Scotland

Like all the best folk traditions, no one’s quite sure why it’s done, but the tradition endures. In Queensferry near Edinburgh the Burryman is a peculiar custom that’s part of the August annual fair. One local man is dressed up as the “burryman”, and covered head to foot in burdock burrs, leaving barely a gap to see through, before he progresses slowly through the town fortified by whisky.

The Burryman, Scotland

Bestival, Isle of Wight

Glastonbury might be bigger, Burning Man more extreme, but if your idea is fun is dressing up in themed fancy dress and partying in a muddy field for three days, then Bestival is the festival for you. Each year has a theme – such as Desert Island Disco, Nautical and Rock Stars, Pop Stars and Divas – and most festival-goers take part.

Bestival, Isle of Wight

Ati Atihan festival, Philippines

Kalibo in Visayas province sees street dancing and wild costumes for the Ati Atihan festival in January, one of the most exuberant festivals in a country that likes a fiesta. Originally celebrating an ancient land pact between settlers and indigenous Atis, it now also honours Santo Niño. In 2015 it will coincide with a Papal visit to the Philippines, though it’s not been confirmed whether Pope Francis will be joining in.

Ati Atihan festival, Philippines

Royal Ascot Ladies Day, England

The one day a year when hat-spotting becomes a national past-time, Britain’s Royal Ascot Ladies Day combines the best of British: sporting endeavour, eccentric attire and a healthy dose of social snobbery. Strict protocol governs spectators’ appearance – in the royal enclosure hats should have a base of a minimum of four inches diameter – but beyond that, the bigger the better.

Royal Ascot Ladies Day, England

Venice Carnevale, Italy

The masks and tricorn hats are familiar symbols of the Venice carnival, and if you’re in the city at the time it’s worth at least making an effort with a cloak and a mask, but those with the very best outfits join in the costume competition that takes place every day in Piazza San Marco. For the ten days of carnival, free outdoor concerts and performances, balls and parades make it a fun – if busy – time to be in the city.

Venice Carnevale, Italy

El Salvador’s Mayan ruins can’t be compared with the great Mayan centres in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, but they have their own powerful charm – and on most days you’ll have the sites completely to yourself. Stephen Keeling went to explore El Salvador’s rich but oft ignored Mayan heritage.

Joya de Cerén

Around 1400 years ago, a small Mayan village in Central America faced disaster. Black smoke had been spewing from the nearby volcanic peak of the Loma Caldera for several days, and violent tremors shook the ground. The people here were simple manioc and maize farmers who had settled in the village only a few decades before, and in desperation they decided to flee, leaving virtually everything they owned behind. Soon after, the volcano blew its top and the village was buried under more than six metres of burning hot ash in just a few hours. The villagers never returned.

For hundreds of years the site lay abandoned and overgrown. And its secrets would have remained hidden if not for an accident: in 1976 a bulldozer levelling ground for the construction of grain-storage silos exposed a mysterious clay-built structure, and archeologists were called in. Excavations were interrupted by the El Salvador civil war, but resumed in 1989 and have been continuing ever since.

Quezaltepeque volcano, San Salvador, El Salvador, Central AmericaQuezaltepeque volcano

Today Joya de Cerén, an hour or so north of the capital San Salvador, isn’t quite the “Pompeii” it’s hyped up to be, but it does offer a totally different perspective to all the other great Mesoamerican ruins.

What remains of sites like Copán and Tikal is spectacular but ceremonial – there is very little evidence of the houses where people actually lived in these cities. At Joya de Cerén you can wander around the beautifully preserved earth homes of Mayan farmers from the sixth century AD, as well as a sweat bath (temazal), excavated from the ash and dirt, in situ.

In total some eighteen structures have been identified and ten have been completely or partially excavated. One of the most intriguing is thought to have been a religious building where a shaman practiced. Cerén was probably home to about two hundred people, and although no human remains have been discovered, everyday objects found here include petrified beans, maize, utensils and ceramics.

San Andrés

A few kilometres southwest of Joya de Cerén, in an open field surrounded by simple farms and dense jungle, lies the once mighty city of San Andrés. Originally supporting a population of about twelve thousand and reaching its peak as the regional capital around 650–900 AD, it was later occupied by the Pipil people.

Joya de Ceren, El Salvador, Central AmericaJoya de Cerén

The ruins were partially buried by another volcanic eruption in 1658, and today only sections of the ceremonial centre have been excavated – seven crumbling but enigmatic structures including the Acrópolis complex and a seventeenth-century Spanish indigo works. You can stroll freely around most of the site, which is also a popular picnic spot for locals at the weekends, though the tallest pyramid (“La Campana”) can only be viewed from a distance. The small Museo Sitio Arqueológico includes a good model of what the city would have looked like in its heyday.

Tazumal

El Salvador’s most impressive pre-Colombian site lies outside the small town of Chalchuapa, some 80km northwest of San Salvador. All that remains of another powerful Mayan city is the Tazumal complex, primarily comprising a vast fourteen-stepped ceremonial pyramid, influenced by the style of Teotihuacán in Mexico and gradually extended over many generations.

Today, vendors from the local neighbourhood line the pot-holed street outside, with the site itself surrounded by a simple metal fence – it’s all relatively compact and low-key, like a small blossom-filled park, but with the great pyramid looming over everything. Most visitors simply roll up and park right at the entrance.

Mayan Ruins, El Salvador, Central AmericaTazumal, Chalchuapa

The site was occupied for over 750 years, mostly in the Late Classic period (600–900 AD). Earlier remains, dating back to 100–200 AD, have been found beneath the pyramid. The Mayan abandoned the city around the end of the ninth century, during the collapse of the Classic Mayan culture, and, unusually, Pipils moved in and occupied the site, building a pyramid dating back to the Early Post-Classic (900–1200 AD) and another pelota court, in the northwest corner of the site. Tazumal was finally abandoned around 1200 AD. The Museo Sitio Arqueológico here displays artefacts discovered during excavations in the area, including some stunning ceramics, but you’ll need to read Spanish to make the most of it.

Aficionados should also check out the closely related but smaller, grassy ruins of Casa Blanca, an important Mayan centre between 200 BC and 250 AD, just a five-minute taxi ride from Tazumal (it’s right on the main highway on the north side of Chalchuapa). Visit in mid-winter and the site is smothered in pink madrecacao blooms.

Need to know

To see all three Mayan ruins it’s best to rent a car, taxi or take a tour from San Salvador. All three sites are usually open Tues–Sun 9am–4pm and entry costs US$3 at each (parking US$1). For more information visit www.fundar.org.sv.

Find peace at Buddhist monastery, Nepal

Trim out the religious and/or mystical connotations and Buddhism boils down to something quite simple – brain training. Emptying your mind of white noise in the Buddhist manner – and thereby opening it up to richer focus and awareness – has never been easy. But the digital age is making it even harder, with an ever-billowing storm of information clamouring for our attention. So, retreat – a Tibetan Buddhist monastery might just be the perfect balm to your perpetually flicking and scrolling mind.

Find peace at Buddhist monastery, Nepal

Get isolated at Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia

Travel to Three Camel Lodge in Mongolia, a country whose name is a byword for notions of the faraway, and you’ve already made a significant mental leap. You’re certainly not in Kansas anymore here – the nearest wifi is hundreds of miles away in the capital, Ulan Bator. The lodge lets you sample the nomadic lifestyle, except with all the hard bits removed and felt slippers thrown in. Expect snow leopards, bears and wild camels – who needs David Attenborough documentaries?

Get isolated at Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia

Stay with the Huaoranis in the Amazon, Ecuador

The Amazon river and its tributaries form one of the greatest natural networks of connectivity on the planet. Digitally speaking, however, it’s a total void. Arrange a stay with the Huaoranis of Ecuador for insights into their culture, from tracking in the rainforest to lessons in their language, which is said to be unrelated to any other on Earth.

Stay with the Huaoranis in the Amazon, Ecuador

Go wild camping in Sweden and Norway

Wifi is not such a rare amenity on campsites these days. But if you’re engaged in ‘wild camping’ – pitching your tent off-piste – then technology begins and ends at a rickety gas stove and a pack of AA batteries. In Norway and Sweden, wild camping is part of the national identity – and with landscapes ranging from the Arctic Circle to island-sprinkled archipelagos, there are myriad reasons to leave the glampsites behind.

Go wild camping in Sweden and Norway

Rub elbows with elephants at Jongomero camp, Tanzania

You’re enjoying a precious moment with a spindly dik dik in Ruaha National Park when all of a sudden: “BEEP BEEP, BEEP BEEP” goes your phone, the precious animal does a runner and your fellow safari guests make a mental note to blog about your appalling behaviour once reunited with their devices. Because they, unlike you, have respected this remote, luxurious southern Tanzanian camp’s requests that digital equipment be kept under lock and key for the duration of your visit.

Rub elbows with elephants at Jongomero camp, Tanzania

Get deserted in the Cook Islands

That these fifteen South Pacific islands are named after legendary eighteenth-century explorer James Cook is a bit of a giveaway – they’re seriously remote. Rarotonga, the main island, is not overburdened with hi-tech distractions – one popular activity is “jetblasting” whereby you hang out near the airport’s runway and, well, get blasted by the displaced air from descending planes. Better, perhaps, to focus on enjoying the islands’ natural underwater beauty, from black pearl fields to coral lagoons.

Get deserted in the Cook Islands

Back to basics in a bothy, Northern Ireland

Cast yourself away – or rather, paddle yourself – to this restored stone cottage near Lisnaskea in County Fermanagh, part of the Lough Erne Canoe Trail. The bothy is neat but basic as can be, its list of mod cons beginning and ending at cold running water, a wood-burning stove and south-facing skylights. With life stripped back to the bare essentials, you’re left with the mental space to enjoy Upper Lough Erne’s tranquil bays and sprinkling of lush green islands.

Back to basics in a bothy, Northern Ireland

Meet your ancestors at an archaeological dig

Get your hands dirty, cleanse your mind – that’s the basic idea here. A number of operators offer holidays based around archaeological digs, from Ethiopia to Uzbekistan – although you could always purchase the tools of the trade and go it alone. Beware, though: a metal detector’s seductive blipping might be hard to handle for those in technological cold turkey.

Meet your ancestors at an archaeological dig

Delve into the Krubera Cave, Georgia

The status of the Marianas Trench as the planet’s deepest point is standard pub quiz fodder. But the earthbound equivalent is less well-known. The true vastness of Georgia’s Krubera Cave has only been fully realised since the turn of the twenty-first century, and it took a team of Ukrainian speleologists two weeks to reach the cave’s 2200m deepest point. Down here, you’re guaranteed friend requests from nothing but spiders, beetles and other creepy crawlies.

Delve into the Krubera Cave, Georgia

Cut off in Havana, Cuba

With patched-up old Buicks and Cadillacs stalking its capital’s streets like mechanical ghouls, the idea of Cuba as a time capsule is a familiar notion. What lies under the hood of those US classics is about as sophisticated as technology gets in Cuba – the country has the lowest rate of web access in the West, and what’s permitted is subject to heavy government regulation. Time to disengage the brain from all things digital and enjoy the city’s steamy charms.

Cut off in Havana, Cuba

Spend a week in Amish country, USA

In populated areas of the US it isn’t easy to escape the digital dimension. But the Amish – whose Mennonite ancestors came over to Pennsylvania from Europe at the turn of the eighteenth century – have long done a very efficient job of escaping the clutches of the modern world. In Lancaster County you can immerse yourself in their simple, rural way of life, where houses are not connected to the grid and travel is by horse-drawn buggy.

Spend a week in Amish country, USA

Get grounded in Bolivia’s salt flats

In one respect the Bolivian salt flats are money-spinningly hi-tech – beneath the white expanses lie the world’s largest reserves of lithium, used in battery manufacture. But that’s where links to the modern world end. Tours of the mind-bending salar are a Bolivian must-do and whichever accommodation you wind up in – freezing shack, luxury “salt palace” or Airstream caravan – the landscape utterly overwhelms and grounds you in the present moment.

Get grounded in Bolivia's salt flats

Digital detox at Echo Valley Ranch and Spa, Canada

The internet has expanded at a terrifying rate since its inception, sure, but the Big Bang did it way bigger and way better. There’s nothing like getting out into the light pollution-free wilds and gazing up at giddying bucket-loads of stars to put you in your place. This ranch in British Columbia’s Cariboo region offers crystal-clear star-gazing allied to a digital detox programme – being reminded of your own puny insignificance never felt so good.

Digital detox at Echo Valley Ranch and Spa, Canada

Surrender yourself in Chicago, USA

The “windy” of Chicago’s nickname actually refers to a certain loquaciousness associated with the city. But even here you can mute the world with the Monaco hotel’s “blackout” option, which encourages guests to hand in their devices on check-in. Be aware, however, that they also offer free wi-fi, so you can polish that halo even harder should you manage not to succumb.

Surrender yourself in Chicago, USA

Stay secluded in Butterfly Valley, Turkey

Somewhere along Turkey’s tourism-saturated Turquoise Coast, where holidaymakers are assured every home comfort, from full English breakfasts to free wi-fi, there’s an enclave of unplugged hippy-dom. Take a water taxi from Oludeniz (the “Blue Lagoon” in English, setting the evocatively back-to-nature tone) to the steep-sided, beach-fronted valley. You might still be able to data-roam, but listening to the crackle of evening bonfires or the strumming of acoustic guitars is far superior to the hum of social media.

Stay secluded in Butterfly Valley, Turkey

Take a survival challenge on a Belize island

“I couldn’t survive without my phone.” If you’re this digitally dependent, then perhaps it’s time you addressed your conception of the word “survive” – and that’s where getting shipwrecked on a desert island comes in. You’ll shell out for the privilege, of course, but before being left to your own devices on a Belize caye, the team will train you up and ensure you’re a budding Ray Mears. Fish gutting and fire building ahoy!

Take a survival challenge on a Belize island

Stay in Skiary Lodge, Scotland

If you have ants in your social media pants, make for the unflappable stillness of Lough Hourn and let its tranquility wash over you. The most distracting thing you’re likely to encounter hereabouts is the otherworldly light – though climbing, swimming, seal-watching and star-gazing are all possibilities. This phone-, electrics- and internet-free lodge – two hours by car from Fort William, followed by a hike or a boat ride – is the only survivor from an abandoned fishing hamlet.

Stay in Skiary Lodge, Scotland

Explore Antarctica

Time is running out for Antarctica. And not (for now) in the way that you might think: rather it’s the region’s status as a communications black hole that’s most pressingly threatened. The urgency of the data being gathered in the region is forcing change, expediting improvements in Antarctica’s links to the wider world: “Antarctica Broadband” is on the horizon, promising “fast internet from the bottom of the earth”. At least it’ll look impressive when you check in on Foursquare.

Explore Antarctica

Ultima Thule Lodge, Alaska

An ancient term denoting hazily understood lands in the far north, “Ultima Thule” harks back to the early, “here be dragons” days of navigation. And while it’s certainly rugged out here, there’s no chance of it all going a bit Into the Wild, for this is Alaska deluxe – after being flown in, it’s chunky wood cabins, bearskin rugs and saunas all the way. And after an afternoon watching bears catch salmon, Candy Crush will seem a very sorry thing indeed.

Ultima Thule Lodge, Alaska

One of the great joys of travelling is stumbling across unexpected places, wandering without a single destination in mind and embracing the journey. These places are perfect for just that – so abandon the map, leave the sat nav behind and let the road take you where it will.

1. The Mercato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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

The Mercato, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

2. The Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia

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

The Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia

3. Bock Casemates, Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

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

Bock Casemates, Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

4. Knossos, Crete, Greece

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

Knossos, Crete, Greece

5. The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

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

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

6. Kolmanskop, Namibia

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

Kolmanskop, Namibia

7. Old Delhi, India

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

Old Delhi, India

8. The Moscow metro, Russia

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

The Moscow metro, Russia

9. Shinsegae Centum City, Busan, South Korea

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

Shinsegae Centum City, Busan, South Korea

10. The temples of Angkor, Cambodia

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

The temples of Angkor, Cambodia

11. Fez el Bali, Fez, Morocco

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

Fez el Bali, Fez, Morocco

12. Kumbh Mela Festival, Allahabad, India

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

Kumbh Mela Festival, Allahabad, India

13. Palace of Parliament, Bucharest, Romania

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

Palace of Parliament, Bucharest, Romania

14. Beijing’s hutongs, China

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

Beijing’s hutongs, China

15. Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul, South Korea

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

Bukchon Hanok Village, Seoul, South Korea

16. The Smithsonian, Washington DC, USA

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

The Smithsonian, Washington DC, USA

17. Convento dei Cappuccini, Palermo, Italy

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

Convento dei Cappuccini, Palermo, Italy

18. Islamic Cairo, Egypt

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

Islamic Cairo, Egypt

19. Mumbai train station, India

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

Mumbai train station, India

Tim Chester spends an evening with the “posh couple” from Britain’s latest TV  craze Gogglebox.

Gogglebox shouldn’t work. The TV show about people watching TV shows sounds like the most meta, barrel-scraping idea in the history of 10 Stone Testicle ideas, but somehow it’s compulsive viewing, a window into the country’s living rooms, prejudices and teatime habits that’s pulling in three million viewers per week, a format that has since been sold to the States and numerous other countries.

If you’re one of its legion of converts, you’ve probably longed for a night on the settee with some of the protagonists, an off-camera chit chat with Sandra & Sandy or June & Leon or Christopher & Stephen. As it happens, you can do exactly that.

Steph and Dom Parker, aka “the posh couple”, run a luxury B&B in Sandwich called The Salutation, a sprawling Grade 1-listed, Edwin Lutyens-designed pile set amid gardens inspired by Gertrude Jekyll in the medieval town of Sandwich in Kent. For £99 upwards you can visit the famous property and potentially spend an evening with the pair.

The Salutation, Sandwich - owned by Gogglebox posh couple.

Sadly we missed the £500-per-ticket orgy that was held there the following night, and didn’t catch the likes of Meryl Streep, James Corden and other celebs that have laid their hats in its numerous rooms while filming Into The Woods in recent months, but we nevertheless experienced the kind of evening you’d expect from Britain’s most gregarious hosts.

Dom set the tone as he showed us our en suite room in the Coach House (which includes its own kitchen and sitting room), pointing to complimentary decanters of whisky and sherry, for consumption if we were “getting changed”.

It quickly became clear that bridging drinks are a way of life here, and we were soon plonked on that famous sofa sharing a G&T with the genial host while Steph wandered the house singing Pharrell Williams tunes and making regular trips to the drinks cabinet.

Steph and Dom from Gogglebox

Supper, as it often seems to be in wealthy houses, was conjured on a whim; there’s no official dining here but they can rustle up something if you’re hungry. For us this quick something was a four course blowout of pâté, fillet steak with potato dauphinoise, panna cotta, umpteen cheeses and biblical amounts of wine, and a chance to meet the other guests.

Half of the visitors were out playing golf (The Salutation is surrounded by top courses and uber rich bankers apparently jet in direct from the US to stay and play) and the remainder seemed to be fellow Gogglebox tourists. One couple were celebrating their anniversary while two other pairs were also here for a meet and greet.

Reception at The Salutation, the Gogglebox mansion

It’s a bit odd, making a pilgrimage to meet reality stars, but Steph and Dom are exemplary hosts aside from their minor celebrity status. B&Bs tread a fine line between personal and overly familiar, characterful,  boutique hideaways and someone’s chintzy spare room, and I’ve spent my fair share of nights whispering in bed, tip-toeing around creaky landings, and adhering to innumerable “house rules” printed in comic sans and tucked into A4 pockets.

Here there are no polite notices and howls of laughter replace the cringeworthy hushed chatter of a million dining rooms. The Salutation eschews the claustrophobia of standard B&Bs in favour of the relaxed conviviality of a best friend’s house, if that best friend lives in a £3.5 million mansion with tasseled toilet flush pulls.

The whole group stayed up into the early hours, discussing everything from Nick Clegg to Leon and June (who don’t like Steph and Dom’s swearing), the long filming shifts and sundry celebrity tittle-tattle. The golfers bowled home suitably refreshed about midnight, all bow ties and crossed eyes while host Tigger and various other staff kept the drinks flowing.

Corner house, Sandwich, Kent, UK

The next morning we blearily explored our rooms tucked up in the eaves, leafing through vintage Penguins before a hearty Full English in the dining room. Tripadvisor nerds would probably note the overcooked poached egg at this point, but The Salutation isn’t the kind of place you spend making critical notes alone in your room. It’s somewhere to spend a riotous night before exploring Sandwich and moving on.

A spectacularly well-preserved medieval town full of half-timbered buildings and narrow streets leading to the willow-lined River Stour (currently being flood-proofed and so covered in diggers and workmen on our visit), it’s a sleepy place that’s given birth to the sandwich and rested on its picturesque laurels since.

The Parkers are selling The Salutation so their hospitality won’t be for sale forever. For now though, and short of a night in front of the box with the Tappers, this is the most fun you can have on a Friday night.

Season four of Gogglebox is on Channel 4 on Fridays at 9pm. The Salutation has a variety of rooms available from £99 per night. Explore more of the area with the Rough Guide to Kent, Sussex and Surrey

From a deserted town to enormous sand dunes and sunset cocktails above the city, here are ten unforgettable things to see and do in Namibia.

Hike Fish River Canyon

Second only in size to America’s Grand Canyon, Namibia’s Fish River Canyon is one of Africa’s unsung wonders. Starting just south of Seeheim, it winds 161km south to Ais-Ais and plummets to depths of 550 metres. Watching the sun rise and set over its layers of sandstone and lava is epic, but fit travellers can up the adventure by attempting one of southern Africa’s greatest hikes: a 85km five-day trek along the riverbed. Talk about off the beaten track.

Explore the deserted diamond-mining town of Kolmanskop

Rise early and drive 10km east of port town Lüderitz to watch the first fingers of sunrise reach across the desert and light up the sands that have piled up high and inhabited every nook of this once-thriving town. The honey-toned beams reveal peeling wallpaper in empty kitchens, ceramic bathtubs waiting forlornly for a filling and empty picture frames dangling from unsteady nails. Pay a little more for a photography pass: it allows you to enter early and beat the tour-group crowds so you can explore this ghost town with soul in peace.

Abandoned house, Kolmanskop, Namibia, Africa

Slurp local oysters in Walvis Bay

Forget springbok steak or biltong, Namibia’s culinary highlight is its homegrown ultra-fresh oysters. Thanks to the cold Benguela current that sweeps up the coast from Antarctica, the nutrient-rich waters means these pearly beauties can be harvested in just eight months instead of the three years it takes to grow French oysters. Join a boat tour to visit the nurseries and nibble them onboard, or order a platter with a glass of chilled white wine at a dockside restaurant.

Climb Sossusvlei

Namibia’s foremost attraction doesn’t disappoint. The sand dunes inside Namib-Naukluft National Park are some of the highest in the world and seeing them light up at sunrise is a sight that shouldn’t be missed. Sossusvlei is in fact only one dune, but the name is often used to collectively describe a handful of others. The most photogenic are the 170 metre-high Dune 45 and Deadvlei, whose dried up clay basin is punctuated with the sculptural silhouettes of long-dead acacia trees.

Sossusvlei sand dunes, Namibia

Explore the remote Caprivi Strip

Few tourists venture northwards to visit this narrow finger of lush land that juts out into Botswana, Zambia and Angola – those that do will be rewarded. The landscape is dotted with rondavel huts, roadside stalls selling fruit, and women in colourful clothes going about their daily business. Plus, two of the region’s national parks – Mamili and Mudumu – are becoming good safari destinations.

Safari in style inside Etosha National Park

Etosha translates as “Great White Place” – an apt description for this endless pan of silvery salt-encrusted sand, which is all that remains of a large inland lake that stood here 12 million years ago. Come dry season, its southern waterholes attract elephant, giraffe, zebra, eland, blue wildebeest, thousand-strong herds of springbok, and even the endangered black rhinoceros. A handful of luxury resorts have views over the pan, so the game viewing can continue long into the night.

Himba people, Namibia, Africa

Meet the Himba in Kunene

The barren, mountainous landscapes of the northern Kunene region are home to the Himba people – a semi-nomadic, polygamous tribe famed for wearing ochre-stained dreads and copper-wire bracelets. A number of tour companies will run visits to traditional villages, but a more rewarding (and perhaps ethical) way to meet the Himba is to base yourself in Opuwo, a vibrant little town, and wander for more candid interaction with the locals. From here you can also organise visits to Epupa falls.

Feed cheetahs in the Kalahari

Seeing wild cheetahs on safari is unforgettable, but at times viewings are no more than a glimpse of spots. For an up-close encounter, book to stay at Bagatella Kalahari Game Ranch: attached to the property is a 12-hectare enclosure belonging to the Cheetah Conservation Fund and it’s home to three orphaned cheetahs – Etosha, Rolf and Tuono – that are being rehabilitated for release. Seated safely aboard an open-sided Jeep, you can watch their caretaker dole out the evening feed (four kilos of meat each) then enjoy a sundowner atop the famous red dunes.

Shipwreck on Skeleton Coast, Namibia, Africa

Find shipwrecks on the Skeleton Coast

This otherworldly strip of coastline earned its named from the treacherous fogs and strong currents that forced many ships onto its uncharted sands. Hemmed in by the high, searing dunes of the Namib Desert and lack of fresh water many sailors perished here. Explore the rusted hulls of stranded ships, marooned whale ribs and kilometre-long stinky seal colonies.

Party on the roof in Windhoek

Namibia’s capital is a city on the move. Take in the sights while sipping a cocktail and watching the sunset at the brand-new Hilton hotel’s Skybar – a rooftop bar complete with heated infinity pool and panoramic vistas overlooking Independence Avenue and the Supreme Court. It’s the perfect way to toast your Namibian adventure.

Get more inspiration from Rough Guides here. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Maria Hart meets some of Canada’s First Nations people to discover what aboriginal tourism in British Columbia has to offer.

“High tide is rush hour here” smiles our guide Tsimka, “that’s when the kayaks and water taxis usually come.” But since our group paddled over to Meares Island in a traditional flat bottomed canoe at low tide, we have the slippery boardwalk through the ancient rainforest all to ourselves.

Sitting on a fallen log at the massive base of a red cedar tree surrounded by frilly ferns, we eat our packed lunch and listen to Tsimka’s animated stories of forest monsters, while the moist evergreen scent and bird songs indulge our senses. Her easy smile and gift of storytelling come from her father Joe Martin, the master carver who made the red cedar dugout canoe that she uses for her tours.

Tsimka Martin is a Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations woman who co-owns and operates T’ashii Paddle School in Tofino, British Columbia. Tofino, a popular west coast holiday and surfing town is traditionally Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations territory and Tsimka’s family have been here for generations. They are some of the many indigenous people of Canada who are now ready to share their culture and homeland through tourism.

Dugout Canoe, Tofino, First Nations Canada, North America

“Aboriginal” is an umbrella term describing three of Canada’s original people: the Inuit, the Métis, and the First Nations – formerly referred to as “Indians”. The First Nations people have inhabited Canada for over 12,000 years and have lived mainly on hunting and fishing, migrating seasonally and living very much in harmony with the nature around them. Today, while they’re a part of modern Canadian society, they’re also making the most of their heritage. From authentic experiences and traditional art to modern accommodations and industries, the First Nations are opening up to tourism. I spoke with Paula Amos, Marketing Manager of Aboriginal Tourism BC who explained: “developing Aboriginal tourism isn’t only about economic advancement or jobs; it’s about strengthening our culture and building cultural pride.”

There are a number of ways to actively learn more about Canada’s First Nations across the country, so here are three ways to experience a Canadian First Nations lifestyle:

Embrace nature in Tofino

British Columbia is leading the way in aboriginal tourism growth in Canada, but not just for the more traditional experiences. The Ucluelet people near Tofino, for example, simply embrace the adventure afforded by their dramatic surroundings. You can learn to surf and paddleboard, sleep in a yurt, or go offline in a secluded lodge at WYA Point retreat on Vancouver Island to commune with nature on your own. Even in the low season the legendary winter weather provides a challenge for the best surfers, as well as some romantic storm watching.

Spot wildlife along the Campbell River

Discovery Passage, Campbell river, BC, Canada

A three hour drive north-east of Tofino brings you to Campbell River. Here you’ll find boat-based wildlife discovery tours by Aboriginal Journeys. With generations of local knowledge and down-to-earth honesty, owner and guide Garry Henkel knows some of the regular passing orcas by sight, but when talking about bear watching, he admits: “We go out and see what we see; there are no guarantees until grizzly season.” At the end of a tour, a traditional salmon cedar BBQ can be prepared for large groups.

Get cultured in Alert Bay

For a truly cultural treasure chest, take a short ferry trip to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. The bay is home to the tallest totem pole in the world, measuring 173-feet-high and representing the 14 tribes of its Kwakwaka’wakw people. Interactive experiences such as cedar weaving, canoe paddling, storytelling, and medicinal forest tours are available, but to properly appreciate the traditions and grasp the First Nations history, the first stop has to be the U’mista Cultural Center.

First Nations Canada, Yaletown, Vancouver, Canada.

“U’mista” means “when something special comes back” and this cultural centre houses regalia and masks that were confiscated during the “dark times”, when potlatch ceremonies were outlawed. A potlatch ceremony would involve days or weeks of singing, dancing, eating and storytelling and was the primary economic system for the Kwakwaka’wakw. Now visitors are welcome to come and experience this engaging event firsthand. The T’sasala Cultural Group has summer dance performances at the Namgis Bighouse, which give a glimpse into the time-honoured ceremony.

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

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