January doesn’t have to be that depressing, post-holiday letdown month we’re all used to. There’s so much going on across the world, so whether it’s celebrating Australia Day in the sunshine or bagging bargains at the January sales in London, there are plenty of ways to banish those post-holiday blues. Here are our top places to go in January:

See in the New Year on Rio’s Copacabana Beach

See in 2015 with a spectacular bang as a huge firework display lights up the night sky over iconic Copacabana Beach. Cariocas (as residents of Rio de Janeiro are known) celebrate “Ano Novo” with typical exuberant Brazilian style: two million revellers crowd onto the beach and the party goes on until the sun comes up. In South America it’s the middle of summer and the humid night is filled with people wearing white for luck; mingle with the masses or people watch from one of the beachfront hotels along Avenida Atlântica. The best after parties take place in the chic bars and clubs of Ipanema, another neighbourhood just a short stroll away.

Hit the January sales on London’s Oxford Street

Those seeking massively discounted designer and luxury labels bravely join the mob that descends on Oxford Street each Boxing Day. If you don’t fancy pitching up tent and joining the all night queues, you’ll be please to know that the sales continue throughout January (and the jostling definitely lessens). Big name department stores Selfridges (no. 400), Debenhams (no. 334–338) and House of Fraser (no. 318) are on Oxford Street, and a slightly less frenzied atmosphere to grab a bargain can be found around the corner at Liberty (entrance on Great Marlborough Street).

Head for the slopes in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France

The Mont Blanc Massif is the stunning backdrop to the bustling ski resort town of Chamonix. The setting for the first winter Olympic Games in 1924, today the area boasts 152km of downhill pistes, suitable for every level. Mont Blanc itself is the highest peak in all of Western Europe and if you fancy an off-piste challenge you can tackle the Vallée Blanche all the way down to the valley floor and notch up 10,000 vertical feet. The après-ski is not to sniff at either; the two main streets and lively square pack in restaurants and bars and during the winter season there is always live music to be found and a young crowd ready to party.

Go in search of warmer climes in Goa, India

Although travel prices are relatively high at this time of year, Goa is a cheap destination once you’re there, so if you can manage a break of at least ten days, it’s worth every penny of the flight. The roughly 120-kilometre-long coast takes in everything from hedonistic party beaches, package resorts, sedate stretches of sand and hippie enclaves. Avoid Christmas and the New Year and there are still tranquil, idyllic spots to be found, especially if you head towards the generally less developed south, or you could beat the crowds and explore the former Portuguese capital of Old Goa and the green hinterland of this tiny state.

Skate the world’s largest rink, Ontario

Canada’s capital city boasts the largest naturally frozen rink in the world. Each winter the 4.8-mile-long Rideau Canal running through Ottawa is frozen solid and the skate-way becomes a playground for locals and tourists alike – some intrepid locals even strap on skates and commute to work. The temperature dictates the length of time the canal remains open to ice skaters, but the average cold snap over the last ten years has been 45 days – so there’s plenty of time to catch it.

Witness Up Helly Aa in the Shetland Islands, Scotland

Off the north coast of mainland Scotland in January might not seem like an ideal destination, but every year on the last Tuesday of January, an extraordinary spectacle takes place in the Shetland’s capital, Lerwick. Proud of their Viking roots, local men (no women allowed!) form squads led by the chief “Guizer Jarl” and spend months designing costumes, shields and weapons for the one-day fire festival. Bundle up in your warmest clothes to join the crowds lining the streets for the day’s main event: a torch-lit procession and the blazing glory of a Viking galley going up in flames. The evening’s festivities continue into the wee hours at local halls… music, dancing, drinking and fancy dress mean a lot of fun and a lot of sore heads the next day. Good thing it’s a public holiday.

Go down under to celebrate Australia Day

Swap the cold and dark of winter in the Northern hemisphere for January in sunny Oz. Now a public holiday with a proud tradition of families and friends coming together to celebrate everything about being Australian, 26 January 1788 is when Captain Arthur Phillip first raised the British flag at Sydney Cove. Today Australia Day is celebrated in towns and cities across the country, with the biggest and brightest festivities in PerthSydneyMelbourne and Canberra. Free family-friendly activities and entertainment is laid on all day in the parks, and the evening sees huge firework displays, the most famous being the spectacular explosion of colour over Sydney Harbour.

Recuperate body and soul in Baden-Baden, Germany

The smart German spa town of Baden-Baden (literally, the “baths of Baden”) has been known for its healing thermal waters for more than 2000 years. The Roman-Irish mineral baths of Friedrichsbad are the perfect place to de-stress after the festive period; immerse yourself in the full seventeen-step programme and drift prune-like and dozy between mineral water baths, showers, scrubs and saunas.  Bathing nude is mandatory and is frequently mixed, check ahead on carasana.de/ for details of opening times and prices.

Stretching north to south for 4270km and only 64km wide at its narrowest point, this land of ice and fire, periodically shaken by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, is one of the most geographically diverse on earth.

Most travellers fly into the capital of Santiago, roughly in the middle of the country, and head either towards the fjords, forests and mountains of the south, or the beaches, stargazing observatories and deserts of the north. To help structure your trip, here is our first-timer’s guide for things to do in Chile (see our map of these top sights here).

Around Santiago

The mountains around Santiago and Chillán, further south, in the foothills of the Andes, are prime skiing spots. Just an hour from the capital, you can ride the funiculars up the many hills of the historic port city of Valparaíso, or visit the excellent wineries of the Maipo and Casablanca valleys.

Northern Chile and the Atacama Desert

North of Santiago, the arid Elqui Valley is the place to sample pisco (Chilean brandy) and gaze at the stars through powerful telescopes at the Cerro Mamalluca observatory – one of the most unforgettable things to do in Chile.

The Humboldt Current that keeps Chilean waters frigid provides an ideal environment for penguins at its namesake coastal reserve just off the mainland north of La Serena, and even further north, the teal-coloured waters of Bahía Inglesa could fool you into thinking that you’re in the Mediterranean.

The Nevado Tres Cruces National Park, reachable from the mining town of Copiapó, boasts Chile’s highest peak, Ojos del Salado (6893m) and the electric blue of high-altitude lagoons – Verde and Santa Rosa attract flocks of flamingos and roaming herds of guanacos and vicuñas.

The adobe village of San Pedro de Atacama, at the heart of Chile’s vast northern desert, is the jumping-off spot for sand-boarding down dunes and visiting the otherworldly crimson landscapes of the Valley of the Moon, the Atacama salt flat, aquamarine high-altitude lagoons, and the El Tatio geysers with natural hot springs. Atacama’s clear skies also make the desert an ideal location for the world’s most powerful telescopes.

Heading north from there, seaside Iquique is one of South America’s top paragliding destinations; you run off the giant sand dune that backs the city.

From Iquique, the scenic route to the border town of Arica takes you past the Giant of Atacama petroglyph, the picture-perfect adobe church of Isluga, the vast dirty-white Surire salt flat – home to three flamingo species – and through the elevated Lauca National Park – all green meadows, snow-tipped volcanoes and peacefully grazing alpacas and vicuñas. Arica’s biggest attraction, the ancient Chinchorro mummies – some of the world’s oldest examples of artificially mummified remains – are found in a museum in the nearby Azapa valley.

The Lake District & Chiloe

Heading south of Santiago, you see the smoking snow-tipped cap of the Villarica volcano long before you arrive in Pucón – the Lake District’s activity centre for hiking, biking, rafting, horse-riding and the challenge of the all-day volcano climb. More technical climbs await on the volacnoes in Puerto Varas, further south – a supremely picturesque spot on the shores of Lago Llanquíhue.

The Río Petrohué attracts rafters and kayakers, and the Lake District’s flat, deserted roads, snaking around a profusion of crystalline lakes and waterfalls, is a paradise for cyclists.

A short ferry hop across the channel from Puerto Montt takes you to South America’s second largest island: fog-shrouded Chiloé. Its biggest draws are the tiny villages, each sporting a unique wooden church; two wild national parks – Parque Nacional Chiloé and Pargué Tantauco – and birdwatching while kayaking at dawn in the sunken forest of Chepu Valley; or else checking out Magellanic and Humboldt penguins off the Puñihuil coast.

Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

South of the Lake District, northern Patagonia is a lush, untamed mass of forest, rivers, fjords and mountains, bisected by the infamous Carretera Austral (Southern Highway). At its north end is Pumalín Park, a virgin protected area; the southern half is good for hiking, whereas the north is only reachable by private boat. South of the park is Chaitén, a town half-destroyed by the volcanic eruption in 2008; from here a road leads east to Futaleufú, South America’s most challenging white-water rafting destination.

The potholed dirt-and-gravel Carretera Austral is Chile’s biggest driving challenge. The road cuts through spectacular mountainous landscape before terminating by the glacial waters of the vast Lake O’Higgins, passing the unique boardwalk village of Caleta Tortel along the way. From Villa O’Higgins, the end of the line, there is a spectacular hike to Argentina’s El Chaltén that involves two river crossings.

Southern Patagonia – a land of vaqueros, mountains and huge swathes of scrubland, dotted with roaming guanacos and ñandú (ostriches), has two main towns: historic Punta Arenas, and the smaller Puerto Natales – gateway town to the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park. Natales is where hikers and climbers gather before and after their assault on the distinctive bell-shaped mountains, rock towers, glacial lakes and backcountry trails of Chile’s most popular natural attraction.

Across the stormy Magellan Strait, and south of Tierra del Fuego – South America’s largest island and Chile’s southernmost settlement – is Navarino Island. Tiny Puerto Williams, a remarkably warm and hospitable community of king crab fishermen, nestles at the foot of the bare Dientes de Navarino mountain circuit. This is the continent’s most challenging multi-day hike, and the best place to organise yachting adventures to the ships’ graveyard of Cape Horn.Flying here gives you unparalleled views of the jagged southern Andes, while the a weekly ferry to Punta Arenas provides a close-up look at the most pristine of Chile’s fjords, where you’re likely to spot dolphins, penguins and the occasional whale.

The island territories

The country’s most far-flung territories include Easter Island, far out in the Pacific Ocean, home to a now extinct civilisation and the world-famous moai (stone statues). Closer to home is the Juan Fernández archipelago consisting of tiny islands; the main one, Robinson Crusoe Island, is famous for the castaway who inspired the eponymous novel. Inhabited by a couple dozen lobster-fishing families, it boasts incredible topography and endemic wildlife species such as the firecrown hummingbird.

Getting around

Getting around Chile, from the far north down to the Lake District, is straightforward. There are two major bus companies: Tur Bus and Pullman, both of which run fleets of comfortable buses. You can choose between cama (bed), semi-cama (reclining seats) and regular seats. Fairly frequent minibuses ply the Carretera Austral, connecting the main town of Coyhaique with Chaiten and Futaleufú up north and as far south as Villa O’Higgins.

To reach Patagonia, you either have to take a bus via Argentina from either Pucón or Futaleufú, take the scenic four-day Navimag ferry cruise south through the fjords, or fly.

Travel in the Lake District, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego may also involve ferries. LAN and Sky Airline cover all major cities in Chile between them, flight-wise, though to reach Robinson Crusoe Island you’ll need to hop in a tiny six-seater Cessna from Santiago.

During the colder months, bus, plane and ferry services in the south are greatly reduced, whereas transport in the northern half of the country is generally unaffected. Inaccessible by public transport, the national parks of northern Chile are easiest done as part of an organised tour.

If you want to explore more of this small but exciting country, buy the Rough Guide to Chile. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. You can see the author’s photographs of her trip in Chile here.

There’s a point on the Inca Trail when you suddenly forget the accumulated aches and pains of four days’ hard slog across the Andes. You’re standing at Inti Punku, the Sun Gate, the first golden rays of dawn slowly bringing the jungle to life. Down below, revealing itself in tantalizing glimpses as the early-morning mist burns gradually away, are the distinctive ruins of Machu Picchu, looking every bit the lost Inca citadel it was until a century ago.

The hordes of visitors that will arrive by mid-morning are still tucked up in bed; for the next couple of hours or so, it’s just you, your group and a small herd of llamas, grazing indifferently on the terraced slopes. That first unforgettable sunrise view from Inti Punku is just the start: thanks to its remote location – hugging the peaks at 2500m and hidden in the mountains some 120km from Cusco – Machu Picchu escaped the ravages of the Spanish conquistadores and remained semi-buried in the Peruvian jungle until Hiram Bingham, an American explorer, “rediscovered” them in 1911. Which means that, descending onto the terraces and working your way through the stonework labyrinth, you’ll discover some of the best-preserved Inca remains in the world.

Sites such as the Temple of the Sun and the Intihuatana appear exactly as they did some six hundred years ago. The insight they give us into the cultures and customs of the Inca is still as rewarding – the former’s window frames the constellation of Pleiades, an important symbol of crop fertility – and their structural design, pieced together like an ancient architectural jigsaw, is just as incredible.

You can only hike the Inca Trail on a tour or with a licensed guide. In Cusco, try SAS (www.sastravel.com) and United Mice (www.unitedmice.com).

 

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With 30,000km of marked trails, Norway is the true home of cross-country skiing, the original and most effective means of getting yourself across snowbound winter landscapes. And it’s easier and less daunting to learn than the more popular downhill variety (well, more popular outside Scandinavia – here, everyone is a cross-country skier from the age of 2).

As your skills develop, you’ll soon want to take on more challenging hills (both up and down) and to test yourself a little more – there are different techniques for using cross-country skis on the flat, downhill and uphill.

And once you’ve mastered the basics, a truly beautiful winter world will open up. Popular ski resorts such as Voss, to the east of Bergen, offer a plethora of cross-country tracks, which snake their way under snow-shrouded forests and round lowland hills, while the Peer Gynt Ski Region, north of Lillehammer, has over 600km of marked trails winding through pine-scented forests, alongside frozen lakes and over huge whaleback mountains.

It may sound blindingly obvious, but try to go in the depths of winter, for in this season the low angle of the midwinter sun creates beautiful pastel shades of lilac, mauve and purple on the deep, expansive folds of hard-packed powder, especially at the start and end of the day.

Ski trails are graded for difficulty and length so you won’t bite off more than you can chew, and you’ll usually find various ski hütte (huts) along the way, where you can stop for a warming loganberry juice. As your skills develop, you may even want to take on a multiday tour, staying overnight at cosy mountain lodges and discovering the high country of Scandinavia in marvellously traditional fashion.

Most cross-country ski areas offer lessons and have skis and boots available for hire. For more information on Voss, see www.visitvoss.no.

 

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As trekking goes, the beginning of the Besseggen Ridge is a breeze. Sitting on the bow of a little tug as it chugs along picturesque Lake Gjende in central Norway’s Jotunheimen Nasjonalpark, you’d be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about – this is, after all, Norway’s best-known day hike, in the country’s most illustrious national park. But then the boat drops you off at a tiny jetty and you start the hike up the hill, knowing that each step takes you closer to the crest: a threadline precipice that’ll turn even the toughest mountaineer’s legs to jelly.

You’ll need a good head for heights, but it’s not a technically difficult walk: the path is generally wide and well marked by intermittent cairns, splashed with fading red “T”s. After the initial climb away from the jetty, the route levels out before ascending again across boulder-strewn terrain until, some 2.5 hours into the trek, you arrive at the base of the ridge itself.

The actual clamber up the ridge takes about half an hour, though the Norwegian youngsters who stride past, frighteningly upright, seem to do it much more quickly. It’s incredibly steep and requires a lot of heaving yourself up and over chest-high ledges; in places, the rock just drops away into thin air. But the views are some of the finest in Norway: a wide sweep of jagged peaks and rolling glaciers, and, far, far below, Lake Gjende, glinting green on sunny days but more often – thanks to the upredictably moody weather up here – resembling a menacing pool of cold, hard steel.

From there on, the going is comparatively easy, and you’ll probably scamper the remaining few kilometres back to Gjendesheim, your energy bolstered by the biggest adrenaline boost you’ll have had in a very long time.

Jotunheimen Nasjonalpark is accessed via Gjendesheim, 90km southwest of Otta. The Lake Gjende boat runs from late June to mid-Sept ( +44 (0) 6123 8509).

 

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New Zealand’s reputation as a walker’s paradise is thanks partly to its diversity of scenery, from the tropical beaches, hot springs and volcanic mountains in the north to the temperate forests, dramatic fjords and glacier-fed lakes in the south. But it’s also due to the country’s well-maintained network of backcountry trails managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Access to the country’s nine “Great Walks” is strictly controlled via a quote system to ensure their protection, but the downside is that often you have to book months in advance to secure your place. There are, however, plenty of other DOC-maintained trails among stretches of equally magnificent scenery; the accommodation along these trails might be as sophisticated as those along the Great Walks, but they are usually well-equipped, cheaper and far less crowded.  Here’s our five favourite alternative treks.

Rees Dart Track, Otago

A 4–5 day circuit that winds across two lush valleys following the course of two rivers – the Rees and the Dart – in the Glenorchy region in the south of Mount Aspiring National Park. Much of the 57km trek is well-marked, there are three DOC huts en route, and you can expect forested as well as steep alpine sections with dramatic views of mountain ranges similar to those encountered on the Routeburn, one of the nine Great Walks. However, the Rees Dart trek is more challenging, and the one to go for if you’re looking for several days of mountain solitude.

Pelorus Track, Marlborough

This three-day trek is for those who like to combine walking with the occasional refreshing dip in a river. The 36km trail, which begins 13km along the river valley from the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve in Mount Richmond Forest Park, leads to several green natural pools where you can soak your sore feet after tramping through forested valleys of matai and beech trees. The most famous bathing spot is the Emerald Pools Picnic Area – it is about an hour from the start of the trail so it’s popular with day-trippers – and though it may be hard to leave this idyll, press on and you’ll discover more wonderful bathing spots along the track. The further you go, the more likely it is that you’ll have them all to yourself.

Whirinaki Forest Park, Central North Island

A feature of New Zealand’s walks is its ancient forests, and there are few finer examples of this than the Whirinaki Forest Park and the adjacent Te Urewera National Park, the largest single block of native forest in New Zealand’s North Island. Maori-owned Te Urewera Treks specializes in walks (1–3 days) to both areas under the guiding eye of Joe Doherty, of local Ngai Tuhoe descent, who shows guests how the Maori use native plants for medicine and food, and gives lessons on the local history and Maori legends.

Mount Taranaki, New Plymouth

Egmont National Park on the west coast of the North Island is about as off-the-beaten-track as it gets in New Zealand, and there are some wonderful treks in this often overlooked park. Pride of place is Mount Taranaki, a dormant volcano and the site of several walks through alpine and bush in altitudes ranging from 500m to 1500m. The five–day lower-level circuit is the easier option, though from December to February the snow melts enough for hikers to loop off the main track and do the more challenging high-level route that heads up the slopes. Those who want a quick mountain fix can walk directly up to the summit and down again in a day – it’s a strenuous trek but well worth it for the wonderful views of the Tasman Sea and Tongariro mountains.

Cape Reinga Walk, Far North

“Ninety Mile Beach” might not sound like an easy walk to do in three days, but fear not, it is at the northern end of a wide, flat expanse of windswept sand that is the starting point of a relatively comfortable – and uncrowded – hike around the headland of the northern tip of New Zealand. The walk begins at the impressive dunes of Te Paki Stream and heads northwards along 41km of coastline, stopping off at some beautifully sited campgrounds overlooking the sea. The walk ends at Cape Reinga where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean collide in a froth of foam. According to Maori legend, it is here that spirits depart to the next life. However, you might prefer to pitch your tent at the DOC campsite in the manuka woods and go for a swim in the usually deserted 7km sweep of Spirits Bay and feel very much alive.

 

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On the drive up through the Imlil Valley into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, you have a sense that you’re going somewhere special. The road passes rose-coloured adobe villages and fields terraced with ancient irrigation channels that nourish apple, cherry and walnut orchards. Mules trot along the road carrying children, women return from the fields with sacks of wheat, and men congregate in small groups by the roadside. As you swing around steep-sided bends, you get glimpses of the looming massif at the head of the valley, and by the time you reach the mountain village of Imlil – just 65km from Marrakesh – you know you’re in another world. The light is brighter, the air thinner, the streets empty and the jagged peaks resplendent against the sky.

No wonder Martin Scorsese chose this setting for Kundun, his film about the life of the Dalai Lama. The grandeur and remoteness of the Atlas Mountains is every bit as magnificent as the Himalayas. Here, the Kasbah du Toubkal, the former summer home of local ruler Caid Souktani, is perched at 1800m in the shadow of Morocco’s highest peak, Mount Toubkal.

Run and staffed by Berbers, the Kasbah calls itself a “hospitality centre”, so expect pots of mint tea on your arrival, and jellabahs (long-sleeved robes) and leather babouches (traditional leather slippers) to slip into. The rooms have been furnished by Berber craftsmen using local materials and range from basic communal salons (often used by school groups) to comfortable private double rooms and one lavish, three-bedroom apartment.

Guests come on day-trips from the capital to dine on tagines on the large rooftop terrace, from where there are sweeping views of the valley. But you’ll need to stay here for a few days to make the most of the spectacular setting. You can hire a guide and climb Mount Toubkal in a day, then return to the hammam (steam bath) and dine in the Kasbah’s restaurant. Or try a four-hour trek to Toubkal Lodge in the Berber village of Idissa. Its three double rooms are similar in style to the plush apartment at the Kasbah, and are designed for just a handful of guests to use as a base for day-hikes in the mountains or as part of an overnight circular walking route from the Kasbah du Toubkal. And if you don’t fancy the four-hour trek over the mountain pass from the Kasbah to the village, you can ride in on horseback or go by mountain bike.

Take a shared taxi or local bus from Marrakesh to Asni then a local taxi from Asni to Imli (about 2hr in total). Alternatively, book a 90min transfer with the Kasbah (€85 per car). From Imlil it’s a steep 15min walk (a mule will carry your bags). The Kasbah does not stock alcohol, though you can bring your own. For prices, room reservations and booking transfers at both the Kasbah and Toubkal Lodge see www.kasbahdutoubkal.com; +33 (0) 545 715 204. A five percent tax on hotel invoices goes to the Imlilillage Association, which funds local community projects.

 

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When you think of eco-friendly travel, the Middle East might not immediately spring to mind. In environmental terms, the region is a disaster, characterized by a general lack of awareness of the issues and poor – if any – legislative safeguards. But Jordan is quietly working wonders, and the impact in recent years of the country’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) has been striking: areas of outstanding natural beauty are now under legal protection and sustainable development is squarely on the political agenda.

The RSCN’s flagship project is the Dana Nature Reserve, the Middle East’s first truly successful example of sustainable tourism. Until 1993, Dana was dying: the stone-built mountain village was crumbling, its land suffering from hunting and overgrazing and locals were abandoning their homes in search of better opportunities in the towns.

Then the RSCN stepped in and set up the Dana Nature Reserve, drawing up zoning plans to establish wilderness regions and semi-intensive use areas where tourism could be introduced, building a guesthouse and founding a scientific research station. Virtually all the jobs – tour guides, rangers, cooks, receptionists, scientists and more – were taken by villagers.

Today, over eight hundred local people benefit from the success of Dana, and the reserve’s running costs are covered almost entirely from tourism revenues. The guesthouse, with spectacular views over the V-shaped Dana Valley, continues to thrive while a three-hour walk away in the hills lies the idyllic Rummana campsite, from where you can embark on dawn excursions to watch ibex and eagles.

But the reserve also stretches down the valley towards the Dead Sea Rift – and here, a memorable five-hour walk from the guesthouse, stands the Feinan Wilderness Lodge, set amidst an arid sandy landscape quite different from Dana village. The lodge is powered by solar energy and lit by candles; with no road access at all, it’s a bewitchingly calm and contemplative desert retreat.

Check out www.rscn.org.jo.

 

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If you’re as obsessed with Breaking Bad as we are, you might want to take a tour of New Mexico. From the city of Albuquerque to the arid desert nearby, the region hosts a wealth of Breaking Bad filming locations and is well worth exploring in its own right.

According to series creator Vince Gilligan, it was pure chance that brought Breaking Bad to Albuquerque. Shooting was originally scheduled for California, and only moved to New Mexico to take advantage of tax breaks for filmmakers. That lucky change of setting, however, gave Breaking Bad an extra character – the brooding desert landscape that lends it the flavour of a latter-day Western.

While Breaking Bad’s cameras seldom dwell on recognizable Albuquerque landmarks, eagle-eyed devotees have mapped out real-life locations including the fast-food restaurant that became Los Pollos Hermanos, and the originals of Walter White’s house, Saul Goodman’s law office, and the retirement home where Gus Fring meets his explosive end. Stop-offs on Breaking Bad bus tours enable visitors to buy plastic bags of bright-blue candy, or Bathing Bad bath salts, that look remarkably like Heisenberg’s trademark blue meth.

Beyond such specific locations, though, lies the fact that New Mexico itself is imbued with an awe-inspiring sense of infinite space, and infinite possibilities. Much like Walter White, a humdrum high-school chemistry teacher who escapes his ordinary life to become crystal-meth kingpin Heisenberg, Albuquerque is a normal city perched on the edge of a primeval wilderness. To venture into the bleak no-man’s-land where they conduct their business, all White and sorcerer’s apprentice Jesse Pinkman have to do is keep on driving when the tarmac runs out. Search on Google Earth for ABQ Studios, for example, where Breaking Bad is based, switch to Street View and face in the opposite direction, and there it is: the boundless desert, stretching away to the horizon.

If watching Breaking Bad entices you to see New Mexico for yourself, you’ll almost certainly begin by flying into Albuquerque. Framed by the Sandia Mountains to the west, which glow a glorious gold at sunset, it’s a sprawling Sun Belt giant that still retains its Spanish core, centring on an ancient plaza. Two of its most conspicuous features barely make it to the screen in Breaking Bad: the Rio Grande river, which flows south through the city towards the frontier with Mexico, and the similarly mythic Route 66, which cuts across the centre en route to California. Both epitomize New Mexico’s historic role as the meeting place of diverse peoples.

The state’s longest-standing inhabitants, the Pueblo peoples, have been joined in the last half-dozen centuries by the Navajo and Apache, migrating south from Canada; the Spaniards, who headed north from Mexico during the sixteenth century, long before the Pilgrims reached Plymouth Rock; and the Anglo Americans, who started to stream in on the Santa Fe Trail two hundred years ago. All those cultures continue to co-exist, making New Mexico a hybrid of the Old and New Wests, where Pueblo Indians, bedecked in turquoise body paint and eagle feathers, dance to the beat of deerskin drums at the foot of the same mountains that hold the secret laboratories of Los Alamos, where the atomic bomb was developed and future weapon technologies are even now being devised.

Santa Fe, New Mexico’s oldest city, 95km north of Albuquerque – a cheap and easy day-trip on the wonderful Rail Runner light-rail system – is deservedly the prime destination for visitors. The strict rule that requires every building to look like it’s made of adobe takes some getting used to – even the multi-storey car parks look like Indian prayer chambers – but it’s a lovely place, small enough to explore on foot, and filled with monuments, restaurants, shops and galleries. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, where Jane kept promising to take Jesse but sadly never did, is just one of several excellent museums.

 

To explore the rest of the state, you’ll need a car, or perhaps a Heisenberg-style RV. Wherever you head, you’re guaranteed stupendous desert scenery; the southeast corner, for example, holds the dazzling dunes of White Sands and the underground labyrinth of Carlsbad Caverns, not to mention remote Lincoln, where Billy the Kid shot his way to fame.

 

It’s northwest New Mexico that’s most likely to fire the imagination though. Follow the green ribbon of the Rio Grande for 110km north of Santa Fe, climb to a high plateau overlooked by the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and you’ll come to Taos, where twin thousand-year-old pueblo dwellings – genuine adobe this time – stand as astonishing reminders of North America’s Native past. The rolling hills to the south hold time-forgotten Hispanic villages like Chimayó, where a tiny and impossibly pretty wooden chapel attracts Catholic pilgrims from throughout the southwest. Or head 100km west of Albuquerque to Acoma Pueblo, set atop an isolated mesa way out in the desert, and described by Spanish conquistadores five centuries ago as the most impregnable natural fortress they’d ever seen.

The brand new Rough Guide to Southwest USA is out on Oct 1st.

Greg Ward is the author of The Rough Guide to The Titanic, and writes a popular blog on The Titanic. His website details all his work for Rough Guides.

Next year sees the World Cup gracing Rio De Janeiro‘s various stadiums, and it is expected that 600,000 foreigners will flock to the country to support their favourite teams and players in football’s biggest tournament. But there is so much more to Brazil than its status as host to the World Cup 2014. There are beautiful beaches, crashing waterfalls and of course, the world’s largest waterway: the Amazon. If you’re planning a trip to Brazil, don’t miss some of these incredible sights.

Music taken from the Rough Guide to Psychedelic Brazil, by Siba (Cantando cirana na beira do mar) with thanks to worldmusic.net.

Get inspiration for your trip to Brazil here, and explore the entire country using our Rough Guide to Brazil. Book hostels for your trip here, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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