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.

Pixabay / CC0

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.

Pixabay / CC0

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. 

Plato said every dog has the soul of a philosopher. While that statement is disputable, the wave-riding canines at the Noosa Festival of Surfing are proof that some dogs, at least, have the soul of a surfer.

Thousands gathered at Queensland Australia’s Noosa Beach this week to watch The Dog Spectacular, the world’s only surfing event where dog and master compete as a team. The doggies lead the way down the beach, leaping with all paws onto the surfboards as soon they were set in the ocean ­– ready to catch a wave.

As pairs of all breeds and ages paddled out together; it was clear that this was not some adrenaline-fuelled competition but an exercise in pure, surf-loving fun.

“It’s a wonderful experience for dog and human,” said Festival Co-Founder Paul Jarratt. “It’s not really about winning or losing; it’s a celebration of all the good things we love about surfing, the ocean and environment that we are privileged to have in Noosa. I think that’s why we attract surfers and their families from all over the world, we’ve got 20 countries represented this year.”

Check out some of the images below for highlights. Special mentions to the dog in sunglasses who rode waves all on his own.

The festival will continue on until the 12th of March, and is a must for anyone planning a trip to Queensland’s aptly named Sunshine Coast.

Because it's Friday, and who doesn't want to see dogs surfing in Australia? http://bit.ly/1QLagU

Posted by Rough Guides on Friday, 11 March 2016

Europe offers more architecture, wine, music, fashion, theatre and gastronomy per square kilometre than any other continent. It boasts over seven hundred million people, in excess of 450 World Heritage Sites and more renowned paintings than you can point your camera at. Which means heading off the main routes will still land you waist-deep in cultural treasures.

To celebrate publication of the new edition of the Rough Guide to First-Time Europe, packed with tips and insights for the first-time visitor, here are 30 ideas to inspire your trip.

Whether you’re dreaming of climbing a Swiss Alp, soaking your toes in the Adriatic or renting a surfboard in Portugal, read on…

1. Explore Sarajevo, Bosnia–Herzegovina

With its spiky minarets, grilled kebabs and the all-pervasive aroma of ground coffee, may travellers see in this city a Slavic mini-Istanbul.

2. Take a bath in Turkey

Nothing scrapes off the travel grime quite like a trip to a hammam. These enormous marble steam rooms, often fitted with hot baths, showers and cooling-down chambers, can be found all over the country.

3. Climb the cliff-top monasteries of Metéora, Greece

James Bond climbed the walls to one of these monasteries using only his shoelaces in For Your Eyes Only, but it was a favourite spot among travellers long before that.

Pixabay/CC0

4. Row down the Danube, Hungary

Rowing and kayaking are both possible on the Danube. In Budapest, you can rent boats, kayaks or canoes on Margaret Island or along the Romai River Bank.

5. Sip an espresso in Tirana, Albania

Albania’s colourful capital, a buzzing city with a mishmash of garishly painted buildings, traditional restaurants and trendy bars is better for strolling than sightseeing – but there’s plenty to keep you occupied.

6. Admire Kotor, Montenegro

Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, Kotor is Montenegro’s only major tourist spot, with tiled roofs and a clear Venetian tilt to its architecture. Not a sunbathing destination, but there’s plenty to keep you busy.

7. Have a night out in Belgrage, Serbia

Explore the nightlife and café culture of Serbia’s hedonistic, hectic capital – at its best in spring and summer when all ages throng the streets at all hours.

8. See the Northern Lights, Norway

You don’t need to head up to Hammerfest as Bill Bryson did in his book Neither Here Nor There; this celestial show can be viewed across the country (Oct, Feb & March are ideal, the rest of winter is also good).

9. Cycle across the Netherlands

You can easily rent a bike and find your way around Amsterdam, but there’s really no reason to stop there. Dedicated signed trails lead you from town to town.

Pixabay/CC0

10. Get a sense of history in Kraków, Poland

This southern city emerged from World War II relatively unscathed, making it one of UNESCO’s twelve greatest historic cities in the world and an architectural treasure trove. It may look like a history lesson, but the city is very much alive and buzzing.

11. Spend a weekend in Venice, Italy

Venice is sinking (possibly under the weight of all the tourists), and there’s a chance the water may be knee-deep in St Mark’s Square by the time you visit, but to stroll Venice without crowds (off season, or at sunrise) may top your European visual highlights.

12. Go wine tasting in Slovenia

Slovenia has been making wine since the time of the Romans, so it’s not surprising that they figured out how to do it well over the years. There are fourteen distinct wine-growing regions to explore here.

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13. Soak up the sun in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Situated near the southern border with Serbia, this 1300-year-old architectural city gem has been lovingly rebuilt, stone by stone, since the intense shelling in 1991, and is looking better than ever.

14. Discover Mozart’s Salzburg, Austria

This famous border town is not only worth a visit to pay homage to the man, but also has churches so cute you want to pinch them, plus plenty of art, city squares and chocolate galore.

15. See the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Resting majestically atop an enormous citadel in the centre of Granada, the Alhambra is a visual overload. The structure’s Moorish columns and domes and light-reflecting water basins inspire even the weariest traveler.

16. Be wowed by Bruges, Belgium

The most popular tourist attraction in Belgium is this entire town, the best-preserved medieval city in Europe. On some streets you feel as if you’re wandering through a museum’s thirteenth-century installation.

17. Be awed by the Palace of Versailles, France

Louis Quatorze certainly knew how to live. There’s the grand entrance, endless gardens that require an army of pruners, and a hall with more mirrors than a Las Vegas magic act. It’s good to be king.

18. Bathe on the Black Sea Riviera, Bulgaria

Arguably Bulgaria’s greatest asset, the beaches of the Black Sea rightfully fill up during the summer holidays. The best ones can be found northeast of Varna.

19. Stroll Prague’s Staromestske namesti, Czech Republic

You can probably count on one hand the number of people who’ve visited Prague, and never seen the Old Town square. This 17,000-square-meter centerpiece is the heart of the city, and has been since the tenth century.

20. Be a big kid at Legoland, Denmark

The little plastic snap-together blocks have got a good deal more sophisticated than they once were, but their simplicity is still their strength, and a visit to their Danish birthplace should cap off any lingering childhood fantasies about an entire Lilliputian Lego city.

21. Wander Tallinn’s old town, Estonia

Often compared to Prague, Estonia’s capital is an up-and-comer on the budget travel scene, as is its burgeoning nightlife. Check out the area round Toompea Hill, where the aristocracy and clergy once lived.

22. Soak in Baden-Baden, Germany

Germany’s most famous spa lies in the heart of the Black Forest. Its famed curative mineral waters bubble up from thermal springs at temperatures over 68°C.

23. Surf Portugal’s Atlantic coast

Portugal’s waves aren’t in the same league as Hawaii’s, but there are enough breakers around the country to keep most beginner and intermediate surfers happy

24. See a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, England

A reconstruction of the original open-air playhouse, the Globe Theatre in London is Shakespeare’s backyard. The season runs from April to October.

25. Visit the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

Guinness may look like discarded brake fluid, but this thick stout with a scientifically measured head of foam is worshipped like a minor deity. And the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is the high altar.

26. Make a beeline for Bratislava, Slovakia

Low key charm, a museum of wine, and pavement cafés aplenty can all be found in the Old Town centre of Bratislava, Slovakia‘s “little big city“.

27. Visit Bran Castle, Romania

Also known as “Dracula’s Castle”, this popular castle actually has no ties to Vlad Tepeş, the medieval prince associated with the vampire extraordinaire, but none of this seems to deter visitors from coming.

28. Hike Sarek National Park, Sweden

The glaciers, peaks, valleys and lakes of this remote northern park cover 2000 square kilometres. Note that the trails are demanding and best suited for advanced hikers.

29. Ski in Zermatt, Switzerland

This glam skiing and mountaineering resort is tied to the fame of perhaps the most visually stunning Alp: the Matterhorn (4478m).

30. Shop in Helsinki’s Stockmann Department Store, Finland

You can’t miss it in Helsinki: it’s one of Europe’s largest department stores, selling everything you need and even more that you don’t.

Plan more of your first trip to Europe with the Rough Guide to First-Time Europe. Header image via Pixabay/CC0.

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.

Croatia is one of Europe’s rising tourist stars. This remarkable Adriatic country of 1244 islands, bear and wild boar inhabited forests and world-class vineyards is so much more than just a beach destination. To make sure you hit the ground running in this complex and diverse nation, follow our top ten Croatia travel tips.

1. Be picky

Avoid the temptation to cram too much of this geographically challenging country in to your first visit. If you only have a week split it between the capital, Zagreb, for a night or two and spend the rest of the time exploring the famous Adriatic coast. Longer trips allow rewarding forays further afield, where gems like the UNESCO listed Plitvice Lakes, the castles of the Zagorje and the Slavonian vineyards await.

2. Don’t only go to Dubrovnik

Yes Games of Thrones star Dubrovnik is every bit Lord Byron’s ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, but also tempting on the coast is Split, the country’s second largest city, whose city centre is remarkably a UNESCO site, the spectacular Roman Diocletian’s Palace.

Further north the old Roman hub of Zadar and early Croatian city Šibenik are lively hubs just emerging from the bitter 1990s war, where the cafes are less filled with tourists.

The same goes for the city of Pula in the northwest of the Croatian littoral, which boasts a UNESCO listed Roman amphitheatre.

3. Don’t let the bugs bite

From late spring into autumn mosquitoes are a nuisance throughout much of the country so find a good repellent that your skin does not react to. Light colours help. Avoid wearing fragrances too. Tics are a more pressing problem as they can cause serious illness so wear thick socks and cover up your legs when hiking. A simple tic remover is a good investment, especially if you may be trekking in rural areas.

4. Get the best beds

Spare beds can be hard to come by in summer especially in the most popular islands – like Hvar and Brač – and Dubrovnik. Booking ahead makes sense, but if you do get caught short look out for the sobe signs, which are essentially advertising rooms in locals’ homes. As well as being cheap, staying at a sobe can be a great way to meet Croats. If they are full, owners will often point you in the direction of another nearby.

5. Drink up

Of the big domestic brands Karlovacko is the favourite beer of many Croats and justifiably so. Croatia’s wines are seriously underrated abroad, at least in part due to the relatively small production and high domestic demand. Look out for the mighty Dingac red and the dry Posip white, both from Dalmatia. Istria is renowned for its Malvasija (great with seafood), while the Dubrovnik region’s own Malvasia is on the rise too.

6. Health matters

You should always take out decent travel insurance, even for a weekend break. If you’re an EU resident, be sure to pack a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This entitles you to a basic level of state health care in Croatia. It won’t cover you for repatriation, ongoing medical treatment and non-urgent treatment though, which is where good travel insurance comes in. The emergency ambulance number in Croatia is 112.

7. Get active

Croatia may be famed as a sea and sun destination, but getting active is the best way to discover its wilder corners. Paklenica National Park offers superb hiking and climbing, while in the islands the walk to the highest point, Vidova Gora on Brač, offers remarkable views. For rafting the Cetina River tempts, while windsurfers should head to Korčula and paragliders to Mount Ucka.

8. Eat well

Croats are justifiably proud of the fine organic produce their country conjures up in such abundance and many will refer to the processed food in supermarkets witheringly as ‘cat food’. Wherever you are, a local market is never far away, so shop local to put together a mouth-watering picnic bursting with fresh flavour.

9. Talk to the locals

Be very careful when discussing the Homeland War, which ravaged the country as it became independent from Yugoslavia in the 1990s, with a local. Do a little bit of research before your trip and hold back any too hastily formed views. Then when a Croat does decide to open up a little about those defining years, your knowledge and interest may help you gain an insight into the country well beyond the tourist sheen, which adds a totally different dimension to your trip.

10. Savour the seafood

Croatia’s seafood is truly world class. A bounty of fishy delights are hauled daily from the Adriatic, the cleanest corner of the Mediterranean. Even if you’re timid about bones and shells no trip to the coast is complete without a seafood feast. The best value way of sampling a range of delights is to order the riblja plata, a mixed platter of fish and shellfish, which is usually plenty for two to share.

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

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.

The Northern Cape, home to diamond mining capital Kimberley and wilderness of the Kalahari Desert, remains South Africa’s least visited province. But it just doesn’t make sense, according to writer Meera Dattani. Here she tells us why it’s one of South Africa’s top destinations.

So why should I go?

If empty roads flanked by saltpans, sand dunes, rocky hillsides and quiver trees aren’t enough to tempt you into a road trip, perhaps you’ll be intrigued by the San hunter-gatherers and Khoi herders, or Bushmen, who once lived here and are now reviving lost customs.

Either way, the Northern Cape is a rich, sparsely-populated and under-visited region. So rent a car and enjoy the verdant landscapes along the Orange River as you drive towards Augrabies Falls National Park, get active in a National Park or taste wine in one of the many vineyards along your route.

Where should I go?

Covering one-third of the country, it’s impossible to see South Africa’s largest, least populated, region in its entirety.

Sand dunes and saltpans are the main sights along the Red Dune Route, north of Upington. Stay at lodges en route to small town Askham before the region’s holy grail of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where game drives weave in and out of Botswanan and South African territory. Lucky visitors will hear the roar of black-maned Kalahari lions and all can enjoy unpolluted, sparkling night sky.

Another highlight is the Green Kalahari area, between Namibia and Botswana, combining desert adventures with the Orange River and waterfall at Augrabies Falls National Park.

From Upington town, the Orange River flows west along the easily navigable Kokerboom Food & Wine Route through Keimoes, Kakamas and Marchand. Upington’s small-town charm is worth experiencing, with nearby vineyards and sunset sailing aboard Sakkie se Arkie.

From Tierberg Hill in Keimoes, see how the Orange River has irrigated an otherwise dry landscape by exploring one of the 120-odd islands; Kanoneiland is South Africa’s largest inhabited inland island.

What is there to do?

Spot wildebeest and klipspringer in rocky Augrabies Falls National Park, home to the 184ft-high Augrabies Falls, Khoi for ‘place of the Great Noise’. The park offers opportunity for river-gorge walking, white-water rafting and canoeing.

The region is also home to 10 percent of South Africa’s vineyards. Visit Bezalel in Kanoneiland, De Mas Wine Cellars in Kakamas and Orange River Wine Cellars in Upington, Keimoes and Kakamas.

In Riemvasmaak, where apartheid policies scattered Xhosa, Nama and other communities who have since returned, there’s Nama cuisine, cultural tours, hot springs and hiking.

At Kalahari Trails on the Red Dune Route, Welsh-born Professor Anne Rosa takes visitors through her 8640-acre farm and interprets the night’s wildlife action, often accompanied by resident meerkats. Rooiduin Guest Farm offers sand-surfing and dune safaris or head to Zoutpanputs game farm, home to Cape birds, meerkats and the elusive pangolin. You can also see springbok and gemsbok lick salt off the pan, go camel riding or book floating salt pool sessions and salt work tours.

At Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, so-called from Tswana for ‘waterless place’, wildlife includes the Kalahari lion, ostrich, Cape fox, cheetah, aardwolf and spring hare. Double the size of Kruger, it’s run by Mier and San communities with South Africa National Parks.

Where can I stay?

Guesthouses, lodges and tented camps are how the Northern Cape rolls. In Upington, guesthouses include A La Fugue, Riverplace and Brown’s Manor. Along the Kokerboom Route, consider De Werf Lodge, Ou Skool Guesthouse and Ikaia B&B in Keimoes or, if feeling flush, a suite at African Vineyard in Kanoneisland, run by Elmarie de Bruin and photographer husband Theuns.

En route to Augrabies Fall National Park is Lake Grappa Guest Farm in Marchand. The national park’s cabins are excellent, or you could try Kalahari River & Safari Company and luxury Tutwa Lodge.

Heading north to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, guesthouses include Kalahari Guest House & Farm Stall, Rooipan Guest Farm in Askham and Loch Maree Guest Farm. For glampers, there’s Kalahari Info & Tented Camp Rietfontein near the Namibian border and safari-style Molopo Kalahari Lodge, one of four Northern Cape Famous Lodges, offers private dinners on a nearby pan.

In Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, community-run !Xaus Lodge offers rustic luxury overlooking a huge pan. Kalahari Tented Camp and Kielie Krankie come recommended while Kgalagadi Lodge just outside the park is outstanding.

How do I get around?

You drive. This is dream driving terrain. Stop at quirky padstals, roadside farm stalls, and forget GPS. Have a good map, local phone, keep petrol topped up and ask locals. Don’t be surprised if you’re told to turn left at the tenth quiver tree when there’s an obvious landmark in situ. Traffic is unlikely, bar speeding rock rabbits.

When should I go?

Optimum months are March and April, and the winter months of August and September when desert flowers explode in the westerly Namaqualand region, another astonishing sight in one of South Africa’s most unexpected regions. Avoid December to February when temperatures reach 40°C (104°F).

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

America’s fourth largest state, Montana is bigger than Germany or Japan. Despite the presence of some of the nation’s fastest highways, the drive from one side to the other takes around twelve hours.

Fortunately, many of the state’s most treasured destinations and experiences are clustered in the rugged western portion, making it less daunting for the first-time visitor trying to discover the best of “Big Sky Country.” Here, Eric Grossman tells us why Western Montana is the star of America’s West.

1. Glacier National Park is one of the country’s finest

Considered by some to be America’s most spectacular national park, Glacier National Park is chock full of picturesque scenery.

The huge park, which straddles the Canada–US border, encompasses over one million acres (4000 sq-km) and includes parts of two mountain ranges, more than a hundred lakes, and hundreds of species of animals, with grizzly bears and mountain goats the most notable residents.

The iconic Going-To-The-Sun Road crosses the park, offering spectacular panoramas and spine-tingling vertical drops. Nervous drivers, meanwhile, can opt for one of the signature “Red Jammers,” the restored 1930s coaches that offer tours throughout the park.

2. You can discover your inner cowboy (or cowgirl) in style

Thanks to the stunning natural landscape and proximity to Glacier National Park, Western Montana is home to some of America’s most lauded ranch resorts. These properties enjoy acres of space and abundant natural resources, including some of the world’s highest-rated fly fishing locales. Staffers patiently guide visitors as they try their hand at popular Western-inspired activities such as horse riding and target shooting, and guests of all ages often jump at the chance to take part in a cattle drive on a working ranch.

Synonymous with rustic luxury, the Ranch at Rock Creek offers one-of-a-kind accommodations ranging from heated “glamping” (glamorous camping) tents to a five-bedroom log home. Guests enjoy extensive amenities, inventive cuisine and access to roughly twenty guided outdoor activities on 6600 acres of mountains, meadows, forests, trout ponds and a mountain-fed creek.

Image courtesy of The Ranch at Rock Creek

3. There are outdoor activities as far as the eye can see

What the region lacks in sophisticated, contemporary experiences it makes up for with its plethora of year-round outdoor activities. World-class camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, boating, and whitewater rafting is available at all skill levels.

Sporty types can enjoy golf, archery, all-terrain vehicles, and more. Between Glacier, numerous state parks, and myriad private resort areas, there are literally thousands of outdoor options.

Upper Missouri Breaks NM by Bureau of Land Management via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

4. It’s home to one of America’s best university towns

Missoula – Western Montana’s largest city – is a convenient hub for those looking to explore the region. The city is best known for being home to the University of Montana, which keeps Missoula festive and youthful year after year.

For an unparalleled, and free, view of the city, simply hike up the small mountain next to the university’s campus to reach the iconic letter “M” that can be seen from across the region. Then follow the students to the Missoula Club, a century-old bar that’s beloved for its inexpensive, juicy burgers made from fresh Montana beef.

Tap into the exploding beer scene and sample fresh local beers at bars like The Dram Shop, and enjoy local ingredients prepared with aplomb at hip restaurants such as the Red Bird and Plonk.

On the rare hot day, cool off with a surfing session on the Clark Fork River, and then treat yourself to a scoop of huckleberry ice cream at Missoula’s beloved Big Dipper.

Image courtesy of Destination Missoula

5. The wildlife watching is among the best in the West

Montana is massive – 147,040 square miles (380,800 square kilometres) – yet the population is only around a million. This means there is loads of room for wildlife to flourish.

Visitors to Western Montana can explore the National Bison Range, established in 1908 to provide a sanctuary for the American bison, in the town of Dixon. Residents think nothing of spotting moose, big horn sheep, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bald eagles and other birds of prey.

Fishers compete for more than seven species of trout, plus walleye and smallmouth bass.

Hunters search for dozens of game birds and animals, ranging from elk, antelope, and deer to pheasant and partridge.

Bull moose swimming by Jeff P via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

6. There’s more for foodies than you might expect

To the uninitiated, the region offers a surprising number of dishes and ingredients that are unique to Montana. And a variety of small, family-run restaurants, along with local fairs and festivals, provide opportunities to try Montana staples like cowboy beans, buffalo chili, and Indian fry-bread.

Huckleberries – perhaps the state’s most famous, and abundant, ingredient – are served any which way, in pancakes, ice cream, and as a sweet accompaniment to the state’s ubiquitous beef. If you want to snack on some of the tart berries, ask a local where to go pick your own – just keep an eye out for berry-loving bears.

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

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