As the only democracy in the Chinese speaking world and the most progressive city for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia, a legacy of artists and activists have worked to make Taiwan’s capital a place where culture, progression and creativity thrive.

Now, a new wave of resident creatives are re-energizing the city. Cutting-edge art galleries stand next to traditional teahouses, and basement club techno still murmurs in the streets as local markets set up their fare with the sunrise. Affordable, safe, efficient and exciting, this sea of glass, concrete and palm trees is an urban explorer’s dreamland. For travellers looking to unearth Taiwan’s underground scene, here are eight tips for discovering cool Taipei at its best.

1. Don’t stop drinking coffee

Taiwan’s celebrated tea culture can be traced back more than three hundred years. Home to some of the world’s best greens and oolongs, tea here is both a science and a philosophy, a remedy for body and soul.

While you’ll find no shortage of old-school teahouses, the same spirit of craft and pride has been applied to Taipei’s third wave coffee scene – and the results are glorious. Interesting cafés are popping up everywhere in the city, from over the top chemistry lab-esque B Coffee & Space in Da’an to the award-winning baristas and Scandi-inspired minimalism of Fika Fika in Zhongshan.

Whether you spend the day shooting espresso or sipping cups of siphoned single-origin brew, you’ll quickly discover why Taipei seems set to become the world’s next hub of café culture.

photo by Colt St. George

2. Tap into the city’s creative scene in Zhongshan and Dongmen

Taipei was named World Design Capital 2016 for a reason. Everyone from young architects to underground record labels seem to be embracing a new “made in Taiwan” pride that’s at once trendy and distinctly Taiwanese. The neighbourhoods of Zhongshan and Dongmen are perfect for testing the waters.

While the main streets may feel a bit commercial, amble the historic back lanes of Zhongshan district and you’ll discover well-curated vintage shops like Blue Monday, cute design boutiques and stylish records stores like Waiting Room. Taipei Artist Village – an arts institution and residency open to local and international creatives – is also worth popping by.

Dongmen is even more gratifying. While the upscale main streets boast everything from craft bubble tea to the latest in Taiwanese interior design, hit the quiet residential alleyways and you’ll find quirky art cafés, craft beer bars, dusty Chinese antique shops and good old fashioned Taiwanese comfort food spots like James Kitchen on Yongkang Street.

3. Sample the street food, especially stinky tofu

Be it in London, New York or Berlin, street food has become undeniably, and often tragically, hip. Forgo the pomp, faux-grit and absurd prices of the latest in questionable Western street food trends and rejoice in Taipei’s affordable authenticity.

From notable night markets like Ningxia and Liaoning to nameless back alley daytime stalls serving dishes perfected over generations, there’re an overwhelming variety of delicious local dishes to sample. Fatty braised pork on rice, oyster omelettes, beef noodle soup, dumplings and shaved ice piled high with fresh fruit are good for starters.

However, your ultimate quest should be to conquer the infamous chòu dòufu, or stinky tofu. It smells like a rotting corpse, but possesses a flavour profile of such intense complexity most hardcore foodies call it sublime. Others spit it up immediately.

Pixabay / CC0

4. Give vegetarianism a try

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian having trouble finding meat-free eats, keep an eye out for restaurant signs with enormous, glaring swastikas. The symbol is associated with Buddhism in China long before it’s appropriation in Europe and marks the restaurant as entirely vegetarian.

There are loads around the city, selling delectable Buddhist meals at ridiculously cheap prices. Many are buffet style, where whatever you’ve stacked on your plate is paid for by weight. The selection is usually too vast to try all of in a single go, which will keep you coming back for more.

5. From dilapidation to design: check out the city’s former art squats

Maverick Taiwanese artists were the first to recognize the potential of Taipei’s abandoned industrial buildings, squatting and staging illegal performances in these derelict-turned-creative spaces. Though authorities were quite resistant to their presence initially, after much protest spaces such as Huashan 1914 Creative Park and Songshan Cultural and Creative Park have become governmentally protected cultural centres.

Today these spaces are generally buzzing with life, hosting a plethora of fun adult and family events in on-site galleries, concept stores, cinemas, studios, concert halls and more. While governmental commercialization of these spaces has blunted their cutting-edge origins, they still feel undeniably special and worthwhile.

photo by Colt St. George

6. Lose yourself in Taipei’s nightlife

Home to a thriving underground scene, Taipei’s nightlife and music scenes are simply awesome. From indie garage rockers like Skip Skip Ben Ben, to techno, noise and experimental hip hop, putting the effort into exploring Taipei’s underground sounds will reveal an entirely different dimension to the city and provide opportunities to mingle with the artists who are making it happen.

Revolver in Zhongzheng is a laidback and friendly institution that throws everything from metal to indie nights, while F*cking Place (though the club doesn’t use an asterisk) is definitely among the city’s coolest dive-bars – with the added bonus of ridiculously cheap beer. For techno and electronic parties get to Korner, a subsection of well-known club The Wall. Pipe and APA Mini are also great venues for live music.

7. Not feeling the party? Try a reading rave

With a vibrant population of artists, intellectuals and activists perhaps it’s no surprise that print still holds a special place in Taiwan. The popularity of Eslite in Dunnan branch, Taipei’s massive 24 hour bookstore and one of the world’s only to keep such hours, speaks for itself. Curl up in this beautifully designed booktopia and join the locals as they pore over pages all night long.

On a smaller-scale, keep an eye out for the artisanal stationery shop Pinmo Pure Store, Gin Gin Store (the first gay bookstore opened in Greater China) and hip new bookish concept stores. In this respect, Pon Ding is an absolute standout – a friendly, three-story collaborative creative space housing art, independent publications, quality magazines and pop-up events. Of course, they’ve also got a brilliant café.

photo credit: Pon Ding

8. Get back to nature

Every once in a while you need to leave the urban grind behind and unwind in the natural world. Thankfully, nature is never far off in Taiwan.

The high speed railway from Taipei can have you beaching on the island’s subtropical southern coast in less than two hours, while verdant mountain trails and popular surf breaks are easily accessible by bus. If you’re feeling adventurous, delve further into the mountains to experience the colourful cultures of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.

But whenever you find yourself recharged and craving that big-city buzz it’s a quick train trip back to the creative playground that is Taipei.

EVA Air, a Star Alliance member, flies daily from London Heathrow to Taipei, offering passengers award winning service and a choice of three cabin classes: Royal Laurel Class (Business Class), Elite Class (Premium Economy) and Economy Class. Featured image: Pon Ding. See more of Taiwan with the Taiwanese tourist board

It might be better known for bush and beach holidays, but Africa also has its fair share of magical, high-altitude mountains that deserve a place at the top of every hardy trekker’s wish list.

They can be tough, torturous and knee-trembling, often involving mud-drenched trails in hot and humid rainforests, snow right on the equator and air so thin you can barely breathe. But they’re rewarding and awe-inspiring too, with wildlife and landscapes unique to this extraordinary continent.

1. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Elevation: 5895m
Trek duration: five to nine days

Africa’s highest peak, Kilimanjaro is the king of Africa’s mountains. Capped with glaciers and snow, it’s a magnet for charity challenges, tempting around 30,000 hikers every year. Anyone relatively fit and healthy can climb Kili, but beware altitude sickness – if ignored, it can kill.

The world’s highest free-standing mountain has various trails to the top, from the gruelling, lung-busting three-day Marangu route to the longer, more scenic and usually more successful ascents via Shira or Lemosho.

If you crave mountain solitude, try the tough new technical North Face trail that opened in 2016. However you get there, walking under a sky almost exploding with stars and watching dawn break over Africa is simply unforgettable.

PixabayCC0

2. Mount Kenya, Kenya

Elevation: 5199m
Trek duration: four days to Point Lenana

Straddling the equator, only one of Mount Kenya’s three summits, Lenana (4895m), is accessible to trekkers. The dramatically jagged peaks of Batian (5199m) and Nelion (5188m), which make this Africa’s second highest mountain, remain the domain of experienced technical climbers.

Of Lenana’s four routes, the Sirimon/Chogoria is the most beautiful, passing through rainforest, bamboo and open moorland with intoxicating views of glaciated valleys and waterfalls. Best summited at dawn, on a clear morning, Nelion’s inhospitable rocks glow a fierce orange in the rising sun and the curvature of the earth and Kilimanjaro can sometimes be seen.

Image by Franco Pecchio on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

3. Mount Stanley, Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda

Elevation: 5109m
Trek duration: eight days

Called “Mountains of the Moon” by Ptolemy, the Rwenzoris have a distinct otherworldliness about them, with swirling mists, giant vegetation and deep dark lakes.

Mount Stanley may not have the height or kudos of Kili, but it’s a far tougher trek. Both wellington boots and crampons are essential, the former for crossing the infamous bogs (Rwenzoris means “rainmaker” and the wet stuff positively cascades here) and the latter for conquering the Margherita Glacier and sheer rock wall near the summit.

Take the Kilembe route run by Rwenzori Trekking Services, rather than the Circuit trail, for better acclimatisation and mercifully fewer bogs.

4. Mount Meru, Tanzania

Elevation: 4562m
Trek duration: four days

Lying within Arusha National Park, Mount Meru is a delightful but deceptive peak, the “short, sharp shock” of Africa’s epic mountains.

From a gentle lowland stroll with giraffe, buffalo and baboons on the path, it transforms into an unrelentingly steep slog to the top. An exposed route along a narrow ridge leads to the dramatic crater rim where the rugged outline of Meru’s summit appears above you and the perfectly cylindrical Ash Cone below, an intriguing volcanic peak within Meru’s own horseshoe crater.

The summit reveals the silhouette of Kilimanjaro, majestic and commanding, and the plains of the Serengeti in the distance.

Image by A_Peach on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

5. Ras Dashen (Dejen), Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

Elevation: 4546m
Trek duration: nine to ten days

Africa’s answer to the Grand Canyon, the Simien Mountains are home to Ras Dashen, Ethiopia’s highest peak. The walk in to Ras Dashen is extraordinarily beautiful.

Described by Homer as “chess pieces of the Gods”, the Simiens are a vast cauldron of rock spires, precipices and gorges, deep ravines and soaring mountains. Weird and wonderful resident wildlife includes rare Gelada monkeys with manes like lions, the elusive goat-like Walia Ibex and the Ethiopian wolf that resembles a fox.

But climbing the mountain itself is torturous, with tough rocky terrain, false peaks and a summit-day ascent of 1200m that’s best left to fit and determined peak-baggers.

6. Mount Toubkal, Morocco

Elevation: 4167m
Trek duration: two to three days

North Africa’s highest peak lies within the continent’s largest mountain range, the Atlas Mountains, stretching some 500km across Morocco. In the height of summer, around July and August, Toubkal can be searingly hot and stormy; in April and October, you’ll probably need crampons.

The route to the trailhead encompasses friendly Berber villages, the ice blue Lake d’Ifni, and the pilgrimage shrine of Sidi Chamarouch. The popular South Cirque summit trail can be tough and tiring, strewn with boulders and scree, but unlike its North equivalent, it isn’t technical. Keep on trudging because the views across the expansive Atlas Mountains and the Sahara are exquisite.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not just appearance that makes up the beauty of a place. Often, travellers will cite the people as the most beautiful thing about a country or culture. In Southeast Asia, there’s no doubt there is beauty in every form – and now our readers have voted to decide which countries are the most beautiful. Here are Southeast Asia’s most beautiful countries ranked by our readers.

7. Thailand

An ever-popular backpacking destination, we’re surprised to see Thailand at the bottom of this list. That’s not to say it’s not beautiful, though. With brochure-worthy beaches in almost every bay and some luscious mountain landscapes, there’s plenty to wow travellers in Thailand. And, of course, the people are indeed beautiful – they were even voted some of the friendliest in the world by our readers.

Pixabay / CC0 

6. Laos

This little nation sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam sits in a similar position here. Laos has no coastline to woo travellers seeking pristine beaches, but instead there are some picturesque waterfalls perfect for swimming beneath, plus one of Southeast Asia’s most charming little towns: Luang Prabang.

Pixabay / CC0

5. Vietnam

If the karst rock formations of Ha Long Bay, jutting out of a cerulean sea, aren’t enough to inspire awe, then perhaps the tiered terraces of Sa Pa might just make your heart beat faster. There’s a lot more to Vietnam’s beauty though, including the evocative ruins of Mỹ Sơn and a string of pretty little beaches along its coastline. Not forgetting one of the world’s greatest rivers, the Mekong, and its lush delta in the south of the country.

Pixabay / CC0

4. The Philippines

An archipelago of more than seven thousand islands, The Philippines earns its place as the fourth most beautiful country in Southeast Asia. The island of Palawan is one of the most picturesque spots, with azure waterways flowing between vast rocky cliffs that drop sheer to the water. For some otherworldly beauty, head to the “Chocolate Hills” on Bohol, an undulating landscape of 40-metre-high grassy mounds.

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3. Cambodia

Voted the world’s friendliest country by our readers, it’s no wonder Cambodia takes a top spot in this list too. No-one could deny that, despite the crowds, sunrise at Angkor Wat is a stunning sight. But Cambodia’s beauty extends beyond ruined temple complexes and into brilliant beaches and fascinating floating communities.

2. Myanmar

Tourism in Myanmar has boomed since the NLD lifted its tourism boycott, and for good reason. The country has plenty of travel eye-candy on offer, whether you want to watch the fishermen on Inle Lake, see the sunrise over the thousands of temples in Bagan, or just slowly meander down the Irrawaddy and meet the smiling locals as you go. A deserving destination for second most beautiful in Southeast Asia.

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1. Indonesia

It’s Indonesia that’s captured the hearts and minds of our readers, taking the number one spot for most beautiful place in Southeast Asia. Its astonishing array of natural wonders would make even the most jaded traveller’s jaw drop: beyond the stunning beaches scattered across these 17,000 islands, there are pretty waterfalls, dense jungles and towering volcanoes.

Pixabay / CC0

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

We sent Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills to the southernmost tip of the Indian Subcontinent to research Kerala for the upcoming Rough Guide to India. From tea estates in lush green hills to sultry palm-fringed backwaters, plus a host of deserted beaches, she dove beneath the surface and immersed herself in the region’s natural wonders, lavish festivals and heavenly South Indian food.

In this video, Rachel shares tips on the top five things to do in Kerala. Here’s her expert travel advice for your trip to “God’s Own Country”.

It’s not just height that makes a mountain mean. Different routes can make one side of a mountain a cinch and the other side nearly impossible. The weather can turn a technically easy climb into a deadly expedition.

But whatever the weather, many aspire to tackle the world’s hardest mountains to climb. Here’s our ranking of the 11 trickiest ascents. Glorious and gruelling, gorgeous and grim – these peaks are as dangerous as they are awe-inspiring.

11. Mont Blanc, Italy and France

Elevation: 4808m
Average time to summit: 2 days

It may not be that tall compared to peaks in the Himalayas, and typical routes aren’t that technically challenging. Plus, its position on the border of Italy and France makes it all the more convenient. What better way to follow up your Eiffel Tower selfie than with a snap of you atop Europe’s highest peak?

This sort of heady logic brings many tourists to Mont Blanc every year, and maybe that’s why Mont Blanc has killed more people than any other mountain. Some 8000 have perished on this scenic European climb, most of them novices. Be responsible and be prepared if you’re planning to climb Mont Blanc, its power shouldn’t be taken lightly.

10. Vinson Massif, Antarctica

Elevation: 4892m
Average time to summit: 7–21 days

Fabled Vinson was first glimpsed by human eyes in 1958. Since then, only some 1400 have reached the summit. Weather poses the greatest threat here: it has some of the coldest temperatures on the planet and winds that can easily surpass 80 kilometres per hour.

The simple fact that it could takes weeks to get to a proper hospital in an emergency makes this a remarkably dangerous excursion. Furthermore, getting to Antarctica is going to cost you – a lot. Be prepared to dish out between $34,000–US $82,000 for your trip.

Vinson-036 by Olof Sundström & Martin Letzter on Flickr (license)

9. Matterhorn, Switzerland

Elevation: 4478m
Average time to summit: 5 days

An icon of the Alps, the pyramidal peak of the Matterhorn is successfully ascended by hundreds of climbers every year. However, this is no reason to assume it an easy climb.

The mountain has claimed more than 500 lives since 1865, and still takes a few more each year. Falling rocks have always posed a threat, but the crowds scrambling towards the peak every day during the Swiss summer have created new challenges for climbers to conquer, and new reasons to take on the more demanding conditions of winter.

8. Cerro Torre, Argentina and Chile

Location:Elevation: 3128m
Average time to summit: 4–7 days

Cerro Torre has long captivated the hopes and hearts of climbers, a jagged spire jutting out of the Patagonian Ice Field’s mountains.

Notoriously sheer with a peak guarded by a hazardous layer of rime ice formed by battering winds, it does not offer itself up easily. Climbers must be prepared to tunnel through the ice and deal with vertical and even overhanging sections.

7. The Eiger, Switzerland

Elevation: 3970m
Average time to summit: 2–3 days

The difficulty of the Eiger’s north face has earned it a disturbing nickname: Murder Wall. Requiring an technical skill and ice axe finesse, the sharp overhang, 1800m face and ever-increasing threat of falling ice and rock (a result of global warming) has killed at least 64 climbers trying to follow up the first successful ascent in 1938.

Pixabay / CC0

6. Denali, Alaska, USA

Elevation: 6190m
Average time to summit: 21 days

The altitude, awful weather, relative isolation and punishing temperatures all pose a serious threat to those who attempt to summit North America’s tallest mountain, previously known as Mount McKinley. Further, its high degree of latitude means that atmosphere and oxygen are spread thin.

Despite the having only a 50% success rate, Denali never fails to tempt climbers to ascend. Perhaps the words of one of the first climbers to summit have something to do with the far-flung Alaskan allure: “The view from the top of Mount McKinley is like looking out the windows of Heaven”.

5. Mount Everest, Nepal and Tibet

Elevation: 8848m
Average time to summit: 54 days

Surprised to see the world’s tallest mountain in the middle of our list? Make no mistake, Everest is still a difficult climb. Weather and altitudes can still be deadly, and avalanches have claimed dozens of lives in recent years.

But its glory has faded somewhat with the mountain’s commercialisation: while once it was a feat not many travellers could claim to have achieved, today’s services enable climbers hire local porters to lug their packs, employ chefs to prepare food, and even have a personal medic in case of injury to follow you as far as Base Camp.

However, the crowds that Everest attracts today have become an unfortunate danger in itself. If you do invest in a climb during the more accessible peak season, prepare to join a traffic-jam like queue of hundreds of climbers waiting their turn to summit.

4. Baintha Brakk, Pakistan

Elevation: 7285m
Average time to summit: undetermined

Commonly called “The Ogre”, towering Baintha Brakk has only been summited three times. Immense in scale, intricate in shape and harrowing in incline, this mountain is both the blight and desire of mountaineering’s most hardcore enthusiasts. From the start, any bold attempt at this mountain is a veritable struggle for survival.

Image by junaidrao on Flickr (license)

3. Kangchenjunga, India and Nepal

Elevation: 8586m
Average time to summit: 40–60 days

While climbing death rates are generally decreasing, Kangchenjunga stands as an unfortunate exception to the rule, taking more lives as time goes on. It seems fitting that the mountain is regarded as the home of a rakshasa (or man-eating demon). Only 187 have ever reached the top, though out of respect for the mountain’s immense religious significance among the region’s Buddhists, climbers have always stopped short of the summit.

PixabayCC0

2. K2, China and Pakistan

Elevation: 8611m
Average time to summit: 60 days

Though plenty of peaks in the Himalaya could contest for second on our list, K2’s technical difficulty is legendary. It’s also the second tallest mountain in the world.

In an infamous section called the “Bottleneck”, climbers traverse a towering overhang of precarious glacial ice and massive, sometimes unstable, seracs. It’s the fastest route to the top, minimizing time climbing above K2’s “death zone”: the 8000m altitude above which human life can only briefly be sustained. But too often these seracs come tumbling down, taking climbers to plummet with them.

gabe and K2 on Flickr by Maria Ly (license)

1. Annapurna, Nepal

Elevation: 8091m
Average time to summit: 40–50 days

By no means should a mountain’s height ever be confused with its technical difficulty. Annapurna, the tenth highest peak in the world, is deadly proof. With a near 40% summit fatality rate, a mountaineer is more likely to die here than on any other 8000m climb.

Threat of storms and avalanches loom over the mountain’s hulking glacial architecture. The south face, in particular, is widely considered the most dangerous climb on Earth.

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

Just a stone’s throw from some of Africa’s most celebrated safari destinations, the astonishing Lake Natron remains irresistibly isolated and under-explored. But with so much to offer and with the world outside drawing ever nearer, Christopher Clark is left wondering what the future holds for this hidden highlight.

The air seems hotter and drier with every minute. The golden savannah grasslands and flat-top acacia trees, images synonymous with a Tanzanian safari, soon give way to parched, rocky semi-desert. We’re slowly wilting away like old spinach in the back of the Land Cruiser.

Defying the inhospitable landscape, the bomas (enclosures) we pass belong to the semi-nomadic Maasai, with fences of thorny acacia branches wrapped around them in perfect circles. Long lines of cattle and goats kick up clouds of dust all around us. Barefoot children run towards the side of the car in excitement as our small film crew passes.

The Mountain of God rises serenely ahead of us

When we stop to stretch our legs, we are instantly enveloped by a crowd of Maasai women who seem to have materialized out of the earth beneath our feet. They hold up colourful beads and cloth for sale, and ask us to take photos of them in their traditional garb in return for a small fee. It’s suddenly apparent that although this area remains irresistibly isolated for now, we are not the first intrepid tourists to tread here.

Credit: Christopher Clark

In fact, a number of local operators, including our hosts Tanzania-Experience, are looking to tap into Lake Natron’s hitherto under-explored offerings, and have started to include it on their Northern Circuit camping itineraries. After all, we’re just a few bumpy hours’ drive from safari icons including the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, as well as the transport hub of Arusha.

We continue along our route and soon we can see Ol Doinyo Lengai, Maasai for “Mountain of God”, rising serenely ahead of us. Ol Doinyo Lengai is an active volcano, and around its peak an uneven white coat that resembles a giant bird dropping bears witness to the last eruption back in 2007. A solitary cloud hovers directly above the summit like a halo.

After skirting the rugged escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, finally Lake Natron comes into view ahead, its mirror-like soda and saline surface akin to a great shallow ocean coruscating in the harsh light of early afternoon. At over a thousand square kilometres in size, the lake stretches all the way to the Kenyan border somewhere inside the haze on the horizon. It’s home to more than two million crimson-winged flamingos, while fauna in the surrounding area includes giraffe and zebra.

Credit: Christopher Clark

We pull up at our campsite for the night, which has plenty of shade and raised views from the hillside right across the lake. Our guide Enock tells us the property is owned by an enterprising Maasai businessman who was born in the area and has great faith in its tourism potential, as evinced by the various unfinished developments – a pool, a conference centre and luxury safari tents – dotted around his property. Today though, we are his only guests.

Maasai men lead a life little-changed in the last hundred years

A few lean Maasai teenage boys with large knives on their belts emerge from one of the outbuildings and help us set up our tents. Every so often, one of the boys will pause and pull a mobile phone out of his robe, type furiously for a moment or two and then resume his work. I wonder what impact this technology has had on a way of life that otherwise seems to have changed little over the past hundred years.

I also wonder whether these teenagers will still be in this place, living this way, in another ten years. The world outside is drawing ever closer, and the area’s rich biodiversity and cultural heritage are threatened by deforestation, oil and gas exploration and a proposed soda ash plant.

Credit: Christopher Clark

In June 2015, local villagers signed a deal with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) that they hope will go some way to securing the area’s future. If carefully managed, more tourist footprints could make a valuable contribution too.

Having unpacked and taken a quick power nap at our campsite, the early evening temperature is less oppressive and we make our way down to the lake shore to get a closer look at the flamingos, who it turns out don’t smell half as pretty as they look, even from some distance. We can’t get too close anyway – the high alkalinity of the shallow water in Lake Natron can seriously burn the skin, ensuring the birds’ safety from any predators.

In softer light the undulating Rift Valley escarpment looks less hostile but even more striking

At the top of a nearby hill we set up a table and chairs and settle in for a cold sundowner. We look out over the perfectly still surface of the lake, its edges studded with pink birds. In the softer light, the ancient undulating Rift Valley escarpment looks greener and less hostile, and even more striking. We have this view all to ourselves.

Down at water level, a lone Maasai herder walks across the dry, cracked earth into the distance, presided over by the Mountain of God. What the future holds for him and his region remains to be seen, but it’s not hard to see why many around here don’t seem to be in any great hurry for change.

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

Traditionally, pilgrimage meant hoofing it, wayfaring the hard way. Yet most Catholic authorities will tell you there’s nothing particularly sinful about making it easier on yourself.

You could roughly trace Spain’s Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, by car … but then taking full advantage of the fringe benefits – discounted accommodation and gorgeous red wine – would prove difficult. The answer? Get on your bike.

Day 1 by Juan Pablo Olmo (CC license

With reasonable fitness and not a little tenacity, the mantra of “two wheels good, four wheels bad” can take you a long way on the religious pilgrimage route that pretty much patented European tourism back in the Middle Ages.

The most popular section begins at the Pyrenean monastery of Roncesvalles, rolling right across northwestern Spain to the stunning (and stunningly wet) Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, where the presence of St James’s mortal remains defines the whole exercise.

Camino de Santiago by Fresco Tours (CC license)

Pack your mac, but spare a thought for the pre-Gortex, pre-Penny-Farthing millions who tramped through history, walking the proverbial 500 miles to fall down at Santiago’s door.

Bikers can expect a slight spiritual snag, however: you have to complete 200km to qualify for a reprieve from purgatory (twice the minimum for walkers). But by the time you’re hurtling down to Pamplona with a woody, moist Basque wind in your hair, though, purgatory will be the last thing on your mind.

Granted, the vast, windswept plains between Burgos and León hold greater potential for torment, but by then you’ll have crossed the Ebro and perhaps taken a little detour to linger amid the vineyards of La Rioja, fortifying your weary pins with Spain’s most acclaimed wine.

photo by Luis Marina (CC license)

The Camino was in fact responsible for spreading Rioja’s reputation, as pilgrims used to slake their thirst at the monastery of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The medieval grapevine likewise popularized the route’s celebrated Romanesque architecture; today many monasteries, convents and churches house walkers and cyclists.

Once you’re past the Cebreiro pass and into Celtic-green Galicia, rolling past hand-ploughed plots and slate-roofed villages, even a bike seems newfangled amid rhythms that have scarcely changed since the remains of St James first turned up in 813.

A “credencial” or Pilgrim’s Passport, available from the monastery at Roncesvalles or via csj.org.uk, entitles you to free or very cheap hostel accommodation. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

Go Buggy Rollin, France

Buggy, what? Yes, that’s right: Buggy Rollin. It’s a relatively new adventure sport in which each participant wears a full body suit covered in wheels and stoppers – a bit like a PowerRanger – and then hurtles face-first down a bobsleigh track at speeds of up to 100km/h. Weird, wonderful and a little insane – but we love it. Try it at the Beton on Fire festival in La Plagne in the French Alps.

Highline above a canyon, USA

Like a giant spider’s web, a network of slacklines link one side of a canyon to another. At the centre of the net (dubbed the ‘Mothership Space Net Penthouse’ by its creators) is a hole through which base-jumpers drop while highliners perch on one-inch wide pieces of string slung 120m above the ground. The venue is the Moab Desert in Utah, USA, where these extreme sports nuts meet annually to get their kicks.

Ride the world’s steepest rollercoaster, Japan

Get ready to scream as your carriage slowly makes its vertical ascent before plummeting at 100km/h down the world’s steepest rollercoaster drop – a hair-raising 121 degrees in freefall. Takabisha is the newest rollercoaster at the Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park in Yamanashi, Japan, and is enough to put the wind up even the bravest of fairground thrillseekers.

Wing walk in the UK

In 1920s America, flying circuses travelled the country to promote aviation. Their ‘barnstorming’ pilots performed stunts like rolls and loop-the-loops while wing walkers wowed the crowds with their dangerous acrobatics on the wings of tiny biplanes. You can have a go at wing walking in Yorkshire in the UK, where, despite being fully kitted out with safety harness and parachute, none of the thrill has been lost.

Free dive in the Bahamas

In 2010, William Trubridge broke the free-diving record when he descended to a hundred metres on a single breath at Dean’s Blue Hole. It’s the world’s deepest salt-water blue hole, which is a kind of underwater sinkhole that opens out into a vast underwater cavern. Learning to free-dive in its turquoise waters is a remarkable experience, especially as the coral caves are teeming with sea life, from tropical fish and shrimps to seahorses and turtles.

Go volcano boarding in Nicaragua

It’s a steep one-hour climb up Cerro Negro, an active volcano in northwest Nicaragua. From the rim you can look down into the steaming crater, then hop on your board. The way back down takes only about three minutes: surfing or sliding, carving up pumice and coating your skin in a layer of thick black dust. Messy, exhilarating and oh so fun!

Climb cliffs without ropes, Ethiopia

The only way to access Tigray’s rock-hewn medieval monasteries is by foot, but they are high up in the Gheralta Mountains and there are no ropes to help with the climb. Visitors must traverse a narrow ledge and free-climb up a vertical rock-face. The rewards, however, are plentiful: grand views across a wide rocky landscape, striated pinnacles of sandstone and the fascinating painted interiors of the ancient churches.

Edgewalk at CN Tower, Toronto, Canada

The EdgeWalk at CN Tower in Toronto, Canada, is the world’s highest external walk on a building. Small groups that venture out onto a 1.5m-wide ledge that circles the very top of the tower are encouraged to dangle hands-free off the side of the building, 356m above the ground, trusting completely in the safety harness.

Explore the world’s largest cave, Borneo, Malaysia

You’ll soon find out if you suffer from bathophobia – the fear of depths – as you enter the Sarawak Chamber, the world’s largest cave by surface area. Beneath Gunung Mulu National Park in Borneo, an underground river channel takes you deep into the cave network. When you finally arrive at the Sarawak Chamber, the size of the space is hard to comprehend: at 150,000 square metres, the chamber is large enough to house forty Boeing 747 aeroplanes. You’ll feel very small indeed.

Base jumping from Angel Falls, Venezuela

Ever fancied jumping off a vertical cliff in a wingsuit? If so, you should head to Venezuela’s Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall and one of the most magnificent locations to take part in this extreme sport. Just getting here is an adventure. The 979m-high falls are located in a remote spot in the Guiana Highlands, accessible by riverboat and a trek through the jungle.

Bungee jumping from the Verzasca Dam, Switzerland

Like James Bond in the film Goldeneye, you too can leap from the world’s highest stationary bungee platform. The Verzasca Dam (or Contra Dam) in Switzerland is a 220m-high hydroelectric dam near Locarno, which holds back a reservoir containing 105 million cubic metres of water. For an extra adrenalin rush, try jumping at night.

Cliff diving at La Quebrada, Mexico

Leaping from the top a cliff into choppy seas below is a popular daredevil pursuit worldwide, but in La Quebrada, Mexico, it’s so dangerous that it’s best left to the professionals. With one swift movement, each diver soars high then gracefully turns and dives, hitting the water just as it surges up the gorge.

Flyboard in France

The sight of people hovering up to three metres above water is slightly futuristic, especially when they start flipping, spinning and diving whilst attached to what looks like a giant vacuum cleaner tube. Don’t be alarmed, this is flyboarding – a new watersport invented in 2011 by French jet-ski champion Francky Zapata, and it’s (literally) taking off around the world. A good place to try it is at La Rochelle on France’s Atlantic Coast.

Camp out in bear country, Wyoming, USA

Ah the Great Outdoors. If wild camping in a remote spot sounds idyllic, then Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA, could be for you – unless you don’t fancy your chances against grizzly bears in search of dinner… In fact, there is only about one bear attack in the park each year so your chances are pretty good, but you’ll need nerves of steel to lie all night in a flimsy tent whilst listening for bear-like rustling outside.

Swimming in Devil’s Pool, Victoria Falls, Zambia

Daring swimmers can bathe in this natural infinity pool just inches from the world’s highest waterfall: Victoria Falls in Zambia. Lie against the edge of the precipice and watch the Zambezi river cascade into the canyon 100 metres below, obscuring the view of the rainforest beyond with clouds of mist. This exhilarating swim is only possible in the dry season (May–October) when the waters are low enough for the natural pool to form.

Abseil from Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

Extreme sports professionals regularly fling themselves from South Africa’s famous flat-topped mountain, but now mere mortals can have a go too. The world’s highest commercial abseil starts at 300m above sea level from the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. On the 112m descent, look around you – if you can – at the spectacular view over the beaches and bays of the city’s glittering Atlantic coast.

Skydive over Mount Everest, Nepal

There can be no adrenalin rush quite like it. Free-falling from 29,000ft above Mount Everest in Nepal, will literally take your breath away – not just from the thrill of the jump but from the extraordinary view of the world’s highest mountain. Unfortunately, this once-in-a-lifetime experience comes with a high price tag: tandem jumps with Everest Skydive start at $20,000.

Cycle Death Road, Bolivia

This is said to be Bolivia’s scariest road. The Yungas Road is a narrow track, barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass, with a sheer drop on one side and a vertical rock face on the other. Heavy-goods trucks used to plough along it – and frequently off it – but now only thrill-seeking cyclists hurtle down the 64 kilometre route from the snowy mountains to the rainforest below.

Scotland sports such a strong selection of tourist attractions – from castles and cabers to kilts and whisky – it’s easy to forget that there is much more to this land. Venture away from the cities and you’ll find that Scotland holds over ten percent of Europe’s coastline and almost 300 mountains over 3000ft-tall. Ready to explore? Here are seven Scottish places that you you’ve probably not heard of, but must visit.

1. The Isle of Harris, the Western Isles

Sitting in the far northwest of Scotland’s collections of more than 700 islands, the epic bleached-white sands on the coast of Harris have been compared to the Caribbean’s finest beaches. There are ample stretches of perfect puffy white sand to choose from: our favourites are Luskentyre, Seilebost and the wide sweep of Scarista. You will often have these beaches all to yourself, and even if someone dares to break your solitude, you can just wander along to the next one.

Isle of Harris, Scotland by iknow-uk on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

2. The Quiraing, Isle of Skye

It may look like the gnarled New Zealand countryside which doubled so superbly as the setting for the Lord of the Rings films, but this Tolkienesque landscape is actually on Scotland’s Isle of Skye. Sheer rock faces, twisted stacks, piercing pinnacles and unlikely erratic boulders combine to conjure up an otherworldly scene that looks truly spectacular on a sunny day. It’s even more dramatic when Skye’s notorious mists creep in.

3. St Kilda, the Western Isles

St Kilda is an archipelago so impressive that it became the first place in the world to be recognised by the UNESCO World Heritage list for both its natural heritage (it’s home to the unique Soay sheep and the St Kilda field mouse) and its human history (its inhabitants lived a unique communal life until it was abandoned in 1930).

It’s an often (very) bumpy boat ride out across forty miles of ocean from the Western Isles to get there, but the sheer cliffs and otherworldly rock formations are worth the effort.

Cleit on Hirta with Soay lamb by Irenicrhonda on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

4. Foula, the Shetland Islands

Few Scots have even heard of the UK’s most remote inhabited isle, which is mind-bendingly different. Take a boat twenty miles away from the Shetland mainland and you can watch as the hardy Foula locals (there are less than forty of them) help haul your ferry out so that it isn’t dashed into the rocks by the storms that frequently thrash through.

Venture out across this rugged island’s hilly wilderness and in summer you can see bonxies (huge skuas) and Arctic Terns swooping above your heads. Or, enjoy a picnic by the sea as you watch orcas hunt for seals on the rocky shores that even the Romans never made it out to. They dubbed Foula their Ultima Thule, or the end of the known world, when they spied it in the distance.

Foula post office by neil roger on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

5. Cairngorms National Park, the Highlands

Despite being the UK’s largest national park – home to what is also the largest mountain plateau in the UK – Cairngorms National Park is one of the least-visited. This vast, inhospitable wilderness often looks more like the Arctic than Scotland, with snow drifts swirling in hurricane force winds during winter, and ice and snow lingering in places right through summer.

It feels a world apart too, as you ramble across a lunar landscape where the UK’s only wild reindeer herd roam and the wrecks of crashed WWII aircraft and debris from two more modern F-16s lie frozen in time. The plateau is a paradise for well prepared walkers in summer, and skiers and snowboarders take over in winter.

6. Loch Torridon, the Highlands

Fancy a visit to the Norwegian fjords? Well, save yourself some cash and head to Wester Ross, which offers the fjord-like delights of little known Loch Torridon. This mighty sea loch spreads its tentacles from the small village of Torridon, flanked by the natural amphitheatre of the Torridon Mountains, which tower over 1000m-high.

The cobalt blue waters, lack of development and bountiful marine life – look out for seals, dolphins and, as you get closer to the open sea, whales – beguile and evoke a Nordic vibe. You can stay at the SYHA hostel, the relaxed Torridon Inn or the seriously posh mock baronial Torridon Hotel, which makes the most of its epic fjord views.

Loch Torridon, sunrise by Steve Schnabel on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

7. Thurso, the Highlands

Let’s talk surfing. We all know about Australia’s Bondi and the brilliant waves in Bali – but what about Thurso? It’s usually a case of on with the drysuit rather than wetsuit here, but the coastline around the Highland town of Thurso packs a serious punch in the world of surfing.

Unsuspecting walkers are often surprised to find the surreal spectacle of a dozen surfers lying out in the Pentland Firth, looking to catch some of the serious waves you get in these tumultuous waters, as the Orkney Isles blink back in the distance. The conditions are so good that a volley of surf championships have been held here, including two world championships for kayak surfing.

Thurso Reef by Dave Ellis on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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

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