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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

Autumn (or Fall) in New England is a breathtaking and beautiful season: the billions of leaves change from green to a rainbow of browns, reds, oranges and yellows across the fields and forests of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. At this time of year the air is cool and crisp, making it perfect for walking or cycling; the wildlife is abundant, with thousands of birds and wild moose to spot; and you can find top lobster in Maine to accompany the wine trail in Connecticut.

Here are 20 stunning pictures of New England fall foliage that showcase the region in all its colourful autumnal glory.

Smuggler’s Notch Waterfall, Vermont

 Wheeler Mountain, Vermont

 Downtown Boston, Massachusetts

 Stratton Mountain, Vermont

Picture courtesy of Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing and Discover New England

 Whiting Church, Vermont

Picture courtesy of Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing and Discover New England

Deerfield River Valley, Massachusetts

 Rocky Gorge, White Mountains, New Hampshire

Photo courtesy of New Hampshire Division of Travel & Tourism Development and Discover New England, by Ellen Edersheim

Sandy Stream Pond, Baxter State Park, Maine

Newport, Vermont

Photo courtesy of Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing and Discover New England, by Dennis Curran 

The Presidential Range, New Hampshire

Photo courtesy of New Hampshire Division of Travel & Tourism Development and Discover New England

Montpelier, Vermont

 New Hampshire

Photo courtesy of New Hampshire Division of Travel & Tourism and Discover New England

Mount Katadin, Maine

 Rockport, Maine

 Photo courtesy of Maine Office of Tourism and Discover New England

Acadia National Park, Maine

Image courtesy of Discover New England

 Cranberry harvest, Plymouth, Massachusetts

 Image courtesy of Discover Plymouth and Discover New England

French King Bridge, Massachusetts

Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Photo courtesy of New Hampshire State Parks and Discover New England

Camden Harbour, Maine

 Photo courtesy of Discover New England

Litchfield Hills, Connecticut

 Photo courtesy of Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism and Discover New England

Discover the best places to stay, eat and drink in New England with the Rough Guide to the USA. Book hostels in New England here, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

From ancient ruins to beautiful beaches, Cyprus has a multitude of incredible things to see and do. Whether you’re after a challenging hike, fancy some wildlife spotting or want to go diving, this sun-kissed country will deliver. Here are our top things not to miss in Cyprus.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Escaping the hundreds of climbers on their way to Machu Picchu, Alex Robinson discovers the “other Inca Trail” in Peru – an equally impressive but near-empty climb. 

I woke with a start in the night. The dogs were barking in the camp. I heard the clatter of tin cans, the crash of plates and then frightened shouts from one of the guides.

“Es un oso!” Did I hear that right? A bear? My heart thumped. I thought of the millimetres of canvas between me and the forest, and the chocolate bar under my pillow, its sugary sweetness seeping into the mossy odours of the night. There was a muffled, deep guttural growl. Then more frenetic barks and human yells and something heavy lumbered swiftly past my tent. I heard a tearing of branches. The dogs quietened down. Silence.

Image by Alex Robinson

Had it gone? I lay awake, wide-eyed. Or was it waiting? Five minutes. Ten minutes of silence. Nothing. Fear turned to wonder. I knew our camp was remote, but a spectacled bear, native to the Andes, was so rare it was almost mythical – as hard to find as a snow leopard. Somehow it had found our tourist camp – on an Inca trail, leading to a ruined city high in the tropical Andes.

Our trail didn’t go to Machu Picchu. The only wildlife you’ll see en route to that Inca city are high soaring raptors and the occasional viscacha (a rodent) by the wayside – looking like a stoned rabbit and squeaking alarmingly before rushing off into the bushes. There are just too many hikers on their way to Machu Picchu. But we were going to the Inca city of Choquequirao, and in the six nights we’d been on the trail we’d seen just two other walkers, panting as they descended out of the swirling mist from one of the numerous high passes.

Image by Alex Robinson

The scenery was magnificent, a trail running along a river had taken us past a string of minor Inca sites and high into the hills. We’d clambered up stone steps that wound into mountains and descended into thick cloud forest dripping with lichens and mosses and so silent you could hear the buzz of humming bird wings. We’d played football in a tiny Quechua village on a pitch cut flat from a steep Andean spur. We were a novelty there, not “gringo” tourists. And we’d dropped and climbed through deep valleys watched over by towering peaks that hid behind wispy clouds before revealing themselves in blazing reflected sunlight.

And though I may not have witnessed more than the broken plates and wrecked food containers that were left in its wake, I’d now experienced a spectacled bear. It was the last morning before we’d reach Choquequirao and over breakfast all of us were buzzing with excitement about the bear, and anticipation of our arrival. The internet is flooded with images of Machu Picchu, but a Google search of Choquequirao brings far fewer pictures. But those I did find had been dreamily spectacular when I first saw them, and now the city was just over the next ridge.

Image by Alex Robinson

It took us the whole morning to climb it, and much of the early afternoon to wind down the path on the other side. Choquequirao wouldn’t reveal itself. A dense fairytale-esque forest of gnarled, lichen-covered trees blocked out every view. The boulder-strewn path twisted and turned for kilometres. Finally, off to the right I caught a tantalising glimpse of buildings, rounded another corner and the forest opened onto a view of stone houses, and a sweep of terraces. We dropped further and cut past an unmistakably Inca wall – a jig-saw of organic lines formed by the slotting together of huge rocks.

The guide wouldn’t let us enter the city. Instead he ushered us past and onwards up another steep path to a high viewpoint. And then we saw Choquequirao in her slendour. At our feet was a grassy green plaza cut out of the face of a vast mountain spur swathed in forest. Off to the right scores of terraced fields dropped into a steep valley cut deep by the rushing blue-water Apurimac – a tributary of a tributary of a tributary of the Amazon. It was so far below that my eyes were dizzy with vertigo. But I could hear its roar echo up the mountain walls. Behind Choquequirao was a distant, serrated edge of snow-covered mountains. They momentarily revealed their faces through drifting cloud which cleared and paused, then swirled, covering the mountains once again from view.

Image by Alex Robinson

We stood in silence for more than an hour, spellbound as we watched the light shift and change as the sun sank into the valley at our backs, honeying the city stone warm yellow. The sky faded into glorious pink and purple and finally turquoise blue as the sun set, casting its dying rays onto the distant snowfields.

For two days we explored Choquequirao, losing ourselves in its silent ruins, in its meditative views and on paths cutting into the surrounding hills, and for those two days we had the city to ourselves, before leaving it behind us and taking the dusty path up through the valley to a town a bus and finally Cusco.

We’d been ten days away by the time we reached that city and its crowds of travellers – most of them on their way to Machu Picchu. Few had even heard of Choquequirao. But they will soon. Peru plans to build a fast road link from Cusco and a cable car across the Apurimac valley. Come before they do and walk the trail. The other Inca trail.

Journey Latin America  offer trips to Cusco including treks to Choquequirao. Explore more of Peru with the Rough Guide to Peru. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, is a tropical gateway to one of the region’s main surfing areas, Kenting. But it’s also well worth a visit in its own right. Jamie Fullerton finds some of the top things to do in Kaohsiung.

Taipei, the capital of Taiwan and most travellers’ gateway to the island that is rightly considered one of the world’s friendliest places, is one of the greatest cities on Earth for day trips. Less than an hour after you’re slurping beef noodle soup in the city centre you can be up a mountain sucking in lung-cleansing air, perhaps while considering messing around in a waterfall or two.

For this reason Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second city – reached after a two and a half hour journey on the wonderfully efficient high speed train from Taipei – is often overlooked. Surrounded by mountains, it also boasts rich day trip choices such as the Wushanding mud volcano or Kenting National Park, but an exciting 24 hours can be had there without leaving the city.

It’s one of those great cities that seem to have vastly more mid-range hotel rooms than are necessary, so prices are low. Once you’ve dropped your bag off at any of its adequate quality, fairly bargainous crash pads you can grab a bite at one of the city’s many quirky themed restaurants.

Kaohsiung is the proud home of Funny Sex: the island’s first sex-themed restaurant, where you can dine in the company of a blow-up love doll, drink soup from a bowl shaped like a pair of breasts and eat chocolate pudding shaped like a penis and testicles. Don’t expect a world-class meal, but for a lifetime’s worth of new Facebook photos it can’t be beaten.

Once you’ve had your fill of food shaped like genitals you can head to Chichin Island, found an eight-minute ferry ride from Kaohsiung Harbour. Despite being so close to the main city, the island has a fun holiday feel, with people stumbling around in enormous garish traditional masks as vendors dish out ice creams and seafood.

Cihou Lighthouse, built in 1883 by British engineers, is a highlight, but the most invigorating experience is a long coastal walk down the quiet western side of the island. As the weather worsens the place becomes more atmospheric with the black and grey sand, crashing waves and swathes of trader ships moored in the distance forming a mildly spooky yet relaxing atmosphere.

Back in the main city area, as evening sets in, it’s time to visit a couple of of the city’s famous night markets to quell the coastal walk-derived hunger. Go to Ruifeng Night Market first, found next to the Kaohsiung Arena metro station. A blurry whir of colourful funfair-style games, zany clothes stalls and steam from countless food stands billowing into the atmosphere, it’s an invigorating people-watching spot. Play some air gun games, grab a huge mug of 7 Up, crushed fruit and vodka, but save space in your stomach for Liuhe Night Market, found further south on Liuhe 2nd Road.

A normal road by day, at night Liuhe is pedestrianised. There are clothes and bags on sale but really, it’s all about the seafood. To the eastern end of the market many seafood barbeque stands and ramshackle restaurants offer garlic-soaked lobsters, oysters, fat shrimps and squids on sticks. Go large and fork out 1,000 TWD (£20) for a huge seafood variety barbeque platter, washed down with a local beer.

With the city’s young flocking to the night markets and only a small boozy expat population, Kaohsiung doesn’t have a thriving late-night bar scene. However, there some good spots seldom frequented by visitors from outside the city. Try Ann Cocktail Lounge (34 Daren Street, Xinxin district) for friendly service and decent cocktails. The bar is as good for language practise as its Old Fashioned drinks; on my visit the barman explained that I was only the fifth westerner who had visited in three years. A venue with a more hidden feel is the classy Mini Fusion (No. 4, 10th block, Linde Road, Lingya district), found down a traditional lane.

It’s hardly the bar frenzy of, say, Hong Kong or Shanghai, but there’s enough going on to have a cosy toast to your 24 hours in the city. And, if you really want, you can always go back to Funny Sex and drink milk tea from a mug shaped like a penis.

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

Away from the tourist hub that is Killarney, discover an exciting area of County Kerry in Ireland that’s rebranding itself and screaming out for independent travellers to explore its rich history and dramatic landscapes.

The Ring of Kerry is a circular road from Killarney that traverses the stunning lakes and mountains of the Iveragh Peninsula. It is a beautiful drive – as long you don’t mind staring at the back of the bus in front of you, a likely sight along this tourist coach-congested road. As the one of the most visited places in Ireland, tourism is the main game in this part of the county. But to the frustration of the locals, there’s one incredible part of the peninsula that most people miss out.

On a turning just off of the Ring of Kerry, the Skellig Ring – a shorter and far steeper route, inaccessible to large vehicles – begins, providing access to an area brimming with history, Irish tradition and gorgeous natural beauty.

An area most famous for the sixth century monastery that sits on the rocky island of Skellig Michael (now being used to film scenes for the new Star Wars film), the Skellig Ring encompasses Valentia Island, the quaint village of Portmagee, and beautiful Ballinskelligs Bay, all of which sit in an area now being rebranded by a few proud and determined residents as “Skellig Kerry”.

Portmagee, County Kerry, by jfd83 via Compfight cc

According to Cormac Dineen, one of the few local residents who are taking tourism development into their own hands by raising funds to make the area more accessible, “it’s just a name of a region that allows this place to be distinctive.”

Cormac – like many others along the Skellig Ring – has grown up on the Iveragh Peninsula but had to move away to find work and support his family. Now he’s back, and with the help of a few other keen locals, he’s crusading for Skellig Kerry to become the place where independent travellers can discover what he calls the “real Ireland” with thousands of years’ worth of history and traditions intact.

Staggering natural beauty and distinctive culture

“There is an untamed – and untamable – wildness about the Kerry landscape, from our long coastline to our rugged mountains,” he explains.

“The fact that Kerry is one of the most rural counties in Ireland, even today, and it was so far away from the influence of large urban centres until around 30 years ago, means that our traditions, our culture and our accent is still very distinctive and very much a part of our everyday lives here.”

It is this distinct culture that often goes unnoticed by travellers passing by on the Ring of Kerry, or through the peninsula on their way to the Skellig Islands. It can be found all across the Skellig Ring route, from the wooden Siene fishing boat races held along the coastline where rowdy crowds cheer on their local teams, to the live Guinness-fuelled Irish music nights where revellers dance until the early hours in the many pubs on Cahersiveen’s colourful high street.

There’s a thriving cultural scene too. The Cill Rialaig Arts Centre is an artists’ retreat and a hub for local painters, photographers and sculptors to showcase and sell their work, much of which is inspired by the natural beauty of the dramatic coastline that surrounds them; painted sweeping landscapes adorn the walls of the shop, and small ceramic puffins teeter on shelves. At the Old Oratory in Cahersiveen, a prime music venue for local and national celebrities to perform (see the likes of Declan O’Rourke or renowned accordion player Michael O’Brien), there’s a quaint café by day and some wild, bring-your-own-booze gigs by night.

Millions of years of history

Thanks to Skellig Kerry’s unfruitful land and humble population, much of the region’s history has remained intact. “One of the advantages of poor agricultural land,” explains Cormac, “is that it didn’t make any sense to clear fields of ancient structures as the land was far too wet to support agriculture anyway, with or without the stones, so they just lay where they were for centuries and often millennia.”

In addition to the sixth century monastery on Skellig Michael, there are an astounding number of historic sites across the area. The tall ruined sixteenth century Ballycarbery Castle sits casually unguarded on the coastline just three kilometres from Cahersiveen, open to all for climbing and exploring within its battered walls.

A track of dinosaur footprints on Valentia Island, which are thought to belong to an amphibious reptile that dates back as far as 350 million years, and the 4000 year old fossilised forest that was recently discovered on Reenroe beach in Ballinskelligs are prime examples of the kind of accessible history along the Skellig Ring.

Skellig Kerry in the future

But it’s not all about looking back in time here. Cormac and his band of Skellig Kerry supporters are planning to make a difference in the future too.

“We have paid for and marked out an ancient pilgrim trail on Cnoc na dTobar, [a mountain] famous for its “Stations of the Cross” path leading up to the 690-metre-high summit, and have been invited to add it to the national Pilgrim Paths project.”

The team are organising a walking festival for 2015 to include many of the stunning trails and paths that pass over the undulating hills and across the coastline, and they are determined to bring back the ancient Pagan celebration of Lughnasa (pronounced Loo-nessa) – a harvest festival usually held on high ground – by hosting an annual trek up one of the three holy mountains in the region.

This kind of passion and dedication to a cause is admirable, and when I ask what’s in it for them, Cormac simply responds:

“Giving back to this place, the people and culture of Skellig Kerry.”

He says: “There has always been a history of people from Kerry helping each other out, so now we can use our contacts and expertise to engage with the wider world with the aim of keeping young families at home so that Skellig Kerry is a thriving, attractive and still untamed place to live and visit.”

With so much natural beauty and a culturally aware populous, there is little doubt that more and more people will discover Skellig Kerry’s infectious charms.

Watch this space for more updates and information on Skellig Kerry. Explore more of Ireland with the Rough Guide to Ireland. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Our green and boggy isle may be small, but one thing’s for certain: it’s home to some of the most magnificent landscapes in Europe, if not the world. Sure, our much lamented climate means you’ll likely get a soaking or three (four if you’re in Scotland), but with everything from coastal strolls to fearsome scrambles, British boots were, surely, made for some serious walking.

Hadrian’s Wall Path

From the suburbs of Newcastle to the Solway Firth, Britain’s most iconic Roman monument doubles as perhaps its most compelling long-distance path, marching some 84 miles across northern England’s most bracing and barren terrain. Sure, you’ll need some imaginative licence in places but enough stones remain unturned – and forts excavated – to project the rather ascetic lot of a second-century legionnaire, blistered feet no doubt included.

West Highland Way

As Scotland’s inaugural long-distance path, the 95-mile West Highland Way did much to raise the profile of the hiking opportunities on Glasgow’s doorstep. It’s a rites-of-passage trek that segues beautifully from city suburbs to the forests of Loch Lomond, the desolation of Rannoch Moor and the drama of Devil’s Staircase, eventually winding up near the foot of Ben Nevis: all in all, a perfect introduction to the Scottish Highlands. In high summer, though, it’s also a potentially not-so-perfect introduction to the dastardly Highland midge. Forget that repellent at your peril…

Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall

You likely won’t see any lizards on this Cornish peninsula (the name rather has its roots in the native tongue), but you will breeze through some of Britain’s most spectacular coastline, complete with exotic subtropical plants, rugged caves and exquisite coves, and an endlessly churning sea. And though it makes up a mere fraction of the marathon six-hundred-mile South West Coast Path you could happily spend days exploring its serpentine nooks and filmic crannies.

Wester Ross, Scottish Highlands

Since Monty Halls turned his back on the twenty-first century in favour of the simple life as a crofter in The Great Escape, the coast of Wester Ross has become as popular with would-be escapees as its mighty Munros have long been with hill-walkers and climbers. While both Applecross and the Loch Torridon settlements of Shieldaig and Diabaig all make great bases for some gloriously scenic and relatively easy-going sea walks, the ancient, fortress-like peaks of Torridon itself, not least the twin-pronged bulk of Liathach, the famous horns of Beinn Alligin and the gleaming, quartzite-crowned massif of Beinn Eighe, offer some of the most dramatic ascents on the British mainland.

Helvellyn, Lake District

It’s not the highest peak in the Lake District but it can still stake a claim as the most romantic, with a capital “r” or otherwise. Beloved of Wordsworth, Wainwright and generations of walkers, England’s most popular mountain is a study in contrast, its summit flat enough to land a plane and its deceptively named western arête, Striding Edge, sharp enough – terrifyingly so – to evoke the Sublime in even the most hardened scrambler.

Wessex Ridgeway

A different kind of ridge entirely from the arêtes of Lakeland, if no less steeped in history, this archaic highway has been chalking up foot traffic for centuries, threading as it does into an old Devon to Norfolk trade route. Its 137-mile course passes through some of the loveliest landscapes in southern England – think intimate woods, hidden valleys and open downlands with views that go on forever – taking in Avebury’s stone circles, the fringes of Salisbury Plain and ancient droving trails in Hardy’s Dorset, en route to the chalk giant of Cerne Abbas and the coast.

Tryfan, Snowdonia

It may slop and squelch under some of the heaviest rainfalls in Britain, but Snowdonia is hard to beat. Its serrated, slate-lined peaks cater for a range of abilities, yet it’s also home to the only mountain on the British mainland that demands scrambling as part of the main ascent: regal Tryfan. The famous north ridge route in fact pans out far less intimidatingly than its razor-like fin suggests from the ground, but once you reach the summit – and leap the five-foot gap between the iconic Adam and Eve rocks – you’ll feel like a true mountaineer.

Southern Upland Way, Borders

The Scottish Borders are perhaps still more identified with horseriding than hoofing it, but this coast-to-coast, Irish to North Sea odyssey – 212 miles in total – may one day change that. And while the dome-like hills of the Southern Uplands mightn’t match the Highlands for drama, they more than match them for sheer remoteness – chances are you’ll have your trail to yourself, even in summer. If you don’t fancy hiking the full hog, the thirty-odd-mile Moffat to Traquair stretch makes for an evocative sampler, encompassing the ancient remnants of the Ettrick Forest, St Mary’s Loch and the splendours of Traquair House.

South Downs Way

Cradling a hundred-mile swathe from the historic city of Winchester to the spectacular white cliffs of Beachy Head, this clement landscape of ancient woodland, open heath and chalky downs may lend itself more to rambling, cycling and horseriding than hardcore hiking, but its recently awarded national park status reflects a rural charm wholly distinct from Britain’s remoter corners. Tackle it from west to east to take advantage of the prevailing wind, and the psychological appeal of finishing at those vertiginous cliffs.

Stanage Edge, Peak District

A kind of Peak District Table Mountain in miniature, the four miles of gritstone cliff that make up Stanage Edge have been scaled since the nineteenth century, while the surrounding dry-stone dykes, historic buildings and emaciated moors have been sewn into England’s cultural and literary landscape for much longer. Various walks take in the famous escarpment, most conveniently setting out from the village of Hathersage. Whichever route you take, though, you’ll be rewarded by spectacular views, not to mention the haunting debris of long-abandoned millstones and the hair-raising sight of people inching up the Edge’s profusion of iconic climbs – you may even be tempted to don a hard hat yourself.

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While working for an NGO in Kabul, British expat Marc Perry went to explore the precipitous Panjishir valley in northeastern Afghanistan.

It had been my dream to visit Panjshir ever since I’d arrived in Afghanistan. Historically a geographic safe haven slicing through the Hindu Kush from Afghanistan to Tajikistan, this craggy, high-altitude valley is the final resting place of the legendary “Lion of Panjshir”,  Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of “the only cohesive military opposition to the Taliban” until his assassination in 2001.

I began my journey in Kabul. The valley is accessible to the adventurous by a private company car – with a security guard included for a few hundred dollars – but I judged it risk-free enough to find a cheaper route. After a bus company weighed me up as a westerner and quoted US$500, I left empty handed and laughing; for a local it would more like US$15. In the end I called Samsoor, a good friend. I promised petrol and food in return for wheels and good company.

The road north took us past Bagram air base and along a vast river-cut plain from which the mountains of the Hindu Kush rise impossibly sharp and steep in the distance. The occasional jet screamed overhead, sending rolls of thunder across the valley and echoing off the mountainsides. We passed nomadic herdsmen camping among their sheep in the foothills.

After climbing for some distance the road began to run perilously close to the river Panjshir, which cuts inside a ravine of rock strata faulted at absurdly acute angles. We stopped at an armed guard post where my passport was checked – giving the impression that the valley represented a kingdom of its own. A huge billboard of Massoud, wearing a customary woollen pakul hat, greeted us beyond.

Image by Marc Perry

We continued on through high gorges, following the tumbling waters of the river upstream. Mud-built villages clung to the hillsides while farms and fat-tailed sheep filled the valley floor with colour. The air was as clean as the Pennine hills or the Yorkshire dales and the stone walls separating the fields reminded me of home. It was liberation from the stifling enclosure and pollution of Kabul. We stopped for food at a restaurant on the riverside where we were served a fine spread of freshly fried fish, rice and lamb curries washed down with chai.

Eventually we reached Bazarak, the town that holds Massoud’s tomb. Massoud is revered as a strategist and fighter and his portrait hangs all over northern Afghanistan; in cafes, shops, police cars and in taxis. He oozed handsome charisma – like Bob Marley but with a bazooka. He secured his place in history long before two Al Qaeda-linked suicide bombers detonated their deadly devices in his presence two days before 9/11 – no unfortunate coincidence. Tanks scatter the valley like tombstones here; the rusting remains of the Soviet invasion he resisted in the 1980s.

Image by Marc Perry

The tomb itself is set inside the arches of a domed tower made from stone and glass. It is a simple and regal space, the raised black marble tomb covered with glass panels inscribed with passages from the Koran. We stood on deep red Persian rugs and my Muslim friend cupped his hands in prayer. Massoud himself would approve, I thought: he was devout in observing prayer but was widely recognised for holding a moderate, liberal interpretation of Islam.

Next door, a tourist centre was under construction, ready to welcome the masses – inshallah or “god willing” as they say in Afghanistan. Maybe one day, should peace prevail, visitors will wend their way here from the far corners of the earth. If they do, the proud people of Panjshir will make welcoming hosts.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all but essential travel to Kabul and Panjshir.

In the mysterious setting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Kiki Deere explores one of the world’s most unusual landscapes.

The customs procedures take less time than I anticipate as I cross onto Venezuelan soil from Brazil and drive towards what is undoubtedly one of the world’s most incredible natural sights. My shared taxi from Roraima is also, ironically, cheaper than taking a bus – in Venezuela petrol is so cheap (at about US$1 for a full tank, it costs less than water) that scores of Brazilian taxis are eager to cross the border to stock up on discount fuel. We bump our way along a potholed road and soon reach the crumbling border town of Santa Elena de Uairén, where the driver skids to a halt outside my guesthouse, causing a cloud of dust to rise in the air.

I am here to explore the Canaima National Park, home to some awe-inspiring table top mountains that are among the oldest geological formations in the world, dating back over 1.6 billion years. These structures are also known as tepuis, which in Native American Pemón language means “house of the Gods”. The indigenous Pemón people honour the tepuis, believing them to be inhabited by deities.

About 200 million years ago, at the time of the supercontinent Gondwanaland when South America and West Africa were joined, the summits of the tepuis were connected. When the continents eventually drifted apart disruptions broke up a gargantuan massif, forming individual tepuis that over time grew smaller, some crumbling away. It is the remnants of these sandstone plateaus that can be seen today in the Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that occupies over 30,000 square kilometres and is home to over half of the area’s tepuis.

We traverse the large dry plains of the Gran Sabana, or Great Savannah, where jagged structures jut out of the earth, occasionally stopping for a photographic memento. And suddenly there it is, rising precipitously along the border of Brazil, Venezuela and Guyana: the awe-inspiring Mount Roraima, the highest of the tepui range reaching 2810m and measuring eight kilometres across. This giant tabletop mountain, featuring 400-metre-high sheer cliffs, stands in isolation, its summit often enveloped in clouds of mist.

With heavy rainfall year round, the top of this bleak windswept plateau is one of the wettest places on earth, and, like much of the area, home to extraordinary endemic flora and fauna. Over time, dozens of species of plants have adapted to the semi-sterile soil of Mount Roraima’s plateau by supplementing their diet with the flesh of insects. The pretty red leaves of the carnivorous sundew attract insects that soon become trapped by the plant’s sticky tentacles, which wrap themselves around the little creatures before greedily digesting them.

The rocky terrain of Roraima’s summit is home to endemic animal species that exist nowhere else on earth, including seed-eating and nectar-feeding birds that have adapted to the harsh environment. The most peculiar species here are undoubtedly tiny black pebble toads that are believed to predate dinosaurs. They are closely related to an African species, and were likely trapped here when the continents separated, adapting over time to their new habitat. First discovered in 1895 when early biologists set foot on Mount Roraima, these curious little creatures measure about one inch, and cling onto slippery rocky surfaces. They are unable to swim or hop, and escape predators by wrapping themselves up into tiny balls and bouncing off rocks.

From here I travel northwest to Ciudad Bolívar, where I board a little wobbly plane to Canaima, the jumping off point to the world’s highest waterfall. I peer out of the window at the Canaima National Park that spreads out below: meandering rivers make their way through the verdant jungle, wooden huts occasionally visible along the banks. For centuries, explorers and adventurers had spoken of rivers of gold, luring intrepid travellers to investigate these towering natural skyscrapers that to this day remain shrouded in mystery.

It was one of these explorers – a pilot called Jimmie Angel – who accidentally discovered the world’s highest waterfall here after being stranded on the peak of Auyán Tepui following a heavy plane landing. Unlike most falls the world over, Angel Falls is formed by rainfall and not snowmelt. Large quantities collect in deep pools on the summits of the tepuis, forming vast rivers that cascade over tall cliffs.

I later stand at the base of the fall in awe, as it plunges from a height of over 900m, dropping down the remote plateau of Auyán Tepui. Given the fall’s formidable height, much of the water has evaporated by the time it reaches the pool at the foot of the mountain and is soaked back up into the atmosphere to fall once again as rain over the top of these incredible peaks.

The jumping off point for exploring Mount Roraima is Santa Elena in Venezuela, a small town lying along the Brazilian border. The easiest way to get here is from Boa Vista in Brazil’s northern state of Roraima. Roraima Adventures organises 6 day and 5 night treks to the summit of Mount Roraima, as well as multi-day trips to Angel Falls.

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